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Left Archive: IRIS – The Republican Magazine, November 1983, Number 7, Provisional Sinn Féin July 26, 2010

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


Many thanks to Tommy Graham, editor of History Ireland, for donating this document to the Archive. Apologies for the size of the PDF [19mbs].

This document from Sinn Féin is perhaps most notable for the way in which it emulates the style of then-contemporary current affairs magazines like Magill. The overall layout is near-identical. In general terms it is a lavish production, with 60 pages. It contains cartoons, a six page report on an IRA training camp, and the contents is divided into various subjects from ‘Features’, ‘The Armed Struggle’, ‘Poetry’, ‘Book Reviews’ and ‘Foreign Affairs’.

The subject matter within each subject area is broad-ranging. An article by Paddy Bolger examines the strategies possible in the ‘Free State’. The issue of censorship is addressed by Bernadette Quinn. There is a clear identification with liberation struggles, ranging from feminism to anti-imperialism. Eibhlin Ni Gabhann considers womens groups in Belfast and Dublin. And Margaret Ward, who wrote Unmanageable Revolutionaries, expands upon the necessity for Republicans ‘to develop a non-elitist attitude of support for the feminist movement as an integral part of the liberation struggle’. This anti-imperialist approach is exemplified by an article on the West Bank with eye-witness account of the camp at Dheisheh.

The leading ‘Viewpoint’ article considers the 26 counties ‘A state but not a nation’ and argues that ‘the relation of a closed confessional state – in direct negation of all the principles of republicanism – has played a very significant role in turning the 26-county state inwards on itself’. It continues that the 26 counties ‘does however lack an essential ingredient for totally solidifying that stability – the ability to portray itself as something more than an apparently independent state, in short – to portray itself as a nation’.

It is an interesting thesis which is expanded upon further. ‘… the distinctive culture – a keystone of any nation – including the Irish language, is deliberately neglected and allowed to wither. Instead an alien mish-mash of mid-Atlantic culture is imported.’

It continues…

‘Equally, social values of the most conservative type, in keeping not with the historical spirit of the people, but rather with the objectives of the economic system, are sued as shackles to development.

And economically, following the logic of this inability to create a truncated nation, the solutions are not sought within the state itself in the development of resources, but are sought from outside in attempts to attract multinationals or to beg from Brussels.’

And notably it suggests that…

Politically, all of this trend can easily be seen in the most recent developments.

The so-called abortion referendum – which ignored the social problems surrounding abortion – was a reflex action of a long socially-repressed people, which in its underlining of the confessional state could not have caused any great dismay to the Free State upholders of partition, whatever their public position on that issue.

That issue, as the question of divorce now is, was deliberately put into a fallacious context of ‘concession to the Northern Protestants’ rather than an examination of an actual social problem in the Free State, with the inevitable partitionist result’.

It continues later with the argument that:

In pursuing a strategy in the 26 counties, SF, which is a revolutionary party, therefore has to consider two major aspects. First.. it has to retain its republican analysis of partition as the major block to the development of a nation which can achieve political, economic, social and cultural justice. It therefore has to campaign against the present negations of that justice and attempt to build a revolutionary awareness of cultural pride and development…

Secondly it has to communicate with the audience it wishes to reach in a way which that audience can, in today’s context, trust and understand. The proposition then that, somehow, republicans are bent on plunging the 26 counties into an armed revolution must be totally scotched. And the habit of republicans of isolating themselves in their political campaigning must be reversed.

And it concludes with the following:

The republican view of the elected institutions is not an excuse to stand aside from the political discussion altogether.

All told another fascinating addition to the Archive.


1. Jim Monaghan - July 26, 2010

There was a prison journal of the same name (if I am not mistaken) I think this was set up as a more house trained replacement.


WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2010

Ah, interesting. Do you think the leftwing tilt was very very deliberate? I’m thinking in terms of was it couched to attract people who otherwise might not have been involved?


Ciarán - August 1, 2010

The prison journal was called Iris Bheag. It came around later than IRIS, and as I recall the journal was replaced around 1990 by An Glór Gafa/The Captive Voice and An Camchéachta/The Starry Plough (not to be confused with the IRSP newspaper which I believe was defunct at that stage).


2. Garibaldy - July 26, 2010

This is pure guesswork on my part, but my reading of the contents of this magazine is that Jim is right about it being house trained, but I think there might have been more to it than that. Something that I found revealing was that in one of the articles where it said that people from the women’s movement I think it was frustrated with the current set-up joined the bigger organisations such as the Provos and IRSP. Now, in light of the IRSP’s complaints at the time and afterwards that they were kept off platforms etc during the hunger strikes by the Provos, it seems to me that this article reflects the attitude of the PD-types who joined the provos, and held onto ideas about cooperation that the more typical provos didn’t have.

And so, taking another leap of guesswork from that, I would ask whether the people involved in producing this magazine and to some extent the audience was that demographic, plus that type of demographic from outside as WBS suggests. And that, therefore, part of the purpose of this magazine was to give that crowd something to do, and something to make them feel important. And in return the provos got a whole load of radical chic to take abroad when looking for support.

In other words, I doubt the leadership cared all that much about this magazine and its aims.


3. NollaigO - July 26, 2010

Have you got the time-line right?
Jim would know.


4. Garibaldy - July 26, 2010


Like I said, this was guesswork, so it’s entirely possible I’ve got the timeline wrong. Not on the IRSP claims of being side-lined during the hunger strikes, and so I think that bit of it seems fair enough. Although I’m perfectly happy to be told I’m wrong on all of it.


5. WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2010

I think PD joined in the mid-1980s, which would be after this. I’m thinking more that this was an appeal to a broader range of left wing activists of various shades than the usual PSF ones.


6. WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2010

On the other hand and in fairness to PSF it’s clear that the Northern SF leadership used a much more left wing rhetoric than under the previous leadership (although ironically many of the links with various other movements internationally were forged by RÓB).


7. Garibaldy - July 26, 2010

I had thought a bunch of them joined immediately after the hunger strikes, and then more followed, but am happy to be corrected.


WorldbyStorm - July 26, 2010

Very possible, I think though the bulk joined mid 1980s.


8. Mícheál Mac Donncha - July 27, 2010

There is much needless speculation and conjecture in the comments so far on IRIS, the republican magazine. The fact is that the magazine is still being published and now, as then, it reflects Sinn Féin policy and strategy.

In 1983 the party was developing its electoral strategy, and Gerry Adams was elected MP for West Belfast and president of the party. The process of political development led three years later to the ending of abstention from Leinster House.

The emphasis on the progressive social and economic principles of republicansim came primarily from within the party, in particular from the newly emerging leadership, not from former members of other parties who joined then or subsequently. The key recognition was the need to combat the marginalisation of the party in the 26 Counties and to campaign on community, regional and national issues. As a young activist at the time, having joined after the 1981 Hunger Strikes, I can attest that that was the discussion of the day among party members, especially in Dublin.

The latest issue of IRIS, which I edited, was published earlier this year. It marked the centenary of the publication of Connolly’s ‘Labour in Irish History’, an abridged version of which it contains as well as articles on the economic crisis, Irish Unity, the imperialist war in Afghanistan and more.


Fergal - July 27, 2010

interesting points ,as someone who joined in the wake of ths hunger strike and expresses progrssive opinions what do you make of a post-fascist Italian Euro MEP launcing a book on Bobby Sands and this getting prominence in An Phoblacht online?Her name’s Aligelli(?) and represents the Italian National Alliance who used to be Fini’s party/the MSI


Garibaldy - July 27, 2010

Yeah I noticed that too Fergal. Although can’t blame people in Ireland for what happens in Italy.


9. Garibaldy - July 27, 2010

Thanks for that Mícheál. The specualtion and conjecture served its purpose of starting more informed debate. I note though that Paddy Bogler’s article seems to be saying something quite different to what you are saying was the feeling at the time, with him arguing that the social and economic message is not going to mobilise the population, and that only the national question can.


10. Paul Doran - July 27, 2010

Guesswork. Stick to facts.


11. Garibaldy - July 27, 2010

Yes, I said it was guesswork in the first sentence. It’s hardly like I pretended it was from a position of authority.


12. Paul Doran - July 27, 2010


Sure we can all on do Guesswork.


Garibaldy - July 27, 2010


a number of points. Firstly, regarding sticking to facts. This – like the overwhelming majority of blogs – is not simply a place to record facts. It is a place to offer opinion, discussion, and speculation. A very large proportion of what we do here is guesswork and speculation, based on our reading of what is going on inside say, Fianna Fáil, or Labour, or the head of McDowell and his mates and the possibility they might set up a new party. So it we stuck to facts this would be a very different site, and for my money, one people wouldn’t want to read. I think what you really mean is don’t speculate about parties I happen to like unless you are saying something that I find acceptable.

Regarding what I specifically wrote about this magazine, and PD types. At least one of the authors in this magazine has a background in PD, and if you can point me to any positive commentary on the IRSP in say An Phoblacht, which was central to the message of the leadership at this time, I’d be interested to read it. I didn’t just pluck the ideas I floated out of thin air. It was guesswork, but guesswork based on facts.

Of course the unspoken fact that informed my comments but that wasn’t explicitly aired was a quite simple one – if all this was so important and not windown dressing, explain to me how the same leadership is the way it is now, in terms of economic policy north and south. And that I suspect is the real reason that people found my comments objectionable. It raises an awkward question they might not want to answer.


13. Jim Monaghan - July 27, 2010

During the Hunger strike there was one ex PD on the Ard Comhairle.PD had two splits after the hunger strike. Number 1 was for joining the Provos as individual members. They left and joined. After a period their (some off) opponents then joined, leaving the rump which is now Socialist Democracy.None of the PDers in SF ever acted as a tendency. They probably reflected their background but that is all. They felt for better or worse that SF was the only game in town and that it had on balance a good leadership. On a footnote I remember an ex Miliatnt being impressed at the proletarian quality he saw at one Ard Fheis.I feel that the price they paid was a retreat from feminism and other things. For what it is worth I feel that SF represented a retreat form republicanism.I feel that a ceasefire did not have to lead to what they are doing now.
The Provos had become a mass movement by that stage. Bolger (now an Impact official), Phil Flynn and Dermot Whelan represented a very left tendency at that stage. A bit later they went out of favour. Like their cousins in the Officilas there were tendency battles inside SF which tended not to be in the open.
In the prisons there was an independent mag. called I think Irish Bheag. I had a few copies (since given to the Linenhall) There was much thinking about the way forward, interesting and open. It was replaced by an official journal (maybe not this Iris) but a slick journal which was house trained.
On case anyone thinks I am being partisan I would say that most of the left does not indulge in real debate, regarding discussion and difference not as a sign of health but as a sign of division and vacillation.


14. Paul Doran - July 27, 2010


Paragraph 1 and 2 taken I understand not being a upto date blogger , but getting used to it



Garibaldy - July 27, 2010

No bother Paul. It’s an interesting document, and floated the ideas in the hope of finding out more.


15. Paul Doran - July 27, 2010

I have read a good few of these Articles from the prisons.I could email them to you if you can contact me directly..On reading them I was very impressed with the Left Politics especially some of the women.
I ofen wonder where they have gone these fantastic women. Presently
Dublin Sinn Fein is broadly on a left wing platform.


16. Starkadder - July 27, 2010

Even though I’m not a fan of Sinn Fein, I thought the most recent
issue of IRIS was an excellent publication.

According to Richard Davis’ book “Mirror Hate”, in the 80s SF used
to offer copies of IRIS to journalists and academics who were
studying SF and the “Northern Question”.


17. WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2010

And thanks to Mícheál for giving some background. I’m also told reliably that there was a group of Dublin-based left-wing republicans in Sinn Féin way before some of the People’s Democracy ones joined and certainly from 1981 onwards. It would be interesting to get an insight into their development in the party.


Mícheál Mac Donncha - July 28, 2010

I would argue that the majority of Dublin republicans at the time I joined in 1982 were left-wing; as far as I was – and am – concerned we were members of a strongly left-wing party. That was my clear understanding based firstly on my initial contact with the party which was through reading An Phoblacht from May 1981 onwards and also IRIS, and then through involvement in the Sinn Féin cumann in UCD and at Dublin level. Obviously the armed struggle was in progress, repression was intesne in the North and censorship in the South, so these dominated. While good people joined from People’s Democracy they did so because of Sinn Féin’s renewed emphasis on political action; they were not the drivers of change from within. In general terms younger activists were strongly behind the ending of abstentionism and the development of political strategy.


18. Jim Monaghan - July 28, 2010

Dublin SF was leftwing since the early 70s at least and before that they probably were as well. By the H-Block stage they were I would say more explicitly left. Paddy Bolger, Dermot Whelan with the inspiartion of Phil Flynn were drivers of this. They would predate the ex PDers. .Whelan (an ex Trotskyist) had at that stage a virulant hatred of Trotskyist caused by his experiences. Eire Nua was as t least as left as the left of the Labour Party. While not the only criteria the membership in Dublin was very workingclass. (shades of Tone’s comment).I remember the banned Provo march to welcome O’Conaill from gaol, I had been on the Mayday march before that, the Porvo one was more workingclass and the people on it were obviously poorer.
Whelan and Bolger went out of favour and Whelan lost his job in SF. He had given up a job in the Public Service to take it up.
I generally feel that sometime after the H-Block movement there was a move to safer pastures by SF. They were no longer interested in alliances with far left groups. This was in part an understandable reaction to some of the weirder nonsense we have discussed here. But in reality it represented a move towards the centre. I remember excuses being made for union bureaucrats who ran when asked to do something for the prisoners. They wanted alliances but with ICTU bureaucrats.
Funnily enough it made me remember the end of the openness in Official SF to left currents before that. History repeating itself.


19. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - July 29, 2010

[…] * Provisional Sinn Féin (PSF): IRIS – The Republican Magazine, November 1983 […]


20. endüstriyel mutfak - July 30, 2010

While good people joined from People’s Democracy they did so because of Sinn Féin’s renewed emphasis


21. AnonymousJournalEntries.com - August 4, 2010

Scott M | 5 July 2010…

I found your entry interesting so I’ve added a Trackback to it on my Journal…


22. Left Archive: Iris, the Republican Magazine, Easter 1991, Sinn Féin « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 27, 2012

[…] thanks to Jim Monaghan for donating this to the Archive. This is an addition to the other copy of Iris published by Sinn Féin that is in the Archive. And being the Easter 1991 edition it commemorates […]


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