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Dessie Ellis interview… March 20, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The Left.

…a bit late on this one which appeared in yesterday’s Mail, conducted by Jason O’Toole. But absent the scarifying headline ‘Is blood on your hands Deputy?’, a tribute to the sub editors, this is quite interesting.

First up this Dessie Ellis is yet another TD who can be seen as tracing a lineage back to the Official IRA [or in some of the personalities, the WP] in this Dáil, in his case directly.

As a teenager, Dessie was first ‘associated with’ the Official IRA before going on to join the Provisional IRA. He explains: ‘We have a long history of Republicans in our family — my two grandfathers fought in 1916. I’ve been involved in politics from about 17 — street protests. At a very young age, I was very politicised and I was on lot of marches up North and in Dublin.’ Did he light a match that day when the British Embassy was burnt down by protesters angry over Bloody Sunday? ‘I won’t comment on what I done or what I didn’t do! I was there in that and it was a strange time.’

He makes a fair point…indeed a very intriguing one.

Dessie insists that there are prominent members of Labour today — politicians who had previously been members of Democratic Left, the Workers’ Party and Official Sinn Féin before joining Labour — who were also members of the IRA. ‘There are quite a few hypocrites there. I’m well aware of that. I know some of them from my past. So, I know the positions that they held. Some of them are still there. Nobody gets scrutinised as much as us [Sinn Féin].’

Nor is he coy about his own history:

Dessie grew up in Finglas West and was childhood friends with IRA leader John Noonan, who is now persona non grata within Sinn Féin after being allegedly linked with criminality. He is being investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Ellis doesn’t directly comment on the allegations facing the man he ‘grew up together’ with. Yet, he adds: ‘I have absolutely no time for any criminality or people lining their own pocket or using the name of the Republican movement in any way. They’ve let themselves down and their families down and the country down. I made sure that it didn’t happen, to the best of my ability, in my area. That’s not to say it didn’t happen.’ While Noonan went on to become the adjutant officer of the Dublin Brigade, Dessie explains that he ‘was not really active’ as an IRA member in the 26 counties. ‘It would have been a bit different for me, I was more closely associated with Northern Command.’ What position did he hold? ‘I wouldn’t want to be saying too much. Let’s just say I worked with Northern Command and I held a senior position for many years. I was an active volunteer in the struggle.’


Was he ever on the Army Council? ‘I won’t answer that,’ he quickly replies. Does he have blood on his hands? ‘I don’t feel I have blood on my hands; I think that’s the wrong way to describe things. I believe things happened that shouldn’t have happened. I don’t think anybody in the Republican movement was happy with certain things that happened. We were in a very vicious situation for a long, long time and there’s a lot of people, if it comes to, have to answer over what happened.’ Would he accept that some of his actions caused deaths? ‘Well, I’m not going to respond to that. But I’m accepting that as a Republican, that things happened that shouldn’t have happened. And there is a certain responsibility when that happens.

He was on hunger strike for 37 or so days, during his extradition to the UK from the Curragh Camp where he was serving an 8 year sentence.

He became so weak that at one stage, he had to be brought in a wheelchair into court for a hearing in Britain. ‘They extradited me during the hunger strike. It would have been 30-something days. I had been brought into the court in England in a wheelchair, which was weird.’ Was he really prepared to die? ‘From day one, I had that pencilled in my mind. And, as things got closer, that was the way I was thinking. I certainly was [prepared to die] up until a point then when I was given a briefing from the solicitors who were quite adamant that they felt we had a case and that we would win it. ‘It was quite clear that part of their conspiracy charge was that I knowingly knew that items were to be used in the UK, right? ‘Number one — the jury didn’t buy that and understandably because there was no evidence whatsoever that I was ever in the UK. On top of that, there was a case of double jeopardy. So, on that basis, I took a decision to discontinue with the hunger strike. It was quite a hard decision, amazingly. We won the case. ‘The solicitor was dead correct on what we would win it on. I was relieved anyway.

But he has a sense of failure over not going through with it.

Dessie admits that he feels guilty about deciding to give up his hunger strike and face the charges. ‘The psychological effects of not following through were with me. And I don’t think people understand, failure is not something I contemplate in my life. And I always felt that I had failed in that, you know? ‘And it still rankles with me that there was a certain failure. A failure to follow through with what I intended to do.’ But you wouldn’t be alive? ‘Well, that’s another thing. ‘Whatever, it’s still with me even to this day.

He also notes:

After winning his case, Dessie confesses that he returned to Ireland and continued being an active IRA member ‘until the Good Friday Agreement’. He also admits that he was ‘probably’ lucky never to be re-arrested during this time-frame. Apart from hunger strike, did he ever come close to dying? ‘I have in the past, yes.’ How close? ‘Close enough.’ Was he shot at? ‘Yes. I won’t go into it, though.’ So, does he consider himself lucky to be alive today? ‘I would say that’s a fair assessment.’ After his father’s death in 1996, Dessie decided to give up his lucrative TV shop business to focus on constituency work as a Sinn Féin councillor. ‘I redone the business and I set it up at the side of my mother’s house and we had it going very well. And then when my father died, really my heart wasn’t there. ‘I gave up my business. I was making a lot of money, but it wasn’t about money. So, I’ve lived on air for years. I’ve been a full-time councillor for ten years. To me, it’s more than just about being a TD — it’s a life.’


1. RepublicanSocialist1798 - March 20, 2011

Noonan was like most others heavily involved with the CPAD in the 80’s. He was declared bankrupt as far as I know a few years ago.

Here’s hoping he names names in the Dail. That would be titilatting.


Doloras LaPicho - March 20, 2011

“Quentin Tarantino – he’s in the ‘RA. Koffi Annan – he’s in the ‘RA. Yer man out of the Da Vinci Code – he’s in the ‘RA.” (the Rubber Bandits)


2. shea - March 20, 2011

hope he doesn’t name names. this who was ever in the ra game is a waste. it was a secret organisation. don’t think its should be that big a surprise when most of the time its memebers or past members deny being members.

in terms of group b vols concidering that labour are now in government maybe it makes a good conspiricy theory but realisticly is there are more to it than that.


3. Seán Ó Tuama - March 20, 2011

Ah, go on, Dessie, name the hypocrites since you now can under privilege. I am fairly sure of at least one.


4. tomasoflatharta - March 20, 2011

Shea you say : “most of the time its memebers or past members deny being members”.

Dessie Ellis discussed being a former IRA member – very refreshing. Lots of other former Republican Movement members have done the same.

However, they are under no obligation to name anyone else who was also a member – without their consent. And nobody should be expected to incriminate themselves. All who joined made an adult decision to join an underground secret political movement.

For example Liam Sutcliffe says he blew up Dublin’s Nelson’s Pillar on March 8 1966, but does not identify anyone else who helped organise that operation.


Some very obvious ex-members deny they were in the IRA, and make fools of themselves. The current Sinn Féin President is the most well-known example,but he is not alone.

I doubt if the SF deputy for Louth would welcome anybody standing up in the Dáil and identifying TD’s who used to be in the IRA.


5. Dubliner15 - March 20, 2011

Sindo have a piece today about John Noonan and going bankrupt. They say he has something like nine mortgages!


6. Jim Monaghan - March 20, 2011

Perhaps Group B ( maybe in power, who knows) could be commissioned for a serious raid on the EU/IMF and Switzerland.In one fell swoop we could repay the debt and have a surplus. We could claim it was all the result of reopening goldmines in Wicklow.
I vaguely remember a Peter Cook movie with that as one of the plot lines.
What we need is some lateral thinking.


7. HAL - March 20, 2011

“I know some of them from my past. So, I know the positions that they held. Some of them are still there.”

Still where?


Doloras LaPicho - March 20, 2011

Surely he can’t be insinuating that any current Labour TDs are still in Group B. Surely? And how would Dessie know the inner workings of Group B, anyway?

Anyway, I love that bit in the Lost Revolution about how P. de Rossa got kicked out of the ‘RA for refusing to go on active service in the North, but Mac Giolla pulled strings to keep him in SF.


Jack Jameson - March 21, 2011

I’m guessing that by “there” he means that some of those with more knowledge than they care to publicly confess about Group B are still around, not that they are associated with any military structure.

Given their leadership positions and their longevity in the WP, that might be a fair assumption.


8. Justin Moran - March 21, 2011

I think what’s galling for republicans like Dessie isn’t necessarily that there are former OIRA members in the Labour party or that they are elected representatives for that party.

It’s possibly the hypocrisy of being lectured by those individuals about the existence of the IRA (admittedly I only know of one such case but possibly Dessie knows more) and wondering how much Labour knew about some of the more recent escapades of individuals who joined them.

Did they know people who were active in the OIRA in the 80s were joining Labour and didn’t care, or did they not know, or did they not care to know?


shea - March 21, 2011

everyone plays a part when it suits them and peoples moral compus is ofen judged by nesesity, generally the argument is teatrical time wasteing. maybe he was right to say what he said in the interview as a shot across the bow but think the best that comes out of this stuff is a few people find it titilatting and they’ve there right to there entertainment but thats the height of it.

but if dessie is saying it because its making a case for SF members being in government down here then surly that case has repeatedly been made down the decades, there harldly the fist vols in government.


9. The Labour Party And The Official IRA – They Haven’t Gone Away, You Know « An Sionnach Fionn - August 23, 2011

[…] the Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis pointed out there are an awful lot of skeletons in the cupboards of the former members of […]


10. John Nagle - October 30, 2011

Many years ago we all had a dream of been on the one road. Funny when you wake up what a bloody fool you can be.If only the dead could return. The whole thing would not matter a dam

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