Attitudes to the IRA in the Republic of Ireland since 1969 – article in Irish Historical Studies by Brian Hanley. July 30, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
A very interesting piece by Brian Hanley in a recent edition of Irish Historical Studies [Irish Historical Studies Vol. XXXVIII No. 151, May 2013] where he considers the attitudes to the I.R.A. in the Republic of Ireland since 1969. He characterises those attitudes as ‘confused and contradictory’ with a wish ‘to identify with them’ but a situation where they ‘were repulsed by their actions’.
In some respects it is unsurprising, significant spikes of support in the early years (where the situation was complicated by two I.R.A.’s) then actually quite a low level of support through the 1970s, interspersed by peaks in response to various events – Bloody Sunday – being perhaps the most obvious one. A sharp rise in support – albeit borne of complex motivations, some of which might hardly be regarded as Republican – during the H-Block campaigns. The 1980s though brought a disillusionment with armed struggle.
Hanley recounts Christy Moore’s waning support for same which in the wake of Enniskillen had almost entirely faded away.
Reading it it is difficult not to see the roots of later political developments, and not merely the responses in the Republic, as appearing perhaps as early as the 1970s, given the very low political support for SF (and indeed low but more variable support for armed struggle). Difficult indeed not to disagree with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s sentiment that ‘[while] the mass of the people could be stirred on occasions of high dramatic situations like in Derry’s Bogside it was only a minority of people [who] have always in the past and will in the future given solid support’.
It is particularly interesting in relation to the way in which there was a very conscious appreciation that the actions of the I.R.A. would impact upon attitudes towards the foundation of the state and the struggle for independence. And also in relation to the blame sometimes attached by Republicans to the citizens of the Republic for their indifference to what was occurring in the six counties.
One of the most striking propositions is that throughout the conflict attitudes in the Republic remained antagonistic to any elision between the I.R.A. in that conflict and earlier incarnations of that organisation. Indeed Hanley concludes:
Most southern Irish nationalists rejected [the proposition ‘that the members of the Provisional I.R.A. were the heirs of those who had won independence (being) the only thing Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Conor Cruise O’Brien would ever agree on’] however, instead identifying with the sentiments of Fianna Fáil’s Erskine Childers that ‘the I.R.A. of those days [the WOI] had completely different objectives and ideals to those who called themselves by the same name today’.
That would certainly serve to explain the limitations on the political purchase Sinn Féin had during that period, and perhaps go some way to explaining why once armed struggle began to be jettisoned that a more purely political approach began to reap some measure of support in the South.
And of course, none of this is to deny a broad, if unfocused, sympathy both towards those in the Northern Ireland and – although this was more variable – towards the eventual goal of unification throughout the period, albeit limited in effect, but it does suggest that with Fianna Fáil in situ in the Republic there were easier means for that to be expressed than switching to outright political Republicanism.
Anyhow, well worth a read for those who can get their hands on it.