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The Left Archive: ‘The Plough’ from the Official Republican movement in South Down/South Armagh, c. 1977 April 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Official Sinn Féin.
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For a somewhat different view of matters on the ground within the Official Republican movement as distinct from some of the ideological strands that would come to fruition in the 1980s this document entitled ‘The Plough: South Down/South Armagh’s own Republican Paper’ is revealing. Dating from 1977 it approaches topics such as the withdrawal of special category status in a way which was diametrically opposed to that expressed in WP material from just a few years later.

Consider how it suggests that:

We don’t live in a normal society with normal laws and normal courts so the prisoners are not normal criminals and should be recognised as such. Since there are Special Courts there must be Special Category Prisoners.

The Plough greets the Political Prisoners and wishes them Freedom and Justice.

Of course, this was the hard edge of the struggle and one might note that Newry and Armagh always had an independent streak to them.
In some respects it points up the difficult position that Official Republicanism was in following the ceasefires, rhetorically at odds with the state, but more and more having to come to terms with it. This is exemplified by the piece (accompanied by a photograph entitled ‘The Results of British Terrorism’ – not quite the subject matter we see later) which ends…

Report every example of [British] harassment to the Republican Clubs Advice Centre and make a formal complaint to the R.U.C. Not that you can expect help from the R.U.C. but you must do this to make a claim and force the situation into public view.

The visual iconography is not one that many would associate with OSF/WP, with the concentration on prisoners, prison cells etc… (although interesting to see a couple of pages under the heading Industrial Front inside). And then there is the column at the back of ‘gossip’ from ‘what’s the crack’ which excoriates the ‘Provo’s’ and British Army equally.

In a sense here was a legacy issue that Official Republicanism never got to grips with in the way that PSF and PIRA did. Prisoners disrupted certain narratives established by OSF and later the WP, despite the impact of security legislation and frameworks, they pointed up contradictions between the aspirations of OSF and the reality of the environment within which they were embedded. This is not to say they were simply forgotten. I remember one house in Dublin where WP branch meetings took place where a souvenir made by Official prisoners in H-Block was on prominent display. But their story faded from view with remarkable, and arguably undue, speed.

All told a fascinating addition to the Archive.

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1. Garibaldy - April 29, 2008

A very interesting, and in some ways quite sophisticated, local paper. In regards to your point about differing narratives, I think I noted in Patterns of Betrayal a reference to criticisms of the security forces in the north being one of the reasons the liquidationists gave for needing to dump the north. There is a clear and consistent class element to the paper. As for the criticism of the Commandos, they were up to similar behaviour in Belfast at the same time, and received similar criticism.

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2. ejh - April 29, 2008

The visual iconography is not one that many would associate with OSF/WP

Particularly not as one of the pictures is clearly evoking a specific religious image…

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3. D.J.P. O'Kane - April 30, 2008

Was the inclusion of the Rowel Friers a sort of ‘hands across the divide’ gesture to the other lot? Or just because it was a funny cartoon?

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4. Justin - April 30, 2008

Was the inclusion of the Rowel Friers a sort of ‘hands across the divide’ gesture to the other lot? Or just because it was a funny cartoon?

“The other lot”? I’m confused. Do you mean capitalists?

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5. Justin - April 30, 2008

I’ve been thinking. Maybe by “the other lot” you mean tose people who define their politics on the basis of the religion they happen to have been born into.

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6. Redking - April 30, 2008

It’s certainly of it’s time-but an interesting read, and good production for a local paper. Does anyone know if any of the WP people involved in its production are still in the Party?

The reason I ask is that the ORM affair of 1997 took a lot of people away from the Party in the Newry area.

Another thing is that the prisoner emphasis is not all that surprising given that the Official’s still had members in the Kesh and elsewhere up till the end of the 70s. I can think of one prominent member from the Armagh area who was incarcerated at that time.
Although obviously the H-Block crisis was to change everything shortly thereafter.

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7. Mick Brody - April 30, 2008

Great find. Would anyone be willing to go into what exactly the WP/ORM split was about. As Redking brought up i knew it was based round Newry.

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8. WorldbyStorm - April 30, 2008

Redking, weren’t there a few prisoners post-1980? Mick, I’d be very interested to in the answer to that. I’ve heard conflicting reports about the ORM split, but reading this one would wonder.

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9. bill - May 1, 2008

the last declared Official prisoner came out in 1989 I think. A few moe undecalred were still in at that stage. ORM also took many members in West Belfast particularly Beechmount

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10. John O'Neill - May 1, 2008

If you want to know about the WP/ORM split you should contact both organisations and ask them about it. WP are at 6 Springfield Road
Belfast, BT12 7AG and the ORM are at 426 Falls Road, BT 12 6EN.

I was briefly involved in the ORM but gradually lost interest when they decided not to become a political party. They had a sizable membership in both Belfast and Newry (100+).

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11. WorldbyStorm - May 1, 2008

This I didn’t know John. A pity they didn’t think about the party route.

bill, yes, that’s what I thought.

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12. Joe - May 1, 2008

I read about the WP / ORM split in the Irish Times and the Sunday World. I also talked briefly to a couple of people slightly involved (not John O’Neill). Here’s my take: ORM was made up mainly of people who had stayed with the WP but hadn’t moved very far from the kind of stuff to be seen in the Plough above. They were pissed off with the WPs lack of success in elections and with the leadership’s refusal to address that in any meaningful way. They also believed that there was corruption at the top of the WP in the North – leading members feathering their own nests. So they tried to get this onto the Party agenda and make changes, but the WP leadership done them down in best democratic centralist fashion. There were some beatings handed out as part of the process.
I recall that at the time I still got the odd missive from the WP in Dublin. I guess they still had me down as some kind of supporter. When I read about the beatings, I wrote to the Gen Sec to ask him to stop sending me stuff. Got an angry letter back asking me how come I was concerned now but I hadn’t done anything about allegations of illegal activity the time of the WP/DL split. I didn’t reply.

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13. WorldbyStorm - May 1, 2008

Interesting. What I find telling (perhaps about the environment) is the way that despite the issue of electoralism they (ORM) weren’t able to fashion a vehicle to pursue that path themselves. I must admit at the time I thought to myself that while I had enormous sympathy for their project (at least as stated) they weren’t likely to find much space for a more muscular projection of OSF style Republicanism between Sinn Féin and say the IRSP or indeed WP, albeit I like that sort of more emphatic Republican Socialism… and again I’m not trying to diss either WP or PSF when I say that, it’s just the strand I’d identify with most strongly (and I find elements of that in the left of PSF and within the WP too).

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14. Garibaldy - May 1, 2008

You assume they were interested in sustained political activity instead of posing and playing the big man (and that’s leaving aside a whole host of other issues). The fact that they made a big deal about the need for a paper, and that their paper lasted one, maybe two, issues, and that they don’t even maintain a website should tell you something about their interest in politics.

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15. WorldbyStorm - May 1, 2008

That’s a fair critique, but I’d still be interested in their views… anyhow, more broadly that’s why I avoid organisations these days… I cannot give my all to any single political entity, but I can like and admire a range of them… and support them as best I can.

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16. john o neill - May 2, 2008

Joe has given overall a reasonable overview of the spllit. The ORM criticism was also to do with the WP analysis being not critical enough of Unionism, viewing the RUC/the state as neutral, what they saw as the WP wasting of resources and what they called ‘electorial masochism’ and, finally, the fact that the WP expelled people supporting these positions.

The ORM finally formed after the ‘Campaign for the Revitalisation of the WP’ were not given any opportunity to organise an internal meeting for these issues to be discussed. In the end to express these views were grounds for expulsion from the WP.

The ORM then established and attracted many former members of the WP – people who would be considered ‘sticks’ in their communities but were not card carrying members of the WP. A difficulty that you find with all splits is that people have very different reasons for going one way or another.

The problem with the ORM for me was they had a conference and it was decided by the membership that a new formation would be established called Republican Left the leadership decided this wasn’t to happen and it didn’t. I decided to withdraw after that. What remains is really a group supporting some ex OIRA prisoners who organise events to commemorate Easter. They didn’t have the stomach to start all over again.

I agree with Wbs that there are good people still in both organisations. And I don’t think having a web site is that important to what the ORM do.

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17. Redking - May 2, 2008

At the time, I found the ORM expulsions (would’nt call them a split) failry demoralising. A Clann member I spoke to in London at the time remarked that it was the last thing the WP needed coming a few years after the trauma of 1992. Indeed.

And the press delighted in it all-“Sticks spilt again” incredulity etc.

Hard to unravel what exactly it was all about -I know the Party line about “failing to evolve” and the rumours of beatings. Even after speaking to a guy from Newry I still was none the wiser. An episode probably best forgotten.

As Garibaldy says if it really was about politics then maybe we’d have heard a lot more about the ORM…

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18. WorldbyStorm - May 2, 2008

Republican Left. That’s an interesting piece of information I hadn’t heard. There is something to be said for forgetting, but also for broadly remembering as John suggests that there’s good in all (quite apart from the fact there’s few enough of us on the Republican Left in whatever guise). I’d heard that the ORM was involved in meetings between prisoners from all backgrounds across the Republican spectrum and also with Loyalists? Anyone know?

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19. Garibaldy - May 2, 2008

I’m inclined to agree with Redking that this is best forgotten. But there are some things here that need addressed. Firstly, forming a faction within the Party is banned by the constitution. And a small number of people were expelled for violating that, rather than, for example, arguing that The WP should stand in fewer seats. I note that so far there has been no mention of frustrated ambition and inflated egos (lots of talk of who was going to get which job), the advocacy of policies that violated the most basic of all republican principles – the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – under the pressure of the marching issue, nor of behaviour in Newry that those interested can find detailed in the Sunday Life, and that led to the dissolution of the branch there. Now they could happily make “ex-prisoners” their primary identification, freed from the burden of even the suggestion of actual political struggle while benefiting from funding from the British government on that basis, and gaining a sense of importance to boot.

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20. WorldbyStorm - May 2, 2008

Well John points to problematic aspects as regards the lack of take up of the term Republican Left despite the wish of a majority, but that said since they didn’t become a campaigning group per se, isn’t it a bit difficult to see it simply as ego or ambition? That might well be part of it, but all? Again, I’m not close enough to the raw information to make a judgement, one way or another.

Are the Sunday Life articles web accessible?

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21. Garibaldy - May 2, 2008

I think some of them are, but this is so long ago that the newspaper websites were just getting up and running, and may not be there.

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22. WorldbyStorm - May 2, 2008

Zounds!

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23. john o neill - May 3, 2008

“I note that so far there has been no mention of frustrated ambition and inflated egos (lots of talk of who was going to get which job”

Nor mention of a leadership that deemed itself to be infallable.

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24. WorldbyStorm - May 3, 2008

Just as there is good in all, there’s also a fair bit of stuff that’s problematic in all – to put it kindly.

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25. Rob - August 13, 2008

Up the real “sticks” remember where you party/s came from

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26. WorldbyStorm - August 14, 2008

Indeed.

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27. sliabhdubh1 - March 8, 2009

you ust did not get expelled for talking about the leadership,you got abuse and expelled for,talking to them,the egotist remain,just do not dare to contradict them.

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28. WorldbyStorm - March 8, 2009

Interesting point sliabhdubh1

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29. Meadow-man Hickory Dick - April 13, 2009

For myself, the son of a prominent, old, Newry die hard leading stick, who was interned, imprisoned, remanded and shot by the provos, I feel the Newry ORM guys were hard done-by. Dublin & Belfast has always felt the arrogant right to dictate from their offices. This final split (expulsion?) was inevitable after what the S.Down/S.Armagh OIRA had been through in the past – from British harassment to provo feuds. With regards to what the WP leadership wanted them to put up with, a split was their only choice.
The Stormont sitting, (new stick) provos, a movement that lasted not even 30 years. Yes, look at their policies in 1970 – they are not the same organisation as back then, with their adopted OSF full circle policies and 3000 plus deaths to answer for (factually provable) are facing the same crumbling fate, hence the increasing number of IRAs roaming the island.
Hail the new sticks – Gerry & Martin.. you’re in for trouble

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30. WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2009

I know where you’re coming from, but isn’t your last paragraph a counsel of despair? After all you seem to suggest that there can never be a resolution…

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31. Declan Giggs - April 13, 2009

‘3,000 deaths to answer for’? As usual the Officials, Loyalists and Brits killed nobody. I think the Provos bodycount is offically 1,700. Bad enough. But no history of the conflict can be written by blaming them for everything, something that many WP members are wont to do.

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32. WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2009

Yep, it’s hard to disagree that anyone who picked up a gun, including (particularly?) state players had a responsibility for the ultimate outcome of the situation.

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33. Garibaldy - April 14, 2009

I see that a supporter of an organisation that is not The WP is being taken as representing the views of WP members. Of course the Provos are not to blame for everything. As WP documents have stated for a long time (in fact since the events themselves took place), the responsibility for the outbreak of violence rests with reactionary unionism and the attitude of the London and Dublin governments, especially Fianna Fáil; and for continuing it beyond the initial couple of years, the responsibility rests mainly with sectarian forces, added to state actions like the Falls Curfew and Bloody Sunday.

I have absolutely no interest in attempting to speak for Meadow Man (whose contribution I find bizarre), but what I will say is that we oughtn’t to forget that for a long time – and the majority of the Troubles – the Provos were responsible for most of the violence. The Provo refusal to call a ceasefire despite the overwhelming wishes of the Irish people north and south ensured that things continued from some other sources, loyalist and nationalist, as well. Pointing that out at the time or since is not the same as blaming them for everything. Part of the rhetoric of the last decade or so has been to even everything out so everyone bears equal responsibility – we all hurt each other etc. Nonsense. The unionists bear the brunt for the violence breaking out, but in the decades that followed people took their own decisions and bear responsibility for them. And, as The WP has repeatedly pointed out, that includes people who voted for any of the sectarian political parties who perpetuated and exploited the divisions here just as it does those who were members of paramilitary groups.

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34. WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2009

I think Declan is correct to point out that it’s impossible to assign 3,000 deaths to the Provo’s – which as you correctly note isn’t the WP line.

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35. Declan Giggs - April 14, 2009

Actually Mr. Garibaldy I think you will find it has on occasion been your party’s line.

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36. WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2009

Well it is true that if one looks back at certain WP docs particularly from the early and mid 1980s they do place the primary blame (almost sometimes exclusive blame) on PIRA at various points in time. There’s certainly an element of truth in the idea that the conflict was prolonged by violence (but we’ve seen how difficult even in the context of ‘peace’ it was to bring Unionism to the table and the idea that they were prepared to do so in the late 70s or 80s is nonsense… and that’s putting to one side the uncomfortable fact that OSF/Republican Clubs were anti-Sunningdale, albeit they stood in the elections). But, I think as certain elements detached themselves from the WP a more nuanced view came back into being. I have an interesting piece by E. Smullen which I’ll post up soon that takes a very very harsh view of SF in the wake of the hungerstrikes. But it’s important to remember that there were various strands within WP which on those occasions came to the fore or not.

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37. Garibaldy - April 14, 2009

Declan,

When exactly, was it The WP line that they were responsible for all the deaths? As I’ve said above, I’ll happily admit that there were times when – partly due to the preponderance of activity and partly due to a bitter history – that criticism focused, perhaps excessively so, on one particular group. I imagine that in media interviews some leading members came close to saying what you are suggesting. But sectarianism and sectarian violence were never seen as restricted to one particular group. Quite the opposite – the whole society is poisoned by it, and the whole political structure. I note also that we’ve moved from as usual to on occasion. I think that that seems more reasonable, and I am open to the idea that it certainly seemed that way due to some angry or intemperate language.

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38. WorldbyStorm - April 15, 2009

I think what you say is a lot closer to the truth Garibaldy. That said in the mid to late 80s a certain faction held considerable sway and Ard Fheiseanna programmes make for interesting reading. Again it comes back to strands which at one point or another were closer to power than not.

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