Socialist Councillor voted against abortion and for police special powers.
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SHOULD A SOCIALIST ELECTED OFFICIAL CAMPAIGN AGAINST ABORTION
AND FOR GIVING THE COPS SPECIAL POWERS?
By Sean McPherson
Johnny McLaughlin is an elected City Council member in Omagh,
Northern Ireland. He ran for re-election two years ago as a
Socialist Party candidate. The Socialist Party of Northern
Ireland is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers
Johnny McLaughlin, as a council member voted in favour of anti
abortion legislation. Later, he spoke to the bourgeois media
and compared abortion to the “killing fields” and expressed
political positions on the issue very similar to those of the
right wing fundamentalists in the US.
Johnny McLaughlin also voted as a council member to grant
special powers to the local police to apprehend without
sufficient evidence a group of alleged nationalist terrorists
who bombed a market in his town of Omagh. While the terrorist
attack was despicable, the vote of a socialist councillor to
extend special powers to the police that could then be used
against any legitimate and non-terrorist group is unthinkable.
The Socialist Party of Northern Ireland and the leadership of
the CWI (co-thinkers of Socialist Alternative in the US) covered
up the actions of Johnny McLaughlin and never published any
public document or article distancing itself from the positions
of THEIR only elected official. They rather tried to negotiate
with him to maintain silence about certain positions.
Eventually, Johnny McLaughlin left the Socialist Party. But
even after he left the organization, the SP remained silent.
Here is a letter written by the main leader of the SP in
Northern Ireland, Petter Hadden, explaining the opportunist line
the SP took to try to hide these events.
The notes and footnotes in the letter were added by us to
clarify certain events and names mentioned in the letter. The
purpose of this material is, once again, to raise the issue that
the socialist left will be rebuilt only through principled
stands and public debates of both its great ideas and its
failures. We cannot, and should not, operate in the same way
than the ruling class parties, hiding the truth or granting
privileges to our elected officials.
LETTER FROM PETER HADDEN (Annotated) (1)
“It is true that when an anti abortion motion was presented to
Omagh Council Johnny McLaughlin - along with all the other
councillors - supported it.
“The Socialist Party leadership in Northern Ireland were made
aware of and discussed this in November, not long before the IEC
(2). The issue was also discussed at a National Executive
Committee meeting and it was agreed to organise a discussion
with Johnny to register the Party position on abortion and to
try to reach an agreement on how he, as a public representative,
should deal with the issue if it comes up again.
“The discussion was held with Johnny before Christmas. This was
the first time anyone had outlined to him the position of the
party on abortion. Johnny remains opposed to abortion and as an
individual member of the party he has every right to hold this
opinion and to argue for it within the party structures.
“When the point was made that as a public representative he had
a responsibility to represent the party views rather than his
own he accepted this. Asked what he would have done had he been
aware of the party's position on abortion he stated that he
would have put the position or perhaps abstained. (3)
“Our general position is that public representative should at
all times put the party position. But as with every general
approach how it is applied will depend on the particular
“Abortion, while an important issue, is not a make or break
question for our party.
“To say this in no way implies a softening of our attitude. We
firmly support a women's right to choose, and link this with
demands for adequate information, advice on contraception,
family planning and for adequate support for single parents
including childcare, play school and nursery facilities without
which single women, especially young women do not have the right
to choose, in this case to make the choice not to have an
“In the north, despite a probable shift of attitudes among young
people and in the larger urban centres, it remains a fact that
among the working class, protestant and catholic, there is still
“We have never insisted on support for a pro-choice position as
a condition of membership of our party. It is not something that
would normally be raised in discussions with prospective
members; someone could be in the party for quite some time
before the issue would come up; and it has never been included
in the What We Stand For column in the paper. We have had and
still have comrades who are extremely active and play a key role
in building the party who remain opposed to abortion… (4)
“… [S]ome time ago a motion was moved by the DUP (5) on Omagh
Council asking that the police be given the powers they need to
allow them to arrest the Omagh bombers. The argument was that
the police knew the identity of the bombers but could not amass
the evidence to convict them.
“Our position would of course be to oppose this measure. Special
powers of this character, although brought in for a single
purpose, tend to be used more widely and are a threat to the
labour movement in the longer run.
“However this position, while correct, would have been difficult
to argue in a small town still traumatised by the after effects
of the single worst atrocity of the troubles and with the
families of the bereaved demanding that the bombers be brought
to “justice”. (6)
“An indication of the mood in the town and the pressure on the
councillors is the fact that the motion was not only passed, but
that even Sinn Fein (7) did not oppose it, rather they
“Johnny voted for the motion but in his speech warned that there
should be no miscarriages of justice, no Birmingham 6s, as a
result of new police powers. We think he should have made these
points, and made clear his opposition to the bombers but then
voted against the motion. Had he done so he would have been
severely criticised, his views would have been caricatured as
being soft on the bombers. While it was incorrect, it is not
hard to understand why he voted the way he did. It is easy from
the distance of Glasgow or Dundee to be “shocked” that a
Socialist Party councillor should “support repressive
legislation”. The matter is not so straightforward in a small
town still reverberating from the carnage perpetrated on its
main street. (8)
“Following this vote members of the EC discussed with Johnny and
he accepted that he should have opposed the motion.
Unfortunately by the time this discussion had taken place a
letter had already appeared in the local press from the comrade
opposed to Johnny’s membership effectively distancing the party
from his vote. (9)This had been done without reference to Johnny
or the EC who would have been completely opposed to publicly
advertising a division in the party in this way. (10)
“These points have been made the subject of controversy by a few
comrades in Ireland for almost three years. A debate of sorts
has taken place but, until now not an adequate debate in the
open forums of the party. (11) Now the issue has been spread to
Scotland and will no doubt be spread beyond.
“It is for this reason, and because the present intolerable
situation in Omagh cannot be allowed to continue, that our EC
has decided to deal with the issues in some detail in this
statement. We hope that this will result in an open debate which
will bring the matter to a resolution.” (12)
(1) Peter Hadden is the main leader of the SP of Northern Ireland, a member of the IEC – International Executive Committee – of the CWI.
(2) Refers to the IEC of the CWI. The issue however was
NEVER discussed by the IEC which was never informed of the
problems in Northern Ireland.
(3) As an elected official, in a country such as Northern
Ireland where abortion is a big issue, he was not aware of the
party’s position on the issue?
(4) In the last four years was an increasingly strong pro
abortion movement that obtained in the last year a terrific
victory by approving a pro-abortion referendum for the first
time in Ireland’s history. Minimizing the issue of abortion is
clearly misleading by any so-called socialist. Stating that
support for abortion is not a requirement for membership in a
socialist organization is unthinkable for socialists.
(5) DUP = right wing party in Northern Ireland.
(6) In other words, socialists in the US should have
supported the Patriot Act?
(7) Sinn Fein, the legal party linked to the IRA in
Ireland. They abstained, bad enough, but certainly not as bad
as voting for it.
(8) Here the letter refers to “Glasgow” and “Dundee”, cities
in Scotland, because were Scottish socialists the first to
criticize the Irish socialists for the vote of its elected
(9) Here, they refer to a rank and file member of the party
that wrote a letter to the media criticizing the elected
official for his positions. This member was attacked and
ostracized in the party after his actions, which were correct in
(10) In other words: they preferred the unity of the party
above the principles of the party. But this did not work as the
elected official continued his shift to the right and abandoned
the party anyway. The SP was left without its principles and
without its elected official.
(11) Here they admitted that no democratic discussion took
place in the organization.
(12) Such a debate never took place.