Century of Endeavour
Sinn Fein Minutes from January 1971
(c) Roy Johnston 1999(comments to email@example.com)
We take up the narrative on the eve of the '1970 Ard Fheis' which overflowed into 1971, as had happened the previous year. There is a whiff of internment in the air.
CS January 3 1971: TMacG, SD, DK, CG, SOC, MdeB. Letter from RJ to the effect that he was not going forward for the AC; noted with no comment. Nenagh NFA wanted speakers on the EEC; TMacG and Seamus O Tuathail to go. DK to speak at an anti-internment meeting in Rathmines.
I had been working in self-employed consultancy mode for a year by this time, and was beginning to feel the strain. I was under the impression that the basic politics of the politicised movement was healthy, and could be expected to continue with the momentum it had accumulated, despite militaristic rumblings. I grossly underestimated the extent to which militaristic responses would be provoked, in parallel with the build-up of the Provisional threat.
The Ard Fheis was planned for Liberty Hall on January 16-17; Jack Dowling was to write it up for the Irish Times. Some correspondence relating to the classification and scheduling of motions was dealt with. Funds and files had been seized in Sligo by the police, and the CS agreed to lodge a complaint.
This latter point fuelled the 'internment' paranoia. The Special Branch regarded the 'Officials' and 'Provisionals' as being all the same. The arms build-up then being organised by the Provisionals generated police activity which hindered the completion of the politicising process.
This was from a deceased bachelor farmer near Nenagh, on the Newport road, who had sought RJ's help in trying to find a 'good republican' apprentice farmer, whom he could adopt, and to whom he could leave his land, rather than have his neighbour snatch it. I did not succeed in this impossible task. There is raw material here for a short story.
There was a complaint from Belfast about alleged Dublin interference in Republican Clubs event on Dec 20. An invitation to send a delegate to a 'socialist-republican unity conference' was politely declined, due to pressure of organisational work, but they undertook to send an observer. TMacG reported on a projected 'anti-imperialist conference' in Belfast which was having trouble 'getting off the ground'.
Ard Comhairle January 30 1971: TMacG, SOC, DMacR, Liam McMillan, Kitty O'Kane, MR, SD, IB, LOC, Eoin O Murchu, Janice Williams, DK, Michael Murtagh, Liam O'Connor, CG, Joe Sherlock, SC, MdeB. One resignation due to change in electoral policy (Sean Og O Dubhghaill). New Cumann in Mooncoin. Letter from RJ re formation of anti-EEC groups. Clara factory closure; Forcible Entry Bill.
Runai: SOC, MdeB; Cisteoir: SD, JW; Education: DK; Organiser: SG. 1971 AF fixed for November 26-28; Steering Committee for the AF to be SD, TM, DK and one of the Runai.
[We need here copies of the Ard Fheis Clar. The numbers must be within sections, whence the page numbers.]
Noted that no 29 on policy was lost; 12 p2, 19 p3, 20 p3 could only be decided by AF. There remained 34 p9, 3 p10, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 17 p11, 20 p12, 22 p16, 26 p8 to be dealt with. CS to consider and recommend.
An editorial committee was set up to develop a theoretical journal 'Teoric' in support of the internal educational programme, for use by DK for educational conferences. The 1967 Local Government policy document was to be circulated; a statement on local government for the Gaeltacht was agreed.
Dundalk shoe factory had closed but was being kept going as a worker co-op. Republican Clubs in the North: need for improved PR skills noted, but no decision. Fines for take-over of BEA plane to be paid.
In what capacity was I there? Perhaps it was a residual 'director of education' function, in support of DK.
A leaflet I had prepared for a picket on the British Embassy was rejected. I agreed to handle a questionnaire about the EEC from Comhaltas Daonscoil. Letter from May Hayes referred to the AC. Curtailing of evening classes; student protests to be supported.
CS Feb 15 1971: TMacG, SD, TM, DK, SOC. 'Unity Committee': DK to go if Costello was unable. Coalisland Republican Club requested late affiliation details for the last 2 Ard Fheiseanna. Provisionals were writing round to local councillors; it was agreed not to get bogged down in replying to every Provisional statement but just to keep on doing our own political activity. Housewives association, food prices, the EEC.
CS March 1 1971: TMacG, TM, JW, SOC, SD, DK. Waterford Cumann wanted to register. Peg Popplewell sec of Socialist Unity Conference wrote asking for an SF observer for their meeting on March 12; Costello to go. Statement to be issued attacking Conor Cruise O'Brien's 6-county statement at the Labour conference. Cumainn to be called upon to boycott the Irish Press.
The impact of the Irish Press support for the Provisionals was clearly being felt. The fringe socialist groups were being taken seriously: it was considered that they should be recruited in if possible, or if not, to try to exercise some control over their political positions, with a view to avoiding ultra-leftist adventurism.
Donnacha Mac Raghnaill had been physically attacked and was in hospital. A campaign to try to get large estates taken over as co-ops was considered, with Carton in Kildare and Lissadell in Sligo as initial targets. Housing Action next meeting.
Co-op worker-ownership of estates would have been a relevant policy in the 1920s, but at this time it was of marginal or symbolic significance only, practically all land now being in the hands of individual farmers. JJ had been on about it in his time, but on this occasion I can't claim to have initiated specifically this idea, though it would have emerged out of the left-political policy mill.
The Socialist Party of Ireland was associated with the name of Seamus Rattigan who had been a leading SF member. His dropping out suggests unease with the perceived socialist credentials of SF as it was then. He had served his time in the office as Secretary during a tempestuous year. His Party initially included the Brogan brothers (ex-IRA) and John McGregor from the student republican club, and picked up later also some Labour Left drop-outs, including Dave Neligan, the dentist. It aspired to make a politically credible party to the left of Labour, without the incubus of a load of baggage from the military conspiratorial tradition; it was a sort of 'dry run' for what later manifested itself as the Democratic Left, led by Proinnsias de Rossa. It certainly was a warning signal that the politicising of the Movement had been inconsistent and incomplete, and that the movement was under increasing militarist pressure from the Northern situation.
Janice Williams and Tony Heffernan were to attend a Socialist Unity Conference in the RDS as observers. Janice recollects quite a large meeting, with a platform group; Tom Redmond and others representing the Communist Party appeared to want to keep their distance; mostly there were present ultra-left groups of various hues; the overall thrust of the argument was critical of Coughlan's somewhat conservative and insular attitude to the EEC, of which the real threat was identified as core-European imperialist neo-colonial annexation of the third world. It could be regarded as a forerunner of the current (2001+) 'anti-globalisation movement', as analysed for example by Naomi Klein in the New Left Review, May/June 2001; it would also perhaps have been influenced by the 1968 events in Paris, as had been the People's Democracy movement in Belfast earlier. Subsequent association of Seamus Costello with this 'socialist unity' group probably provided ideological fuel for the development of his breakaway IRSP and associated INLA.
TMacG agreed to accept the challenge from Conor Cruise O'Brien to debate publicly the North, provided Labour agreed to accept CCOB's remarks as Party policy.
There had been 'weekend events in Bray': it was agreed to instruct Cumainn to ignore all Provisional meetings. Housing Action people had formed a broader group to oppose the Forcible Entry Bill.
CS April 5 1971: TMacG, CG, SOC, SD, JW, MdeB. Niall McGinn as Galway regional delegate. Financial deficit reported; non-payment for radio and TV interviews to be questioned. SOC reported Clan na herein almost defunct. An 'Open Letter to the Protestant people' to be printed and 20,000 distributed. Was this Keller's? It was agreed to initiate registration SF as a political party.
CS April 19 1971: TMacG, CG, JW, SD, MdeB, TM, SOC. Costello to be asked to speak at a Dublin May Day event, despite opposition from TM. A new C na He branch in London reported. Ard Fheis planned for end May. Request for Cumann affiliation fees to be sent out. Registration as political party: confidential letter had been leaked to the Daily Mirror. Link with Saor Eire group, suggested by Sunday Independent, denied. Trouble with 'splinter group' in Ennis. Ivan Barr had been elected Chair of the NICRA.
CS April 26 1971: TMacG, CG, JW, DK, SD, SOC, MdeB. Prospect of forming a Cumann in Carlow. Dublin CC wanted a pamphlet on EEC alternatives; RJ to be asked to do this, in association with CMSG. Citizens for Civil Liberty had produced a leaflet about the Forcible Entry Bill. Financial situation remains problematic. Agreed to recommend to the AC that SF register as a political party, while protesting about the leak of the letter to the Clerk of the Dail. Jack Lynch in Cork (a republican activist and printer) to be asked for a quote for the 'open letter to the Protestant people'. Oliver Frawley to attend C na hE meetings in London. Leinster educational conference fixed for May 22-23; Local Government conference for June 13-14.
CS May 3 1971: TMacG, CG, DK, RJ, SOC and MdeB. Some money had come in from a special appeal. Registrar of Political Parties asked for particulars of leakage and who was suspected. RJ's letter re May Day was received and read, but there is no indication what was in it, or what was decided, if anything.
It could be that the letter was the reason for my presence there. I have no recollection what the issue was. It could have been that SF were hanging back from participating in what might have been perceived as a Stalinist celebration, in which case I would have made the case that its origins were in US trade unionism. But see the Wolfe Tone Society record about this time.
Kelleher's draft statement on the Guinness redundancies was read and agreed. It was reported that Seamus O Tuathail was leaving the United Irishman and being replaced by Eoin O Murchu. The idea of a mass unemployed rally was floated, and it was agreed to put the idea to Des Geraghty.
CS May 10 1971: TMacG, JW, DK, CG, MdeB. Leakage re registration was Peter O'Connell; registrar to be informed. Leaflet re Guinness redundancies. MdeB reported meeting with Des Geraghty re unemployment and redundancies; a Mansion House meeting addressed by trade union people was considered. Syl Doolan resigning due to ill-health. JW to see if Tony Heffernan could stand in as co-treasurer. Leinster educational conference finalised. Carton estate leaflet for the Leixlip Cumann.
CS May 17 1971: TMacG, DK, JW, CG, MdeB. Tralee annual report received. Sean Dunne was reinstated. Educational conference poorly supported. National College of Art: Education under neo-colonialism; meeting projected. After-mass meetings on EEC in Kildare.
CS June 8 1971: TMacG, MR, JW, DK, MdeB. Dun Laoire resolution re Bray Provisional confrontation. TMacG to speak at Berehaven on the EEC on June 24. Situation regarding potato pickers in Scotland to be looked into.
AC record: missing or inaccessible?
CS June 21 1971: TMacG, DK, CG, MdeB. Resignation from Sean Moore in Cork. Meetings of 'both branches' to stress importance of political activity. Mansion House booked for Ard Fheis for October 30-31. Procedural enquiries from Wicklow. PRO for Cork should stick to Cork. Connaught organiser reported. CG had received a letter from one Ronan O Laoire seeking financial assistance to make a film; he was pointed in the direction of RTE contacts.
CS June 28 1971: TMacG, JW, CG, SOC, MdeB. John Donovan to convene a Cork meeting. Ground Rents in Palmerstown. Enquiries from Registrar of Political Parties seeking information; response was hampered by police seizure of files, and harassment. Clann na hEireann in London was refusing to recognise the Constitution. There was evidence of press censorship on EEC issues; TMacG and SOC to see the editor Douglas Gageby.
CS July 12 1971: TMacG, CG, DK, TM, SOC, JW, MdeB. Agreed to set up a publicity-oriented group. Further correspondence with the registrar of political parties. Hillery had done some deal regarding the motor assembly industry in the EEC; statement to be issued. Housing action issues: problems with residents and traveller settlement, threats etc. Agreed to give £5 to the Joe Nolan dependents fund.
CS July 19 1971: TMacG, JW, DK, SOC, MdeB, Breasail O Caollai. Talk of disbanding the London Clann. Publicity group to include Eoin O Murchu, Terry Murphy, supported by Seamus O Tuathail who would do PRO training; visit to Belfast projected. Dublin CC to handle statement re Guinness closure. Protest meetings re prisoners in Connaught.
[More to come?]
CS July 26 1971: TMacG, CG, JW, SOC. Anti-sectarian leaflet for distribution in Belfast. Anti-internment meeting in Belfast (TMacG). Release the Prisoners meetings in Kerry. SOC to go to the USA.
CS Aug 3 1971: TMacG, CG, TM, DK, SOC, MdeB. Political registration completed; statement to press. National collection in September. Bail (Mrs Gaj) to be withdrawn in Gaffney case. One Sean Farrell judged unsuitable for membership. Next AC August 21. TMacG reported on a meeting to be held on 4th with Paddy Devlin and the CPI to discuss the 6-Co situation. TMacG to attend as an observer, make suggestions and ask questions on SDLP policy on withdrawal from Stormont.
AC August 21 1971:
Round about now Janice moved in with the present writer, a relationship which was finally legalised in February 1998, after my divorce from Mairin in October 1997. I mention this in passing. There is some infill in the family thread.
CS August 30 1971: TMacG, Tony Heffernan, DK, JW, MdeB. Devlin/CPI meeting had been unproductive. Gaffney question to be explored at Cumann level. Bottle throwing at British Embassy to be discussed at TU Group. Speaker requested from Roscarbery Macra na Feirme on the EEC. Speakers requested for meetings in Cork, Limerick, Dublin, Boyle. Waterville fish-in had been attacked by locals. Wicklow CC instructed to prioritise clearing of Maureen Kelleher debt. TH reported on raid on the SF office. Bogus statement to be exposed publicly. TMacG reported on Belfast situation, from a 6-Co executive meeting held on 29th: street committees were being organised in support of civil disobedience; proxies could be nominated for NICRA executive members who had been interned; situation regarding Ard Fheis was confused; there were 14 clubs meeting regularly.
CS September 6 1971: TMacG, DK, TH, JW, CG, MdeB. AC to pay Kelleher debt and then recover from Wicklow CC. This was an acute father-daughter issue with DK. An issue arose regarding internal SF discipline and the role of the 'other branch'. Anti-EEC work should not be confused by linking it with anti-internment work, which apparently in some instances it had been. Heath-Lynch talks: statement to be deferred.
CS September 13 1971: TMacG, DK, TH, JW, Eoin O Murchu. Office raid had been as a result of an anonymous phone-call. Letter from Conor Cruise O'Brien challenging to a debate in public: agreed to accept, subject to a good venue being found. TMacG reported on impact of internment on Republican Clubs in the 6-cos. Agreed AC should submit substantive policy motions under headings political, economic, education, culture, social services and local government, to which Cumann motions would be taken as amendments. RJ to be asked to do 'social services', TMacG to do political, EOM education and culture, Terry Murphy economic. EOM and JW proposed a motion that MdeB refrain from getting arrested at least until the backlog of cases against her had been cleared; 4 votes for, 1 against, 1 abstention. MdeB had always been something of an activist, a role increasingly inconsistent with her role as secretary of a national organisations.
CS September 20 1971: TMacG, CG, MdeB, TH, JW; apology from DK. Secs asked to examine Constitution for amendments required consequent on the previous set of amendments. Problems at local level between CPI and SF in Dun Laoire; position outlined by Syl Doolan. CCOB debate to go ahead, details to be fixed. SG to attend C na hE Ard Fheis on October 16-17. Weekend school November 6-7.
CS October 4 1971: TMacG, CG, TH, JW, DK. Dun Laoire CPI dispute had been settled and CP members were now taking part in Housing Action Committee activities. CCOB meeting on hold. Correspondence with the Connolly Cumann re the Gaffney case; it was important to avoid giving the State any pretext for introducing internment. DK to draft a motion on local government and housing. He had been active getting housing for working people in Greystones. JW reported that the Celtic League had set up a fund to support Scottish and Welsh soldiers who might desert on NI duty. This idea, modelled on US anti-Vietnam war practice, while well-intentioned, never came to anything.
The several Gaffney references above relate to a woman whom we suspected of acting as an agent-provocateur in order to generate a perceived political need for internment.
CS October 11 1971: TMacG, CG, TM, JW, DK, MdeB, TH. Local Government reform issues discussed (what is 'DFA' in this context? Not clear). DK to attend CPI congress in Belfast October 16-17. CCOB debate being negotiated; MdeB and Fr Austin Flannery involved. CG to meet Anthony Coughlan to discuss progress of EEC campaign. TMacG reported on a Tubbercurry meeting with representatives of 8 cumainn forming a new CC. TMacG's visit to the US: Republican Clubs wanted it postponed to the spring. There is also a letter from Brian Wilkinson of the South Wales Connolly Association wishing success to the coming Ard Fheis and the strengthening of the anti-imperialist struggle in Ireland.
CS October 18 1971: TMacG, MdeB, TH, DK, TM, JW. Letter from RJ re invitation by 'Breton CP' for SF to send a speaker covering the Irish situation throughout Brittany. JW to convey a requirement for a broader base if this was to be done. Documentation re SF refused to CCOB prior to debate. DK reported on CPI conference; Provo policies had been consistently attacked; observers from other countries had got the message; he urged opening up our AF to international progressive attention. Next AC meeting to be dedicated to the North.
CS October 25 1971: TMacG, CG, JW, DK, EOM, TH, Kevin McCorry. Letter re Derry dependents of internees; Pat Clarke the secretary wanted written support from 'both sections' of the movement; they would concentrate on dependents of those interned without trial. Problem in Galway re Niall McGinn. Memo from Uinsean Mac Eoin was referred to the AC; it urged a combined military command, and welcomed Direct Rule, while (inconsistently) urging ongoing support for the Civil Rights campaign. A German TV company wanted to interview TMacG. Meetings in Armagh and Cork. Round Room of the Mansion House booked for the Ard Fheis; motions to be introduced by: TMacG political, EOM economic and cultural, DK local government, JW social, DMacR educational. MdeB to be paid while in jail.
Ard Comhairle? Ard Fheis? Stuff seems to be missing...
CS November 15 191: DK, CG, LMacM, EOM, TH. Invitation by Belfast Workers Committee to debate the '2-nations theory' declined. DK to attend Anti-Apartheid AGM. Tralee meeting: Malachi McG and Seamus O Tuathail to go. CG initiated an approach to various organisations by letter regarding the 'national liberation movement' concept. AC fixed for December 11. Statement to be issued, and pickets organised if possible, for the Harold Wilson visit.
This broad-based 'national liberation movement' idea never took shape; the Provos and internment had hampered any moves in that direction; Bloody Sunday and the Aldershot response killed it stone dead.
CS Nov 22: DK, CG, DMacR, JW, TH. Dail Connaught letter to be ignored as a Provo stunt. DK to attend EEC meetings in the west. Mansholt to be picketed on his Dublin visit. Derry NICRA to be supported by Derry Republican Clubs, as elsewhere (question raised by SG; it seems Derry had been withdrawing support); directive to go into Nuacht Naisiunta. Mansion House meeting projected in support of the Civil Disobedience Campaign in the North.
AC December 11 1971:
This ends the current minute book. There is on the whole remarkably little relating to the North. According to Janice this was all done by McGurran and the Republican Clubs Executive, with occasional reporting. Overall however there is indicated a growing convergence of left and republican forces around a non-violent civil campaign for democratic reform in the North, with support from abroad, such as to make the political demand for the Republic constitutional.
[Nuacht Naisiunta 1971+]
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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999