The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Tipping Over Cash Cows

Seaghán Ó Murchú • 17 May 2004

NI minister John Spellar’s ban on Sinn Féin’s North American fundraising reminded me about a question long in the back of my mind: how much have the Provos earned since their entry into constitutional party politics? I checked Niall O’Dowd’s “Too Late for SF Ban” editorial in The Irish Voice (May 12-18). Since the “peace process” and the IRA ceasefires, he gives a figure of over $5 million. This certainly presents a windfall for a party with such a comparatively small number of elected representatives in Stormont, Westminster, and Dublin. What happens to all of those greenbacks?

In preparing an article on Noraid for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Irish-American Relations (not a genealogical but a reference work!), solid information on earlier funds raised for the armalite before the promotion of the ballot box remained rather elusive. In the 1970s, the individual donations to Noraid were often as little as ten or twenty dollars. The lack of easily obtainable financial records from Noraid due to its preferred conveyance of funds to An Cumann Cabhrach by personal courier prevented U.S. inspection along much of the activists’ money trail. What mattered most to many of its supporters was the continuity of such financial support with earlier American generations back to Clan na Gael days: the Cause again could be elevated as a rallying point and a source of ethnic solidarity and cultural resistance to post-WWII suburban assimilation.

After FBI crackdowns, with the rise of Friends of Sinn Féin and the demotion of Noraid, respectability supplanted gunrunners, and lobbying replaced smuggling. Jack Holland and Ed Moloney both prominently feature this shift in their books. Provo commitment for the establishment of the socialist, or even radical, republic faded into rhetoric. Replacing it came the embrace of bureaucracy, corporate donors, the ringing of the Wall Street bell, and the wrangling of grants for community development from Brussels’ largess.

As with Noraid in the 1970s, the accounting for SF’s funds today raises questions. The numbers claimed by the FBI for supposed and actual weapons procurement fluctuated, and were alleged by republicans to be inflated and by their opponents to be calculated. Niall O’Dowd, in this later decade, credits the party’s clout to the money lavished upon SF. He boasts of the party’s “well-appointed offices,” its “professional operation,” and its ability to deliver its message better than any other Irish party. He asserts that the party has passed any need to depend upon “her exiled children in America” (my phrase, not his: the Proclamation may be part of the Provo iconography, but it’s as isolated from SF reality as the U.S. Declaration is in its nuclear-proofed, transparently displayed, heavily mummified acrylic tomb in Washington).

Instead, SF has its cash flow assured by “a professional fundraising gambit.” He explains: “Members do not keep their salaries but rather plough back most of the funds into the party.” If next month’s elections gain two European seats, he predicts that “there would be considerable sums flowing in to the party’s coffers. With expenses European MPs can earn up to $600,000, most of which would likely be returned to the party.” I trust that the devotion of its representatives to the party continues their socialist ideology despite the temptations of capitalist gain.

O’Dowd blames the SDLP, who actually put “social” first in their name, of jealousy. When John Hume was the White House’s darling, he raised plenty of bucks from “very well connected supporters.” Now that SF has the momentum, “the success of the party has surpassed the tipping point” where SDLP can topple over SF’s cash cow.

Letter writers to The Blanket recently have asked why our journal persists in criticising SF without offering concrete alternatives. In my article on the 1934 Republican Congress I attempted to honestly set out that leftist front’s strengths and weaknesses as it struggled to form another republican-socialist campaign outflanking both outmoded militarism and constitutional compromise. My questions about SF likewise raise uncomfortable questions. How long can idealism and criticism persist without concrete gains attained for everyday people, who have heard so many ideologues and witnessed so many hypocrisies committed in the name of the common folk? Why not take the path of lesser resistance and work within a system that now is well funded, media savvy, and welcomed into the corridors of power? Many of us, disenchanted by the evolution of a movement to which we had long been committed, keep waiting—as in 1934—for another rising. But this messianic tendency weakens our own ability to survive the inevitable letdown when we put too much trust in leaders, bearded or shaven, shaggy or rouged.

I think of the war for independence, when Sinn Féin truly asserted itself in 1919-20. Courts, armies, governing bodies, trade began independently of the land’s ruling power. As boycotts earlier had toughened the stance of the previous generation or two against the landlords and gombeen men, so a few activists determined to wrest a republic without waiting for cash flow and EU elections. And exiles always played a role, and politicians.

Last week, I talked to friends in Hungary. They told me that they wanted their country to be like Ireland. The EU funds would pour in as they did to Greece, Portugal, and Ireland; these nations would now be not only geographically but economically First World. Hungary in a generation would breed its own Celtic Tiger. I wondered, however, if they remembered Sinn Féin’s first leader—who, for all his shortcomings—made the link with their nation and our own in his The Resurrection of Hungary. Nobody today wants a dual monarchy as Arthur Griffith first proposed on the Austro-Hungarian model. Hungary had been forced into submission by Kaisers and armies that crushed its 1848 rebellion. But the comparison remains: Hungary and Ireland fended off imperialist forces as they attempted to gain a somewhat more democratic nation and a culturally distinctive ethos that was threatened by its dominant superpower. They kept rebelling, and kept persisting.

If we at The Blanket want to speak with and for everyday people and not their politicians, what limits and what opportunities can a guerrilla strategy offer on the web, on the street, and in the media? How can a socialist legacy many of us share further republican goals? Can a leftist policy accomplish broader gains in a post-Wall global society? These are not defeatist but relevant concerns. If we don’t want either the Donegal luxury home or the flat in the ghetto to be the symbols of a maturing republican future, what shall we offer instead? It’s fun to fulminate at the Emperor’s nakedness, but we need to sew new clothes with a better fit. Otherwise window-shoppers walk on by to the giant cash cow display and the tricoloured posters with a bearded man outside party headquarters.






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

24 May 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Tipping Over Cash Cows
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Dying Easily
Anthony McIntyre


Danger to Society
Chrissie McGlinchey


The Moral Failure of the "Free World" in Gaza
Ghali Hassan


Colin Powell, DOA
Paul de Rooij


The Letters page has been updated.


21 May 2004

Portlaoise Prison and Compassionate Parole
Anthony McIntyre


New Republican Protest Looms in Maghaberry
Martin Mulholland, IRPWA


Computer Enchanced?
George Young


A Comic Apology?
M. Shahid Alam


Lessons from Vietnam
Liam O Ruairc




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