Century of Endeavour
The 60s Republican Movement (1): 1959-1966
(c) Roy Johnston 1999(comments to email@example.com)
These notes are based on the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle (National Executive) Minutes. They include also, interspersed, some notes on the contents of the United Irishman, where this seems relevant; these are successively hot-linked. These notes are a partial record of the third attempt to politicise the Movement in the context of the post-1921 situation. The first such attempt was associated with de Valera and Fianna Fail, and the second with George Gilmore, Peadar O'Donnell and the 1934 Republican Congress.
It could perhaps be said that prior to this there had been an attempt to pick up the threads of left-republican politicisation, as it had developed during the Curragh internment: this was the 1948 convergence of the Connolly Group of ex-internees, involving Denis Walshe, Sean O Maolbhride, Ned Stapleton, Sean Hosey and others, with the student left which included Paul O'Higgins, Justin Keating and myself, and with the remains of the old 1930s Communist Party, centred round the 'New Books' bookshop in Pearse St, with Jeff Palmer and John Nolan. I have treated this in the 1940s political module. This convergence however represented a clean break with the actual republican movement.
The latter in the 40s re-grouped, under the leadership of Gerry McCarthy and others, keeping alive the Fenian / IRB type of organisational continuity, while taking over the remnants of the old Sinn Fein as their 'political wing'. I deal with our 'new left' process in the 40s decade material. It was, in effect, an aborted third attempt to pick up the political strand of the republican movement, which was largely unproductive.
These notes are somewhat handicapped by the lack of easy access to necessary reference documents, eg substantive non-routine letters and documents discussed, Ard Fheis (National Convention) claranna (agendas), reports of conferences and events discussed. In any archiving process, these documents should be kept accessibly in companion volumes to the minutes. I understand that the Workers Party, which has inherited, through continuity of organisational experience, the 1960s Sinn Fein and earlier archives, is taking steps to address this problem(1).
In this context I have initiated a process to bring this material together into a maintained accessible structure, for access by future historians. This will be relatively long-term, and involve a funded professional project. So what follows must be regarded as a very sketchy first draft, subject to considerable revision when the archive material becomes accessible. For this initial draft I pick out the following records and incidents. Notes to myself for future elaboration are surrounded by [square brackets]. My current comments, sometimes with hindsight, on what was in some minuted records, are in italics, as in this introductory note. Some of the points in what follows I have taken up with Tomas Mac Giolla (TMacG) and I have recorded his comments.
The Ard Fheis (AF) in November 1959 elected the following Ard Comhairle (AC): President Padraig MacLogan; vice-Presidents Mairead Bean Ui Buachalla, Tom Doyle; Runai: Maire Russell, Michael Traynor; Cisteoir Padraig O h-Ogain Eamonn Mac Thomáis. The other members were: Seamus South, Paddy Mulcahy, Rory O'Driscoll, Sean O Mahuna, John Joe McGirl, Tomas Mac Giolla, Sean O Guinidhe (Jack Guiney), Padraig O Ceallaigh.
This is the tail-end of UCD historian Patrick Laffan's 'Sinn Fein 3', the rump of old SF which had held together in dwindling numbers around the abstract 'Holy Grail' of the 1916 Republic, having arranged the hand-over to the Army Council of 'government legitimacy' via the survivors of the Second Dail in or around 1938, in an event recorded in a photograph in Tom Maguire's house at Cross, Co Mayo.
This rump had been infiltrated by the IRA in 1949 and used as a political cover for the 1950s campaign. At this time (1959) the 1950s military campaign was still nominally active. In what follows I use the abbreviations AC for Ard Comhairle (ie National Executive) and AF for Ard Fheis (National Convention). After the 1967 AF the AC elects from its members a Coiste Seasta (Standing Committee) which I refer to as CS. There is a sort of ambiguity here, in that AC also stands for Army Council and CS for Chief of Staff. Under the politicising process, with the politicising Army expanding into the SF political shell, by 1967, after the 1966 AF, a high degree of integration was achieved, with the two ACs almost co-terminous, and the CS approximating to Goulding's 'HQ staff'. I am indebted to Micheal O Riain (Mick Ryan)(2) for some comments and insights into what follows, and I have interspersed these, headed by his initials MR; because they are retrospective I put them in italics. Where he is actively supportive of some comments of my own, I have added an * at the start of the paragraph.
However under the stress of the August 1969 events, with the armed assault on the Falls Road by the B-Specials and Orange mob, this integration process began to fall apart, and those whose experience was rooted in the military tradition began to revert to type.
[I have not yet (06/08/01) unearthed my own papers from the period. These, the United Irishman, Coughlan's papers, the Wolfe Tone Society minutes, the Greaves journal and contacts with various activists who may be still alive, will enable a reasonably accurate historical record to be established. What follows is therefore an incomplete picture, subject to revision as more knowledge becomes available.]
Let me now take up the Sinn Fein record as minuted from 1960. I will intersperse comments in italics when it seems appropriate.
MR: The Ard Comhairle under McLogan was opposed to the military campaign. A co-ordinating committee between the GHQ staff and the AC was set up; Ruairi O Bradaigh knows about this.
AC 10/01/60: Expelled members in London were perceived as a threat: TMacG thinks this was probably related to opposition to the armed campaign.
AC 09/04/60: There was apparent support for Anti-Partition League in London; not to heckle etc; according to TMacG this represented a political step, in that support for a broad-based lobby for an objective, which was not 'owned' by the Movement, was innovative.
AC 27/08/60 there is a reference to the Constitution of the Republic having been agreed by the 'other branch'.
This document perhaps exists in the archive. The 'other branch of the movement' in the SF record is a euphemism for the Army, which in this context was acting as the custodian of the 'Holy Grail' of the Republic.
AF Nov 60: VP Tony Magan replaces MB; Runai: Sean O Mahuna replaces Maire Russell.
New members: Redmond O'Sullivan and Tomas O h-Eanain. According to TMacG the former was a Magan follower, and the latter was from Belfast and close to MacLogan.
AC 18/03/61 TMacG proposed SF local councillors support increased home assistance, on the rates. It was decided to leave this to local decision. According to TMacG this would have been with a view to attaining some credibility in local elections, as well as genuine concern for the poor, a step in the political direction. There were however disastrous election results in October 1961.
* According to Bowyer Bell (BB), on Feb 3 1962 the Army Council met and decided to call off the campaign, issuing an order to dump arms on Feb 5, and a statement to the press on Feb 26. Ruairi O Bradaigh was CS at the time.
MR: this had previously been decided by the Executive which had met before Christmas. The decision was 'reluctant'.
Again according to BB, McLogan and Magan (whom he associates with a 'Curragh Group' label) decided that Sinn Fein had to be 'captured from the IRA by an internal but legal coup...the 1949 takeover would be turned inside out and the IRA link broken...'.
* Thus the 'old incorruptibles' perceived the post-campaign 'young politicisers' as a threat, and wanted to rescue the Holy Grail from any danger of contamination by the real world.
I am indebted to Matt Treacy, a TCD PhD student, for supplying a copy of a Government memo dated 2 April 1962, from the Public Records Office, which evaluates the risks associated with releasing the 29 prisoners then in custody, who are regarded as '..men of limited education and poor personality... no particular reason to fear their organising ability..'. Listing the advantages of a general release, it states that '...at no time in the past 40 years have the IRA had less hope of being backed by public opinion. They publicly admit it. A resort to arms... for some considerable time to come appears to be out of the question..'. RJ July 2001.
* AC 02/06/62 Mick Traynor resigned from the AC. According to TMacG he, along with MacLogan and Magan, had issued a statement which was in conflict with the February statement on the end of the campaign.
* It was far from being a question of hostility to what was seen as an emerging 'left'; TMacG saw the anti-MacLogan movement as being of younger members of the movement who wanted simply to develop any sort of political dimension, but very far from being 'left'; liberal at most, against a highly conservative non-political right. According to MR, this group were still basically 'militaristic'. There was a motion to 'accept the 3 points arising out of the special conference'.
It is to be hoped that this document is in the archive. It is far from clear what these were, and what the special conference was. It could credibly have been the post-campaign Army Convention, which took place about then.
It is not clear why MacLogan had to receive a verbal account. Magan wanted a special Ard Fheis. But BB's 'Curragh group' did not have the support on the AC.
* AC 16/06/62 Magan and O Mathuna tried to rescind the '3 points' resolution, but were defeated, JJMcG and SO'B leading the opposition. S O'B then becomes Secretary, proposed by TMacG. MacLogan had resigned from Presidency and from AC; this had been confirmed in writing by 30/06/62, when Magan and O Mathuna walked out. Paddy Mulcahy was co-opted. T MacG was Acting President.
AC 21/7/62 Further resignations from Maire Ruiseal, S O Guiney, P O h-Ogain and T Heenan. This constituted a Mac Logan 'gang of 7'; they got out a circular. A four-point counter-circular was agreed, with Joe McGrane opposing, and resigning, leaving no quorum, so the meeting had to adjourn.
Joe McGrane subsequently became the Secretary of the Aer Lingus branch of the Workers Union of Ireland. I encountered him in that context, and he was, or had by then become, an unimaginative TU bureaucrat.
The AC was reconvened on July 28 with a quorum consisting of TMacG, EMacT, JJMcG, T Misteal, Rory O Drisceoil, S O Bradaigh, Tom O'Connor (Tyrone).
[What was in this circular? What was the politics? The archive perhaps will tell.]
The 'other branch' requested documentation. Padraig O Murchu (Kilkenny) and Prionnsias de Rossa were co-opted; also Sean Keenan (Derry) proposed for co-option.
AC 11/08/62 Tomas Misteal proposed a Court of Enquiry: Pat Fox (Galway), Redmond O'Sullivan and Denis McInerney (Clare), with Tony Ruane and JJ Rice as subs.
Frank Graham was co-opted as Treasurer; Jim McIlwaine to AC. Frank Glynn was approved for Galway CC.
AC 28/08/62 Seoirse Dearle was co-opted.
He subsequently became a Labour Party stalwart, and was associated with an attempt to develop a consumer co-op service in North Dublin, so he would count as a potential 'politiciser of the left'. But see below..
* According to BB in September 62 the Army Convention met; O Bradaigh went back to teaching in Roscommon, and Cathal Goulding accepted the leadership, reluctantly. (cf BB p 340ff).
What follows is the chronicle of Goulding's attempt to reconstruct the Army into an effective left-wing political movement, expanding into the shell provided by Sinn Fein. This was the beginning of Laffan's SF4, and it was in a sense a dry run for the contemporary SF5 which has come around, after much slow and painful learning, to something like what SF4 aspired to become in the late 60s.
AC 06/10/62 In the light of the Court of Enquiry it was decided to expel all 8 of the resigners who were associated with the Circular. It was decided to submit the Draft 'Constitution of the Republic' to the AF.
[Was there a written report from the Court of Enquiry? If so, it should be in the minutes annexe-book, which we hope to be able to reconstruct from the archive.]
AC 27/10/62: A letter was received from the 8 (7+1). Seoirse Dearle proposed rescinding decision to expel. This was referred to the incoming AC.
This would suggest that SD, being himself political-minded, was supportive of the 'Curragh Group', wrongly identifying it as being 'political' rather than IRA. The IRA at this time however had not yet begun to project a political image, and SD could be forgiven his mistake.
The 1962 Ard Fheis took place in Moran's Hotel on October 27-28. The new AC had as President TMcG; VPs Rory O'Driscoll, Mick Traynor; cisteoir Peadar Duffy (Dundalk), Seamus Doran; Runai Tomas Misteil and E MacTomas. (Note that Mick Traynor had not left with the Curragh Group). The other members were: Sean O Bradaigh, Paddy Mulcahy, Frank McGlade, Daithi O Conaill, Joe Doyle (the last of the prisoners to be released; the Connolly Association in Britain had lobbied for his release), Gerry McCarthy, JJMcG; subsequently co-opted were Sean Bermingham, Jim McIlwaine and Sean Keenan.
AC 3/11/62: letter from expellees: 'not according to rule'. Reply: it was, and was endorsed by the AF. Joe McGrane opposed, but got no seconder; he then resigned on 17/11.
AC 2/12/62: the 'other branch' requested the minute book as defence evidence in a court martial. Sean O Bradaigh was to go with it. There is much cumann correspondence arising from these episodes. There was talk of EEC posters and leaflets, which suggests that the leadership as now in place has the beginnings of a socio-economic agenda.
[Would O Bradaigh perhaps be prepared to give an account of this episode? MR thinks so. Who was involved in the court martial and what was it about? Is there EEC material on record?]
AC 19/01/63: Bristol Left Club would get a speaker provided Connolly Association was not there.
The rationale for wanting to speak to the left in Britain, while excluding the accepted voice of the Irish among the left in Britain, which the Connolly Association (CA) was, must have been basically distrust of perceived Stalinist influence on the CA via the British CP. The movement wanted to contact the Left in Britain but without perceived Moscow influence. TMacG supports this assessment.
AC 23/02/63: A Wolfe Tone Committee had been set up; the meeting on Feb 3 had submitted Sean Cronin and Brian O'Higgins as names for it.
It is not clear who is on it, or by whom it was set up. Presumably it can be inferred that the 'other branch' set it up. TMacG considers that this probably was Cathal Goulding at work. Sean Cronin was a member of the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society in 1964, when I became a member. Brian O'Higgins died shortly after this. The Cronin recommendation would have been the influence of the IRA people on the Ard Comhairle. He had been Chief of Staff at the beginning of the 1950s campaign, had been interned, being replaced by Ruairi O Bradaigh, and as usual in the Curragh had become political-minded [but MR however questions this; we will have to try to look into this further]. He subsequently had a respected career in journalism, becoming the Irish Times Washington Correspondent.
There had been a suggestion from Dublin Comhairle Ceanntar (Regional Council) to hold a meeting on Cave Hill, near Belfast, in memory of the Wolfe Tone / Russell (1793?) 'oath' occasion which took place there, and it was agreed that this be passed to the WT Committee.
[Did this Cave Hill meeting take place? I have a feeling it did, and it was part of the process of foundation of the Belfast WTS.]
Members were urged to attend their TU meetings. This could be another indication of a groping towards the left.
AC 10/03/63: Bristol Left Club got T Brosnan as speaker, provided the CA was excluded.
A concept of a Republican Co-operative Bank was referred to Moss Twomey, a leading 30s IRA man, who by then, as an established businessman, was regarded as someone who would know about banks. According to TMacG this could have been a harking back to the earlier episode of the Land Bank in the 20s.
The concept of a Credit Union within SF itself was dismissed, correctly, as not feasible; the common bond must be local. There appears here to be a concept of assuming popular democratic forms of economic organisation, but keeping them 'in-house', or within the 'tribe', rather than as a mode of outreach to the mass of the people. TMacG agrees with this assessment.
AC 23/03/63: Frank McGlade and Denis Toner (Belfast) were to take care of the Mid-Ulster Convention. There is a reference to the WT Commemoration Committee, TMacG was to handle it; he does not however remember who was involved; he left it to CG. It would appear that at this time TMacG was CG's window into the Ard Comhairle.
AC 11/05/63: there was a problem with the 30 Gardiner Place landlord; it was decided to bring in Con Lehane as solicitor. MR had a hand in the subsequent negotiations; they got the building at a favourable price.
There was a perceived need to clarify the WT committee position, and to get the United Irishman to publish a letter from the Secretary.
[This can be looked up in the UI file, which is accessible via the National Library.]
AC 25/05/63 Eamonn Mac Tomáis reported on proposed WT activities. TMacG thinks he was sec of the committee.
[Contact him and see if he will talk. MR is optimistic about this. Maybe there is there a written report?]
08/06/63: some trouble was reported with one Jim Lane in Cork.
[Who was JL and what was the nature of the trouble? We need to try to get at what were the political principles behind such episodes, if they exist. TMacG thinks this was a 'left' issue. There is no Lane in Bowyer Bell index. It may be worth contacting Jim Savage in Cork. MR associates JL with Saor Eire; he thinks Ted Tynan might know.]
AC 24/08/63: there was a letter from TP Connealy seeking a speaker for a housing protest. JJMcG proposes issuing a statement.
Terry Connealy was active in the WTS from 1964 onwards, and participated in the Housing Action Committee events; for example there was, circa 1965, a march on the Mansion House at which he and I met the Mayor. So Connealy in the WTS was part of the emergent left trend which saw the WTS as an outlet. This episode pre-dates my presence in Ireland; I did not get back till September 1963. The first Ard Fheis I attended was in the Bricklayers Hall. This must have been November 1964.
MR: From 1966/7 the Dublin IRA used to steward the Housing Action marches.
It was decided to issue a statement about the Buy Irish Campaign.
AC 7/09/63 TmacG reported on the WT Committee, also the Irish Union, but he now has no recollection what the latter was. There was also a report on the position of Sean Caughey in Belfast.
Sean Caughey at this time was a C Desmond Greaves (CDG) contact, in the context of the latter's early attempt to get a Civil Right effort going via the Trade Unions in Belfast.
AC 27/09/63 a resolution on abstentionism was drafted for the AF. EmacT proposed specialist roles for the AC members.
AC 5/10/63 Report of an Education Study Group; it was decided that this could not go to the AF; it was to be held over for incoming AC. It subsequently however sank without trace; maybe it will turn up in the archive.
A 'Planning Committee' for the 'movement as a whole' was set up, with TMacG, SO'B and Sean Bermingham as AC nominees. This is further evidence of the Army politicising process.
The 1963 Ard Fheis took place in Moran's Hotel. The AC elected was: TMacG / RO'D Larry Grogan / EMacT TM / Peadar Duffy / Niall Fagan / SO'B, JJMcG, FMcG, JBO'H, GMcC, Jacky Clarke, Redmond O'S, Al Ryan; subsequently co-opted: Sean Bermingham, Wally Lynch, Tomas O Suilleabhain, Jim McIlwaine.
AC 16/11/63 the new AC appoints SO'B and SB to the 'Planning Committee'. Presumably TMacG was on it also from the Army angle.
30/11/63 Minutes 'as gaelige' begin. Was this a conscious political decision? What was the objective? TMacG thinks this was simply maneuvered by Sean O Bradaigh, on the basis that no-one could possibly object.
The attitude to the language, and to names, is always ambivalent; there is the English form used in familiar speech, and the ritual form for the record. For example, in the case of Frank McGlade: it took me a long time to recognise in the record Prionnsias Mac Giolla Eide.
From now on the minute-book carries page numbers, and I give them for reference. On p389 EMacT reports for WT Cttee.
AC 07/03/64 deals with AF resolutions. No 5: to put in a new economic programme; a committee working on this said to include RO'D, GMcC, NF, Sean Corish, S O Cleirigh (Jackie Clarke), TM, EMacT, Redmond O'S, LG, WL, SO'B, JJMcG...
[This looks like the whole AC. Have I got it wrong? Did they produce a document?]
I seem to remember attending a SF dinner in some place like Enniscorthy or Gorey in the spring of 1964, at which Rory O'Driscoll presided. This was my first official encounter. Can we date this? I remember getting the measure of Rory as a classic, almost caricature, Fenian schoolteacher.
Circa May: reference to Social and Economic policy.
p416 Sean Mac Fheorais reported on WT committee plans.
p426 a Bray resolution in support of Nelson Mandela was blocked by AC. The overall politics was still clearly of the right.
This was published in the October 1964 United Irishman; I have taken a copy of the microfilm, but the quality is poor, and it is not feasible to scan it in. The key points however were as follows:
1. There was an introductory section which showed how imperialist economic forces worked within a unified financial system, with the partitioned State incapable of effectively controlling them in the people's interests. The result was depopulation of the west, concentration of industry into islands of precarious prosperity on the east coast, buying up of Irish firms by foreign monopolies, closure of smaller firms, purchase of land by foreigners. The Lemass economic programme would strengthen these negative trends.
2. The task of the movement had up to now been seen as simply the ending of Partition, and in this we had not been successful. If we persist in this narrow view, national decline would continue, transferring our rural population into the industrial towns of the oppressor. It would therefore be necessary to give a lead to the spontaneous movement of economic resistance which was beginning to emerge in the West, in the form of co-operative organisation of small farmers, for the purpose of their achieving some managed control over their inputs and outputs, and small-scale local industrial initiatives, based on locally produced raw materials.
3. Workers and management in the State sector of industry were identified as being part of the 'economic resistance', which also included primary producers, workers and traders co-operatives, locally based transport systems, with gombeen parasitic capitalism being replaced by community enterprise. The problem was to develop an economic environment to favour this process, and this was the role of the State. The Ralahine model, as outlined by Connolly, was mentioned. Links between producers and urban consumers would require the development of a consumer co-op movement in the cities.
4. The Credit Union movement was identified a means of organising a financial system supportive of local co-operative enterprise. It was further suggested that the Algerian experience, as outlined by Fanon, was relevant, and that the resistance to imperial domination was more likely to be rural-based than urban-based, given that the urban elite tended to prosper with crumbs from the imperial table.
The foregoing apparently is the origin of Desmond Greaves's 'labelling and dismissing' of the present writer's thinking as 'Fanonist' and 'petite-bourgeois'. It is actually closer to the thinking of JJ, Horace Plunkett and George Russell, viewed in retrospect. Fanon happened to be to hand, as the philosopher of a revolution which looked at the time to have had some success against the French. There certainly was an emphasis against the simplistic two-class model of traditional Marxism, and a desire to involve 'working owner-managers and self-employed' along with 'workers' among the progressive forces; also a feeling of the need to transform 'workers' into 'worker-owners' of their co-operatively owned workplaces. Industrial, commercial and social democracy would need a favourable environment within a framework of political democracy. On the whole I think it was theoretically a positive document, but perhaps the people who were influenced by it were too steeped in militaristic and elitist culture to interpret it validly.
[To the UI in 1965]
On p444 there is a list of AC as elected at the 1964 AF (Bricklayers Hall). Seamus Costello and Sean Bermingham are now in.
There were 69 motions on the agenda. Motion 7 from Cork was passed, urging the holding of discussions, debates and lectures on social, economic and political life in Ireland, with leading people in attendance. Motion 24, from Newry, urged the formation of Republican Clubs in the six counties, to overcome the problem of Sinn Fein being banned. This was passed with some amendment of wording. Motion 68 from Blessington was passed, calling for a national scheme of resistance to foreign take-over of land and industry, with a National Convention being convened to discuss the issue among concerned organisations.
The foregoing perhaps suggests that the United Irishman article on 'economic resistance' had been read and was being taken seriously. We have summarised it above.
AC 09/01/65 Gerry McCarthy proposed Sean Mac Stiofain as Cork organiser.
AC 09/01/65 Gerry McCarthy proposed Sean Mac Stiofain as Cork organiser.This is the first record of SmacS. His proposer, GMacC, represented the extreme 'Catholic Right' tendency, as evidenced by saying the Rosary at commemorations etc, and suspicion of CG's attempt to build bridges with the Protestant working-class in Belfast via the Left. I had, soon after, a somewhat unfriendly encounter with him in Cork, which was set up by SmacS, as a sort of verbal ambush.
AC 30/01/65 Sean Mac Fheorais reported that the WTS had arranged to set up a Civil Liberties organisation.
This does not yet relate to the planning of the War Memorial Hall meeting, from which originated the NICRA, and which took place somewhat later, at a meeting in Kevin Agnew's house in Maghera, attended by Dublin and Belfast Wolfe Tone Society people, and by Cathal Goulding. It relates to an earlier attempt by Tony Coughlan in the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society to initiate some initiative in the Republic against the Offences Against the State Act. This is reported in the Greaves journal in April 1965.
This checks out against the WTS minutes; Anthony Coughlan is on record as convener of a WTS group on civil rights in the Republic, at the January 1965 meeting.
* AC 01/05/65 there was talk of a special AF, and a Costello amendment. This presumably was Costello in a hurry to drop abstentionism and go political.
The April 1965 United Irishman reports Seamus Mac Riocaird's speech at Carrowteige in Co Mayo, on the need for fishermen to form co-ops to develop their markets. This was organised by RJ and Ethna MacManus in the context of the process of foundation of the 'Co-operative Development Trust', as launched the following October, and reported in the November UI (see below). There is also a reference to a local IRA statement relating to the Midleton ground rents issue. This was Mac Stiofain at work. There is also a long letter from Eamonn Mac Thomáis attacking an earlier editorial by Denis Foley calling for reform of electoral policy ('live horse and get grass, etc').
The May UI has a reference to an Easter statement about the 'internal examination' of movement policies, and a letter from Sean O Bradaigh supportive of Mac Thomáis attack on the Foley editorial. Ethna MacManus's paper to the Wolfe Tone Society on Agriculture is also reported.
AC 26/06/65 they again discussed the idea of a special AF; Costello was pro-active.
* This was a serious attempt to initiate the transformation of Sinn Fein into a radical political force, taking full part in the activities of civil society in both parts of Ireland. It was the fruit of the politicisation process of the previous internment, and probably was drafted by Goulding and Costello. I did not have any significant hand in it. It was an attempt to impose the 'advanced thinking' of the key Army people on the relatively reluctant Sinn Fein 'sea-green incorruptibles', at a rate somewhat faster than the latter were prepared to go. However some of the proposals did get past the Special Ard Fheis and the resulting atmosphere in Sinn Fein became more open to climatic change.
MR: Militarism was still stong at the time; MR and Malachi McGurran were both distrustful of Costello.
The basis of this distrust was probably Costello's vision of combining the ending of abstention with what amounted to a Stalinist or quasi-militaristic political model.
The key 'civil society enabling proposals' were in Section :
(b) That the whole question of attitude to be adopted by Republicans in prison be reconsidered with a view to revision of same.
(c) That there be no obstacle placed in the way of Republicans writing to government departments in the 6 Counties, 26 Counties or in Britain seeking information or requesting that something be done, etc.
(d) That Republicans acting as members of local organisations and not simply as Republicans be permitted and encouraged to take part in delegations to Ministers of any of the three governments administrating in Ireland.
* This opening up however was marred by an over-riding philosophy of aspiration to 'own' broader organisations, and steer them into 'national question' issues. This comes over in Section :
 (a)That the essential work of the republican movement at present is the development of political and agitational activities and the infiltration and direction of other organisations.
Note the use of the word 'infiltration': this reflects traditional elitist Army thinking and I remember noting the need to campaign against the concept via the educational opportunities presented by the following sections. People should be active in organisations which genuinely reflect their broader interests as citizens or specialists of one kind or another, a process basically different from 'infiltration' as then perceived by the activists.
(b) That educational and training programmes in both organisations should be directed to this end. That one educational centre for all recruits to the Republican Movement be set up, details of organisation to be worked out by the executives of both branches.
(c) That closer integration of the executives of both organisations is essential. That this should be achieved by having the same people on both executives.
(d) That the structure and constitution of each organisation should be streamlined to provide for close co-operation between both at local level.
This was accepted by the Ard Comhairle, but at the Special Ard Fheis only (b) and (d) were carried; (c) was lost, and (a) was amended as follows:
"That the essential work of the Republican Movement at present is the development of political and agitational activities and the giving of leadership, internally and externally, and the involvement of other organisations in struggles for limited objectives as a preparation for an ultimate confrontation with the British Government on the national issue. This amendment does not accept Recommendation No. 9 as a logical extension of these recommendations."
This amendment was inconsistent with the role envisioned for the NICRA by those who were at this time promoting it. It is closer to the Blaneyite approach which subsequently emerged post 1969, driving the Civil Rights campaign into the Catholic ghettos.
The launch meeting of the Co-operative Development Trust (Comhar Linn), chaired by Michael Viney, is reported in the November 1965 UI, and in the December issue there is an article by Hubert Butler reflecting on his own republican credentials. This also has an article by George Gilmore 'Gentlemen, you have a country', and one by Maire Comerford on Rhodesia.
AC 13/11/65 (p517) Sean O Bradaigh introduced his education plan. SF and the 'other branch' were supposed to be acting in tandem on this, with RJ supporting SO'B in the 'other branch', as part of CG's plan to integrate both branches into a single political movement.
4/12/65: we have discussion at the AC of those AF resolutions which were not reached, due to time. As usual they are numbered, and the reference document is to hand, though incomplete at the time of writing. The AC considered motions from 32 onwards (with two exceptions), implying that at the AF motions 1 to 31 were considered.
Motion 1 sought to define whether SF was a political party or not. Motions 2 and 3 called for instant expulsion of anyone proposing or advocating entry into Leinster House, Stormont or Westminster. Motion 6 required a pledge from AC members not to use their position to advocate entry into partition assemblies....
Motions 30 and 31 considered what to do under abstentionism in the case of the coming Westminster elections. Motion 32 called for intensification or preparations for the coming 26 county local elections...
* I think it is probable that the extremist motions 2, 3 and 6 were defeated, but that abstentionism was maintained. I have recollections of a Moran's Hotel AF, but these were the following year, 1966. I was not yet actually a member of Sinn Fein at this time. Subsequently the Pearse Cumann was set up, which met in our house; Cathal Goulding was a member of it, and began to participate within the SF organisation.
[Where the motions were referred to the AC however I have mostly got the record of their fate. The first one, 32, was to be put on the agenda of a sub-committee consisting of Proinnsias de Rossa, Tomás Mac Giolla, Eamonn Mac Tomáis, Wally Lynch and Tony Ruane. For motions 33 to 42 I have the decisions but not the motions; I will come back to this when Jeffries digs them out. I have decisions and motions from 43 onwards, with the exception of 46. I pick out the ones which are significant.]
Motion 43: 'eradication of un-Irish organisations' eg picketing the annual dance of the RAF Association; this was accepted.
Motion 44 to study local government systems in Europe with a view to reforming the present system away from the 'anglo-american pattern'; this was referred to the sub-committee listed above.
Motion 45 called for an approach to the Irish National Teachers Organisation INTO on the question of the oath in the 6 counties. This was accepted, and it was agreed to take steps to get the issue discussed at the INTO national executive.
Motion 46 condemned Communism, opposed collaboration with Communist organisations, and called for expulsion of any member having known connections with communism. The AC record simply skips this, going on from 45 to 47. The number 46 appears in the minutes but is overwritten by 47. It is therefore not clear whether or how this was considered.
I suspect that this motion was aimed at getting rid of the present writer, and was prompted by the valid perception that Stalinist communism as practiced in the USSR was to be discouraged. The present writer had clearly dissociated himself, in his writings, from this position, promoting instead the Connolly tradition: economic democracy, with the Ralahine chapter in Labour in Irish History as model. Goulding accepted this, and was prepared to defend me from attacks from the right-wing traditionalist quarter. Perhaps the motion had been dealt with at the Ard Fheis, by dint of re-ordering the sequence from the chair. Or perhaps Goulding just told the AC to ignore it.
Motions 47 and 48 were pious and were accepted. Motion 49 is the other one missing from the sequence. It calls on the movement not to be sidetracked from '..building up forces which will eventually force the evacuation of British troops from Ireland.' This could have been considered at the AF; I don't know what happened to it; if it was passed it would indicate that the thinking was pure militarist, so I suspect it was rejected. I will have to await input from Jeffries.
Motions 50 to 56 were all accepted; they were mostly aspirational, in a general socio-economic direction. Motions 57 to 59 were referred to the National Commemoration Committee.
Motions 60 to 66 related to the United Irishman and I don't have the record of what was done with them. They reflect unease on the part of the traditionalists about the UI content, and call for tighter SF editorial control.
In fact the UI was regarded as Army property, and Goulding defended its role as a key agent to political change. Some light is thrown on the background Army Council thinking on these matters by some documents from the Department of Justice archive which have been released; these were in the possession of Sean Garland on an occasion when he was returning from a meeting at the end of January 1966. They consist of a political plan which had some degree of credibility, a military plan of highly questionable credibility (put in presumably as lip service to the tradition, to keep hardliners like Mac Stiofain and Ruairi O Bradaigh onside for the present), a document analysing critically the feedback from the 1965 Extraordinary Ard Fheis, and handwritten notes on the recent Army Council meeting. I comment on these documents elsewhere.
29/01/66 p534: there is a reference to A Coughlan and a Joint Republican Education Centre. The objective of this must have been to update the understanding of the grassroots about the potential for development via the NICRA.
Coughlan probably has papers on this. The fact that Coughlan is officially on record here implies his acceptance as being a 'member of the movement' via the Dublin WTS, on Goulding's say-so. In fact however he never became a member. There was some degree of ambiguity, which Goulding tried to use creatively.
There is also a reference to the Barnes McCormack Committee. We need to find out who was on this. It is necessary to pin it down as a focus for the 'provisional' process, which it certainly later turned out to be.
MR: The names of Mrs Dempsey, Mrs Moynihan in Mullingar (a sister of Sean O Maolbhride) and Harry White come to mind.
In January we have an exposure of the phony 'IRA campaign' invented by the RUC for their own purposes, ie hoodwinking the British government. Gilmore writes on Connolly. Tony Meade is interviewed by Tomas Mac Giolla. This is part of a build-up process; he is being groomed for editor. Alternatives to Free Trade are suggested. There is a Wolfe Tone Society Report, based on its Tuairisc newsletter (edited by Anthony Coughlan)..
In February we have Frank McGlade elected as Chair of the Northern Directory; 200 attended a meeting in Dungiven; the objective is to commemorate 1916 in the North. There is a report of an article by RJ on 'economics for trade unionists' based on a Sinn Fein educational conference; the key issue here is to replace the 'workers vs management' paradigm by 'workers + management vs owners'. Joe McGrane of the WUI and Kader Asmal also spoke at the event. It seems also I was critical of the 'parity with sterling' principle, and called for an all-Ireland economic model for use in policy planning. George Gilmore in his series defends himself against right-wing attacks by one Seamus Ceitinn.
In March there is a 'Free Trade Catechism' which is basically a WTS critique of the Free Trade Agreement. There is an IRA statement attacking Stormont for manufacturing phony incidents. The April 1966 is special; it is the 'golden jubilee' of 1916; the GPO is on the front page; it contains a page and a half by the present writer entitled '1916 and its Aftermath'. In this I outline neo-colonialism, and mention Conor Cruise O'Brien in the Congo. I call for intellectual support for the development of the 'half-baked ideas which constitute this article'. Why were we not like Norway? Partition as the obstacle; emigration of all the best brains. This may be worth quoting in full, if it is feasible; it is reflective and critical. Gilmore is on the labour movement and the Rising.
In May 1966 there is a report of the mass rally in Casement Park, addressed by Malachi McBirney and Seamus Costello. Denis Foley analyses the NI elections, as a 'rout'; a good argument but a bad vote, abstention being the implied problem. There is an article on Glencolumcille; the WTS Free Trade Catechism continues, as does Gilmore on Labour and the Rising. A Fishing Rights body is founded in Galway; this is the National Waters Restoration League; the key issue is seen as inshore fishing for salmon. Names associated are Eamonn Conneely, Seamus Rickard, Labhras O Nuallain (the UCG economist, who had written on the finances of Partition), Caoimhin Campbell and Seamus O Mongain (the Mayo 'Comhar na gComharsan' group); it seems also that I was involved, as from the WTS. This was a spin-off from the Comhar Linn effort, where Ethna MacManus was the key activist.
The Goulding trial makes the front page in the June 1966 issue; this had been adjourned six times; he had been found in possession of a weapon. Making a news item of this is an illustration of the contradictory situation the UI was in: were they politicising or not? Did they have to keep nodding in the direction of the militarist tradition? Seoirse Dearle talks to Tony Meade about the urban consumer co-op movement. Brian Farrington's paper on the Irish literary revival, in the WTS 1916 lecture series, is printed in full. The Gilmore series continues.
The July 1966 issue reports the Bodenstown commemoration, including the strength of the martial air and the presence of wolfhounds. A 'TU' banner is carried by Sceim na gCeardcumann. The Belfast Trades Council is said to have participated. The oration was given by Seamus Costello. There is a report of the Kader Asmal lecture on 20th century freedom movement, being part of the WTS public lecture series. The August 1966 issue continues with Asmal, covers the Belfast 12th of July events, notes the takeover threat of Nitrigin Eireann, and takes an interest in Nixon. In September Fr McDyer thanks Clann na hEireann for their vacation help.
The October 1966 issue reports Mac Stiofain in Belfast, speaking in the Milltown cemetery. There is a Special Branch exposure. Brendan Halligan lectures on Connolly, in the WTS series; Mac Thomáis on Casement.
In the November issue the farmers' protest continues. Doherty, the Comhar Linn manager, seeks republican collectors. This was the end-game for that ill-starred enterprise, a deed of desperation. More from Brendan Halligan in the WTS series. Goulding is reported at the Sean Tracy commemoration at Feakle. There is a Tuairisc reprint on Unionism and Paisley. Tony Meade responds to the 'discovery' of the IRA by Hibernia. There are references to Wesley Boyd and Michael Viney. Meade however claims not to be relinquishing the use of force.
The present writer's interpretation of the above at this time was that it was a sop to the traditionalists, to keep them on side during the politicisation process.
AC 5/11/66 preparations for the Ard Fheis in Moran's Hotel; Bowyer Bell was given permission to see records.
[The question of Bowyer Bell's terms of reference, and to what did he get access, remain on the agenda. I have seen him, and he said he was not encouraged to see me. Whom did he see? MR finds this intriguing and feels it should be explored further.]
The 1966 AF records are relatively complete. There is a Secretaries Report, signed by Mairin de Burca and Ualteir O Loinsigh (Wally Lynch) which states that the AC had met 17 times; Sean O Bradaigh was in charge of publicity; Richard Behal had been dismissed for unauthorised actions over Easter. It had been decided to context five seats in the Westminster elections. The candidates were Tom Mitchell in Mid-Ulster, Rory Brady in Fermanagh / South Tyrone, Neill Gillespie in Derry, George Mussen in South Down and Charlie McGlennan in Armagh. It had been difficult to rally the support of the movement behind the campaign. The results showed drops compared to 1964 in Derry, South Down and Fermanagh / South Tyrone, and increases in Armagh and mid-Ulster; in the latter they nearly won the seat.
I recollect that the feedback from the Republican Clubs was that if abstention had been abandoned they would have won easily, and the poor turn out was due to abstentionism being in discredit. This 'near miss' came back to haunt them subsequently when Bernadette Devlin won the seat.
The secretaries' report went on to record the poor attendance at a meeting of existing SF local government representatives, and to express dissatisfaction at the level of coverage of SF affairs by the United Irishman. It was noted that the 'joint educational centre' had been set up, but that it had fallen through for lack of support.
During this period the writer was being introduced by Cathal Goulding to various OCs throughout the country, and some sort of network was established for political education, with encouragement to actually join and participate in SF activity. The United Irishman and its circulation became the key factor in this process. Local seminars were organised, but the 'joint educational centre' concept had never been high on the agenda, its practical value being questionable.
MR recollects that at this time he was appointed O/C of Dublin, with the objective of activating the IRA politically via Sinn Fein, and installing a more politically aware and effective leadership in Dublin SF.
The Report noted the continuing harassment of the head office by the special branch, and interference with the post. It also recorded that they had protested against Irish people being recruited to the US army to fight in Vietnam. They had attempted to get the Hierarchy to support this position. The US ambassador replied to the effect that the Irish in the US were treated like everyone else. The Hierarchy had not acknowledged their letter.
A drive to bring back the remains of Dunne and O'Sullivan, Barnes and McCormack, and Daly had been initiated, and a committee set up for this purpose.
The first two were the assassins of Sir Henry Wilson in 1922 on the orders of Collins. The second two were executed for bombing in Britain in 1939. The 'return of the remains' process had commenced with Roger Casement in 1966, on government initiative. The writer has always had the gut feeling that the timing of the release of these remains was selected by the British to undermine the politicisation process (of which with the NICRA they were beginning to feel the effects) and enhance the process of diversion of the republican movement back into military mode. The Dunne and O'Sullivan funeral took place at Deans Grange and gave a high-profile public platform to Sean Mac Stiofain. The Barnes McCormack funeral took place at Mullingar at a time when the NICRA was in the ascendant; the Barnes McCormack Committees were the skeleton of the post-split Provisional Sinn Fein.
The Secretaries' Report has a complete list of all people who attended the 1966 Ard Fheis, typed out, with cumann name and location. The present writer's name is added on in pen, as representing Cumann Piarsaigh.
* This indicates that by the end of 1966 the present writer was just about beginning to be accepted in the SF context, somewhat grudgingly. Despite this, the incoming Ard Comhairle included the present writer. This is an indication of the role of the Army vote in the SF Ard Fheis. One would not normally expect to get elected to the national executive at one's first National Convention. There had been an Army Convention shortly before this, the effect of which would have been to reinforce the process of integration of the movement, and this certainly showed after AF66.
Motions passed included a call for an updated reprint of the Constitution, ratification of more of the 1965 Special Ard Fheis 'civil society' procedures such as to encourage open activity, a call for the AC to shadow the Cabinet, and a detailed one from the Pearse Cumann, in which the present writer's hand can be detected. I give it in full, as it indicates the strength of the 'civil society' aspiration of the Army 'left-modernisers'.
"That this Ard Fheis notes with concern (1) the continued deterioration of the housing conditions in Ireland; (2) the apparent ease with which demolition of sound property can be carried out for rebuilding in their own time by foreign speculators; (3) the continued failure of the Corporation of Dublin to use its power to direct rebuilding to vacant central sites in depressed areas of the city; (4) the high rents paid by tenants of furnished rooms, their lack of security of tenure and the increasing dependence of working-class families on this type of accommodation. An Ard Fheis therefore calls upon the Corporation of Dublin to require that the demolitions be subject to planning permission and that vacant central sites be used for all types of development (housing, shops, offices, factories) immediately, using if necessary compulsory purchase. It calls on the Government in Dublin to legislate to give security of tenure to tenants of furnished rooms, with families subject to appeal to a tribunal. It calls on all Dublin Cumainn to agitate and organise the people to support demands along these lines.
Pearse Cumann, Dublin."
Motions were passed urging an organised approach to the coming local elections, with a raising of the public profile in selected provincial centres as well as in Dublin. There were many motions critical of the United Irishman from a 'sea-green incorruptible' traditionalist position. These would mostly have been referred to the incoming Ard Comhairle. There was a report by Sean O Bradaigh as Director of Publicity, and he also had negative things to say about the UI, which had been critical of SF. He had issued 21 press statements during the year, on topic which included the Rhodesian crisis, the Free Trade Agreement, Ireland and Europe, the Royal visit to Belfast, labour legislation and the so-called 'Language Freedom Movement'. He had hoped to have the Social and Economic Programme ready, but this had got bogged down in statistics, and they had felt the need for expert advice.
MR in his capacity as O/C of Dublin, by arrangement with Mairtin O Cadhain, organised the disruption of the LFM meeting in the Mansion House.
AC 26/11/66: as a result of the Moran's Hotel AF, as well as the present writer Goulding was now on the AC, along with Costello.
AC 11/12/66 the idea of a Coiste Seasta (CS) emerged, also the need for a revision of the Constitution.
MR at about this time organised, in a Leitrim farmhouse, the first ever IRA training camp which had a political dimension. The present writer attended this, observing with detachment some war-gaming, but basically attempting to foster the primacy of the political role. I remember helping to upgrade the diet with dried apricots, and sleeping somewhat uncomfortably on the floor. To convey ideas to activists effectively it is necessary to share their hardships.
AC 19/12/66 a meeting took place with the Central Council of Tenants Associations. Representing SF was TMacG, SC, RJ, Prionnsias de Rossa and Tommy O'Neill. Representing the Tenants was Charles Keenan, Ed Smith, John Murphy and Matt Larkin. Support was sought for their national campaign against the increase of rents in local authority houses.
AC 31/12/66 The CS was set up: TMacG, CG, SO'B, M de B, Tony Ruane, Sean Mac Stiofain, Seamus Costello and RJ. RJ was appointed Director of Education.
In subsequent records this CS seems to have been a somewhat fluid body, augmenting itself according to the needs of the occasion. In fact it became increasingly indistinguishable from CG's 'HQ Staff'. We take up the sequence of events in the next module.
The United Irishman of December 1966 contains Mac Giolla's oration to the Ard Fheis, confirming non-participation in Leinster House. Cathal MacLiam defends the anti-apartheid movement. Sean Gault in Kildare wants agitation not a lottery. This is a valid criticism of the way Comhar Linn has evolved. Noel Kavanagh write on cultural participation. This is a further WTS initiative. Haughey is getting stronger. Meade writes about Sean South, whom he knew personally. Another nod to keep the traditionalists on-side. Anthony Coughlan, who has attended the Social Studies Congress in Limerick, writes on 'the Christian and the Social Services'.
Notes and References1. The Workers Party can be contacted at 23 Hill St, Dublin 1, phone 01-874-0716.
2. Mick Ryan was actively involved with the movement up to the period of transition to 'Workers Party' mode; he then left politics, took up teaching and is now retired and living at 15 Rockmount Gardens, Carrick Road, Dundalk, Co Louth. He has published a memoir in a special commemorative 'United Irishman' which came out for the 1798 bicentenary in Belfast; this is on record in the Linen Hall Library.
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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999