Brendan Howlin, The Labour Party And A Reunited Ireland

My view on our mainstream political parties discussing the reunification of Ireland has always been: put up or shut up. It is all well and good discussing the end of British-imposed partition, or the deleterious effects it has had on all parts of the country, but unless you are willing to step into the electoral cauldron of the UK-administered Six Counties, soundbites and good intentions can only carry you so far. Fianna Fáil has been holding out the promise of becoming a genuinely national – rather than a southern – party for the last two decades, the repeated “go north” motions of ard fheiseana accepted by the ard chomhairle and promptly put on the long finger. Despite the establishment of a handful of cumainn in Belfast and elsewhere, FF continues to waiver about standing in the north-east, be it for local councils or the glorified county council at Stormont (RIP). The latest northern jump date is 2019, though given past inactivity we should probably expect it to pass by without too much fuss.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party is talking up its own all-Ireland credentials, from expressions of solidarity with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), its regional “sister” grouping in the Six Counties, to its leader’s thoughts on reunification (we’ll gloss over the nomination and “election” of a certain senator from Belfast. Good enough to temporarily represent Labour in Seanad Éireann but not good enough to represent Labour in Belfast City Hall or the Northern Assembly). In recent months Brendan Howlin, the simultaneously new-but-old Labour leader, has been discussing the United Kingdom’s Brexit debacle and the possible effects on Ireland and he took the opportunity of last weekend’s party conference in Wexford to further air these views:

Brexit has undermined devolved government, in Northern Ireland, in particular.

Good intentions seem to abound on every side.

Yet the path to a borderless Ireland after Brexit is far from clear.

Made worse by the Tory desire for parliamentary domination;

A desire that our Government is naive enough to see as hopeful.

As if a large Tory majority was ever good for Ireland.

Historically, partition has been bad for both north and south.

Instead of living together, we created two narrow, sectarian states.

Neither has worked as it should.

I’d love to see a united Ireland that is an agreed Ireland.

One that unites hearts and minds, as much as territory.

One that accommodates and celebrates diversity;

Rather than representing the triumph of either side.

After Brexit, there is a space for a dialogue about this island.

We who aspire to a United Ireland need to map out what it might look like.

Our task is to prepare an inclusive vision for all of the people on this island;

A European Ireland that can signal a brighter future for all, whatever our traditions.

If we’re serious about this,

If it’s about more than sloganeering,

Then we need to sit down and talk about it.

To think deeply, with an open mind.

And to do so together.

Before we rush to border polls, or headcounts.

Because, as long as we act generously;

And in each other’s best interests;

Then our future – a shared future for all on this island;

Can be whatever we imagine it to be.

I’m always struck by the irony of establishment politicians in this country, and their mouthpeices in the press, objecting to ending partition on the basis of a “headcount” given that partition began and is maintained through a “headcount”. We are told that we cannot have a reunited Ireland, and an end to Britain’s legacy colony on this island, until a majority in the Six Counties agree to it by referendum. But we cannot hold that plebiscite because it might draw a negative or violent reaction from any losing minority in the north-east who voted again a British withdrawal. Therefore we must maintain partition, though we may aspire to end it by a majority vote in the contested territory as long as that vote is never held. This, we are repeatedly told, is respecting the supremacy of the ballot box.

Talking of desperate or unrealistic politics, here is Howlin again, talking to the tabloid trash that is the “Oirish” Sun newspaper:

LABOUR wants to woo Sinn Fein members and activists into its ranks, Brendan Howlin has revealed.

The leader of the oldest party in the State this weekend addressed the rank and file at their annual conference in Wexford, 14 months after they lost a huge 30 Dail seats.

Part of their rebuilding strategy, he confided to us, was attracting those in Sinn Fein and other parties, including Solidarity/PBP, to switch political sides.

In an interview with the Irish Sun on Sunday, Howlin, 60, said: “There are lots of good people in Sinn Fein, people who should be in the Labour Party. There are thinking people who joined Sinn Fein out of a sense of idealism. And I hope we can attract them back.

“There are Sinn Fein people, working people, community activists, across the Republic who would normally, in a normal European democracy, be in the Labour Party. And we need to get them in.

“There are certain people who vote for an ultra-left party, who vote for Sinn Fein, and who are social democrats who would be very welcome into the party.”

Translation: the Labour Party has been supplanted as the representative party of the Left in Ireland by Sinn Féin but if SF voters were to throw us their third and fourth preference votes at elections it might get a few of our candidates over the line in Dublin city and county (well, “counties”).

By the by, I had a discussion recently with a Labour Party member who dismissed Sinn Féin as a “local party from Ulster”. I felt it only fair to point out to him that Labour is now a “local party from Leinster”. He didn’t find it funny. Even though it is largely true. And the same can be said, even more so, for Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

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3 comments

  1. What a joke the Irish Labour party are! They bought into, as did many of their sister movements in Europe, a preference for the professional classes over their historic working class base. They knew that Globalisation would leave many people in the lower brackets helpless but just like their right wing establishment opponents, they did nothing to help the more disadvantaged in society. They have become a joke in working class areas in Dublin because people see no benefit in voting for a highly educated bunch of establishment elites that have become the Labour party. If you don´t have a university degree they don´t care about you, and lots of Working class voters now realize this, hence one of the reasons for the Sinn Fein surge in disadvantaged areas. They have never cared about our fellow Nationalists in the North of Ireland either, which is another reason for the shift to Sinn Fein. I was brought up in a Labour family with an admiration for the James Connolly wing. Laughingly, some of its more brass neck members still claim a connection to that great icon. They are fooling only themselves if they think Howlin´s garbage above is going to manipulate them.

    1. I tend to agree. SF, S-PBP, etc. have filled the political volume abandoned by Labour when they moved to the centre-right. In many ways the party’s journey into government followed that of the formerly centre-left Lib Dems in the UK. If you act as a party of the Right then that is how you are perceived. The last two Labour leaders were some of the most economically right-wing in the party’s modern history. Wearing your #RepealThe8th t-shirt means nothing when you’re screwing over your own electorate.

  2. Actually, all of this stuff about the “Oirish” “Labour” Party is pointless. They are now sliding into the Rubbish bin of history. They will get zero traction in an already politically crowded North. I am reminded of the utterings of a Titanic Passenger, (2nd Class) post Iceberg Event. Which is hopeful, but delusional. The raw truth now needs to be said: The North is now rapidly approaching a political iceberg. The crunch is BREXIT. The London Regime actually has zero interest in Ireland, except amongst its hardline fascist back-benchers, except for the useful Unionist MP block vote, in exchange for the annual £10 Billion bribe, thinly disguised as regional aid. Given that, after BREXIT, and given the hard line that the EU Commission will take, after BREXIT, Ireland is going to go back to a hard border, sealed as tightly as any other external EU border with a non-EU state. Complete with real fence, patrols, checkpoints, customs, etc. Take a look at the Greek/Turkish border. That is an EU external border. See image at



    This the reality in Ireland, post BREXIT.
    Plus the basic WTO 20% tariff on most things. The result in the North is inevitable communal tension and strife, utter poverty, sinking from UN Index 24, (Republic, Index 6) to UN Index 56. (Think Third World) The damage to the Republic will also be serious. Frankly, in the circumstances,. I think that the only rapid solution, is to boycott the Northern “Assembly/County Council, which has just about had its day, and to force direct rule on the North. This strips bare the situation. A stunned Unionist leadership will still be intransigent, but like passangers on a certain ocean liner, will be eventually forced to face reality. I also think that an active campaign must start, after Nationalist withdrawal from the Assembly, . for reunification. Given what NICRA achieved, in far worse times, I think that is the only way. Relentless international pressure by the Dublin Government would help. The Dublin Government is now flogging a dead horse with the Peace agreement and settlement. Pressure must be bought to bear, both within the EU, and within the USA, and all out political struggle for reunification started. SF if it leaves the Assembly, must do this, as strict policy. It is utterly pointless staying in a deadlocked, semi-collapsed assembly, with total Unionist intransigence. Time for some Republican political intransigence. They should de-recognise the legitimacy of the Northern enclave, de-legitimise it as a statelet, and de-legitimise the Unionist parties. From now on, political hard games, and even if it takes 10 years, the bankrupt Unionists cannot ultimately resist. A number of sanctions need to be considered, like border visas for non-Irish passport holders, a 10% extra tax on imports from the North, etc…to pay for the increased border security needed. Very harsh, but has anyone else got ANY actual, workable, ideas?….DELEGITIMISE the existence of the North. It has no longer any moral or political right to exist. Set up parallel community and political institutions, and be relentless. Better this for 10 years, then letting things rot for another 50 years. I am being provocative. Deliberately. Why has nobody advanced De-legitimisation before?…If the Dublin Government, faced with an intractable Tory London regime, withdrew from the treaties and agreements, denounced the Northern enclave as illegitimate, and demanded and campaigned for reunification, (in the UN, for instance, and followed the political route the Palestinians have taken, then continued UK rule of the North will simply become impossible. This is all very hard, but not as hard as the wind that shall blow again in Ireland, if we do not do something drastic.

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