For those interested in the recent history of this country, the endless focus on the Provisional IRA/loyalists and British can be a little tiring. Of course, they were the main players.
But where are the copious amounts of text regarding Seamus Costello, Martin 'Rook' O'Prey, John McMichael or Tommy 'Tucker' Lyttle? All people who played significant roles in the conflict and are interesting characters in their own right.
For too long, the Officials fell into this category. Most of this was down to their own desire to rewrite history and pretend their army split in 1972, but Brian Hanley and Scott Millar's seminal The Lost Revolution saw the movement examined in a fair and critical fashion.
As a result, we've seen a revival of interest in the Worker's Party and their failed revolution. And this tome carries on in that vein, but using papers from Dublin, Washington and London to examine how the movement was perceived by officials in government who viewed the growing influence of left wing politics in the south, as well as the spiralling situation in the north, through a Cold War prism.
It's an interesting premise for a book, but unfortunately at least half of the book is purely an exercise in academia. This is because the various documents simply have diplomats reporting what various sources have told them. And while it is noteworthy to see how they were paranoid that the USSR would use the conflict in the north for propaganda and gaining a foothold in Ireland, the nature of these documents do get tiresome after a while.
Some of these are quite funny. It's immediately noted that the party had no friends in the national political stage, describing the 1985 ard fheis as "...one of the least stimulating events in the political year" and noting a clear divide between the northern and southern members (with the latter being much more bourgeoisie). This matter, clearly evident to an outsider seven years before the split, seems not to have been given much though by Goulding and Co at the time.
Another example is given whenever Sean Garland and Des 'the Devil' O'Hagan met with British embassy diplomats regarding the north. Here, it is noted that both men genuinely believed that they were playing a '...lead role in defeating terrorism...' How they squared that with racketeering and running brothels with the UVF will never be known!
Finally, the infamous 1988 trip to Pyongyang for several OIRA members to learn martial arts is discussed as such:
Living in spartan conditions, eating 'crap' food including dog soup, the Belfast volunteers were relieved to arrive home. Three had been sent back earlier after two months following a punch up. One member of this group summed up his experience: 'It was the worst place I ever went to. The poor bastards believe they are living in Utopia.'
Considering the OIRA had been, officially, on ceasefire since 1972 and hadn't used violence since 1977, it begs the question what was the purpose of having members shipped out overseas to learn about martial arts. Were they planning a ninja wing or something, or was it just a rouse to get money from the North Koreans (as it is claimed that two of those trained came back with a ton of money)?
Disappointingly, there is no reference to the allegation made by the Communist Party of Ireland that the Worker's Party were importing heroin from Iraq. Although no evidence has surfaced to back up the claim, the circumstances listed in Jerome aan de Wiel's book East German Intelligence and Ireland do make for further investigation, especially Mulqueen's remarks about Garland being a frequent visitor to Iraq.
Allegations such as these and the claims over North Korean martial arts being adopted by Cyprus Street regulars state clearly that there is a lot more to come out about this organisation. Certain people need to start talking and writing, otherwise history will be ill served.
Despite the criticisms, An Alien Ideology is a great book with some fascinating insights. Acting as a supplement to The Lost Revolution, it allows for a wider perspective on the Worker's Party and their flight from Irish republicanism (while still holding onto the Official IRA to do their dirty work).
The Russians dodged a bullet by not endorsing this lot.
John Mulqueen, 2019. An Alien Ideology: Cold War Perceptions of the Irish Republican Left. Liverpool University Press. ISBN-13: 978-1789620641
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.