When Patrick Harrington and Nick Griffin ran the 1980s National Front there were quite a few immediate and striking anomalies. The old “Butcher’s Apron”, the Union Jack, was one of the first things to go as their revolutionary zeal took an uncontrollable hold over the shrinking organisation. The national flag was left to the “reactionaries” who broke away from them – the likes of Martin Wingfield, who now works for the Griffin’s BNP, and Andrew Brons, who represents the party as an MEP. Griffin and Harrington referred to their brand of the NF as the “radicals”.
What replaced the Union Jack on the front of their monthly bore sheet, National Front News, was pictures of black folk they liked, Muslims even. They even began quoting from and selling copies of Colonel Gaddafi’s Green Book, not long after the Libyans had fired shots from the window of their People’s Bureau and killed a British police woman.
And the more people complained, the more extreme the NF seemed to become. This was their new party: the mysticism of Catholic fascism, the adulation of bizarre ranting eastern European fascists, and a Pol Pot like obsession with taking the party back to year zero.
Ireland, however, was their main problem. While the NF’s Ulster organiser was jailed for his part in the firebombing of the homes of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers in protests over the Anglo Irish agreement, the inner circle of the party was toying with Catholicism at the same time as vying for the affections of the major benefactor of the IRA, Colonel Gaddafi.
Harrington was always Griffin’s younger, more “radical” offsider. Despite being part of a “collective leadership” it was Griffin and Harrington who took the reins and led the party into ideological wilderness and oblivion. It was Harrington who obligingly photographed Griffin standing adoringly under a huge portrait of Colonel Gaddafi on their visit to Tripoli. It was Harrington, who often made much of his Irish roots, who shocked the traditionally loyalist NF by refusing to condemn the IRA in a television exposé of the NF’s activities in 1988. Not only did it anger the NF’s already fractured membership, it led the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Ireland’s largest paramilitary group, to demand that the party leave Northern Ireland and later to write in its monthly publication Ulster, “The NF are wankers”.
Harrington and Griffin parted company in early 1990. Their NF “Political Soldiers” group gave up marching on an empty stomach. It had been bled dry of members and cash for some time.
After taking control of the BNP in 1999, Griffin never mentioned Ireland. The party was growing; it and its membership were firmly, if not violently, loyalist. Evidence of this was apparent when its Liverpool branch put an Irish tricolour on its banner in 2007 and a near riot ensued. By 2008 Griffin was the leader of a rapidly expanding party capable of sending shockwaves through the political establishment. He even engaged a hardline Protestant to set up and run a party call centre in Northern Ireland staffed only by Protestants.
The party has occasionally made noises at election times about inviting the Republic of Ireland to step back into union with Britain if the BNP came to power, but that is not a very likely or realistic scenario, given that Griffin’s daughter was in a loyalist “Kick the Pope” band until she fled Northern Ireland last year when her father fell out with the “super-Prod” fan of loyalist paramilitaries, Jim Dowson.
As the BNP entered a steep decline following last year’s general election, out of the shadows stepped Harrington again, not quite as fresh-faced as when he last took centre stage in the 1980s, but still not as bloated as Griffin has become since taking over the BNP. Harrington had been running his own minor organisation, Third Way, and a political party, the National Liberal Party, which is supposedly a rival party to the BNP.
One of Harrington’s first acts was to stage a bitter fallout with the officers of the BNP’s fake trade union Solidarity, where with Griffin’s approval Harrington ousted its founder and installed himself as General Secretary.
His next major falling out was with – you guessed it – Dowson. It seems that Harrington has been representing the Belfast call centre staff against Dowson while simultaneously representing the party in negotiations with the same staff, some of whom have still not been paid monies owed since before Christmas.
Harrington’s other area of interest is the BNP’s faux civil rights organisation, “Civil Liberty”. It sounds like a legitimate civil rights organisation – and preposterously describes the well known human rights organisation Liberty as its sister group – but it tends to crawl out from under its stone only when there is a white person (usually a racist) in trouble with the law. So we hardly fell off our seats when last week “Civil Liberty” offered its support to the former IRA man Gerry McGeough who was jailed for the attempted murder of a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier and full-time postman in 1981.
While on the run from British and Irish authorities (which included a daring escape from custody), McGeough went to America where he arranged for arms, missiles and ammunition to be sent to the IRA in Northern Ireland. He also attempted to claim political asylum in Sweden and served eight years in Germany awaiting trial for an attack on a British Army barracks there.
McGeough sat on the executive of the IRA’s political wing until 2003 when he attempted a takeover of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the largely moribund marching organisation (seen as the Catholic equivalent of the Orange Order), airing his extreme anti-gay and right wing views.
With the advent of peace talks and cease-fires, McGeough decided he would rather “save Ireland from sodomy” and launched a monthly magazine called The Hibernian, dedicated to “Faith, Family and Country”. Traditionally, the AOH was seen as a rival cultural organisation to Sinn Fein.
In an interview published in Searchlight in 2006, McGeough said: “Sinn Fein has been heavily infiltrated by homosexual activists and British double agents in recent years. A lot of republicans can’t fathom the liberal values of the leadership. They do not understand why they are pursuing a liberal British agenda. Immigration is a massive concern and there are a lot of people who are not happy with the level of immigration.”
Having fallen foul of Sinn Fein, McGeough was considered persona non grata by the Republican movement, even being labelled as a “fascist” on a web forum used by supporters of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), the political wing of the rival Irish National Liberation Army. But as the British far right has often found, there remain rather extreme pits of “traditional” Catholicism in the republic, where people with like-minded fears and hatreds can come together on mutual issues. Even the hardline loyalist Dowson, who as good as owned the BNP for a couple of relatively lucrative years, has found tapping into the Republic’s Catholic conservatism financially beneficial.
McGeough might have been an outcast, but he was by no means alone in his religious extremism.
In March 2007 McGeough stood for election against a Sinn Fein candidate as an Independent Republican in Fermanagh. He was arrested for the attempted murder, some 30 years after event, while leaving the polling station and had since then been living under various forms of incarceration and house arrest.
Last month McGeough was convicted for that attempted murder. For loyalists and Unionists, the community in Northern Ireland in which the BNP puts so much faith, the now-disbanded UDR was a much revered local almost totally Protestant regiment. To Irish nationalists and republicans, it was an imperialist and sectarian force that colluded with loyalist murder squads.
Although McGeough attracted some sympathy from the Republican movement for his actions at the height of the IRA’s campaign in Britain, Northern Ireland and mainland Europe, few have much time for his views on Ireland today or his extreme (“traditionalist”) Catholicism. He is likely to serve only two years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Last week “Civil Liberty” broke its recent silence to pay homage to McGeough. Lauding McGeough and The Hibernian for covering issues and themes “long abandoned by Sinn Fein and other leftist Irish Republican organisations such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality, scepticism about multiculturalism and mass immigration into Ireland”, it went on to praise McGeough for “criticism of the international banking system” (this normally refers to Jews) and articles about “English Catholic writers, GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who helped develop and make popular distributist ideas in the first half of the twentieth century across the British Isles”.
Yes, it seems as if McGeough had a reading list in later years not too dissimilar to the one the Griffin-Harrington NF recommended to supporters, and indeed that Harrington himself recommends to this day. According to “Civil Liberty”, McGeough’s case has been “followed by radical nationalists across the British Isles with varying degrees of sympathy”.
This sort of language has set the BNP ablaze with innuendo and accusation. Just who are these “radical nationalists” who have such varying degrees of sympathy with McGeough? Many point the finger at Harrington, who has launched a myriad of legal letters and challenges in recent months to stop publication of a “private” photograph of himself proudly posing in front of a commemoration to the fallen members of “D Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA”.
BNP members and supporters are furious and the BNP section of the “British Democracy Forum” is alight with accusations, recriminations and the airing of old suspicions and hatreds directed at Harrington and the IRA in general. It seems that the memories and the hatreds of the NF’s past leader remain as current and virile as ever. Some are even threatening to picket any meeting that he addresses or attends.
Following a newspaper report in Ireland about the BNP’s sympathy for McGeough, the BNP’s Ulster organiser has gone to hysterical lengths to laugh it off. Describing the story as “desperation”, Steven Moore realises that the BNP could be treading on some very sensitive toes if Griffin and Harrington decide to take the revolutionary garden path once more. Having helped organise a BNP “cultural event” in the loyalist heartland of East Belfast for Griffin last week, the last thing Moore wants is for what is left of the disillusioned paramilitaries in the area to turn their benign interest into a burning dislike for the party.
It is understood that the rival NF’s current leaders in Northern Ireland have photocopies of the article in the Irish press and are avidly distributing it to shocked BNP members there as they prepare to step up their activities.
To date neither the BNP nor Harrington has responded publicly, though we understand certain old enemies of Harrington high up in the BNP have been taking very long and deep breaths. Last night Harrington was asking for details of the moderator of the British Democracy Forum, no doubt so he could send him a legal letter to stop the appearance of further pictures of Harrington’s escapades in Belfast.
Civil liberty ended its article on McGeough by expressing its support for the “ethnic identity of the respective nations of the British Isles submerged for far too long under the dead hand of the British state”.
And one senior BNP official even turned up to a meeting of Irish Republicans in London last month to commemorate the Hunger Strikers.
No wonder the “loyalist” BNP is wriggling in silence.
Thanks to Matthew Collins at HOPE not hate / Searchlight