[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume Two


Open letter on repression in Northern Ireland

January 9 1943

Dear comrades,

The vicious police regime of Northern Ireland, the most reactionary government in the English speaking countries, has commenced a campaign of victimisation and repression against the Ulster section of Workers’ International League (Fourth International).

In conjunction with the Stalinists who have acted as informers and police agents, the capitalists in Ulster have started to drive our comrades out of their jobs. One of our local comrades was driven out of the shipyards at the beginning of November, and blacklisted by the Employers’ Federation. He is unable to obtain work despite the “shortage of skilled labour”.

On November 29th another of our comrades, Pat McKevitt was arrested and detained under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act[1]. After being held for a week without charge or trial he was escorted to the border and deported into Southern Ireland.

Comrade McKevitt, who was born in Dublin, is a plumber and was employed by Messrs. Harland and Wolff, shipbuilders at Belfast. He has a fine record of trade union militancy and is well known in Dublin where he was formerly a committee member of the Plumbers’, Glaziers’ and Domestic Engineers’ Union.

On the 3rd January, comrade Bob Armstrong, the leading member of our Irish section was arrested and detained under the same act. Although he is only 30 years old, comrade Armstrong has a record of more than 10 years activity in the British working class movement. Born in Glasgow he served his earliest years in the ILP Guild of Youth before joining the Communist Party in which he spent nearly 6 years. At the beginning of the Spanish civil war, he was one of the earliest members of the British Communist Party to join the International Brigade in which he served with distinction. He left London in August 1936 and was in Spain until the middle of 1938. He was twice wounded in the civil war; left hospital for the front before he was discharged on the first occasion and was put in charge of the International Brigade records at Albacete after his second wound. When he returned to England, although he had already started to question the policy of the Stalinists in Spain he retained his party membership and toured the country as a leading speaker for International Brigade Dependents’ Aid Committee. He addressed mass meetings of workers from CP platforms.

As the result of his own political development, he broke from the British Communist Party along with five other members of the Islington branch of the London CP after they had tried to conduct a discussion inside the Party which was refused and blocked by the Stalinist bureaucrats. He, together with his comrades immediately drew the correct conclusions of experiences in the CP and entered the ranks of the Trotskyists. Since that time comrade Armstrong has been one of our most valuable comrades, placing his whole life and experience at the disposal of our movement.

Following his break with Stalinism, the CP, unable to attack his record in public, immediately conducted their usual whispering campaign of slander and lies to undermine his splendid record.

Although the (Special Powers) Act was introduced ostensibly to deal with the IRA, the labour movement in Northern Ireland has consistently fought it and explained to the workers that it would one day be directed against militant and revolutionaries of the workers’ movement.

None of our comrades in Belfast have at any time been members of the IRA, but are Marxists who carry out their activity with the traditional weapons of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, struggling against the petty bourgeois terrorist policy of the IRA and attempting to win the fearless youth of Ireland to the Marxist banner.

These comrades are married men with family obligations. The arrests, victimisation and deportation bring them face to face with actual starvation. Particularly in the case of comrade McKevitt who will receive no dole or financial assistance in Eire and will find it almost impossible to get work because of the widespread unemployment.

It is an urgent duty of all socialists and worker militants to immediately raise the question among our contacts, friends, in trade union and labour meetings.

Demand the release of Bob Armstrong.

Give and collect as much money as possible to keep these comrades and their families during this period. Such monies should be clearly marked, “Belfast Fund” and sent to the Treasurer at 61, Northdown Street, London, N1.

Yours fraternally,

E. Grant,

Secretary, WIL


[1] The Civil Authorities Act (commonly known as “Special Powers Act”) was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1922, establishing among other measures the internment without trial.