Worse than Galloway?

The speech of John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington and chair of the Labour Party's Irish Society, which he delivered to the Connolly memorial rally on Saturday May 24, finally began to catch up with him almost a week later. Phil Kent reports

Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble appears to have been reading press releases put out after the meeting, and he told The Guardian: “To label terrorists as brave and to lay blame for the murders, bombs and beatings of Irish republicans at the government’s door is a disgusting accusation. Mr McDonnell’s statement is much worse than any comments made by George Galloway on the Iraq war” (May 30).

Trimble called for McDonnell to be expelled from the Labour Party - an action that was not ruled out by an unnamed Labour spokesperson, who said: “These comments do not represent the views of the Labour Party [which] condemns unreservedly all atrocities perpetrated by the IRA and other paramilitaries. The actions of terrorists [were] never justified in Northern Ireland.” The Guardian remarked that McDonnell’s speech is being “looked into” and could lead to his eventual expulsion.

Putting aside the question of Galloway, Trimble is guilty of spinning the speech to his own ends. I did not hear any mention of “murders, bombs and beatings of Irish republicans” at the May 24 meeting. McDonnell actually said: “We are in the last stage of imperialist intervention in Ireland and only the armed struggle has stopped it. It is about time we started honouring those people involved in that armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifices made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the unilateral action of the IRA.”

McDonnell did not suggest any IRA return to the armed struggle, but called for the diplomatic process to be supplemented by popular protests and actions to get the peace process ‘back on track’ - ie, in the direction of Irish independence. In his days as a Militant stalwart he would have said that catholics and protestants could unite around bread and butter issues on a socialist platform. Nowadays, he has signed up to the nationalism of Sinn Féin and given up on the idea of unity around any kind of working class programme - even an economistic one.

To bring George Galloway back into the frame, the British establishment regards calling for the defeat of your ‘own’ imperialism in the middle of a war as the crime of all crimes. In the case of John McDonnell, retrospective support for anti-imperialists is not quite so serious. What really makes Trimble tremble and Blair blue is not an obscure speech made to a couple of hundred people in London, but the campaign of Sinn Féin (not to mention Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party) for elections to be held in Northern Ireland - elections which could well end Trimble’s personal political career and leave British policy in Northern Ireland in disarray. Bourgeois democracy has its limits (as far as Blair is concerned, the more, the better). Only ‘moderate’ parties can be allowed to win Stormont elections, it seems.

McDonnell may believe that we are in “the last stage of imperialist intervention”, but the British government seems determined to continue controlling Northern Ireland for as long as it can get away with it. The problem is that it is an artificial statelet founded on the denial of elementary democracy to the Irish-catholic section of the population. That is why communists argue for a united Ireland in which there is a two-county, two half-county province in the north through which the British-Irish, who constitute a majority on this territory, can exercise self-determination.