Defectors go leor!


It’s a funny thing, but defectors have been much in the news the past week. Not one defector, but three. And not one of them without some kind of twist in the tale. And, wait, till I tell you, defections may be common in the south – one thinks of the late Nollaig de Brún and his multiple party allegiances – but much less so in the north. That’s why Billy Leonard is such an unusual figure.

First up is the news that Fianna Fáil, its support crumbling south of the border, has optimistically been attempting to establish a base in South Down. This has involved a high-powered delegation from HQ, including justice minister Dermot Ahern and former Ceann Comhairle Rory O’Hanlon, as well as uncrowned king of Connacht Éamon Ó Cuív, who talked about how his grandfather, President de Valera, had a long-standing connection to the constituency, having been elected there in the 1920s. One may wish to take this sentimentality at face value, and one may note that Ahern (from Dundalk) and Dr Death O’Hanlon (from Carrickmacross) are border deputies with a natural interest in what happens next door. But it’s hard not to see this stellar line-up as representing a big vote of no confidence in the long-term future of the South Down and Londonderry Party. Consider also that the Soldiers of Fortune already have a cumann in Derry, and add a little piquancy in terms of the near forty-year animus between the SDLP and the Blaneyites. Maybe Durko and Attwood should pause awhile in thought.

Anyway, lending some tone to proceedings was FF’s most prominent local figure, ex-councillor Colonel Harvey Bicker OBE, formerly of the Ulster Unionist Party and the British army. Now, Harvey defected to FF some time ago, and is currently an appointee to President McAleese’s Council of State, but he retains an interest in South Down politics and is now rather ostentatiously in favour of the all-Ireland context. Whether such an eccentric figure is symptomatic of anything is another matter. My view is that there must be something in the water around that neck of the woods, which is also the stomping ground of ex-UUP man Henry Reilly, who currently sits as a UKIP representative on Newry and Mourne council.

Another councillor to make the news has been Belcoo man Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh, who has left PSF to join the Socialist Party. (More here.) At least we can say that Domhnall hasn’t acted for purposes of electoral advancement, and he has resigned his seat on Fermanagh council, rather honourably reckoning that, as a co-opted rather than elected councillor, he couldn’t possibly claim the seat as his. I wish Domhnall well in his new environment, and obviously this is a feather in the cap for the SP, but it does puzzle me a little.

Yes, on one level, I can see it. Domhnall is a socialist, and wants to be in a party with its socialist identity front and centre, and the SP is certainly that. He feels that Gerry has moved to the right, and I can’t disagree with him there. He admires Joe Higgins, which is certainly understandable. And I can see the mechanics – he’s grown disillusioned, and will have been talking to the SP’s Paul Dale, who’s been a council candidate himself in Enniskillen. And yet… you know, when a councillor goes independent, as some PSF councillors have done recently, it’s one thing, but going over to another party is a definite statement of intent. And what has me scratching my head is that there are more obvious places for a disillusioned socialist republican to go. Of late, éirígí have been pleased with picking up councillors Louise Minihan of Dublin and Barry Monteith of Dungannon; below the elected reps level, I know of some activists over the last wheen of years who have gone to Sinn Féin Eile or to the Communist Party, either of which makes sense.

Having read what Domhnall said in the Impartial Reporter, I’m not much wiser. He is convincing when talking about his disillusionment; his statements on the neoliberal politics of the Assembly are the standard SP boilerplate. What I’m wondering is whether he’s still a republican. The point about the SP is that it’s the most determinedly anti-republican formation on the Irish left, and has spent decades defining itself against “left republicanism”. If Domhnall thinks you can be a republican in the SP, he’s in for a quare gunk. On the other hand, if he’s been convinced by the SP’s hallmark policy of the “socialist federation of Britain and Ireland”, that’s well and good for him, but I don’t see it having much purchase in rural Fermanagh. Well, we shall see, and I look forward to hearing more from Domhnall.

Finally, we have to take a look at Ian Parsley (not Paisley), the fresh-faced young Alliance councillor in North Down who was Alliance’s candidate in the recent Euro-election, but has now defected to the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force, via its Tory component. His rationale is that this allows him to plug into UK-wide politics, which is a bit cheeky, since he surely knows that many Alliance people are card-carrying members of the Liberal Democrats. The word is that this fits in nicely with UCUNF’s small headache of finding a candidate in North Down, since the sitting Unionist MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, is a stalwart Labour supporter and has been notably sceptical of the whole UCUNF boondoggle. Counting against Ian, however, is his rash declaration that he isn’t actually a unionist. This may be a slight disability if you want to win the endorsement of the Unionist Party.

All I can say about that is that I’m glad I’m not a North Down voter. The prospect of a battle of the young fogies between Ian Parsley and Peter Weir is almost too grim to contemplate.


  1. Garibaldy said,

    September 13, 2009 at 12:07 am

    I got an angry demand to justify myself when suggesting on Slugger that a Provo going to the SP rather than say the CPI or éirígí was surprising Splinty, so I’ll be interested to see if you get the same.

    The FF thing demonstrates nothing more than the lack of political nous that has crippled the SDLP since its A Team all retired when Durkan took over. I doubt the Provos are quaking in their boots.

    As for Parsley, I’m not surprised in the slightest to see him jump to the Tories. He was always right-wing in his comments on Slugger. Although I did find the fact that he accidentally outed himself via email most amusing, and the fact that the Tories have found him a job in the Iain Duncan Smith figleaf/thinktank not a little shameless.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 13, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Don’t get me wrong, the SP has a coherent set of politics and some impressive people. It’s just not the obvious first port of call for a left republican, and one in a rural area forbye.

    As for Parsley, well, you’d think he’d show some gratitude after all the effort Alliance put into his election campaign. But then, this is North Down, and the spirit of Bob McCartney doesn’t go quietly into that dark night.

  3. Garibaldy said,

    September 13, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Yeah it doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice given that the gulf between the positions of the two parties on the North has been so great. The gap is much narrower with the likes of the CPI or even the SWP. Still and all, I’m pleased to see that local democracy is serving to do what The WP hoped it would do, and demonstrate to people the right-wing nature of unionism and nationalism. Let’s hope more people follow him into left formations.

    The Parsley thing is extremely speedy. Even if he does seem to have accidentally accelerated things. He has taken down the Alliance logo from his blog, but when I looked earlier hadn’t changed his about page. Perhaps the Europe thing gave him a taste of a bigger stage he wasn’t sure he could get in Alliance. Perhaps it might be a realistic hope that within ten years he might be not only a Tory MP but also a junior minister in a conservative government keen to demonstrate its UK-wide credentials.

  4. Mark P said,

    September 13, 2009 at 5:51 am

    I can’t speak for Domhnall, but I very much get the impression from his article in the Socialist that he had been examining alternatives for some time, having come to the conclusion that SF was both neo-liberal in its government policy and communitarian in its political logic. His problem with SF is, as far as I can tell an opposition to its approach to the national question as well as an opposition to its economics.

  5. Marc Mulholland said,

    September 13, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Paul Dale is a good bloke – persausive but not at all hectoring. He’d have been a very good SP ambassador to Domhnall .

  6. September 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

    is éirígí intending to run for Westminster or Stormont?

    • Ciarán said,

      September 14, 2009 at 12:52 pm

      Those are the only two institutions barred under the party’s constitution (Article 5.6). Everything else is on the table I guess (which in reality would mean councils and Leinster House).

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 13, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    The latest from eirigi is that they want to run in the next local elections, but they’re cautious about committing themselves beyond that.

    I don’t think I’ve ever met Paul Dale, but I know him by reputation – Davy Kettyles said he was a good bloke, and that’ll do for me. The absence of sectist hectoring is an important thing. You might think of when Kieran Allen met the ORM, who immediately decided they didn’t want anything more to do with the SWP.

    • WorldbyStorm said,

      September 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm

      When was that meeting splintered?

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        September 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm

        This would have been shortly after the ORM was formed, maybe ten years back. I only know about it at second hand, and not too many details either. But I suspect Kieran didn’t really want to bring a large number of hardened Sticks into his little fiefdom. He’s conservative like that.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        September 13, 2009 at 6:01 pm


  8. ejh said,

    September 13, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    There’s something wrong with the phrase “Ian Duncan Smith thinktank”.

  9. Garibaldy said,

    September 13, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    You’re right there EJH.

  10. Phil said,

    September 13, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Sinn Fein Eile” seems to be your own personal in-joke. Splain plz.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      September 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm

      It’s a Gaelicism. Literally, “The Other Sinn Fein”. As in, RSF.

  11. September 14, 2009 at 10:47 am

    btw.: a leading RSF member gave a talk at an anti-EU event in Vienna/Austria which was co-hosted by a far-right group, an article on it by the Austrian clone of Workers Power (in German)

  12. Garibaldy said,

    September 14, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Cheers for that entdinglichung. They have been boasting about it on

    • September 14, 2009 at 11:35 am

      I had a look on it, they were especially proud having professor Schachtschneider there … he is indeed a leading expert on German constitutional law but has also a history of involvement in far-right groups, e.g. in 1994 he was a founding member of the “Bund freier Buerger” (“Free Citizens/Bourgeois League”) a neo-liberal rightwing populist group partly inspired by Haider’s FPÖ

  13. Garibaldy said,

    September 14, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Very interesting. Of course, there is a history of the people involved with RSF attending far right things on the continent going back to the 1970s. So I’m not surprised.

    • September 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm

      do you have any information about contacts with far right groups in that period in Germany? one of the most important publications of the new right/”national revolutionaries” in Germany launched in 1979 had the title wir selbst – Zeitschrift für nationale Identität (“we ourselves – journal for national identity”)

  14. Garibaldy said,

    September 14, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I don’t know about Germany, sorry. They had links to the Flemish and stuff. Searchlight has people who know about all this in detail. I’m not sure what their archives are like online.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      September 14, 2009 at 4:30 pm

      There was an episode in the 1980s IIRC when the UDA went over to the big fascist knees-up at Diksmuide to try and buy some guns, only to find out that the VMO were very Catholic and pro-republican.

      Going back to the 70s, there were certainly some dodgy people on the continent who had contact with the various strands of republicanism. Provisional relations would have been strongest with the Basques, Bretons and Corsicans, none of whom were particularly on the right. But the stress would have been on separatist groupings, as opposed to the more conventional far-left formations the Officials dealt with. The IRSP, though, is a story by itself…

  15. Dr. X said,

    September 14, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    A german colleague once asked me about the possibility of republican links with the Baader-Meinhoff. Were there any such links?

    • September 15, 2009 at 8:23 am

      probably with the INLA, the Red Army Faction named the command which killed the aerospace industry manager Ernst Zimmermann in 1985 after the INLA volunteer and hunger striker Patsy O’Hara

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        September 15, 2009 at 12:20 pm

        Wasn’t that a joint venture with Action Directe? I remember it, but I’m not sure it’s conclusive evidence of direct contact with the INLA. That’s the sort of thing Seamus Ruddy would have known about, and he’s no longer with us.

      • ejh said,

        September 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm

        Is anybody ever going to go on Mastermind answering this sort of question?

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        September 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm

        Possibly Jeopardy. I’ll take Irish left sectariana for $500, Alex. What is Paddy Healy’s sock drawer?

  16. Steff Van Meltdown said,

    September 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Actually the Officials had all sorts of links to Bretons, Corscians and Basques in the early 70s too. And through one Dublin member, with very direct links to the Flemish nationalists, there was an attempted anti-EEC link up with the Vlams Blok. Believe it, or believe it not. All cleansed from the system by 1976 or so. Except for the gentleman himself, a former Waffen SS commando and volunteer for duty on the Eastern Front, who a lot of people still make excuses for.

  17. September 15, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    that’s true, apart from AD, CCC from Belgium and BR-PCC were the closest allies of the RAF in the mid 1980ies … in their 1989 statement To the Revolutionary Prisoners in the Imperialist Prisons of Western Europe they say: “We don’t know what the current situation of the prisoners in North Ireland is.”

  18. Dr. X said,

    September 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Weren’t the Belgian CCC a state pseudo-gang? Or am I mixing them up with something else?

  19. September 15, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    there are at least persistent rumours, that they were infiltrated by someone else … but I would treat some of these allegations simply as conspiracy theories or as rantings of former comrades and sympathizers of the CCC who became paranoid about infiltators and traitors like the people who were ediditing the anti-imperialist journal Knipselkrant in the late 1980ies

  20. Neil said,

    September 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I don’t really see what the puzzlement over switching from SF to SP is all about so long as you look at the SP’s actual position on the national question, rather than the made up ones I’ve seen on a couple of blogs (SP is “neo-unionist” etc).

    The SP is in favour of a united socialist Ireland in a federation of England, Scotland and Wales, a position not a million miles from Connolly’s, the only difference being Connolly didn’t call for the break up of the union across the whole of Britain and Ireland as the CWI does.

    The key disagreement was over the armed struggle which the Militant/SP said from the start was counter productive and would not defeat British imperialism. Even SF and the IRA came round to that view eventually (although I doubt they got the idea from reading Militant perspective documents 🙂 ). In any case O’Cobhthaigh joined SF in around ’96 so it’s not likely he would have had much commitment to the armed struggle.

    In any case if you read his statement you’ll see his main reason is he wants to join an organisation that’s serious about building a non sectarian socialist alternative. Some people may in all seriousness think the CPI is a candidate for this in the North. They are welcome to that opinion but seen in this context the choice to opt for the SP should be less surprising.

  21. moofaeTAE said,

    September 15, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    “I don’t really see what the puzzlement over switching from SF to SP is all about so long as you look at the SP’s actual position on the national question, rather than the made up ones I’ve seen on a couple of blogs (SP is “neo-unionist” etc).”

    The SP is in practice anti-republican, what they have on paper is often there to be vague enough about the national question to not turn off all people from republican/nationalist backgrounds. They can say they are not a million miles from Connolly, but it hardly matters if they’re much closer to Connolly’s contemporary and reformist rival William Walker. Anyone that remembers Peter Hadden’s labourite “analysis” of the hunger strike- it’s the Tories fault, but we simply can’t support the H Block campaign, because it’s too sectarian. Naturally not offending a few Protestants is more important than the lives of the hunger strikes. Again, on paper it allows for some concessions to republicanism, but in practice it is anti-republican.

    The SP have been quite friendly with Loyalists like Billy Hutchinson- one of the PUP mouthpieces that justified Holy Cross. They toured him around Britain, and described him as a socialist.

    So naturally if one switches from SF to the SP, some will wonder why that person was ever in SF, or how their changed view of the national question came about, all of which has been basically ignored.

    Anyway, describing the Socialist Party as socialist is kind of generous. Their party has been focused on security guards, prison wardens and loyalist death squads and other petit bourgeois scum, whose interests they place before the proletariat.

    • Duncan said,

      September 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

      Their party has been focused on security guards, prison wardens and loyalist death squads and other petit bourgeois scum, whose interests they place before the proletariat.

      Definitely a sensible and reasonable assesment of the work of the Socialist Party.

    • Neil said,

      September 16, 2009 at 1:25 pm

      You forgot to include BNP construction worker dupes.

      Also I hear some of their more extreme petitie bourgeois members in places like Stoke and South London even support the England football team!


  22. Ciarán said,

    September 15, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    The SP is in favour of a united socialist Ireland in a federation of England, Scotland and Wales, a position not a million miles from Connolly’s, the only difference being Connolly didn’t call for the break up of the union across the whole of Britain and Ireland as the CWI does.

    The problem with this “solution” is that the SP has never explained exactly what they mean by federation, and it could easily be read as support for a pinko United Kingdom. (SP as social imperialists? Maybe.)

    Connolly’s conception of free federations of free peoples can clearly be understood in the context of his anti-imperialism. For the SP, eh not so much.

    And when you consider that the SP proffers the same “solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict (socialist federation of the Middle East) you have you wonder if maybe they just consider all national questions too yucky, getting in the way of their pure class struggles and the development of their pure ‘Leninist’ parties, and so throw out their cookie-cutter answers that can be all things to all people. Yay, no need to challenge the pro-imperialist/pro-colonialist section of the working class at all in either scenario.

    The key disagreement was over the armed struggle which the Militant/SP said from the start was counter productive and would not defeat British imperialism.

    The SP’s analysis of the Provo armed campaign was based on a seriously distorted understanding of Trotksy’s theory of individual terrorism. Who exactly was that intended to impress?

    Not to mention that their current anaylsis of the Six-County state seems to imply that SF and the DUP are responsible for sectarianism in our society, that it has no material or structural basis, and thus conveniently enough that all people have to do is vote for the SP instead of one of the sectarian parties for everything to be alright. No challenge has to be made against the British state in Ireland, since afterall that could alienate some of those pro-imperialist workers that the SP loves so much.

    • Ciarán said,

      September 15, 2009 at 11:43 pm

      I can’t help but feel that that last paragraph there could apply equally apply to the Workers’ Party at this juncture in their existence. Must be that reading the Hanley/Millar book is keeping that at the front of my mind.

      (Though I wonder who’d be insulted more by the comparison, the WP or SP?)

    • Mark P said,

      September 16, 2009 at 4:34 am

      Ciaran, that was as honest as I’ve come to expect from you.

      The Socialist Party’s policy – that a socialist Ireland should be part of a free and voluntary international federation, is precisely that of James Connolly. It is in fact the policy of all Marxists since before Connolly’s time, it being a very basic tenet of Marxism that socialism is international and cannot be constructed in one country independently. Because you approve of Connolly you want to understand his views “in the light of” the parts of his rhetoric you like, while you want to insinuate that in the Socialist Party’s version it’s crypto-unionism. That says more about you than about either Connolly or the Socialist Party, for whether you like it or not a free and voluntary federation has been the policy of both.

      The Socialist Party’s views on Israel and Palestine do indeed come from a common political understanding of the necessity of working class unity against their common exploiters. In your urge to take umbrage at such a class based approach, you get more than a little bit sloppy. The policy of our sister organisation in that region is not the same as it is in Ireland. Here we favour what is, for want a better of a term, a “one state” solution, uniting both Protestants and Catholics in a single socialist country which would then be part of a wider federation. In Israel and Palestine, we support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside and federally linked to an Israeli state. I realise of course that such things are mere details and don’t concern your real point which is that the Socialist Party is soft on Prods and Jews.

      Perhaps you could explain what was “distorted” about the Socialist Party’s adaptation of the rather clearly expressed views of Trotsky and Lenin on campaigns of bombings and assassinations? I don’t actually think it matters much if we disagree with our political ancestors, Marxism not being a religion, but in this case we don’t at all. Trotsky and Lenin opposed campaigns of bombings and assassinations as counterproductive. That doesn’t end the argument in the present day, of course. The situation could have fundamentally changed, after all. So lets assess what the Socialist Party and Militant actually said about the “armed campaigns” in Ireland. We said, right from the beginning, that the IRA campaign would (a) result in the death and dismemberment of many workers, (b) would further divide an already divided working class, (c) would condemn a generation of activists to a prison cell or an early grave, (d) would allow the British to massively strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state and, crucially, (e) could not possibly succeed. You may not have noticed Ciaran, but the verdict of history is in on this question.

      Finally, your last paragraph shows no evidence of actual engagement with the Socialist Party’s views. We are entirely clear about the role of British imperialism in creating and sustaining sectarian division and conflict, but unlike left nationalists we don’t simply leave the issue at that. There are other factors at work, factors which are also structural and which on a day to day level play a much greater role in people’s experience of sectarian division. The Assembly and Executive system for instance is one, supported by the British and by all of the sectarian parties, which institutionalises sectarianism and politics as two distinct competions to be the most rabid defenders of communal interests. The analysis of the Socialist Party is very clear on “material and structural” factors, it just doesn’t give much comfort to believers in traditional left nationalist foolishness about sectarianism, in 2009 as opposed to 1959, being sustained by Protestant economic advantage.

      • ejh said,

        September 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

        your real point which is that the Socialist Party is soft on Prods and Jews.

        You do know what you’ve just written there, don’t you Mark? You do know what opinion you’ve just ascribed to Ciarán?

  23. ejh said,

    September 16, 2009 at 11:35 am

    but the verdict of history is in on this question.

    I’m not sure that the verdict of history is ever “in” on any question, but one might as well claim that the verdict of history was in on Trotskyism, no?

  24. Mark P said,

    September 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm


    When he was accusing the Socialist Party of not “challenging” the “pro-imperialist/pro-colonialist section of the working class at all” in Ireland and Israel/Palestine, were you under the impression that he meant that we were refusing to stick it to the Catholics and the Palestinians?

  25. ejh said,

    September 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I think you should try and steer clar of the bad old sectarian habit of ascribing meanings to other people’s words that they do not bear. It’s a habit that usually brings forth cries of “slander” when its proponents are on the receiving end.

    • Ciarán said,

      September 19, 2009 at 4:37 pm

      I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Even the term “left nationalist” is a petty slur they like to bandy about.

  26. Neil said,

    September 18, 2009 at 10:08 am

    There’s also the bad old sectarian habit of not engaging with what people are actually saying and throwing around red herrings galore.

    Everyone seems to be scratching their heads asking themsleves why O’Cobhthaigh went from a Republican party to party with the traditions of socialism and class unity.
    The point is though, O’Cobhthaigh didn’t say, ‘I’m joining the SP because they are the best republicans on the bloc’. That certainly would have been weired.

    Instead he said;

    “I consider that the current economic crisis has brought to antagonism the contradiction between the nationalist and socialist agendas within Sinn Féin.”


    “There is an urgent need to develop a cross-community anti-sectarian political alternative for workers who are facing massive job losses and attacks on wages, terms and conditions.”

    So the question we should be asking ourselves is if he is seeking to join a serious, non sectarian left wing party what were his options? What is the record of the SP in building cross community campaigns that win victories for working class people compared to say the SWP, the CPI or the Workers Party? Is the past left nationalism (or “deeper understanding of the need to support national liberation movements” just for the sake of balance and so ejh doesn’t feel the need to add more items to his symptoms of sectarianism list) act as a barrier to those who seek to build a non sectarian alternative?


  27. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    September 24, 2009 at 6:18 pm

  28. Garibaldy said,

    September 24, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Interesting stuff Moreno Truth Kit. Interesting too that he says he stayed in PSF for a full year after he had decided to leave.

    • Neil said,

      September 24, 2009 at 11:10 pm

      “One year ago, I finally decided to leave the party and give up my council seat following the Ard Comhairle endorsing the Dublin government’s bank bailout but was unsure of where to go with my politics and I encountered huge internal pressure to stay involved. One of the things you hear a lot is that people who leave ‘go nowhere’ as there is ‘nowhere to go’. The underlying message is that ‘There Is No Alternative’, a not unrelated party political parallel to Thatcher’s TINA.”

      • Neil said,

        September 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm

        The above is from O’Cobhthaigh’s statement.

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