The rationale behind the Mother and Baby homes scandal

When Micheál Martin  and Leo Varadkar lay blame for crimes committed in Mother and Baby homes on all of Irish society, they are attempting to mask the reality of a toxic relationship between church and state that had its origins in the founding of the 26-County political entity in 1922. 

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The Irish civil war resulted in the establishment of a deeply conservative and profoundly reactionary government in the newly created Free State. Its claim to democratic legitimacy was based on a narrow election victory decided not so much by popular approval but as Mellows said, by the people’s fear of ‘immediate and terrible war’. Cumann na nGaedheal was unsure of its hold on power. It feared that a progressive republican message would lead to rejection of the dominion status it had agreed to through the Treaty and bloodily implemented during the civil war. 

At the same time, the equally reactionary Roman Catholic Church was also fearful that its global influence was being threatened by left-wing and socialist revolutionaries.  By the same token the Irish Catholic hierarchy was deeply hostile to the republican side in the civil war, routinely condemning its policies and activities. Nor was its paranoia eased in the following decade as many prominent republicans supported a socialist agenda.  

Little surprise therefore that an unofficial, but nevertheless real, partnership was formed between Ireland’s right wing political establishment and an ultra conservative Church.  In return for whole hearted support for the existent status quo, the Free State government placed enormous power in the hands of the Catholic hierarchy. Education, orphanages, reformatory schools and hospitals were managed by the Church. It was a relationship disturbingly similar to that which emerged twenty years later in Franco’s Spain and with a similar objective, to resist progressive change.

The partnership was so advantageous for a conservative ruling class that De Valera maintained the concordat when his Fianna Fail party replaced Cumann na nGaedheal as parliamentary caretaker of the Treaty. Not only that, but he embedded the arrangement by inserting a special placing for the Catholic Church in his 1937 constitution. 

Given such power, the Catholic Church doubled down on its more extreme practices all the while operating with collusion from a state happy to be sustained by clerical approval. 

That the cruel treatment of women and children in those vile institutions has finally been acknowledged by the perpetrators is a measure of progress. What has not been acknowledged and will not be acknowledged by them is the underlying reason for why this appalling situation happened in the first place. A damaging, self-serving alliance was created for the worst of all reasons: the preservation of two disreputable power structures, one clerical the other political/economic.

Tommy McKearney … 13 January 2021


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Celebrating the people’s struggle for a progressive republic

PDF  Democratic Programme for the 21st century   PDF 

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Covid-19 has not been all bad news for those who govern Ireland’s 26-county state. Apart from giving Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin continuing opportunities to pose solemnly in front of the television cameras, it has allowed the Irish establishment to quietly ignore seminal events of a century ago.

While the pandemic has obviously restricted public gatherings, official Ireland has done little to highlight or reflect upon the past. It’s almost as if the War of Independence was a disturbing and uncomfortable family secret, best when seldom mentioned and only talked about in public if absolutely unavoidable.

The proffered rationale for this neglect is invariably misleading and trite. “Say little in case it might inflame passions in the North,” they mutter. No need to revisit that period, since we are now so friendly with Britain, we are assured. Best not to dig too deep, because your neighbour’s grandfather may have been a member of the RIC or even a Black and Tan. And look at the difficulties commemorating that bunch of thugs caused Charlie Flanagan, not to mention the leadership of Fianna Fáil.

Of course if discussion of the period cannot be avoided, then endeavour to undermine the idealism, introduce the unpleasant, and imply that there is still worse to be uncovered. For example, Kevin Barry was willing to “kill and to die,” ran the tendentious headline in a recent Irish Independent article. Other sources spin the tale that civilians died in crossfire, women were sometimes abused, and caring fathers were among police casualties.

All undeniably true; but the story is not being told in context.

This misleading slant is often followed by raising questions such as Tom Barry’s account of the false surrender at Kilmichael, or insinuations that the IRA was guilty of sectarianism in certain areas. These are well-practised tactics designed to muddy the waters in order to provide scope for those who wish to equivocate, criticise, or deny.

It has to be said too that certain republicans have tended to oversimplify the conflict rather than critique it. They have promoted a view defining the aftermath as one merely of betrayal of an ideal. In reality this is a version of the “great man or bad man” theory of history.

However superficially attractive the view may be, it fails to provide a concrete analysis of the past and therefore cannot offer a telling insight into the present.

Ireland’s War of Independence is a story worth telling at any time and certainly not something to be shied away from. Nevertheless it was more than a series of military engagements, no matter how spectacular some of them may have been. It was a time of revolution, with mass popular participation at the grass roots—a time when the potential existed for fundamental social and economic change. That this latter possibility did not come about is not only revealing but has a crucial bearing on the present day.

By 1920 there existed in many parts of Ireland a situation of virtual dual power. An insurrectionary movement had rejected, and in places supplanted, the authority of a long-established and powerful regime. In its stead the insurgents had established their own governing institution, with its judicial system, police, and army. Not only did this new order have majority support in the country but it enjoyed significant backing from within organised labour, as demonstrated by a number of widespread, paralysing politically inspired strikes. Moreover, labour was flexing its muscle, seizing control of a number of work-places and unashamedly declaring them to be workers’ soviets.

This aspect of the War of Independence—that is, the potential to build a different, secular, socially and economically progressive Ireland—is often overlooked. Yet it remains central to a proper understanding of those events in our history. Moreover, it is one of the main reasons why today, apart from recalling a few outstanding episodes, the Irish establishment is reluctant to revisit that period. To do so would involve examining the struggle for Irish independence within a wider and more meaningful context than self-government alone.

What were the defining characteristics of the Sinn Féin movement of the time? What were its objectives, and why did it fracture? Most important of all, why were working people left out of the post-war settlement?

Writing later, the socialist republican Peadar O’Donnell made the incisive observation that “the middle class, which lurked in the shadow of the republican movement from its rise to popularity, was no part of the freedom forces; it had no aim that could not be realised in Home Rule within the British Empire.”

Therein lies a profound and accurate explanation for the Civil War, the genesis of which lay in conflicting class interests within the insurgent forces. Unfortunately, such clarity or insight was missing from among a majority of the anti-Treaty forces, a blind spot that focused attention then and subsequently on superficial aspects rather than the substance of the new 26-county arrangement. This misconception facilitated the emergence and endurance of a bourgeois state, a state immersed in crony capitalism and in effect beholden for its survival to the tenets of contemporary imperialism, whether British, American, or European.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that the Irish establishment is so uneasy about taking part in a deep reflection on the War of Independence and its immediate aftermath. Uncomfortable questions would be asked about the southern Irish state’s failure to address so many issues. How is it that almost a century later, and in the grip of a dangerous pandemic, we have a two-tier health service, failing abysmally? Why indeed have we two uncoordinated health services on this small island? Why have we a homelessness and housing crisis? Why do we still have a financial sector unanswerable to the people? Why is the Taoiseach unwilling to declare his support for an end to partition?

These and other questions will be addressed during a three-day digital festival organised by the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum to celebrate and analyse Ireland’s War of Independence. Taking place on the 27th, 28th and 29th of November, it is designed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Kilmichael ambush. The festival will explore, in conversation with a range of expert speakers, many aspects of the struggle. In particular it will asses the effect of those events on the present day, with a particular emphasis on the theme that now, and after such heroic struggle, “Labour must wait no longer.”

****  Details of the festival schedule are available on the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum website 

Tommy McKearney … 1st November 2020

This article eirst appeared in Socialist Voice November 2020

Containing the surge

Nothing worries an established ruling class so much as a series of unpredictable events over which they have no control. This is especially so when these events pose questions about the stability of the status quo. There can be little doubt that developments over the last six months have given rise to just such concerns within governing circles in Dublin.

Look at what has happened over that short period. 

Last December’s  British general election showed the fragility of partition, with unionism losing out in three of the four Belfast Westminster constituencies. Reconvening the Stormont Assembly has offered only temporary relief with the pandemic showing London rule to be more incompetent not to mention more undemocratic than anything emanating from Leinster House.

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Electoral upset in the North was followed a few weeks later by shock in the South. Sinn Fein received the highest number of votes for any single party thus creating an unprecedented situation. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in partnership were unable to form a majority government. The real question posed by that result is whether Sinn Fein’s manifesto and canvas was so inspiring that it reversed the dismal results of its two previous election performances or did it reflect something different. Did it indicate the slow burning anger of a very sizeable percentage of the population? A disadvantaged section of working people outraged with the arrogant mistreatment meted out by a Fine Gael government kept in power by a clueless Fianna Fail? 

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared at first to have given a reprieve to Leo Varadkar and his party. Clever PR created the impression of a competent and caring government. However, the mask has been slipping of late. He is preparing to reverse much of the €350 weekly pandemic payment while talking caustically about those drawing down more from that measure than they do at work. At the same time his ministers and mainstream media supporters speak darkly about budget deficits and no free money. 

All the while, a global recession is looming on the horizon. Capitalism is facing a much greater crisis than that triggered by the financial crash of 2008 and in the opinion of many, its greatest challenge since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The International Labour Organisation is predicting 12 million full-time jobs will be lost across the EU in 2020. The OECD has estimated the decline in output could be in the level of between one-fifth to one-quarter in many economies, with consumers’ expenditure potentially dropping by around one-third.

Compounding this, emergency measures taken to deal with the pandemic are raising concerns among free marketeers the world over. The Financial Times editorial of 9 May reflected the fears of the ruling classes when it wrote that short of a communist revolution it would be hard to imagine governments intervening in private markets more deeply than happened during the first months of lockdown. 

Just one example illustrates the difficulties this could cause for a neoliberal Irish state. Currently, 80% of the nursing homes in the Republic of Ireland are privately owned profit-making business. These institutions are now coming under intense scrutiny. Over 50% of Covid-19 related deaths in the 26-Counties are associated with care homes, one of the highest rates the world. The obvious answer, to bring all healthcare under centralised state control, threatens this nice little earner for the private sector. Moreover, since the situation vis-à-vis care homes in the North is little different, this could well raise for a partitionist Dublin establishment the unwelcome spectre of demands for an effective all-Ireland health service free to all at the point of entry.

Recognising what is at stake, several high-powered commentators, here and abroad, are advocating a Keynesian approach to deal with the anticipated recession. In reality, they recognise the threat a second more intensive round of austerity would pose for capitalism. However, this would be a difficult option for a Dublin government that doesn’t control its own currency and adheres slavishly to EU regulations preventing state intervention.

Moreover, even if the EU were to temporarily ease back on neo-liberalism, the southern Irish bourgeoisie would be reluctant to adopt Keynesianism. Crude demand stimulation would inevitably lead to another uncontrollable speculative bubble. On the other hand a more controlled investment programme might encourage demands for further, widespread state intervention. Something that could put us on the slippery slope towards socialism.   

Faced with this dilemma, the more attractive option for the Southern Irish ruling class will be to batten down the hatches, protect big business, maintain a de facto austerity regime  and hope to ride out the storm. With a right-wing coalition in office for the next five years, vague promises can be made but never kept. Meanwhile, a compliant mainstream media will point to southern Europe and tell us  how much better off we are with our prudent, frugal government.  

A major concern for the establishment will be to contain the disaffected, that disturbingly large number of people who voted for Sinn Fein and/or left-wing candidates. While coercion is an option, it is not the first choice. The more sophisticated strategy of shaping the opposition is favoured. It worked in Britain and no doubt it will be tried here.

Watch for the pundits encourage Sinn Fein to show maturity and serve patiently as an effective official opposition and tell them by thus acting ‘responsibly’, Mary Lou will undoubtedly lead the next government. Wait for the modest concessions offered to ‘reasonable’ trade union leaders who recognise that ‘we’re all in this together’ and show restraint for the good of the nation.

Listen then for the howls of outrage directed against those in organised labour who call for direct action to break the emasculating Industrial Relations Act or resist redundancies or reject poverty wages. Hear too the demonisation of those activists calling for mass street protest against iniquitous inequalities. 

Take time finally and consider whether capitalism deserves a five-year respite and an extension to its tenure thereafter. Or should we take a lesson from their own book and not waste this crisis?

Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek

Our programme to retouch,

And will insist, whene’er they speak

That we demand too much.

’Tis passing strange, yet I declare

Such statements give me mirth,

For our demands most moderate are,

We only want the earth … James Connolly

Tommy McKearney 


Coronavirus: A lesson for us all

Statement … Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum


The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, like many groups and individuals, has watched Covid-19 take a heavy toll on the lives of working people around the country. The emergence and global spread of this virus has brought home to many people the volatile nature of the world we live in, and exposed the fragile nature of health services in Ireland. It has also opened up conversations about how we should deal with it and how to learn for future viruses and also the type of future Ireland we should have.

Decades of underfunding, privatisation and commercialisation  have weakened and undermined the public health services that people need and have access to. The creation of a two-tier health system in the two parts of Ireland has contributed to further inequality within society.

Covid-19 has also exposed outmoded thinking about how we should deal with major social and political questions, including the provision of health services to our people, from Derry to Kerry. As many leading medical experts have pointed out, it makes no sense, and is dangerous to public health, to have two separate strategies for fighting Covid-19 and two poorly funded health services.

We believe that an all-Ireland, universally accessible, free public health system would be in the best interests of the citizens. It would go a long way to ending inequality in health care. We must maximise the use of medical expertise throughout the whole country. We need to remove the profit motive out of health services, from hospitals to care homes for the elderly.

Outmoded thinking in relation to creating a single health service for all our people will endanger the present and future generations. We need to plan for the future, not to be locked in the past.

Covid-19 is not the first virus, nor will it be the last, that will have an impact on our people. The continuing destruction of the global environment is opening up new pathways for such diseases to become more regular challenges, both globally and nationally, to people’s health and the provision of health care.

Working people paid for the last crisis in lost jobs, savage cuts in wages and services, homelessness, and precarious work. During the present health crisis working people have again borne an unequal burden, with many lives lost. Working people should not pay for this new and emerging economic crisis. We have had enough.

Contact:   Tommy Mc Kearney

Email: tommymckearney@me.com

PODSRF Press release ...14th May 2020

Desecration of Red Army memorials

The article below was written by Luhansk People's Republic resident  Andrie Kochetov. In it he details the enormous sacrifice made by the Soviet Red Army as it fought and liberated Europe from the curse of Fascism and Nazism only to now see memorials to the heroism of the fallen desecrated by right-wing governments in Eastern Europe.

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In recent years, an epidemic has swept across Eastern Europe. The epidemic of complete unconsciousness of pro-government elites. The unconsciousness of their own history. The Baltic countries for a long time out of hatred of their Soviet past made liquid goods for which Old Europe paid with great generosity and continues to pay those same thirty pieces of silver to the governments of these countries. But Bulgaria and Poland were relatively recently affected by this disease. We all followed the mass demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers in these countries. This was the result of the painstaking and lengthy work of Western propaganda aimed at completely erasing from the human memory the feat of the Soviet soldier. A soldier who did not spare his life for the liberation of the peoples of Europe. There are well-known data on the losses of the Red Army in the territory of Eastern Europe:

• in Poland - 600,212 people;

• in Czechoslovakia - 139918 people;

• in Hungary - 14,0004 people;

• in Germany - 101961 people;

• in Romania - 68,993 people;

• in Austria - 26006 people;

• in Yugoslavia - 7995 people;

• in Norway - 3436 people;

• in Bulgaria - 977 people;

The ashes of all these soldiers rest in the territory of the countries for whose freedom they gave their lives. And we, the heirs of the Victory soldiers quite reasonably expected respect and dignity for the graves and monuments of fallen heroes, as the generally accepted laws of human morality suggest. But no! Contrary to common sense and morality, egregious acts of vandalism have become the norm for the current descendants of the inhabitants of countries liberated by Soviet soldiers from fascism.

With alarm and indignation, we all watched with what frenzy the Polish authorities rushed to destroy the monuments. How bashfully, the Bulgarian authorities did not see anything reprehensible in numerous acts of vandalism over monuments to the soldiers of the Red Army.

But the Prague authorities distinguished themselves with particular cynicism, which at the time of hype in the information field about the situation with the coronavirus, dismantled the monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union Ivan Stepanovich Konev. And if the Soviet ranks and awards may not be interesting to the modern Czech inhabitant, then the fact that it was Marshal Konev who commanded the Prague offensive operation in May 1945, during which not only was liberated but also saved Prague, they simply must know. It was Marshal Konev who defeated the remnants of the regular Wehrmacht troops and put the long-awaited point in the most bloody war of the past century. Residents of liberated Prague then appreciated the merits of Marshall, conferring on him the title of “Honorary Citizen of Prague”. How can the descendants of these very liberated inhabitants allow the authorities of Prague to demolish the monument to the commander-liberator on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory? How can we evaluate the actions of the headman of the Prague-6 district, Ondrzej Kolář, who directed the demolition of the monument? The special cynicism of his phrase is noteworthy: “We dismantled it, because the marshal did not have a mask. " In our opinion, this is a complete degradation of morality. Especially against the background of the recent history with masks that China sent to Italy, and the Czech Republic calmly appropriated these masks, clearly demonstrating to the whole world the “unbreakable unity of the European Union”.

I really want to believe that the leadership of the Russian Federation will not leave unnoticed the fact of flagrant vandalism on the part of the authorities of the city of Prague, and also find a way to “note” directly the special cynicism of Ondrej Kolář. After all, the Russians do not abandon their own. And the slogan: "Nobody is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!" still remains the property of our national memory.

Stormont …where incompetence carries no sanction

Having carried out a costly 12 month long forensic investigation into the Renewable Heat Initiative or ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, Patrick Coghlin has failed to identify any individual responsible for the fiasco. Nobody is to be made accountable and life carries on in the surreal political world that is Northern Ireland.


The minister in charge of the department responsible for the scheme was briefed of its flaws by whistleblower Janette O’Hagan as early as 2013. Nevertheless, in spite of this she remained oblivious to what thousands of others knew and exploited. Moreover,  having inexplicably failed to read the legislation she presented to the Assembly, Mrs Foster felt and continues to feel under no obligation to do the honourable thing and offer her resignation. On the contrary, the DUP leader has actually been rewarded and now acts as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Across the corridor from Mrs Foster sits Michelle O’Neill who throughout the years of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal was Stormont’s Minister for Agriculture. Notwithstanding the fact that a majority of those installing biomass boilers were poultry farmers, the minister apparently remained blissfully unaware of the lucrative scheme that many of her constituents and supporters were availing of. However, as with Arlene Foster, this prolonged period of somnambulance has had no detrimental impact on Ms O’Neil’s career. She now holds the position of Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister

What, therefore, are we to make of a political entity where normal standards of proper governance is so spectacularly absent? An area where administrative incompetence, to the extent of visible failure to fulfil core parts of ministerial jobs, carries no sanction? 

The answer has to be that these qualities matter little in a failed political entity that now has a diminishing raison d’être and no long-term future. Otherwise, those with power would take better care to ensure administrative probity and integrity by demanding accountability from its most senior politicians.

How much longer can this dysfunctional Ruritania continue?

Tommy McKearney …. 13 March 2020

Consternation among the elite

information warfare-2048x1026

That the agents of imperialism and the ruling elite everywhere weaponise information is nothing new. Two thousand years ago Augustus Caesar had supporters paint salacious and damaging stories about his enemies on the walls of Rome.

Technology has changed since then, but the underlying objective and methods remain the same. The process is carried out using a two-track approach: distort the truth shamelessly but convincingly, and where possible prevent the other saying anything at all.

Evidence of this is all around us, from the bilge broadcast by Fox News to the sophisticated narrative spun by RTE and the BBC, including their reporting of the American bombing of Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad, the imprisonment of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, and, more locally, the imposition of the old section 31.

Pressure on those offering an alternative or anti-imperialist outlook is relentless. Google deleted the Youtube account of the British channel of Iran’s Press TV in January following the assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Suleimani. Meanwhile the US government is seeking ways to close down Telesur, the media network based in Venezuela and supported by Cuba.

Unless any reader might think that the egregious lie is confined to Trump and his spooks, reflect for a few moments on matters this side of the Atlantic. Last month the Independent (London) published an article by Keir Starmer under the breathtaking heading “Our radical socialist tradition must remain at the heart of Labour.”¹ This ostensibly left-wing sentiment was written by the man who bears most responsibility for forcing the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn to prevaricate on its Brexit policy, thereby facilitating a massive Tory victory in the last election.

This former director of public prosecutions, head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales and pillar of the British establishment has the brass-necked effrontery to pose as a radical socialist while winning the approval of every right-wing commentator in Britain.

Not, indeed, that we are spared similar machinations in Ireland. Since Sinn Féin’s shock success in the recent general election in the Republic, though, they have reached new heights as pandemonium reigns throughout the establishment on both sides of the border.

For years unionism has taken comfort from a belief that the South’s electorate had little or no interest in reunification. There is no longer the same certainty. However, an opinion poll conducted by the University of Liverpool and published conveniently in the days after the election provided a measure of reassurance for unionists. With only 29 per cent of Northern voters supporting reunification, according to the survey, Jon Tonge, professor of politics at the university, was able to say that “the data offers an antidote to excitable recent commentary concerning the imminence of Irish unity.” The timing of the report’s publication was perhaps merely a coincidence, but, understandably, many are sceptical.

Meanwhile south of the border every reactionary element in the 26-County state has taken part in the Stop Sinn Féin offensive. The hostile media were unsparing in their vitriol, one right-wing hack going so far as to claim that “24.5% of the electorate voted for the Irish equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party.”² It’s hardly necessary to make a comprehensive list of the mainstream media contributors to this brouhaha; but special mention has to be given to the intervention of the Garda commissioner, Drew Harris.

With exquisite political timing, the former RUC officer made a speech claiming that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council is Sinn Féin’s governing authority. If the commissioner is so worried about this he might share his concerns with his colleagues north of the border. The chief constable of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, was happy recently to employ the services of Sinn Féin’s vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, and her colleague Gerry Kelly during a recruiting drive for the force.

In reality, Harris must know that, even if the Army Council still existed in its old military form, no group of seven persons could exercise control over thirty-seven popularly elected members of the Dáil. But fear of a secret army was never really the issue here. Raising the spectre of subversion is the political equivalent of the cardsharp distracting punters as he performs the three-card trick. While attention is focused on a non-existent terror threat, the issues that won Sinn Féin a large slice of the vote are being played down

Make no mistake, it is the issues rather than Mary Lou McDonald’s party that are causing such consternation among the wealthy ruling elite and their followers. If a programme attempting to address inequalities and deficiencies in society gains momentum among the public it would threaten the privileged cohort benefiting from neo-liberal austerity.

This group is growing increasingly nervous, and therefore aggressive, as the global economy is threatened with at best a slowdown, if not outright recession, exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic.

It’s important, therefore, not to let the situation descend into a war of words centred on Sinn Féin. Doing so would merely allow right-wing apologists to shift the narrative away from the reality of biting hardship and inequality and towards nebulous arguments that will never be resolved—because those dissembling have a vested interest in altering the narrative.

In this respect the Right2Change unions have made a positive contribution with a statement issued last month.³ While not being dismissive or disrespectful of the part played by Sinn Féin in making progressive demands, spokespersons for the four unions involved emphasised the need for action on the issues. Brendan Ogle of Unite identified these clearly as “housing, health, education, public services and long-overdue improvements in workers’ rights,” adding that if such a programme cannot be implemented at present “then it needs to be developed to ensure a brighter future.”

He hits the nail on the head here by concentrating on the importance of the programme to be implemented and, if it’s not possible to do so now, that we persist until we succeed. It is vital, therefore, that we are not diverted by those peddling misinformation on behalf of capital and the empire.

As always, there is a world to be won if we keep our eye on the real objective.

Tommy McKearney 

This article first appeared in Socialist Voice, March 2020

1. Keith Starmer, “Our radical socialist tradition must remain at the heart of Labour,” Independent(London), 22 February 2020 (at https://bit.ly/2Vgjtki).

2. Ian O’Doherty, “Sinn Féin: A party of crackpots?” Spiked, 24 February 2020 (https://www.spiked-online.com/).

3. Right2Change, “Right2Change unions call for an historic left led Government for change,” at https://bit.ly/2Vf2RJL).

Sometimes a minor event sheds a light

High-tech not paying its way in the Ireland of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail

From time to time a seemingly minor event illuminates the nature of governance in a country. Such a moment occurred last month when the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, was honoured in Dublin.

apple state aid Ireland-1000x500

There may have been a degree of electioneering on Varadkar’s part when he presented the IDA’s inaugural “special recognition award” to Cook. Nevertheless he echoed a long-held view among Ireland’s ruling business class. He said Apple had played a key role in making Ireland the “tech capital of Europe”; and, significantly, he emphasised that what he considers success has come by looking to the future and opening the Republic to trade and competition—all this glad-handing of the billionaire businessman from California in spite of the fact that the EU Commission has ruled that Apple owes the Irish state €13 billion (plus interest) in underpayment of taxes.

All very predictable from the leader of neo-liberal Fine Gael; but there was more to this event than meets the eye. A move is afoot by several OECD member-states, led by France and now Britain, to impose a digital tax on American technology companies, assessed on their business dealings in the markets in which they operate. If carried out, such a proposal would hit the huge profits of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and—biggest of them all—Apple.

This frankly modest measure is bitterly opposed not only by the United States but also by the Republic’s government. Hence the kowtowing to Cook in Dublin.

How to explain this strange behaviour? Why would an Irish government constantly take steps to deny the state revenue that is badly needed? After all, no-one seriously denies that we have massive deficiencies in the health service, a housing and homelessness crisis, exorbitant costs of child care, and—as we are told—a depleted pension pot as the retirement age is stretched further towards the grave.

The answer to this apparent paradox lies in the endless struggle to retain control of society and its wealth. Those now in power—and this includes supporters of several political parties—are determined to ensure that the free-market system remains in place at all costs. The alternative—to plan the economy and redistribute wealth fairly and to where it is most needed—would challenge the ruling class’s source of power, that is, its ownership of a controlling share of the country’s wealth.

Illustrating this is the fact that almost half of all TDs are millionaires, and now there is the recently published Oxfam report stating that Ireland has the fifth-largest number of billionaires per capita in the world.

Integral to this elite preservation strategy is the presence of a significant number of foreign transnational companies, with their non-unionised employment practices weakening the bargaining power of local organised labour. An inevitable by-product of this process, and one that our comprador bourgeoisie is comfortable with, is a steady erosion of sovereignty.

Sovereignty, like a slow descent into addiction, can be lost imperceptibly. Moreover, as a people’s power to self-govern is eroded, their ability to fight back is seriously curtailed. As global imperialism, overseen by the US ruling class, is facing a challenge to its hegemony from the newly emerging superpower China, its exponents are struggling to tighten their grip on power and in the process becoming more authoritarian.

The ramifications of this are widespread and complex, as effective power and control is increasingly conceded to those governing the United States, supported by the EU.

One example among many. The advocate-general of the EU Court of Justice recently published an opinion that “the transfer of personal data to processors established in third countries is valid . . .” This is basically saying that transferring data, including credit-card transactions and personnel databases, from the EU to (principally) the United States should be allowed.

American corporations and security agencies are therefore being invited in effect to gather vast quantities of EU citizens’ personal information. That our concerns are not groundless was illustrated by a recent Morning Star article, “Apple drops plans for icloud encryption after FBI complains.”[1] The FBI believed that the move would harm its investigations. Ominously too, Apple alone has responded to more than 127,000 requests from US law-enforcement agencies for information over the past seven years.

Overwhelmed by hyperbole surrounding so-called benefits, and therefore the alleged need to encourage and maintain foreign direct investment, the Republic’s largest political parties have offered no criticism of the high-tech giants. Nor is there any serious analysis of the influence exercised by these corporations in the affairs of the state. Consequently, practically no alternative is being widely discussed to how the economy of this state could prosper in their absence.

Unless we are happy to allow this state of affairs to continue unchallenged—and we are not—a strategy has to be devised for turning the situation round. Faced with the undoubted hostility of the establishment, its political spokespersons, and its compliant media, this will entail an uphill struggle.

One avenue is to avail of an opportunity that allows us to raise the issue in a context immediately relevant to the existing situation in Ireland. That issue is the housing and homelessness crisis. Late last year several news networks in the United States were reporting that many large high-tech transnationals were donating money to the state of California to help alleviate a housing crisis in San Francisco.[2] Along with significant contributions from Amazon, Google, and Facebook, the Apple company was making $2½ billion available to the state government.

Surely it would be in order for the Irish government to make a similar demand upon these transnationals. After all, Tim Cook, on his recent visit, described the Republic as Apple’s “second home.”

Of course this is a reformist approach; but then, at a certain level, so is asking for a pay increase. The point is that by forcing this demand onto the agenda we would open a door to a deeper assessment of the role of transnationals in the Republic. A successful campaign would embolden working people, and if the transnationals resist they are exposed for the rapacious capitalists they are. It’s an option worth consideration.

Tommy McKearney … 2 Feb 2020

1. “Apple drops plans for icloud encryption after FBI complains,” Morning Star, 23 January 2020 (https://bit.ly/2NTcsRY).

2. “Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are spending money to address the affordable housing crisis they helped create,” CNBC, 1 December 2019.

NB: This article first appeared in Socialist Voice February 2020

The fall of Singapore and the anticipated demise of Fianna Fail

The changing face of southern Irish politics.

Screenshot 2020-02-11 at 15.08.33

The connection between the fall of Singapore in 1942 and the latest election     set-back for Fianna Fail may not seem obvious at first. However, not only did   both events signal the ending of empire but in a strange way each occurred because those in charge were facing in the wrong direction. Micheál Martin has probably never heard of Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival but they share much in common. 

Expecting a naval assault, the British general trained his guns out to sea leaving his army vulnerable to attack from the rear, which indeed the Japanese did. Micheál Martin also made a strategic error by attacking brand Sinn Fein while overlooking his own vulnerability in relation to issues that mattered with the electorate; housing, health, childcare and old age pension.

Ten years after the economic crash and with a smug Fine Gael government supported by Fianna Fail insisting that the economy is booming, people were outraged by a housing and homeless crisis, chaos in the health and childcare services and an attack on old-age pensions. All these issues were identified by Sinn Fein as demanding urgent action and unsurprisingly, the party benefited and did so at the expense of those determined to maintain the injustice of a punishing neoliberalism.

Consequently, the general election has delivered an intriguing result with the three largest parties each having practically equal numbers of deputies. Fine Gael is disappointed but they, unlike Fianna Fail, believe this does not pose an existential threat to their future. With their ingrained disdain for working class people, the Blueshirts are content to hold on to the 20/25% of the electorate who benefit under the capitalist dog-eat-dog system.

With that nasty cohort thus catered for, Fianna Fail has always had to look for a broader base. Now, after supporting the Dublin 4 Posh Boys for the past few years, their credibility is damaged and their appeal lessened. They are therefore left with an agonising dilemma. Do they go into coalition with a Sinn Fein party supported by a number of left-wing deputies, thereby risking a reverse takeover? Or do they remain out of government and precipitate another general election at which they face terminal damage from a hungry and reinvigorated Sinn Fein?

On the other hand and notwithstanding their undoubted success, Sinn Fein has need to reflect on how best to proceed. The increase to their vote now includes a significant left-wing current anxious for economic change, as evidenced by the large transfer of second preferences to other left-of-centre candidates. A challenge for Ms McDonald and her colleagues will be to retain the support of this broad constituency if the party signs up to a programme for government that fails to meet expectations.

In the wider context, politics in the Republic is changing. The state has one of the youngest and best educated populations in Western Europe many, of whom are unwilling to tolerate indefinitely a dysfunctional and lopsided economic system. They have voted for something better  and will insist that this comes about. 

Socialist republicans should therefore work to ensure this happens and not tolerate other considerations diluting our demands.

By the way, a final word about Lieutenant-General Percival. Just like Micheál Martin, he too had difficulty understanding Ireland’s working people, once  finding himself severely discomforted in County Cork by a group of local men inspired by the advice and guidance of a Mr Thomas B. Barry.

Tommy McKearney …11 February 2020

This© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com