Don’t have a Fenian about the place, 2022! 

Farewell, Kate Hoey, the wild Brexiteer who never let the facts get in the  way | Hannah Jane Parkinson | The Guardian

Kate Hoey, the former Labour MP and now ermine-clad reactionary, has today published an opinion piece in the Irish News, to explain remarks printed earlier this week in the Newsletter. We might focus on her latest missive as it is even more revealing and pernicious than her original rant about nationalist domination.  

Hoey begins by reiterating her left-wing credentials, which she employed to significant effect during the Brexit debate to deflect criticism of the public-school boys pushing for the measure and give the campaign a populist veneer, thereby earning her current position in the Lords. She remarks that she is concerned that ‘young people from working class communities succeed through education’. Indeed, her affection for working-class loyalists finds lucid expression in her role as cheerleader for the Bryson-Allister roadshow that flooded town centers last year with literally tens of demonstrators opposed to the Protocol – all under the watchful eye of loyalist paramilitaries who terrorize working-class communities. Regular readers of this blog need hardly disavow themselves of the notion that a [former] member of the British Labour Party must surely have some genuine sympathy for the oppressed. In fact, Baroness Hoey, of Lylehill and Rathlin represents one in a long line of lickspittle working-class proto-Fascists who have acted as buffers for Reaction, be it Big House Unionists at home or Tory grandees in London. I have written at length already about the Ulster Unionist Labour Association and will say no more here.  

Hoey then reiterates her previous point that ‘there is plainly an (albeit informal) elite nationalist network whereby a significant number of persons use the credentials afforded by their … status within those professional vocations to advance nationalist political objectives.’ Indeed, as proof, Hoey asserts that this elite network ‘swung into action seeking to misrepresent the context of my remarks, and thus shut down debate on this issue.’ She further argues that ‘no equivalent network of unionist activists using access and credentials obtained via positions in the professional class’ exists. Hoey attempts to provide an intellectual justification for this nonsense by stating that ‘the long march through the institutions advocated by the Marxist philosopher Gramsci, so beloved by President Higgins, is well under way and increasingly expressed in this new majoritarian outlook.’ We should perhaps deal with these three points in some detail to expose the truly reactionary character of Hoey’s politics and identify it as an Irish manifestation of the same intellectual malady infecting most of the Right across the Anglosphere.  

Firstly, had Hoey claimed that Jewish professionals in Britian were operating a political network she would have been expelled from the Labour Party had she not already flown the coop for her privileged perch in the Peers. Her use of terms like infiltration and domination speaks to a long-term conspiracy theory evoked by successive Unionist leaders during moments of insecurity and crisis. In 1932, the Great Depression, chronic unemployment and the inadequacies of the Victorian Poor Law combined to temporarily erode the reactionary cross-class Unionist consensus which underpinned the Orange State. On 3 October, 30,000 Protestant and Catholic workers marched to the Custom House steps, the first time since 1920 that they had united on class lines to defy Orange bigotry. Sean Mitchell’s Struggle or Starve provides the definitive account of the Outdoor Relief Strike, but, for the purpose of this blog, the infamous Orange reaction is of particular interest. The Big House Unionist elite loudly banged the drum in response to this mass working-class solidarity, a move that found classic expression in Basil Brooke’s infamous 1933 Twelfth speech, which partly acted as the rhetorical basis of cruel sectarian savagery in Belfast: 

‘There was a great number of Protestants and Orangemen who employed Roman Catholics. He felt he could speak freely on this subject as he had not a Roman Catholic about his own place (Cheers). He appreciated the great difficulty experienced by some of them in procuring suitable Protestant labour, but he would point out that the Roman Catholics were endeavouring to get in everywhere and were out with all their force and might to destroy the power and constitution of Ulster. … He would appeal to loyalists, therefore, wherever possible to employ good Protestant lads and lassies.’ 

I have highlighted the section that reverberates down through the decades to the doggerel produced by Kate Hoey and her pitiful defence of it today. Hoey’s claim that Unionism possesses no elite network flies in the face of a state built on the Orange institution and her cold house for Unionists at Queen’s and in the BBC ignores the pronounced official Unionism of these institutions. Indeed, alternative facts are the currency of the new conspiratorial Right and Hoey is positioning herself to be its northern mouthpiece. Her second point then represents the reflex of a supremacy challenged – how any gain by the subaltern or oppressed ‘other’ must undermine the position enjoyed by the chosen people. Her rubbish about the conflict being national rather than religious ignores the clear promotion of the concept of a distinct PUL community amongst her motley crew of reactionaries.  

The third element, her evocation of Gramsci [a trick attempted previously by serial idiot and bigot, Nelson McCausland] firmly locates her position on the extreme Right. This time last year I wrote in length about the abuse of Gramsci by Peter Hitchens in an interview with Owen Jones. Hitchens identified the former revolutionary Marxist affiliation of many of Britain’s political elite, including Tony Blair, ignoring the fact that the soon to be “Sir” Tony is a war criminal and profiteer. Indeed, Tony charged the Azerbaijan dictator $150,000 for a lecture in 2009 – clearly a man set on working-class hegemony! Hitchens and Hoey are fundamentally wrong in their conspiracy-theorist mischaracterisation of Gramsci and the deluded notion that New Labour or middle-class republicans represent a Marxist attack on the cultural institutions of civil society to achieve hegemonic power. Indeed, from Blunkett to Straw to Blair, New Labour appears more akin to a mass exercise in transformiso, the decapitation of a working-class movement and its co-option to the interests of the dominant class.  Apparently, a schooling in historical materialism provides these lackeys with the intellectual toolbox to manage what Walt Lippmann called the bewildered herd – i.e. the mass of the population. A similar but distinct historical process explains Hoey’s fantastical Shinner network in the courts and media! 

A burgeoning Catholic bourgeoisie emerged in the wake of the peace process because of a conjunction of historical forces. The long-term factors of chief importance were Basil Brooke’s reluctant decision to expand the British Labour government’s post-war Welfare State to the North, again to plaster over cracks in the Unionist monolith. This sowed the dragons’ teeth of a Catholic minority that could survive at home [rather than emigrate due to absolute penury] and then educate itself after the 1947 Act before hitting the glass ceiling of structural discrimination, thereby conditioning the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement which through its reactionary suppression spawned the eventual fall of the House of Orange. During the conflict, the British and Irish states [who shared the same policy and analysis] favoured the creation of a stable middle-class Nationalist constituency to undermine the working-class insurgency. Civil Rights, Reforms, early toothless Fair Employment legislation all spoke to this objective. The 1981 Hunger Strikes intensified these exigencies and with increasing US pressure, piecemeal reform became systemic through the application of the MacBride principles, the Maryfield Secretariat etc. In the 1980s, the rationale was clear and can be found in released documents: defeat republicanism by providing a ladder of social mobility for Catholics even while Thatcher dismantled the post-war consensus in Britain.  

This rather reductive and teleological reading ignores the duality or tension of British policy across the piece or the dialectic between liberal diplomacy and repressive counterinsurgency. For while northern Catholics tentatively entered some arenas of the public sector, the North’s massive security apparatus left the general structural economic differentials of the old Orange State intact. As late as 1988, Rowthorn and Wayne identified northern Catholics as the most economically disadvantaged community in Britain, indeed, in the then European Community. Unemployment amongst Protestants was actually less severe than in de-industrialised Northern Britain, due primarily to the fact that ‘approaching one in ten of all Protestant men in paid employment worked for the security forces in some capacity’ – little wonder then they put up a statue to the B Men and UDR in Lisburn! As the peace process kicked in and security jobs, metal and electrical trades etc diminished, this subsidised Protestant advantage also partially receded, although to-this-day Catholics still tend to shy away from joining the police, hardly surprising given that they are twice as likely to be arrested. 

Hoey’s complaint is that Catholics have colonised civil society and public institutions from which they were previously excluded by an effective colour [or in this case religious] bar and are now intent on ending the existence of the state that oppressed them. Much was made last week of the late Desmond Tutu’s refusal to share a platform with war criminal Tony Blair, his courageous advocacy of the Palestinian cause and condemnation of Israeli apartheid, a stance which would have resulted in his expulsion from the British Labour Party had he been a member, the same party advised today by Peter Mandelson, a former close associate of Jeoffrey Epstein! In an interview with David Frost Tutu lamented the impact apartheid had on Israelis themselves: ‘When you carry out dehumanising policies, whether you like it or not, those policies dehumanize the perpetrator’. When Hoey lumps middle-class nationalists into networks set on domination, she merely regurgitates the reactionary bile of centuries when fear of the Fenian ‘other’ stalked the nether regions of the colonial mind – she is a vile reactionary.

Yet the hundreds of middle-class northern Taigs who got their knickers in a twist cataloguing their up-by their-boot-straps social ascent against-all-odds on Twitter were surely correct to be indignant about Hoey, but wrong to limit their criticisms to the usual loyalist suspects. My father did not attend secondary school, despite a scholarship to the local grammar, because he had to go and work in the local mill. I went on to receive quite a few qualifications. Yet, I spent a decade teaching inside the northern educational system, from which I partially benefitted, and it stinks. Little has fundamentally changed since Pádraig Mac Piarais labelled the competitive examination system a murder machine. I, like my father, had the academic ability to climb the greasy pole, I received the opportunity, my father didn’t. Yet, over two thirds of my peers were told at eleven-years-of-age that they were failures and sent to the ‘stupid’ school. The legacy of this structural inequality survives. As I have written previously colonialism is not an event, it is a process. Peter Shirlow tweeted in response to Hoey-gate that of the 100 most deprived localities in the North, seventy per cent of the population were Catholics, before claiming that sectarian discourse undermines social justice for all. I will not have a dig at Shirlow’s wishy-washy Northen Ireland Labour Party left of centre unionism, but it struck me that he is at least correct about the imperative to speak in terms of class and not religion/nationality.  

This is because our politics and society are structured or locked into a sectarian dynamic where the liberal or progressive section [usually represented by very earnest middle-class commentators] are actually sectarian in their orientation because they ignore the historical process underpinning the entire edifice. This found classic expression in Terence O’Neill, Brooke’s successor as Orange Prime Minister, when on resigning he lamented how:  

It is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house they will live like Protestants because they will see neighbours with cars and television sets; they will refuse to have eighteen children. But if a Roman Catholic is jobless, and lives in the most ghastly hovel he will rear eighteen children on National Assistance. If you treat Roman Catholics with due consideration and kindness they will live like Protestants in spite of the authoritative nature of their Church 

This liberal myopia at the colonial history and structural violence embedded into the northern polity finds frequent public expression in the outpourings of Newton Emerson. This week Emerson was right that Stormont is based on ‘elite co-operation’ or power sharing, i.e. the political representatives of the Protestant and Catholic middle classes manage politics together. For Sinn Féin’s craven opportunism in the 1990s, donning the SDLP’s mantel as they slipped into their Armani suits, mirrored the Blairite triangulation trick of taking the Red Wall, Scotland and Wales for granted, or, as Peter Mandelson once put it: “The people of south Wales will always vote Labour because they have nowhere else to go.” That hardly worked out well for Labour in the long-term, but the Shinners will tell you to wait and get unity over the line before dealing with structural inequality as they ride into power while the communities who carried them most of the way wallow in poverty, deprivation, and trans-general trauma.  

Emerson, however, ignores the logic of his own argument and the fundamental sectarianism of the Stormont institutions by arguing that ‘we are Alsace-Lorraine, not Algeria’, despite the ‘resurgent fashion to analyse Northern Ireland as a colony – analysis that quickly turns into sectarianism once it escapes its academic confines’ (Irish News, 6 Jan. 2022). In another recent contribution in the Irish Times (31 Dec 2021) Emerson countered Joe Brolly and Bernadette Devlin’s recent public demolitions of the Orange State by arguing that they said something completely different, namely, that many Sinn Feiners are attempting to retrospectively legitimise armed struggle, a strange straw man argument as they also did this at the time, and I know of no republican who claimed that Sinn Féin enjoyed majority electoral support amongst northern Catholics before the peace process. Emerson then employs this ice-cream foundation to claim that the experience of the vast majority during the Troubles was a society ‘almost bizarrely inclined towards normality’, or, the North sustained its ‘innate decency’ throughout the Troubles. Those who actually want to quantify how stupid an argument this is can read Brendan O’Leary’s account of Troubles’ violence in the first volume of his Treatise on Northen Ireland. Yet such is the urge to hear reassuring liberal nonsense that a middle-class twit like Newton, who probably grew up in a closeted little Portadown cul-de-sac surrounded by neighbours who worked in the North’s enormous security state, can tell us that it will all be ok if we just have enough boutique shops and bespoke retail outlets – he is a fool whose neo-liberal tripe gets far too frequent a hearing.  

This O’Neill/Emerson dream that all the North needed was for just the right number of Taigs to become Liberal middle-class Prods underpinned British and indeed Irish policy for decades. Yet the historical reality of the violence and supremacist underpinnings of partition and of the capitalist social system for that matter shattered liberal complacency in the wake of 2008. All those well-heeled Taigs joining the golf club or rocking up at Ravenhill in the early noughties were suddenly reminded after Brexit and by the catalogue of intransigence, bigotry and corruption that passed for DUP governance that Brooke’s old admonition still held good. Now they must ask whether the New Ireland they want is only for those who, like themselves and this writer, ascended the greasy pole or if it is to include the people who suffered most during the Troubles, who cleared the path for their ascent through their suffering and sacrifice and who today lie prostate, pummelled by a decade of austerity – the working class, Catholic, Protestant and Other – that great respectable class and the majority of the people on this island. If that is the case, then it is necessary to remove the splinter from their own eye as they point to the plank in Kate Hoey’s. Nationalism cannot transcend the colonial divide that ruptures our island as it accepts the material basis of that division, that can only be achieved by a movement which opens prosperity to all and provides for all the opportunity for individual freedom and personal fulfilment up until now restricted to the fortunate few,

5 thoughts on “Don’t have a Fenian about the place, 2022! 

  1. Another cracking article full of info.

    I spotted Hoey as a rank character a couple of decades back. A woman of the people yet a right wing arse kisser of established power, nae conscience at all. From Ireland but despises Ireland. They seek power and publicity and the British system has a career path for them and a template for them to make use of. We have these character types in Scotland aplenty, they ‘naturally’ dominate our institutions, so was quick onto it.

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  2. Kate Hoey says “[Nationalists] use the credentials afforded by … professional vocations to advance nationalist political objectives.”
    But what is using ones achievements in advancing ones ideals compared to the reverse, using someones ideals to decide what achievements will be allowed them?
    It is freedom of speech compared to prejudiced discrimination.
    It is the ideal of Republicanism compared to the treacherous oppression that has so long been wrought by Loyalists.
    It is Eeire compared to that foreign Kingdom.

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  3. Bulaí fir a chara, déanann an scrúdú aistrithe an-damáiste do Phrotastúnaigh óga ar Bhóthar na Sean Chille agus na deiseanna oideachais a mbíonn acu, an mhuintir bheaga thíos le cinneadh mhuintir mhóra na Sean Chille a thugann tacaíocht don DUP, a thugann tacíocht don scrúdú aistrithe a choinníonn an fáinne fí ag rothlú…….thart agus thart.

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