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Left Archive: Provos – Patriots or Terrorists? Seán Ó Riain, 1974 February 11, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Sinn Féin, Uncategorized.


To download the above document please click on the following link: PROVS

In some respects this document is not a left-wing publication, and yet it provides a refutation of the two nations theory from the point of view of Provisional Republicanism. The author (who is later credited, as was pointed out to me, in a second edition of the pamphlet published later in 1974, under the byline of ‘G. Ó Danachair.’) clearly worked closely with PSF in writing the book, indeed in the Introduction he writes;

The author would like to express his gratitude to Éamonn Mac Thomáis and Joe Clarke for their kind help.

The Introduction also is clear in terms of the strong identification it establishes with Provisional Republicanism.

As your read this, the climax of the struggle for an independent and sovereign Irish nation is being enacted in the North-Eastern part of our country. Despite the gallantry of the beleaguered people of the Six Counties, gallantry alone cannot defeat the military and propaganda might of the Britain and her allies in this country. Only the entire people of IReland can achieve that. But the Irish people are not being told the truth about either the Northern situation or the I.R.A. campaign. it is in order that the truth be known that this pamphlet has been written.
It should be pointed out that all references to either the ‘Republican Movement’ or the ‘Irish Republican Army refer to the ‘Provisional Movement or the ‘Provisional’ I.R.A. – unless otherwise stated.

One notable omission is that of the concept of class. This is particularly evident in the first chapter which attempts to engage with the ‘Two-Nations’ theory.

There are certainly two traditions but no two nations. After 350 years there is no longer even a distinguishable dividing line between those of platner or native ancestry. there is no linguistic difference, or physically apparent racial difference. All share the same territory, the same history and the common name of ‘Irishman’. Their differences are based on religious conflict or to put it in its current terminology, they are only separated by sectarianism.

The rest of the pamphlet is broken up into various chapters, including ‘The Northern Situation’, ‘In Justification’, ‘the Terrorist Myth’, ‘Criticism and Refutation’ and ‘The Republican Alternative’. There are also appendices dealing with various topics including ‘Torture’, ‘Repression’, ‘Discrimination’ and ‘Éire Nua in Outline’.

In relation to the last, there’s an interesting analysis of how that document provides ‘an ideal solution’, one which ‘has to… offer… something to both sides’ on pp.39-40.

All told a very useful document that provides a considerable insight into both the thinking of the Provisional Movement during that period and how it sought to be represented to a broader audience.

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1. Pj - February 11, 2013

What is a ‘tradition’ , the self identification of the unionists/loyalists is British, we have to accept that they sincerely hold that belief. Their are two nations on the island of Ireland, BICO was correct in its assesment, even previous presidents of SF recognised the fact

WorldbyStorm - February 11, 2013

Tricky. Clearly two national identities (perhaps three if we sub-divide Unionism into a more Ulster and a more British idenitty, though functionally that works more or less identically). But given the overlap in terms of geographical area ie Unionist and Nationalists/Republicans co-existing on the same territory two ‘nations’ is more difficult. It does demand some creative thinking on representation and affording equality of expression etc to both in more…contested… areas of the island.

Starkadder - February 11, 2013

I’d go with David Miller’s description of a “nation”
(Irish Nationalists) and a “community” (Irish Unionists). I
don’t think the Ulster Unionists would fit most political
scientists’ definition of a “nation” in the way the Irish,
Scots, English and Welsh would.

Ultan - February 11, 2013

what exactly is a nation. A dictionary definition is: A large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.

Outdated ideas. Common descent cant be a definition or no person who arrived into Ireland over the last decade can be Irish. Culture is no longer a definition for a nation because Ireland has many cultures each as valid as the other – different ways to express different communities. Language – the Irish language cant be a mark of the nation its only the third most spoken language after English and Polish with French rapidly catching up on the Gaeilge. Irish cant define what it is to be Irish when more Irish speak Polish than it and soon more Irish will speak French at home than it. In the end the only definition of what a nation is living in a particular area/country.

The Ulster unionists are as much a nation as the Irish

Starkadder - February 11, 2013

So why can’t they articulate what “nation” Ulster
Unionists or Ulster Protestants are in a single
word? The other four nations in the two
islands- English,Scottish, Irish and Welsh- don’t
need to put a qualifier like “Unionist” or “Protestant”
when defining themselves. While this might
sound trivial, “Ulsterman” doesn’t have the
same defining power as “Irishman” or “Englishman”.

LeftAtTheCross - February 11, 2013

“But given the overlap in terms of geographical area ie Unionist and Nationalists/Republicans co-existing on the same territory two ‘nations’ is more difficult.”

Why is it necessary to correlate nationality with geography?

Florrie O'Donoghue - February 11, 2013

It is probably not ‘necessary’, it is just that the Irish nation has been understood as a historical and very real concept, and occasional actualised entity (with opposition), for aroundabout 1,500 years and happens to be bounded by its island limits.

That does not mean that every island is, by default, a distinct nation, but in Ireland’s case there is a very strong case to be made for this correlation.

Red Hand - February 11, 2013

Did the Irish think of themselves as a nation 1,500 years ago? I doubt it. I would say the 160ss mark the beginning of a ‘nation’ idea among some of the Irish

Florrie O'Donoghue - February 11, 2013

Red Hand a chara,

Although we cannot know with certainty what the booley-boy from Slievenamon thought back then because we don’t have his diary, the notion of Ireland as coterminously a geographical and socio-political unit seems to be evident in the annals (fair enough, 1,400 not 1,500 years ago).

I made a little joke in my last post ‘(with opposition)’ as part of the basis for viewing Ireland as an overall unit stems from the struggle for the high-kingship where ‘with opposition’ often followed declarations of men attaining that rank.

It is at this point that I will sit back and wait for some original wit to guffaw at the notion of Irish republicanism citing monarchical claims as the basis for an all-Ireland ;)

Is mise srl.,

WorldbyStorm - February 11, 2013

“Why is it necessary to correlate nationality with geography?”

I don’t think it is to be honest, but, in the context of the partition of this island the partitioned area contained within it a minority and another minority, and the second minority, Republican/Nationalist was far far too large to be excluded in the way that NI attempted to do so. That’s what I mean by tricky. It’s not as if there was a 90 per cent Unionist/Loyalist concentration in the six counties where the Nationalist minority (in the context of the six counties) could be effectively shunted aside. So the trickyness is in finding structures that can accommodate both and give political expression to both – given that I don’t believe Unionism is a false consciousness (or rather I don’t believe it can be treated as if it is such any more than Republicanism/Nationlism in the North can be treated as such either).

LeftAtTheCross - February 11, 2013

In the general case, not specifically Ireland, why is it necessary?

Look at central Europe. It was a patchwork of ethnicities for centuries until the rise of nationalism and the aftermath of two world wars, the first which created nation states and the second which enforced population movements to seal the deal.

Ed - February 11, 2013

I think the point with Ireland is that the one nation / two nations debate doesn’t actually tell us much about what should be done, in practical terms. If we say that Ulster Protestants are a nation, what then? There’s no neat division between the two nations on the island; the nationalist minority inside the 6 counties was bigger (relatively, not absolutely) than the unionist minority would have been in a 32 county state. ‘The right of nations to self-determination’ is a fine principle, but it doesn’t tell us how to settle cases where nations overlap and can’t be divided except by ethnic cleansing (which, as you say, is what happened in Central and Eastern Europe).

If you want to make the case for the status quo, or for re-partition, or for an all-Ireland state, then it’s a waste of time really to spend ages debating whether the Ulster Protestants qualify as a nation, there’s no objective definition and it doesn’t get us very far anyway.

WorldbyStorm - February 11, 2013

+1 Ed

2. Jim Monaghan - February 11, 2013

Quote from same source. Better the rattle of a Thompson than a barrowload of Marxist pamphlets.

Red Hand - February 11, 2013

The 1600s I mean. the 1790s marks the first real Irish nationalism, as opposed to flight of the earls nonsense

Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - February 11, 2013

Thomas Davis on the Nation
‘a nationality which may embrace Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter, Milesian and Cromwellian, the Irishman of a hundred generations, and the stranger who is within our gates; not a nationality which would preclude civil war, but which would establish internal union and external independence; a nationality which would be recognised by the world, and sanctified by wisdom, virtue, and time.’

3. Florrie O'Donoghue - February 11, 2013

I must have a second edition, since mine has ‘G. Ó Danachair’ on the cover. It should be noted that Ó Danachair was editor of An Phoblacht at the time of this booklet being published; two previous editors having been tried and jailed for IRA membership.

Also important to note is that this booklet – along with Freedom Struggle the previous year – were simply illegal. Freedom Struggle was famously pulped and the publishers put on trial. Possessions of both booklets was used in court as evidence of membership of the IRA – successfully.

I think, whatever people’s disagreements with the arguments in the booklet, it did show up claims on the apolitical-ness of the Provisional republican movement.

The moral argument on 1916 and subsequent elections (pp 46-7) is relatively sophisticated, and the point-by-point refutation of Bishops Daly and Philbin in chapter five belies the charges of being in thrall to the ‘church’, I found.

Some smaller items that are of interest was their hierarchy of objectivity and fairness in Irish print media at the time on p. 62 and the issue of age in terms of active service on p. 36. One gets the impression that, reading that particular section, it is a sore point on the part of the author. The youngest IRA volunteer (not Fianna) to die on active service – to my knowledge – was sixteen-years old, whereas Britian ceased to put under-eighteens in combat situations following the ‘Scottish soldiers’ killings’ in March 1971. This gave them scope to criticise the Provisionals for, as the booklet notes, the ‘ruthless exploitation’ of youth.

A great addition to the archive, fair play to yourself and the contributor.

Is mise srl.,

irishelectionliterature - February 11, 2013

Have an 1982 SF leaflet ‘Freedom Struggle in Ireland’ , I presume its an updated reprint of the one mentioned above as it includes not just 1916, The Free State and so on but also The Hunger Strikes and other events from the late 70s early 80s

Florrie O'Donoghue - February 11, 2013

Could you link to that please, if you have it uploaded already?

irishelectionliterature - February 11, 2013
Florrie O'Donoghue - February 11, 2013

Much appreciated.

WorldbyStorm - February 11, 2013

Appreciate the extra info FOD. I’d forgotten it was illegal. A copy of the original FS belonged to a close relative from more or less when it was printed and is on the schedule, though it might be interesting to know the legal position. That said FS is in the library of various institutions in the state including the NLI so presumably that’s not a huge problem.

Florrie O'Donoghue - February 12, 2013

Aye, it was in the NLI that I got my grubby hands on it though I’ve since seen a copy that was smuggled to the USA and proudly notes so on the inside.

I just had a look back at what terms under which the booklet (FS) was deemed illegal. From the court case of the printers (Irish Press, 12 December 1973) they were prosecuted with printing an ‘incriminating document within the meaning of the Offences of the State Act (1939)’. So I suppose that meaning could quietly be put the bed and the booklet considered a piece of history given time!

There are several cases of the booklet – as I said – being entered as evidence of IRA membership resulting in successful prosecution, but I was wrong in that the only such case involving this ‘Provos – Patriots or Terrorists?’ actually ended in acquital, with the defendant refusing to recognise the court.

Is mise srl.,

WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2013

I think that’s comforting news… sort of… :)

Though WordPress servers are US based.

4. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) - February 11, 2013

The concept of Éire/Ireland as a distinct “nation” encompassing the island of Ireland and its inhabitants has been evident in Irish tradition (literature, poetry, histories and pseudo-histories) since the early Medieval period. Or else what was the Leabhar Gabhála Éireann and other mytho-historical compendiums about?

These same impulses drove the desire for a common name for the Irish people both inside and outside the early monastic schools through collective titles like the Féine, Gaeil and latterly Éireannaigh.

These all pre-date the 17th century (Gaeil as a common name for the people of Ireland goes back to at least the 6th century, the related Féine has even further origins).

Polish is not the second most spoken language within the Irish state. In the 2011 Census of Ireland the number of people who self-described themselves as Irish-speaking was 1,777,437 million. Even if one disputes that figure the number of Daily/Weekly Irish-speaking citizens was 187,827. The equivalent number of Polish-speakers was 119,526.

Irish remains the second most spoken language within the state (while legally being the national and the first official language of the state).

Recognising the British Unionist minority on the island of Ireland as a distinct historical community with religious, cultural and linguistic rights does not require a “two-nations” theory.

WorldbyStorm - February 11, 2013

Though it also requires some form of political rights too, as well as religious, cultural and linguistic rights. And there’s where it gets interesting.

Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) - February 11, 2013

Agreed, but those things have been on offer to the British Unionist minority in one form or another since the start of the 20th century. John Redmond and the IPP supported a “home rule parliament” for the North within a Home Rule Ireland in 1914. Éamon de Valera as the President of the Irish Republic and on behalf of An Dáil offered autonomy to “North-East Ulster” within the Republic in 1921, echoing sentiments expressed by other Sinn Féin members in 1920-21 which were repeated throughout the 1920s and ‘30s.

One could argue that a united Ireland will simply be the Belfast Agreement in reverse. An echo of what was on offer to Unionists a century ago.

WorldbyStorm - February 11, 2013

That’s true, though they’ve waxed and waned over the years. What interests me about the above doc is the explicit sense that any agreement/deal would have to offer something to both sides. Now of course firstly PSF wasn’t in any position to negotiate then and secondly everybodies redlines were very different, but it’s an interesting straw in the wind as regards the future and an appreciation however vague that it might not work out exactly as the more overt rhetoric would indicate. By the way, I was always entertained that CCOB wound up with his federal Ireland where Ulster retained the RUC etc in the context of a UI deeply ironic. But, in a way that too points to the realities of the overall context.

5. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - February 11, 2013

Revolutionary Irish republicanism dates from the 1790s. I personally have no problem with the flight of ‘the Earls’ or any other aristrocratic departures. Wolfe Tone couldn’t speak Irish either and if the United Irishmen had succeeded it might be French we speak now.

WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2013

+1 re aristocratic departures. Seemed good to me.

Starkadder - February 12, 2013

I find it interesting that it wasn’t until the late 19th century that
the Irish-language movement became strongly associated
with nationalism and republicanism- certainly Tone & co.
and Daniel O’Connell did most of their activity in English.

WorldbyStorm - February 12, 2013

That’s a great point. Another thought is how much the Anglo-Irish influence was important in the Gaelic Revival. And this followed over into SF in its earliest incarnation.

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