BICO and Bew

nigel_irritable mmcdon at
Mon Feb 12 16:25:27 MST 2001

> But with BICO, I think something else is at work.  After all, they went
> from being critically supportive of republicanism to being so viruelntly
> hostile that they became pro-imperialists.  Bill Warren's book on
> imperialism very much represented their evolution on that score.  They
> invested so much time and energy - and venom - in anti-republicanism,
> it is just plain bizarre that they have gone the other way.

Their politics now seem bizarre all over. I gather that they repudiated
first Lenin then most of Marx over the course of the 1970s. They then spent
their time in the Campaign for Equal Citizenship trying to get the British
Labour Party to organise in Northern Ireland, before giving up in disgust
claiming that the whole idea had just become a tool of unionism. (I
wouldn't dispute that the whole idea was unionist, I'm just amused that
they seem to think that their original plan would supercede such

At this stage they just seem to spend their time being unpleasant to
Unionists and Southern Irish West Britons.

> >The reason I bring this up is that Paul Bew seems to ba a particular
> >opponent of Clifford. He regularly dissects the good professor's
> >and as a sideline managed to explain Bew's political history.
> >
> >It turns out that Bew was a leading member of the Official RM from the
> >1970s on, on the quiet. He ended up being denounced by Thomas MacGiolla
> >the time of the Democratic Left split, so presumably he went with DL.
> >begs the question, where is he now politically?
> That's very interesting about Bew.  He always denied any specific
> affiliation.  Could you post the stuff about him being a leading figure
> the Workers Party?

This is from a pamphlet by Clifford, written in response to pro-British
criticisms of the film "Michael Collins". The pamphlet is long, spirited,
rambling, entertaining, occasionally vicious and totally devoid of class
analysis. I include slightly more than is strictly necessary, because the
sheer bitterness of the man amuses me. There's a good one liner somewhere
else in the pamphlet about Prionsías de Rossa gaelicising his name while he
anglicised his spirit.

It can be found, along with a fair amount of their other stuff at:

It has become fashionable in West British circles in Dublin to represent
(for the purpose of condemning) the movement which actually achieved Irish
independence as fascist. And the curious thing is that this tendency is
most strongly evident only in the only party that adopted an overtly
fascist position in the thirties--Fine Gael.

Eoghan Harris (who aspired to make a Michael Collins film but failed), made
a television programme on this theme which was broadcast on Channel 4 on
1st June, 1996. (Harris himself was, of course, the star. The high point of
his performance was his criticism of a War of Independence flying column,
in the well-known painting called Men Of The South, for not having military
hair cuts and not being dressed up in soldiers' uniforms. A number of other
media 'revisionists' also appeared in the programme: Eilis O'Hanlon of the
Irish Independent, Kevin Myers of the Irish Times, and John A. Murphy of
Cork University.) When Harris failed with his Collins project--which would
have been an exercise in falsifying history to make it supportive of a
current policy--he applied his talent to scriptwriting a British television
series glorifying the war against Napoleon. Thirty years ago, when he was a
backstage big-wig in the pre-Provisional Republican movement, he used to
strut around Cork City in military dress organising the hounding of Poppy
sellers. Twenty-five years ago, in the early seventies, when the 'Official'
Republicans were conducting a lunatic war and indulging in hysterical
denunciation of the Provisionals for not conducting the ideologically
correct war, I disputed the 'Official' characterisation of the Ulster
Protestants with him in a debate organised by Jim Kemmy's independent
Labour grouping in Limerick. His view of Irish affairs then was quite as
wonderful as it is now, though it was the reverse of what it is now. It was
hardline cultural nationalism scrambled through doctrinaire Marxist
ideology. And this method of argument was then much as it is now,
consisting largely of character assassination. I remember comparing it with
Kingsley's assault on Newman, which Newman described as "poisoning the

I had been declared an outlaw by the nationalist media in the Republic
because of the 'two nations theory'. In September 1969 I had published an
article disputing the nationalist view that Ulster Unionism was based on
feudal remnants manipulated by religious bigotry, and arguing that the
Ulster Protestants should be seen as a nationality. I had formed this view
on the basis of experience in West Belfast in August 1969. I had discussed
it with many people in West Belfast during the winter of 1969-70, including
some who were in the process of forming what became known as the
Provisional IRA. Those discussions were reasonable, and led to reasonable
disagreement. But discussions with 'Official' Republicans were entirely
futile because the ideas formed by the Official mind did not come about
through any sort of reasonable engagement with facts.

Shortly after my debate with Harris, the Official Republican terrorist
campaign was called off, and the fact that it had ever been waged was
deleted from the public record to the extent that it lay in the power of
Official Republicanism to delete it. (And the influence of Official
Republicans in the media an academia, both in the Republic and Northern
Ireland, was far-reaching.)

I did not follow in detail the developments by which the Official
Republicans became Sinn Fein, the Workers' Party (and attempted by
terrorist methods to prevent a minority from continuing with the old line
under the name of the Irish Republican Socialist Party), and then became
the Workers' Party, and finally divided into the Workers' Party and the
Democratic Left. I am not as well informed about the content of those
developments as perhaps I ought to be, although I do not think I am as
ill-informed about them as the leader of the Workers' Party/Democratic
Left, Proinnsias de Rossa, proved to be when giving evidence in his libel
action against the Sunday Independent in the Autumn of 1996. But, given the
Official Republican mental condition as I encountered it in the late
sixties and early seventies, I was not surprised by its bizarre transition
from ultra-Marxist ultra-nationalism to a kind of hysterical Ulster
Unionist fellow-travelling.

Professor Bew was not, as far as I know, a member of the Official
Republican movement when I was in regular contract with him from 1970 to
1972. It seems that he joined it some time after he broke off all contact
with me (without telling me why he was doing so, or even that he was doing
so). He was for many years a member of the Executive of Sinn Fein, The
Workers' and then of the Workers' Party. When the Workers' Party split in
the early 90s, I noticed that Tomas MacGiolla declared that people like Bew
had brought the baneful influence of BICO into the party, from which I
gathered that Bew was aligned with the faction that became the Democratic
Left. (That he had been entirely hostile to BICO for the better part of
twenty years was a fact, but facts had little status in the Workers'
Party.) I do not know if he remains a formal member of the Democratic Left,
but if not, I do not suppose it is because of substantial disagreement with


Now one problem with the above, is that Clifford doesn't strike me as an
entirely reliable source.

> He is one of the most reprehensible 'academics' in Ireland in my book.
> *whole academic career* was built on a 'left' critique of republicanism,
> which quickly amounted to a repudiation of Marx&Engels work on Ireland
> a legitimisation of British imperialism.  As far as I can see, he
> on no other subject.  His books are just one attempt after another to
> de-legitimise republicanism.

I remember spitting with rage after reading Henry Patterson's "The Politics
of Illusion" a couple of years ago (Patterson, for those of you lucky
enough not to have encountered him, has acted as Bew's academic sidekick).

That said, Bew, Patterson, Gibbon, Clifford and all the rest did come up
with one very valuable contribution to Marxist thought in Ireland. They
argued that the Ulster Protestant political outlook could not be explained
as being entirely the result of British manipulation. Until left
republicans get to grips with that very pertinent fact, they aren't going
to get very far.

That most, if not all, of them did so mainly out of a kind of sureptitious
Unionism is to put it mildly unfortunate, but it doesn't remove the
validity of that one point.

> Him, Ellen Hazelkorn and someone else from that milieu also wrote a book
> called something like 'The Dynamics of the Irish Revolution', which was
> when I figured he must actually be closely linked with the Officials
> (Sticks/Workers Party), because Hazelkorn was probably their most
> intellectual in the South and her husband, whose face I can remember well
> but whose name escapes me just now, was a TD for Dublin South-Central in
> the late 80s/early 90s.

Eric Byrne.

> >He's certainly one of David Trimble's closest advisors and most
> >propagandists.
> I didn't realise Bew had actually thrown in his lot officially with
> Trimble.  Makes sense, however.

Bew is now wheeled out whenever they need someone capable of stringing a
few long words together in the press or on television. He was actually an
official advisor to Trimble at one stage, I think, but he certainly is
openly in that camp.

> > I'd just like to know what happened to the tiny rump of the
> >DL in Northern Ireland when their Southern party was absorbed by Labour
> >couple of years ago?
> >
> >Is Bew still in Democratic Left?
> The problem when the Workers Party split between the MacGiolla-ites and
> De Rossa-ites is that there was nothing for northern De Rossa-ites to do.
> Basically all of the party's TDs, apart from MacGiolla, wanted a complete
> rupture with the party's past and to become an Irish version of the
> CP, pioneering Third Way type politics.   I gathered at the time, that a
> majority of the small WP in the north stayed with MacGiolla.  of course,
> MacGiolla lost his seat at the next election, and the WP rump was thus
> wiped out electorally and rduced to a tiny party.  Most of the
> followed De Rossa and the other five TDs out of the WP and established
> Democratic Left.   But that also meant becoming a Free State party alone,
> and just concentrating on winning seats in Leinster House.  There was
> simply no political role whatsoever for De Rossa-ites in the north.  What
> would you do if you were a northern DLer, even at the time DL was first
> up.  here you are in belfast, or wherever, a member of a party which has
> abandoned any idea of Irish unification and which recognises the north as
> part of Britain and just wants to build up an electoral base in the
> It didn't leave Bew and co. much to do - except, apparently, join the
> 'liberal' wing of Unionism.

DL was formally organised on a 32 County basis. As you point out though,
their Northern membership patently had no role to play. i'm just curious as
to what officially happened to them when the merger occurred.

> BTW, Brian, could you post something abut what has become of the
> Left TDs since DL fused with the Labour Party?  I would gather few of
> TDs still have seats and that they have basically been swallowed by

De Rossa is now the Labour Party MEP in Dublin. He was officially chairman
of the LP immediately after the merger, but that was a figurehead position
and I don't think he even retains that. His political role is negligible

Liz McManus is still a TD and still talks the same vacuous liberal
nonsense. "Phoenix", the Dublin satirical magazine insists on calling her
Lady Wicklow.

Pat Rabbitte was the big winner in the merger. He was already loved by the
media and now he's nearly guaranteed to be a Minister after the next
election. He got in a very nasty row with the editor of the Sunday Business
Post recently. He had referred to the SBP as the "Continuity Sunday
Business Post" because of its republican line on the North. It turned out
that the antipathy went back to squabbles in student politics, when
Rabbitte was an arch-Stalinist and the soon to be editor of the SBP was in
the International Socialists.

I can't remember what happened to the rest of them. DL had no politics
beyond taking a neo-Unionist line on Northern Ireland and the Irish Labour
Party is utterly devoid of left wing ideas too. Since the merger, nobody
has noticed any difference in either. Their language is that of a
holier-than-thou Fianna Fail.

> I think the next general election in the South will be quite interesting,
> because the substantial growth in support for Sinn Fein - is likely to
> result in a big increase in SF seats in Leinster House and a further
> decline for the Labour Party.

Sinn Fein's support will undoubtedly go up, but it's far from certain that
they will gain seats. Ferris is in with a good chance in Kerry and Crowe is
a possibility in Tallaght. Beyond that, I think they're probably looking at
some good showings rather than wins. They could win anything from one to
five seats, at the moment my money would be on two.

Another point is that a Sinn Fein rise in support won't necessarily hurt
Labour. SF's two best seats (one in Cavan and one in Kerry) won't effect
Labour. On the urban front, Labour might have more to worry about from them
- but even then outside of Tallaght they don't look like being able to take
Labour seats directly and where they can't do that a strong showing by them
(bringing out non-voters from sink estates) might actually help Labour a
little in terms of second preferences. You might be right, but STV makes
predictions very difficult sometimes.

Labour certainly have something to worry about. Seamas Healy of the South
Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group (and formerly the Lambertist
"League for a Workers Republic") took a seat from them in a recent
byelection and he won't be moved. Similarly, the Socialist Party's Joe
Higgins took a Dublin West seat from them and is safe in it. Clare Daly of
the Socialist Party is in with a good shot of taking another seat off them
in Dublin North.

The outlook is less than bright for Labour on their left flank. The
question is if they can take seats from the other right wing parties to

Is mise le meas,
Brain Cahill

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