Thursday, 26 June 2014

Militant Manx Separatists? Fo Halloo and FSFO

An anti-immigration cartoon from 1992. The Cowley-Groves estate agency is mentioned on the blurb. Offices belonging to the agency had been attacked by Manx nationalists
The sleepy island nation of Mann (Pop 80,000) is not somewhere you would expect to find people willing to carry out violent actions in favour of political independence. 

A Crown Dependency of Britain, the island has its own parliament and a high degree of autonomy. It is not part of the United Kingdom or the European Union, however since the late 1960s small groups of young people have launched sporadic episodes of politically-motivated arson and vandalism. Much of the violence has also been directed at property speculators.

The island's popularity as a tourist destination and as a retirement spot means a housing bubble has pushed house prices beyond the reach of most local people. It has also resulted in a dramatic demographic change with those born outside of the Isle of Man outnumbering native born Manx. The island is also considered a tax haven with no inheritance tax, capital gains tax, wealth tax or stamp duty while the top rate of income tax is a mere 20%.

Rumours that an underground organisation was being formed seemed confirmed in 1966 when a colour party of Manx nationalists took part in the 50thanniversary commemoration for the Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland, alongside members of the Free Wales Army and the Irish Republican Army. This was followed by various acts of vandalism throughout the Isle which targeted politicians or public figures who were seen as too sympathetic to the British

In February 1973 a previous unknown group called Fo Halloo (Underground) threatened to carry out acts of sabotage and arson across the island.

A month later a £40,000 show bungalow was firebombed. A short time later £10,000 worth of damage was caused to another holiday home in an arson attack. These incidents provoked Manx nationalist party Mec Vannin to write to the Queen of England calling on her to suspend the local Parliament and hold a referendum on complete independence. The petition was signed by hundreds of islanders and part of it read:

"A malady besets this land. Perhaps the most disturbing point of this sickness is the attitude of the general public to the incidents. When normally respectful matrons rejoice in total destruction by fire... something must indeed be amiss."

In a statement issued on 4 June, Fo Halloo outlined its Marxist and separatist credentials:

As Tynwald Day approaches, Manxmen would do well to consider whether this ceremony any longer has any significance, when our claims to independence and national integrity have been reduced to mere pretence. Debased by successive governments, it remains today as little more than a commercialised tourist attraction, with Tynwald's puppets acting out the characters. A day of national bondage, when Manxmen meet, not to celebrate their independence, but to pay homage to the British Crown and the almighty pound! The government's policy of selling the island to the highest bidder has given financial control of Mann to a small band of capitlist manipulators, who invariably place profit before people. Our only natural resource, the land, is rapidly falling under complete non-Manx control. Manxmen have been stripped of their pride and self-respect and forced to join the rat-race, chasing the proverbial 'quick-buck' as an only means of survival.

The Isle of Man has become a pawn in the game of international finance, with the full backing of the Manx Government! If this is allowed to continue, and if the number of immigrant tax-dodgers continues to spiral, then we can foresee only one eventuality... Full integration with the United Kingdom!

This would mean nothing to our present financial masters, as they will only move on to fresh pastures. But for the Isle of Man and genuine Manx people, such a move can only spell disaster.

Fo Halloo believes that the time has come for the Manxmen to fight back or forever hold their peace!

“We must fight the speculators; we must fight the developers; we must fight the manipulators; most of all we must fight the government. We must grasp every opportunity, however small, to prevent the ultimate takeover.

The Manx Cross is burning! Get off your knees now... Give Tynwald Day some meaning. The answer lies in your hands... Stop the sellout today!”

A smaller underground group called Irree-Magh (Insurrection) was also active at the time and called for “open rebellion to preserve our nation, heritage and country (or what's left of it)”.

In the summer of 1973 FH attempted to intimidate building speculators out of Mann. In one incident an effigy of Judah Binstock, a Paris based speculator who bought 2,000 acres of land on the island, was hanged and burned on Tynwald hill. The group also began distributing a free news-sheet which carried allegations of scandal and corruption among Manx politicians and businesspeople. In June one news-sheet distributed by the group outlined alleged corruption among politicians within the House of Keys.

That same year three young men, suspected of being members of FH, were fined for erecting posters condemning the Manx government. The reason they were fined was because the posters did not bear the printer's name. On Manx Radio that day, one commentator described the three men as "the first Manxmen to be prosecuted for a patriotic act since the nineteenth century."
Later FH claimed responsibility for destroying £500 worth of hay belonging to Charles Kerruish, a member of the lower house of the Manx parliament. An FH "calling card" was also left at the scene. The reason for targeting Mr. Kerruish was because he was instrumental in prosecuting the three men for poster offences. A few weeks later John Bolton, chairman of the local government finance board, received a bullet in the post. The attached note read: "The next one will go through you."
 
At the Celtic League's annual conference in 1976, The Guardian attempted to link the organisation to the Fo Halloo campaign by saying "The youthful Manx Underground will be seeking fresh impetus from the more experienced Celtic campaigners amid a debate centering on the question of a Pan Celtic federation..". Such a comment prompted a response from the League and only after the threat of libel action did the paper print a correction. 

In 1987 an organisation known as FSFO (believed to stand for 'Financial Sector Fuck Off') began a campaign of arson attacks directed against properties owned by English immigrants. There were numerous incidents of arson and property damage accompanied by a widespread graffiti campaign until November 1989 when three men were arrested and charged with carrying out an arson attack against three luxury dwellings near Tromode, causing almost £160,000 in damage as well as the firebombing of a partially built house in Glenvine. The men, who became known as Ny Troor Tromonde (The Tromonde Three) were described by the Manx media as "nationalist firebugs". Once in custody, the three men - Phil Gawne, Gregory Joughin & Chris Sheard - admitted responsibility for the campaign:

"We believe that it was necessary for someone to demonstrate the strength of feeling of the Manks people against fundamental social and cultural transformation which is taking place here. We could not stand by while the unique traditions and values which have grown up over the centuries were allowed to vanish overnight for the sake of short term economic gain, only to be replaced by a spiritually barren, fundamentally materialistic society. Economic policy should be a tool for satisfying basic human requirements of food, clothing, healthcare and housing. Over here, materialism has been elevated to the status of godhead. It now seems there is no higher goal than economic growth for growth's sake, regardless of consequences. At this altar the Manksness of Mann has been almost irredeemably sacrificed. Even the concept of a Manks nation has been tacitly abandoned in favour of an economic vision – Isle of Man PLC.

"We are Manks and felt compelled to protect our birthright and that of our offspirng – our right to be Manks and live in a society that is distinctly Manks; one which knows and respects its past and traditions and draws strength, direction and common purpose from this self-awareness. We are not against change or progress; only those changes which sever this continuity of past and present.

"We acted because we believe those in power have given up on the Manks people and abandoned them to the wind of market forces. They no longer believe that a revival of Manks can come from within ourselves, but have to be artificially grafted on from the outside. Some of the results are plain to see: An artificial scarcity of houses has been created by the uncontrolled inrush of wealthy outsiders, while Manks people are forced to scramble for the few houses left or emigrate.

"The houses which we damaged by fire were to us potent symbols of the new society and new wealth which is distorting Manks life. The homelessness, rising property prices which are beyond the reach of ordinary people, despoilation of the landscape and the development of a two-tier society without real roots in Mann, are all symbols of the malaise.

"Our protests were intended to signal this discontent in a manner which could not be ignored. We had no ulterior motives beyond protecting what is rightfully ours. We were not part of any nationalist conspiracy, nor were we promoting any political ambitions or pursuing personal grudges. We simply acted as three deeply concerned Manksmen in defence of our way of life.

"Some people will find it difficult to understand what drove three otherwise law abiding citizens to to the strong, illegal methods of protest we used. At the time we could see no other way of effectively influencing the course of events. People were already writing letters which were being ignored. The only people our decision makers seem to listen to are those who accept their utilitarian economic rationale and perception of the common good i.e. it's only possible to quibble with the details of what is going on, but not to question the underlying assumptions. We believe that the only way to break through the official veil of silence concerning the consequences of government economic and social policies, was to commit some newsworthy deed which would act as a focus for the discontent that many people were feeling but could not express. We accept that we may have gone too far, but on the other hand, it is only because we went that far, that the problem has been brought into the spotlight of public debate.

"Extreme care was taken at all times to ensure that the properties attacked were only partially constructed, so that no personal injury or damage to personal property would be caused to anybody. We checked each property before attack and were careful to choose only those houses that were set apart from occupied dwellings, so as to eliminate the possibility of fire spreading. No individuals have lost out financially as a result of our actions – only insurance companies.

"We were also aware that the insidious changes which are at work here, eradicating any meaningful notion of Manksness, are one and the same as the forces destroying native cultures and and their natural environments throughout the world. The only differences are of degree. The changes occurring here are superficially hidden and less dramatic than say, in the Amazon, but the engine of destruction is the same: a view that holds creation of wealth via the pursuit of open-ended economic growth, as the highest goal of the individual and of society, whatever the consequences in terms of traditional communities and their historic connection with their own land.

"Therefore the Manx Government's economic and social policies appeared to us to be doubly immoral by gratuitously promoting the over-consumption of resources here, so that our standard of living may exceed that of the UK and eventually match that of Switzerland, which are fuelling existing inequalities between the rich countries of the northern hemisphere, and contributing to the exploitation of many third world economies.

"At the same time, the new so-called "prosperity" is a betrayal of the Manks people, in that it undermines and devalues the Manks ways of thinking about the world and approaches to life as "traa di liooar" (backward) and only of use as an attraction for tourists. The consequences of such policies are market forces, with very little let or hindrance are allowed to determine who lives here, who owns the land (the real wealth and foundation of any nation) and who runs the government, i.e. Change being promoted without regard for continuity of people, culture or tradition, instead of change based on those resources; change adding to and enriching Manks identity rather than supplanting it."
 
On the 20th of March 1989 Joughin and Shear were each sentenced to two years in prison while Gawne received a sixteen month sentence. A support group named Caarjyn Ny Troor (Friends of the Three) was immediately established by supporters who publicised the aims of the three men and raised funds for their dependents. Gawne was released after serving 10 months of his sentence while the other two men were refused parole. By March 1990 all three men were released. A ceilidh was held to celebrate the event and FSFO car-stickers and badges became the must-have Manx nationalist accessory.

In 2003 former FSFO prisoner Philip Gawne put himself forward to contest a by-election for a seat in the House of Keys for the Rushen constituency in south Mann. The election was a tightly fought contest but Mr. Gawne emerged victorious, topping the poll with an impressive 1,177 votes, more than one hundred ahead of his nearest rival and well ahead of the other two candidates. The election was a major victory for Manx nationalists and language activists. Gawne had been deeply involved in the Manx language movement and was key to the foundation of Bunscoil Ghaelgagh in 2001, a primary school which taught solely through the Manx language. Gawne would eventually go on to serve as Minister for Agriculture.


References:
  •   Celtic Dawn: The Dream of Celtic Unity, Peter Berresford Ellis (1993)
  •   A Nation's Station – The Story of Manx Radio 1964 – 2004, Derek Winterbottom, (2004)
  •   A New History of the Isle of Man – The Modern Period 1830-1999 Vol 5, John Belcham
  •   The Celtic Revolution: A Study in Anti-Imperialism, Peter Berresford Ellis (1985) 
  •   CARN: A Link Between the Celtic Nations, Celtic League, (Magazine)
  •  The People Speak: Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport, Firth & Arnove (2013)

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