Who is really progressive in Northern Ireland? (3/3)

I recently went to Northern Ireland, to the city of Belfast. The Left has generally supported those pro-catholics, who are working for a united Ireland as a part of a national liberation struggle from London rule. I decided to interview representatives of progressive parties on either side on the issues that socialists should really care about — social issues — to see how different they really are in their day-to-day politics in these current times of peace. This is the last of three parts, in which I conclude after having interviewed Hugh Smyth from the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and Paul Maskey from the socialist Irish-republican Sinn Feinn party.

So there we go. I interviewed a representative of a progressive party on either side of the divide, and their answers were remarkably similar.

Local demands against profit rather than alliance with one EU-country or another can be seen in Belfast as well.
Local demands against profit rather than alliance with one EU-country or another can be seen in Belfast as well.

Let us review their answers once more:


PM: Paul Maskey (Sinn Fein)
HS: Hugh Smyth (HS)


HS: not opposed to rich apartments, but percentage needs to be affordable
PM: not against private houses, but more social housing

parks and roads:

HS: no issue currently, under direct rule not enough funding
PM: various departments need to think more together, under British direct rule it wasn’t thought through


HS: lowest unemployment for over 50 years/ever, more apprenticeships (two year government program)
PM: built more hotels, tourism, insure employment opportunities for young people


HS: way behind, but current budget a lot better than under direct rule
PM: some very good, a lot very poor, way better now with local minister

11+ exam:

HS: don’t scrape it before satisfactory alternative, party is split
PM: for area based education system, might work some places and not in others

drugs/anti-social behavior:

HS: more money for councilors/youth workers (no budget cuts)
PM: has a lot to do with war, more money for councilors/youth services also from other government departments, all-Ireland approach

joy riding:

HS: more police presence needed
PM: part of youth worker program


HS: not sufficient men, need more funding
PM: party is going onto police boards to make them concerned about their issues

working class representation:

HS: better now than ever, but not good enough
PM: yes, his representing working class


What one might have expected is that Smyth is faith in the positive role the British police plays, whereas Maskey is more interested in an all-Ireland approach to fighting anti-social behavior. But besides such minor points, the two seem to have virtually the same program: apprenticeships/work opportunities for young people, more cheap housing without prohibiting rich people form building altogether, emphasis on investment in health care overall positive expectations from local rather than direct rule. In fact, under most other circumstances one would expect them to form a party together in order not to confuse the voter with too many similar choices. The reason that that wouldn’t work in this case is obviously that the militia groups connected with the two parties have too long a history of killing one-another.

For any progressive group from the outside though, it seems silly to be supporting one but not the other of these two. If anything, one should demand from the two to be cooperating on a parliamentary level and to work together to form majorities for their common points.

At the same time, while sounding thoroughly social democratic in their view points, different from the Schröders and Blair’s of this world, none of their immediate action program points to any revolutionary ambitions. Now one may say that’s good, especially in this case where undoubtably revolutions would be connected with endless bloodshed, and it is true that a coalition of these two would certainly be an improvement to today’s situation. But in the sense of revolutionary as setting forth a program that would transport one beyond capitalism, the parliamentary work of parties such as these will likely not suffice.

6 thoughts on “Who is really progressive in Northern Ireland? (3/3)”

  1. Not really worth commenting on,as the research falls down immediately on interviewing only two parties, the inbuilt bias is clear from the opening paragraph which describes PSF as both socialist and progressive, even a quick tour through their history would clearly show this is not the case.

    The whole project lacks any clear knowledge of the Irish situation and this is reflected in your replies on Indymedia. In future look beyond the PSF spin

  2. @Steenson: Not really. The thing is that those who are local and who do have experience with it know quite well that such opinions wouldn’t be accepted around there. And having bricks thrown through your window is not exactly something worth giving your opinion for.
    And sorry, I don’t think there is anything more to be understood about someone is attack/kill you.
    As to the extent of the survey: you have currently the following parties in the Belfast city council: DUP, SF, Social Democrats, UUP, Alliance, PUP. Can you name me any others of these that are supposed to be socialist or progressive according to either their own or the opinions of others?

    That there is a plethora of sects at the 1-30 people level, the way it just is in the UK, doesn’t really qualify any of them as political parties.

    As to Sinn Fein: Now you might not realize this, but they do show up at various conferences around Europe as part of the Left. Their youth is part of ENDYL — European New democratic Young Left — together with the youth groups of most other party youths of parties to the Left of the various social democrats.

    Also, quite officially, SF is part of the United European Left fraction in the European Parliament together with amongst other The Left from Germany.

    So before you give another of those "you don’t have the right to talk, cause you don’t know anything about it" comments, maybe you should consider whether it could be worthwhile to come up with actual arguments instead.

  3. Firstly we have The workers Party, The Irish Republican Socialist Party, and Republican Sinn Fein who are all parties of long standing and are Republican Socialist in ideology, and are organised throughout the 32 counties.

    There are also many smaller groupings on the left.

    The absence or presence of members on Belfast City Council is not an indication of work done on the ground but as a result of the type of electoral politics we have.

    The fact that PSF appear at conferences of the left, the Irish Labour party and British Labour party also appear at these conferences, are your seriously claiming that they are socialist or progressive. PSF attempts to portray themselves as left doesn’t wash, look at their policies and particularly the policies they has pursued since taking power in the North.

  4. @steenson:
    just as I said, there is a bunch of small groups. I actually went to a meeting on the Iraq war held by one of them, and I bought their newspaper. However, there has to be some kind of cut-off. Getting into the local parliament is a fairly impartial way of doing it.

    As to the connection: Sinn Fein, and only Sinn Fein, is part of the UEL-group in the European parliament. And SInn Fein Youth, and onlu Sinn Fein Youth is part of ENDYL . You may twist that whatever way you want, but they have to be worthy candidates for the status of progressive and socialist, at least in their own understanding. That is why I compare their positions with those of the PUP and find out that they’re not so different. If you has read the interview, this should be pretty obvious.

    Also, please accept that on the ultra left everybody apparently thinks they are the only true leftist, but I cannot take that as a standard for anything. It is a very sad state of affairs indeed, but hey… that’s the ultra left to you…

  5. welcome to our world. everyone from every political shade will be stamping their feet and throwing a tantrum that you didnt see everything entirely from their point of view. all youve done is present the parties in the political light in which they present themselves. this seem the fairest way to go about it. we are all intelligent enough to look at the information and put it in context with our own experiences and knowledge. my personal conclusion is that the main policical parties here are as pathetic as ever. they attatch a tag to them elves to give some sort of validity, meanwhile the parties on the fringes are claiming support that they dont have and are itching to start pulling triggers again.
    as for indymedia.ie they always censor anything that dosent fall in line with the views of the republican extremists that tave taken control of it. i stoped going on it because any comments i wrote always led to me getting terrible abuse such as being called an "orange bastard" "protestant bastard" and "murdering agent of the british state" before my comments and any supporting me were quickly removed. big brother flies the starry plough!
    in northern ireland division and sectarian bigotry = votes and at the end of the day no matter what the grouping or what they claim to be this is what they always fall back on when they want to gather support.

    aw crap! you got me started off again johannes, and just when i was stopping lying awake at night annoying myself over northern irish politics.

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