Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Gerry Foley 1939 – 2012 : An American Revolutionary Inspired by Irish Rebellions

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tomasoflatharta:

Gerry Foley 1939 – 2012 : An American Revolutionary Inspired by Irish Rebellions

Many thanks to friends and comrades on the Cedar Lounge Site for publishing a tribute to an old friend and comrade, Gerry Foley. Here is an article from March 1996 where Foley analyses the state of the “Peace Process” in Ireland after the IRA had broken its ceasefire and started a bombing campaign in England. Two key points are highlighted here :

There is a well-established pattern in the long history of Irish republicanism that when the movement loses its momentum or its perspective in Ireland it turns to bombing England in the hope that scattered explosions in the imperial heartland will have a political effect greater than anything that can be achieved in Ireland. Such a course was followed in the name of the “Skirmishing Fund” in the 1880s after the Land League struggles were defused by a reformist leadership and at the end of the 1930s when the IRA was torn apart by unresolved political differences and lost its direction.

The movement found itself in a blind alley when it proved unable to
widen the political breakthrough that it had made in 1980-81 as a
result of the mass movement in support of the ten Republican prisoners
who starved themselves to death one after the other in protest against
the British machinery of repression. 

This was the basic political context in which Republican leadership
began negotiations with the British authorities in 1990, which led to
the IRA ceasefire on August 31, 1994.
 John Meehan April 23 2012  


What's behind the breakdown of the Irish Peace Process?
by Gerry Foley 
The Irish "peace process" was not ended by the flurry of IRA bombings
in London in February. At the end of the month, the British and Irish
governments announced agreement for the start of all-party talks --
including Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican political organization -- on
June 10. 

So-called proximity talks -- that is, indirectly involving Sinn Fein --
were to be held in March 4-13 to prepare for a new round of
negotiations. 

As a condition for including Sinn Fein in the June talks, London and
Dublin insisted on a resumption of the IRA ceasefire. Gerry Adams,
president of Sinn Fein, and John Hume, leader of the bourgeois
nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), met with the IRA
leadership to discuss renewal of the "peace process." 

The IRA response was noncommittal, obviously reflecting an uneasiness
in the Republican movement over where the peace process had been
leading. The IRA statement, released February 29, said: "We listened
attentively to the case presented by both leaders and noted their
shared commitment to restoring the peace process... 

"For our part," the IRA leadership continued, "we restated our absolute
commitment to our republican objectives, which include the free
exercise by the Irish people of our inalienable right to national
self-determination. 

"We also took the opportunity to reiterate what we said on February 9
[the date of the statement declaring the end of the ceasefire],
stressing that a resolution of the conflict in our country demands
justice and an inclusive negotiated settlement without preconditions. 

"We pointed out to Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams that the failure of the
British government to put in place inclusive negotiations free from
preconditions, the abuse of the peace process by the British over 18
months, and the absence of an effective and democratic approach capable
of providing an irrevocable momentum towards a just and lasting peace
in Ireland, were the critical elements which led to the failure, thus
farm, of the Irish peace process." 

The conditions that led to the "peace process" still exist. The British
government and its pro-imperialist allies in Northern Ireland have not
crushed the insurgency of the radicalized section of the nationalist
population in the Catholic ghettos. 

On the other hand, the military campaign of the IRA has been
effectively contained by the massive British military machine.
Politically, the militant nationalists have been clearly isolated and
on the defensive for many years. 

In a blind alley

The movement found itself in a blind alley when it proved unable to
widen the political breakthrough that it had made in 1980-81 as a
result of the mass movement in support of the ten Republican prisoners
who starved themselves to death one after the other in protest against
the British machinery of repression. 

This was the basic political context in which Republican leadership
began negotiations with the British authorities in 1990, which led to
the IRA ceasefire on August 31, 1994. 

On February 9, 1996, the IRA leadership announced that it was ending
the ceasefire. Their statement said: "The [ceasefire] presented an
historic challenge for everyone, and an Oglaigh na hIireann [IRA]
commends the leaderships of nationalist Ireland at home and abroad. 

"They rose to the challenge. The British prime minister did not.
Instead of embracing the peace process, the British government acted in
bad faith with Mr. Major and the Unionist leaders squandering this
unprecedented opportunity to resolve the conflict.... 

"We take this opportunity to reiterate our total commitment to our
Republican objectives. The resolution of the conflict in our country
demands justice. It demands an inclusive negotiated settlement. That is
not possible unless and until the British government faces up to its
responsibilities. 

"The blame for the failure thus far of the Irish peace process lies
squarely with John Major and his government." 

This statement was followed within hours by the explosion of a truck
bomb outside a large building in the Docklands area of London. The
blast was claimed by the IRA. 

On February 15, a small bomb placed by the IRA in a phone box in
London's theatre district was defused by police, following an IRA
warning. 

On February 18, a bomb carried by an IRA operative on a London bus
exploded prematurely, killing him and injuring several passengers. 

According to accounts in the British press, about a third of the IRA
men killed since the start of the insurgency in Northern Ireland have
died in premature explosions of their own bombs. This figure attests to
readiness for self-sacrifice of the Republican volunteers but not to a
high degree of military organization. 

That is understandable. The IRA is based essentially on a small
impoverished community that is under the constant surveillance of one
of the world's biggest and best equipped professional military forces. 

A well-established pattern

What is decisive for the IRA, therefore, is the political impact of its
actions, and in particular the effect on the morale of its activists
and supporters. 

There is a well-established pattern in the long history of Irish
republicanism that when the movement loses its momentum or its
perspective in Ireland it turns to bombing England in the hope that
scattered explosions in the imperial heartland will have a political
effect greater than anything that can be achieved in Ireland. 

Such a course was followed in the name of the "Skirmishing Fund" in the
1880s after the Land League struggles were defused by a reformist
leadership and at the end of the 1930s when the IRA was torn apart by
unresolved political differences and lost its direction. 

This pattern tends to recur, despite the fact that its political
effects on British and international pubic opinion have always been
negative. On the other hand, these actions have served as a symbol of
indomitable resistance for Irish Republicans themselves. 

In the present situation of the peace process, however, the Republican
strategy is to use the pressure of international public opinion to
induce the British to give concessions to the nationalist people. In
this respect, it is hard to see how the London bombings could have any
effect other than to weaken the political position of the Republican
movement. 

That point was made in fact in two quite long letters published in the
February 29 issue of An Phoblacht/Republican News, the weekly newspaper
of the Republican movement. 

In one of them, a Republican political prisoner in England, Joe
O'Connell, wrote: 

"For the IRA to order a resumption of war until it is promised a date
for all-party negotiations -- something which is achievable under the
now binned peace process anyway -- must surely go down as the most
stupid, blinkered and ill-conceived decision ever made by a
revolutionary body anywhere ever before in history." 

Given the intense pressures on the Republicans in the wake of the
London bombings, publication of these letters must have been a
carefully considered political decision. 

Endless "talks about talks"

On the other hand, in the same issue of An Phoblacht, the editorial
touched on the nub of the problem: "So the convoluted progress of the
peace process continues with yet more convoluted language.... 

"Republicans should welcome the fixed date for all-party talks, but
essential guarantees must be in place.... Sinn Fein cannot sign up to a
process which underpins the unionist veto [e.g. the veto of the
pro-imperialist settler caste that is a majority in Northern Ireland
but a minority in Ireland as a whole] and partition.... 

"On Wednesday evening, in the aftermath of the communique, Unionists
signalled that they will not move beyond the first item on the agenda
-- in effect, decommissioning [the IRA surrendering its weapons] --
until it is resolved. 

"In fact, David Trimble went further and said that his party will not
meet face to face with Sinn Fein until the issue is resolved. How then
can there be all-party talks?" 

To sum it up, the peace process has become a labyrinth in which the
Republicans find themselves becoming more and more lost, further and
further from the goals of their struggle, and without even any real
alleviation of the repression from which they have been suffering. 

That is obviously the reason why the IRA statements kept repeating that
the movement is going to stick resolutely to its goal -- a united
Ireland free of imperialist domination. 

One might think something else from the Sinn Fein leaders' exaltation
of "peace" as the greatest of "sublunary blessings," and from the "hand
of friendship" that Adams has extended even to British Prime Minister
John Major. Since the IRA have suffered most for the movement's goals,
obviously they feel the drift from them most acutely. 

In this regard, the new promise of "all party talks" solves absolutely
nothing. In fact, it appears only to be a continuation of the British
delaying tactics designed to exhaust the patience of the militant
nationalists and provoke them into desperate acts that can be exploited
to further isolate and demoralize themselves and their supporters. 

Increasing frustration

The critics in the February 29 An Phoblacht of the IRA's resumption of
military action were quite correct about the effects of these actions.
What they failed to recognize is that they are absolutely inevitable if
the "peace process" talks about talks keep dragging on with no results
expect increasing the confusion and frustration of the nationalist
population. 

In fact, the new agreement for talks is between the British and Irish
governments, in which Sinn Fein is included as basically a juvenile
delinquent ward of the Irish government. Dublin effectively promised to
get the Republicans to mind their manners in order to be accepted into
talks, and thus is now twisting their arms harder and harder. 

After the end of the IRA ceasefire, the Sinn Fein leadership called for
public pressure for a resumption of the peace process. 

On the weekend of February 24-25, in fact, there were demonstrations of
tens of thousands of people in Ireland for peace. But Sinn Fein found
itself mingling with forces that were demanding a peace that meant
simply condemnation of the IRA and abandonment of the goal of national
liberation. 

The IRA itself, while impatient with the "peace process," has still not
challenged its basic premise, the "nationalist consensus" -- that is, a
bloc of all nationalists, including the Dublin government and the
bourgeois nationalists of the SDLP. That is the nub of the problem. 

The Republicans recognize there is a contradiction between the British
imperialist and all nationalists, including the bourgeois nationalists.
After all, the bourgeois nationalists rule in the name of the goal of
Irish independence. But they have decided to forget that they live by
selling out Irish nationalism. 

Thus, the contradiction cannot be exploited simply by hobnobbing with
them. That means that they pull the Republicans rather than the other
way around. 

The only way to exploit the contradiction is to expose the bourgeois
nationalists' false pretences of defending the interests of the Irish
people. But this requires mass campaigns against the most acutely felt
concrete effects of imperialist domination, not abstract appeals to the
bourgeois nationalists' presumed love of peace and sense of
responsibility, or concern for the fate of their compatriots. 

The civil rights struggle that led to the insurgency in Northern
Ireland and assured its continuation for more than 25 years shows what
can be accomplished by such a course. 

It was the failure of the Republicans to set in motion such a process
in the South after the end of the 1980-81 hunger strikes that led them
into their present predicament. 

Gerry Foley was International Editor for Socialist Action USA when this article first appeared in March 1996.

Originally posted on The Cedar Lounge Revolution:

On foot of the sad news that Gerry Foley has died here’s a few pieces relating to him and his life. As a socialist with a profound interest in Ireland and matters Irish and as the author of a number of pamphlets directly linked to that his views of the situation, particularly in the early to mid 1970s are of particular interest.

We start with with a letter from a comrade of his reflecting on his passing and his life.

Dear Comrades,

I just learned from Gerry Foley’s friend in Mexico that Gerry died  suddenly today in Mexico. Gerry called me a few days ago to say that  he was happily moving from his rented home in Mérida to a happy home  in San Cristobol de Las Cases, in the mountains of Chiapas.

Just a few moments ago Gerry was walking into his house. He fell down  and died almost immediately…

View original 633 more words

2 Responses

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  1. Gerry Foley Obituary in The Irish Times, Saturday May 5 2012 :

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/obituaries/2012/0505/1224315652050.html

    A tribute on the International Viewpoint Site :

    http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2590

    tomasoflatharta

    May 5, 2012 at 10:13 am


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