The Borefast Agreement

The great bores of Ireland have been at it again in the North this past week or two. Not that I spend a lot of time following it. It reminds me of one of those movies my kids watch so often that they know the lines verbatim, being able to speak in sync with the characters word for word. For me, the ability to maintain interest in anything served up ad infinitum, food, films or fools, demands either an iron will or no imagination. I am neither gifted nor cursed with either.

Political commentators must feel the same; they know it’s all action replay from beginning to end. Whatever angle it is viewed from it remains the same. They could as easily run some old news reel from years ago and the public would hardly notice the difference. While Blair and Ahern have moved on, the idea that old faces should not be thrown at old problems seems not to have registered up in Borefast, the North’s political capital. That probably goes some way to explaining the seeming intractability and longevity of the contentious bone. The issue is less a problem than its supposed solvers. Same old, same old, desperate to remain in power all these decades later; operating on the simple basis that ‘with no new faces to zoom in on, the cameras will have to look at us peeking out at them like peeping Toms from behind doors or whatever, still clinging to the notion of being indispensable.’ A few years ago the Irish Times described one of the North’s chief negotiators as someone who goes rigid with excitement the moment a camera is in the vicinity. There are other products on the market that should do that for him without involving a long suffering public.

On Friday I took a call from a Northern journalist inviting me to do some radio commentary on ‘developments’. Another deal had apparently been struck and agreement had at last been reached on policing and justice, none of which will improve the lives of anybody one iota. I declined. I could have gone in cold and did it, easily drawing on experience of what has flowed under the same bridge from the same sources since long before the two children here were born. I saw no point. I had little interest in it and had no inclination to make any serious effort to find out. It will make no difference to the lives of my children, and the North will be just as British this week as it was last. I sensed the journalist I was speaking with had the same feeling. But it is her job to keep people alert. How to keep them awake I felt was the real challenge. I did not envy her having to scavenge through the political rubbish tip in the hope of finding some caffeine like substance rather than sleeping tablets. I felt like telling her that a public health warning should be broadcast in advance of any news items coming out of Stormont: something like ‘do not drive or handle machinery after watching the following: it is liable to make you drowsy.’ But we knew that anyway as both of us reached for our caffeine laced coffees the minute we stopped talking about it. That's how I imagined our response - we were divided by the partition line so I couldn't actualy see her.

Sunday, evening, two days after the new agreement, I have little idea what it is. Haven’t listened to the news, bought a paper, not even the Sunday Tribune, or browsed the net. I have hardly missed anything. A Belfast journalist sent me a few texts. He seemed to have as much interest as I had.

The ancient Chinese wish for their enemies came in the form of a curse that they should live in interesting times. Nobody in the North of Ireland has ever upset China.


  1. Good post, I honestly must say I can't listen to or read news about this massive breakthrough without starting to nod off.

    My local Labour Party (ROI version) greeted the news as if a cure for cancer had been discovered.

    Personally I was annoyed that this meaningless agreement (whatever it is) pushed the news of Tomas MacGiolla's death even further into the background. I actually found out he'd died from a blog and had to search for news of his death in the Irish media.

    I don't really care what anyone else thought of the man, I admired his integrity.


  2. Mackers as usual brillant,if you ever leave we will all have to follow you are the only thing that keeps us sane.

  3. so Anthony you are leaving us to live in a nudist sheep shaggin colony in Leitrim ...mmm hey Fionnuala no need to pack,

  4. jaysusss Rory how do you die from a blog is it painfull,read the lost revolution and come back and tell us about Mr Mac Giollas integrity

  5. its Moanday Mick the day after Supday

  6. Go fuck yourself Marty.

  7. Rory, up to you who you admire and the reasons for doing so but I would have thought MacGiolla and integrity were not terms that sat well together. He presided over a vast criminal network.

  8. mind you Anthony they did do some very nifty printing and it was,nt Che,s posters

  9. Now now Rory lol,comrade thats no way to inspire and influence people as for screwing myself , that would be selfish as there is so many out there queueing up to do it to me i.e, politicans, priests ,bankers need I go on

  10. I've my reasons for liking MacGiolla, there very simple and personal and I am not going to share them here for this crowd of bitter cynics to mock.

    Some of us believe in the future and are working for it. Some it seems prefer to endlessly mull over the wreckage of the past. The past is one thing that is never going to change.

  11. Who do you inspire Marty?
    or more likely who are you trying to impress?
    I'm not trying to inspire influence or impress anyone on this blog.

  12. Rory, I think you need to take Marty as the whole package. He is one of the characters of the blog and adds a bit of colour to proceedings. A literal reading does not always work well. Your point about working for the future is fine and you have your own personal reasons for respecting MacGiolla which is also fine. But when you place in the public domain something that is not about the future - the character of a deceased person - and you accompany it with in this case a very contentious term like integrity, then you will invite strong opinions. You are free to pen an obituary on the man and have it carried on this blog. At the same time people can disagree with you without being labelled a crowd of bitter cynics. You are of course free to label them as such but in my view it makes your argument all the weaker.

  13. Good piece. Very true.

  14. AM,

    I am not qualified to write an obituary for MacGiolla. My reasons for liking him are simple, he was the first socialist I ever saw or heard. His was the first party I voted for, since they were the only left wing party on the ballot in Ireland in the '80s. (Labour didn't count since they were just going to support FG in government).

    He was a man of integrity because he didn't slope off into DL then Labour with so many of his former comrades.
    I neither know nor care whet the IRA was doing in the background. How the hell could I have known as a teenager in the '80s?

    I wonder was Marthy's snide Che Guevara remark aimed at me too? I suspect so as I suspect he would deny it.

    I am far, far removed from that type of posing pseudo socialist. I was on brits out rallys and doing stalls for the RCP in London in the late '80s when that type of activity was far from fashionable.

    In recent years I've had some contact with most of the Irish left (SF,IRSP, WP,SWP, Socialist Party, Labour Party) and the only thing they seem to have in common is a mutual loathing and distrust, which is really good news for FF and FG, and really bad news for the poor people who actually vote for these egotists.

    But I persist.


  15. Rory wise men talk because they have something to say .fools because they have to say something.Plato...Once again I advise you to read The lost need to look at the man in the whole from from soldier to politician and then make your thing I can say for certain there wont be to many tears shed for his passing in this part of the world and that would be the view of many of his former comrades

  16. Well said Rory.


    A question, you wrote that MacGiolla oversaw a vast criminal network, leaving aside all the arguments about the sticks,etc. Is it such a crime to refuse to recognise the law in places like the six counties.

    Yes, we must all live by a set of values, but do we have to concede it is legitimate for the State to set them for us, especially if we believe the writ of the said State is illegitimate.

    For example if we lived in occupied Iraq would it be such a crime if we counterfeited US dollars? I realise when judging criminal enterprises it may depend on who its victims are.

  17. Mick the organisation that Tomas Mac Giolla,Goulding ,etc belonged to was not the revoluntionary movement people like Joe Mc Cann died for,(some say he was set up by the leadership).you say is it such a crime to refuse to recognise the law in the sick counties, Mac Giollas comrades not only recognised "THE LAW" but activily worked for special branch and mi5 and associated with same in their drinking dens.We must live by a set of values ,yes true Mick,but the organisation the late Mac Giolla presided over would,nt admit to having an armed wing and when volunteers were caught were not recognised untill for printing us dollars, it was,nt for the benefit of the poor or working class of Dublin or any other part of this country and it certainly was,nt for the promotion of socialism

  18. marty

    I understand all that, it is why I wrote leave the sticks out of it, for as you have pointed out they're position was complicated if not down right hypocritical. What I was asking was is it such a crime to refuse to recognise the law in places like the six counties or say modern day Afghanistan or come to that, even in the UK, Ireland and the USA of today.

    For me it is about who and for whose advantage laws are made, or perhaps I am a relic of the past, with all this modern talk about the rule of law, although I tend to think not.

  19. Marty does Marie know that you are causing all this trouble on Mackers blog? Loved the joke about Twinbrook library, not sure if Albert appreciated it though, considering that was his neck of the woods for while. He said you were always a trouble maker and I must say I actually agreed with him for once.

  20. well Mick ,if your anything like myself i,e. more plastic than bone then relic might be an apt discription,I even have a magnet fitted to catch the metal bits that fall off, lol,in the 70,s and 80,s we shouted when those who make the law break the law then their is no law, you are lucky in that you dont have to watch s/f dup preach to us on almost a daily basis about law and order those paragons of virtue, those of us who lean to the left need a completely new banner to fall in behind, Rory was right earlier when he said that those groups of the left here are full of mutual loathing and distrust its called divide and conquer and Im sure thats the way the right intend to keep it

  21. Rory, it is an imperfect world and we all have to compromise to get on with it. So choices are made that might not be ideal and you have probably made such a choice in relation to MacGiolla. I can think of a few unsavoury characters I have time for. You probably don't see him as unsavoury. Nevertheless, I saw him as a man who supported repression against northern nationalists and sought to criminalise republicans all for opportunist reasons. The dichotomy you make between the party and the IRA is not as clean in real life. His party were up to their necks in criminality, while providing information to loyalists on republicans, to name a few things. At the same time I know quite a few Sticks or ex-Sticks who were prominent in the organisation and am very friendly with them. I was impressed with their social conscience from the minute I left prison and that was just through dealing with them on a personal level. So there is nuance in my perspective on it and it does not irk me that you have the view of McGiolla that you do. Just don't think it is worth getting annoyed over. When someone throws a bit of bait it is not obligatory to snap at it.

  22. Mick, it is hard to disagree with Marty on this one. The party recognised the law. It was not trying to undermine the law but have the law turn a blind eye to it in return for its promotion of a thoroughly counter revolutionary agenda. And it was not just about counterfeit money - there was a wide range of criminality involved. I take your point about the law but am more impressed by Martin Luther King's position that the law can't make people love him but it might stop them hanging him. Even from a Leninist perspective the law as a bourgeois democratic property has value for the working class.

  23. gawd almighty Anthony your like James Connolly no not a balding man with a great big tash , no a cara I mean I need my dictionary for those big words, but by thunder those last 2 posts of yours wre class, fuck I wish I had gone to school now

  24. lmao I,m sure there,s plenty out there would love to see Anthony and his blog take a long walk of a short pier.such a parcel of rouges under the one roof .does,nt bode well for those who would have us silenced Fionnuala and your Albert was always a wise man

  25. All,

    Well at least we aren't discussing that shower up in Stormont and their historic agreement.

    Couple of points,


    While 'The Lost Revolution' looks very interesting (and I see Antony contributes to it), I have only so much time and money for books, I am currently reading three tough ones,
    including one already recommended on the comments section of this blog (Trotsky, 'History of the Russian Revolution')

    Are not SF now colluding with British intelligence and security forces? Is anyone perfect?

    While reading the comments since I last was here, I've been in contact by text with a Labour Party (Ireland), an IRSP and a SWP member. I'm not going to listen to any one faction or point of view. I distrust them all equally.


  26. Dear Anthony,
    I do appreciate your comments, but now where is the hope?

  27. I bought the book, will have to live on porridge for a few days I suppose. It seems like everytime I visit this blog it costs me money.

  28. Rory I would have gladly posted acopy to you and knowledge is the key

  29. where is the hope Clues, ..We are all in the gutter ,but some of us are looking at the stars, Oscar Wilde

  30. Well I have it now, rather but my own copy anyway, thanks, Rory

  31. Marty, honestly, do you feel desperated? We can read books (i will buy the one wrote by Anthony for sure), talk, criticize and this is the right thing to do, but then, our hopes and strength vanish into the distance. And so many martyrs died for the cause... I feel like living in a huge vacuum. IRSP, SWP (well, not so recommended), Worker's party... all of them sound dead, as well as a potential socialist revolution and a better world.

  32. Clues when the world cries out "give up",hope wispers try one more time, I dont know who said that but we really will be shafted if we roll over

  33. Clues de Chabrières, I don't do hope.

  34. Marty, Antony,

    Well having read 'The Lost Revolution', I can see why ye would dislike the Stickies in general, but it's hard to see what was wrong with McGiolla in particular. While I found it an excellent read, the book gave only bare outlines of the personalities of McGiolla, Garland, Costello, De Rossa & Co. (I suspect this had a lot to do with De Rossa's astonishing libel case against Independent Newspapers).

    I can also understand how ye would hate the Stickies for colluding with the security forces but think it is very hard to know who or what to believe. Obviously, it suited the cops to have them there feuding with the Provos and the cops gave them an easy ride for that, but the book says several times that the establishment saw them as a bigger threat than the Provos in the long run.

    The Brothers Fighting Brothers chapter with the horrible four way feud between the OIRA/UVF/PIRA/IRSP and the cops helping out and no doubt fanning the flames where they could is utterly sad.

    I didn't mind the criminality, they were genuinely trying to raise funds for a left wing revolution and at least they managed to get a few TDs elected down south and scare the ruling classes for a bit.

    There is nothing in the book to suggest that the OIRA/Group B volunteers were carrying out these operations for personal gain. I was impressed by their policy of not 'claiming' operations and of not declaring themselves members of a political organization when caught but going down as ordinary criminals. It seems utterly subversive.

    So, anyway the book was worth the price, an interesting read, but I'm none the wiser about McGiolla. I still respect him for 'sticking' to his guns (even if they were dodgy Stalinist guns) and not selling out with the rest of the WP TDs at the Democratic Left split. I lot of idealistic people put in a lot of work and a few did time and a few even died to get those TDs elected and most of did not do it to hand the seats over to Fine Gael and Labour. That was obvious from Democratic Left's complete lack of a grassroots base. They inspired nobody.

    I was lucky in 1987 when I first voted to be able to vote Worker's Party, a real, scary left wing party. I would like to think that had the option been on the ballot I would have voted IRSP but I would still have given the Worker's Party my number two.

    There is nothing like them where I live now, the most left wing thing on the ticket these days is Labour, or Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail. But I can no longer delude myself that any of them are left wing at all. They are just managers, safe hands for a European corporate super-state.

    So maybe I miss the possibility that McGiolla stood for in my mind when I was young.

    Sorry about the long comments lately Antony, I'm just working something out in my head the last few weeks, and this blog had been very helpful.


  35. Rory, it doesn’t bother me how long the comments are. Just sometimes the blog system does not take them at a certain length so the person posting them has to break them down into three or four separate comments.

    I have the Lost Revolution at home but have not read it. This discussion however has prompted me to start so as soon as time is available I will.

    I don’t hate the Sticks at all. I would have had many disagreements with their position but hatred would come no where near how I feel about them.

    The problem with McGiollla is that he led a group that was a criminal network – you say for the party and you are ok with that; myself and Marty presumably feel that if you talk to those who were with the programme for a long time, much of that financed personal lifestyles. They dismiss it as Workers Party PLC. But the money generated never went into furthering a republican agenda but was often used against it.

    The Sticks not only colluded with the state security forces they passed on information to the loyalist death squads. In one case in the prison the very details of republicans that a Stick handed to Shankill Butcher Lenny Murphy were handed back to republicans by Murphy himself. Murphy was playing games but it did not take away from the action of the Stick in question. Again talk to the people who were in the organisation for confirmation that it went on.

    Moreover senior members of the leadership from Dublin would brief Belfast volunteers that the main enemy was the Provisional IRA and that IRA members should be assassinated while at the same time popping up in RTE to condemn all violence.

    The Belfast Sticks would not have any of it. It needs to be remembered that many of these Sticks on the ground were republicans who wanted a left wing agenda. They did not see the Provisionals as the main enemy and they resented many of their leadership’s directives.

  36. Rory,

    denying the operations and presenting themselves as criminal was not subversive but rather an attempt to avoid the tag subversive so that the party could grow more and more respectable and become part of the system which is what happened in the end. And for we in the Provisional IRA the denying of the political was anathema to us because we lost so many comrades proclaiming the political, not hiding it.

    You make the comment that a lot of idealistic people

    ‘ put in a lot of work and a few did time and a few even died to get those TDs elected and most of did not do it to hand the seats over to Fine Gael and Labour.’

    That’s true but the same can be said of the way the Provisional movement has gone. In fact the Provos are remarkably similar to the Sticks in the journey they have covered if you take away the left wing content that the Sticks had. Anyway, it is one sure reason for my mistrust in revolutionaries. Invariably they become what thy rebelled against.

    There is no radical left in existence now Rory. Joe Higgins and the Socialist Party is the best there is but I think – strangely it should seem for a Trot party but in reality Trot parties are like that – they are Stalinist outfits. The People Before Profit have some decent activists but the opportunism of the SWP Stalinist centre in London will soon destroy it.

    And maybe these are just things we do when we are young and feel nostalgic about afterwards. Compromise is a dirty word to a young revolutionary as is reform. But age brings with it awareness that compromise and reform are the lubricants that move politics. They correspond to everyday life in a way that revolution does not. I know in my own life that to get through the day it is full of compromises. It is how we deal with people – family, children. I endlessly compromise with my kids. If I stand at the stop of the stairs roaring ‘no way but my way’ the house would fall apart. I think this is one of the great attractions of reformism to ordinary people – it is something they naturally adopt to because their life is full of it.

    That’s my Sunday morning take anyway.

  37. Thanks for your feedback Antony,

    It is very hard to get a good perspective on what went on sometimes. After I used the same terms, I saw a quote where our Taoiseach described McGiolla as 'a man of integrity' and that sent alarm bells off in my head.

    This thread and reading the book have been very useful to me so thanks.


  38. I think the discussion has been useful to us all. Dialogue always is if we are prepared to learn anything from it. Glad the blog was of use to you in developing your ideas. Everyone is welcome. I don't want it to be like some other boards which are just like walls for graffiti and mud is thrown by each at all.

  39. Just a couple of points on urban underclass's comments on the stick's book, I found them fair and well balanced. The one thing the Trots and the Stalinists both have in common, beyond democratic centralism, which is a poisonous organisational methodology which is totally divorced from democratic accountability, is 'the end justifies the means.'

    It was for this reason millions of committed left wingers around the world, who started out on the political road, determined to help build a better world, but ended up being the accomplices of mass murder.

    Indeed for me it was this alone which was undoubtedly Stalin's greatest crime. That the Trotskyist never reached that stage IMO is mainly due to their failure to attain real political power.

    That all these years after Khrushchev made his secret speech to the 1956 USSR party congress, which exposed his master's crimes,(Although not his own) future generations are still be suckered in to support these groups, which in itself partially explains the decline of the UK and Irish left.

    Because for every 1 left activists who having experienced membership of a Stalinist or Trotskyist group, leaves and carries on fighting for socialism, nine former members leave totally disillusioned with what they wrongly perceive to be socialism and want nothing more to do with it.

    AM writes McGiollla led a group that was a criminal network, true, but which of the armed groups involved in the insurgency period was not? I doubt it would be possible for any organisation that oversaw a criminal network for as many years as
    McGiollla did, not to make sure those at the sharp end received a reasonable share of the take.

    After all, they were facing possible imprisonment if things went pear shaped, whereas McGiollla worried about a bad newspaper headline. That such a headline rarely came does point to AM being correct in that the sticks had State benefactors to protect their illegal endeavours.

    Funny enough two recent events have highlighted the dangers for republicans or leftwing progressives raising funds by working in tandem with criminal elements.

    I mean the recent shooting of Mr Doherty and the dreadful mess the Workers Party has go itself into by giving solidarity to an elitist, monarchical/hereditary, reactionary regime that governs North Korea.

  40. Mick, what then was the purpose of the blanket protest and the hunger strikes if all that was being defended was a criminal network?