Article originally published in Magill in 2002
The full story of the links between Youth Defence and European fascism has never been told. Until now. A special Magill report. By Scott Millar
The images provided the most surprising twist to the Nice referendum campaign. Martial music boomed out in a hall built by the Nazi regime and home to the first meetings of the Hitler Youth. A line of brown-shirted flag-bearers marched to the stage of the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party, or NPD) rally in Passau in May 2000.
Near the front of the hall, Justin Barrett, the diminutive Longford-based representative of the Youth Defence organisation, took his seat among the 30 or so “honoured guests”. Included in their number, according to the official NPD newspaper, were some of the leading lights of the extreme far- right in Europe ‹ neo-fascist icon Florentine Rost van Tonningen from the Netherlands, Udo Voigt, leader of the NPD, and Derek Holland of the International Third Position, listed as the second delegate representing Ireland.
According to Barrett, his lack of language skills prevented him from understanding the bile of racial hate and odes to the former glories of European fascism that pass for political discourse at such gatherings.
However, this was not the only such meeting which Barrett attended. He has confirmed two other engagements to “discuss the abortion issue” at similar meetings in Germany. He continues to insist that he was unaware of the NPD¹s political beliefs, and says he will accept no further invitations from them.
Details of appearances by Barrett at meetings of the extremist Forza Nuova movement in Italy over recent years have also emerged. A Forza Nuova website refers to Barrett’s attendance at conferences in Milan and Bologna. Present at many FN rallies, and a speaker at Passau, was Roberto Fiore, the dapperly-dressed leader of Forza Nuova, and de facto leader of the International Third Position fascist network.
Once convicted of membership of the political wing of a group implicated in one of the worst acts of terrorism the continent has ever seen, Fiore has been the lynchpin that has brought together European neo-fascism for the past two decades.
What brought Irish moral crusaders like Barrett and his comrades into such company?
The militant anti-abortion group Youth Defence, which provided a core of political activists to the recent “No to Nice” campaign, emerged from the controversy surrounding the X case in early 1992. According to members’ accounts, the organisation’s genesis can be traced to a phone call from a then 20-year-old Niamh Nic Mhathuna to the Fr Michael Cleary radio show in February 1992. The young woman was so enraged by the state allowing the 14-year-old girl at the centre of the X case to travel for an abortion that she phoned the show demanding a further tightening of the abortion laws.
With the help of numerous broadcasts on Fr Cleary’s show, the first of a number of mass protests was organised outside the Dail. According to Youth Defence’s propaganda, it was in this way that “the crusade to bring Ireland’s youth back to the faith of their fathers” began.
The group’s leadership was based around Niamh Nic Mhathuna, her then fiance Peter Scully, her mother Una, and Maurice Colgan. Barrett at this time was on the periphery of the leadership, largely because he lived outside Dublin, where the group was predominantly based.
According to historian Brian Hanley, Youth Defence can be placed in the context of right-wing movements on the fringes of Irish nationalism that have been evident for generations.
“There is a militant Catholic activist tradition stretching back to the 1920s,” he says. “Groups such as An Rioghacht (Catholic Action) and Maria Duce, which was particularly active in the 1950s, combined a fundamentalist approach to Catholic social teaching with often-violent street activity. In the 1930s they were particularly influenced by Salazar’s Portugal and fascist Italy. Later, Franco’s Spain was a source of inspiration.”
The group soon provoked the ire of liberal opponents (an Irish Times editorial drew a comparison with Hitler Youth), traditional pro- life groups and most of the Church establishment, who attempted to distance themselves from Youth Defence’s activities.
A Hot Press exposé in December 1992 made clear that even at this early stage some members felt the attraction of European fascism. At that time, a member of the group was quoted as saying that Franco made the mistake of being “too soft on the liberals” and asserted that the Dail should be replaced by “a Supreme National Council”.
A former member of Youth Defence interviewed by Magill felt that, although such views might have developed “due to the leadership’s abhorrence of liberal values, the only concern of the mainly teenage membership was abortion.”
Niamh Nic Mhathuna, who has held the position of chairwoman of Youth Defence throughout its existence, would, however, seem to have been developing wider visions of the movement’s cause. Her speeches to Youth Defence members at meetings in a room above the Pipers House pub on Dublin’s Thomas Street were wont to begin with sentiments like, “In the past there were Irish ways for Irish people”, before going on to expound the virtues of militant Catholic nationalism.
Justin Barrett seems to have first become involved in Youth Defence’s activities during the 1992 Mastricht referendum; he distributed the group’s leaflets in Athlone, where he was then a student.
Youth Defence has always set its face against greater European integration, sharing with right-wing elements in continental Europe a hatred of the supposedly socialist and liberal aspects of the EU. Barrett did not restrict himself to merely handing out leaflets that year.
The then 21-year-old also ran for an elected position in the Union of Students of Ireland. A political opponent of the time told Magill that he was somewhat disturbed by Barrett’s rigid conservatism, which seemed to take its lead from American Christian fundamentalists.
The source of the funding for Youth Defence’s political campaigns has always been a controversial issue. The organisation claims that the vast majority of its funding is raised through advertisements in Catholic newspapers. In an interview published in the Sunday Business Post on 11 August this year (2002), Barrett stated, ‘Youth Defence receives money from all around the world, but not a huge amount, would we miss foreign money? The bottom line is that we would not.”
The International Third Position
Some of this funding may have come from the European far right as early as 1993. Then, an article appeared in Candour that purported to be written by a Youth Defence member. Candour was founded by AK Chesterton, who also founded the British National Front, to espouse his agenda. It is now supportive of the extreme right International Third Position.
A “Cliona Ni Mhurchu” authored the 1993 article on behalf of the “Dublin-based Youth Defence League”. It not only outlines the development of Youth Defence but also ends with a request for financial aid.
The attitudes expressed in the article would have fitted neatly into the apocalyptic visions of the publication’s readership: “Led astray by the constant saturation of liberal and socialist propaganda in the media, through modern ‘culture’ and even within the Church, we hope by means of this social struggle for the life of Ireland to be able to bring back her young to the Faith of our Fathers,” the article stated.
“We are at a critical stage in the history of the world and our struggle, spiritually and socially, is merely a reflection of a higher struggle, the supernatural combat unleashed by Satan upon God and His Order. It is a long war that seems to be coming to its most crucial stage.”
The two-page article ends with an “appeal to anyone reading this to please give us moral, financial and spiritual help in our struggle for the soul of Ireland.” This is followed by a phone number and address.
The ITP’s moral support for Youth Defence is obvious, the group’s internet publication, Final Conflict, has carried several articles supporting the Irish organisation.
The ITP itself had developed out of a split in the British National Front in the late 1980s, though the organisation was originally the brainchild of the Italian exile and future leader of the Forza Nuova, Roberto Fiore.
Fiore had gone to England after the Bologna railway station bombing of 1980, in which 85 people were killed when a device exploded in the station’s waiting room. In 1985 he was found guilty in absentia of membership of the political wing – the Terza Posizione (Third Position)- of Armed Revolutionary Nuclei, a terrorist group implicated in the atrocity.
The ITP was also the initial training ground for a number of future notables of the UK far right, including Nick Griffin (now leader of the British National Party) and Derek Holland.
According to Gerry Gable, publisher of Searchlight magazine and an expert on the activities of the ITP, “the organisation formed around a cohort of university-educated members of the National Front who called themselves the Political Soldiers, after a pamphlet of the same name written by Holland.
Fiore and Holland developed beliefs which involved a form of what they call ultra-Catholicism. This led to a further split in 1990, which saw Griffin leave to join the British National Party and Patrick Harrington form the Third Way, whose Ulster branch is known as Ulster Nation.
“The ITP claims to present a third way between capitalism and communism, but in any objective sense is completely fascist in its outlook,” says Gerry Gable.
In the mid-90s, the ITP began further development of its international links. It is not known whether it was members of Youth Defence or the ITP who initially attempted to make contact between the two groups.
However, connections may have been cemented by some members of Youth Defence’s involvement with the Catholic sect, the Society of Saint Pius X. Holland is a communicant of the sect and the ITP is supportive of it. It was at one of the group’s churches in Ireland that James Kopp, the pro-lifer accused of murdering an American abortion doctor, worshipped while on the run from the US authorities in Europe.
Derek Holland, who is believed to have based himself in Ireland from around 1997, has been in regular contact with the German NPD since 1996.
So too, it would seem, has Youth Defence. The NPD’s deputy leader, Holger Apfel, told the Irish Times that, “We have been in contact with his [Barrett¹s] group since 1996. We are friendly with his Youth Defence organisation.”
Sascha Rossmuller, leader of the NPD’s youth wing, told the same newspaper that he considered Youth Defence “an important part of our international network.”
Barrett also attended events in Italy hosted by Forza Nuova, which was established by Fiore on his return to Italy in 1997.
Asked if he had ever met Fiore, Barrett has stated that “if he is the leader of that party [Forza Nuova] then I suppose I must have.” He has denied any knowledge of the fascist nature of Forza Nuova. Fiore’s fascism is well known. Forza Nuova members have also been implicated in a number of violent incidents, including the bombing of a left-wing Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto.
Contact with Forza Nuova would seem to not have been all one way. Reports in the Italian media in 2001 stated that 24-year-old Marco Gladi, Forza Nuova’s organiser in the Falconara-Ancora region, planned to visit Youth Defence in Ireland with a delegation of Forza Nuova students.
Abortion and the Extreme Right
Throughout Europe, extreme right-wing parties have attempted to push the abortion issue to the fore. The most militant of them often raise concerns about the maintenance of the white race in the face of foreign immigration.
A further ideologically-loaded assertion is that abortion has claimed more than six million lives and is carried out by a clique of Jewish doctors. The NPD and Forza Nuova are both stridently anti-abortion. In addition, right-wing elements in England were involved in the establishment of The Crusaders for the Unborn Child in 1997. This extreme anti-abortion group promised to “take the fight against abortion to the abortionists.”
The group picketed family planning centres and abortion clinics. One of its first actions was to picket the Irish embassy in London to protest at the treatment of Youth Defence by the Irish government.
The Crusaders’ attachment to the extreme right was both overt, in Yorkshire a Crusaders’ organiser was also an activist in the local BNP, and covert. The Sunday Mirror exposed the group as a front organisation for the International Third Position in 2000.
Youth Defence has expanded its international network over time. The organisation took the grandiose title ‘Youth Defence International’ in 1998. It has held three international conferences, two in Dublin’s RDS and one in Rome in August 2000. Anti-abortion activists from around the globe were invited, including those of new Youth Defence groups organised in Spain and Italy.
Also present were members of the militant Precious Life organisation based in Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose establishment was both inspired and partly-funded by Youth Defence.
The head of Precious Life Northern Ireland, Bernadette Smyth, expressed some intriguing views on abortion to the Glasgow Herald in November 1999. She spoke of “the Holocaust that has been happening since 1967” and, on the subject of abortion in the US, asked rhetorically, “You know who runs the American abortion industry? The Mafia and the Jews!”
Precious Life’s Scottish branch was aided by approximately stg£50,000 from Youth Defence in 1999. The group’s leader, Jim Dowson, and Niamh Nic Mhathuna led joint pickets which brought about the closure of the Edinburgh Brook advisory clinic. The Youth Defence leadership expressed shock when the Scottish media then revealed that Dowson had a past awash with far-right, loyalist connections.
Dowson said in one interview: “Youth Defence is our sister group, no, our mother group. That’s a better word.”
The National Way Forward
The issue which has most recently brought the ideological links between Youth Defence and the extreme right into the spotlight is the strange case of Justin Barrett’s elusive book. Entitled The National Way Forward, it seems to have been reviewed mainly on extreme right-wing websites.
The most authorative of these is on the site of the Ulster Nation magazine run by ex-Belfast National Front member David Kerr. Kerr is another former ‘Political Soldier’ and is now a supporter of the Third Way, which split from the ITP in 1990. The review, by Greg Cumming, maintains that the book is “an interesting read”. His review focuses on the fact that the book is informed by theories “which are common to nationalists throughout Europe, and advances ‘third positionist’ concepts of opposition to international finance, capitalism and atheistic Marxism, Ireland¹s EU membership and liberalism in the guise of homosexuality, abortion, divorce and naked materialism. He also examines the links between the New York financial empire and the Soviet revolution”.
The only other site where a review of the book seems to have appeared (and from where it could also be ordered) is that of the ITP’s Final Conflict magazine.
When Final Conflict was asked recently to supply a copy, the people behind the website stated that the main distributor had requested sales to be postponed until after the Nice Referendum. The National Way Forward’s only distributor is thought to be Barrett himself. He maintains he has no contact with the ITP, although he has since requested the removal of the book from their site.
Barrett has so far not relaunched the book, despite having promised to do so in an interview with RTE shortly before the Nice Referendum. This reporter is still waiting for his copy of the tome, which was requested from Barrett over two months ago.
When questioned about the fact that it seemed to be only sites run by ex-members of the British National Front which drew favourable attention to the book, Barrett’s response was simple, if vague. It had, he said, “gotten into the strangest of hands.”