An Phoblacht

Out of the ashes arose the Provisionals


Remembering the Past

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Mural photo by CRAZYFENIAN

On 11 January 1970, 35 years ago, Sinn Féin divided at its Ard Fheis on the issue of abstentionism from the Westminster, Dublin and Stormont Parliaments.

The origins and reasons of this split within the party began a decade earlier, when the Republican Movement, after the demoralising and isolated campaign of 1956-'62, was slowly infiltrated by a small group of intellectuals formerly associated with the British Communist Party. As popular support and many old activists withered away, this faction, led by Cathal Goulding, began to manipulate the movement towards a Marxist ideology.

Cathal Goulding was born and educated in Dublin. He came from a staunchly republican family. His grandfather was a Fenian and his father participated in the 1916 Rising. He joined the IRA in 1939. In 1945, Goulding was arrested by the Irish Special Branch and imprisoned for a year in the Curragh Internment Camp. After his release, Goulding conducted IRA training camps in the Dublin Mountains. In 1953, Goulding, along with Seán Mac Stiofáin and Maurice Canning, took part in an arms raid on a British Army Base in Essex. All three were arrested and sentenced to eight years. It is believed that while in prison, Goulding was converted to Marxism by the Russian Spy Klaus Fochs. Goulding was released in 1958. Within a year he became Quartermaster General of the IRA and in 1962 became Chief of Staff.

In this position he began to win the IRA away from the belief in armed struggle to achieve British withdrawal and an Irish Republic and over to his Marxist three-stage theory of how to win national liberation, a formula familiar in the official Communist Movement since the days of Lenin's "For peace, for bread, for land" speech. The first stage was to unite the Catholic and Protestant working class. The second stage of National Independence was to be postponed until the first stage was obtained and the third stage of a Socialist state lay in an indefinite future. Unsurprisingly, many republicans living in the Six Counties in the 1960s rejected this theory and saw the IRA as the only defence against their continued oppression by unionist and crown forces.

In the typical Stalinist tradition, Goulding began to purge the Republican Movement of any internal opposition. Throughout the '60s, many of the old guard were expelled from the ranks of the IRA. Jimmy Steele, the then OC of Belfast, was stood down after giving a funeral oration in Belfast in which he criticised the running down of the IRA. Many, like Joe Cahill, were given the cold shoulder and left in disgust at the treatment of their comrades and the winding down of the IRA. Goulding even began selling the IRA's arms to Welsh separatists and at IRA training camps weapon training was replaced by political discussion.

While most republicans had no difficulty with the political campaigns undertaken by the leadership in the 1960s, and the necessary increased focus on social and economic issues, they were vehemently opposed to any dilution of the Movement's position on the national question.

With the outbreak of sectarian pogroms in Belfast in August 1969, the IRA was totally unprepared to protect the nationalist population of the Six Counties. Unsupported by Goulding's Dublin-based GHQ, the IRA men on the ground had no weapons to drive off attacks. Some of the old IRA men who had been sidelined by GHQ came forward and put up some resistance, but the nationalist community felt it had been let down by the IRA and the slogan 'I Ran Away' began to appear on Belfast walls. Demoralised by this, the IRA men who had taken to the streets during the pogrom set about reorganising a command structure independent of the Dublin GHQ.

Down south, the Marxists decided to hold an extraordinary convention of the IRA, where the leadership intended to push through two controversial resolutions. The first motion called for the IRA to enter a coalition of the left to be called the National Liberation Front and the second motion was to end abstentionism. Goulding made sure the convention would go his way. It was held late at night, in a small town outside Dublin. Many of the more traditionalist Volunteers were not informed of it. Many were promised lifts that then did not materialise and some were stopped from entering the hall. The convention, packed with Goulding supporters, voted 39 in favour and 12 against the two motions.

After the meeting, the traditionalists, under Seán Mac Stiofáin, met and decided to form the Provisional Army Council. They believed that the IRA GHQ's obsession with parliamentary politics had undermined its role as a fighting force. Mac Stiofáin began travelling the country enlisting support; many long inactive and long suspicious of GHQ returned to the fold, especially from the campaign years and before.

With the split in the army, all attention was focused on the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, to be held in the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin on 10 and 11 January 1970, where the two motions would be voted on again. This time, Goulding could not stagemanage the result. Many spoke against the motions including 1916 veteran Joe Clarke and Tom Maguire, the last republican member of the Second Dáil. On Sunday night, the resolution was voted on, with 153 in favour and 104 against. This was 19 votes short of the two thirds majority needed to change the Sinn Féin constitution. Goulding's camp immediately called for a resolution supporting IRA policy, which would need a simple majority. In response, Provisional supporters walked out, refusing to take part in a vote of allegiance to what became known as the Official Army Council. The Provisionals marched to Kevin Barry Hall in Parnell Square, where Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was made president.

The Provisional IRA went on to reorganise itself and become one of the most effective revolutionary fighting forces of the 20th Century. The Official IRA, after a few military operations, called a ceasefire in 1972 It is now considered defunct.

Sinn Féin went on to gain the support of the nationalist communities of the Six Counties. In 1986, from a position of military strength and political unity at the annual Ard Fheis, a motion to end abstentionism from Stormont and Leinster House was passed by a two-thirds majority. About 30 people left the hall and formed Republican Sinn Féin. Official Sinn Féin went on to become the Workers' Party, which later split and became Democratic Left. Its remnants can be seen in the leadership of the current Labour Party.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?