ON THIS DATE (10TH MAY) 21 YEARS AGO : WEST BRIT ASKS THAT WE REMEMBER OUR HISTORY!
“People who deny their roots, far from escaping the past, are forced to assume the history of another tribe” – Eoghan Harris, as quoted in ‘The Phoenix’ magazine, 10th May 1996, page 12. And said, apparently, without the slightest hint of irony! Our 74-year-old subject has certainly been around the block, sometimes doubling-back on himself and even meeting himself on the return journey : he has been/is a journalist, a writer of fiction (some would say he does both jobs at the same time…), a theatre director and a politician (gifted a seat in the Free State ‘Senate’ by a good pal of his..) and has been openly supportive of, so far (!), Official Sinn Féin/the Workers’ Party, Fine Gael, the Ulster Unionist Party and Fianna Fáil (while flirting with the State ‘Labour Party’, too)! But it’s early yet…
We have a lot of Eoghan Harris material in our archives and, even on such a spurious attempt at a date link (!) we think it is worth re-posting edited versions of same, if only for future use by, for instance, obit writers…
From a Brenda Power article in ‘MAGILL’ magazine, November 1997 :
They love : French films, John Waters, the ‘Questions And Answers’ RTE television programme audience, Gerry Adams on the ‘Late Late Show’. Hanging around the IFC in black clothes. Nuala O’Faolain, DCU journalism, Trotskyism, Feminism (“Scratch a trot or a feminist and find a Provo..”) and RTE Radio One. They hate : Zionism, Dana, The Daily Telegraph, Camille Paglia, Unionism, Conor Cruise O’ Brien (“a touchstone for bad politics..”), Rupert Murdoch, American cinematic classicism and Aristotle. ‘They’ are ‘People With Bad Politics’, and Eoghan Harris can spot them at a glance – one small ‘tic’, one gesture or smart quip and then Eoghan Harris knows, and he reveals it in ‘alien-script’ uppercase – it’s ONE OF THEM!
They are typically Dublin middle class professional types who have a series of kneejerk cliched positions on a tight core of political opinion. They are ‘sneaking regarders’, hush puppy radicals and if they join an organisation it will be a “mosquito group” like the ‘International Marxist Group’.
‘Their’ prejudices are the residue of a collapsed ideology – they may have reservations about Mary McAleese’s “appalling record on the liberal agenda” but they won’t dare raise it because their ‘Crypto-Provo-Trot’ sympathies run deeper than their ‘liberal feminist conceits’. If, as Eoghan predicts with absolute conviction, the ‘People With Bad Politics’ (ie alleged ‘Provo sympathisers’) feel the wrath of the 48 per cent of voters who have imposed a “Secret Fatwa” on Sinn Féin’s critical supporters on polling day, McAleese has lost and then – “I deserve credit. I alerted my country to her character and, if she wins, I still deserve credit because she will enter Aras an Uachtarain under a cloud, and she’ll fill the place with Shinners singing ‘The Men Behind The Wire’ and she’ll be astonished at the public revulsion to her over the next few months and I choose the term ‘tribal timebomb’ very carefully because she’ll blow up in Bertie’s face sooner or later…and if she wins, not on a technicality but because so many people gave her their number one, then I am living in a country I no longer understand..”
Eoghan has a flair for a memorable tag line and an impressive facility for certainty : so Derek Nally is a “slimeball, a blustering bucolic windbag (who) bottled out” of pursuing the strategy that had been tailored and presented to him for free and which, Harris reckons, was technically foolproof but for the fact that it had failed to contemplate the shortcomings of “a big thick Guard”. According to Eoghan, Nally was “the best candidate to point up McAleese’s bad politics” and he was “going like a train” under the guidance of Harris and his friend John Caden right up to the Trinity College debate when “McAleese eyeballed him like a bright young barrister cross-examining an elderly cop on a car crash and he just lost it..”.
In reply to a student’s question in Trinity College, Derek Nally accepted Mary McAleese’s explanations about the leaked State Department of Foreign Affairs memos and, the following Friday, he claimed on the ‘Late Late Show’ debate that he had been duped, deceived and manipulated by John Caden and his dark, cloaked, shadowy, sinister puppetmaster Eoghan Harris. Sounding like a newly deprogrammed ‘Moonie’, Derek Nally portrayed himself as having been briefly possessed in an almost demonic fashion, forced to speak in a voice that was not his and helplessly spewing imprecations that came from not even God knew where! The fact that his extraordinary claims elicited not a titter of scepticism in the studio, least of all from his fellow candidates, and the air of almost awestruck admiration at a brave and lucky escape that attended his tale, prompted several callers to RTE to wonder who, exactly, was this Eoghan Harris and why did he have such acknowledged power?
Harris himself is tetchily dismissive of such concerns – “What’s all this dark, shadowy crap? My enemies use these terms like darkness, mental instability, manic depression, to try to harm me and turn me into dark forces. But I’m a narky fucker who’ll talk to anybody. I’m completely open about what I do. I always wore my politics on my sleeve (‘1169’ comment – a multicoloured sleeve, obviously…) and I was totally straightforward about what I was trying to do with Derek Nally, he just didn’t have the intelligence to see it. I am a very strong personality, a person of powerful polemical force, but I have enemies in RTE and they refuse to give myself and John Caden a right to reply to this defamation.”
That there is widespread fear and loathing for Eoghan Harris within RTE is not in doubt ; scarcely anyone can remain neutral at the mention of his name and, while some remember him as a fearless opponent of Provo sympathies in RTE in the heated years of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, many others consider that he and a handful of acolytes wielded unaccountable power within the station for the advancement of their own political ends in those times. They dominated current affairs editorial lines and ‘packed’ panels and slanted coverage towards their own agenda, setting out to crush anyone who stood in their way ; ‘fearsome..mesmerising..intimidating..bombastic’ are among the terms used by former colleagues to describe the means by which Eoghan Harris swayed and seduced all round him in those days.
As the major ideologue, pamphleteer and chief adviser to Official Sinn Féin leader Cathal Goulding in the early 1970’s, after Harris joined RTE as a producer he first became active within the RTE branch of the Workers’ Union of Ireland in the implementation of Sinn Féin The Workers Party strategies of infiltration. One senior RTE producer said of Harris and his Workers Party colleagues : “They were very determined and personally ambitious people, which of course conflicted totally with the dominant ethos in RTE in those days, and so they found it very easy to take over the Workers Union of Ireland. Then Harris brought in John Caden, who was an account’s clerk. The NUJ was too lazy and cynical to concern them at the time – the journalists always wanted just more money, but the WUI represented the producers. Harris and those realised that if they controlled the producers then they could control programming and effectively control the television station, and that was what they set out to do.”
To this end Eoghan Harris set up a secret branch of ‘Sinn Féin the Workers Party’, which was called the Ned Stapleton Cumann, within the Workers’ Union of Ireland. Although he was never a member of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party himself, Harris recruited members in ‘sensitive positions’ who could not openly support the party – “We had people in the IDA, for example, who gave us information for our pamphlets : they couldn’t be seen to be members and so people like that could vote through the Ned Stapleton Cumann,” said Eoghan Harris.
Though Mairin de Burca, who was an Ard Comhairle (‘Ruling Body’) member of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party at the time, says now that she doubts that the Ned Stapleton Cumann ever actually existed within RTE – “Just because Eoghan Harris says he helped set it up doesn’t mean that’s true, you know,” she said. But the group and its activities still remain a part of RTE lore : a producer who was in the station at the time but does not wish to be named stated – “Essentially, he ran a sort of a left-wing freemasonry within RTE at the time. The agenda was to promote the Workers’ Party through the programmes, and they set about achieving this in a number of different ways.
They (Sinn Féin the Workers Party) had some very powerful friends in RTE and they managed to get friends and relatives and party members into prominent positions, often without jobs having been advertised or any interviews having been held. And their agenda infiltrated every programme, even the books programme! I remember one current affairs team doing a programme on the hunger strikes who were told to “take their line” from Mary McMahon of Sinn Féin the Workers Party and John McMichael, who was then the ‘Supreme Commander’ of the UDA and was said to have been personally responsible for the deaths of 600 Catholics. So of course the programmes did not reflect the huge support there was for the hunger strikers amongst the Catholic community.”
In 1982, ‘Magill magazine’ reported that the first four ‘Today Tonight’ RTE television programmes to deal with the issue of the POW position were hostile to the H-Block cause, and that a huge internal row was prompted by the irritation of the programme’s then editor, Joe Mulholland, over a subsequent programme which reflected widespread support for the hunger strikers. “And that was when Mary McAleese first fell foul of Eoghan Harris and his people,” the RTE producer continues – “McAleese saw reporters being sent up to Belfast to take their line on the hunger strikes from people she knew to be members of the Official IRA. She recognised them because they used to drink in her father’s pub on the Lower Falls Road – she took terrible abuse from these people at programme conferences. I remember her being called a Provo to her face, when anyone with a shred of wit could have seen that she detested violence. It just shows how vitriolic those people were, and how long their memories are, that they’re still out to get her now.”
Eoghan Harris’s association with Sinn Féin the Workers Party endured throughout the period when its military wing, the Official IRA, was known to be involved in murder and racketeering. Eamonn McCann said at the time – “It was well known that the Stickies killed Ranger Willie Best, and what I can’t understand about Eoghan Harris is that he never took responsibility for the crimes committed by his associates during that period. He calls people ‘Hush Puppy Provos’ and ‘Sneaking Regarders’ , and he applies these epithets to people who were never as close to paramilitaries as he knowingly was at that time. There was only one party which said that Stalin was right, which defended the invasion of Hungary and the Berlin Wall and offered abject obeisance to Kim II Sung, and that was the Official Republican Movement. In the light of those mistakes, you might expect Eoghan Harris to be a little more humble in pointing out other people’s.. “
Eoghan Harris is incensed to be asked about those contradictions : “If you write anything that links me to Official Sinn Féin I will sue. Seamus Costello once tried to recruit me and Cathal Goulding said – ‘Put him writing pamphlets, he can’t keep a secret’ and he said to me ‘Stay out of all that shit’. I’d be useless at clandestine activity, that’s what’s so crazy about trying to link me with these McAleese leaks, I never thought she was that much of a Shinner, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut about it. The fact was that there was a military wing attached to the Workers’ Party and I was the political party’s chief pamphleteer, which sometimes brought me into the same company, but if I can be smeared by association then so can Pat Rabbitte, so can everyone who was around at the time. I’m an idealogue and a polemecist, it was fuck all to do with me, my job was to educate our membership to give up the gun, to convert them from republicanism to revisionism, to go to the old guard and say – ‘Well, where did the guns get us?’ And I was very good at finding fighting formulas that didn’t require force ; sit-ins and street demos, but no guns – I was a skilled propagandist at covering up our retreat from the gun. I felt the Provos were shading the balance of terror, and I couldn’t go around lecturing the Official IRA to lay down their guns while the Provos were shooting politicians like Trevor McNulty.
But I had contempt for the Derry IRA and after they shot John Taylor and Ranger Best I resigned and I didn’t return until they called a truce. And, if I was involved back then, why not admit it now? It would give me a whiff of sulphur and might even help me pull birds. There was a very heated atmosphere in RTE at that time and, to us, the work we were doing was important and principled political work. There was a lot of debate going on, but basically it broke down into supporters of the Provos and supporters of the Conor Cruise O’Brien line. There is a retrospective air of manipulation because I was a Workers’ Party supporter, but I only pulled strings as far as I could pull them verbally, and each case had to be won by debate. And we were better and brighter than the rest, so we got the best jobs. And if there was a last seat to be filled on a panel debate I’d put on John A. Murphy rather than Tim Pat Coogan, and if it was for a news insert and I wanted someone to interpret a baton charge for me then I wouldn’t pick someone who would sound a tribal tone.
If I broke the broadcasting restrictions then I never did it in an underhand way ; I was suspended for six months in 1974 for a programme on the treatment of internees (Conor Cruise O’Brien furiously denounced the programme at a Labour Party conference that year) and I was docked a huge amount of money, there was a point when I’d have lost my house only Gay Byrne and Bunny Carr sent me £50. But I have seen my personnel file in RTE and there’s a report in it by Michael Garvey where he says that I just wasn’t capable of producing an unbalanced programme.”
That is not, however, how another senior RTE figure remembers the era : “Here was the sort of thing he’d do for the Workers Party – if a panel required, say, a Labour member and a Stickie, he’d pick the greatest gobdaw (ie ‘half-wit’) of a Labour specimen he could find, and put him up against the brightest Workers Party member. Or if there was a report on a issue that was dear to the Workers’ Party heart, you’d have trade unionists or community spokesmen on discussing it, without any acknowledgement that they were members of the Workers Party.”
In a ‘Today Tonight’ programme aired on April 22nd, 1982, a Dr. John McManus admitted that there was considerable tax evasion within the medical profession during a debate on the iniquities of the PRSI system. Dr. McManus was not identified as a Workers Party Ard Comhairle (ie ‘ruling body’) member and a party candidate in that year’s general election, nor the line he took acknowledged as the party line. Fergus Finlay recalls “being told no, we don’t want a Labour Party spokesman for this programme, we’re not having politicians, only trade unionists – and then the trade unionist would turn out to be Des Geraghty.” A senior RTE figure stated – “One of the funniest examples of this practice that I can recall was the time that a man called Brian Lynch popped up in the ‘Late Late Show’ audience attacking the Wolfe Tones, or somebody. It later emerged that, at the very same time, the very same Mr. Lynch was on the HQ staff in Gardiner Place counterfeiting tax books, ‘Irish Life’ cheque books and five pound notes! In fact I believe the the mugshot that Interpol currently use – they’re still hunting Brian Lynch – came off a piece of RTE film.”
A ‘MAGILL’ investigation in 1982 calculated that the cost of running the Sinn Féin The Workers Party organisation was around £3,000 per week at that time while membership fees – the party’s declared source of funds – yielded about £500 per week. That report concluded – ‘In an interview with ‘MAGILL’ for this article, Tomas MacGiolla and Sean Garland stated that the party also earned a lot from the sale of Easter Lilies…’
After his departure from both Sinn Féin The Workers Party and, in 1990, from RTE, Eoghan Harris became what Eamonn McCann describes as “a freelance ideologue, a genuine soldier of fortune”, and he had his first major success as a ‘spin doctor’ with Prionsias De Rossa’s memorable European Parliament campaign in 1989 : Harris also played a major part in the election of Mary Robinson in 1990, although the extent of his involvement is questioned by others involved at that time.
Fergus Finlay questions Eoghan Harris’ involvement in the 1990 election of Mary Robinson – “He (Harris) wrote a very intelligent and rational letter to Mary Robinson outlining strategy, but I’m not convinced that he was the first person to suggest those points.” Speaking about Mary Robinson, Eoghan Harris stated – “She did not do the decent thing by me – I said I wanted credit rather than cash for advising her, writing her speeches : I never get paid for that work, by the way, I do it just to keep track on how good a spin doctor I am. But she never gave me the credit.”
Eoghan Harris’ next target was John Bruton and Fine Gael – a former RTE producer stated : “When I saw him move in on Fine Gael, I wondered if it was because he reckoned the party would be as easy to take over as the old WUI.” Though Phil Hogan claimed that Bruton and Harris were “old college friends” , this seems unlikely since they weren’t educated in the same college, or even the same city! Harris went to UCC and Bruton went to UCD. Eoghan Harris ceased to be ‘flavour of the month’ in Fine Gael around April 1991 when he devised the tasteless ‘Twink Sketch’ for Fine Gael’s Ard Fheis, in which the ‘comedienne’ camped-up the toilet roll ‘Ad Lady’ and lampooned, amongst others, Una Claffey.
Harris is truly profligate with unsolicited advice to candidates he admires – regardless of which party they belong to. Dun Laoghaire (Dublin) Fianna Fail member Betty Coffey says she got a phone call and a strategy from Eoghan Harris “out of the blue. And it was brilliant advice. I admire him very much.” Adi Roche’s campaign received some early encouragement from Harris, but he lost interest when reports of her brother’s alleged Irish republican sympathies made the headlines. Fergus Finlay stated – “Harris rang and said she’ll have to repudiate her brother completely, which she would not do. He couldn’t see that her brother’s politics were not hers.” Harris said – “I wanted her to dump the brother, because it meant she had unfinished business on the National Question. And I believe the Irish people pronounce a secret fatwa on people who are soft on Sinn Féin : it may not show up in the polls, but Mary McAleese is holed below the water line, and it will sink her. I don’t hate McAleese – in fact I admired her, she has great courage. I liked that ‘in-your-face’ Northern thing, she knows politics is a big boys’ game played by big boys’ rules, not a daisy chain like Adi Roche, she was thrilled to see myself and John Caden getting caught with our fingers in the pie. And she is far and away the sexiest woman in the race. But I never rated her as a reporter, she was a typical whingeing Northern grievance-monger and I consider that she is one of the armchair generals of the Nationalist community, the ones who did well out of positive discrimination but who keep on whinging : if they get to be Vice Chancellor of Queens they want to be Chancellor, then Chief Justice.
Sinn Fein aren’t into that kind of shit, any advancement they get is through the polls or the gun – I don’t agree or respect that, but at least I understand it! Compare her to somebody like David Irvine in his cheap shirt, coming from a little red brick house, going to a dreary miserable little UDP hall, doing his best to hold the peace. He’s my hero.” The admiration is probably mutual : the November 1997 edition of the ‘Orange Journal’ newsletter compliments Eoghan Harris on his “support for the Unionist cause”, and Harris himself is also said to have claimed, to a senior Fianna Fail figure, that he has advised the Orange Order on publicity.
Harris is convinced that “maybe 50 per cent of the people in the Republic (sic) are unhappy with the Hume-Adams agenda that Mary McAleese represents, the blurring of moral boundaries between constitutionalism and the physical force tradition”, and goes on to say that those people will dispatch her and her ‘Bad Politics Supporters’ on polling day. Eamonn McCann says – “Harris cannot accept that you might disagree with him other than in bad faith. He doesn’t believe that you could calmly consider his theories and find them a heap of shite. He genuinely believes he is the most fascinating person you have ever met, and that just gets boring.”
Harris himself states – “If I am wrong, if I am just some eccentric, why am I being denounced? I know why I don’t get a right of reply in RTE – I could name 22 Provos in the radio centre – but could it be they suspect that what I’m saying makes sense? If McAleese wins she’ll be a lame duck President, and I don’t believe she’ll get more than 40 per cent first preference votes*. I believe in the people’s ‘Secret Fatwa’ on Sinn Féin supporters, and if I’m wrong I’ll retire*. I really fucking will.” (*’1169′ comment – she did, but he didn’t. But he really fucking should have. And not only from whatever job he’s doing now, that is…)
PROSE AND CONS.
By prisoners from E1 Landing, Portlaoise Prison, 1999.
Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.
First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O’Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.
DUMBO THE ELEPHANT… (By Cian Sharkhin.)
“I just can’t, Mum…” I could again hear my feeble excuse being offered sacrificially to the Maenad. I averted my eyes, and again they were drawn to the zoo keeper’s long bamboo cane which was pre-eminent in my mind. As the Maenad pushed forward and the sea of humanity parted to admit the apocryphal beast, she snatched me with such ferocity that my teeth chattered. There was a stunned silence. She yanked me to her and attempted to walk away with me in tow in one fluid movement.
She was at that instance jarred – she was pulled back, as I held firm. There was an expectant loud gasp from the small crowd as the Maenad s l o w l y turned and fixed me with a chilling glare so primal and petrifying it would have had Medusa cringing in fear. Her look said it all – “YOU DARE DEFY ME!” I stared back up at the Maenad, mesmersed. I felt small, insignificant and terrified. The silence screamed in my ears, but the spell was then shattered by a squeaky little voice that rose up above the deafening silence – “I can’t move”, I said.
My voice pleaded. It was my voice, but it was very far away and feeble, almost as though it hadn’t come from me. The Maenad’s merciless eyes kept me fixed, and only her lips twitched, then twisted into a grim unholy grimace, and her eyes, with their feral bloodlust, were unhinging. The corner of one of her eyes began to twitch uncontrollably. She was poised to strike… (MORE LATER).
EOGHAN HARRIS : FROM “ARDENT REPUBLICAN” TO…?
From ‘The Phoenix’ magazine, October 1985.
Not the least surprise of the recent Theatre Festival was the emergence into public view of the author of ‘Souper Sullivan’, one Eoghan Harris, who is better known as a TV producer and less known as a political activist. Harris is so given to secrecy that few people outside the media know of his deep influence within the Workers Party – in fact, more than anyone else, Eoghan Harris has been responsible for the transformation of the Workers Party philosophy from socialist republicanism to a bizarre blend of stalinist unionism.
But strangely, now that the Workers Party is breaking through into electoral politics, it is also shaking itself free from its hard-line mentors. There are new stars rising in the WP, more pliable, more compromising, and more intent on getting their bums onto seats in Leinster House. All of which leaves the moody Eoghan Harris somewhat isolated, somewhat bitter, and with time on his hands to write boring plays.
The son of a well-to-do Cork shop-keeper, Harris was originally an ardent republican ; those who remember him in University College Cork say his early republican persona was almost stage Irish. After a brief flirtation with the right-wing ‘Poblacht Chríostúil’ (‘The Christian Republic’) group, Eoghan Harris’ ‘republicanism’ manifested itself in more extrovert ways ; contemporaries recall his habit of strutting around in trenchcoat and black beret and even sporting a green coat, white shirt and gold tie, on one particular Easter week!
Others remember him from the FCA (‘An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiuíl’), in which he became a fanatical corporal, forcing his troops on long marches through the night to attain FCA awards for endurance and discipline. More significantly, Eoghan O hEarchu, as he then styled himself, struck up an enduring friendship with historian Professor John A Murphy, and the pupil soon became an intimate of the master : Murphy’s pre-eminent role as the sharpest of the revisionist school of Irish historians owes much to his late-night dialectic discourses with Eoghan Harris.
Eoghan Harris met his future wife, Anne O’ Sullivan, then a member of the Wolfe Tone Society, at UCC, and she has since emerged from his shadow to become editor of ‘Image’ magazine and, more recently, an assistant editor of the Sunday Independent ‘newspaper’ ; politically, she is formed in the image of her husband – her public praise of the Official IRA bombers at Aldershot, who killed five cleaning women and a priest at Aldershot Britsh Army Barracks in 1972, is unlikely to have caused a row in the Harris household and, today, her sexual crusade against the Catholic clergy, coupled with her execration of things republican or rural, mirrors the route her husband has followed since the 1960’s.
Ironically, given his now rabid anti-republicanism, Eoghan Harris first attracted attention as a talented young producer in RTE with a series of religious discussion programmes, but it was with ‘Feach’, where he collaborated with Brendan O hEithir, that he made his best programmes. A competent programme-maker as well as a good publicist – he stage-managed a walk-out by Official Sinn Féin leader Tomas MacGiolla from one programme – Eoghan Harris and Brendan O hEithir brought Irish cultural affairs to the nation’s attention in a relevant and lively manner that has not often been repeated since. It was in the ‘Feach’ team that Eoghan Harris had his first of several celebrated encounters with the equally egotistical Proinsias MacAonghusa – the ‘Feach’ presenter took umbrage at an unsigned article by Eoghan Harris in an unofficial producers’ bulletin which claimed that Proinsias MacAonghusa was angling for promotion to Head of Radio na Gaeltachta : at MacAonghusa’s insistence, Harris was removed from ‘Feach’, fanning a feud that has continued ever since.
During the 1970’s, Harris displayed a diabolical talent for embroiling himself in controversy within the Borgia-like court at RTE in Montrose, while managing to survive unscathed himself. During a stint with the ‘Seven Days’ programme, he came to the angry attention of Conor Cruise O’Brien for his editing of a programme on Northern internees which had Cruise O’Brien openly fulminating about ‘subversives in RTE’ at the 1974 Labour Party conference. But the scripting of ‘The Greening of America’, an award-winning programme on US-Irish immigrants, later marked the climax of Harris’s career as a TV producer. More and more he diverted his moody energies after that towards shaping the political direction of the Workers Party, or Official Sinn Féin as it was then known.
In late 1972, Official Sinn Féin was at a crossroads : attempts to differentiate itself from the Provos meant that it had to forge a socialist ideology while still competing for republican support that was rapidly shifting towards the Provos. Seamus Costello wanted to adopt a socialist, republican strategy backed by a military campaign : Sean Garland wanted to do likewise minus the armed struggle, as did Eoin O Murchu. Many Official Sinn Féiners wanted to maintain a left alliance with the Communist Party of Ireland and the (Free State) Labour Party Left.
Eoghan Harris, however, decided it was necessary to dump Communists, Labour and republicanism and, along with Cathal Goulding, proceeded to purge the party of any taint of ‘green’ politics : Goulding was the organisational strategist while Harris provided the ‘intellectual’ muscle. The transformation of the party’s politics could best be mirrored by Eoghan Harris’s metamorphosis and, in that same year, he wrote an unsigned article in the ‘United Irishman’ newspaper entitled “What Is Imperialism?”, one of the most lucid expositions ever penned of the classic anti-imperialist position in Ireland.
Two years later he wrote a document ‘From Civil Rights To Class Politics’, which argued that the Sunningdale Agreement had solved the civil-rights question * and that it was now time to polarise Irish workers against Irish capitalism (*’1169′ Comment – as far as Irish republicans are concerned, the question regarding British jurisdiction over any part of this isle has nothing to do with “civil rights”. It is not, as Republican Sinn Féin has repeatedly stated, a case of saying to Westminster ‘stay if you want, just treat us better’ However – those that fumble in the greasy till, for Sterling or Euro, would accept a so-called “civil rights” ‘solution’. Irish republicans, on the other hand, are aware that such a ‘solution’ would simply postpone the conflict and curse future generations into dealing with this same issue).
In 1977, Eoghan Harris co-authored ‘The Irish Industrial Revolution’ in which he argued that Irish under-development was the result, not of British suppression, but of the unwillingness of Irish capitalists to industrialise. The more orthodox marxists of the Communist Party of Ireland tore this thesis to shreds in a pamphlet issued in reply, but it remained the theoretical guideline of the Workers Party until recently. The result of this approach is to identify virtually all things ethnic as ‘reactionary’ and ‘obscurantist’ : thus, Harris would see Irish republican ideology, the Catholic Church and rural “backwardness” as the three pillars of reaction in Ireland today. In this scenario, foreign multinational company’s are the agency of industrialisation and therefore, ultimately, the creators of a strong industrial working class. That such an ideology should pass itself off as ‘marxist’ is a reflection on the dearth of a marxist tradition in Ireland rather than a tribute to Eoghan Harris as a ‘socialist theoretician’ – but the Workers Party loved it, and they embraced him and his ‘marxist’ policies, hungry as they were for political ‘clothes’ that would mark them off from the Provos and the Communist Party of Ireland and which would also enable them to replace a jaded (State) Labour Party in the future.
Such feverish activity with great matters of State were beginning to cause problems in RTE : Harris was often away ‘ill’ or, more recently, on sabbatical leave. Last year (1984) an enraged senior executive attempted to remove Eoghan Harris from the payroll because he was not working on any project. Other less flamboyant programmers resent a man they see as a talented yet dilettante producer who can wander in and out of the station as he pleases!
Harris is currently working as a producer on the ‘Mailbag’ television programme, which hardly exercises his mind to the full but something that has not damaged Harris within RTE has been his close relationship with Muiris Mac Conghail, now Controller of RTE 1 television and aspirant RTE Director General ; Harris and other Workers Party members moved a motion at the FWUI station-branch backing Mac Conghail in his tussle with RTE Authority Chairman Fred O’Donovan earlier this year, but the move backfired when other producers objected to the Director General race being turned into a political football.
In 1980, Harris tried to mobilise RTE producers against the mooted appointment of John Kelleher to Muiris Mac Conghail’s slot as Controller of Programmes ; since then, however, Harris’s star has waned inside the trade union as members have recoiled from the manipulative methods of Workers Party activists who wield a disproportionate influence inside the RTE complex but he can look back on 20 years in which he has pioneered a new intellectual and political framework for the force of ‘ moderninism’ (or pro-imperialism, depending on your point of view) inside RTE and the Workers Party. But the Workers Party has moved away, politically if not militarily, from its obsessive secrecy – party members now seek open identification as the Workers Party now makes its bid to displace the Labour Party electorally. The methods of Harris were more geared to the infiltration of organisations : the unions, RTE, the Union of Students in Ireland and even the IDA.
Harris is an unusual phenomenon on the Irish political scene : he is an intellectual who is not an academic and a politician who does not seek public office : he is interested in political power but it is a power without responsibility or at least accountability. The ‘cloak-and-dagger’ days for the Workers Party are almost gone : although Eoghan Harris always took his role as ‘Supreme Guru’ very seriously, his elitist and bullying ways made him many enemies within the Workers Party : gone now are the days when a half-hour pep-talk from Harris in a smoke-filled back room would swing the party behind his latest point of view – his theories, too, have been somewhat discredited. The ‘Telesis Report’ and the performance of multinationals inside the Irish economy in recent years have made his booklet ‘The Irish Industrial Revolution’ a tract which ‘the comrades’ would rather forget. Many members of the Workers Party also baulk at Eoghan Harris’s complete commitment to the ‘Two Nations’ theory. Personally, poor Eoghan now has to contend with the twin debilities of being middle-aged and middle-rich – despite his favoured proletarian stance, Eoghan Harris and his wife must now enjoy a joint income of around £50,000 per year and the ‘strain’ of it is beginning to tell : the family is about to move house from an inner-city-but-chic residence off Dublin’s South Circular Road to the blatantly burgeois comfort of Monkstown, overlooking Dublin Bay.
Recently, Eoghan Harris has helped out on the planned production of a film based on ‘Up In The Park’, the boring reminiscences of Liz Shannon, the boring wife of the former boring United States Ambassador to Ireland. And only last week, the Eoghan and Anne team were giving a polite lecture on politics and literature at the Arts Club in Dublin. But as Anne Harris emerges ever more to the forefront of the partnership, Eoghan retreats into the provincial Ireland he loves to loathe – like Noel Browne, he is spending more time in his country retreat, privately fulminating against the body politic and the ignorance of those who vote ‘Yahoos’ into office. Writing plays – even bad plays – is one antidote for this malaise ; the other is to put his own pet theories and his reputation to the real test that they deserve – on the hustings in an election.
RICOCHETS OF HISTORY…
At the end of a year in which *IRA decommissioning has been met with widespread euphoria, Phil Mac Giolla Bháin takes a stubborn look at the facts and concludes that the celebration party may be a little premature. From the ‘Magill Annual 2002’ (*PIRA).
The border, of course, remains and looks more permanent now than at any time since 1922 (‘1169’ comment – …and Irish republicans would welcome its return, in all its ‘glory’). Talk of socialism in the republican movement died out some years ago. The event that de Chastelain (the British ex-soldier who assisted the Provos to surrender) witnessed was a case of putting the symptom before the cause. The need for ordinary people to form an organisation, an army, and equip for military operations, was a clear sign that something in the State of Northern Ireland (sic) was rotten (‘1169’ comment – nationalists always confuse the issue at hand as being to do with ‘civil rights’ in what they incorrectly describe as “Northern Ireland” – republicans don’t make mistakes like that because they understand the ‘bigger picture’). The people with the power in this situation, primarily the British government, have only ever been concerned with eradicating the symptom (‘1169’ comment – how ironic that the author of those words himself is of the opinion that the problem has to do with ‘something being rotten in Northern Ireland…’ !). This conflict started with a loyalist mob attacking Catholics (‘1169’ comment – more ‘nationalist-speak’ ; this conflict started more than eight centuries ago, even though nationalists will tell you it only started in the late 1960’s!), an unarmed IRA and a Labour government that promised much and delivered little different from what British administrators had ever delivered in Ireland.
Some commentators saw the peace process as a British gambit to neuter and neutralise the IRA by splits and disarmament. Their point was simply that Britain cannot address the root causes of the conflict because Britain itself is the root cause (‘1169’ comment – true, but not in the fact that Westminster does not treat the ‘natives’ fairly but in the fact that the British are here, in Ireland, at all, politically and militarily). For instance : only within British governance can loyalist violence be explained or sustained. Since Belfast was formed by industrialisation and the Famine (sic), the nationalist ghettos have always approached the matter of their own survival in one of two ways – fight back or leave. North Belfast, in this sense, made a fool of Cathal Goulding’s best laid plans for proletarian revolution. (MORE LATER).
VINCENT BROWNE ON EOGHAN HARRIS : “SPECIAL ACTIVITIES”.
For over 20 years Eoghan Harris was a secret member of the Workers Party. During that time he denied his membership and threatened libel actions against those who asserted otherwise. During that time funds were solicited from the Soviet Union for a media venture involving him which was to be an opponent of the capitalist press.
In 1992 the Moscow correspondent of the Irish Times, Seamus Martin, rifled through the archives of the then defunct Soviet Communist Party when he came across two letters from Sean Garland, then general secretary of the Workers Party, to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. One of the letters, dated September 1986, was a plea for financial support and made reference to the “special activities” of the Workers Party, which was presumed to refer to the gangster projects of associates of the Workers Party at the time. It was claimed on behalf of the Workers Party that this letter was a forgery.
But no such claims have been made about the other letter, the one dated July 1986, also signed by Séan Garland. This was a request to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to meet a young Irish television documentary maker, Gerry Gregg, who had formed his own production company, ‘Iskra Productions’ (by happy coincidence Iskra was the title of the Bolshevik newsletter of 1917 revolution). The letter referred to a “talented team” which Gregg had assembled, Eoghan Harris and John Caden.
Garland’s letter said: “As part of (its) struggle (against the forces of capitalism) some members of the Workers Party had formed Iskra (which) fosters in an environment hostile to a Marxist analysis of many of the problems confronting western society”. It said Iskra was a “Marxist film-making enterprise which commands this party’s full support. Iskra is potentially a useful propaganda device for the socialist cause, for a small party like ours it promises much by way of building up the intellectual, ideological and financial resources of the party”.
Gregg, like Harris and Caden, was a former producer in RTE and, again like them, one of the closet supporters of the Workers Party within RTE. Gregg has been described by Harris as one of his closest friends and Harris has lavishly praised Gregg’s documentaries, including a four part series on Des O’Malley, which at the time and subsequently caused RTE much embarrassment because of its obviously agenda-driven slant (O’Malley was permitted to fulminate against Charles Haughey and the threat he posed to the security of the state around the time of the 1970 arms trial, without once being asked why, if Haughey were such a threat, did he – O’Malley – collude with Haughey in attempting to suborn a witness who was to give evidence against Haughey in the arms trial).
That Harris should have been associated with a project seeking funds from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for propaganda purposes in Ireland directed against the capitalist class and the hostile capitalist media may seem incongruous now given his current fulsome endorsements of the capitalist media and the most powerful dominant media mogul in these parts. But, in reality, Harris is a complex of contradictions and inconsistencies, some of which he celebrates as though the absence of any core belief is itself admirable.
Eoghan Harris was a secret member of the Workers Party (previously Official Sinn Féin, then Sinn Féin the Workers Party) from the early 1970’s. For most of the period during which he was a secret member he threatened media organisations and journalists (including this journalist) with libel actions if they asserted what was in fact true – ie his membership of the party. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing a secret branch of the party within the Workers Union of Ireland (WUI) membership at RTE and this branch attempted and succeeded in slanting RTE current affairs programmers on radio and television through the judicious placement of its members and associates in key roles. In doing so they gravely damaged the credibility of RTE’s current affairs output especially in relation to northern coverage, on which it sought to exclude any voice that it considered sympathetic to Provisional Sinn Féin (not just members of Sinn Féin).
The current President of Ireland (sic), Mary McAleese, worked as a reporter on RTE television’s flagship current affairs programme at the time, Today Tonight, and came into conflict with others on the programme who either were secret members of the Workers Party or associates of those. She was accused of being a Provo and ridiculed because of her northern nationalist background. She was personally witness to an extraordinary episode which illustrated the bias that had infected RTE current affairs at the time. It was during the 1981 hunger strike and she along with others on the Today Tonight team went to Belfast to do a programme on the crisis that had evolved. They were precluded from interviewing anyone associated with Sinn Féin and with the UDA but some members of the team wanted to have on a programme a well known loyalist, whose paramilitary allegiance was obscure. However, members of the team became aware that for this person’s participation to be secured they had to get the assent of the then leader of the UDA Andy Tyrie. Mary McAleese overheard members of the team telephone to get permission for this person’s participation. He took part in the programme, while anyone even remotely supportive of Sinn Féin was excluded. The UDA at the time was engaged in a campaign of murder of innocent Catholics.
For clarity sake it has to be emphasised Eoghan Harris had no part in this programme, neither had Gerry Gregg or John Caden. But such practices were by no means unique in RTE at the time and much of it arose from the manipulative culture generated in large part by the secret infiltration of the Workers Party. Harris had been one of the Workers Party ideologues from the early 1970’s along with Eamon Smullen, who had been a member of the British Communist Party previously. Smullen and Harris were authors of a document, ‘Industrial Revolution’, which focused on building up a revolutionary workers movement, through industrialization, however environmentally damaging. They wanted smelters for instance but also bank nationalisation and centralised economic management. They produced a pamphlet hugely critical of Tony O’Reilly, largely because of his conduct of Atlantic Resources, an oil company, that failed to find any oil of significance but which made millions for some investors and lost millions for others.
Harris remained a member of the Workers Party during the period when it or its associates engaged in several murders both in the South and North, including the murder of a former member of the party, Seamus Costello in 1977. During this time the party or its associates were engaging in a massive counterfeiting operation – the person most centrally involved in that scam was included as an audience of ‘workers’ discussing industrial issues on RTE television, without having his Workers Party membership identified. There were also countless armed robberies, punishment beatings in the North and widespread racketeering and intimidation in the North and South. Meanwhile the party continued to profess its opposition to violence and to illegality. Neither did this paramilitary organisation, formerly the Official IRA, ever formally decommission its weapons.
Throughout this time the Workers Party also cultivated links not just with the ‘Communist Party of the Soviet Union’ but with the communist party of North Korea, possibly the most undemocratic and repressive regime in the world. This association was not a secret held by a tightly-knit group of the leadership of the Workers Party, it was widely known at the time. For instance a visit to North Korea by the then President of the Workers Party, Tomas MacGiolla, was given much publicity in part because of the misapprehension of the North Korean authorities of the nature of the Workers Party, which, apparently, it understood to be Provisional Sinn Féin. Of course it was not only Eoghan Harris who studiously turned the blind eye to these goings on but also the likes of Pat Rabbitte, Prionsias de Rossa, Eamon Gilmore and others who are now members of the Labour Party. But at least these did not deny their membership of the party.
GROWING UP IN LONG KESH…
SIN SCÉAL EILE.
By Jim McCann (Jean’s son). For Alex Crowe, RIP – “No Probablum”. Glandore Publishing, 1999.
Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the ‘Frank Cahill Resource Centre’, one of the founders of ‘Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh’, the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A’Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.
His first publication last year by Glandore was ‘And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh’. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!
The Younger Son.
“Open up, security forces here. C’mon, get a move on we’ll boot the door in…” ordered the RUC man to the younger son of the house, whom we will call ‘the younger son’. The ginger-haired younger son of the house gingerly opened the door and a burly RUC man pushed past him and went into the living room, closely followed by a crowd of Englishmen pretending to be soldiers. Well, they were soldiers but they were only the ‘King’s Own Scottish Borderers (Kosbies)‘, so that doesn’t really count. “Acting on intelligence, we have reason to believe that there are weapons hidden in this house,” said the RUC man. “No there’s not,” said the younger son, but the RUC man was unimpressed by his impassioned rebuttal. “Well, let’s find out then, shall we…?” said the RUC man.
Now the younger son was attending college and had already acquired all sorts of O-Levels and A-Levels and it was the knowledge gained that made his next remark all the more incredible : “Have you got a search warrant,” asked the younger son. When the laughter finally abated, the RUC man gripped the younger son by the throat and screamed “WE DON’T NEED NO FUCKING SEARCH WARRANT. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, SOUTH AFRICA..?” and he pushed him unto the sofa. The ‘security forces’ went to work on the house.
They wrecked all around them and finally one of them appeared at the foot of the stairs with a rifle. The younger son was gob-smacked and said that it was a plant. The RUC man rose to his full height in front of the younger son, put his hand on his shoulder and said to him ” I’m arresting you under Section 4, Sub-Section 8, of the we-can-do-whatever-we-want-against-Irish-nationalist-people-act’ of 1664. Anything you say or anything we can beat out of you in the barracks will definitely be used against you and anybody else we want to put in prison. If you need a solicitor one will be provided for you but only after we disorientate and kick the crap out of you for the next 48 hours…” (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DATE (10TH MAY) 48 YEARS AGO : A ‘GENTY’-MAN LOOKS DOWN ON “18 CHILDREN”…
‘Terence O’Neill came to power as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (sic) in 1963 with a bold plan to ‘literally transform the face of Ulster’. For the next six years O’Neill proved himself to be Stormont’s most controversial leader. Though born of the gentry, he was determined to break from the past…he stirred up passion and anger…when the civil rights movement took to the streets in 1968, O’Neill’s response was prophetic: ‘it is a short step from the throwing of paving stones to the laying of tombstones.’Confronted by demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, pressure from London and rebellion in his own party, O’Neill gambled all…when finally he was ‘literally blown from office’ in April 1969, in the midst of rioting and loyalist bombs, thirty years of violence had begun..’ (from here).
And a few words from the man himself, as quoted in an interview he gave to ‘The Belfast Telegraph’ newspaper on the 10th May 1969 – 48 years ago on this date : “it is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house they will live like Protestants because they will see neighbours with cars and television sets; they will refuse to have 18 children. But if a Roman Catholic is jobless, and lives in the most ghastly hovel, he will rear 18 children on National Assistance. If you treat Roman Catholics with due consideration and kindness, they will live like Protestants in spite of the authoritative nature of their Church…”
And that, a mere 48 years ago only, was the typical British attitude towards ‘the paddys’, although, for the most part, it was only usually voiced like that behind closed doors. No wonder we’ve been trying to put them out for over 800 years now. And we still are, with the help of our ’18 children’…
ON THIS DAY NEXT WEEK (WEDNESDAY 17TH MAY 2017)…
…we won’t be posting our usual contribution, and probably won’t be in a position to post anything at all until the following Wednesday, the 24th May 2017 ; this coming weekend (Saturday/Sunday 13th/14th) is spoke for already with a 650-ticket raffle to be run for the Dublin Executive of Republican Sinn Féin in a venue on the Dublin/Kildare border (work on which begins on the Tuesday before the actual raffle) and the ‘autopsy’ into same which will take place on Monday evening, 15th, in Dublin, meaning that we will not have the time to post here. But we’ll be back, as stated above, on the following Wednesday, 24th May 2017, so please check back with us then!
Thanks for reading, Sharon.