Eoghan Harris and The Workers Party
For over 20 years Eoghan Harris was a secret member of the Workers Party. During that time he denied his membership and threatened libel actions against those who asserted otherwise. During that time funds were solicited from the Soviet Union for a media venture involving him which was to be an opponent of the capitalist press.
In 1992 the Moscow correspondent of the Irish Times, Seamus Martin, rifled through the archives of the then defunct Soviet Communist Party when he came across two letters from Sean Garland, then general secretary of the Workers Party, to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. One of the letters, dated September 1986, was a plea for financial support and made reference to the “special activities” of the Workers Party, which was presumed to refer to the gangster projects of associates of the Workers Party at the time. It was claimed on behalf of the Workers Party that this letter was a forgery.
But no such claims have been made about the other letter, the one dated July 1986, also signed by Sean Garland. This was a request to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to meet a young Irish television documentary maker, Gerry Gregg, who had formed his own production company, Iskra Productions (by happy coincidence Iskra was the title of the Bolshevik newsletter of 1917 revolution). The letter referred to a “talented team” which Gregg had assembled, Eoghan Harris and John Caden.
Garland's letter said: “As part of (its) struggle (against the forces of capitalism) some members of the Workers Party had formed Iskra (which) fosters in an environment hostile to a Marxist analysis of many of the problems confronting western society”.
It said Iskra was a “Marxist film-making enterprise which commands this party's full support. Iskra is potentially a useful propaganda device for the socialist cause, for a small party like ours it promises much by way of building up the intellectual, ideological and financial resources of the party”.
Gregg, like Harris and Caden, was a former producer in RTE and, again like them, one of the closet supporters of the Workers Party within RTE. Gregg has been described by Harris as one of his closest friends and Harris has lavishly praised Gregg's documentaries, including a four part series on Des O'Malley, which at the time and subsequently caused RTE much embarrassment because of its obviously agenda-driven slant (O'Malley was permitted to fulminate against Charles Haughey and the threat he posed to the security of the state around the time of the 1970 arms trial, without once being asked why, if Haughey were such a threat, did he – O'Malley – collude with Haughey in attempting to suborn a witness who was to give evidence against Haughey in the arms trial).
That Harris should have been associated with a project seeking funds from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for propaganda purposes in Ireland directed against the capitalist class and the hostile capitalist media may seem incongruous now given his current fulsome endorsements of the capitalist media and the most powerful dominant media mogul in these parts. But, in reality, Harris is a complex of contradictions and inconsistencies, some of which he celebrates as though the absence of any core belief is itself admirable.
Eoghan Harris was a secret member of the Workers Party (previously Official Sinn Fein, then Sinn Fein the Workers Party) from the early 1970's. For most of the period during which he was a secret member he threatened media organisations and journalists (including this journalist) with libel actions if they asserted what was in fact true – ie his membership of the party. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing a secret branch of the party within the Workers Union of Ireland (WUI) membership at RTE and this branch attempted and succeeded in slanting RTE current affairs programmers on radio and television through the judicious placement of its members and associates in key roles. In doing so they gravely damaged the credibility of RTE's current affairs output especially in relation to northern coverage, on which it sought to exclude any voice that it considered sympathetic to Provisional Sinn Fein (not just members of Sinn Fein).
The current President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, worked as a reporter on RTE television's flagship current affairs programme at the time, Today Tonight, and came into conflict with others on the programme who either were secret members of the Workers Party or associates of those. She was accused of being a Provo and ridiculed because of her northern nationalist background. She was personally witness to an extraordinary episode which illustrated the bias that had infected RTE current affairs at the time.
It was during the 1981 hunger strike and she along with others on the Today Tonight team went to Belfast to do a programme on the crisis that had evolved. They were precluded from interviewing anyone associated with Sinn Fein and with the UDA but some members of the team wanted to have on a programme a well known loyalist, whose paramilitary allegiance was obscure. However, members of the team became aware that for this person's participation to be secured they had to get the assent of the then leader of the UDA Andy Tyrrie. Mary McAleese overheard members of the team telephone Tyrrie to get permission for this person's participation. He took part in the programme, while anyone even remotely supportive of Sinn Fein was excluded. The UDA at the time was engaged in a campaign of murder of innocent Catholics.
For clarity sake it has to be emphasised Eoghan Harris had no part in this programme, neither had Gerry Gregg or John Caden. But such practices were by no means unique in RTE at the time and much of it arose from the manipulative culture generated in large part by the secret infiltration of the Workers Party.
Harris had been one of the Workers Party ideologues from the early 1970 along with Eamon Smullen, who had been a member of the British Communist Party previously. Smullen and Harris were authors of a document, “Industrial Revolution” which focused on building up a revolutionary workers movement, through industrialization, however environmentally damaging. They wanted smelters for instance but also bank nationalization and centralized economic management. They produced a pamphlet hugely critical of Tony O'Reilly, largely because of his conduct of Atlantic Resources, an oil company, that failed to find any oil of significance but which made millions for some investors and lost millions for others.
Harris remained a member of the Workers Party during the period when it or its associates engaged in several murders both in the South and North, including the murder of a former member of the party, Seamus Costello in 1977. During this time the party or its associates were engaging in a massive counterfeiting operation – the person most centrally involved in that scam was included as an audience of “workers” discussing industrial issues on RTE television, without having his Workers Party membership identified. There were also countless armed robberies, punishment beatings in the North and widespread racketeering and intimidation in the North and South. Meanwhile the party continued to profess its opposition to violence and to illegality. Neither did this paramilitary organisation, formerly the Official IRA, ever formally decommission its weapons.
Throughout this time the Workers Party also cultivated links not just with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but with the communist party of North Korea, possibly the most undemocratic and repressive regime in the world. This association was not a secret held by a tightly group of the leadership of the Workers Party, it was widely known at the time. For instance a visit to North Korea by the then President of the Workers Party, Tomas MacGiolla, was given much publicity in part because of the misapprehension of the North Korean authorities of the nature of the Workers Party, which, apparently, it understood to be Provisional Sinn Fein. Of course it was not only Eoghan Harris who studiously turned the blind eye to these goings on but also the likes of Pat Rabbitte, Prioncais de Rossa, Eamon Gilmore and others who are now members of the Labour Party. But at least these did not deny their membership of the party.