Fianna Fail

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Republicanism and Nationalism; What Have They Ever Done for the Workers?

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Fluther (angrily): What th’ hell do I care what he says? I’m Irishman enough not to lose me head be follyin’ foreigners!

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

Sean O’Casey ‘The Plough and the Stars

In the Monty Python film the ‘Life of Brian’ one of the discontented lefty proletarians asks a very pertinent question – What have the Romans ever done for us?  The answer was apparently quite a lot.  Much of the humour in the scene derives from the questioner being reduced to a dumbstruck silence. Nevertheless it was a question well worth asking.  In the run up to the centenaries of the rising, the war of independence and the civil war the question, what have they ever done for the workers, needs to be asked again.

Republicanism in History

Republicanism has a long history stretching back to the ancient roman republic.

It was far from a harmonious state but riven by class conflict between patricians and plebeians.  Attempts at land reform and wealth redistribution ended with the respective murder and suicide of its two advocates (Boatwright et al, 2004).  Beyond that point the republic was dominated by an oligarchic gang of large land owners until its demise under the emperors.

Republicanism was to raise its head again in Britain between 1649 and 1660.  Cromwell had come to power through an alliance with middling disaffected landowners, merchants and artisans.  Yet he was aghast when the republican revolution and the associated political ferment spawned groups, such as Levellers, Diggers and 5th Monarchy Men, some preaching and attempting to practice a primitive form of millenarian communism.  Levellers demanded complete religious toleration, democratic control of the army and bi-annual parliamentary elections while the Diggers claimed that the land belonged to the whole people of England.  The republican Cromwell was having none of it and told his bourgeois supporters ‘you must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces’ (Morton, 1938)

After 1789 some of the French revolutionaries looked back to the roman republic as an exemplar. They abolished feudalism and the divine right of monarchy, proclaimed the rights of man and citizens and that great slogan Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Almost immediately a difficulty arose as to how these slogans could be given a concrete realisation and were they to apply to those outside the ranks of the middling classes.  The answer was not long in coming.  In 1791 the convention passed a law (Loi Le Chapelier) outlawing combination of workers or trade unions (Hepple, 2010).  The ongoing conflict between bourgeois and proletarians was temporarily halted by Napoleon.  Dictatorship preserved the social and economic conquests of the revolution for its main beneficiaries – the middle classes (Goodwin, 1963).  Nonetheless the class conflict stirred up by the revolution was to figure prominently in the politics of the French Republic for a century and a half (Hampson, 1989).

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01-02-2013 11-45-41

The McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries (2013)

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Yesterday the McAleese report on the Magdalene Laundries was published. Like many others, I expected that the report would be a whitewash. Why did I expect that?

Martin McAleese is the husband of former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. She was chosen for election by reactionary forces who sought to undo the advances achieved during the presidency of Mary Robinson, who was seen by them as a left-wing president who sought to advance dangerous causes such as feminism (she had been a highly successful feminist lawyer before her election). For an interesting insight into the selection process within Fianna Fáil read this article.

During her tenure she made many appearances at Catholic Church events. Her most controversial moment came, typically enough, when she took communion in an Anglican Church of Ireland cathedral. That her only controversial action should be theological is characteristic of her presidency which was marked by outward expressions of piety.

In 2010, then President McAleese gave the opening lecture at a conference of the right-wing Italian Catholic movement Comunione e Liberazione in Rimini, Italy. This is how The Italian correspondent of The Irish Times described that organisation:

“Founded in 1954 by Italian Monsignor Luigi Giussani, Comunione e Liberazione (CL) is, to some extent, an Italian version of the influential Spanish lay movement, Opus Dei, although it has no formal connections with Opus Dei. Throughout its history, it has received both public and tacit support from at least three popes – Paul VI, John Paul II and the current pope, Benedict XVI.

The current papal household is run by consecrated members (Memores Domini) of CL. Generally perceived as right-wing, conservative and integrationalist, CL has often been politically active in Italy. In the 1970s, the movement played a prominent part in failed campaigns to prevent the legalisation of both abortion and divorce. CL has always counted important shakers and makers among its public supporters, including most notably the seven-times prime minister Giulio Andreotti.”

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Micheál Martin – Opportunism and Cynicism of the Very Worst Kind

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The award for opportunist of the week must surely go to Micheál Martin. His hastily written opinion piece in Wednesdays Irish News was a timely reminder of Fianna Fáil’s cynical approach to both the peace process and to politics.

For weeks Belfast city centre has been brought to a standstill by illegal loyalist blockades. Night after night the same protestors have returned to their own neighborhoods and engaged in running battles with the PSNI causing real disruption to their own communities.

In more recent nights these riots have turned into organised attacks on nationalist homes in the Short Strand.

The situation is very serious. If it continues, many fear that someone will be killed.

So what is Micheál Martin’s response to this escalating crisis? Does his article give the impression of a political leader trying to understand the causes of the problem in order to play a constructive role in helping resolve it? Unfortunately not.

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