Monday, December 7, 2009

Massive protests in Iran 7 December

16 Azar: Student protests accelerate regimes collapse

“Mousavi is an excuse, the entire regime is the target”

The 56th anniversary of a murder of a student by the Shah’s security forces during President Nixon’s visit in 1953 may prove to be the last held under the heel of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Possibly millions of students, youth and workers took to the streets in protests against the regime and the barbaric repression since the rigged June elections. Though hard to confirm, today’s protests could be the biggest since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Protests have taken place in Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Arak, Karaj, Orumieh, Kerman, Rasht, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and Hamedan and there have been reports of soldiers protesting at Qom Airbase. Protestors carried Iranian flags that omitted the Allah sign showing that the movement is moving beyond the slogans of the June protests.

In preperation for these demonstrations the regime formed lines of police, Basij and Pasdaran around the universities, squares and monuments in the major cities. The government also attempted to limit internet access with up-to 50% of attempts to connect failing, however, the regime failed to stop the flood of information that is now on hundreds of blogs, twitter and news sites. The mobile phone network was also shut down in central Tehran and limited in other parts of the city. At one point there Basij were scene frantically searching computer rooms at Tehran Polytechnic University in an attempt to stop pictures and videos coming out. Protestors managed to organise the protests and relay information of road blocks etc through the internet and land lines in defiance of the government. Once again the Iranian youth has shown the world that the state cannot keep a lid on protests and unrest.

Repression and Resistance
On the streets the state repressive forces backed up by militia assaulted and arrested protestors but were met with courage and defiance.

At Hamedan University two students were thrown from the second floor by Basij scum, reports indicate that both students have sustained severe injuries. There were also heavy clashes between students and security forces here. At the hospitals in Tehran police with dogs prevented injured protestors from entering, arrested and attacking people who looked like protestors. At Amir Kabir University students were savagely beaten by security forces, where a prominent student leader; Majid Tavakoli was arrested. At the Medical College in Tehran Basij thugs attempted to break up a demonstration beating several students, there were reports of some badly injured protestors at this demonstration. At the Polytechnic University students clashed with the police and managed to repel them for a time shouting “Marg Bar Khamanei” (Down with Khamanei!) as the focus of popular anger shifts from Ahmadinejad and onto the Supreme Leader and the entire Islamic Republic. At Razi University in Kermanshah militia and police had a massive presence but failed to stop the student demonstration. At Sanati University in Isfahan in Kermanshah student protests were attacked by security forces. Professors at Beheshti University joined with the 2,000 strong protest to scenes of massive cheering and chants of ‘Death to the Dictator’. In Kurdistan students burned images of Khomanei and Khamanei in the University, they were also protesting the murder of socialist fighter Ehsan Fattahian who was executed on the 11th November. There were protests and clashes at Azad Shahrkord University, Elm o Sanat University, Sharif University, Azad University of Mashhad, Azad University of Najafabad, Sanati University in Isfahan, Hormozgan University, University of Zanjan, Yasooj University and others. School students have also taken part in the demonstrations, at a high school for girls in Tehran they gathered and chanted slogans, the video is below.

There was heavy fight across Tehran with students turning the tide against security forces and militia at times. Basij who were carrying Hezbollah flags were attacked and thrown out of Khaje-Nasir University by brave students. Outside Tehran University, the streets approaching Enghelab Square and Valiasr Street saw shots fired by security forces, it is not clear whether they were warning shots or fired into the crowd, some reports claim that some students have been shot. There were reports of security forces refusing to attack students and at times taking water from students who were calling for them to join the protests. It also seems that around Enghelab Square Basij abandoned their positions and vehicles which were swiftly used to form burning barricades by the youth. It has been reported that riot police attacked Basij who were attacking demonstrators. If this wavering from security forces and demonstrations from soldiers are confirmed then this could undermine the regimes confidence in its ability to suppress the protests and may possibly signal an acceleration of the regimes collapse.

Proving that the protests go far beyond the student movement, elderly women dodged bullets and tear gas to bring water, sandwhiches and first aid to the student demonstrators. Some were attacked by security forces, one women was beat savagely by Basij thugs. Below is the video of her after the attack:

Where fighting was taking place residents rushed to aid the students and young workers and many have formed voluntary medical groups, helping the injured into nearby homes and distributing water to crowds. Many workers joined the demonstrations after finishing work swelling the numbers in central Tehran and other cities.

Many students posting on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook have been asking where are the reformists? The mass movement has kept the colour of Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s presidential campaign yet it seems he has abandoned the movement he helped to stir up. As students chanted across Tehran “Mousavi is an excuse, the entire regime is the target” the reformists will have been made acutely aware that the movement is far beyond their control now.

Protests have continued on into the evening with sporadic clashes between protestors and police. It is unclear how many have been arrested today, though we expect it to be in the hundreds. The workers movement internationally must get serious in organising solidarity and demanding the immediate release of all of those who are in prison and secret detention sites.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Murphy Report and a challenge to the church

The Murphy report into sexual abuse perpetrated in the archdiocese of Dublin - publicly released on November 26 - has stirred up yet another political storm about the position of the Catholic church in Irish society. The report presents a damning picture of a hugely powerful, ubiquitous and autocratic clerisy that refuses to make itself accountable before democratic opinion. These new revelations of abuse and cover-up certainly point to the pressing need for a working class alternative to theocratic Ireland and its holy trinity constitution.

Just months after the Ryan report, which revealed systematic ill-treatment of children in church-run institutions, it is now clear that clerical abuse was - and is - a lot more widespread. The exploitation endured by residents of schools and reformatories was also suffered by children in the community - this time at the hands of parish priests. The Murphy report provides a glimpse into the Dublin diocese - from a sample of 5,000 secret files finally handed over in 2006. Sexual abuse was perpetuated against hundreds of children in schools, hospitals, sacristies and youth clubs in just about every Dublin parish.

Unlike institutional abuse, the misconduct of parish priests cannot be shrugged off as an historical problem, belonging to the ‘bad old days’. The report covers a 30-year period up to 2004 and includes allegations from the late 1990s. It also reveals that some perpetuators are still functioning priests. Furthermore a number of high-ranking bishops who were involved in the cover-up remain in office. A bizarre theological practice of ‘mental reservation’ was dreamed up by clergy to assist in creating this smokescreen. This allowed them to ‘reserve’ information about abuse in their own minds rather than admit it to those who came looking for answers.

Urged on by the Vatican, which was determined to protect its own from damaging allegations, the Dublin archdiocese intimidated and coerced working class families into silence. Children were ruthlessly interrogated and parents threatened with scandal and odium if they went public, including warnings of excommunication. Reality was twisted to such an incredible extent that absolution was actually offered to victims to assuage any feelings of guilt they might have. So powerful has been the grip of the church that most people did in fact keep their mouths firmly shut.

But a number of priests became so reckless in their behaviour that they became a nuisance to the church bureaucracy. The solution was to move them out of the parish, to another part of the country or abroad - often to work in education, hospitals or social provision: i.e., where they were likely to abuse again. The report slates church leaders for their scandalous disregard for the safety of children in Dublin and other dioceses. The conspiracy of silence was aided by the state, in particular the gardai, who connived by refusing to investigate allegations and instead referring them on to the local bishop. Priests were outside the law - an unchallengeable elite operating according to their own rules.

But this cover-up was not simply the brainchild of the Irish church - it was a conspiracy of silence orchestrated by the pope himself. The Vatican covertly circulated a 1962 document called Crimen sollicitationis, which stated that any person who makes an allegation of abuse against a priest must take an oath of secrecy. Breach of that oath meant automatic excommunication. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - now pope Benedict - was in charge of the investigations into child sex abuse from 2001 to 2006. He wrote to all Irish bishops in 2001 reminding them of the need to enforce Crimen sollicitationis and demanding that all complaints of abuse be referred to the Vatican and not the gardai. It says a lot about its arrogance and sense of superiority that the Vatican has to this day refused to reply to repeated requests for information from the Murphy commission.

The sheer hypocrisy of the church, which preaches sexual purity while abusing those in its care, is astounding. That these ‘servants of god’ wilfully caused such pain and damage to the lives of so many is contemptible. Help lines set up after the publication, have reported a massive number of calls. The scale of the abuse appears immense. Many have never talked about it before - they and their families were forced to keep silent by papal dictates. But now they feel able to speak out for the first time. Yet demands for the inquiry to be extended nationally are being resisted by the church, which claims that no good can come out of further investigation - no good for it, of course.

In a grotesque pretence of compassion bishops at the centre of the controversy shed crocodile tears and feign shock at the revelations. They appeal to their congregations and to the piety of the people to forgive them and move on. They pretend that they did not understand or comprehend the full extent of the abuse - when in fact they were the only ones really in the know.

Calls for resignations of high-ranking clergy and for and criminal charges to be brought against offenders abound - except from government leaders. Taoiseach Brian Cowan, true to Fianna Fáil tradition, has stepped in to shield the clergy. On December 2 he said it was essential to defend both the Vatican and the church in Ireland. While condemning the abuse, he said the church must be left to deal with its own. He would not wish to undermine its status. Of course not. The Catholic church and Fianna Fáil have a long and symbiotic relationship. It was, after all, a former taoiseach, Eamonn De Valera, who conceived of “a Catholic state for a Catholic people”. So keen was De Valera to create a theocratic regime that he sent the draft 1937 constitution to the Vatican for approval. He got his papal blessing and delivered to the church a permanent guarantee of power … and riches. The Catholic church in Ireland has accumulated fabulous wealth. In total its property assets are estimated to be some €28.5 billion (the equivalent of 22.7% of Ireland’s gross national product).

The fact that the church still runs over 80% of all schools is now a cause for great unease. Questions are being asked about whether priests can continue to chair education committees and school boards. They are deeply discredited, as is their ideological stranglehold on the curriculum. There are discussions about whether schools should be free of religious practices and indoctrination. Secularism is now a very attractive option - many feel quite rightly that Catholicism should no longer dominate our lives. Working class morality has been shown to be a great deal superior to that of our self-appointed guardians.

It is vital that the left in Ireland responds positively to this crisis. We need to put forward a serious and coherent programme for democracy. The working class struggle cannot just be reduced to economic issues. Our fight for revolution must be about all aspects of our lives and in particular must challenge how we are ruled.

And we certainly cannot be complacent or imagine that the church will just die off. It continues to have a hold over Ireland, particularly when it comes to social questions. Abortion is still banned and the constitution safeguards the life of the unborn, as opposed to the rights of women. Article 41 upholds the ‘sanctity of the family’ and preserves the special place of woman as child-bearer and domestic slave - “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”. The findings of the Murphy report also reflect a view of women as lesser beings, useful only as mothers and housekeepers.

The decline of the influence of the church in recent years is in the main due to the reports of abuse and corruption. Church attendances have slumped to below 50% and younger people in particular have become more secular. However, although there are serious cracks in the edifice, the clerical establishment is determined to survive intact - and the government will assist it in every way it can. After all, the power of the church is linked with its own fortunes. Church pulpits deliver the votes of the pious. Some heads may have to roll, but only as a damage-limitation exercise. In the absence of a mass movement for secularism and democracy, church hegemony will almost certainly continue.

Article 6 of the constitution states: “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive under god from the people.” In other words religion is seen as the ultimate arbiter. That must be ended. The left can and must lead the fight for a democratic, secular republic. The working class has every interest in constitutionally separating the church from the state. Tax breaks and charitable status must be abolished too. Catholic schools must become state schools and the church should be stripped of all assets that are not directly needed for religious purposes. Let priests who make a vow of celibacy also take a vow of poverty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Masses force leaders to act

The difficulties faced by the Irish working class cannot be understated.

Public sector workers in Ireland displayed a grim determination to resist further cuts when they turned out in their thousands on November 24.

The strike saw nearly a quarter of a million workers come out throughout the country. Many private sector workers refused to cross picket lines. The only state employees not joining in were emergency staff in areas badly hit by floods, who had decided to defer their action. Otherwise the strike was extremely solid - unsurprising given the overwhelming ballot in favour in every union.

From prison officers to nurses to clerical officers, the organised working class was out in force. The gardai, who are prohibited from striking, sent a message of support to the unions and refused to undertake many normal duties, including guarding the Dáil. They also declined to work overtime. The support for the strike and sheer strength of numbers showed the possibilities.

The main hurdle now to overcome is the cowardice and complicity of the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. While setting a second strike day on December 3, Ictu simultaneously announced a return to talks with government and employers to try to avert that action. David Begg, Peter McLoone and other union tops have openly stated their commitment to rescuing Irish capitalism. McLoone, chair of Ictu’s private sector committee, has conceded that “temporary adjustments” need to be made. He agrees that the public sector wage bill should be cut by €1.3 billion - but without reducing wages. This translates into a loss of overtime and shift premiums, unpaid holidays and job cuts. Ictu’s Better, fairer way document sets out its alternative strategy - to extend the recovery period and implement the cuts more gently than planned by the government. Begg and others are now hoping the government has learned its lesson from the one-day strike and will be willing to play ball.

But taoiseach Brian Cowan has insisted that civil service employees will have their wages reduced - by at least 7%. He is “not for turning” and is adamant in his refusal to give in to pressure from the unions. His government has been warned by the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank that €4 billion of cuts have to be made on December 9, as a precursor to even more severe attacks in 2010.

It is expected that Ictu will give ground on wages and come back with something less than a 7% cut. But trade union members are under far too much pressure, as they struggle to cope on incomes already slashed by almost 10% thanks to pension and income levies. There was fury in March when Ictu called off a national strike of public and private sector workers in favour of new talks. They produced nothing at all and it is clear that nothing will be gained out of continuing ‘social partnership’. The only reason the November 24 strike went ahead was because of the mass pressure from below.

The Socialist Workers Party in Ireland - which has recently seen a damaging split based around most of what remains of its Belfast membership - has made some worthwhile, if limited, proposals. It has called for the formation of strike committees and for mass meetings leading up to a national demonstration on December 3. It also argues that unemployed and private sector workers should be drawn into the struggle. The Socialist Party agrees with the need for unity of the public and private sector and says that it stands “for the establishment of a new party to fight for a left/socialist government that would end the dictatorship of the capitalist market and instead plan the economy for the needs of people, not the profits of the few”.

Discussion continued between both groups and others at the SWP’s Marxism event last weekend. Deep-seated tensions were evident between the main protagonists, with little sighn of agreement beyond a possible commitment to work together on the December 3 demonstration. That is welcome, but hopefully it will be the start of a meaningful process which draws in others.

The difficulties faced by the Irish working class cannot be understated. The recent freak weather conditions have added to the economic stresses, causing social dislocation and homelessness. This has severely affected the rural community. But the sight of so many thousands taking action can only but give us tremendous hope. The raw material is there for the creation of a mass working class party but what is needed is a political programme for democracy in Ireland - curb the power and influence of the church and introduce the principles of secularism, a popular militia to replace the standing army, abolition of Seanad Éireann, the upper house of parliament, fight for a united Ireland with the right of self-determination for a British-Irish territory - and a strategy that links achieving this Ireland with the perspective of working class rule throughout the European Union.

For too long the left in Ireland has either mimicked the trade union bureaucracy or the nationalist petty bourgeoisie. Now is clearly the time for the politics of Marxism and working class independence.

Friday, November 20, 2009

SWP member & CWU president Jane Loftus sells out the postal strike

Dave Isaacson condemns leading SWP members who continually undermine and sabotage attempts to forge rank and file organisation

There was one significant omission in Jim Moody’s article on the sell-out of the postal strike by the Communication Workers Union leadership, which allowed CWU president Jane Loftus to come out of it looking rather good, when actually she has been an utter disgrace (‘Militants condemn sell-out’, November 12).
Loftus, a long-standing member of the Socialist Workers Party and therefore supposedly a revolutionary, is also a member of the CWU’s postal executive committee (PEC), which voted unanimously on November 5 to accept the interim agreement and call off the strikes, just as the strength of the postal workers was starting to be realised. This goes completely against the position of Loftus’s organisation. Socialist Worker has rightly stated that “Leaders of the postal workers’ union were wrong to suspend strikes at Royal Mail last week … There was no reason for the union to sign up to the agreement. The proposed escalation of strike action - that would have seen two 24-hour strikes in close succession last week - had widespread support within the union” (November 14).
Another Socialist Worker article by Cambridge CWU rep Paul Turnbull calls on postal workers to “restart the strikes immediately”. Yet neither questions why Jane Loftus did not vote against this sell-out - indeed her name is not mentioned at all. Activists in the SWP and militants in the CWU need to ask what is going on here. The SWP’s newspaper, Socialist Worker, is arguing one thing, while their highest placed member in the CWU is doing the exact opposite. Like other socialists all over the country, SWP activists put massive amounts of time and energy into supporting the postal workers and their strike. No wonder Socialist Worker might not want them to know that their own comrade on the CWU leadership colluded in undermining that hard work.
Many would expect better from a member of the SWP, but this kind of behaviour is not an aberration. Back in 2007 Loftus failed to speak out against the rotten deal which ended that dispute. The only PEC members who openly campaigned against the 2007 sell-out were Dave Warren and Phil Brown. Loftus also colluded with the bureaucracy by keeping their secrets and withholding vital information from the membership during closed-door negotiations with management. The SWP failed to use this information to warn strikers of the impending sell-out and call on workers to organise independently of the bureaucracy. Again, back in 2003-04 Loftus voted for the Major Change agreement, a management package that involved job cuts.
Loftus is certainly not alone, however. Her actions are reminiscent of those of Martin John and Sue Bond in the Public and Commercial Services union. Similarly, these were the SWP’s leading comrades in a union with a left general secretary (Mark Serwotka) and leadership (dominated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales). The SWP has consistently downplayed (or kept silent about) any criticisms it may have of left union leaders such as these in order to try and draw them into supporting various SWP ‘united fronts’. In the process the SWPers closest to them in the trade unions clearly bought into the ‘awkward squad’ hype and are in thrall to these bureaucrats.
There are plenty of perks to the job and other social pressures which weigh upon those who enter the upper echelons of the union structures. A revolutionary party should be constantly on guard and fighting against the effects of these pressures on its militants, yet the actions of the SWP leadership often do just the opposite of that. Their desire to get close to and win the approval of ‘left’ union leaders creates a culture of diplomatic silence and conciliationism, while what is necessary for accountability within the unions is open debate and rank and file independence from the bureaucracy.
As members of the PCS national executive committee Martin John and Sue Bond had failed to support SWP policy within the union on a number of occasions, and then in 2005 they knowingly went against SWP directions and policy to vote with Serwotka and SPEW for a scandalous pension deal which sold away the rights of new entrants. Only after regular exposures of their actions (not least in the reports of CPGB member Lee Rock in the Weekly Worker), and growing complaints from other SWP members, was the leadership forced to take action against these renegades.
Initially Socialist Worker ignored the actions of its members on the PCS NEC, while condemning the deal as a betrayal of future generations of workers - sound familiar? Even after disciplinary action was begun Sue Bond got off very lightly with a letter of apology in which she stated: “I do regret the position our vote left comrades in, and the significant implications for the left in other public sector unions. I can certainly assure comrades that I have no intention of breaking party discipline in the future” (Weekly Worker November 17 2005). Martin John flounced out of the SWP the day before he was due to face a meeting of the SWP fraction within PCS. It was not until four weeks after the pensions deal was voted on that news of all this made it into Socialist Worker.
However, it is not just a few individual SWP members succumbing to the pressures of the bureaucracy. The SWP itself has consistently failed to use its positions of influence within unions to build genuine rank and file movements which are independent of the union bureaucracy. The SWP-sponsored occasional publication, Post Worker, does not openly take on the likes of general secretary Billy Hayes and his deputy Dave Ward when they act against the interests of their members. Rather, it regularly gives over significant space for them to promote themselves. It might as well be an official union publication.
SWP members may well wonder about the priorities of their leadership, when Alex Snowden - a Reesite Left Platform supporter - has been expelled for “factionalism” (during the pre-conference period when temporary factions are allowed), yet Jane Loftus seems to have got off scot-free for a blatant act of treachery. Comrades in the SWP need to ensure that Jane Loftus is held to account and faces disciplinary action. She must be called before a fraction meeting of SWP comrades in the CWU and made to explain her actions. She must either recant and campaign openly against the acceptance of the interim agreement in line with SWP policy, or it is she who should face expulsion. Beyond this, major questions have to be asked about whether she can continue to be the SWP’s leading representative within the CWU, given her track record. And all of this must be done openly with full reports in Socialist Worker.
I have been told that CWU executive members can only subsequently campaign against majority decisions if they immediately registered their dissent. If this is the case, then Loftus must be made to step down from the PEC in order to campaign within the CWU accordingly.
Prior to this latest sell-out, Socialist Worker quite correctly asked the question, “How do we fight when union leaders waver?” Matthew Cookson wrote: “The best way to take the struggle forward is to organise workers on a rank-and-file level. A strong organisation of this nature could support the officials as long as they were representing the union members, but could act independently the moment their leaders began to look for some way to settle their dispute unfavourably” (October 31).
Yes, but the actions of leading SWP members continually undermine and sabotage attempts at forging such rank and file organisation. Comrades in the SWP need to think much more deeply about the role their organisation plays within the unions. They must be free to use Socialist Worker as a tool to explore why it is their leading representatives in the unions end up acting against the interests of the working class.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Working class responds to cuts

The huge scale of opposition throughout Ireland to government cuts was made crystal clear on November 6. Despite poor organisation by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions nearly 100,000 marched in protest in major towns and cities.
New forces were very much in evidence, as non-unionised workers, the unemployed and pensioners joined trade unionists in protests against the draconian attacks on pay, benefits and public services - to be intensified with the December 9 budget. Many middle class people are also up in arms against the government’s determination to make them too pay the billions needed to underwrite the National Asset Management Agency - its bail-out of finance capital.
The demonstrations were part of the ICTU-organised ‘Get up, stand up’ campaign. Another march took place on Wednesday November 11 and a national strike is planned for November 24. Ballots for strike action have received overwhelming support - with over 80% ‘yes’ votes received on turnouts of more than 70%. The mandate for action is unquestionable. So is the militancy. Public service workers are at the forefront of the dispute, being the most highly unionised and also being a central target of government cuts.
The 24/7 Frontline Alliance was formed in September to mount a united fightback and includes nurses, paramedics, firefighters and gardai (police). It also included servicemen and women until minister for defence Willie O’Dea warned them to withdrawal immediately. But defiantly soldiers have warned that they will not scab on any national strike. The alliance organised a militant demo of over 4,000 on November 11, with gardai marching in baseball caps displaying the official police insignia, as they were not allowed to wear their uniform. Angry speakers insisted on defiance of the government and assured marchers that no further cuts would be tolerated.
The raw material is certainly there for a major social movement. The depth of the crisis cannot be understated. Unemployment has now risen to 13% and many still in work are also in big difficulty, as wage cuts mean that mortgages and other debts cannot be paid. Public sector workers are facing job losses of between 7% and 15%, while social welfare, including child benefits, is also for the chop. Already charities like St Vincent de Paul have said they are unable to cope with the huge rise in demand for help. Many people have gone from being charity-givers to depending on handouts themselves.
The scale of the problem is immense. During the Celtic Tiger years people were actively encouraged to go into major debt. Housing prices were astronomically high, but credit was easy. Banks would phone mortgage holders enticing them to borrow still more - for a second house, a holiday of a lifetime, a new car: the sky’s the limit; you could have it all. Many were already living way beyond their means before the current recession hit. Now they are drowning in debt.
Unfortunately the problem remains lack of leadership. ICTU is not serious about fighting the cuts. More than that, it is actively undermining the militancy of those prepared to fight. It has a 10-point programme which openly accepts the need for “pain”. But rather than short, sharp shock treatment, general secretary David Begg proposes a “more gentle adjustment over a longer period”.
ICTU is therefore using its members’ militancy to pressurise the government into accepting a programme that is directly counterposed to the interests and the wishes of its members. Desperate to uphold ‘social partnership’, ICTU remains in talks with government about how best to cut €1.3 billion from public sector wages. This is despite the militant speeches of individual trade union leaders. Begg has promised that the strikes and protests can be avoided if agreement is reached on minimising the pain. Conflicting messages are being sent out and there are splits and divisions between unions.
Meanwhile the Irish government is hell-bent on squeezing the working class. Social welfare and pensions as well as wages will be slashed in the December budget. And now that union leaders are indicating their acceptance of some cuts, taoiseach Brian Cowan is upping the pressure even further. He has promised that the €4 billion-worth of savings to be made in the budget is only the beginning. Much more ‘sacrifice’ will be needed. By participating in the drive to save Irish capitalism, the ICTU leadership is shamelessly selling out the working class. An urgent challenge to this complicity is needed.
So the left has a major challenge to face. Although talk continues of electoral unity (or a non-aggression pact at any rate) between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party’s People before Profit, nothing tangible has emerged. The SWP is calling for committees of action to be set up by public sector workers in the run-up to the November 24 strike. The Socialist Party has called on ICTU to turn it into a general strike. Meanwhile both groups continue to run their own separate campaigns.
A meeting on November 7 organised by the Irish Socialist Network and the magazine Fourthwrite to discuss left unity reflected both the possibilities and problems facing the left. Addressed by a number of speakers, including Chekhov Feeney of the Workers Solidarity Movement and Tommy McKearney of the Independent Workers Union. One of the sessions was chaired by Mick O’Reilly, former Irish regional secretary of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union. There were also contributions from Murray Smith of the New Anti-capitalist Party in France and José Antonio Gutierrez, a Chilean activist.
The meeting heard about the crisis at the heart of global capitalism, whose effects are being felt particularly deeply in Ireland. From the floor comrades spoke of the frustration of forever fighting a losing battle against cuts. There was recognition of the potential. More than 50 people were present, from different traditions, including anarchists, republicans, Labour members and Marxists. There were obviously enormous differences and a lot of confusion. But all were there to discuss left unity and there was an expectation that a further initiative would be taken. However, none was, although it was called for from the floor. Mick O’Reilly said it would be “up to the organisers of the meeting”. Perhaps the discussions are being held behind closed doors and we will all be enlightened later.
It is not clear as to whether any invite went out to the SPI and the SWP to attend. Certainly any initiative around unity must try to involve these two left organisations. The need for a mass workers’ party based on Marxism received minority support. None at all from the platform speakers. Although the need to challenge social partnership was raised by members of Socialist Democracy (a group that originated in the northern-based Peoples Democracy and is now part of the Fourth International).
Hopefully this meeting is a spark for something more ambitious. Meanwhile those of us committed to the formation of a single revolutionary party will raise the need for it whenever we can. It is the only serious answer for a working class desperate for change. Workers can see with their own eyes that capitalism has failed. What they need now is inspiration, ideas and, above all, organisation.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lisbon Treaty wins - lessons for the left

It seems to have become the norm here in Ireland for the government to repeat a referendum when it does not like the result of the first ballot. While farcical, these bullying tactics have a proven record of success. For an establishment intent on getting its own way, ‘no’ never really means ‘no’.
Fianna Fáil has made great play of the advanced nature of Ireland’s constitution, boasting that Irish people have more democratic rights than others in Europe because Ireland is the only state to have held a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. In reality it refused to accept the will of those same people this October in a replay of the original referendum - just over a year after a resounding ‘no’ vote against a virtually identical set of proposals. Similarly, back in 2001 people voted to reject the Nice treaty by a 54% majority, only to find themselves faced with a repeat referendum the following year. Just like in 2008, the government would not take ‘no’ for an answer and got its way at the second attempt.
While the ‘yes’ vote was expected, the extent of the shift was surprising - 67% voted in favour of adoption of the treaty, reflecting a 20% swing in just over a year. With the exception of Donegal, the response up and down the country in both rural and urban areas was a consistent ‘yes’. Working class constituencies in Dublin were particularly notable for the change in voting patterns. And, although very deprived areas were more likely to abstain or vote ‘no’, the ‘yes’ vote was most certainly not a middle class phenomenon. It is more accurate to describe it as the response of a working class under great pressure and willing to accept anything to relieve the present crisis.
It was clear from the interviews and vox-pops in the run-up to the referendum that many were voting ‘yes’ with a heavy heart. With all the Dáil parties except Sinn Féin united around a single campaign, there was tremendous pressure exerted. But the most important factor was the fear that refusing to adopt Lisbon could provoke a backlash from Europe. It is well known that the government is overwhelmingly dependent on the European Central Bank for large-scale borrowing and debt financing. Ireland does not want to be another Iceland, and people know that the EU has prevented that … so far.
Most important to analyse are the limitations of the leftwing ‘no’ camp. In essence it was narrow and lacking in vision. The dangers of Lisbon were emphasised simply from an Irish perspective. Both the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party warned of attacks on Irish neutrality and national sovereignty, as well as workers’ rights. Fianna Fáil and its allies denounced them for scaremongering. Debate centred on which was the greater danger for the Irish people - to be in or out of Lisbon. There was no campaign for and rarely a mention of the idea that a united European working class could take on the establishment.
In the absence of such an approach the left appeared anti-European and small-minded. And, critically, it allowed the ‘yes’ camp to pose as progressive and forward-looking. The other problem with the lack of a European agenda was that the left could more easily be confused with the rightwing nationalists. Coir, a deeply reactionary anti-abortion campaign, ran a well funded and visible postering operation full of ominous warnings. This included a claim that the minimum wage would be reduced from €8.65 to €1.84. Such pseudo-leftist, exaggerated claims did nothing to bolster confidence in the ‘no’ campaign. With the country in the midst of a major economic meltdown, people wanted more than negativity. Voting for Lisbon was a pragmatic move for many, taking a chance that the ‘yes’ campaign was right when it claimed the treaty would mean jobs and recovery.
The SWP describes the result as a defeat for the left, and this is clearly true. It points to the fact that many white-collar workers see Europe as progressive. But this observation does not lead the SWP to conclude that illusions in the EU must be countered with Europeanism from below. Instead it pledges to ally itself with the third of voters who rejected the treaty. However, the majority of this section is not progressive. While many will have voted ‘no’ from a vague working class perspective, many others will have done so from the petty nationalist standpoint of Coir and Sinn Féin.
In addition, those who voted ‘yes’ are not automatically to the right of those who rejected the treaty. In the present dire circumstances, to many it seemed suicidal to oppose it. Our class is obviously not thinking as a future ruling class, but is desperate to protect itself from yet more suffering.
Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins congratulated those who voted ‘no’ for their courage and defiance in the face of the establishment’s tremendous propaganda barrage. In an article analysing the result, the SP has emphasised that support for Lisbon cannot be seen in any way as a vote of confidence in the government. Quite right. There were broad smiles of relief on Fianna Fáil faces following the victory, yet the crises that have beset the government almost immediately re-emerged.
A day of action has been called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on November 6. This is part of a campaign in the run-up to the dreaded budget in December - the government is set to launch a ‘slash and burn’ attack on public services and impose major cuts in the wages and pensions of public servants. Jack O’Connor, leader of Siptu (the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, the country’s largest trade union), has announced that strikes and confrontations are inevitable.
Other union leaders are warning of a winter of discontent. Obviously if they can get an agreement with the government they will be more than willing to call off any strike action. But bureaucrats are under tremendous pressure from below and there is far less scope for cosy social partnership deals.
Adding to taoiseach Brian Cowan’s woes is the unreliability of Fianna Fáil’s coalition partner, the Green Party. There is deep dissatisfaction amongst rank and file Greens. Many want to pull out of the government before their hands get any dirtier. Support for the Greens plummeted in the last local elections, mainly because they are seen as a willing puppet of Fianna Fáil. Their membership is increasingly fractious. This weekend’s conference will decide on the future of the Greens in government - and is also therefore a vote on the continuance of the Cowan administration itself. And even if leader John Gormley wins a mandate to continue in cabinet, the road ahead is clearly a rocky one.
The government’s popularity is at an all-time low in the polls. Revelations continue to emerge about corruption among ministers and senior civil servants. The latest surround the ceann comhairle (chair of the Dáil) John O’Donoghue. He has been shown to have a very definite penchant for high living and luxury chauffeur-driven limousines. After a determined effort to remain in office, he was finally forced to announce his resignation, with the exposures still continuing. Government spokespersons have now been forced to admit that ‘standards in office’ during the ‘Celtic tiger’ years were far from desirable.
The working class is starting to stir. There have been a number of demonstrations in the last two weeks, involving thousands of protestors in Dublin. More will come as the temperature of the class struggle rises still further. Lisbon will certainly not save the government. But the vote highlights the need for a clear, positive working class agenda. We need a programme that goes beyond simple defence against cuts and job losses. We need our own party, based on Marxism, to challenge capitalism and to fill the vacuum of leadership. The left needs to move forward and take on that challenge.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iranian Embassy Demo report and protest this coming Saturday 27 June

Hands off the People of Iran held a very successful demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in Dublin last Saturday, 20 June. We will continue our protest this coming Saturday 27 June at 2pm, Central Bank, Dame Street Dublin.

The demonstration began at 1pm, at the same time that people were taking to the streets of Tehran in defiance of the oppressive state forces. A number of Iranian activists joined us as well as members of Irish left wing groups and campaigns.
We chanted slogans in support of the struggle and called for the overthrow of the Islamic republic. We also made clear in our speeches and slogans that we are against any imperialist intervention in Iran – any US attempt at regime change from above must be opposed. The hell holes created by imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq are examples of the terrible devastation wrought by imperialism.One of Iranian comrades did a fantastic job on the megaphone, shouting ‘marg bar Ahmadinejad, marg bar Moussavi, marg bar Khamenei’. He and most other Iranians there were fully supportive of our principled position on imperialism.

However a leading member of a group called ‘Free Iran’ was opposed to our anti-imperialism and said he supported sanctions. We made it clear that we will not countenance any compromise on this vital question. The US, under Bush or Obama is not a friend, but a dangerous enemy of the Iranian people.We continued our discussions later at a meeting in Seomra Spraoi, where the debate centred on the prospects for the left in Iran and whether the protests are simply about rigged elections.

It was a passionate and lively debate and we finished by agreeing to organise another demo this coming Saturday pm at the Central Bank, Dame Street Dublin. We will also be holding meetings in other cities, with a meeting in Cork on 2 July, 8pm Victoria Hotel Patrick Street.Join us in showing your solidarity. Let’s send a message to the protestors in Iran that we are on their side!Contact Anne on 086 23 43 238

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran HOPI demo and meeting June 20 Dublin

Hands off the People of Iran’ calls for solidarity with the masses in their struggle for mass democracy! No illusions in Moussavi!
No to imperialist intervention!

Demonstrate Saturday
20th June at 1.00pm - All Welcome
Outside the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
72 Mount Merrion Avenue, Blackrock, Dublin

Demo followed by meeting at 3.30pm
Seomra Spraoi, 10 Belvedere Court,
off Gardiner Street

Join us in showing solidarity with the masses in Iran who have taken to the streets in outrage against the rigged elections. This is a revolt against a deeply repressive state. The situation is Iranian is on a knife-edge. Hopi supporters are in daily contact with Iran. We are pushing for maximum solidarity from the working class movement here in Ireland to progressive forces in Iran. The upsurge against theocratic rule should not derailed by reformists from within the Iranian regime itself. Moussavi was himself a demagogue during his 8 years in power. He is not a solution but a danger to the struggle for mass democracy.

Contact Anne on 086 2343 238 or at

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iran - support the anti-government revolt

Hands off the People of Iran statement.

Contact Anne on 086 23 43 238 or at

June 14 2009

Support for the mass protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election! But we should have no illusions that Massouvi would have been any better

Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, assesses the highly fluid situation in Iran:

It is no surprise that the highly contested results of the presidential elections in Iran have sparked unrest in Tehran and other cities across Iran. The level of cheating on display seems crazy even by the standards of Iran's Islamic Republic regime. Clearly, the results are the final proof that confirms that the whole electoral process is deeply undemocratic and rigged from top to bottom:

Ahmadinejad was declared winner by the official media even before some polling stations had closed
His final result was almost identical to what the (rigged) polls predicted all the way through the elections. This percentage did not ever vary by more than three percent

Hundreds of candidates were barred from standing in the first place, especially those of the left. The main ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossain Moussavi has declared the elections a “charade” and claimed Iran was moving towards tyranny. Thousands of protesters (not all of them backers of Moussavi) have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the re-election of Ahmadinejad.

Of course, Hopi condemns the arrest of over 900 demonstrators and 100 leading ‘reformists’, most of the latter ones supporters and collaborators of Moussavi.

But we should not forget that Moussavi does not consider the nine previous presidential elections in Iran's Islamic Republic – most of them with very dubious results - a “charade”. In the 2009 election, he did not bat an eyelid when the Council of Guardians disqualified over 400 candidates. He did not think the process was a “charade” when the supreme religious leader intervened time and time again to defend Ahmadinejad.

Even now, although he is furious about loosing the elections, he is not calling on the Iranian people to support him. Instead, he is addressing the 'Religious centres of Guidance' (elite shia Ayatollahs) to denounce the result. He is no fan of democracy and mass movements. Like his predecessor Mohammad Khatami, Moussavi is well aware that the survival of the 'Islamic order' is in his interests. That is why, even when he is clearly a victim of the supreme leader's lunacy, he cannot rock the boat.

After all, irrespective of the illusions of their supporters, Moussavi and the other reformist candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, are no radical opponents of the regime. For eight years, Moussavi served as prime minister of the Islamic republic - during some of the darkest days of this regime. He was deeply involved in the arms-for-hostages deals with the Reagan administration in the1980s, what came to be known as ‘Irangate’. He also played a prominent role in the brutal wave of repression in the 1980s that killed a generation of Iranian leftists. During this period, thousands of socialists and communists were jailed, with many of them executed while in prison.

Moussavi has attempted to refashion himself as a 'conservative reformer' or a 'reformist conservative' by expressing his allegiance to the supreme leader and by claiming to have initiated Iran’s nuclear programme, which he promised to continue. He also criticised the release of British navy personal in 2007 as “a humiliating surrender”. Defending his government's anti-Western credentials, Ahmadinejad claimed that “prime minister Tony Blair had sent a letter to apologise to Iran”. Within a few hours, the foreign office in London issued a stern denial that such a letter was ever sent. Moussavi tried to exploit this ‘weakness’.

But he clearly failed. The supreme leader could not tolerate his former protégé Moussavi. Although his politics are almost indistinguishable from those of Ahmadinejad, he was just a bit too ‘progressive’ on two points:

He promised to be more liberal over women’s dress code and said he would expand women's rights –within the parameters proscribed by the religious state, of course

He promised to use more diplomatic language and a more amenable attitude in dealings with the West, especially the USA. Despite this diplomatic ‘packaging’, however, he remains committed to defending Iran's nuclear program (including the right to enrich uranium)

These elections were a “charade” from the day they started. All four candidates are supporters of the existing system. All support the existing neo-liberal policies and privatisations. All four are in favour of Iran's nuclear programme.

But we should not underestimate the anger of the Iranian population against this blatant manipulation of the results. Iranians had to choose between the lesser of two evils - and when the worst was declared winner, they showed their contempt for the system by huge demonstrations culminating in the massive protests of June 13 2009.
Until early June, most Iranians had shown little interest in these elections, as they knew that neither candidate would lead to real change. But it was the live TV debates that changed the apathy. The debates betweeen Ahmadinejad - Moussavi and Ahmadinejad -Karroubi have been unique events in the history of the official media of the Islamic Republic. The debates confirmed what most Iranians know through their personal experiences – but which they have not yet heard on the official media:

Ahmadinejad stated that Iran had been ruled for 24 years (up to his presidency) by a clique akin to an economic and political mafia. 'Elite' clerics such as the reformers Rafsanjani and Khatami had “forgotten their constituents” and were corrupt
Moussavi stated that the economy has been in a terrible state, particularly in the last four years
The situation in Iran is very fluid. Over 900 protesters and 100 'reformist' leaders have been arrested, including the brother of former president Khatami. Moussavi and his wife have gone underground. There are signs of the beginning of an internal coup. Thirty years after the Iranian revolution, if Iran's supreme leader believes he can suppress the opposition, he will be making precisely the kind of mistake that led to the overthrow of the Shah's regime in 1979. The foundations of the Islamic Republic regime are shaking.

The protests of June 13 were the largest demonstrations since 1979. After the euphoria of the last two weeks, when Iranians participated in their millions in demonstrations and political meetings, no state - however brutal - will be able to control the situation. The events of the last few weeks show that there is real hope that the Iranian people can get rid of this regime - be it in the guise of Ahmadinejad or the no less undemocratic and corrupt ‘reformists’.

Socialist Party does not look like it is interested in unity

Checking out the SP website it looks as though they are simply intent on pushing their own party. Maybe there are discussions going on in the background but the official line is 'build the socialist alternative - join the socialist party'!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fianna Fail routed left make gains

The deep unpopularity of the government showed itself in an overwhelming vote against them in last week’s European and local elections.
Fianna Fail’s vote fell to 25% and its Green Party coalition partner to just 3%. The Greens lost all of their local and county council seats in Dublin, its previous stronghold. The results have thrown the government into crisis with a motion of no confidence currently being debated in the Dail.
But good as it is to see the collapse of their vote, even more heartening have been the number of left-wing candidates elected. Chief among these was the election of the Socialist Party’s Joe Higgins to the European parliament for Dublin. Unseating Fianna Fail’s Eoin Ryan, his election caused shock and upset for many of the bourgeoisie. The Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne expressed her concern about the impact on Dublin of Higgins going to Europe with an “anti business message”.
In his victory speech Higgins made a commitment to receive the wage of an average skilled worker and donate the rest to working class organisations in Dublin. He also promised to be a thorn in the side of the ruling elite. As far as he was concerned, his mandate came from the working class and nobody else.
The Socialist Party retained their current council seats in the Dublin area and gained two further seats outside of Dublin, with a number of their candidates topping the polls.
The SWP’s People before Profit Alliance also made a breakthrough, gaining five council seats in the Dublin area. The Workers Party won two council seats and a group called The Workers and Unemployed Action Group gained 43% of first preference votes and overall control of Clonmel Town Council.
With some exceptions it seems that wherever the left stood it was supported with enthusiasm. The opportunities to make headway are obvious. But numerical weakness and political confusion remain serious obstacles. The way forward must be unity around a revolutionary programme. Without this the current upsurge in support for the left could be squandered. We need only look across the water to the debacles of Respect and No2EU to see the results of lowest common denominator unity.
The SWP issued a statement making clear that the “radical left must now enter discussions to form either an alliance or broad radical left party, where different tendencies can co-exist. Previous arguments that such a development might be ‘premature’ make little sense today.”( They propose the adoption of the People before Profit model. But while the call for unity is welcome and needs to be built on, the basis of such a project should not be a fudge. The working class throughout Ireland is already painfully aware of the problems of capitalism. What they need is Marxism, not radicalism.
There is a danger that sections of the left will push for unity with the Labour Party. But the Labour Party does not even pretend to be socialist. It is more interested in forming a coalition for government with Fine Gael, the main centre right opposition party.
As of today the Socialist Party has not responded to the call for unity. They have announced that they are currently considering the new circumstances and will respond soon. But there is great pressure to form a more cohesive and ambitious left. The opening up of a debate and struggle around the formation of a party is to be warmly welcomed. All working class militants must encourage and take part in this development.
Anne McShane

Sunday, June 7, 2009

For a democratic secular republic

The publication of a report on systematic child abuse in religious-run institutions in Ireland has stirred deep anger and resentment throughout society.
The report has unleashed a tremendous wave of hostility towards the Catholic church. Previous revelations about the appalling treatment of children at the hands of religious orders entrusted with their ‘care’ had already greatly harmed the church’s reputation over the last 10 years. Now, in the aftermath of the Ryan report, it appears damaged beyond repair.
The televising in 1999 of a series of documentaries by Mary Rafferty, entitled ‘States of fear’, brought the truth about institutional care out of the shadows. The fact that it could even be broadcast illustrated how much Ireland was changing. The dark days of economic hardship and emigration seemed over and the church was losing its cohering force as the voice of the nation. The programmes showed that sadistic cruelty and sexual abuse was being perpetuated within state-funded religious institutions throughout the country. The public outrage that ensued pressurised the Fianna Fáil government into taking measures to avert a crisis. It was potentially a major disaster for the establishment. It needed to be dealt with carefully to preserve the status quo.
A commission of inquiry was set up to look into 18 religious orders involved in education and the provision of care to the ‘vulnerable’ (an apt word). Spurred on by their abiding anger and determined to put the shameful humiliation of their treatment behind them, some of the victims began to take on the perpetrators in the courts. This created alarm within the corridors of power. Urgent action had to be taken to protect the clergy from public vilification as common criminals.
So in 2002 the government set up the Residential Redress Board. An indemnity against prosecution was given to 18 congregations, in return for their payment of a mere 10% towards a compensation fund. Hearings would take place behind closed doors, in the hope that the church would escape with minimal embarrassment. The commission of inquiry was also set up on the firm basis that none of the findings could be used to substantiate prosecutions. The then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, himself a devoted follower of the clergy, was not going to take any chances. The extent to which the church was let off the hook was astounding.
But the commission had to report at some stage - and now, after an incredible 10 years, it has done so. Religious orders were certainly responsible for some of the delay, destroying documentary evidence and employing teams of lawyers to get round or divert the questions put by the commission (Ahern had also ensured that their legal fees would be paid for by the taxpayer).
But now it is finally clear that the church can no longer evade responsibility for the inhuman regimes it maintained within its so-called care homes. The report documented the sheer immensity and systematic nature of the abuse. It showed how the Irish state had used the church to oppress and frighten the working class into subservience. Ireland has long been portrayed as a devout nation, full of enthusiastic followers of the pope. The report has revealed a rather different reality. It shows how state and church colluded to try and cow a people into submission.
The main abuse up to the 1980s took place in the state-funded industrial schools run by the religious orders. These were fed a continual stream of children, put into care either because of alleged neglect or petty crime. The role of the Irish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) was crucial in delivering the children of poor working class families into the arms of these despicable abusers.
Families of 10 were not uncommon up to the 1980s - contraception was forbidden and women were expected to submit to endless impregnations. The special position of women as the backbone of Catholic Ireland was written into article 41 of the 1937 constitution, which upholds the family as “the natural primary and fundamental unit of society”. It stipulates that “by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved”. “Woman” had to give up her job and independence on her wedding day. It was not until the 1970s that she was allowed to work after marriage.
This ‘special place’ within the constitution was, of course, itself a deliberate and institutionalised form of repression. Women were almost powerless, and struggled to cope on their own with children too numerous to manage - men had often been forced to emigrate to find work. The ISPCC stepped in to take control of the situation. It was essential to have power over the poor in order to prevent them becoming a problem for the ruling class. Particularly important was the need to wipe out “immorality and neglect endemic among the poor”.
The ‘cruelty man’ would visit and frequently remove children from impoverished homes, often described as ‘cesspits’ of drunkenness and poverty. They were then placed with the religious orders, which put them to work on their farms, in their laundries or in other clerical industries. The state funded these placements, many of which lasted to adulthood and beyond.
No fewer than 216 of these institutions are named in the report as being centres of systematic abuse. Many personal accounts are just too painful to read. Sexual abuse is described as particularly organised within institutions for boys. But an extraordinary degree of physical and emotional abuse, including the imposition of hunger, was inflicted on occupants of the industrial schools, orphanages and educational institutions. Children had no rights and were often treated worse than animals. The poor were despised by both church and state.
The commission heard evidence from 2,000 former occupants of religious institutions from 1940 right up to 2000. The problem is not an historical one, one that can be confined to the bad old days of rural Ireland. The industrial schools no longer exist, but the church continues to run over 80% of schools, as well as numerous hospitals and many care establishments.
And, while presiding over some despicable regimes for the poor, the church continued to run its ‘centres of excellence’, its elite schools devoted to the education of those born to rule. Many of the political class today come from those elevated establishments run by the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, among others. These institutions were in fact financially subsidised by the industrial schools and their child slaves. So Brian Cowan and his ilk have a lot to thank the church for.
Today this same Brian Cowan bleats about “our shame as a nation”. The Catholic church assures us it would have acted if only it knew the scale of the abuse. What rubbish. Everybody knew that to be sent to an industrial school was synonymous with being dispatched to a gulag. Everybody knew about the terrible treatment meted out by the clergy to those too poor or vulnerable to defend themselves. To resist them was an act of social hari-kari. Parents of children who suffered abuse were accused of being liars when they tried to intervene. Enormous cover-ups took place and are only now being unravelled. It was a conspiracy of silence.
The main debate centres now on financial compensation for the victims. Under pressure to act, Cowan has been forced to ask the clergy to make a greater contribution to the Financial Redress Board. Having dragged its heels, the church is now prepared to fund a new deal which it hopes will save it. But the clergy can trust in Fianna Fáil. They share a long and ignominious history back to the 1930s. Fianna Fáil is the preferred party of the Catholic church. If they can’t depend on Brian Cowan, what has the world come to?
But the issue of financial compensation, while no doubt important to the victims, is being used to divert attention from the real question - the glaring need to separate church and state: in other words to challenge the 1937 constitution, the creation of Eamonn De Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil and architect of the Irish Catholic state. In his efforts to constitutionally separate the 26 counties from Britain he had attempted to end the oath of allegiance and all references to the British monarchy within the 1922 constitution. He turned to his allies within the Catholic church to create an Irish nationalism founded on religion.
It is he who can be ‘credited’ with article 41, which sacrificed Irish women to his zealous quest for so-called Catholic purity. The constitution in its entirety was designed to meet the needs of both the church and ruling class - and to create a bastion of De Valera-inspired Irish nationalism.
The church’s privileged position was constitutionally enshrined until 1972, when formal equality was extended to all religions. But the reality is that, although by no means as powerful as it once was, the Catholic hierarchy continues to dominate, particularly on social issues.
Abortion is still illegal. A successful campaign by the church in 1983 ensured that this illegality is constitutionally guaranteed. Divorce - despite a major struggle - is still restricted to couples who have been separated for four out of five consecutive years. And now new legislation is being introduced to outlaw ‘blasphemy’.
The preamble to the constitution states that all power is derived from the “most holy trinity”, and acknowledges “our obligations to our divine Lord Jesus Christ”. Article 44 commits the state to uphold the public worship of god - “it shall hold his Name in reverence and shall respect and honour religion”.
Despite all this some on the left have claimed that the privileged position of the church and the role of the state in upholding religion are secondary issues. Ordinary workers are not interested in questions of democracy and secularism. Tell that to the thousands of victims of indescribable cruelty at the hands of state-authorised abuse centres!
It is true that the church has now fallen from grace. Vocations to the priesthood have crashed from over 1,000 a year in the 1980s to just a handful now. Secular attitudes have become more widespread and church attendances have plummeted. But still the state remains a religious one. This disgraceful situation must be ended once and for all.
While religious expression must be guaranteed on the same basis as for all social ideas, there must be complete separation of church and state. The role of the church and of religion must be expunged from the constitution. The church’s responsibility for running state-funded schools, hospitals and care institutions must be completely removed. Religious indoctrination (as opposed to the teaching of religion as an academic subject) should have no place in the curriculum of state schools. Preparation for religious ceremonies such as communion and confirmation must not be part of the school syllabus. Individuals and families must be left to make their own choices about their religion and if and when they practise it. The left needs to take up the question of secularism in a serious way now.
What do the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, the two principal leftwing organisations in Ireland, have to say on all this? The SP website has an article by Joe Higgins on the abuse scandal, but makes no mention of secularism. The SWP’s position is better, calling for an end to the church’s role in education, etc. But this hardly constitutes a fully rounded position.
Deep anger remains - there is talk of a march in solidarity with the victims of abuse. However, without the intervention of the left, the church could regain control with pleas for forgiveness and promises of compensation. A democratic secular republic must become a key working class demand.

Anne McShane

Sunday, May 17, 2009

In Iran the Reformists offer no alternative

by Darya Homan - Hands Off the People of Iran

Members and supporters of Hands Off the People of Iran will be leafleting a meeting organised by The Guardian Public Forum on the evening of Tuesday May 19 in the reading room of the British Museum. Amongst the speakers will be Ata’ollah Mohajerani, an adviser to ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi, who is one of the reformist candidates in the June 12 presidential elections in Iran; and Elaheh Rostami-Povey, a member of the Socialist Workers Party.

Ata’ollah Mohajerani was minister of culture and Islamic guidance in the first term of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency. During this so-called ‘reform era’, the Iranian government did not introduce freedom or democracy, as many of them claim. Iran remained an Islamic republic. Their reforms centred around subordinating the country to the stringent economic measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Privatisations and cutbacks in social services were the trademark of that government - an economic policy that is today being continued by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and under which the Iranian working class is still suffering.

Mohajerani has written a famous critique of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses, which was seen at the time as the official Islamic Republic’s response to Rushdie. He defended Khomeini’s death sentence and declared the Rushdie affair to be part of a recurring western plot against Islam (though after Khomeini’s death he advocated negotiations with the EU regarding the fatwa).

During this period of ‘liberalisation’, political writers such as Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh and Mohammad Mokhatari were brutally murdered - their bodies were later found in Tehran’s suburbs. Following public and journalistic investigation inside and outside Iran, prosecutors announced in mid-1999 that a government official, Saeed Emami was responsible for the killings - a senior member of the security services who had supposedly led “rogue elements” in Iran’s intelligence ministry.

Mohajerani is married to Dr Jamileh Kadivar, who is also a reformist politician and was leader of the majles (Islamic parliament) during Khatami’s reign. Like Mohajerani, Kadivar supports Karroubi in the presidential elections. She was filmed with him last Saturday, as he officially registered his candidature (§ionid=351020101). Clearly, Kadivar and Mohajerani are hoping for posts if Karroubi gets elected.

Mohajerani himself had to withdraw from the presidential elections of 2005 because, in accordance with the Shia sigheh law, he kept a number of ‘temporary’ wives. Kadivar, who is celebrated by some (amongst them Elaheh Rostami-Povey) as a leading “Islamic feminist” of our time, continued to support him - and presumably sigheh, which enshrines women’s inequality.

In Hopi’s view, the reformist candidates offer no alternative to the hated regime of Ahmadinejad, be it Karroubi or Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the main challenger. They have continued the oppression of workers, women, students, LGBT and national minorities last time they were in office - and they will do so again. Socialists should certainly not sow any illusions that these candidates offer a qualitative break. Our brothers and sisters in Iran deserve more than shamefaced support for the ‘lesser evil’.

We stand firmly on the side of the secular movements who are struggling against a multitude of enemies and obstacles, chiefly amongst them imperialism and its war drive against the country. The economic nightmare introduced by the Iranian reformists is made worse by the US government sanctions, which have recently been renewed by Barack Obama.

We want regime change - both in Iran and in the imperialist countries. But we know that change must come from below, from the struggles of the working class and social movements, if it is to lead to genuine liberation. We call on all anti-capitalist forces, progressive political groups and social organisations to join activists of the Iranian left in both opposing imperialism’s plans and organising practical solidarity with the growing movement against war and repression in Iran.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Working class resentment and fury

Anger is sweeping across Ireland in response to the sheer scale of attacks.
Every section of the working class is being affected by the vicious budget announced on April 7. Income levies have been doubled and new ‘health levies’ introduced. This is on top of previous levies and existing taxation. Child benefits have been slashed and mortgage relief axed. Young people under 20 have had their social welfare halved from €200 to €100 a week. Public service workers are already shouldering a crippling pension levy. Disposable incomes of many families are now down by almost 20%.
In the face of this onslaught, the depth of rage is palpable. The February 21 demonstration of 120,000 people struck panic into the heart of government. Fear of the masses reverberated through the corridors of power as talk of the possible collapse of society dominated the media. Now many want to take to the streets again.
Unofficial strikes have begun, with the walk out this week of Dublin bus workers in defiance of an agreement negotiated between the union leaderships and employers. This led to physical confrontations on picket lines and a major offensive by the media against the bus workers.
It is no wonder that workers are taking things into their own hands. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) ignored the wishes of more than 70% of their members who had voted overwhelmingly for industrial action and called off the national strike due on March 30. They did so in order to insinuate themselves back into social partnership talks with government and employers. The threatened strike was simply a lever to allow them back in. David Begg, general secretary, promised their input would ensure a more just and equitable ‘sharing of pain’ in the April 9 budget. That the subsequent budget was so vicious has exposed his claims and undermines arguments for social partnership. Workers across the country are not in any mood for social peace.
Many are now tremendously frustrated and disillusioned with the union leadership. The ICTU is comfortable within the cosy confines of social partnership and is apparently oblivious of the depth of hardship and antagonism outside. Begg has in fact complained that his aim of preventing industrial unrest is being hampered by continual announcements of cuts from government departments. He needs to be properly briefed if he is to be relied on to keep a lid on things.
In such an environment rank and file groups like the Bus Workers Action Group in Dublin are coming to the fore. It was this group rather than the union leadership that actually negotiated the temporary return to work of bus workers on 28 April.
Joining the fray on 28 April were Dublin taxi drivers. A protest organised by Taxi Drivers for Change demanded that there be a stop to the issuing of new taxi licenses. As unemployment hits, there is a glut of taxis in Dublin – more even than Manhattan. Taxi drivers have to work a 90 hour week to make ends meet.
Other local strikes are breaking out despite the social partnership talks. Small disputes in local areas have escalated into furious confrontations. Shop workers in Cork are currently on all out strike action over attempts by management to reverse their terms and conditions of employment.
Teachers’ conferences held over Easter voted for industrial action and also for a one day general strike. The minister for education, Batt O’Keeffe, who attended the events, was met with hostility and walk-outs.
Obviously worried that the same fate would befall him, the minister of defence Dermot Ahern failed to show up at the conference of the Garda Representative Association this week. He had been invited specifically to account for massive wage cuts. Gardai are among the most severely affected of public service workers, with many down by more than €500 a month in their wage packets.
One of the most interesting aspects of the present crisis is the response of the armed forces. Members of the Gardai took part in the February 21 demonstration. They then held their own protest of over 3,000 on February 25. The army has said it will not scab in the event of a general strike. Such protests are unprecedented in the history of the state.
Meanwhile unemployment soars, with a hike of 15,800 to 388,600 in April – in a population of 4 million. Economic and Social Research Institute has forecast that 300,000 more jobs will be lost before the end of next year. The future of Irish capitalism is bleak.
My involvement with a local campaign to prevent the closure of a community centre over the last two weeks has brought home to me the depth of feeling. Meetings and demonstrations of hundreds of angry people have pushed the local council into taking emergency measures. The centre, like public-private partnerships throughout the country, is in crisis. The private management company has bailed out, complaining of lack of profit. But people are adamant that a facility that is needed should not fall victim to the laws of capitalism. The struggle has been combative and intense. It is a microcosm of the contradictions and problems at the heart of Irish society today. It also points to the glaring need for a working class party.
There have been initiatives from the left to unite to organise strike action. But all the groups are again standing separately in the June local elections. The working class is becoming increasingly radicalised. If a united party was to be launched with a revolutionary programme, it would surely make tremendous headway. There is a vacuum at the heart of society. It needs to be filled urgently by a mass communist party.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Economic crisis fuels anger

The Irish economy remains in an extremely precarious situation. The ailing Celtic Tiger has just lost its prized AAA credit rating. And there are warnings of further downgrades, along with calls for ‘fresh faces in government’ from the international ratings agency, Standards and Poor.

The national budget deficit is currently €16 billion, with a prediction by Standards and Poor that it will take €20 billion to rescue the banks. The government continues to borrow €50 million a day. With the property market in meltdown, there are few VAT receipts to call on. And with almost 400,000 unemployed (out of a population of four million), income tax is massively reduced. The slide towards economic collapse seems inexorable.

The pressure on those below is causing tremendous personal difficulties. An income levy of 1%-2% of wages was imposed on all workers in January. This was followed by a pension levy on public sector workers. The loss for those affected by both levies is about €80 a week. An emergency budget is to be unveiled on April 7 which will almost certainly introduce another tax levy, as well as major cuts in public services.

And this is for those lucky enough to have jobs. The unemployed face cuts in their benefit. At least one charity in Dublin has started handing out food parcels to the newly jobless. I remember being shocked to hear of soup kitchens being set up in Iceland to feed those in a similar situation. Now it seems it is Ireland’s turn. All this is apart from housing repossessions.

There is, of course, tremendous anger and frustration among ordinary people. And the government’s hopes of social stability and national unity with the re-entry of unions into social partnership talks seem unlikely to materialise. Workers will not simply accept what is being thrown at them and many are furious with union leaders for cancelling the national strike organised for March 30. There is also deep cynicism at the ability of these talks to produce anything other than delay and sell-out.

On April 1 lunchtime protests were held throughout the country by members of Civil and Public Service Union. An RTE interviewer spoke to these government workers as, one after another, they voiced their disappointment - often bitterness and anger - that March 30 was off and they had been denied their opportunity to take to the streets and make their feelings known. They echoed the sentiment expressed by other sections that the only way forward was through mass action.

The CPSU will hold its delegate conference this week and its website promises that the decision to defer strike action will be revisited. General secretary Blair Horan has been reluctantly pushed to the left by the militancy of his members. Similarly members of Siptu, the technical union, at Dublin Cork and Shannon airports announced last week that they were pressing ahead with a strike on April 2 despite the return to social partnership. This provoked an outcry from the Siptu bureaucracy, which lost no time in denouncing and disowning any industrial action. Aviation workers finally agreed to go to conciliation, but the crisis is far from over.

Meanwhile thousands of taxi drivers staged a 24-hour stoppage on March 30 to call for an end to the issuing of new hackney licences. There are now more taxis in Dublin than on the streets of Manhattan, as redundant and low-paid workers tout for fares.

The local and European elections on June 5 will almost inevitably bring major losses for the Fianna Fáil government. A poll carried out by the Sunday Business Post last week showed that 66% of voters did not trust the government to deal with the crisis. But 40% thought neither Fine Gael nor Labour would do any better, while another 30% had no opinion on the merits of any party.

In the absence of a working class alternative, some may turn to Labour despite the polls. But most people remember Labour in office, when it loyally supported successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael administrations. And, while leader Eamon Gilmore is now talking left, he has left the door open to a coalition with Fianna Fáil if there is a general election.

The Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s current coalition partner, is truly discredited. It has failed to even fight for its own policies outside of superficial environmental concessions.

In this political void there is an urgent need for the left to fill the vacuum. All of the main parties are associated with the Celtic Tiger. All have had their snouts in the trough of capitalism and are hungry for more.

For the working class the answer must be a single Marxist party. Capitalism has shown its true colours and is incapable of doing anything but cause more pain and exploitation. Once again the point must be made - we need a party of our class. We need to take the lead.

Hands off the People of Iran Dublin Meeting 23 April

Hands off People of Iran presents:

Iranian Revolution – the hidden history

23 April Teachers Club, Parnell Square 8pm

The Iranian revolution is often portrayed as an uprising led by Islamic fundamentalists. This completely denies the reality of this immense social movement. The roots of 1979 lay in the mass democratic and secular struggle against the deeply discredited Shah. Women’s organisations, workers and students all took part in an uprising for freedom and democracy. This was a progressive movement that was hijacked by the Ayatollah and his supporters.

Torab Saleh took part in the movement of 1979. He will speak of his personal experiences of that time and the challenges it presented to him and others on the left. He will focus on the many exciting events of that year, including the coming together of a vibrant and confident women’s movement and the energy and determination of the working class.

Torab has written extensively on the subject and his articles can be found at

Come along to listen and take part in an important discussion about one of the most exciting events of the 20th century.

Contact Anne at or on 0862343238

Monday, March 30, 2009

View from Workers Power on the political situation

30 March 2009
League for the Fifth international

The Day of Action called by the Irish Congress of Trade Union' (ICTU) of or Monday 30 March has been called off without the slightest act of consultation. Rank and file militants from every sector of the trade union movement are furious with the gross act of sabotage by their `leaders'. Their excuse – the Irish Business and Employers' Federation (IBEC) and Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen have offered to resume talks with the ICTU. So cheaply are these people bought!
Have they even been promised any concessions? Not a bit of it! Absolutely nothing. Quite the opposite; IBEC have said it is hard to envisage any pay rises before 2011 and the Government's 7 April Budget will see further cuts to the tune of 4 billion euros. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan suggests this new attack will include the non-replacement of 3,000 public sector workers jobs every year.

The 120,000 strong ICTU demonstration in Dublin last month against the government's plans to impose a pension levy and renege on pay awards forced the cowardly union leaders to call ballots for action. But even then this action was limited to compelling bosses to abide by the Social Partnership agreement to award workers 3½% pay rises.It was not designed to reject the pension levy.

Nevertheless the Day of Action would have seen mass strikes all over Ireland. All four teacher unions gave their backing. Nurses were coming out. UNITE had served notice on a number of employers for strike action as had the craft union TEEU which had called on 45,000 members to strike. IMPACT the largest public sector union voted 65 per cent for strike, one per cent less than the required (and undemocratic) two-thirds majority, But the union had given protection to those not wishing to cross picket lines. Low paid civil servants have already struck and mounted several lunch time pickets on government buildings. It was always clear that a one- day stoppage would not have beaten back the government but it could have been a launching pad for further action up to an including am all out general strike.

An important feature of the situation is that not a single party in the Dáil (the lower house of parliament), including Labour and Sinn Fein, supported the proposed day of action. This despite the tact that the rising tide of struggle has had the effect of boosting Labour in the opinion polls. Indeed Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the proposed strikes. This shows that workers urgently need to their own political representation: a fighting socialist and anti-imperialist party.

It is plain ICTU leaders have no stomach for a fight. They cynically wound up their members only to get themselves back around the table with the bosses and the government. They have no real objection to the government unloading the costs of the crisis onto their members' shoulders. They just wanted to be consulted. They were just angry with the government trying to dispense with their services as the messenger boy. After all they have been involved in the Social Partnership swindle for years, even giving advice to the government on where to make cuts.

They say they want everyone to bear the pain equally, the rich and poor. Hundreds of thousands of workers see things differently: why they should bear the cost of a recession which they did not cause? Besides it is plain the bankers and businessmen will certainly not be bearing the pain. Indeed they saved from it by huge handouts from the government; some 5.5 billion to recapitalise the banks. The bill for this will will be paid in increased pension contributions and by with taxpayers for years to come, especially hitting workers and small farmers. It will be the pretext for billions of euros worth of cuts in social spending.

Workers' palpable anger at the ICTU's sell out must not be allowed to evaporate in impotent rage. There have been calls for ICTU chief David Begg to resign for overturning so many ballots for action. He should. When we want to take action there is a ponderous rigmarole of balloting that has be gone through, but a sell-out can be arranged overnight. The fact that our leaders can do this should wake everybody up. What we need is power to return to the grass roots of the unions . We need to take control of our own struggles.

In the face of the present and planned cuts there will be more explosions of rage, street protests and union action. Ordinary union members must take control of these struggles by electing local committees at mass meetings. They should consist of delegates, recallable by these meetings if they do not follow the members' wishes. In France such general assemblies, and committees called co-ordinations, are routine in all major struggles. That is why the French workers have managed to reject so many of their bosses and governments plans over the past five years. This is the language we need to speak to our arrogant bosses and our weak-kneed union leaders.

We also need to start the job of creating a network of rank and file militants in every union and across the unions that can hold the spineless leaders to account, either forcing them to call action or make way for those who will. SIPTU workers at Dublin Airport have already given notice to strike next Thursday over pay which their leaders have not sanctioned. They are right. We say: With the officials where possible, without them where necessary!

Let's hold mass meetings in every workplace to build an unstoppable movement of strike action from below

No to the Pension Levy! No to Wage Cuts!
Tax the Rich!
For an indefinite General Strike against the cuts and job losses!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Strike off but struggle continues

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has called off the national strike planned for March 30 despite massive support. ICTU has instead decided to accept the invitation of taoiseach Brian Cowen to re-enter talks with government and employers for a ‘programme of national recovery’.

General secretary David Begg is no doubt relieved that his proposals for talks have finally been accepted. He had been pressing the government to adopt his ‘10-point programme’ since the strike was announced on February 21 following tremendous pressure from below and a massive 120,000-strong demonstration in Dublin. ICTU knew it had to act to show opposition to the deeply unpopular pension levy.

However, from the beginning it was clear that the plan was to use working class militancy as a lever back into negotiations. It was a stick to beat the government for causing the previous talks to break down. Equally, that the government did back down shows that it felt aware of the intensity of anger among the working class. Cowen feared not only the prospect of the entire country, including airports, closing down, but that of yet more thousands taking to the streets. Begg has now admitted that talks to avoid all this were actually taking place behind the scenes.

Once the strike was announced, we were all in the dark as to what the plans were for the day. The ICTU website was completely devoid of any information regarding March 30. Nobody knew what was going on - except, of course, those involved in backroom discussion. You would not be criticised for thinking that the ICTU leadership never actually meant the action to go ahead.

Despite this and the absence of any mobilisation campaign, the ballots on the whole were very solidly for industrial action. The Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union, the largest craft union, voted 80% in favour, while the main teachers’ union, INTO, voted by 79% for action. This kind of response was reflected throughout the unionised workforce. Impact, the country’s largest public sector union, was just 1% short of the 66% required for a strike under its undemocratic two-thirds majority rule. There were in fact reports that not all members had been balloted. Despite all of the confusion and pressure, however, it was clear that Impact members would not want to cross picket lines. March 30 - or M30, as it became known - promised a very strong showing of working class opposition, something the government did not want. And their loyal allies in the trade union bureaucracy helped them to avoid that reality.

But the crisis is by no means over. A draconian budget aimed at raising at least €4.5 billion is to be announced on April 7. This will include front-line cuts in the already badly stretched health service. Taxation will be introduced for those on low incomes, and welfare benefits are also due to be cut. ICTU says it wants to be in on discussions so as to protect ‘the most vulnerable’. But Begg and other union leaders also tell us that the working class, including the most vulnerable, will have to accept their share of the pain.

The response of workers to the March 25 announcement that the strike is off will be interesting. Many will feel sold out. A place around the table to agree cuts and levies is not much help to those struggling to make ends meet, with the new pension levy already in place. There may be some unofficial action or lunchtime protests. Workers are well aware that the need for struggle has not gone away.

Indefinite strike action by bus workers in Dublin is to begin on March 30. They had also been to the labour court for talks with employers, but these broke down. The government cannot provide any succour for those looking for less pain. Irish capitalism is in big trouble.

The media over recent weeks shifted attention from ‘fat cats’ in the banking sector to those selfish workers intending to strike. Tremendous pressure has been applied for everyone to pull together in the national interest. Waterford Glass workers, lacking support from ICTU, reached a deal this week and, having been forced to compromise, will see the plant close.

This episode has shown a clear need for unity from below. The trade union bureaucracy cannot be given sole responsibility for conducting the struggle. They are bound to sell out, particularly as they are so desperate to get back into social partnership. We need to create a rank and file within the unions that can coordinate action. One of the problems is that there are far too many different unions, especially in the public service.

We also need to struggle for democracy within them, for all discussions between ICTU and government to be fully reported, for ballots to be won and lost on a simple majority, not prohibitive quotas. We also need to look to coordinate action locally and involve non-unionised workers.

But, most of all, we on the left need to look to ourselves as communists and socialists, and begin serious discussions now aimed at the building of a single revolutionary party. The situation is crying out for a genuine working class alternative and we must not waste this opportunity to demonstrate that only Marxism can provide real answers.

No party represented in the Dáil supported the March 30 strike. The working class needs its own political voice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Economic situation and the tasks for the left

See attached link for an interview with Hillel Ticktin, marxist economist, on the situation for capitalism today and the need for the left to take initiative as marxists.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sinn Fein backs police over killings

The political and media response to the recent shootings in the north of Ireland has been predictable.
The Guardian devoted its front page to the response on March 11 with the headline, “Ireland unites to condemn killers”. Politicians north and south of the border, church and trade union leaders have been vociferous in their denunciations. They have been at one in seeking to unite the population against the attacks.
Sinn Féin was initially slow to respond - there was a delay of 14 hours before it produced a statement. This was framed in cautionary terms and warned the Real IRA and Continuity IRA against undermining the peace process. It seemed to be more of an appeal than a denunciation. But pressure mounted for Sinn Féin to come out with a harder line. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness began to mirror Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party in their abhorrence of the people who carried out the shootings.
McGuinness stood alongside Robinson and chief constable Hugh Orde outside Stormont and pledged his party’s commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice. He called them “traitors to the entire island of Ireland”, while Adams made an appeal for republicans to give full cooperation to the police in the massive manhunt underway.
There have been national protests against the attacks. David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Trade Union Congress, fronted calls for mass demonstrations. Protests took place in Belfast, Newry, Downpatrick and Derry - the March 11 event in Belfast organised by Unite attracted over 10,000 people.
One of the reasons given for the call for national unity is the spectre of a return to the violence of the republican struggle. But, as Robinson, Orde and southern politicians well know, there is little chance of these shootings provoking such an upsurge. Orde himself condemned the groups as tiny, disparate and completely infiltrated.
He knows that they are splinter groups who have no mass base among Catholics in the north.
These are very different times compared to the late 1960s and 70s. Today Sinn Féin is supposedly in charge of policing, along with the DUP. It helps to run the state. Indeed, as McGuinness has said, by targeting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, CIRA is targeting Sinn Féin itself. He asserted that if he had any personal knowledge of the killers he would immediately pass it on to the police.
Unlike the Provisional IRA, CIRA and RIRA do not have the mass support of working class communities in the north of Ireland. But now the Sinn Féin representatives of the Provisionals are sitting in government. Just like Fianna Fáil in 1921, they have gone from freedom fighters to constitutional nationalists. Their war is over.
But, contrary to what media and bourgeois politicians would have us believe, the north of Ireland was not some haven of harmony and prosperity shattered by these shootings. The ‘peace dividend’ has not been nearly enough and the recession is also hitting hard. There is still tremendous poverty, affecting both republicans and loyalists.
The Good Friday agreement has not brought together Protestants and Catholics. In fact divisions have worsened and tensions deepened, and new ‘peace’ walls have gone up ensuring communities are kept apart. Northern Ireland remains an extremely fractured society.
The PSNI is largely seen as the discredited Royal Ulster Constabulary in a different uniform and many republican parts of Belfast remain ‘no go’ areas - Craigavon being a good example. Disaffected republican youth are often targeted by the police. Raids on homes as part of the recent clampdown on republican dissidents have been strongly criticised by Sinn Féin. It is possible that some of these disaffected youth have been attracted to join breakaway republican groups. That a 17-year-old was arrested in connection with the shooting of the PSNI officer is perhaps testimony to that.
Today Sinn Féin stands fully behind the PSNI. These recent shootings have pushed it into an even stronger and more open identification with Stormont and all it stands for. Its days as freedom fighters are over. It will deal with these splinter groups just as harshly as its colleagues in the DUP.