Faith almost always baffles those who do not share it. The self-belief of those who killed and died ‘for the cause’ is amazing, as well as horrifying
ARE we into the endgame now? No, not the coronaviris betokening the End of the World. This is about a United Ireland, to be or not to be, up ahead after a border poll or nothing of the sort.
There are people with a seemingly bottomless appetite for weighing up the pros and cons. Only a comparative few are in the polls business, which produces dramatically diverse odds. Although in the aftermath of every single poll, someone manages to weigh it without noting whether the hypothetical poll was to be right now, soon, in five years or farther away. And oh how events influence the results. We may still not know how Brexit will play out but it is plain that so far the effect is pro-unification. A sub-section of the populace is more invested in this game than others. They have been hanging on the prophecies of those they regard as leaders for at least 40 years now, maybe longer. These are republicans, of the Sinn Féin variety, whose most respected figures have been telling them since the 1980s that the big day is on its way.
Did the late Martin McGuinness believe his own words, when he addressed himself in particular to Ruairi Ó Brádaigh and those clustering round him ready to leave the hall and their comrades at the ard fhéis of 1986 with ‘Don’t go, my friends. We will lead you to the Republic’? Of course McGuinness believed himself. How else could he have gone on ordering those who followed him to keep on killing and dying? But then faith always baffles those who do not share it. The self-belief of those who killed and died ‘for the cause’ is amazing, as well as horrifying. As far as can be gathered from outside the circle, it has rarely had to do with assessment of armaments, tactics, the state of ‘the enemy’, much less informed judgment on opinion in the other part of the island, which would have to welcome turning its own state upside down.
Through those awful years when the IRA seemed not to have on Off button the authorised prophets were McGuinness and Gerry Adams. They re-jigged the forecast from time to time, depending on how well or badly they supposed they were doing, but until recent years the faith was rarely presented as anything other than total, unconditional. Except perhaps in the first years of the Troubles the promise was never ‘next year in Jerusalem’. As British governments scrambled to fathom what they were dealing with they made judgments on the hoof, for example admitting to themselves early on that they would not confront armed loyalist Paramilitaries in anything like the way they would tackle republicans. Not out of loyalty to kith and kin, but because the generals, as state papers confirmed much later, were adamant they could not fight on two fronts.
In the early 1970s, when London’s panic and disarray was evident, leading republicans (and some unionists) thought ‘the Brits’ were close to leaving. In 2000 Adams told supporters in New York ‘there is no reason why we cannot celebrate the 1916 Rising in the year 2016, in a free and United Ireland.’ In the Guardian seven years on, when an interviewer put it to him that he had said a United Ireland could be achievable by 2016 he replied: ‘Well I didn’t quite say that. A colleague of mine said that and then when I was asked the question I said: But if we don’t get it, don’t blame us’. In 2017 one of Sinn Féin’s sharpest critics noted that ‘a United Ireland by 2016 has now become a border poll by 2020’. Now that 2020 is two months old Mary Lou McDonald predicts a poll inside five years. But then who believes that official Britain under Boris Johnson is committed to maintain the Union? What republicans tell themselves may be neither here nor there.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Fionnuala O’Connor for the original story
Why republicans split 50 years ago this month witha walk-out at Sinn Féin’s ardfheis
A walk-out at the Sinn Féin ardfheis became front-page news in 1970 with the emergence of republicans owing allegiance to a new IRA “Provisional Council”.
The heated dispute at the party’s conference involved the “principle” of parliamentary abstentionism: refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the “partitionist” parliaments in Leinster House and Stormont. Sinn Féin representatives, if elected as abstentionists, were not allowed to participate in them.
However, the underlying ideological tension at the January ardfheis hinged on the Cold War: Western “freedom” versus Soviet-style “dictatorship”. The Provisionals accused the leadership – or “junta” – of trying to turn Sinn Féin into “another political party seeking votes at all costs” under the direction of Moscow-led communists.
Even though the party had no TDs, or MPs, Sinn Féin’s publicly-aired divisions were significant because the IRA had split. The IRA’s leadership stood accused of running its military capacity down to a point where it could not defend Belfast Catholics in August 1969. Seán Mac Stíofáin defined the Provisional IRA’s mission: to remove the British presence in the North and establish the Irish Republic by “force of arms”.
The delegates who walked out of the ardfheis were angry with the party leadership for attempting to overturn its position on abstentionism. Adherents of the physical-force tradition were disturbed at the leadership’s efforts to prioritise political struggle, thereby downplaying the IRA’s role. They feared participation in a National Liberation Front would result in a communist takeover of the republican movement.
With Cathal Goulding and Seán Garland in the driving seat, the IRA leadership in the 1960s attempted to steer republicans away from the militarist focus on partition – the Border in other words.
As part of this reassessment Goulding enlisted intellectuals such as Roy Johnston, who had been a member of the communist party in Britain. Significantly, republican “old faithfuls” believed that his cohort were communists first and foremost.
Republicans took up issues such as housing and civil liberties. And the civil rights campaign initially proved to be spectacularly successful in drawing international attention to Northern Ireland’s inbuilt sectarianism. Many left-wing Sinn Féin activists, more than happy to work with young communists in the Connolly Youth Movement, for example, were glad to see the back of traditionalists at the ardfheis. But most Belfast republicans, according to Gerry Adams, had turned against the IRA’s leaders following the August violence: they were “out of touch” with northern realities. Refused entry to the ardfheis in Dublin, Adams joined an anti-apartheid march instead.
The Provisionals soon made clear their hostility to Soviet-inspired communism. In February they launched their own publication, An Phoblacht, and listed the differences with the now-Official republican movement. These included recognising the Stormont, Dublin and Westminster parliaments; adopting socialism so “extreme” that it would result in dictatorship; and failing to provide the maximum possible defence for “our people” in the North.
An Phoblacht contended that before the split republican policymakers and “masterminds” included some who had joined from the communist party. Co-operating with communists in a National Liberation Front could only end in disaster: “We know that in other countries that have come under the control of organisations similar to these ‘radical groups’ totalitarian dictatorship has been the outcome. We have no reason to believe that the result would be any different in Ireland.’”
Traditionalist republicans perceived Marxist socialists – promoting an “alien ideology” – as having little in common with past revolutionary heroes. They did not see themselves as conservative on economic questions, but were suspicious of what they believed were political adventures and the then-fashionable language of world revolution. The first public opposition to the pre-split leadership had been expressed in July 1969 by a veteran Belfast republican, who claimed that “one is now expected to be more conversant with the thoughts of Chairman Mao than those of our dead Patriots”.
Traditionalist republicans found a platform in The Voice of the North, a paper bankrolled by a faction in the Fianna Fáil government. Belfast Provisionals – who served “neither Queen nor Commisar” – spelled out the dangers of the “alien ideology” for Irish republicanism. The pre-split leadership, they stated, had attempted to replace the programme of Wolfe Tone and James Connolly with “the foreign socialism of Marx and Mao”. If this had gone unchecked, their argument went, the “traditional” IRA would have been replaced by the “so-called National Liberation Movement, including Communist Party members”.
At its first ardfheis, Provisional Sinn Féin’s president, Ruairi Ó Brádaigh, said the party did not see a “Marxist Socialist Republic” as the solution to Ireland’s problems; it had rejected “a takeover bid by extreme Marxist elements last January”. Mac Stíofáin later spelled out the central difference between the two IRAs: “The Officials say unless you have mass involvement of the people you haven’t got a revolution. We say, the armed struggle comes first and then you politicise.” For Goulding, however, the republican movement had split over “the communist issue”.
Garland later addressed the allegation that left-wing republicanism constituted an “alien ideology”. Tone had been inspired by the French Revolution, he argued, and Irish revolutionaries should cherish internationalism. The cause of Ireland, as it were, was the cause of Vietnam, Palestine and South Africa: “If it is alien to recognise the common humanity of working people struggling for freedom everywhere in the world, then call us alien and be damned.”
The Official IRA had previously stated that it did not want to wage a military campaign against the British army at the expense of political struggle – it declared a ceasefire in May 1972. Its republican detractors had been proved right.
However, from the late 1970s, the Provisional movement became increasingly influenced by Adams, who emphasised that “armed struggle” had to be complemented by political activity. When hunger striker Bobby Sands was elected to the British parliament in 1981, the Provisionals decided to contest elections in the North. Sinn Féin, now the only party claiming this title, won 10 per cent of the vote in the 1982 Assembly election. Ironically for Ó Brádaigh – he had been displaced by Adams as president – the party reversed its position on abstentionism in 1986.
More irony followed when the Provisional IRA’s military operations came to an end in 1997. Sinn Féin had a non-abstentionist TD elected the same year. And many more followed him. Its challenge is now to win enough Dáil seats in order to be invited into a coalition government, while, simultaneously, participating in a Stormont executive. But one question remains. Does Sinn Féin’s focus on partition handicap it south of the border?
John Mulqueen is the author of ‘An Alien Ideology’: Cold War Perceptions of the Irish Republican Left, published by Liverpool University Press
With many thanks to: The Irish Times and John Mulqueen for the original story
◾41-year-old was teen at time of attack ◾Undercover soldier shot him and accomplice ◾Judge tells him to expect jail term
A 41-year-old Co Tyrone man has been remanded into custody after being convicted of causing an explosion at an RUC/PSNI station more than two decades ago.
Refusing bail to father-of-four Paul Campbell, Judge David McFarland told him that a prison sentence was inevitable and there was “no reason why he should not start serving it now”. Campbell, of the Mills, Coalisland, denied causing the explosion at the town’s RUC/PSNI station on March 26th 1997. He maintained he was innocently caught up in events while going to get a video. He was shot by an undercover soldier (SAS), then fled across the border and was treated in a Co Louth Hospital.
The bomb, a previous court heard, contained about 1lb of Semtex-type explosive, it failed to clear the station’s perimeter wall but damaged the outer fence. The attack was believed to have been carried out by the Provisional IRA. On Thursday the judge dismissed Campbell’s version of events. Having heard the case without a jury, he said he was “sure” that Campbell had assisted a bomber also shot by ‘Soldier A’. That man was arrested and subsequently jailed.
“The story has all the appearances of one concocted to fit the prosecution case against him” Judge David McFarland
In his 34-page judgment delivered at Belfast Crown Court, the judge said: “I am satisfied that the prosecution have proved to the extent that I am firmly convinced that the defendant unlawfully and maliciously caused an explosion of a nature likely to endanger life.” No verdict was returned on a charge of possessing explosives with intent, as it was not required. Campbell will be jailed on February 26th after pre-sentence reports. The judge said the background to the incident involved ‘Soldier A’ who was in Coalisland with several other troops in civilian clothing that evening (suspected members of the SAS).
He saw two men disappear down an entry, followed moments later by the sound of two explosions, and the pair running back out. The (SAS) soldier shot and wounded one of the men, later identified as Gareth Doris. He was jailed in September 1998 for his involvement. The second man got into a white car, which drove off, with the soldier firing at the suspect and the car. The judge said it was the prosecution case, a circumstantial case, that Campbell was this second man and that he was the bomber or assisting the actual bomber, Doris.
Turning to the defence case, the judge said Campbell claimed he had gone to town that evening to get a video but did not see any men running, nor Doris getting shot, although he was aware of an explosion and shots being fired. He described two men firing shots and told of feeling a burning sensation in his groin area. Then on reaching the white car, he “instinctively got into the vehicle”, only for another to climb in beside him, he claimed. Eventually the car, driven by a priest, stopped and Campbell ended up his grandmother’s, where after a family meeting he was advised to go to hospital in the north for treatment, he claimed. However, the judge said: “The story has all the appearances of one concocted to fit the prosecution case against him.”
With many thanks to: The Irish News for the original story
The Bogside and Brandywell Monument Committee held a commemoration in Derry this week for nineteen-year-old Colm Keenan and eighteen-year-old Eugene McGillan, who were shot dead by British soldiers in the Dove Gardens area of the Bogside on March 14, 1972.