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Interview:Barry McColgan, National Organiser, Ógra Shinn Féin

category national | miscellaneous | other press author Friday September 08, 2006 20:40author by The Lark - Ógra Shinn Féinauthor email osfnational at yahoo dot ieauthor address Ógra Shinn Féin, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin Report this post to the editors

'We can overcome anything in our path'

Recently appointed Ógra Shinn Féin National Organiser Barry McColgan talks to ELLA O'DWYER about himself, his political involvement to date and his plans for Ógra.

Barry McColgan
Barry McColgan

At the age of 15 Barry McColgan immersed himself in the Ego drugs awareness project, out of which evolved his involvement in the Ógra.

"I struck up contacts through the Ego project and another Omagh lad asked me to help him establish Ógra locally."

In 2001, at 16 Barry joined Ógra and within a year he was local organiser of a very active Ógra cumann in West Tyrone. The West Tyrone cumann saw the importance of Ógra activity at local level, as opposed to confining activity and focus within the universities and colleges.

"College cumainn are integral to developments within the organisation on many levels, particularly recruitment, but the real backbone of the organisation is at local level. While we recruit and skill people in the colleges, we strongly encourage the members to take their talents and commitment back into the community."

It was against the backdrop of his role in the local Ógra cumann that he was selected to become the Six-County (subsequently Uladh) organiser.

"I was elected local organiser for West Tyrone in 2002 and quickly our cumann established itself as the most active and probably the strongest local cumann throughout the country."

They campaigned around demilitarisation, Iraq and the broad anti-imperialist campaign. They also campaigned for the closure of the British military barracks in Omagh.

McColgan commended the organisational work of his predecessor as national organiser, Micky Bravender, who made a strong contribution to the development and consolidation of Ógra structures at cuige and national levels.

In January 2004, McColgan became Six-County organiser and was the driving force behind the development of the Ógra in the region, paving the way towards his current role as national organiser.

One of his priorities is the development of a strong anti-imperialist mobilisation in this country, one that particularly profiles the occupation of Ireland.

"One of our strategic objectives is to build a broad anti-imperialist front in Ireland but that hasn't been successful. Many of the left-wing groups who work on the anti-imperialist front actually forget about Ireland."

McColgan also addresses social and economic injustice and the aspiration to the socialist republic. "We need an economic system that is equality-based rather than having profit at its core."

He went on to identify social ills like suicide as symptoms of the current profit-centred economy in Ireland. "Suicide is one of the worst negatives of living in a capitalist state."

Suicide prevention has been one of the main priorities for the Ógra over recent years and the organisation is calling for an all-Ireland approach to the problem. By way of a culmination to their suicide awareness campaign, the Ógra plan to hand a petition to Mary Harney, Minister for Health and Children, on 21 October in Dublin.

Another feature of the Ógra's work is engagement with unionist youth, a task that, though difficult at times, also gets results. In fact, some young unionists have signed the suicide prevention petition. There is a common awareness that, as McColgan puts it: "Suicide knows no boundaries and crosses all divides."

Barry studied economics and history for three years in Queen's University, only leaving to undertake his Ógra work full-time.

While membership of Ógra extends into thousands, Barry estimates that the core activists number in the region of 300, approximately 60 of whom are female - the aim is to turn these 300 into 3,000 within five years. On the prominence of women within the organisation, he pointed out that his replacement as Six-County organiser is a woman, Andrea O'Kane.

Ógra members also become Sinn Féin members and for Barry one of the functions of the Ógra is to equip young people with the necessary skills to pursue political activism while cultivating confidence. This, he said, is one of the reasons why Ógra membership extends to 29 years of age.

"I remember attending one of my first Sinn Féin meetings. The room was full of Ógra activists and some ex-prisoners, people who had been through the war. I was very nervous when I spoke. I wasn't confident. When we had Ógra meetings we were amongst peers and could develop confidence."

Barry's position is a full-time one and the Ógra is calling for two additional full-time posts: a national development officer and a college co-ordinator. While such roles would initially need to be funded by the party, he believes that in due course the Ógra can secure financial sustainability its own right.

"Part of our five-year plan is to establish ourselves as a self-sufficient body financially. We have a number of finance initiatives. We plan to raise funds through draws, youth festivals, T-shirts and sales from the planned revival of The Spark magazine and income from sales of the recent publication, Awaiting the Lark, and similar ventures."

Barry McColgan takes inspiration from the 1981 Hunger Strikers.

"Sometimes, if motivation runs a bit low or you feel a bit deflated, you think of the likes of Francis Hughes who, when on hunger strike, said that though he didn't have his Armalite with him, he could still use his body. You can always find a strategy even when there seems to be no hope at all. You can find all the inspiration you want in terms of activism or strategy from the era of the Hunger Strike."

Barry McColgan is a vibrant young man who enjoys life. Two of his favourite films are, perhaps not surprisingly, Braveheart and The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

Does he enjoy his work? "Of course I do. I love it. Who wouldn't want to be working full-time on a project they feel so passionately about?" By way of closure to his personal contribution in the Ógra publication, Awaiting the Lark, Barry McColgan wrote:

"Whatever problems we encounter truly are wee buns. With the Hunger Strikers in our hearts and minds we can overcome anything in our path.

"We are the generation who will see the rising of the moon - onwards to the socialist republic."

Related Link: http://www.osf.pro.ie
author by Ken Ringpublication date Sat Sep 09, 2006 16:32author email kennethring at webtv dot netReport this post to the editors

Barry (or any other person as equally driven) is needed here in the USA to save us from what we have become....Saddam Hussein, Junior, et al

author by Left...outsidepublication date Sat Sep 09, 2006 18:59Report this post to the editors

Hey Barry,congrats to you and yours especially on the anti war/Imperialist campaigns.Any activities in Sligo/lLeitrim.?......The senior members of the Party here,McManus and Co,seem to go out of their way to welcome pro war people like Mike Bloomberg,to Ireland and refuse to engage with anti war campaigners.Whats their agenda??

author by Donnchadhpublication date Sat Sep 09, 2006 22:00Report this post to the editors

"Sometimes, if motivation runs a bit low or you feel a bit deflated, you think of the likes of Francis Hughes who, when on hunger strike, said that though he didn't have his Armalite with him, he could still use his body. You can always find a strategy even when there seems to be no hope at all. You can find all the inspiration you want in terms of activism or strategy from the era of the Hunger Strike."

You dont have to look back in time to be inspired by brave republicans faoi glas ag gallaibh. They are fighting the same fight in Maghaberry today.

author by Lisa Murphy - Meathpublication date Wed Sep 20, 2006 22:23Report this post to the editors

Great interview, Barry definately seems to be a very driven and politicised young activist. I agree with his analysis that the present anti Imperialist network that currently exists in ireland negates challenging the occupation of Ireland.

Hope that in the time ahead ÓSF can actively challenge this. SF certinely don't seem to be doing much on this front, although I thought that Adams visit to the Middle East was a welcome move, especially HAMAS referring to him and SF being 'Liberators and Freedom Fighters.'

Great to see - from their website it seems that alot of good work has been done since he has become National Organiser.

author by Not againpublication date Wed Sep 20, 2006 22:56Report this post to the editors

At this stage OSF are like a broken record. What's new in this - just a repetition of what has been doled out over the past six months including hyping the hunger strikes.

author by Helena Gibson - Downpublication date Thu Sep 21, 2006 13:49Report this post to the editors

Ógra Shinn Féin are a very active and inspiring youth movement, while others are commenting on this site, they seem to be pursuing their views vith vigour.

And in terms of their pics, we'll thats the beauty of the internet, no censorship and all that, why phil, are you in favour of censorship.

The Left, Republicans, Progressives and environmentalists should be building unity and comradeship, not sniping and being negarive against another.

Although I think that ÓSF rarely criticise others, but are often the butt of abuse......

Which maybe says something about how relevant they are, I mean you always know your doing something right when people are that agitated that they must respond.

On a final note, excellent interview by Barry McColgan, congratulations on your appointment.

Don't let the naysayers sway you Ógra, your doing great work.

author by crockpublication date Thu Sep 21, 2006 14:09Report this post to the editors

With the Hunger Strikers in our hearts and minds we can overcome anything in our path

jasus barry u would think you might remember the current prisoners ehh not some that were there b4 you were born, important as they were!

just dont go organising a parachute jump for suicide prevention..LOL or a walk followed by a nice big lunch for ye oild hungerstrikers

do you guys get paid by the british as well or is that only yer senior members>? thats public payments now not the spy monies stuff, those nice holiday homes in donegal

author by Ironicpublication date Thu Sep 21, 2006 15:17Report this post to the editors

Has anyone else noticed the irony about the two issues that OSF are pushing i.e. suicide prevention and the hungerstrikers (where ten individuals starved themselves to death).

Now, irrespective of the political motivations, the reality is that the hungerstrikers in effect committed suicide by refusing food.

Personally I am of the view that the OSF campaign on suicide prevention is all hype and no substance, but I seriously believe that it sends the wrong message to those who are in danger of committing suicide, for OSF to be holding up ten individuals, who starved themselves to death, as inspirational heroes.

author by Philpublication date Thu Sep 21, 2006 17:32Report this post to the editors

No I'm not in favour of censorship, Helena, but there's more to being an activist than taking photos of oneself.
I'm in no doubt that Ogra Shinn Fein are full of committed young people but I'm afraid that the butt of their abuse comes from their association with Sinn Fein which has dragged Republicanism down to the levels of the SDLP.
The 10 Hunger Strikers and countless other Volunteers died for what they believed to be a 32 County Socialist Republic and not a 6 County Paisley led Government.
Don't let the lie that this is a stepping stone to the goal of a United Ireland because De Valera sold that lie to Republicans in the past and once in power he not only forgot his promise but jailed and hanged former comrades.
But that won't happen today you think? Well think again because numerous times we have had Sinn Fein members calling for Republicans to be brought to justice by the State. Like the SDLP during the 70s and 80s they ignore the campaign for Political Status in Maghaberry. 10 Men died for this right and now they scorn those fighting for it today.
Don't get me wrong I don't support the actions of these so called Dissident Republicans because I learnt from the past that those at the top will get greedy for power and money and scuttle the ship. However they are Political Prisoners and are entitled to be treated as such.

Returning to censorship. Try and question or disagree with any decision of the leadership and see how long you last in Sinn Fein.

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