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Left Archive: Selection of writings on the Official Sinn Féin/Irish Republican Socialist Party split in 1975 – including a tribute to Billy McMillen and interview with Séamus Costello, by Gerry Foley June 4, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Intercontinental Press, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Official Sinn Féin.
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To download file 1: Officials Split Feb 1975
To download file 2: Officials Turn March 1975
To download file 3: Interview with Seamus Costello
To download file 4: In tribute to Billy McMillen

Many thanks to Nollag O for the following documents from Intercontinental Press.

These documents were written by Gerry Foley (see here and here) for Intercontinental Press between 1974 and 1975 about the split in Official Sinn Féin which resulted in the formation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (and also the INLA). It is particularly appropriate given that there was a commemoration for Gerry Foley last night in the Teachers Club in Dublin.

There are four documents, the first is ‘Officials’ Split over Stalinist Power Play from 24 February 1975. The second from 3 March 1975 is entitled ‘Officials’ Turn Against Their Own Past. The third is ‘In Tribute to Billy McMillen’ from June 9 1975 after the assassination of Commander of the Belfast Command Staff of the Irish Republican Army [Officials]. The last document is an interview with Séamus Costello – described as ‘one of the most prominent leaders of the Irish Republican Socialist Party’ – and entitled ‘The Need to End the Feud Between ‘Officials’ and IRSP, from July 1975.

They provide both a clear, albeit subjective, view of the situation as regards the origins and development of the split – though note that at that time there was no admission that it was IRSP members who had assassinated McMillen and mention is made by Costello of ‘the People’s Liberation Army and the other armed groups that have acted in this way’.

As always Foley is scrupulously fair to all protagonists while making clear the general perspective he viewed the events through. As such it is another welcome addition to the Archive.

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1. WorldbyStorm - June 4, 2012

Just to say I went along to the Gerry Foley commemoration last night in the Teachers Club and all credit to the organisers. An event which did the man’s life and memory great justice.

And very good to put names to faces seen at protests or faces to names seen online.

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Ed - June 4, 2012

Great stuff, WBS, brilliant to have all this material – going to be writing something about the Official-IRSP split myself soon, this stuff is like gold dust

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Ed - June 5, 2012

Now I’ve had a chance to read over these – notable that Foley gives credence to the idea that the killing of McMillen and the attempted killing of Garland were both the work of British agents provocateurs, he doesn’t even consider the possibility that IRSP supporters might have been involved. If Holland and McDonald have it right in ‘Deadly Divisions’, it was Belfast IRSP people who tried to kill Garland without consulting Costello, and it was Gerard Steenson who killed McMillen, more or less on his own initiative. There’s a kind of black humour to the interview with Costello, the way he ties himself in knots denying that the IRSP has a military wing while referring to these shadowy groups who have offered to protect them (mind you, I’ve seen British government files from a year or two later, still asking ‘do we know what the relationship between the IRSP and the PLA is?’).

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2012

Ed, thanks a million, the kind word is really appreciated. It’s great craic to get the archive material up, but it’s even better to hear people find it useful (and particularly I think as well for those who donate material to it).

I didn’t want to comment on that in the body of the text, but Foley was – I think – being characteristically fair to all (though a bit harsh on McMillen who I think was a lot more astute and politically developed than he gives him credit for) even if the actuality wasn’t necessarily as he saw it. One thing that strikes me about him as being open and generous as he was was typified by his kind words about Garland years after the attitude of some was quite the opposite to him.

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Ed - June 5, 2012

I’d say there was probably an element of Foley trying to take the heat out of the feuding by pointing in the direction of British agents. Looking at it objectively, the main player to benefit from the two republican feuds in 1975 was the British government, so it was probably natural to suspect their hand in it somewhere, although there’s no evidence of that having been the case.

Probably at this point in the IRSP’s history it wasn’t so clear that Costello wanted it to have a strong militarist element – the path that it ended up following was exactly what Foley had been criticising in ‘The Test of Ireland’:

http://www.likembe.net/Documents/The%20Test%20of%20Ireland.pdf

Interesting that you can see in these docs Foley clearly appealing to the likes of Garland and Malachy McGurran.

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2012

That seems very true. It’s hard to credit that he didn’t have at least an inkling of the true state of affairs.

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Garibaldy - June 5, 2012

It seems unlikely to me that he thought that the people running about Belfast looking for each other were taking the time to read his articles, and he must have known they had a very strong idea of who exactly was responsible for what. It seems to me that the target audience here was foreign interested parties, and not the people involved in what was going on, either in Belfast or Dublin.

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2012

Well I think it’s important to note that he was on the ground and talking to people, so the two aren’t mutually exclusive, in the sense that articles in an int’l magazine weren’t the only focus of his activity.

Whether though those involved paid a blind bit of notice is a different issue.

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Ed - June 5, 2012

“It seems unlikely to me that he thought that the people running about Belfast looking for each other were taking the time to read his articles.”

Well, there’s at least one sentence in there that’s obviously aimed at people he was friendly with in the Official leadership (Garland and McGurran, presumably); maybe not the people who were taking shots at each other in Belfast, but I’d say he was hoping people near the top of both organisations might pay some heed to what he was saying. No idea if they actually did of course …

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John Meehan - June 5, 2012

Ed, I think you have it right here : “I’d say there was probably an element of Foley trying to take the heat out of the feuding by pointing in the direction of British agents. Looking at it objectively, the main player to benefit from the two republican feuds in 1975 was the British government, so it was probably natural to suspect their hand in it somewhere, although there’s no evidence of that having been the case.” It is a matter for historians now – as you say, Henry McDonald has named names – and there is no special reason to believe he has got his facts wrong.

In hindsight, Bernadette McAliskey was very wise to pull out of the IRSP after realising a secret army was being created which would, unavoidably, prevent internal democracy developing within the organisation. She clearly explains this political position in the recent Leila Doolan Documentary “Notes on a Political Journey” – this is a very relevant point for the future development of the Irish Left.

http://www.galwayfilmfleadh.com/programme.php?fest=4&ct=new-irish-cinema&cid=2&t=bernadette-notes-on-a-political-journey&id=48

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Jim Monaghan - June 6, 2012

He visited Ireland around that time and had his last meeting with Garland.Once the shooting started it was hard to stop until it ran out of steam.
While I don’t think agents started or even egged nit on, I would think that the Officials were not immune from infiltration.I suppose in a 100 or so years people will be surprised when files are released.

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GeeGee - June 6, 2012

Who are you working for Jim?

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WorldbyStorm - June 6, 2012

Well out of order. I really dislike passive aggressive insinuations on internet sites, particularly those that hide behind anonymity.

Jim isn’t working for anyone.

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2. Tawdy - June 4, 2012

Having read as much as I could of theses articles…………….is it me or is there a sense of bias…………….a sort of onesidedness in all these articles………….granted they put a perspective………….but only a one sided perspective.

I was in Limerick when Costelloe…………….who was still involved with the officials…………he was recruiting people…………..not to the the official IRA…….of which he was operations officer at that time……..nor to the IRSP………but to a new armed grouping………part of that group who did join up were caught trying to rob the mail off a train in Mallow.

Costelloe himself was court marshalled by the Army Council under the name of Clancy and dismissed with ignomy…………there is no mention of how the IRSP was financed at its inception……….the above information should show how the IRSP was being financed………anyone who got involved with the INLA were involved in collecting funds in this manner…………they were never accounted for………money would just disappear……..

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3. Jim Monaghan - June 4, 2012

In general terms Foley regarded the split and the subsequent feud as a disaster. Though I felt that the Officials were well down the road to where they became a Stalinist sect.Our correspondent above knows a lot about courtmartials.Was anyone disciplined for the murder of Costello, nevermind the murder of Ferguson in the Whiterock which started the feud.

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Tawdy - June 4, 2012

My information is related to North Munster area only for that time a copy of the courtmartial of clancy/costelloe was circulated in this area after his dismissal. Whatever gave you the idea that anybody would have been disciplined not to mind courtmartialed for any murder carried out on any irsp/inla people?

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4. Helena Sheehan - June 6, 2012

I was in the Officials at this time, involved in these events and close to the people discussed in these articles. I wouldn’t have the same position as Gerry Foley then or now, but I do recognise the sincerity of his engagement at this time. I agree with WbS about Billy McMillen, whom I knew really well. He was lot more astute and politically developed. He read seriously and was keen to discuss theoretical matters. .

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WorldbyStorm - June 6, 2012

This is a sign of my terrible lack of ability to take in facts on printed pages, but it was only today when I was rereading part of TLR that I realise you too had been a member of OSF. It’s amazing. Across its years both as OSF, SFWP and WP it has had an huge number pass through it.

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Helena Sheehan - June 7, 2012

Yes, there were many and there are lots of us still out there. I have been writing about those times recently and tracking down people I haven’t seen in a while. They have gone in such different directions.

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