Below can be found two very interesting articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) forcussing on particular issues in Ireland. The first  highlights the continued  the sectarian nature of the post-Good Friday state in the North, and the second, the continued lowering of working class consciousness in the South, under the debilitating social partnership of state, big business and the trade union leaders.


The announcement of a plan for the development of the former Girdwood army barracks site in north Belfast was presented by local parties as a major breakthrough in the efforts to regenerate an area blighted by sectarian divisions and social deprivation.  However, when we examine that plan in greater detail, and look beyond the headline statements and carefully choreographed photo opportunities, we find that it actually reinforces the division and deprivation that it purports to be tackling.

A statement from the Dept. for Social Development, which accompanied the unveiling of the Girdwood plan, claimed that it would deliver “shared development opportunities” to support social, sports, economic and residential development.  However, the reference to housing was extremely vague.  The DUP minister, Nelson McCausland, refused to say how many houses would be built.   A map of the proposed development shows only a small proportion of the site being given over to residential use – accommodating as few as one hundred houses.  The residential space is also divided into two separate zones – one near the Antrim Road which appears likely to attract nationalist residents, another on Clifton Park Avenue, just outside the Girdwood perimeter, which seems more oriented towards unionists.  Located between these two residential zones is the so-called “community hub” which will encompass sports facilities and commercial premises.  This is supposed to be a shared facility but given the segregated nature of the housing on the site is more likely to become a barrier or no man’s land.

The plan for Girdwood does nothing to address social deprivation in north Belfast, particularly its chronic housing problem.  There are currently 2,400 people on the social housing waiting list for that district.  And while the residential development of the Girdwood site would not have solved this problem, its capacity to accommodate up to 400 houses would have made a  significant impact.

The flaws in the Girdwood plan are not just a case of poor design.   It is the outcome of a process in which social needs are trumped by the imperatives of sectarianism.  In the case of Girdwood this has been running for some time.   The site was transferred to the Dept. for Social Development six years ago and over that period there have been various plans for its development.  Last year, the then Social Development Minister Alex Attwood of the SDLP unveiled plans for the building of 200 homes.  This was bitterly opposed by the DUP who denounced it as “deeply destabilising”.  When the DUP’s Nelson McCausland came in and took over the department he stopped it from going ahead.  Though it wasn’t stated explicitly the obvious concern of the DUP was that any new housing on the site would be occupied by nationalists.  And if housing were allocated on the basis of need this would certainly be the case.  Current waiting lists for north Belfast show that 74% of social housing tenants are from a Catholic background while 26% are Protestant.   There are also significantly more Catholics than Protestants in the area who have been assessed as in urgent need of housing. The Housing Executive has estimated that 95% of new build housing in north Belfast is    required by Catholics.  This is not to say that there are no housing needs in Protestant areas, but those needs are not as acute and relate more to maintenance of existing properties rather than to new build.

In the new plan for Girdwood  the principal of allocating housing on the basis of objective need, which has come to be known as the “points system”, has been set aside in order to reserve housing for one particular community even where no such need or demand exists.  In order to conform to this communal imperative the Housing Executive has been sending out leaflets specifically targeted at Protestants.   This is a long way from the original remit of the Executive whose establishment in the early 1970’s was seen as an advance for civil rights.

The irony is that such overtly sectarian polices are being promoted under the banner of “a shared future”.  While this may sound progressive it has nothing to do with integration or equality.  Indeed, it has more in common with the concept of “group rights” in apartheid South Africa or that of “separate but equal” in the southern states of the US during the period of the Jim Crow Laws.   It is also worth noting that the Girdwood plan is backed and partly funded by the EU.  This, coming so soon after the announcement of  €1 million in EU funding for the Orange Order,  should dispel any illusion that Europe is going to liberalise the north of Ireland.

The Girdwood plan and the direction of the Dept. of Social Development under the DUP, points to the return of a period when housing policy was used by unionists to maintain control over “their” areas.  The difference is that now it has the endorsement of nationalist  parties.  Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly defended his party’s role in agreeing the plan to redevelop arguing that: “We now have a masterplan which is workable”. However, it is only “workable” because Sinn Fein have capitulated to the DUP’s demands, gaining in return funds to increase their own patronage in the nationalist areas of housing in north Belfast.  Also one should not forget the dogs that don’t bark – the majority of civic society and many of the trade unions remain obstinately silent in the face of this rampant sectarianism. In this the Girdwood plan is reflective of the wider political settlement in the north in which sectarianism has triumphed over democratic rights.


Since the unveiling of the Girdwood plan more information has made public which shows the degree to which the policy of the Housing Executive is being made to fit a DUP agenda.  In relation to the Girdwood site the investigative website The Detail has obtained documentation showing that McCausland held “discussions” with the Housing Executive to ensure that four loyalist areas in north Belfast were included in a new build scheme despite having no sign of  significant homelessness. As well as this intervention in policy there has also been what could be seen as intimidation. In February the Dept. of Social Development, in response to questions form a DUP MLA, published information on the community background of Housing Executive staff working in north Belfast. Less than a week later a car belonging to an employee was destroyed after it was set on fire by masked youths as it was parked outside the agency’s district office in Newtownabbey.  It has now been revealed that McCausland rejected advice from his own officials against publishing this information.  In many ways these methods are an updated version of the old Paisleyite rabble rousing tactics used by unionists to whip up sectarian sentiment then dissociate themselves from any loyalist violence that  ensued.  The fact that the DUP are still engaged in such tactics shows the degree to which it remains a hard-core sectarian party.  With the establishment of the new regime at Stormont it has the opportunity to put its sectarianism into practice.

Socialist Democracy (Ireland) July/Aug bulletin Girdwood Plan – sectarianism trumps social need

also see Northern Ireland – Education Case Study Illustrates Sectarian Reality at:- Northern Ireland – Education Case Study Illustrates Sectarian Reality


The recent activities of the Quinn[1]In 2008 Sean Quinn, head of the County Cavan based Quinn Group (builders, hotel owners and manufacturer of glass and plastics), was declared bankrupt. In 2008 he had been cited as the richest man in Ireland.  Originally from a small farmer background in County Fermanagh in the North, and prominent in the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), Quinn enjoyed a meteoric rise under Ireland’s neo-liberal Celtic Tiger economy. His business practices would not have borne much close scrutiny but who cared in Irish political circles –  at least until the Crash, which brought Ireland’s capitalist speculative banking and building boom to a dramatic climax. phenomenon has focused attention on the workers in his industries, but not in any flattering way.  Sinn Fein, and the petit bourgeoisie in general, wobble all over the place trying to judge which way the wind is blowing and no sincere attempt to give leadership to the workers emanates from Liberty Hall.  Beyond a doubt, if the ruling Gombeen class thought that by crucifying Sean Quinn as a scapegoat they could solve their image problem then without a blink they would do it. They would sacrifice willingly the capitalist that moved a mountain in Ballyconnell to provide the cement for their speculative building frenzy, fed and facilitated by easy money and the neo liberal capitalist ideology that justified it.

Arguments are consistently made for Sean Quinn that he kept his interests local and provided employment for Ballyconnell but the same could be said for any major industry, Adria did it in Strabane, Nestle did it in Omagh, Aer Lingus in Dublin, Waterford Crystal, and all of them did their best to convince their employees, with varying degrees of success, that they had their best interests at heart. Wrights in Ballymena do it today and Sainsbury’s, M&S and all major corporations play a similar game, they attempt to impose their corporate identity on their employees. This has always been the case and the struggle for a class based consciousness had to be fought for by real people, fighting trade unionists, who could see through the bull and organise workers to fight for their own independent interests. The corporate identity that has been imposed on the people of Cavan, abandoned by a government that failed to present any semblance of a plan for industrial or even agricultural development, is no different to that of other corporations. It is just that the neglect of their county has made the imposition of the Quinn corporate identity all the easier.

While local workers demonstrate in support of Quinn because it seems the state is willing to scapegoat him Quinn is still a multi-millionaire with at least €32 million squirreled away that we know about and his family receive handsome remuneration from Russian investments. He will defend his own interests first as he has always done, through a string of financial manoeuvres, and will cut and run when it suits him. For the workers of Cavan and Fermanagh, campaigning on Quinn’s behalf does not represent the actions of an independent working class and it will not serve them well. It represents instead a slavish dependency on a local capitalist enterprise, a microcosm of the national dependence on global corporations. Is this a surprise?

For those who demonstrated in favour of Quinn there is the excuse that there were ties of community and historically established cross class affiliations such as the GAA, which have traditionally glued over the cracks in class stratification in Irish rural society. It could also be said that they have no developed trade union consciousness, but are we to blame the workers for a lack of socialist consciousness? Who really is to blame, the people who were potential recruits or the well paid organisers that failed to develop class conscious self-interest among the work force? Our ‘fighting’ trade unions that know better yet still crawl on their knees to their political ‘masters’ to plead for more time to pay for their economic crimes are the real villains in this scene, it is their failure which means this weakness in a small dependent rural community is actually representative of the whole country.  There simply is no fight in them, they act not as the leadership of the working class but as their management, telling us when we have no other option but to accept redundancies, but they will ‘fight’ for our proper severance money and a proper pension payment, hurrah! They manage the decline in industries by a charade of pseudo negotiation followed by inaction which allows a creeping acceptance of the reality of their master’s power to permeate the consciousness of their membership and finally they cave in with a couple of minor concessions, granted to cover their shame.

Where is the fighting leadership that could have said to the workers of Cavan why wait for Sean Quinn’s go ahead, occupy the cement and glass plants and, take control of them and we will call for similar action in all threatened or already closed industries. Where is the inspirational leadership given to Irish workers that formed the labour movement from 1913 to 1919? Why don’t they take action and then see where Sean and all the vociferous layers of the Irish petit bourgeoisie stand then. Is this thinking beyond the pale for Ireland’s working class leadership? It is a tragedy to see a dependent powerless working class rally in support of the capitalist class, but that tragedy did not drop from the sky. Years of betrayal and neglect have left us with a trade union leadership that is little more than a paper tiger, they blame the workers for every defeat and they sit back and sneer at this sad spectacle, heaping their condescension on the betrayed workers of Cavan and Fermanagh. The Irish working class has been betrayed by these misleaders and the rally in Cavan is a manifestation of that betrayal. Only honest and determined union leadership can provide a beacon for abandoned and powerless workers, but will this emanate from ICTU, the signatories of the Croke Park betrayal and many more before it? They skulk silently in the shadows while the corporate multi millionaire Sean Quinn usurps their role as a workers’ leader because he has more of a claim on those workers than they have, shame on ICTU! But is it such a surprise?

Eddie McLaughlin, 7 August 2012

Furthermore, as for many Irish (and other) business owners, for Sean Quinn partitioned Ireland  was no longer much of an issue, or at least it wasn’t one that impinged too much on his company’s profits. In recognition of his services to business he received honorary doctorates from both Maynooth (Dublin) and Queens (Belfast) universities. When he realized that under UK law he might only be bankrupted for one year, rather than twelve under Irish law, he unsuccessfully tried to have his case taken in Belfast! However, we can feel fairly sure that, despite Sean Quinn’s current fall from grace, he will not be enduring any of the hardships facing his former workforce.

County Cavan: Ireland in microcosm?


1 In 2008 Sean Quinn, head of the County Cavan based Quinn Group (builders, hotel owners and manufacturer of glass and plastics), was declared bankrupt. In 2008 he had been cited as the richest man in Ireland.  Originally from a small farmer background in County Fermanagh in the North, and prominent in the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), Quinn enjoyed a meteoric rise under Ireland’s neo-liberal Celtic Tiger economy. His business practices would not have borne much close scrutiny but who cared in Irish political circles –  at least until the Crash, which brought Ireland’s capitalist speculative banking and building boom to a dramatic climax.

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