Sinn Fein ‘the worst form of conservatives’
Sinn Fein ‘the worst form of conservatives’


Former republican hunger striker Gerard Hodgkins delivered the 2013 annual Brendan Hughes memorial lecture in Derry on the 1st of May. The following is the text of his address.


Being asked to come here tonight and present this lecture is an honour which I feel I do not deserve. Brendan Hughes was my friend and my comrade in life and in death he remains an inspiration to me, and many others; because if the life and times of Brendan Hughes have taught me anything it is that it is possible to remain a principled and decent human being both amid the smog of war and the lessening of moral codes that all wars bring and more importantly during the post-war carve up when unscrupulous politicians rise like scum to the surface and hoover up all the gains of the sacrifices for their own personal ends.

The Dark had the strength, the integrity, the care for his comrades and people to be able to resist the temptation to sell-out for significant personal gain. He was literally an ordinary man with extraordinary talents and could have applied his hand to any field but he was born into a society divided along sectarian lines and the poverty he endured at home he also experienced when he was on the boats and witnessed the appalling conditions and treatment of poor Blacks in South Africa. His experiences of poverty I believe propelled him into the socialist ideology and because he had lived under the unequal distribution of power in the Orange State and witnessed similar conditions internationally with other disadvantaged people he never blamed the Protestants, he never developed the sectarian mindset which has poisoned political discourse here well beyond its use-by date. He understood the connection between the political class and the business class and how in order to maintain their positions of privilege they will sow dissent and disharmony among the working class because it is true that so long as we fight each other we are not noticing our true oppressors and challenging them.

In our own case the tool of division was and still is sectarianism. It is the same sectarianism the British have and are assiduously and ferociously cultivating in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Muslims in an attempt to cover up and mask the total mess they have made out there.

It is the same corrosive sectarianism the British fostered between Arab and Jew when Britain took the mandate for Palestine post-First World War and set about ensuring instability and enmity between Jew and Arab so the British interests and class system could be maintained. Sir Ronald Storrs, the first governor of Jerusalem under British rule in the 1920s explained British policy as “forming for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”. This policy would be enforced by The Palestine Police, a counterinsurgency force raised specifically for the task which was not only modelled on the Black and Tans but most of its early recruits came from actual Black and Tans, and Auxiliaries, who found themselves unemployed after the Tan War. The brutality and aggression these soldiers of fortune brought to Ireland they then exported to Palestine.

Years later when Margaret Thatcher came to power and set about restructuring and reorganising the RUC to turn it into a formidable counter insurgency force in the drive to re-establish supremacy of policing she found an ally in Sir Kenneth Newman a former operative with the Palestine Police. Newman had been appointed RUC Chief Constable in 1976, the year the British thought that by a stroke of a pen they could criminalise the radical republican tradition in Ireland.

Yet the roots of our particular sectarianism had as much to do with economics, and the making of a few bob, than religion alone. When the English were looking for a new monarch to rule over them and us they decided on inviting William of Orange over from Holland because the Dutch had the most advanced financial systems in the world at the time. The Dutch, like the English had established overseas colonies and extracted great wealth from them at great cost to the colonised, but they had the advantage of possessing the technical banking systems for making money work, for making money make money, for developing and oiling a growing capitalist system. So England, with Dutch expertise, got King William and The Bank of England from the Glorious Revolution which brought religious liberty to all - except the Irish Catholic and any other colonised people who by virtue of their status as conquered could never be conceived of as equal in the eyes of God and the English.

Even the partition of Ireland and the creation of an emasculated Ulster had more to do with economics than religion alone. The partition of Ireland was originally to have bequeathed the nine counties of Ulster to the new state of Northern Ireland; but hard-nosed business men of the Ulster Unionist variety who managed and reaped the benefits of the industrial power house that Belfast was in that time with the massive ship-yards of Harland and Wolfe and the engineering and linen industries which were at the centre of the power house that was the British Empire realised that a nine county Ulster would soon see a Fenian majority and a threat to their position, privilege and wealth; and done the math to work out that by abandoning a few counties and cutting back to The Six Counties, Unionism could hold the balance of power for long enough to develop systems to control it indefinitely. To help itself on the way the first act of the new Unionist government in Stormont was to abolish a specific aspect of the Government of Ireland Act which they didn’t like - proportional representation, which would have given too many votes to the Catholic underclass of the new statelet to ensure its long term survival. Thus gerrymandering, voting rights bestowing multiple votes to the privileged class and all those other horrible aspects of a sectarian state crept into everyday life in a one-party state. Proportional Representation was built into the Government of Ireland Act to guarantee safeguards for the Catholic minority in the North and the abandoned by the Empire Unionist minority in the Free State, and to their credit the Free State never abandoned their proportional representation system of voting to this day.

Pogroms and unspeakable acts of violence were carried out against the Catholic underclass in the birth-pangs of Northern Ireland but equally unspeakable acts of violence and pogrom were carried out against “the rotten prod”; Protestants by community designation but who nevertheless held Socialist, Communist, humanitarian attitudes and never related to their neighbour as the enemy, non-sectarian protestants who suffered like we did. In the 1920 pogrom it is estimated between 8 and 10 thousand Catholics were violently evicted from their places of employment in Belfast, along with 1800 ‘Rotten Prods’.

The 20th Century opened optimistically with revolutions in Ireland and Russia challenging the old world order and proceeded to see decolonisation as the war of the flea challenged the old colonial order in the post-WW2 era. On waves of optimism South East Asia expelled the old colonial oppressors, Africa gained independence, Cuba took its place among the free nations of the world, Palestine was on the conscience of the world and apartheid had been destroyed.

Yet in 1990 George Bush announced the New World Order: a unipolar world of uncontested US military supremacy and Western economic domination. The collapse of the Soviet Union was hailed as the end of history where conflict and war between ideologies would be replaced by a world where the market decided on disputes. The Free Market reigned supreme and with no alternative counter balance to worry about Western capitalism could dispense with all notions of welfare and social security and set about the privatisation and deregulation of regulations guaranteeing basic human rights, economic rights and health and safety rights, of every facet of life: the true free marketeers are inspired by Milton Freidman who contends that the state should play no part in social provision: schools, hospitals, social security, drug policy, housing, sanitation, wages, transport, rural development, fisheries - all must be left for the market to decide and balance out. Friedman also believed that political freedoms are incidental, even unnecessary, compared with the freedom of unrestricted commerce - a belief which undoubtedly eased his conscience [if he had one] as he jumped into bed with every military dictatorship in Latin America among them the architects of the First 9/11. The 9/11 they never really talk about or refer to much, because the Americans and the British were in up to their balls in the overthrow of the democratic government of Salvadore Allende in Chile in 1973 and opening the door to Milton Friedman and his noxious economics.

The major downside with this policy is a few at the top of the pile get super wealthy with a small sea of administrators below them getting wealthy in varying degrees keeping the machine running, while the mass of the people, the working and vulnerable classes get stuffed so as to pay for the privilege of living in an increasingly expensive free world. Prices increase while money levels remain at best the same or decrease. This is the outworkings of a free market economy dominated by the influence of Milton Freidman and his Chicago School economists; this is the holy mantra of an unfettered and rampant economic system.

In its present format in Ireland today it is manifested in deteriorating rights and conditions in all areas of society. Care Homes are closing because they are not profitable, essential medical services are being centralised to the most economically profitable locations - not the most essential locations. Even a stay in hospital now is an expense nearing as expensive as a stay in a hotel: if you want to do basic things to pass the boredom of a hospital stay, like watch a T.V or make a telephone call to friends and family: You Pay - through the nose! And when visitors come to visit: they pay exorbitant rates for parking rights in their humanitarian gesture of visiting the sick! We live in a Free World which is becoming increasingly expensive to survive in.

The IRA and the ANC entered the arena of political dialogue and negotiation with their respective enemies around the time of the new world order dispensation: both crumbled under the pressures of the process and abandoned basic principles for self preservation of their privileged elites. The ANC leadership jettisoned their Freedom Charter and all notions of radicalism and social reform for membership of the political-power club. Ireland was no different, once the whiff of limited political power arose (and the financial benefits that go with it) the sacrifices of generations were abandoned and the quest for Irish freedom was reduced to a quest for a few houses and a few bob for the few.

Between Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 and his election as President of South Africa in 1994 the ANC had been ideologically annihilated. In negotiations which ran on parallel tracks Nelson Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa negotiated with De Klerk on the political reforms securing the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule; while parallel and not so sexy and interesting ran the economic negotiations led by Thabo Mbeki, successor to Mandela and President of South Africa, 1999-2008. In these negotiations the economic sovereignty of South Africa was handed over to the global neoliberal financial institutions. The Black South Africans could have their country; they could have the vote, but not their economy. The wealth of the nation would remain in the hands of foreign capitalists.

Mbeki and his team were outmanoeuvred and even agreed to retain former Apartheid ministers to maintain control over the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank; and if that wasn’t insulting enough they even agreed to pay the bill for the Apartheid regime’s war.

We live in a world where the Rights of Man have been insidiously degraded to the right to be enslaved to financial and banking systems immune to sanction for failure. When they succeed they reap big profits; when they fail they still reap big profits because for their mistakes and failures they can legally make us pay. The Golden Circle of parasites who feed off the misery of South Africa, the agonies of Palestine and the torment of Ireland are the same mendacious parasites who tell us that only their way can work - low wages/high prices, rich get richer/poor get poorer. We can have whatever political veneer we want, but we can’t question or challenge the free market economics they espouse as gospel and impose without mercy or care - only an eye to profit.

The imperfect peace we settled for is one which allows for the British state to selectively nit-pick the past and persecute those they could not break in youth but now can rob them of their latter years in a final act of vengeance. Yet General Mike Jackson or Derek Wilford O.B.E. have yet to spend as much as an hour in a police station for the massacre on Bloody Sunday.

The apparatus of surveillance and oppressive intrusion has been updated and refined via one-generation-ahead-of-us integrated computerised systems to monitor record and collate practically every facet of our public and private life.

And if all that fails there is the “secret evidence” clause where an upright English gentleman or woman of the security services can have us interned on an undisclosed and incontestable allegation. The same people who warned of imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq precipitating a war which led to mass destruction of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children; the use of chemical and biological weapons against civilian populations whose effects remain very real today with abnormally high rates of pitiful birth defects in children with no hope. They have no hope because ravaged by twelve years of crippling economic sanctions followed by a disastrous war they have no money and Iraq became the latest test tube case of total destruction of a society and its rebuilding on the Milton Freidman model of supremacy of the market.

The rise to power of “New Labour” in 1997 heralded the final rout of the left wing in that party and the ascendancy of right wing free marketers eager to integrate into the global crusade for dominance of the markets. Tony Blair became the global cheer-leader for the new world order which would be secured by American and British firepower in the event of a disagreement between the new world order and local indigenous peoples.

While Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton sponsored Sinn Fein’s entrance into the political power club, they were simultaneously pursuing crippling neoliberal economic policies against states which didn’t dance to their tune, imposing severe hardships and poverty upon millions of people across the globe. Deregulation and mass privatisation policies imposed upon Russia caused the greatest peacetime collapse of an industrial economy in history, driving millions into poverty. Adherence to the economic authoritarianism of Blair and Clinton was the price to be paid for their sponsorship. Hence, the IRA leadership like the ANC leadership betrayed their own bases and bought into the new world order scenario. Poor black workers are still gunned down for striking for a fair wage in South Africa; Irish republicans are still interned and prisoners abused in British prisons on Irish soil. Maghaberry Prison and the conditions reminiscent of the H-Blocks thirty five years ago pertaining today for Republican prisoners is a shameful stain on those who were once heralded as such great and tough negotiators.

The draconian repressive laws we fought against were not abolished, rather they were refined and finessed for public consumption. Former revolutionaries embraced privatisation policies with an enthusiasm Margaret Thatcher would be proud of. They impose Tory cut-and-slash policies upon the most vulnerable sectors of people in obedience to their financial masters. This is not what the IRA fought a war for. We did not engage in war to become reflections of our enemy continually lying to and deceiving our own people.

Green-varnish semantics and calls for border polls make for good sound-bytes and controversy, the lifeblood of journalism, but they also expose the paucity of ideas and policies to challenge the neoliberal nightmare being imposed upon us by foreign financiers and speculators - who really don’t mind what way Ireland is configured politically so long as it is imbued with the neoliberal economic doctrines of austerity, deregulation and lies.

The worst form of conservative is penultimately a revolutionary. Our political gurus believed all the guff the British propaganda machine spun about them being hard and tough negotiators during the long process; while the British were walking them into rationalising a system of government which resurrected Brian Faulkner’s internment and instilled in them a slavish adherence and obedience to neo-conservative economics.

We were annihilated ideologically, just like the ANC; our socialism was jettisoned and we are left with a bunch of tweedle-dee tweedle-dum, closet capitalist social climbers who are more concerned with ingratiating themselves with the ruling class than they are in liberating the working class. My ex-Chief of Staff had the opportunity of requesting of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth 2 if she had any recollection of signing a Royal Prerogative of Mercy for Marian Price, a former volunteer of his, but by-passed it for a kiss in the arse.

We live in a very unequal world but it is not a world which cannot be challenged and changed. Brendan Hughes believed he could challenge and change the world and he did - he challenged it in his legendary days as a guerrilla fighter, in our unending tangle with England, through his deeds which were not only courageous but merciful.

He changed it not only through his personal actions as an ordinary Belfast man in a time of war but more importantly through his example to history that it is possible to be a soldier, a leader and a major thorn in the ass to an enemy and still remain incorruptible and noble in the aftermath of defeat: he refused to buy-in to the low wage/fuck-you-Jack out-workings of “the system”. He brought a contemporary manifestation of it to the notice of Sinn Fein and was obstructed and censored in persisting in having an article published about it in An Phoblacht - but his revelations didn’t go unnoticed: Sinn Fein hired the building firm in question to renovate the old Sevastopol Street site of their H.Q. in Belfast.

While reading through old online documents retrieved from the Long Kesh computers I came across a critique of the way the camp had developed and the need for change and to end the culture of designating men as “negatives” and sidelining them because they didn’t fit in with the new dispensation. The piece was written in March 1995 and included the following quote which is testament to the high esteem our old friend and comrade Brendan Hughes was held:

“For 10 or 15 years the outgoing O/C has recommended the incoming candidate. This has created a stale and paralysed staff and a too cosy elite. Potential cadres are selected at a very early stage on entry into the camp and work their way up through the positions. ‘Negatives’ likewise are quickly labelled and restricted from all but the most inconsequential positions. The system has allowed a self-perpetuating group to develop in the camp. We propose a change in this system, a ‘Dark Hughes’ who has not been bred in the system and who can make the necessary root and branch changes from the top down and create a system that will encourage rather than stifle comradeship, that will get rid of this elitism that prevails, and redirect energies towards the real enemy, and to work towards creating an atmosphere in which men can do whatever time they have to do with as much dignity and self-respect, and in as relaxed an atmosphere as possible. It is not the personalities but the system that is ultimately at fault.”

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