Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Apologies and Recantations – The Strange Cases of two Elected Representatives from Ireland and England – Brian Stanley TD (Sinn Féin, Ireland) and Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour Party, England)

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We start with a tip, and two savage cartoons.

All political apologisers – such as the Sinn Féin Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley – forced to swallow and spit out his words of praise for IRA ambushes in 1920 and 1979 – do not believe any of the sentences they are forced to utter in humiliating public recantations!

Memorial Statue at Kilmichael Co. Cork, Commemorating an IRA 1920 Ambush of Black-and-Tan British Crown Forces

Nobody ever believes the recantation :

The same applies to apologies uttered under duress by former British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Steve Bell’s Cartoon, Banned by the British Guardian Newspaper
Steve Bell’s Cartoon, Banned by the British Guardian Newspaper?

Nobody believes the apologies. The effect is to censor debate on issues which ought to be publicly aired.

Every honest person knows Brian Stanley’s Kilmichael/Narrow Water Tweet about British soldiers successfully ambushed by the IRA in Ireland – Black-and-Tans (1920) and Parachute Regiment (1979) – is a public picture of his own personal opinion and the opinions of many members of his own party.

Learn the lessons of the Galileo Affair around 1610, more than 400 years ago.

“The Galileo affair (Italian: il processo a Galileo Galilei) began around 1610 and culminated with the trial and condemnation of Galileo Galilei by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633. Galileo was prosecuted for his support of heliocentrism, the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun at the centre of the Solar System.”

“According to popular legend, after his abjuration Galileo allegedly muttered the rebellious phrase “and yet it moves” (Eppur si muove), but there is no evidence that he actually said this or anything similar. The first account of the legend dates to a century after his death. The phrase “Eppur si muove” does appear, however, in a painting of the 1640s by the Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo or an artist of his school. The painting depicts an imprisoned Galileo apparently pointing to a copy of the phrase written on the wall of his dungeon.”

Seeking “apologies” is the witch-hunt method. It never ends : examine history : the Pope demanded recantation from Galileo (who insisted the planet earth was not the centre of the known universe); Stalin demanded that his Moscow Trial victims confess to being agents of the Nazis.

A recommended film – “A Comedy of Terrors”

It is Cringe Time in Dáil Éireann, December 2020. Democratic Unionist Party First Minister Arlene Foster cracked the whip at Stormont, little lambs bleated surrender.

Pathetic behaviour is on show from people like Eoin Ó Broin TD (Sinn Féin, Dublin Mid-West) who should know better :

“Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said no further action was under consideration by his party.

He said he was “very disappointed” to see the tweet, stating that Stanley “is not the kind of person to do that”. Ó Broin called it “wholly inappropriate” and said Stanley “did the right thing in apologising”.

Ó Broin said the TD should make sure it never happens again, adding that it should be a lesson to all politicians as we enter into years of commemorations that they should be careful with the language used when talking about the past.

When asked if Stanley should step down for a period of time, Ó Broin said: “No, I don’t believe he should.”

He said Stanley “is a very capable and competent chair”, adding that what he did was wrong, but stating that he has apologised.”

If people refuse to defend themselves, they can not be rescued.

Sinn Féin is becoming an Apologies Party.

But the rest of us can resist – forcefully.

Fine Gael Foot-in-Mouth Moments

Readers may like listening to an interview, with Fine Gael Minister Josepha Madigan, who joined a reactionary chorus calling for action to be taken against Brian Stanley TD. The interview occurred on Monday November 30 :

“Josepha Madigan, Minister of State for Special Education, speaks to Sarah about new legal powers that will be used to force schools to open new special education classes.”

Madigan says Brian Stanley should be disciplined because his deleted tweet “normalised violence”. Interviewer Sarah MacInerney suggests Fine Gael double standards: in January 2020 Madigan’s party tried to stage a government commemoration of the Black-and-Tans.

Madigan says she was Minister for Culture at the time, and the Fine Gael government did not go ahead with the “mooted” commemoration of the “Black-and-Tans”.

Let those direct quotes sink in.

In January 2020 backtracking Fine Gael Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan TD (Laois-Offaly) desperately pretended that he was only proposing to commemorate the 1920 police force – the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) – and not the Black-and-Tan or Auxie terrorists. This distinction was ridiculed in a tsunami of public anger, and the planned commemoration was hastily dropped. The row seriously damaged the Fine Gael government, and was a factor in its disastrous General Election result on February 8 2020.

Will Josepha Madigan discipline herself, and her party, which “normalised violence”? It tried to use Irish government money commemorating the Black-and-Tans.

We can move on.

This is a good account and assessment of the Kilmichael County Cork Ambush 100 💯 years ago, where Tom Barry led the most successful IRA operation against the British Army of Occupation during the Irish War of Independence, 1919-21. It helps to explain the January 2020 Irish popular backlash against the postponed Fine Gael government plans to commemorate the RIC / Black-and-Tans.

What had just happened? The headline facts:

A patrol of 18 auxiliary policemen in two trucks had been ambushed by a 36-man IRA flying column, led by Commandant Tom Barry.

In a close-quarter firefight that lasted 30 minutes, the patrol had been massacred. Sixteen auxiliaries and three IRA volunteers had died. The auxiliary who survived was so badly wounded that his testimony bore no resemblance to what others recalled of those terrible minutes.

It was the first time the auxiliaries had been engaged by the IRA. It was the heaviest loss of life for the British in any engagement of the War of Independence. “.

We can compare and contrast two IRA ambushes – Kilmichael 1920, Narrow Water 1979. It must be said straight away that the IRA 1919-21 campaign had much deeper and broader popular support than the IRA war of 1969-94. But what about the 1979 Narrow Water Ambush? It attracted a tsunami of ruling class condemnation – the Pope John Paul II joined the chorus – but the action was not universally unpopular in Ireland.

I can offer one anecdote : at that time the IRA, although in my opinion it was fighting for a just cause, was pursuing a purely militarist campaign, opposing a mass action strategy. Defeat was on the cards. The IRA and Sinn Féin only accepted the need for a mass broad-based campaign in support of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners in late 1979. As a result most people in Dublin, on August 27 1979 – the date of the Narrow Water ambush – were at best demoralized spectators to the war in the north.

But this ambush was sensational news – it had strong echoes of Kilmichael. This was part of working class embedded revolutionary consciousness. I was sitting in a Dublin Pub – the Foggy Dew off Dame Street – after a couple of political meetings. Numerous friends and comrades joined me – more people flooded in – all glued to the telly. Us politicos were in fact used to not showing much emotion around these events – would this be seen as yet another IRA military disaster as the ruling class politicians issued one denunciation after another? But no, something changed. We started to notice the casual drinkers were not reacting well to the fulminations of the politicians and the priests. After a short while one or two people who heard our swelling group comment about the news joined in, saying things like “I am glad I am not the only one who thinks like you”. After an interval the sentiments of approval rippled around the pub, a bar-tender came down giving out about the Paras, and so on.

There was an interesting international follow-up. A few weeks later I received a phone call from the Fourth International HQ in Paris. I was asked, at short notice, to meet a comrade from Mexico, working as European Correspondent for a magazine called Uno mas Uno, who was flying to Dublin from Rome. I met Adolfo Gilly at the GPO in O’Connell Street. He had to cover all of Europe from Rome, without any travel budget. He wrote about the Narrow Water ambush and the same day killing of Lord Mountbatten in Sligo. Being a good revolutionary, Adolfo was repelled by the international ruling class tsunami of condemnation. Thinking about his Mexican audience, he reminded readers of the Irish San Patricios, Irish soldiers conscripted into the 1847 USA army invading Mexico. These gallant Irish emigrés, repelled by imperial Yankee slaughter, organised a mutiny and switched sides. Their leader was John Riley, brutally murdered with his comrades by the Yankees after their cause was defeated. The story was well-known in Mexico – memorials honouring Riley and his comrades stand in Mexico City – and I had never heard it before.

Mexico City Memorial to the San Patricios – Irish Mutineers who deserted the Yankee Army in 1847 to fight for Mexico against imperialist invaders

Adolfo Gilly, after writing the story, thought nothing more about it – but he had stirred something in the owner/editor of the magazine – who made an urgent international phone call to his European correspondent. This Mexican magazine owner was sick and tired listening to the imperialist propaganda barrage, and was delighted to read Gilly’s article about the Narrow Water ambush. For the first and only time, Adolfo Gilly got an expenses-paid trip outside Rome, and spent a week working in Dublin just before the visit of Pope John Paul II. You can find out more about Adolfo Gilly here :

More recently Ry Cooder, the Chieftains, Liam Neeson and many Mexican musicians produced a wonderful tribute to John Riley and the San Patricios

San Patricios, Irish Heroes

In the 1840s, Irish immigrant men escaped the Potato Famine only to find that they were to be cannon fodder in America’s imperialist war against Mexico. Says Paddy Moloney in the San Patricio album notes, “They got off the boat at Ellis Island and then, ‘here’s a gun and go down there and shoot the Mexicans.’ That didn’t go down well with Catholics, as they were shootin’ other Catholics.”

These reluctant soldiers were mistreated by their officers and discriminated against because of their religion. Led by Captain John Riley, nearly 200 deserted, heeding appeals from Mexico to join their co-religionists in battling the Manifest Destiny-obsessed Yankees. They formed the San Patricio Battalion, fighting for Mexico under their own green banner.

Though they fought fiercely and inflicted some serious damage on American troops, most members of the battalion were killed or captured, with a number of them court-martialed and hanged. Dozens had a “D” for “deserter” branded on their cheeks.

The San Patricios were largely forgotten both in Ireland and Mexico, until the Irish and Mexican governments held a joint ceremony in Mexico City in 1997 to commemorate their contributions.

A comrade, Vincent Doherty, offers this perspective :

This reminds me a bit of the Jeremy Corbyn response to the charge of anti-semitism. Instead of confronting it head on, and facing it down, he tried to placate it. But the zionists simply smelt blood and knew they had him where they wanted. The rush by Sinn Fein to take it’s distance from the IRA is incredible. I remember exactly where I was when the news began to come through of Mountbatten and Warrenpoint. Bloody Sunday was still an open wound. People in Derry were practically dancing in the streets at the news of the Paratroopers had got their just desserts. It was the single most successful day in the history of 69-94 IRA campaign. The ruling class and their media puppets determine what is good killing and bad killing. “Big bombs good , little bombs bad.” By dancing to their tune Sinn Fein can be accused of turning their back on their former comrades in “the Army.” The thing is once they have you in the corner they’ll be back for more, it’s a bottomless pit. They will take you apart piece by piece. I’m sure a lot of Sinn Fein people already know this and are absolutely horrified by this latest betrayal.

Readers can find less nuanced accounts – without any critical reflection. A Sinn Féin connected website describes the 1979 IRA Narrow Water ambush on a British Army Parachute Regiment Patrol. It will not be long before the Apology-hunters go after people who express views like the following. The account below is militarist, through and through :

The category is “History of the Irish Republican Army”

The sub-categories are “Ireland’s Proud History of Revolution and Resistance”; “Successes” and “Narrow Water Ambush”.

“27 August 1979


The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, was a successful guerrilla attack by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 27 August 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushed a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs at Narrow Water Castle outside Warrenpoint, Occupied North of Ireland. The first bomb was aimed at the convoy itself, and the second targeted the incoming reinforcements and the incident command point (ICP) set up to deal with the incident. IRA volunteers hidden in nearby woodland also fired on the British troops with GPMGs, who returned fire. The castle is on the banks of the Newry River, which marks the border between Occupied North of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Eighteen British soldiers were killed and over twenty were seriously injured, making it the deadliest attack on the British Army during the War. An English civilian was also killed and an Irish civilian wounded, both by British soldiers firing across the border after the first blast. The attack happened on the same day that the IRA assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, a member of the British Royal Family. The attack was Revenge for The Ballymurphy massacre August 1971 Belfast, in which the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment of the British Army killed eleven civilians in Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday in Derry 1972 when the same Parachute Regiment of the British Army Murdered 14 Nationalist Civilians on a Peaceful Demonstration.”

There is plenty of space for a discussion.

That process should be encouraged, without fear or favour.

There is a big difference :

Debate and Discussion Versus Apologies and Censorship

In this context, listen to the words of Tom Barry – an unapologetic leader of the IRA Kilmichael Ambush, who became an Anti-Treaty Republican after the 1922-23 Civil War. He describes war as “bestial” and the only war he can justify is “a war of liberation”. Barry, in his own words, was “not one” for glorification of violence.

Today, in 2020, the Sinn Féin party has surrendered to a FFFG Apologies and Censorship offensive – if that party continues to “apologise” for its own origins, good luck to it!

It will not be long before the FFFG/Arlene Foster bloodhounds, proud of successfully trapping their Brian Stanley quarry, move along to new targets.

Look at the contrast with Fianna Fáil : under the leadership of Éamon DeValera and others, FF did not “apologise” for its anti-treaty origins.

Or look at the contrast with the Trade Union SIPTU, which does not “apologise” for its revolutionary Marxist founders James Connolly and James Larkin.

Brian Stanley, Jeremy Corbyn, over to you!

John Meehan December 3 2020

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