A Brief Introduction to Modern Day Irish Republicanism. What Can Anarchists learn from Modern Day Republicanism?

Date:

Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity IRA

 

Republican Sinn Fein (RSF) and the Continuity IRA were established due to a split within Provisional Sinn Fein (PSF). At PSF's 1986 ard fheis, members supported the proposal to drop abstentionist policy (not recognizing the Irish state) in the 26 county state. Those at the ard fheis who were opposed to the policy walked out of the ard fheis and out of the Provisional movement. They went on to create Republican Sinn Fein. The split was a political one so it was mainly members of PSF that left - not many members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) left. They saw the need to create a new organization because they believed PSF had broken from the Republican tradition of abstentionism. The Provisional Movement was created for the exact same reason. The same people that created the Provisionals went on to create Republican Sinn Fein.

 

RSF sees itself as owning Irish Republican legitimacy. This means they deny the legitimacy of the Dail and Stormont. They see both political entities as illegal puppet governments for the British establishment.

 

They believe the 32 county Irish Republic that was “declared in arms at 1916 rising” is “the sole legitimate authority in Ireland”. RSF believe the republic was brought into reality in 1919 when candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognize the Parliament of the United Kingdom and then established an independent legislature called the Dail Eireann.

 

The Dail was established on the same day as the Tan War (Irish War of Independence) erupted. The first Dail lasted till 1921, and ceased when the Tan War ended and the Free state was created. Then the second Dail came into existence and also so did the civil war.

Republicans after the first Dail didn’t recognize the second Dail and didn’t recognize the Free State government. They saw the first Dail as the direct continuation of the Irish republic proclaimed in 1916. The civil war began as a result of this split. And Republican Sinn Fein follow this same tradition, they see themselves as the only direct continuation of the Republican tradition because all other Republican groups recognize the Dail as being the government of the 26 counties.

 

When Provisional Movement was created they chased down the last remaining survivor of Dail Eireann, Tom Maguire, who granted legitimacy to the Provisional Movement. RSF did the same and Tom Maguire wrote a statement in 1987 announcing that the continuity army council was the sole legitimate organization representing the 32 county Irish republic. This in effect means the army council of the Continuity IRA is the government of Ireland until the 32 county republic is established. Asthe CIRA sees itself as the legitimate representation of the Irish republic both the CIRA and RSF believe anything PSF or the PIRA took part in after the 1986 ard fheis was not for the establishment of an Irish republic and was illegitimate. RSF would not see members of PIRA that were killed after 1986 as being republicans or IRA volunteers.

 

The Continuity army council did not make Tom Maguire's statement public until 1994. Although RSF was established and announced publicly in 1986, the CIRA had to wait to announce themselves publicly. This was because the Provisional Movement let the creators of RSF know if they create an armed wing they would be wiped off the face of the earth.

 

Continuity IRA's armed campaign

 

In 1994 when the Provisional IRA announced its cease fire, the CIRA announced its existence with a bombing campaign. The CIRA target security forces in the North with gun, grenade, rocket and bomb attacks. They also carried out bomb attacks on economic targets hoping to damage the north’s economy.

 

Politics of RSF - Eire Nua

 

What RSF want to implement after the liberation from British occupation is Eire Nua. Eire Nua would replace the Dail and Stormont and would incorporate the four provinces of Ireland into a federal republic.
 

The Bill of rights would recognize the fundamental dignity and importance of the individual with a basic right to be treated as a unique and inviolable human being, guarantee the right to life, liberty and security of every person, and guarantee the right of citizenship, civil rights, equal rights, workers rights and equal protection under law.

 

Government structures of Eire Nua

 

Would provide for a federation of the four historic provinces of Ireland under the coordination of a national government. The devolution of powers through provincial governments of local councils. Citizens would participation in their own governance at all levels of government, also there would be separation of church and state

 

Eire Nua was written in the 1970s by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill. The Provisional Movement used it as their policy to implement when the British occupation of the 6 counties was withdrawn. At the time the 26 county state was under major influence from the catholic church and the catholic population in the north suffered badly from sectarianism and the fact they had no equal rights - protestants had the first pick of all jobs and state housing, many employers would not hire catholics. The Eire Nua document was very revolutionary for the time it was written. Eire Nua's answer to solve the sectarian division in the north was to establish the 9 counties of ulster which would intend that the unionist majority of Ulster would be slim enough to prevent abuse of the catholic population, but would still give the unionists a form of self-governance.

 

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement and the Real IRA

 

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32 CSM) started off as the 32 County Sovereignty Committee. The committee was originally formed within PSF, the committees members were opposed to PSF leadership direction towards the peace process and the leadership's support of the Mitchell Principles.
 

Below are some of the principles that guide the 32 CSM; taking from the 32 CSM constitution:

• “Partition is illegal”

• “Recognizing the denial of national sovereignty to the Irish people through British occupation of part of the national territory, we hold that all administrations and assemblies purporting to act as lawful government for the Irish peoples or otherwise functioning as partitionist entities, to be illegal under international law as they usurp Irish sovereignty”

• “We hold that it is both a right and a duty of all Irish people to uphold Irish sovereignty”

• “We reaffirm the right of the Irish people to use all legitimate means necessary to restore national sovereignty as declared in the declaration of independence 1919.”

 

 

At the end of 1997 to mid 1998 the 32 CSM and the Real IRA were a serious threat to the peace process that was being created in Ireland.

 

This split within the Provisional Movement was mainly a split within the Provisional IRA. The Real IRA formed in 1997 after members of the PIRA split from the movement. In July of the same year the PIRA called a ceasefire. In October the PIRA called a general army convention. At the convention the PIRA Quartermaster General, also a member of the 12 person PIRA executive and with another member of the executive, denounced the leadership and called for an end to the group’s ceasefire and the participation in the peace process. The pair were outmaneuvered by the leadership and their main allies were voted off the army council leaving the two isolated. In the end the convention backed the pro-ceasefire line. The same month the pair resigned from the executive along with other members.

 

In November 1997 a meeting was called by anti-peace process Republican activists. As a result of the meeting a new armed group was formed which calling itself Oglaigh Na hEirenn. Many PIRA members that were not happy with the direction the PIRA was going left the PIRA and joined the ranks of the new organization.

 

The media began as a slur to call the organization the Real IRA. After while the name stuck. The RIRA adopted similar tactics to those used by the PIRA in the mid 90s - mainly car bombing town centres, incendiary bombings on shops and shopping centres, to try damage the economic infrastructure of the north.

 

At its inception, the Real IRA made approaches to RSF. RSF had an established political network with connections in the USA, but the CIRA wasn’t anywhere near as established - they lacked in arms and training. The Real IRA made the offer to join forces; the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA would amalgamate to form one armed group and RSF would be the political wing. The leadership of RSF and the Continuity Army Council declined the offer because they see the Real IRA as not being as republican as them, but the Continuity Army Council made the offer that the Real IRA could apply to join the CIRA if they wished.

 

If the Continuity Army Council and RSF had agreed they could have been a major threat to the peace process. They may have toppled it. The CIRA were in need of members and arms, the RIRA had plenty of both. But the Continuity Army Council's stubbornness and belief that they were the sole heir to the “Republic proclaimed on 1916” prevented this. The CIRA and RIRA did not amalgamate but they did work together on operations, up until the Omagh bomb.

 

The Omagh bomb

 

On a Saturday afternoon on August 15th 1998 while parents were bringing their children shopping for the new school year in Omagh town centre, County Tyrone, RUC officers suddenly appeared after they got a confirmed call that a car bomb was at Omagh courthouse. The RUC ushered the shoppers down the street in the opposite direction. Suddenly there was a big blast, bomb fragments ripped through the shoppers. The RUC were ushering the shoppers in the direction of the bomb. Altogether there were 29 people killed and 220 injured.

 

The RIRA and CIRA fell out over the failed attack. The Real IRA called a ceasefire. The fallout over the Omagh bomb was massive, the tiny bit of support the “dissidents” had was totally gone. People who once let their property be used for safe houses turned republicans away. The 26 county government created new security measures which included:

 

• The abolition of the right of silence (this meant that when gardaí were questioning republicans they no longer had the right to silence. So saying 'no comment' while being questioned automatically proved your guilt or that you were hiding something).

• The extension of the period of detention which allowed the Garda to question republicans from 2 to 4 days.

• A new offence was created which was directing an illegal organization. If a person was found guilty of this they could be sentenced to 20 years.

• The minimum sentence for a person found guilty of IRA membership was raised to 5 years.

The British government then copied and announced similar measures.

 

Regrouping

 

In 1999 the Real IRA regrouped to start a new campaign. Members of the group traveled to Croatia to buy arms which included assault rifles, submachine guns, semi-automatic pistols, and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).

 

In January 2000 the Real IRA issued a “call to arms” in the Irish news. Their renewed campaign started off with a bomb attack in a barracks in Derry. They started a bombing campaign in England, particularly in London, which included an RPG attack on the Headquarters of MI5, bombing an army barracks, and car bombing the BBC studio. These attacks coincided with attacks in the north including car bombings and mortar attacks on police stations.

 

In 2001 there were many arrested and many Republican activists were jailed both in the north and in the south, and some in England. In around 2003 some of the leading members Real IRA wanted to go on ceasefire for the forseeable future. They wanted to shut down the organization and rebuild as they were in disarray because of informers and criminal elements.

Many of the membership wanted to continue the armed struggle and so they did, while others walked away. The Real IRA went on to carry out a few smaller attacks such as fire bombings and non-fatal shootings of PSNI officers and soldiers over the following years. The RIRA never recovered to the force they once were when they started out.

 

The resurgence of armed Republicanism 2008 -2013

 

There were new attempts at trying to kick start a new campaign by the CIRA, RIRA and independent units. In this period the campaign started off with failed rocket attacks and bomb attacks. Many bombs were either found before being able to be detonated or failed to actually detonate. In 2009 in the space of a few days 2 British soldiers were shot dead and another 4 wounded in a single attack; and in a separate attack a PSNI officer was shot dead.

 

2010 sees the emergence of yet another new armed group Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) which announced its existence with several car bombings. The RIRA claim responsibility for the shooting dead of drug dealers in the south. A PSNI officer lost his leg when a booby trap bomb detonated under his car.

 

2011 A PSNI officer is killed when a booby trap bomb goes off as he gets into his car.

 

2012 Another armed group is formed which is an amalgamation of the Real IRA, the vigilante group RAAD (Republican Action Against Drugs), independent units, and ex-Provisional members that were disillusioned with Sinn Fein's stance on the policing boards issue in 2007. This new group is now known as the New IRA (like the Real IRA the media termed this latest group as the “New” IRA as a slur). Its leadership is mainly made up of disillusioned Provisional members that left the movement. The same year, the New IRA shoot dead a prison officer as he drives to work. (the screw was targeted because of severe beatings and maltreatment of Republican prisoners who were on protest within the prison for better conditions since Easter 2010)

 

2013 In the run up to Xmas, ONH use a taxi driver for a proxy bomb in Belfast. The New IRA use a bus driver in Derry as a proxy bomb (i.e. they force a bus driver to drive a vehicle carrying explosives to a target. This puts the driver's life in danger as bombs can prematurely explode). The New IRA opens up automatic gun fire on a PSNI patrol in Belfast.

 

Third split within Provisional Sinn Fein

 

The third split was not anything near as significant as the others, but three new organizations were formed. These were Republican Network for Unity (RNU), Eirigi and the 1916 Societies. The first two are republican socialists and the third is a nationalist group focused on commemorations and building a campaign that will see everyone in Ireland voting for a 32 County Irish Republic (the campaign is called “One Ireland One Vote”). The split was because of Sinn Fein's support for policing boards in 2007.

 

The reactionary and authoritarian nature of modern day Republicanism

 

The republican groups as far back as the Provisionals have used punishment attacks in the north as a way of gaining support and keeping order in working class districts and neighborhoods they dominated. Depending on an area, a different group would carry out the punishments. All the armed groups have carried out horrifying acts mainly against youths. If cops brutalized a youth the republicans would be the first up in arms, but yet when republicans brutalize youths they do it in a far more horrific fashion. They cause mayhem with gun shots, using sawn-off shotguns on legs leaving the victim with a wound rightly named “a shark bite”. Another favorite is a "six pack" - this is when they use a handgun to shoot a person in the wrists, ankles and calves. Some youths had their arms and legs put through school railings and have their limbs bent to the side till the force breaks them. Youths have been put down manholes and had cars parked on the lids so they couldn’t get out. Some people had to get limbs amputated because of wounds. And some youths have been exiled from their areas having to live either in England or down south.

 

These are punishments for the following offences: stealing a car, robbing some property, taking drugs, or acting in an anti-social manner. If the cops charged a youth for one of these offences they probably would at worst would get a few months in jail.

 

 

Futility of armed struggle

 

The armed struggle waged by Republicans since 2002 has been a complete failure in terms in of trying to replicate the Provisionals IRA's tactics and campaign. The vast majority of their attempted attacks were compromised either by informants, security forces, surveillance, or failure of bombs detonating. Why do the republican armed groups keep pumping their resources into these failed renewed campaigns with many of the members getting lengthy jail sentences, spending their youth in prison. The Republicans' armed campaign has virtually no support from the wider community, and most of their main activists are in jail, yet they continue sending out the people disenfranchised by society to be locked up for many years. To make matters worse, in the last four years some armed groups have started to use proxy bombs as a tactic. This shows their absolute recklessness for civilian lives. The present conditions in Irish society are wrong for an armed campaign. The armed groups are stuck in a failed dogma.

 

The Republican Socialist Movement

 

Another group against the Good Friday Agreement is the Republican Socialist Movement (RSM). I will give a brief history of the RSM below. The movement stands out from the rest of the Anti-Agreement Republican groups, because the RSM is around a lot longer than any of the other groups. The Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Irish National liberation Army are steeped in Irish Republican history from the 1970s to today. There have been ballads written and sung for the RSM and its members' heroic exploits. The movement is often overlooked by the authors of history books; the British government probably feared them a lot more than they fear the other Anti-Agreement Republican groups.

 

The Republican Socialist Movement (RSM) denotes the combination of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). It came into existence in 1974 because of a split within the Official IRA. The split happened because the Official IRA ceasefire against the British armed forces and Official Sinn Fein's turning more and more towards reformism. IRSP and INLA follow a mixture of Marxist and Republican ideologies.

 

From their inception the RSM was under attack by the Official IRA. Many of both organizations' leading members were killed in the feud and there were many attempted assassinations. The history of the RSM was plagued by splits and bloody feuds in which many of its leading members were killed. The reason why there is only one group calling themselves the INLA today is because any other group that split away were wiped out. The split between the INLA and the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO) in the 80s and the split between the INLA and the INLA GHQ in the 90s are examples of this.

 

Although the INLA has a history of splits and feuds, it’s pretty much the same for all the Republican groups. The INLA stands out because of the bloodiness of the fallouts. But the INLA has another history, which is of resistance against oppression and imperialism. The INLA pulled off many spectacular attacks, such as the assassination of Conservative Party member and spokesperson Airey Neave (as he drove out of Westminster car park a bomb detonated in his car), the Droppin Well Bar bombing killing 11 British soldiers, the shooting dead of a British Army recruiting officer in England, and the assassination of the Loyalist leader Billy Wright in the H-Blocks (a prison for political prisoners in the north). In the famous hunger strike in 1981 in the H-Blocks 3 members of the INLA, Patsy O’Hara, Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine, died on hunger strike.

 

The INLA were at war from 1974 to 1998 when they called a ceasefire after the Omagh bomb. The RSM accepted the people of Ireland's support for the Good Friday Agreement, but they remain opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. At the same time, unlike the other Republican armed groups, they do not call for armed struggle against the British occupation.

 

In one statement the RSM stated “the will of the Irish people is clear. It is now time to silence the guns and allow the working classes the time and the opportunity to advance their demands and their needs.”

 

In another statement the RSM stated “Those who have engaged in armed struggle have waged an ineffectual sporadic and pointless campaign totally divorced from the reality of everyday life in the North of Ireland.”

 

In October 2009 the INLA announced the end of their armed campaign, proclaiming “the current political framework allowed for the pursuit of its goals through peaceful, democratic means.” In 2010 the INLA decommissioned its arms.

 

What is the future for Republicanism?

 

There are 2 choices I can see and they are either continuing attempted armed attacks or taking part in radical politics. In the last 4 years we can see that there is a trend starting in republicanism. More and more republicans are turning to radical politics. We can see this with the Republican socialist groups like the IRSP, Eirigi, and RNU; and there are many more independent republican activists that have taken part in the social struggles of our time.

 

The INLA the armed wing of the IRSP, have called off their armed campaign because they woke up to the reality our times, favoring battling on community issues and workplace issues instead of armed attacks.

 

Eirigi activists are highly active, particularly in Dublin in the anti-water charge campaign.

RNU activists are highly active in Belfast and Dundalk on the drug issue and suicide issue. But what’s holding them back and isolating them from the wider community is their link to ONH, which like the other armed groups is inflicting themselves on catholic communities in Belfast leaving youths with horrific injures from punishment beatings and shootings.

 

Anarchism and Republicanism

 

Anarchists are somewhat similar to Republicans; we want some of the same things Republicans want: liberty for the people, the removal of British occupation, the abolition of partition, the destruction of the sectarian northern state and the 26 county state in the south. Where we differ is that most republicans want a liberal 32 county republic, we differ in tactics, in the structure of how we try to organize, and republicans want to be the voice of the people, whereas anarchists want the people to have their own voice.

 

Some republicans are anti-capitalist and want a socialist 32 county republic. Some see this as a direct replica as Cuba or the USSR. Others want a workers' republic, where the workers are in control and own the means of production rather than a state bureaucracy. But unfortunately these republicans are a small minority.

 

All the Republican groups’ membership is overwhelmingly made up of the working class. Most of their new recruits are disenfranchised youths that are either unemployed or blue collar workers. Since the start of the recession we have seen the growth of the different Republican groups.

Why do these youths go to Republicanism and not anarchism? I think it is primarily the fact that republicanism has a deep history in Irish society, and there is a rich culture of Republicanism throughout Ireland. Nearly everyone has some type of a family relation whether a great uncle, great granny, or a cousin that was involved in some part of Republican history going as far back to the 1916 rising. Most people grow up hearing stories of the IRA, Republican rebel songs, and the overall Republican message of fighting back against oppression and tyranny - this appeals to the disenfranchised.

 

There has always been a Republican presence in most of the big towns and big built-up working class areas in Ireland for the last 200 hundred years. So is it any wonder why the disenfranchised seek out the Republican groups in their area or neighborhood? To join and take part either trying to protect their communities or fight against the state to overthrow it and to create a better Ireland.

Particularly working class people in the north grow up seeing paintings on the walls of past Republican heroes and their tribulations. So it's natural people will gravitate towards Republicanism in times of trouble and recession before gravitating to anarchism, because it’s what people know, Republicanism is enshrined in their psyche.

 

Anarchists can learn a great deal from Republicanism, to make inroads to establishing our ideal in working class communities. We need to create a visible presence in all communities, we need to be seen to be believed. People are looking for answers and are falsely thinking it lies in Republicanism. Within Republicanism lies much of the same which lies in bourgeois society – that is hierarchy and privilege for the few. But I believe the secret to the salvation of society also lies within Republicanism. That is the revolutionary tradition of revolting against oppression, tyranny, and exploitation; which the working class, the oppressed and angry, gravitate towards. And likewise I think Republicans can learn a great deal from anarchism. Maybe from working together on community or workplace struggles we could both learn from each other.

 

WORDS: Joe Conlon

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