because Kevin Myers (Irish Times), Eilis O'Hanlon
(Sunday Indo) and Henry McDonald (Observer)
attack something doesn't mean sensible people have
to defend it.
Sinn Fein's annual commemoration of ex-IRA chief of
staff Sean Russell at Fairview Park in Dublin on August
17th. The usual media suspects---rabid supporters
of political violence when it suits them, including
the killing of innocent civilians---wound themselves
up to the peak of high dudgeon to pour down vilification
on all concerned. Russell was a Nazi collaborator
who travelled to Berlin during World War Two to try
to persuade Hitler to help the IRA, they pointed out.
He was on his way back to Ireland with plans link
up with Nazi agents and forment revolt in the North
when he died from natural causes and was buried at
sea. How could people who advertise themselves as
progressive gather reverently to mark the death of
such a man?
though it's reactionary wretches who are doing the
asking, this is a good question. Why, indeed, did
Brian Keenan, Marylou McDonald and Ciaran Mac Anraoi
step forward in turn to deliver eulogies to a Nazi
Phoblacht described Brian Keenan's speech as "the
main oration" and quoted him: "I don't know
what was in the depth of Sean Russell's thinking down
the years, but I am sure he was never far from Pearse's
own position, who said, 'as a patriot, preferring
death to slavery, I know no other way'... There are
things worse than bloodshed, and slavery is one of
them. We are not and will not be slaves."
moment's thought about the millions enslaved by Nazism
puts the repulsiveness and stupidity of this remark
into perspective. So what aspect of Irish Republicanism
prompted Keenan to make it?
can take it that Keenan is in no way soft on Nazism.
But we can take it, too, that, generally speaking,
he holds to the old Republican adage, "England's
difficulty is Ireland's opportunity"--the exact
sentiment which sent Russell on his mission to Berlin:
before setting out, in October 1939, he'd spelt it
out plainly: "'England's difficulty, Ireland's
opportunity' has ever been the watchword of the Gael."
Russell, driving the Brits out of Ireland took precedence
over everything else. No consideration of class differences
within Ireland, nor of solidarity with persecuted
peoples elsewhere, no thought of the implications
for the 4,500 Jewish people living in Ireland, nothing
could be allowed to cloud the shining vision of an
Ireland freed of British rule. In this perspective,
the question of what force it would be proper to ally
with was secondary.
willingness to collaborate with Nazis, then, did not
stem from a fondness for Nazi ideas but from the intensity
and exclusiveness of his Nationalism. The Nazis were
at war with Britain---and so was the IRA. Ideological
affinity didn't come into it. If Hitler would help
get the Brits out of Ireland, it would make no sense
not to avail of that help...
etc. suggest that the Russell commemoration exposed
Sinn Feiners today as, if not sympathetic to Nazism,
at least well-disposed to Russell's collaboration
with Nazism. But what the Fairview Park event actually
revealed is simply that Sinn Fein hasn't broken with
the notion that the "national cause" takes
precedence over everything else. The most important
practical application of this notion in 2003 came
not at Fairview Park but in Hillsborough Castle in
early April when the SF leadership glad-handed the
leader of US imperialism even as his bombers revved
up for the Iraq runs: the interests of Irish freedom,
now deemed to be enclosed within the Belfast Agreement,
took precedence over all else. If staying close to
George Bush would advance the Nationalist cause, opposition
to Bush's imperialism had to be put in abeyance.
lies the link between the perspective of the Repubican
Movement in Russell's time and the politics of Sinn
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