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International Socialism, October 1977


James O’Donnell

Machine Politics


From International Socialism (1st series), No.102, October 1977, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Donegal Mafia: An Irish Political Machine
Paul Martin Sacks
Yale University Press £10.80

In 1970, just before this book was researched, the ‘mafia’s’ boss Neil Blaney, a minister in the Dublin government and a challenger for party leadership of Fianna Fail, was sacked from the government and expelled from the party amid allegations of ‘gun running’ to the North. Apart from academic political scientists with the time and money to follow the intricacies of machine politics, the main interest of this book lies in what it reveals about traditional Irish nationalism.

Blaney used nationalist rhetoric to cover up the cynicism and corruption of his political machine and he hoped to use it to outflank his party leader Jack Lynch who was very clearly in league with the British. Instead Lynch sacked him with an ease which showed that capitalists in the South no longer had any interest in nationalism, even though Blaney wished to confine the anti-imperialist struggle to the North.

His powerful local machine crumbled when he was no longer able to get favour, real or imaginary, for his supporters. His nationalism could not stand up on its own even in rural Donegal, one of the Ulster counties excluded from Northern Ireland to ensure the built-in Protestant majority. The main base of traditional nationalism, the small farmers, have declined dramatically in numbers, but Blaney’s sentimental nationalism no longer related even to their material interests, never mind the growing numbers of wage workers. While Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fail was returned with a record majority in 1977, Blaney’s party got only one member elected, Blaney himself.

The key to ending the present stalemate in Ireland lies squarely with the working class, South as much as North, connecting workers’ struggles for a decent living with the struggle against British imperialism. Building this connection involves avoiding the mistakes of the Official Sein Fein ‘The Workers Party’ which capitulates in the anti-imperialist struggle (a United Irishman editorial in April this year even speculated on a ‘coalition’ with the right-wing Unionists in the North!). It also involves rejecting the sentimental nationalism of reactionary careerists like Blaney which has nothing to offer workers North or South.

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