Fascism in Limerick

About six months ago a small group of Maoists decided to begin activities in the Shannon Industrial Estate. They came mainly from their strongest base in Trinity College. Their leader in Limerick, Arthur Allen, was formerly the Maoist Irish Student Movement's expert on the war in Vietnam. Like most Irish Maoists he comes from a wealthy background, his family owns the OdIum Company and are dis¬tinguished and wealthy Quakers. Obviously such a group were not an immediate threat to the "status quo" in Limerick. They took jobs in the Estate and gradually grew to about eight members. After a while just after Christmas they obtained a premises for a bookshop in the parish of St. Mary's which like its counterparts in Dublin and Galway sold the works of Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, Lenin, and Marx as well as numerous Chinese publications ob¬tained in Hong Kong. The group in Limerick has never offered any con¬ceivable provocation to the citizens of Limerick apart from an ideologi¬cal one. Their paper concentrates on poor work conditions in Shannon and on the issues such as 'the blue card' system and the town's dis¬pensaries. It is far less jargonistic atld far more consciously aimed at ordinary workers than the more pre¬tentious Maoist publications in Dub¬lin or Galway. However since their appearance in Limerick they have been viciously persecuted.


This persecution has been due to two factors; Limerick is a notoriously conservative city and its political Gauleiter Steve Coughlan has used the Maoists as a pawn in his power struggle with the new leaders of the Labour party.

The Arch-Confraternity

Limerick has a history of conserva¬tism. The primary organisational source of this conservatism, as in most Irish towns, is the Church. Limerick has the largest Confraternity in the world and at present it has over 10,000 members enrolled. This Con¬fraternity meets four nights every week and on average about 5,000¬6,000 people attend each week and in Lent the weekly turn out ap¬proaches the maximum. This Confraternity is run by the Redemptorists who are a traditionally conservative order. In recent years there has been a conscious effort to modernise the Redemptorists in the spirit of Vatican II. This has been to a large extent successful but the Redemptorists attracted to Confraternity work and preaching are the most reactionary members of the order. The present head of the Arch-Confraternity, Fr. J. P. O'Riordan, is a typically jingoistic, hell-fire Confraternity leader. In every facet of life in Limerick the Church is uniquely powerful. The Dominicans, Augustinians and Chris¬tian Brothers are all very strong in the city.

There is an unfortunate record of rank clericalist reaction in Limerick. In 1904, for instance. at the bidding of a mad Redemptorist, Fr. Creigh, there was a Jewish pogrom in the city. For six months Fr. Creigh stirred up the masses with tales of the Christian Tsar of Russia who was fulfilling his duty by persecuting the Jewish mur¬derers of Christ. Limerick was then a Garrison town and many families had fallen into debt while the father was engaged in the Boer war. Tales of Jewish sexual and financial ex-ploitation of needy families were phantasmagorically intermingled with religious bigotry by Fr. Creigh. Each week for six months Jews were beaten up on the streets, their houses were broken into and their children abducted. Eventually they were driven out of the city. Much the same hap¬pened to the Jehovah Witnesses in 1956 encouraged by Steve Coughlan who was serving his first term as Lord Mayor. They were refused per¬mission to hold meetings by the Cor¬poration and beaten up in the streets. Limerick has frequently suffered anti¬immorality campaigns, when the blackthorn stick was vigorously util¬ised by priests to root out courting couples. In the 1950's vigilante groups were organised for cinemas by the Arch-Confraternity. These men lurked at the back of cinemas and pounced on necking couples. (One of these stalwarts was the renowned Sean South of Garryowen.)

Four years ago when a Discotheque was opened in the city the Teaching Orders, afraid that drugs were being passed at dances, ordered all pupils to publicly burn their membership cards. Those who refused were threatened with expulsion.

The present "Bishop, Dr. Murphy, has attempted to counteract the obviously fascist element in the Limer¬ick Church. He attempted to channel the Arch-Confraternity into social work and encouraged his secular priests to follow the Council's renewal. However a hard core of re¬action has remained in the Religious Orders and only lately has it once again bared its teeth. This hard core wants the Church to have a monopoly of social and cultural activities. It sees secular entertainment and 'foreign ideology' as direct threats to the Church's unquestioned supremacy.

The local Press

This organisational basis in Limerick has always been aided and abetted by another middle class rural phenomenon, the local press. The Limerick Leader and Limerick Chronicle are both uncommitted to any party bUt highly clericalist and extremely conservative. Both these papers have adopted a hysterical, anti-Communist position in the last few months. Editorially the papers appeal to local pride and to a vestigal hostility to Dublin and its proliferation of left wing sects. They epitomise the local middle class which is deeply religious and conscious of its moral duty to act as a watchdog for the local work¬ing class.

The working class in Limerick has always been conservative at any rate. In 1915 James Connolly was driven out of Limerick by a working class mob who considered the British gar¬rison essential for their continued prosperity. A similar fate happened to Padhraic Pearse and a year before the 1916 Easter Rising on May 23 marching Provincial Volunteers were assaulted by a pro-British mob wav¬ing Union Jacks. Around this time the working class adopted rugby as their game which had considerable political reverberations in the city earlier this year when the Springboks visited the city. The Limerick work¬ing class has traditionally worked in small service industries and thus has never really become aware of itself as a fully separate class. In 1959 72.1% of Limerick workers worked in service industries and only 25.6", in manufacturing trades. Most of the working class has retained the tradi¬tions of the old artisan class which blends in perfectly with the ideology of the Arch-Confraternity and the rural middle classes.

Obviously Limerick is not a fertile breeding ground for Maoism but few could have expected the reaction of the city's leaders to have been quite so savage.

Undoubtedly a train of events was set in motion by Steve Coughlan, Labour Mayor of Limerick which led to physical attacks on the Maoists. Since the defeat of Labour in the General Election Coughlan has been conducting a bitter feud with his enemies within the national and local Labour party. On a national level Coughlan has publicly feuded with men he feels lost Labour a chance of participating in government through their extreme views and their ignorance of the basic conservatism of rural Ireland. On a local level Cough¬lan is supreme electorally in Limcrick city wherc he heads the poll, but he does not control the City Constituency Councilor the Labour Party. To Coughlan, who regards Limerick as a form of semi-feudal fiefdom, this is intolerable and he has constantly attempted to root out opposition ele¬ments in the party. He has consciously used the advent of the Maoists in Limerick both to split and discredit the Labour party nationally and to destroy the local opposition to him in the party.

Coughlan's First Move

When the Maoists had been in Limerick for about two months Coughlan, as Lord Mayor, sent letters to several firms on the Shannon In¬dustrial Estate asking that about six Maoists there be sacked. Some of them were sacked including Arthur Allen who was certified by a firm's doctor to have a skin allergy incom¬patible with work in a factory. This slight victory was immediately fol¬lowed up by Coughlan in order to discredit his local opponents. The Maoists had been taking part as oUt¬siders in discussions in the local Labour Movement which supports the lcft wing of the party. Coughlan issued a statement accusing the Mao¬ists of infiltrating the Movement. He also accused onc of the leaders of the Movement, Mr. Tony Prats¬chke, a Vocational School Headmaster of distributing Maoist propaganda in his school. (He will shprtly be sued for slander by Mr. Pratschke.) At the same time Coughlan saw to it that the parents of all members of the Movement be informed of their child¬rens' evil company. Some members also lost their jobs because their em¬ployers erroneously believed them to be Maoists. As a consequence of this initial anti-Maoist foray one of Coughlan's chief sources of local op-position suffered a big decline in membership and in new recruits. Coughlan had also brought the atten-tion of Limerick to the existence of a new group in their midst of un¬known power and strange beliefs.

The coming of the Springboks gave Coughlan another opportunity of em¬barrassing the party at all levels. He publicly denounced Barry Desmond for coming to Limerick to advise the Limerick people to boycott the Springboks. This was locally inter¬preted as a sign of public approval of the Springboks tour. A local mem¬ber of the Trades Union Council, Mr. Jim Kemmy was furthermore politic¬ally isolated by Coughlan. Kemmy is a mcmber of the Labour Party's ExccUti\'e I he was elected in January when Coughlan 's bus load of suppor¬ters who came up on the last day of the Annual Conference to vote Kemmy out were declared ineligible to vote because none of them had attended any of the Conference's sessions). Kemmy was head of the local anti-apartheid movcment; he had courageously accepted this posi¬tion although he knew that Coughlan would make political capital out of it.

Pro-Springbok Press

The popularity of rugby among the working class and the biased reporting of the Limerick Leader ensured this. A new group of fascists, the National Movement, organised working class opposition to the 'dictated of Dublin'. They marched in favour of the Springboks with banners such as "God Bless Christian Anti-Commun¬ist South Africa". When they scuffled with anti-apartheid protestors the Limerick Leader said thcy had been attacked by Maoists. The Limerick Leader headlined "Why I like Limerick by the Rev. Dawie De Villiers" on the day of the match.

A day earlier it had banner headlines reading "Welcome Boks." Inside it carried an editorial saying that the anti-apartheid slogan in Dublin was "Stifle the Press". When the rugby team left, the papcr again had a banner-size heading reading "The Strong Silent Types Fly Out". This story was sub headed by a quote from De Villiers which read "I hope Limerick is more typical of Ireland than Dublin". Evidently the local press was encouraging an anti-protestor, pro-Springbok attitude among the population.

Coughlan was markedly absent from any protest and local feelings against it ran very high. 200 workcrs in Ranks Flour Millers were only barely stopped marching in favour of the Springboks at the instigation of the National Movemem, by a trade union official. Hostility to the protest was encouraged also by a Jesuit priest. At about 8.30 on the night of the match the local police, being unused to public protests, attacked a crowd of Dublin protestors outside the Shannon Arms Hotel. Evidently act¬ing under the influence of emotion rather than orders the police chased ,he demonstrators up Newenham Street towards the Crescent. Half way up Newenham Street a Jesuit priest stepped out on the footpath and attempted to stop a running protestor who was being chased by four Gardai. The protestor pushed him out of the way and escaped unharmed. However by the next day the Jesuit had allowed his imagination to run riot. He publicly informed classesin thc schuol that hc had becn at¬tacked by a crowd of Maoists who had pushed him on the ground, spat on him and threatened to destroy the Arch-Confraternity. This had unfor¬tunate repercussions for the ,'v\aoists who had not even taken part in the protest.


The Pogrom Begins


An editorial in the Limerick Chron¬icle on January 3 t called the 'Tin Gods" openly called for a. witch-hunt based on the imaginings of this Jesuit priest. This editorial ran as follows: "Reverend J. P. O'Riordan, Spiritual Director of the Arch-Confraternity of the Holy Family, did a great service to the whole of Ireland and to this community when he condemned the Tin Gods of the present day in the course of an address. Today certain people will tell us that Mao Tse Tung can do it (sic), but not only is thc'ir philosophy red but it is dead from the start'. The threat is facing Ireland regardless of what the optimists may say, the thmat grows more seriolh with the passing of every day. It ha, found root in Limerick and, while it is difficult to say for certain, thl' number of Maoists in our midst can be estimated at more than 200 and thc number is growing. It is no sccret rhat one of their chief aims is to dis¬rupt the Arch-Confraternity. Indeed it is one of their proud boasts that thcv can do it and will do so within a niancr of time.

"There will have to be a united stand against these misguided Maoisb who think nothing of banding to-gethcr in the streets of our city to shower insults and abuse at our clergy. YES it has happened within recent times, as a member of the Jesuit community in Limerick can confirm. The time has come and those in authority must not shirk in their duties now. Perhaps the greatest danger of all is the public display of Communist propaganda in a shop which the Maoists have opened in the city". This was clearly a declara-tion of war in a city which had turned to reaction over the Springbok tour. Immediately the Augustinians in O'Connell Street [Ook up the chal¬lenge. At every Mass on one Sunday in February they called for the re¬moval of the Maoists from the city. People in St. Mary's parish, an old run down area of the city with long family roots in the past, were scared. Thrce militant Catholic women began canvassing support for a march [0 throw them out. This was not en¬couraged by the local clergy but was openly used by the National Move¬mcnt and Steve Coughlan. It is sus¬pectcd that the children of one of thc~c wumcn may ha\'c bccn lII\ul\ed in the shooting incident at the shop. Steve Coughlan saw a chance [0 fur¬ther consolidate support for him~elf in the city, [0 further split the Labour party and to further isolate local left wingers.

Publicans Roped In

On February 10 he sent a long letter to publicans in the city. In the letter he said "A group of extremist revolutionaries visit the various Lim¬erick publichouses on Friday and Saturday nights and use these prem¬ises [0 sell their radical literature and publications. The fact that business prcmisc~ arc being u~cd to disscminate alien doctrines amongst the young people of Limerick is a cause for serious concern. . . . It is grossly un¬fair to the proprietors of such business houses that they should be regarded by the general public as being sympathetic to the diabolic revolutionary aims of these radical groups. . . . It is grossly unfair to them that some soft-talking pseudo intellectuals, in some cases strangers to our city, should now cash in on the work of so many citizens, and use your premises to try and hood¬wink and delude members of the general public."

At the same time Coughlan heard that the Jesuits in Crescent College had unearthed a Maoist in the Leavinmg Lerll!Jcatc. Class. He promptly de¬manded that they expel him. The rectOr, Fr. Hughes, was inclined to acquiesce, but was threatened by the prefects of the school with a strike by the pupils, so this time, Stevie failed. However he organised a tOur of all schools in Limerick in March where before each assembled group he gave a 15 minute lecture on the dangers of Communism. He informed the pupils that anybody who was a Maoist would be expelled and that he would fully support any such move.

Coughlan also aided the National Movement which was compiling a petition from residents near the Mao¬i~t bookshop. He prumi~ed the movement a Corporation hearing. When it was finished two Labour Council¬lors proposed a vote of thanks to the National Movement which had dis¬tributed literature stamped "Nazi Party of America" to residents of St. Mary's when they were collecting the signatures. Coughlan evidently finds fascists considerably less repug¬nant than Maoists. In the last fort¬night Coughlan has also let it be known that he has obtained the Maoists lease to the shop and is searching it for legal loopholes in order to evict them.

His open attack on Conor Cruise O'Brien eventually brought matters to a head for the Labour party. O'Brien had merely expressed concern at Coughlan's statement in which he' once again attacked the Maoists the,day after they had been shot at.

Labour Split 


On March 19 the whole affair was brought before the Administrative Council of the Labour party. Cough¬lan was heavily criticised for his be¬haviour. Dublin TDs were afraid that he was making a laughing stock of the party in working class Dublin constituencies where the relevance of the anti-maoist witch-hunts was not appreciated.

Matt Merrigan, Brendan Scott, Jim Kemmy, Justin Keating, Frank Cluskey and Brendan Corish were ex¬trcmely critical of him. Most of them were of the opinion that the Labour party was going to split anyway and that it would lose Dublin as well as thc rest of 'the country if it allowed such a farcical divergence of opinion to continue, Brendan Corish, who is a racing friend of Coughlan, was bitterly annoyed at his behaviour. Coughlan was supported by only 3 out of the t 9 members of the Council. One of them was Sean Tracey, the Tipperary Labour TD. He made moving sp~echc~ abuut Christian Socialism, and expounded Papal En¬cyclicals to the gathering.

Coughlan, howevcr, countered criti¬cism with his thrcat of breaking away from the Labour party and forming a new National Labour party. This would be joined by ex Labour TDs defeated in the General Election and all Labour rural TDs except the honest trade union conservative TD Jimmy Tully. This rural, fascist work¬ing class party would undoubtedly destroy Labour outside Dublin. It would furthermore, as Coughlan has pointed out. be free to join a coalition with Fianna Fail and would be more than wilJing to point out that Labour was now advocating a "Cuban Social¬ism". At this the Council backed down and issued a watered down compromise statement attacking the Maoists almost as bitterly as had Cougl\lan earlier.

No End to the Crisis
Certainly this crisis for Labour is not over. Labour desperately needs to utilise mounting Labour unrest all over the country to become recog¬nised as a militant working class party. It cannot do this so long as it has a coterie of rural TDs dragging their heels. But if Labour expels the rural TDs then it wilJ become a party isolated to the Dublin working class with no hope of expanding its representation outside Dublin. Fur¬thermore the split would jeopardise the continued loyalty of whole sec¬tions of th~ trade union movement to the Labour party, and the anti-Com¬munist polemics issuing from the National Labour party would confuse the Labour Movement and cause bit¬ter in-fighting in its ranks.
This dilemma for Labour is symp¬tOmatic of a wider problem for a soci¬alist party in Ireland. There is un-doubtedly a large, militant working class in the country but the power remains predominantly in the rural, agricultural class which is profoundly hostile to Labour. There is little pos¬sibility that any party can hold these two mutually antagonistic classes to¬gether unless it does it in an un¬principled and pragmatic way as does Fianna Fail. Labour cannot avoid the problem and if it turns either way at the moment it appears certain to isolate itself. If it merely muddles along, then the credibility gap for the electorate watching the antics of Coughlan and reading of the Social¬ist pronouncements of most of the parliamentary party wilJ become dangerously wide.
Coughlan will not allow the party time to solve this problem. Clearly he has no brief for the party and intends to use the tiny group of iviaoists in Limerick as sacrificial victims on the altar of his political ambitions. Members of the National Movement in Limerick are confidem that having completed their task of extirpating Maoism by the roots from Limerick they will find a safe niche (as the militant wing) in Stevie Coughlan's new party. Certainly a National Labour party led by Cough¬lan would outflank all existing parliamentary parties on the right.