Monday, September 03, 2018

Three footnotes on Red Action and Jeremy Corbyn

I've added these three footnotes to my weekend post on Jeremy Corbyn and Red Action: one on the usage of the term "IRA", one on the possibly connection between RA and the Warrington bombs (whose 25th anniversary is the occasion of the BBC drama Mother's Day tonight), and one on Republicanism in the London left. I am pasting them into the longer post, but also here in case you've already read that post.

A footnote on the "IRA"

Gilligan, and many of those who talk about Corbyn's IRA connections, use the word "IRA" rather sloppily. The term is used for a number of different organisations. In particular, the organisation known as the IRA from 1922 onwards split in 1969 between 
The Official IRA (OIRA), the remainder of the IRA after the 1969 split with the Provisionals; was primarily Marxist in its political orientation. It is now inactive in the military sense, while its political wing, Official Sinn Féin, became the Workers' Party of Ireland.
The Provisional IRA (PIRA) broke from the OIRA in 1969 over abstentionism and how to deal with the increasing violence in Northern Ireland. Although opposed to the OIRA's Marxism, it came to develop a left-wing orientation and increasing political activity. (Wikipedia)
The Official IRA was initially the larger of the two IRAs, although the P.IRA soon outgrew it, and was often called "the Stickies", due to the stick-on lillies they sold on Easter Sunday; the P.IRA is more often known as "the Provos". The Stickies were less engaged in armed struggle (and mainly directed violence at the British military, rather than civilian targets), particularly after declaring a ceasefire in 1972.

The INLA was a breakaway from the O.IRA that opposed the ceasefire, and one former Red Action member, Liam Heffernan, was involved in planning a foiled INLA terror campaign (convicted on the evidence of a paid informant turned MI5 agent), and Red Action probably had closer links with the political wing of the INLA than with either of the IRA wings. Heffernan is mentioned in the Gilligan piece as another indictment of Red Action, although it is unlikely other RA members knew of Heffernan's INLA connections, and inconceivable that Corbyn might have.

The point to take away is that when Gilligan and his ilk throw the term "IRA" around without qualifying who they are referring to, they show their ignorance of the complexity of the Troubles, and their lack of credibility in reporting on this.

A footnote on the Warrington bombs

I think there are lots of reasons to be doubtful about the speculation about Warrington.  Hayes himself couldn't have carried out the Warrington bombs - the perpetrators of the first Warrington bomb, in February, were caught, and Hayes was already in prison when the second one occurred in March. So the speculation is that he was somehow "connected" to it, e.g. was part of the supply chain for the explosives, or that it was someone "like Hayes", i.e. another Red Action member. In fact, it is unclear if Hayes was actually a "member" of the P.IRA, if the campaign Harrods was part of was "sub-contracted" to him (a very unusual practice in P.IRA history - they were extremely paranoid about infiltration) or if he was working in their name and under their influence without being a formal operative (much as many terror actions are carried out by "self-radicalised" individuals in the name of ISIS who are not actually ISIS "members"). Hayes had a large quantity of weaponry in his flat when arrested, which has very rarely happened with actual P.IRA operatives, who would not take that risk. He was already known to police because of his work with AFA, so it would be risky to use his active service too widely. All his other actions were in the London area. He confessed at his trial to incidents in the London area he was not charged with, yet never mentioned Warrington. All in all, the association between Hayes or Red Action and Warrington is completely tenuous.

A footnote on Republicanism in the London left 

Image from History is Made at Night
As noted above, support for one or another form of Republican militancy was not unusual in the London left in this period, especially in parts of London where there was a large Irish community, such as Corbyn's Islington (then only at the beginning of the gentrification that has remade it as a middle class area). Even Peckham's Harriet Harman, for example, can be seen here engaging with the Communist-dominated Connolly Association, which maintained links with both P.IRA and O.IRA, and the Association and the Labour Committee on Ireland successfully lobbied for Labour Party support for Irish unification. Rubber bullets, a covered up shoot to kill, miscarriages of justice, the daily persecution of Catholics in Belfast and Irish migrants in London all contributed to a sense of solidarity from many on the left for the cause, if less so for the tactics - and the escalation of terrorism against mainland security targets in the early 1990s did a lot to erode that support.

The Troops Out Movement was one of the more broad-based pro-Republican groups, which didn't explicitly support armed struggle. I remember attending their London march in around 1991, probably one of the annual Bloody Sunday commemorations, which were supported by a range of other Irish groups and well attended. By the later 1990s, I had turned against all forms of nationalism, but did, as part of AFA, help steward a couple of these kinds of events, as they were regularly subject to fascist violence. For example, over 300 fascists were arrested attacking the 1993 march. The obverse, intimacy between the English far right and armed Ulster Loyalism in this period, is also now little remembered. This context is vital for understanding Corbyn and McDonnell's politics. 

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