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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Reply To Des Derwin re: my poem 'Irish Parliament’s Last Remaining Holy Man Speaks On His Retirement'

Des Derwin (the man talking into the microphone) is a respected trade union activist, a prominent member of SIPTU. Des thinks my poem Irish Parliament’s Last Remaining Holy Man Speaks On His Retirement is as out of order as this tackle by Roy Keane.

Here's what Des had to say on Facebook last night:I do have an opinion about the poem posted on this blog and re-posted on Facebook. Whatever political differences there are with the Socialist Party, or with any other party or individual of the left, or whatever individual misdeeds may be claimed, it seems to me inappropriate, unnecessary and unhelpful to publish a scathing poem about one particular person.

Like Kevin and Sean [Throne] I have strong views about the internal structures and the treatment of people on the left. I have no idea whether the allusions in the poem to Joe Higgins himself are factually based or not. If they are and deserve public airing, fairness would require a rigorous presentation and evidence. Such presentations have been made, but not about Joe Higgins personally as far as I know.

Sure there are nasty people on the left. Maybe Joe is one of them, behind closed doors. There is no evidence here that he himself is. I could be wrong of course, but whatever his political and personal faults, I have reason to be forever grateful to Joe Higgins for the early Saturday morning in the 1990s when he turned up to stand with a tiny (but successful) workplace demonstration in Finglas against the removal of goods from our premises which was threatened with closure. This is a small incident in a long political career in which Joe Higgins has pioneered a path for the left and at times offered it almost iconic representation. Whatever the differences or wounds I do not believe he deserves to be publicly subjected to the content of this poem nor do I think it does any good for the left

Des is not a member of Joe Higgins’s Socialist Party. He could be described, though, as a bit of a fellow traveller. Des does not want to hear evil words being spoken against Joe, whom he speaks of, in near religious terms, as having given “almost iconic representation” to working class people during his time as a public representative.  

First things first: Des says he believes it “inappropriate, unnecessary and unhelpful to publish a scathing poem about one particular person”. Now, I seriously doubt that this is really Des’s view. Would he, for example, similarly consider my poem The Death of Baroness Thatcher to be “inappropriate, unnecessary and unhelpful”. I doubt it. And that despite the fact it was written shortly after the woman died; Joe Higgins is only retiring and, so far as anyone can tell, is still, at least in the technical sense of the word, alive. 

What I suspect Des really means to say is that he objects to mean poems being written about people he personally likes i.e. poems about Joe Higgins are out unless they are odes in praise of him or, when the time comes, unironic elegies. There is of course a long established tradition of writing the “scathing poem about one particular person”. Alexander Pope’s on The Death of the Duke of Buckingham is one example; Jonathan Swift A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General, about the war profiteering Duke of Marlborough, is another. 

I hear that, in a sudden outbreak of consistency, Des Derwin is now  rushing through Dublin on his way to St Patrick’s Cathedral where he plans to pin a note, objecting to the “inappropriate, unnecessary and unhelpful” poetic savaging of the Duke of Marlborough, on Jonathan Swift’s grave.
Before moving on, I am willing to grant Des Derwin one concession: if he sends me a list of people he likes – presumably this would include some members of his family, and any pets he might have (apart that is from Joe Higgins) – I faithfully promise to refrain from writing nasty poems about any of them for at least the next three quarters of an hour. 

Now for the substance of Derwin’s argument: he says “Like Kevin and Sean [Throne] I have strong views about the internal structures [of parties such as the Socialist Party/Socialist Workers Party etc] and the treatment of people on the left.” No doubt Derwin imagines himself to have strong views on such issues. He just finds it difficult to give these “strong views” any real meaning by putting them into practice. His rather over literal reading of my poem leads him to type the following: “I have no idea whether the allusions in the poem to Joe Higgins himself are factually based or not. If they are and deserve public airing, fairness would require a rigorous presentation and evidence.”  

Where exactly does Mr Derwin propose that this “public airing” and “rigorous presentation” of such “evidence” should take place? 

Last year, I met a man who was for many years on the Socialist Party’s 'Control Commission', the body which was meant to take hearings about and carry out investigations into disputes within the organisation. He told me that in all his years on it, the body never once met. Perhaps it is this body which Des Derwin would have carry out this “public airing” which of course will only ever happen in Des Derwin’s imagination? A nineteen year old who joined the Socialist Party or Socialist Workers Party after attending yesterday’s anti-water charges demonstration is to be forgiven for believing in such things. But Des Derwin is, like myself, a little haggard around the jowls to still be allowing himself such fantasies.  

In 1995, after I resigned from the UK section of the Socialist Party, then called Militant Labour, a member of the organisation wrote a detailed complaint to their Control Commission about the way the series of events which led to my resignation had been handled. There were piles of documentary evidence. And I wrote to them saying that I would be more than willing to travel to the UK to appear as a witness, though I had resigned from the organisation by then and had no interest in re-joining. But there was no “airing” public or otherwise, no “rigorous presentation” of the evidence, which remains, most of it, in a small cardboard box in our study. The person who made the written complaint demanding, as was his supposed constitutional right as a member, a full investigation into the circumstances that led to my resignation was summoned to the Militant’s old national headquarters at 3/13 Hepscott Road, London E9, and told by two members of the organisation’s national Executive Committee that there would be no investigation. It is the equivalent of the Minister for Justice, or the Attorney General shutting down the Supreme Court. But, of course, the Supreme Court is real, and sometimes makes judgements which are not to the government’s liking. The ‘Control Commissions’ and ‘Disputes Committees’ of organisations such as the Socialist Party and SWP have no such democratic reality, except in the strange place that is the mind of Des Derwin. 

After this non-investigation, the Executive Committee of what is now the Irish Socialist Party (then still called Militant Labour) unanimously passed a resolution calling on their British co-religionists to, more or less, apologise to me and to put that apology in writing. Britain refused and Kevin McLoughlin, the current General Secretary of the Socialist Party in Dublin, made sure that the issue was dropped by shouting at the proposer of the resolution to “drop it!” At the time, Clare Daly and one or two others were hugely supportive of me. Joe Higgins, as far as I am aware, said nothing. 

Joe was far more actively dismissive of John Throne, who recruited Joe to politics in the first place, when John was expelled on trumped up allegations by the Socialist Party’s American section. It was a purge, pure and simple. Don’t take my word for it. You can hear what John himself has to say about that here 

Similarly, this time two years ago, when Clare Daly resigned from the Socialist Party, Joe Higgins played an entirely shabby role. On Friday August 31st 2012, Clare handed her letter of resignation in to Socialist Party HQ. She issued no public statement. I first became aware of this when, the following day - the Saturday - a producer from the Marian Finucane Show phoned me looking to speak to Clare. Clare was attending a national anti-Property Tax meeting in Dublin and her phone was turned off. The Socialist Party had issued a statement to the media. 

The producer I spoke to said that the Socialist Party statement was “not very nice”. I said I wasn’t at all surprised. You can read that statement here. The following day the Socialist Party held a press conference which was covered on all the news programmes. You can watch it here. A publicity storm followed. Remember now, Clare issued no statement at all, just handed in her letter of resignation. The Socialist Party's response was a conscious attempt to destroy her, both politically and personally. And Joe Higgins was an active participant in all of this. When Kevin McLoughlin asked/told Joe to take part in that press conference, Joe could have said that, no, he wouldn’t be free to attend, as he planned to spend the entire day re-reading the works of Peig Sayers. But no.  

Des Derwin is not quite as deluded as George Bernard Shaw was when he visited the Soviet Union in 1931 and came back full of tales about what a great guy Joe Stalin was. But Shaw was a particularly severe case and would, no doubt, have also disapproved of a gurrier like me trying to drag down a holy man such as Joe (Higgins, that is).