Sinn Fein’s Irish Unity drive in Britain is still too restricted to the usual suspects

Pete has already noted Paul Bew’s unionist intellectual’s contribution in advance of Sinn Fein’s Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda conference tomorrow (Saturday). Apart from the flattering comments from the noble Lord and former Trimble adviser, much of the agenda attracts the sort of left British opinion Sinn Fein courts here but is wary of in Ireland. The Guardian’s Comment is Free carries articles by several of them. Margaret Ward’s piece on the role of Irish women supports Irish abortion but tactfully omits any reference to SF’s position. As Paul remarks, SF are in listening mode. At a preliminary conference in Westminster, I’m afraid I misread the listening for a dearth of their own ideas. Still, it was refreshing compared to the old agitprop. However unless SF can attract engagement from wider than this largely self-selecting forum (with Lord Bew as the grit in the oyster), it’s hard to see how they can make much headway. Ironically it was the Agreements that sucked much of the energy out of the unity dynamic. After an awkward pause, SF will continue searching for a way to pick it up again. Now that the great historic grievance has been addressed, a new rationale is required. Typically, Martin McGuinness will be appealing more to harder headed self interest than will his President. After the long war, the long haul. As a duo, are Adams and McGuinness turning into De Valera and Lemass?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • FitzjamesHorse

    For the purposes of clarification, unionist intellectual Paul Bew as referred to by Brian Walker is the same Paul Bew referred to as a “crossbench” peer….earlier today by Mr Baker.

  • RobertNoonan


    Goodness how can you compare these 2 with Lemass & De Valera like chalk and Cheese.In terms of unbringing the are poles apart which I hope would stand to the present leadership of SF.

  • Brian Walker

    Unionist peers are cross benchers – although Paul is genuinely independent. I could add, former communist and then softer left sympathiser, original historian and political thinker…

  • Brian Walker

    Robert.. the dreamer and the realist.. doesn’t it work for you? I quite like it.

  • Mark McGregor

    I hope Jarlath, who is billed as a GAA representative at this SF event, remembers he can only represent GAA policy and has no remit to indulge in debate.

    I’m surprised that he is being sent to this English event over a representative of the GAA structures that exist in England.

  • Mark McGregor

    Thats not what I’m saying – I’m saying I doubt Jarlath has requested or been given a remit to speak on behalf of the GAA at this SF meeting.

  • RobertNoonan

    Brian I am a bit slow and unsure what you mean

  • RobertNoonan


    Mr Bew was a former member of the Worker Party according to the Lost Revolution I think I am fairly correct there. I am open for correction.

    No slander intended

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathleen Collins

    “After the long war, the long haul. As a duo, are Adams and McGuinness turning into De Valera and Lemass?”

    Well, they certainly aren’t a COLLINS.

  • Mark McGregor


    I’m surprise anyone would give a political tag to Paul Bew. Its like asking what colour will the wind be tomorrow. We all know the wind has no colour but just like the wind we are assured its direction and strength can change in a moment.

  • Alias

    RN, I think Mr Walker is trying to undermine Irish nationalism in favour of pragmatism by portraying Dev as a dreamer as Lemass as the pragmatist. That’s based on his erroneous assumption that Lemass somehow rejected the right of the Irish nation to self-determination, when the reality is otherwise. At any rate, Mr Walker recognises that retention of principles are an impediment to the imposition of British sovereignty, so we wishes to foster a misguided believe that pragmatism (i.e. a lack of principles) is the progressive position for the Irish nation to adopt.

    Dev, of course, wrote the first article of the Irish constitution: “The Irish nation hereby affirms its inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.”

    It doesn’t say anything about agreeing that another nation should have a veto over the right of the Irish nation to “to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.” Mr Walker thinks that it should, thereby cancelling the right of the Irish nation to self-determination.

  • Brian Walker

    Alias, Come on, lighten up! Read McGuinness’s Guardian piece, he’s appealing to uniomists and economics, like Lemass in the mid 60s, geddit? Just a little historical parallel, nothing whatever to do with your “self determination” riff. No aspersions cast. Don’t use a mallet to crack a nut..

  • Alias

    Well, then I apologise for the mind-reading but don’t look for your money back because I never go that far.

    However, it is a theme among those who seek to undermine Irish nationalism. Firstly, they equate it with Dev, and then they equate Dev with backwardness, and then they have the implication that Irish nationalism is the road to poverty, mass immigration, valleys of squinting windows, pederast priests, et al – and so we want to avoid Irish nationalism because we want to avoid all of that. That’s where principles get ya! Then we have a nice contrast with Lemass, who is seen as pragmatic and is associated with industrialisation, progress, and modernity – and even the swinging sixties, by golly! We want plenty of that, so we should reject the outdated and retarded and retarding practice of having fundamental principles such as a belief in self-determination and embrace pragmatism as a precursor to having whatever goes – and what’s on offer is British rule.

  • Alias

    By the way, the likes of McGuinness should not be regarded by unionists as in any way as a spokesman for the Irish government or for the Irish nation. They should also keep in mind that the catholics in that part of the UK agreed to give up their national rights and reside within a British state but that the Irish nation did no such thing. McGuinness is about as close to being Lemass as Fred West was to being Thatcher.

  • Munsterview

    Charity should begin at home !

    This English roadshow is all very well and possibly necessary even if in the first instance it do include little more than ‘ the usual suspects’, there is always the possibility of some outreach from it. As a frequent visitor to historical seminars in England and Scotland where my political views are not exactly hidden, I have yet to meet a person at these events that were passionate or indeed concerned about maintaining the Six Counties as part of the U.K.

    If my experiences are anything to go by and these attitudes are indicative of thinking middle class opinion, then there is a mood to disentangle from what they see as internal Irish affairs as quickly as they possibly can.

    While involved in Republican politics from the end of the sixties I have also been as long involved in cultural activities. It is my personal belief and has been for almost four decades that Irish National Independence, such as it was, could not have come about without the sizable and significant input of the Anglo/Irish class to the Celtic renaissance in the last quarter of the 19th, century.

    It is high time that we had a few home seminars North and South to re-examine and re appreciate this culture heritage. Yeaths, Lady Gregory, Douglas De h-Ide, Davis, Mitchell, Emmet, Tone etc. Gaelic/R.C. Ireland have appropriated each and all as ‘our own’ giving glib lip service to their names and sacrifice divorced from any real knowledge of their own motivating religious, political, philosophical ideals or values .

    The controversy regarding the commemoration of Betsy Grey at the end of the 19th, century shows this did not happen to-day or yesterday. Because of this appropriation two grave wrongs were done; Irish Republican Ireland has little knowledge of the true values of it’s founding fathers, or rather brothers and sisters and ‘the other Ireland’ has been deprived of a true past and real culture heros from whom they could deprive pride and legitimacy in the present.

    President McAliese has opened a window on this particular heritage; it is now high time we got the front door unlocked and took a walk inside !

  • BryanS

    I reckon SFIRA and the ‘armed struggle’ have done more than anything else to set back the cause and prospect of Irish Unity by at least a half century.
    Take me for example. Born in dublin of parents born in derry and armagh at the turn of the century. Why do I feel British and why am I a uniouist? Surely it would be natural for me to be a nationalist? The reason can only be as a reaction to the violence in the name of Irish unity. Most reasonable people would react against the mindless bombings and shootings carried out by the IRA. To an extent these criminals have stolen my Irishness. They haven’t made me feel close to the English but they have distanced me from anything Irish that they represented. While I realise that they have only a tiny support in the south they have alienated me from people I should feel a real affinity to. Damn them for it. Wee it not for the nastiness of the last 40 years a united Ireland would be have been a logical conclusion.

  • Brian

    Can you tell me what is the difference between agiprop and what all governments and political parties go in for, for example the posters from the Tory party which plague England at the minute.

  • damon

    I hope BryanS that you no longer live in the Republic. Otherwise that would be tough going.

    I can’t wait to hear what Diane Abbott had to say.
    (Does she know anything about Ireland?)

    They’ve had similar events in New York and San Francisco, and this was the level of the debate:

    ‘‘One speaker was applauded when he suggested that an effort should be made to co-ordinate all of the St. Patrick’s Day events in the USA and to ensure that they adopt the United Ireland theme. Another spoke of the support which the Irish struggle had won over the years from other ethnic groups and that a real effort should be made to win support for a United Ireland from them.’’

  • Munsterview

    damon………..” Another spoke of the support which the Irish struggle had won over the years from other ethnic groups and that a real effort should be made to win support for a United Ireland from them.’’

    Not as off the wall as you would seem to suggest. ! Why did an Afro/ American unit possessed of Civil War Veterans take part in the Fenian Invasion of Canada, what possessed them to be prepared to fight and die in a green uniform for Irelands cause. ?

    When in the States in 1976 I found the emigrant Irish far more aware and appreciative of political reality than the average Fianna Fail of Fine Gael member here at home. At one Nor Aid function I met the brother of a prominent F.F. member and I chided him as to what his brother would think of his attendance at such an event.

    The anger and passion of his reply took me aback……. ” It’s that bastard and the bloody rest of them like him that have the likes of me out here working two jobs to bring up a family so they can keep a bigger slice of the cake for themselves with corruption from the very top down to every parish in the country ” I quickly found he was not alone in that view that night!

    BryanS …… I see for my self first hand what things were like in Nationalist communities in the early seventies and since. What did you or those of your view do in concrete terms to provide an alternative to armed struggle for these communities and areas ?. For me and others in the South who by choice stood with our Northern fellow country men and women, we paid a steep price in terms of our domestic, social and business lives.

    Others in these islands it seems could live with it no matter how God Damm awful it was as long as it all was contained ‘up there’ and ‘over there’ To quote E. O’Malley, ” It is easy to sleep on another man’s wound ” ! The Child Clerical Sexual Abuse Scandal, The Magdeline laundries Scandal, The T.B. Scandal, The Dublin Slums and largest sex sales areas, The food exports during the Famine Holocaust etc.

    It was ever the Irish way……. hospital stretchers full of seriously ill and distressed patients lined corridors when this country was awash with money at the heigh of the Celtic Tiger era, not just because people did not care, but because the numbers caring never grew large enough to cause Fianna Fail policy change.

    Good for you BryanS that you have the luxury of pondering as to where you fit in culturally in this island, for others all to often now as in the past it is a matter of simply trying to just stay alive.

  • BryanS

    thank you for an utterly non-considered response to my post.

  • Reader

    Munsterview: …an alternative to armed struggle for these communities and areas
    The alternative depends on what you think the objective of the armed struggle actually was! Since I doubt that La Mon, or Bloody Friday, or Kingsmills actually made nationalist communities safer or more prosperous, armed struggle seems to have some other purpose.
    Perhaps you feel that other purpose, whatever it was, has been fulfilled now? Certainly the objective as defined at the time – a United Ireland by force – has not been achieved.

  • damon

    Sorry BryanS. I didn’t mean to be ill-considered.
    I agree with you. The Provisionals were a disaster for Irish nationalism.

    Munsterview, that’s not really going to wash with unionists. And what have events in Canada in 1866 got to do with anything?

    1976 in America? They knew nothing really I’d guess.
    It was just an emotional thing. If you’d said that the USA should end its hostility to Cuba to the same people, they’d have called you a communist.

  • Munsterview


    Re Negro unit ( as Afro/Americans were then termed) fighting in Fenian army, historical fact of outreach and interesting snippet.

    Those 1976 Irish guys and gals who had emigrated in the previous decade, at home had blind tribal allegiance to F.F. or F.G. election after election, it was only in the U.S. the scales dropped and they began to question things. Some there were my friends and had my own second level education been completed in 60 or 61 rather than 65 I could have well been among them.

    They were victims of F.F. complacency and the attitude of ” we cant all live on this small island” as infamously articulated by the late Brian Lenihan. Far from ‘an emotional thing’ they knew Irish reality all too well, they were victims of it !

  • damon

    There’s nothing wrong with a bit of history Munsterview, and that thing about Canada and the Fenians is something I never knew about before …. and do now (having looked it up).

    Fair point if you are talking about Irish émigrés in America back then, and I’m sure you know a lot more about F.F. and F.G. than I do.
    Still, I wonder what a unionist is going to make of all that.

    If this conference was to have anything progressive about it, it would have to me more than just a rallying promotion to get the Irish nationalist diaspora (and British left) involved.

    Gerry Adams said this last year to 600 people in San Francisco:

    ”I reminded my audience that these conferences are only the beginning of the journey – a new phase in the struggle to achieve Irish reunification. I told them that a united Ireland can only be achieved by the people who live on the island of Ireland. However, as the peace process has shown the Irish diaspora, and particularly Irish America, has the ability and the political influence to significantly advance the goal of Irish reunification.”

  • Munsterview


    In the early seventies Jimmy Mee S.F was an elected town commissioner for passage west in Cork. A mild mannered, competent man, while the only S.F. person there in tribute to his dedication and hard work he was selected as their spokesman for the combined 26 county local government elected representatives delegate conference.

    He had four minutes; F.F. booed, shouted, catcalled and stomped their feet right through and of course since S.F. was the quarry, The Blueshirts were also in full cry. Around the same period I presided over the formation of a S.F. branch on a monday, by wednesday of that same week the new chairman had his plant hire contract for road work with the County Council, cancelled. I could go on and on ! This was the space and respect for democracy given to people like me, or indeed any dissident voice in the South.

    My political motivation was for a new and better democratic society North and South. It was not for S.F. to settle in to the same clientelst, dependency politics as F.F., F.G. and Labor in the South or to be locked into the present sterility in the North. However I always held, having experienced the reality of life for Nationalist communities during the troubles, that if a stage was reached where there was an interim settlement satisfactory to the majority of these communities, then I would support it.

    Political progress since the G.F.A. has been a grave disappointment to me and others like me North and South in terms of actual change or difference made in social advancement. The almost pathological need of S.F. not to upset F.F. in the South to keep them on side for the North has neutered their Dail performance. While a S.F. councillor was the victim of Willie O’Dea’s antics, it was left to F.G. ( the irony of it) Labour and finally The Greens to force him from office.

    As a person there from the start I can say that a United Ireland by force was never the objective. In reality, there was little appetite for the Civil War engagement never mind a war against the Southern state any time afterwards. Had Republicans in 69, 70 and 71 or anytime in the following decades, been met with recognition and some form of accommodation rather than interment, jail, state execution and repression, then the need for a war situation and the consequences of that war situation, such as you have described, would not have existed.

  • Munsterview


    Look up ‘The All For Ireland League ‘ founded by O’Brien, Cannon Sheehan, D.D. Sheehan M.P. et al in 1909 and see the efforts then made to accommodate the ‘unionist view’ and this from Catholic Priests, sworn Fenians and people who had suffered under the worst excesses of Landlordism. D.D.Sheehan as a child was evicted from a farm that had been in his family for three generations because his father ‘was out’ in the 67 Rising thirteen years before.

    As to not knowing of the Fenian Canadian Invasion, we are all on a learning curve here, or should be! It did serve a purpose, if not the one intended…… it united Canadians and led to a unified country. They owe us one, any possibility of they conducting a brief North/South invasion ? Well if it worked for them…..

  • damon

    Munsterview, I have no problem with the history.
    My grandfather was living it in county Waterford and I’m always happy to learn more.

    And to old-time nationalists, the right’s and wrongs pre partitition can seem pretty clear.

    But you know that saying about possesion being nine tenths of the law? I think some of that applies to Northen Ireland. Also, like the phrase ”let sleeping dogs lie”.

    Ireland now is at peace for the most part. The border is completely pourous and you can cross it at will. You can choose what side of it you want to live. I couldn’t really care about flags and emblems and what colour the post boxes are. Or what currency is used, or whether you call the cops police or Garda Síochána.

    I think it ‘could’ be better as a united Ireland, but not by coercion. So, as the Unionists don’t want it, then, might as well forget it for this generation.

    I actually quite liked the idea of Éire Nua, but unlike Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and David O’Connell who wrote it, I don’t think trying to bring it about was worth spilling blood over.

    Republicans failed in their strategy. They thought they could force Britain to withdraw by force, and they couldn’t.
    They thought once they got rid of ”the Brits” – that Unionists would just roll over and seek the best terms they could in a united Ireland.
    So, their campaign was a disaster for Ireland.

    I think it would be better just to get on with living and trying to get rid of some of the sectarian attitudes. And that wont happen while this ‘war by other means’ goes on.

  • slug

    Damon – where in Ireland are you moving to?

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    ” 3.Damon – where in Ireland are you moving to? ”

    Posted by slug

    Yeah let us know broadly just so that we can scare you before you get here (only joking)

  • Munsterview


    some sleeping dogs should not be left lie!……… A point I have consistently made in Slugger and elsewhere is that despite all the google, multi-media, instant knowledge access etc, the majority of people on these islands are unaware of their true past.

    Result, in the South a narrow, illiberal, dogmatic clerical, Catholicism trotting out an appropriated range of Protestant icons without reference to their values or ideals, while in the North some Literal descendants of some of the most politically progressive and philosophical, tolerant people of their era do not know what their own forebears stood for and have to look across the water for cultural icons.!

    There is a saying in Mid-Munster……. ” If you meet a person coming down the road and they do not know where they came from it is unlikely that they also know where they are going !”

    Perhaps if we can have a revisit to the celtic renewal when there was some effort to seek and explore a cultural commonality, there might be a few things there worth awakening from dormancy.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “Around the same period I presided over the formation of a S.F. branch on a monday, by wednesday of that same week the new chairman had his plant hire contract for road work with the County Council, cancelled.”

    Around the same period a FG Senator had his life cancelled.

    “This was the space and respect for democracy given to people like me,”

    Sure God love you.

  • damon

    I’m going to Dublin at first. I did live and work there for a while ten years ago, but I would actually like to go to Belfast.

    I work mostly as a delivery driver – that’s what I did in Dublin, but for Belfast I’m not sure how it works (sectarian wise). Although I speak with an English accent, my place of birth on my driving licence says ‘Republic of Ireland’, and I have an Irish sounding name.

    I’ve visited Belfast a few times and have a rough idea of the layout of the city (and what communities live where), and I’m not sure where I would fit in. Is it OK (for example) to just do multi-drop deliveries all over the place without thinking about whether it’s a unionist or loyalist area or a nationalist/republican one?

    I’ll go up anyway just for a look, and see what its like for jobs.

    And Munsterview – I’m not really into ‘roots’ that much.