Century of Endeavour

The Freedom Manifesto

As published in the February 1970 Issue of the United Irishman;
retrospective comments by RJ are in italics.

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

The aftermath of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis presents a good opportunity for a statement of the way forward to the Republic as seen by the Movement at this time.

The overwhelming majority of delegates at both recent Republican conventions were in favour of this concept, including many who did not see the need for a more flexible approach to political tactics.Many others not at present working with the movement in a co-ordinated way are known to favour it. It can therefor be expected to draw much wider support than has been available to any revolutionary movement in Ireland in recent decades.

The Freedom Movement

We envisage the development of the existing Republican Movement, composed as it is of active local groups, regionally federated and in touch with a national leadership that has had some decades of first-hand experience of movement-building, with its members not only active as Republicans but also as trade unionists, farmers, tenants etc. We expect the regional committees of the movement to develop further links with groups of national-minded progressive professionals and intellectuals, and to be active in promoting a sense of Irishness in all branches of national life. The work of the Wolfe Tone Society has pointed the way in this respect. We expect the organisational forms necessary for militant defensive action to be kept intact and developed.

NB This last sentence is of course the fatal flaw; it implied an acceptance of the continuation in existence of the IRA as such, in a situation where the issue of 'who is in command, the political or the military wing?' remained unresolved. This was a serious obstacle to the development of the type of broader-based movement envisaged elsewhere in the document. RJ October 2001.

To build a freedom movement we require:

1. The militant disciplined tradition of the Republican Movement;

2. The trade-union experience and socialist consciousness of the traditional Labour and Socialist groups;

3. The energy and enthusiasm of the young students, workers, farmers, gaelgeoiri who are at present groping towards local and specialised radical organisational forms.

The Republic

We stand for an independent all-Ireland Republic with the whole wealth of the nation under the democratic control of the people; the use of State power to dispossess all foreign financiers, monopolists, landlords and their native collaborators; the transfer of all large-scale productive units of industry, commerce and finance to democratic councils representative of the people concerned, whether as workers, suppliers or consumers, in proportion appropriate to their interests.

We consider that the natural interests of the small business coincides with its market, the working people, rather than with its exploiters, the monopolists and foreign speculators. We therefore undertake to defend the interest of the small business and to encourage co-operative democratic rationalisation, arranged by mutual consent in the interests of price and cost reduction rather than monopolistic rationalisations imposed from above.

We hold that the working farmer is the natural ally of the urban worker, and that the interests of the former must be protected by the State helping him to organise co-operatively to control his supplies and his marketing. We hold that the English-imposed State structure should be dismantled and a new one build closer to the people's needs, the lowest level being easily accessible to everyone, with federations into regional authorities with substantial resources and real governmental powers such as to be able to react sympathetically and rapidly to local needs; central government to be concerned with security, defence and long-term co-ordination of the regional budgets.

The 26 and 6 County States

The need to re-unify the nation dominates the immediate horizon. No demand should be formulated without this in mind.

Any reforms sought by agitation within these structures must be such as (a) to weaken imperial control (whether direct or socio-economic), (b) the strengthen the organisations of the people, (c) to develop all-Ireland linkages at basic level.

Such reforms are in essence revolutionary because they open up the option of sweeping away, at a later date, the foreign-imposed State structures and replacing them with a revolutionary-democratic State structure based on the people's organisations.

Common Demands

Economic, social and cultural reforms for which large-scale organised support is possible in all parts of the nation are as follows:

1. In the Trade Unions: (a) defence of living standards and job-security; (b) resistance to the drift into the EEC; (c) direction of capital into high-unemployment areas.

2. In Chambers of Commerce and in professional groups, as well as (b) and (c) above: (d) maximum use of Irish capital and technical knowhow within Ireland.

3. In language and cultural groups: (e) support for all national cultural efforts such as to strengthen resistance to degradation of nationality by commercial pressures.

4. In Farmers' Organisations: (f) to mobilise support among the small farmers for the complete restructuring of the agricultural subsidies, such as to bring to an end the present system which benefits the factory-farmers, and to develop a social subsidy directed towards the family farm and the co-operative organisation.

5. Tenants, residents, homeless: (g) the outlawing of speculation in building land, legislation to remove building land completely from the commercial market and to make land-use decisions in the social interest; (h) concentration of building effort on municipal houses and services; (i) easy availability of low interest-rate loans both for new house construction and for conversion of old houses by owner-occupiers rather than by speculators; (j) the declaration of a housing emergency and the taking over by the municipality of unused or under-used housing space.

6. Urban residents: (k) defence of amenities from speculative destruction; (l) to fight to raise the standard of the public transportation system in the interests of the working people.

One can see here the influence of the 'housing action' agitation and the exposure of the Fianna Fail 'Taca' method of financing corrupt local politicians. These issues are in fact still with us, having been further exposed in the Tribunals. RJ October 2001.

The Six Counties

Despite the recent agitations the basic rights demands remain to be won.

It is necessary to distinguish clearly between (a) the civil rights demands, involving equality of opportunity in political organisation, jobs and housing; (b) the national demand for unity, and (c) the the radical social demands for jobs and housing for all.

These demands, though inter-related, are distinct, and unite different interests. Their timing is therefore of key importance.

Potentially united behind the demand for civil rights were (a) all Catholics; (b) those Protestants for whom local government representation was denied; (c) trade unionists far-sighted enough to see the B-Specials as an anti-worker militia. The verbal concession of 'one man one vote' has to some extent neutralised the second; the third is a tiny politically conscious minority.

This last category is a nod in the direction of the CPNI, and perhaps some NILP supporters. RJ October 2001.

Behind the national demands are most Catholics, also a tiny minority of Protestants (skilled workers independent of patronage; intellectuals with cultural interests).

At this point of time, the national potential is substantially less than the Civil Rights potential.

Behind the social demands, paradoxically, are still fewer people; the unemployed and homeless who are predominantly Catholic. The Protestant dispossessed do not at this time see the solution of their problems in terms of radical policies, but in terms of the defence of an elite position given them by Unionist patronage, mainly as regards jobs. This position will not change until the basis of that patronage is weakened.

The process can be speeded up by developing independently of the Civil Rights movement, and mainly through the Trade Union movement, a mass agitation for jobs. The availability of jobs would enable Catholic and Protestant workers, by working together, to develop mutual respect and organisational contact. Similarly the demand for houses can be developed through Housing Action Associations, on a non-sectarian basis.

It will the become possible to recruit a radicalised and conscious working class to an all-Ireland movement with socially revolutionary objectives.

The key needs for the Six Counties are therefore:

1. Maximum unity on the civil rights demands, including: (a) abolition of the Special Powers; (b) abolition of the B-Specials in any form (they had been nominally abolished but in fact re-organised as the Ulster Defence Regiment); (c) one-man-one-vote in effective local authorities close to the people with real power; (d) outlawing discrimination in jobs and housing; (e) PR in all elections.

2. Maintenance of the peoples' defence organisations (this again is a nod in the direction of a perceived need to keep the IRA in actual existence; it weakens the main thrust and credibility of the programme. RJ October 2001.).

The Twenty-Six Counties

The first acts in the building of the movement in the 26 counties are defensive: against the erosion of our national language and culture by commercial forces and of our economic life by foreign monopolists.

There follows from this the increasing importance of using what little legislative independence we have got to keep open the option for rebuilding a unified nation. If this Dublin Government is allowed to sign the Treaty of Rome, the new Act of Union, the possibility of rebuilding , on the fragile foundations left to us, the historic Irish nation and culture will vanish forever. Politically the EEC involves (a) abandonment of neutrality and commitment to NATO wars, (b) final recognition of the existing UK frontiers.

The foregoing was indeed the perception at the time; it may sound exaggerated, but much of it has in fact been shown to be correct. RJ October 2001.

The need to pressure the elected representatives was never greater; this realisation has led the majority of Republicans to recognise the need not only to pressure but if possible to control at least some of them.

However putting pressure on the elected representatives is unlikely to be very effective for as long as votes for the neo-Unionist parties are controlled by a patronage system. Just as the introduction of democratic reforms and the smashing of Unionist channels of patronage is the key to the six-county situation, so the reform of local government is the key to the 26-county power structure. The people must learn to assert themselves by united strength, rather than to go cap in hand to politicians looking for favours.

Towards a Freedom Convention

The elaboration of these ideas into demands and their adaptation to the changing needs is going to require an effective political structure of a new type; for example, a Republican Regional Executive could extend itself by inviting affiliation from housing, unemployed, language etc action groups. The integrity of each would be maintained; the unifying basis for meeting periodically in the extended form would be the adoption of an agreed list of demands, possibly along the lines indicated above. The name 'Comhdhall na Saoirse' has been suggested for such a structure.

The foregoing is the nearest the movement ever got to defining what it meant when in the 1969/70 Ard Fheis it discussed the 'National Liberation Front' concept. Regrettably the vision was far from the then current reality, and the campaign of the 'provisionals' led by Mac Stiofain postponed any such political thinking or actions for some decades. RJ October 2001.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999