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The Left Archive: “Fianna Fail and the IRA” (from the Official Republican Movement) c. 1972? March 17, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Official Sinn Féin.
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Now here is an historic document, and one you’ll find, should you be interested, in the National Library (Books and Periodicals Ir Ir 300 ).

It covers a lot of ground as regards the relationship between Fianna Fáil and various incarnations of the IRA. And predictably that relationship is painted – broadly speaking – in an unfavourable light. But it is in the late 1960s that it coms into sharp focus. Here the charge is that elements within Fianna Fáil attempted a ‘take-over’ of the Civil Rights movement in the North, and the Citizens Defence Committees, and in doing so assisted in the birth of the Provisional IRA.

A lot depends in this analysis of whether one can offer any credence to the idea that various parties within the government were clued up enough to act so decisively strategically as regards the IRA. I’m sceptical, but open-minded, on that point. Sceptical if only because it seems to reify the influence of the named Ministers to a seemingly implausible degree on a section within the IRA during a time of massive confusion. And it also serves to increase and exaggerate the influence of SF and the IRA to a perhaps incredible level. Sure, there were those within the state apparatus who saw a Marxist oriented IRA as a threat to social order, but surely that was lower on the list of priorities than other issues… Furthermore, even if true, this cannot ignore the structural issues which led to the split in the IRA and Sinn Féin which long predated any interventions from outside.

Or indeed a complete sincerity on the part of many both within and outside Fianna Fáil during the period who thought they were facing some sort of apocalypse north of the border. The rather cynical spin that the document puts on it may in some respects be accurate, but it is far from the full story. But then, in fairness, by the time this was published (c. 1972) the Officials had seen a shift away from them in terms of support and influence in a manner which in some respects must have seemed all but inexplicable for they with a Marxist programme were the future, were they not?

And incidentally, this version of a muscular ‘nationalist’ interventionism on the part of FF and others is interesting in itself, because it surely marks the only serious effort on that part since Michael Collins sent material north to the IRA during the Civil War. One might make ones own assessment of the efficacy or otherwise of such interventions, and indeed the cheerleading in this instance of certain sections on the further left who eschew all foreign entanglements.

Incidentally, one wonders whether this sort of attitude to Fianna Fáil was instrumental in the curious sight of generation after generation of former Sinn Féin members (or their political formations) ultimately dealing with Fine Gael to gain a measure of state power. From MacBride onwards we see a pattern emerge. Was this in some respects a response to the executions during the Emergency, a deep rooted sense of ‘betrayal’ by those who were seen as Republicans or was it simply the result of political competition within a small polity where the larger party was in an hegemonic position?

Anyhow, surely a moot question – until the next time Sinn Féin or split thereof does the deal!

A final couple of thoughts on this matter. The previous evolution of the IRA is presented in relatively uncritical terms and the ‘Republican’ thrust is taken as given. But then, how could it be otherwise when a core element – in addition to the new leftwards shift – of the legitimacy of those involved in this SF was based on their credentials in previous episodes of activity. The quality of this is quite poor, particularly when compared and contrasted with other material from Official Republicanism. But then, perhaps, despite the copious quotes from Goulding et al this was meant to be a little bit at arms length. No harm then in not having a place of publication. A sort of samizdat from the Officials – as it were. Telling.

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1. Starkadder - March 17, 2008

“A lot depends in this analysis of whether one can offer any credence to the idea that various parties within the government were clued up enough to act so decisively strategically as regards the IRA. I’m sceptical, but open-minded, on that point.”

I have seen articles by Roy Johnston and others that
argue this point-that the right-wing of FF felt threatened by SF and decided to try to split the movement. But I suspect the
split might have happened anyway-there would have been
tension between the factions who were, so to speak,
inspired by the Vatican and Moscow.

On another note, it’s interesting to see the Housing Action
movements mentioned on P.15. I think I remember
Jack Lynch giving a speech on the housing problem,
in the the late 1960s where
he criticised these “socialist movements”.

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2. WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2008

I’m sure the split would have happened. As interesting in its own way is how many supposed Moscovians went all Vatican City on us, consider one G. Adams who stayed with OSF for a number of months. Does anyone know was there traffic in the opposite direction?

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3. Garibaldy - March 17, 2008

The split was inevitable. The timing and nature of it was not (i.e. without August 1969 there would still have been a split but of a different order). We should not forget that the overwhelming majority of republicans stayed with the movement after the split. You are talking about under a third leaving – provo strength came mainly from people who had no connection, and many of their most famous people in Belfast had not been active for years.

I’d agree that the influence of the movement over the 50 years since 1921 is exaggerated in this, but the claims about FF involvement seem to me to be fairly well substantiated as they are backed up with evidence drawn from Dáil inquiries etc. And of course there is a lot of stuff not mentioned here that went on as well.

As for people going in the opposite direction, there were quite a number, including some who ended up in senior positions in The WP.

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4. WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2008

Very interesting Garibaldy. This I didn’t know.

I agree with you, and I think I’ve mentioned it before that your point about the majority staying with OSF is often forgotten, and proves that the future course of the conflict wasn’t pre-determined.

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5. Garibaldy - March 17, 2008

I agree. A number of crucial events in the early 70s provided much of the fuel for what followed. I wonder if in your commentary there isn’t a tendency to downplay the confidence of the southern part of the organisation. After all, it was surely making really good progress in the early 70s in many areas. And unlike the Provos, it was never a northern-obsessed organisation.

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6. WorldbyStorm - March 18, 2008

Well, in fairness that’s true. I’ll have to go away and think about that…

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7. Garibaldy - March 18, 2008

In a darkened room I hope!

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8. NollaigO - March 18, 2008

The evidence for the assertion that ” the majority stayed with the movement” ?

One could use the fact that the Gouldingites were just short of a two thirds majority in the January 1970 Ard Fheis. However that is a crude yardstick. The Gouldingites would have mobilised their supporters for that occasion. Before August 1969, the Republican Movement was very fragmented. Many were expelled [Jimmy Steele, North Kerry...]. Many had left to the left and to the right. Plans to set up an alternative organisation to Gardiner Place were well advanced by the time of the Ard Fheis. This organisation quickly eclipsed the Officials both North and South.
Even after the split the Officials were still a very different political group from the WP that was to emerge in the mid/late seventies.This was an organisation that the CPI could no longer stomach.
Fianna Fail money?! After August 1969 there was a widespread sense that the Republican Movement had failed in a historic moment. The search for ” resources ” and money to acquire them was widespread. There are well sourced claims that Goulding was the first to receive TACA money in London. [Walsh (Athol Books); Purdie (Unpublished paper: "Remembering the Stickies" - this is a tribute to Billy McMillen)]. Even in my part of Ireland the AC member, an 1930s socialist republican who stayed with Goulding after the split and later went with Costello, approached a prominent local business man for funds. The AC man was directed to the business man’s accountant , (a former rugby international!) to arrange receipt of the funds.
So many more of Giribaldi’s points need comment ac ta se in am dom dul a codlagh.

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9. Garibaldy - March 18, 2008

The numbers at the Convention were much smaller than those opposed at the Ard Fheis. On the supposed eclipse in the south, well there doesn’t seem to me to be much tangible evidence that the Provos eclipsed the movement in the south. Certainly not if we judge by PSF political activity in the south. Even in the north, the Officals had more support than people remember, or often care to. One example is Ballymurphy, Adams’ own turf, where a growth in support for the Republican Clubs in the mid-70s led to a lot of trouble. The idea that the movement did not retain the overwhelming majority of existing members in 1969/70 lacks any credible evidence.

As for the CPI, it depends who you are talking about. Most of the northern members – i.e. the ones with the experience of the reality of sectarian violence – were and are much more sceptical of the Provos than those in the south. And most of what the most hostile people could not stomach was that the Soviets had realised which was the more successful and serious organisation of the two.

Absolutely the leadership sought money and resources after August 1969. And never denied it. In fact the pamphlet itself describes this in terms of Derry – keep the contacts up to see what could be got. None of this is a surprise. At the same time, the point is not taking money, it is the type of political agenda (or perhaps the lack of it) that was attached to taking support.

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10. Jim Monaghan - March 18, 2008

Has anyone looked at the similarities with ETA. It had successive splits and everytime the militarists won out in the long term ( even thiough they lsot the vote at the conventions).
I think the Officials were right in this period. But I think they drew the wrong analysis on the rise of the Provos. There is a truth to the slogan that the Provos arose from the ashes of Bombay street.Blaming malevent conspiracies and evil leaders could not explain it.Look at today the only hope the dissidents have is that the Provos will implode or that the Brits will supply a Bloody Sunday, thus giving them a mass base.
Of course FFs like Blaney were keeping a close eye on things for reasons good and bad. The Sticks made the mistake of thionking that this was the whole story (a touch of the allegations of Berlin gold supplying the Bolsheviks). MacStiofan and O’Bradaigh I am sure would ahve taken help from anyone, but only on their terms.
The Officials got fixated with the Provos.Everything as defined on opposition to them.Then you got the poison of Stalinism. “If only Cahill had got hung instead of McWilliams” was said to me by an Official leader. If the Provos were just an invention they would have faded away. They answered the demands of a section of the Nationalist masses for a military response and defence of the ghettoes.
Many in the splits went with one side or the other out of personal loyalties. Even later splits like the IRSP were influenced on the personal side.
I would also say the Officials had the talent but they led it to Stalinism and then to the right wing of the Labour party. Who would have thought that Garland, the anointed successor to Goulding, would end up a cheerleader of both Kims in North Korea?

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11. ejh - March 18, 2008

There’s more than two Kims in North Korea…

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12. splinteredsunrise - March 18, 2008

Garibaldy is of course right about the CPI, and good points too from Jim.

As far as FF goes, I suspect the answers are to be found in Donegal. Remember the Blaney org had excellent contacts in Derry and the consensus of survivors from the Arms Crisis is that the cabinet were getting their info from Blaney.

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13. WorldbyStorm - March 18, 2008

Yes, the Blaney connection was crucial. I was re-reading some of the old Arms Trial stuff I have, Bolands book and various 1980s Magill’s when looking at the above doc and it’s clear how central he was.

Jim, I think that really gets to the heart of it as regards the Officials got fixated by the Provo’s.

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14. Garibaldy - March 18, 2008

It might be fair to say that people in the north were more likely to concentrate on criticising the Provos, and Harris likes to claim everything he did was based on opposition to them, but is it really likely that the organisation that was built could have been if the real work was not focused on campaigning and providing a socialist analysis of southern society? After all, it’s not that long since we were talking about the Irish People making no reference to the north at all. So I think the fixation idea looks plausible but on closer inspection is less so.

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15. The strength of the IRA 1963-1969 - Page 4 - Politics.ie - August 19, 2009

[...] KGB, CP: always at it. Trotskyists? if you are counting Militant, but I wouldn't think of them as Trotskyists. Thanks for the link. Hard to think of Coughlan as left wing. I don't know the other two. So how did the Irish government promote the split? Roy Johnson has written a about about himself and his father. And has a website. As for the Irish government promoting the split, you might be interested to read this The Left Archive: “Fianna Fail and the IRA” (from the Official Republican Movement) c. 1… [...]

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16. The strength of the IRA 1963-1969 - Page 5 - Politics.ie - August 20, 2009

[...] [...]

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17. Dr.Nightdub - March 4, 2012

Were there different editions of this pamphlet?

I followed a link to here from politics.ie, intending to clarify that the publication date was March 1973 – based on a clipping from the Sunday News of 18th March 1973 which talked about the pamphlet “due to be releaswed next week”; my da had attached this clipping to his copy.

Hoewever, it turns out what I have is an entirely different article to the pdf posted above – my da’s copy is an A5 pamphlet entitled Fianna Fail The IRA Connection, which has a different cover (no pics of Jack Lynch) and runs to 68 pages, as opposed to the pdf’s 29 pages. The text is completely different as well, though the basic thrust is the same.

Can anyone throw any light on this?

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WorldbyStorm - March 5, 2012

Dr. Nightdub, I’d be very interested in that doc for the archive if it isn’t already available elsewhere…

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18. Brian Hanley - March 4, 2012

There were two different pamphlets. ‘FF-The IRA Connection’ is the more detailed and blow by blow account, the above more polemical and lighter on detail. Both were produced by the Officials but with no authors names given. There were all sorts of rumours about the authors- Dick Walsh of the Irish Times being one name bandied about. The Department of Justice 2000 releases has a file with reports relevant to this debate, as do some letters written by Peter Perry, also in the National Archives. I haven’t the file refs to hand but can find them if you need them.

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WorldbyStorm - March 5, 2012

Thanks Brian. Dick Walsh? Was he that close to the party?

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19. Brian Hanley - March 5, 2012

Yes, Walsh was asked for advice on various things and I believe wrote part of the ‘Carrickmore’ speech delivered by Mac Giolla in 1972.

(That should be Peter Berry above)

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WorldbyStorm - March 5, 2012

Presumably not Peter Perrett!

Interesting, I knew he was sympathetic, but that’s way beyond sympathy.

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20. SF/IRA why not FF/IRA - Page 15 - March 20, 2013

[...] to dampen the influence of the "Marxists" who were taking over the IRA at the time… The Left Archive: “Fianna Fail and the IRA” (from the Official Republican Movement) c. 1… Who do you think armed the Provos Tonic… the Provo's themselves admit that when the first [...]

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