Below are two articles from the May/June issue of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) about recent cultural developments in Ireland. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has always been seen as being on the cultural frontline of the Irish national movement. The first article outlines the retreat of the GAA in the face of Sky TV’s global corporate onslaught. The gombeen capitalists referred to in this article are Irish small wheeler-dealing businessmen always looking to a fast buck and ready to trample over others. They have traditionally formed the Right wing of the Irish national movement.

The second article provides an example of cultural resistance in Belfast. In this city, the Irish language emerged as a weapon if resistance in the ‘Jailtacht’ during ‘The Troubles’. Despite promises of being given official recognition under the Good Friday Agreement, Unionists have reneged on this. Sinn Fein has also backtracked. It appears that they are now content to develop West Belfast’s official Gaeltacht, alongside the city’s Cathedral and Titanic Quarters as money-making tourist attractions, rather than develop the language as part of communities of resistance. However, as this article shows, they have met opposition.


Poster commemorating the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884
Poster commemorating the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884

With patronage by the elite, a middle class leadership and a large support base of working people the GAA has traditionally reflected Irish social stratification, but within the organisation a sometimes uneasy state of balance existed between the more plebeian club membership and the leadership at provincial, county and top management level at Croke Park. To many of those working class rank and file members the recent Sky deal has been a rude awakening, but like all degenerative processes the push towards the GAA’s commercialisation has been in progress for a while.

In 1991 the first step was to allow commercial logos to be displayed on players jerseys, Guinness became hurling championship sponsors in 1995 and accelerated the process, Croke Park was opened up to use for Rugby and Soccer internationals. Then there was the change of rule 21, an attempt at de-politicisation. This continued to its ridiculous climax with a campaign to have the Kevin Lynch club in Derry renamed in an attempt to expunge any hint or cultural memory of an anti imperialist tradition among the membership and no doubt to make the whole project more amenable to corporate sensibilities.

Sky have had their avaricious eyes on the GAA since 2005 and various overtures were made but the GAA leadership were nervous about proceeding with any deal. This time, despite the fact that TV3 had entered a “very commercial” and comparable offer Sky got their foot in the door, mainly because the notion has long since caught hold among the Irish ruling elite that it is a very good idea indeed to sell something back to the people who already own it.

Liam O’Neill in his statement said that the reason for making the deal with Sky was to make GAA games “More widely avail-able to Irish people abroad…” in the process Liam ‘forgot’ to mention that this makes the games less available to Irish people in Ireland. Only 20% of Irish households have Sky at present. Its absence in the other 80% will especially effect the youth, the elderly, the working class and small farmers who, by the time they have paid off the bankers debts – which they did not incur, paid for their water – which they already own, paid a household charge on the house – which they have already paid for and taken a substantial pay cut, worked extra hours for less money or even worse, been sacked, will not perhaps have enough left to pay for a Sky package.

Liam, rather appropriately, seated beside that other great sell-out, Eamon Gilmore, also ‘forgot’ to mention that many people who walk the streets on a regular basis selling tickets, who volunteer at matches and events and carry out endless unpaid duties to raise revenue, will not only be excluded from access to key televised games but the revenue from the sale of those games to viewers will be transferred indirectly from their own fundraising activities into the pockets of Sky shareholders.

The class divide is laid bare within the GAA, where doctors and lawyers could rub shoulders with labourers and carpenters in parochial solidarity, especially in rural Ireland. But now we see that not all members or supporters are equal after all. Liam’s drivel about obligations to the Diaspora, and competing for “audience loyalty” in the face of stiff opposition from the “hugely powerful sporting and marketing resources of international sports” is a cynical lie made obvious by the fact that not only can most emigrants see the games anyway but also one of the largest destinations for emigrants, Australia, will be screening the games free of charge. It is a feeble justification for a move towards an outright commercialisation of the largest volunteer based organisation in the country. Not for the first time, a natural resource, something unique to Ireland, is being given to a global corporation in exchange for a modest bag of silver which the elite are free to distribute as they see fit. This time it is not Whiddy Island, oil exploration or gas but the cultural accumulation of generations, a product of the nineteenth century Gaelic Revival is at last saleable on the global market.

This is just another little act of betrayal by the Gombeen ruling class, but it is highly symbolic. In the same week as McGuinness and Higgins went bowing and scraping to the royal arch-imperialists with their caps in their hands loudly protesting that this dysfunctional partitioned colony is at the table as an equal, the last symbolic semblances of cultural independence are being sold off to the most avaricious of world tycoons, Rupert Murdoch.

The leaders of bourgeois Ireland have repeatedly exposed their role as facilitators for every need of transnational capital in return for very little, corporation tax being an example. The partitionist carnival of reaction deepens at every turn as the leadership North and South prove them-selves complicit in the assault by imperialism on the working people of Ireland. The duty to resist falls to the Irish working class, who bear the brunt of imperialist control – the police state in the North and the Gombeen state in the South – and the crumbling false façade of independence must be replaced with a real resistance to imperialism.

Resistance must begin with a repudiation of these craven dirty deals, whether they consist of the sale of GAA volunteers viewing rights to Sky, effectively taking money from those volunteers pockets, or the give-away of Irish natural resources, or the promise made by Ireland’s ruling class that Irish workers would pledge their own and their children’s labour to pay the debts of the corrupt capitalist banking system. We must; repudiate the bankers’ debts, the control of the Troika and the sectarian partition of the country. While rank and file control in the GAA can stymie Rupert Murdoch’s ambitions, rank and file control across all our trade unions is required to address the attack on the working class and to begin to focus the strength of the many workers that want to fight back on the task of facing up to the soulless system that controls us.

James Fearon


Poster advertising An Lar Dhearg protest in Belfast on 12th May
Poster advertising An Lar Dhearg protest in Belfast on 12th May

Much of the news from the North of Ireland focuses on unionist revolt against the political settlement and the need to placate them, yet recent demands from nationalists that the process actually deliver represent a far greater threat to Sinn Fein. An example of this process was seen on April 12th when Irish language groups mobilized in Belfast in the La Dhearg 5000 strong protest for civil rights for the Irish language.

Sinn Fein followed its usual practice of attempting to put themselves at the head of protests that had arisen as a result of their political deals, turning out with many leading figures, but without any mobilization of their rank and file. It all went terribly wrong. The organizers insisted that Sinn Fein assemble behind the march and refused them speaking rights at the rally. Even worse, a number of demonstrators carried placards accusing Sinn Fein minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, of “culling” leading language organizations that were losing the majority of their funding. In the aftermath of the demonstration Sinn Fein were reduced to smearing the demonstration and claiming that it was being defamed.

It was a weak case. It is a matter of fact that Caral Ni Chuilin agreed the changes that have led to the present funding crisis. It is also a matter of fact that an Irish Language Act, which would have given no more than what was available to native speakers in Scotland and Wales, was part of the Good Friday Agreement and was dropped by Sinn Fein in the face of unionist opposition.

There was another cause for concern. The marchers, nationalist supporters of the Peace Process, tend to assume that they have the right to demonstrate, yet they were subject to sectarian abuse while a complacent police force claimed that no laws were being broken. Any wider protest movement would face sectarian hatred and state conciliation of loyalism.

15 years into the peace process there are growing civil rights complaints. Around the language, around housing rights in North Belfast and around a corporate construction process in West Belfast involving the GAA and Sinn Fein. The Sinn Fein are bending every sinew to make themselves fit for coalition in the 26 counties. As they rush forward the right wing coalition they leave in the six counties is gradually disintegrating.

For other articles on the significance of cultural resistance see:-

Alienation section of article, Exploitation, Oppression and Alienation: Emancipation, Liberation and Self-Determination and Freedom Come All Ye