This weekend a scheduling hole will be blown in the oped columns of the Sunday Independent following the departure of long term polemicist Eoghan Harris. By now most readers will have heard of the saga. One of how a veteran columnist fell on his own sword through the exposure of his role operating an anonymous twitter account, and the subsequent marching orders given to him by Sindo top brass.
Using the cyber nom de plume “Barbara Pym”, Harris was living a double life as a prolific twitter troll, hectoring republican sympathisers online as much as in his columns. In an almost self-parody of his decades of countless anti-provo diatribes, Harris blew off steam each evening lashing out at those deemed supportive of Sinn Féin, or for even endorsing what he deemed as tribal nationalism.
With Harris exiting the stage under a cloud of legal acrimony and accusations of sexual harassment towards female journalists made using the account, it appears to be the final chapter in a near half-century long ink-stained career.
As someone likely culpable of embracing the ethno-sectarian nationalism Harris railed against, yet who grew up in a household littered with Sunday Independent papers (my mother bought them for the supplements I swear), his demise piques my interest. Whether it be garbled Marxist tracts, or even Islamic and loyalist blogs, I make it my business to read and acquaint myself with oppositional ideas. Harris was and is an intellectual gargoyle, but a mightily talented one at that.
From cutting his teeth as master propagandist with the Workers Party, where he is said to have partially taken the reigns of power in RTÉ, to his nestling down as a neoliberal gatekeeper and brief Fianna Fáil confidant, one constant has remained in his career; his bane for physical force republicanism. While pinned as a cynical social democrat, if not reactionary crank by his former colleagues on the left, Harris at his core was a secular humanist.
His gripe with republicanism and the northern conflict was that it was propagated in his eyes by a bloodthirsty quasi-fascistic vanguard, and which would ultimately eventuate in a Celtic Yugoslavia.
From his time as a Marxist proselytiser to a Fianna Fáil adviser, Harris has left a rather substantial political footprint on the Ireland we see today. His journey from the radical left to political centre is partially recounted in Brian Hanley’s excellent ‘Lost Revolution’, covering the transition made by many on the socialist left and their reaction to the northern conflict. Additionally, the best reading of Harris and his works is given by the many toes he trampled on in his 50-year long career.
Harris’s egress in many ways typifies a changing of the guard among Irish liberalism. As the political duopoly ruling the State approaches exhaustion with multiple crises, and a SF-Left coalition beckoning the epoch inaugurated by the Belfast Agreement is coming to an end, and so with it comes the swansong for the caste that presided over it.
To be clear, there are genuine reasons to hold moral objections to the Provisional IRA, and the certainly mafioso nature of Sinn Féin. I was fortunate to grow up in an era when guns were silent on the conflict, thus not faced with wrestling over the moral complexities spurred on by the conflict.
My point is that most of the anti-republican invective humoured by the mainstream, is performative and misses the mark as to what contemporary Sinn Féin actually is. Not the sectarian pyromaniacs of yore, but rather the metrosexual party of Mary Lou and Fintan Warfield, entirely committed to the globalist project as any other part of our political regime. In truth, Harris’s issue with republicanism stemmed with a wider distrust of the nationalist project and Fenian modus operandi.
For Irish liberalism, Harris made sense when the provisional movement presented a real and credible military threat to the State, and our journalistic caste needed someone to combat the nationalistic impulses of a yet unruly population. Now that Sinn Féin has become an effeminate caricature of itself, his services are no longer required.
In many respects Harris’s hackneyed online ramblings symbolise the intellectual fatigue facing the neoliberal center in Ireland. Faced with rising populism from the left, as well as nascent right, it retreats into a cocoon of anti-republican paranoia, the same paranoia that helped maintain control over the State for decades previous.
As much as I genuinely came to loathe his pathological hatred of all things green, white and orange, including those of us on the nativist right, I fear for the vacuum left in his wake. Better a grizzled journalistic recursive occupying the Sunday Independent pages than just another Una Mullaly, Carl Kinsella or Sorcha Pollak instructing us in ever zanier progressive dogma.
From John Waters to George Hook, to even Kevin Myers and Eamon Dunphy, the older voices of mainstream Irish journalism have gradually been phased out. Rushing into the void is a new breed of twitter hacktivist, living and dying by the sugar rushes of reckless liberal policies.
Whereas before the publishing giants of INM and Tara Street pushed anti-republican and anglophile writers, they now promote those who desire nothing short than the total dissolution of Irish nationality under the weight of liberalism and demographic change. However this new crop of subversives do so with far less acumen than the previous generation.
In comparative journalistic terms, Harris was a rockstar who partied with Marlon Brando and crossed swords with paramilitaries in his writings. Can the same be said of Sorcha Pollak and the generation of regime hacks that come in his wake?
For the first time in a generation we are witnessing a real shuffling of the political deck in the 26 counties. Fianna Fáil is inching towards oblivion, and a post-provisional Sinn Féin looks set to cross the rubicon into power and try to breathe life into a failing state right at the point a genuine opposition is emerging from the political right.
Harris, like the political regime he defended, was a busted flush in the decade after the Crash, waiting to be subsumed by a more progressive wave embodied by Sinn Féin and friends. To his credit the next spate of regime journalists will only have a fraction of his snarling panache.