Brendan O’Neill, Brexit and Irish Republicanism.

Front Page of RCP’s front organisation the IFM.
Brendan O’Neill backs dissident Republicans in May 1997.

Note (24 April 2019) — Brendan O’Neill has written to me regarding the above meeting. See the addendum at the end of this post. (28 April) I’ve written a reply to Mr O’Neill’s email here with other information about Claire Fox who is a Brexit Party candidate in NW England — Brendan O’Neill’s emails, Claire Fox and Warrington”.

Brendan O’Neill (Spiked Online editor) has made a name for himself as a strong backer of Brexit. He has recently written an article for the Spectator where he attacked the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, as “a foreign leader interfering in Britain’s domestic, democratic affairs”. Mr O’Neill then continued, “It was wrong when the British did that to Ireland, and it is wrong for the Irish now to do the same to Brexit Britain.”

A clue to Mr O’Neill’s earlier views on Irish politics was when he referred to marches calling for “Hands Off Ireland” (an RCG publication) and the above quote when he wrote that it was wrong of Britain to interfere in Ireland’s domestic affairs.

Spiked Online has its historical roots in the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). As with Spiked, the RCP were adept at setting up front organisations to promote their ideas.

One of those front organisations was the Irish Freedom Movement (IFM) who were strong backers of violent Irish Republicanism. However, when Sinn Fein/IRA were in the process of the peace talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), Mr O’Neill and his RCP/IFM comrades backed the dissident Republicans who opposed it.

The article above (“London meetings backing for Josephine Hayden”) is a report of a meeting in 1997 attended by Mr O’Neill representing the IFM in solidarity with someone who was jailed for gunrunning on behalf of Continuity IRA (armed wing of Republican Sinn Fein). Ms Hayden was seen at the time as a symbol of dissident Republican opposition to the GFA and an interview with her in the Guardian when she was released in 2000 can be read here.

Mr O’Neill’s disgust at the GFA and the role of Sinn Fein/IRA was highlighted in an article he wrote for LM (aka Living Marxism) the year after his attendance at the meeting above.

Now Mr O’Neill attacks the Irish Government for becoming a “willing weapon of a new imperial power: Brussels” rather than an independent state which sees the need to protect the peace throughout Ireland and its own national interests.

I suspect Brendan O’Neill and his fellow ex-RCP/IFM comrades who form the Spiked Online network still oppose the GFA. It’s just that they now ally themselves with the most hardline Eurosceptic British and Northern Irish Conservative opinion instead of dissident Republicans.

The RCP/IFM preferred the violent chaos of Northern Ireland where they could happily (and peacefully) march through the streets of the UK backing dissident Republicanism as opposed to the compromises of the GFA. Now the same network is indulging in the same political onanism looking forward to and promoting a chaotic no deal Brexit.

Addendum (24 April 2019)

Brendan O’Neill has written to me to say that he did not attend the Republican Sinn Fein meeting referred to above to offer support to Josephine Hayden. Obviously, I don’t know what was or what was not said at that night but, in the interest of fairness, I wanted to put Mr O’Neill’s point of view here. Here is his email.

Dear John,

Your piece on Medium about me and the IFM has been brought to my attention. In it, you cite my attendance at a meeting of Republican Sinn Féin in May 1997 as proof that I was “backing republican dissidents”. I’m afraid this is completely untrue. In fact, it is the opposite of the truth.

I attended that meeting as a critic who was arguing against republican dissidents. I said they were wrong, nostalgic and increasingly illiberal. My brief opening comments were mostly focused on the issue of the Independent Review of Parades in Northern Ireland (which a year later would become the Parades Commission). I argued that in backing the state banning of Orange Order marches, as made clear in their submissions to the review, Irish republicans were behaving in a similar way to the British state that once sought to outlaw civil rights marches. My argument then, as it is now, is that state curbs on freedom of speech and freedom of association are never a good thing.

As you can imagine, this did not go down well — at all. I essentially defended the Orange Order (an organisation I am not a fan of) in front of a small gathering of Irish republicans. There was much hostility to my comments. I remember this well because this was one of the first public talks I ever gave and I was very young and incredibly nervous.

I have never supported republican dissidents. I think they are contemptible, anti-democratic and engaged in a form of violent nostalgia. I still do believe in a united Ireland, and I’m sure that anyone who knows anything about me will be aware of this fact: indeed, I said I am pro united Ireland on RTE just a couple of months ago. But the idea that a united Ireland will be achieved by murderous groups in Northern Ireland who kill journalists and terrorise local populations is, to my mind, a sick joke.

I really have no interest in getting into social-media spats with anybody (hence I do not use social media). But perhaps you might see fit to publish a correction or a clarification of some kind on your piece? At least pointing out that I spoke at that meeting as a *critic* of republicans in attendance, not a supporter. I am receiving emails accusing me of backing dissident republicans, as a result of your piece, and I would very much appreciate having this piece of damaging misinformation corrected in some way.

Yours sincerely,

Brendan O’Neill

Follow up (published 28 Dec 2018) — “Spiked Online, Ireland and Brexit”.

For more on RCP/IFM -

RCP Nov 1984 “the next step” with the articles on the Brighton bombing.

RCP 1984 pamphlet “After the Brighton bomb by Mick Hume.

Spiked Online 2009 “Memories of the Brighton bomb” also by Mick Hume (then Spiked Editor-At-Large). Where the author reminisces about his time as an organiser for the IFM and demonstrating at the 1984 Tory Conference.

Irish Freedom Movement. One thing that should be noted is that many in the Spiked network were very involved in the RCP/IFM eg Fiona Fox was editor of “Irish Freedom” (Party name Fiona Foster) as was her sister Claire Fox (Party name Claire Foster).

Back issues of RCP/IFM publications (the next step newspaper and various pamphlets), a list of Living Marxism articles and a web archive of Living Marxism. I’m afraid you have to browse through the LM titles first then find the article on the other site.

More back issues of “Irish Freedom” from the IFM can be found on the “Divided Society” website. It’s free to register and a very useful resource. Articles attacking the peace process from the IFM can be seen from the mid-90’s. (H/T Writers Frock).

George Monbiot and the Koch brothers backing of Spiked Online.

Update-

The Mick Hume pieces were added at 16.15 18 Dec 2018.

The link to “Divided Society” was added on 20 Dec 2018.