Category Archives: Officials

Ireland’s Marxist guerrillas: the story of the Saor Éire Action Group, 1967-73

by Mick Healy, in collaboration with several former Saor Eire members

(Mick wrote an article about Saor Eire which appeared on this site in 2011;  this is an updated and expanded version of that article, including new material added by former Saor Eire members; the article has been proofed and edited by me – PF)

The 1960s was a time of upheaval and change in conservative Irish society; social attitudes, fashion and music, for instance, all changed dramatically. New social movements reflected the thinking of a new generation that, in particular, wanted more freedom. The huge student-worker protests of May-June 1968 in France, the Vietnamese struggle to remove the US States, its allies and their Vietnamese toadies, the US civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and the national liberation struggles in Latin America and Africa galvanised opposition to the existing order. In Ireland, these events inspired people, especially the new generation, into action. This was especially the case around the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland. Among the new organisations which emerged here as a result of this new ferment and revolutionary idealism was the Dublin-based Saor Éire (SE) or, to give it its full name, the Saor Eire Action Group.

Saor Éire Action Group was established in the late 1960s by former members of the Republican Movement and newer young Irish political left activists coming together. As an organisation they claimed to have their roots in the Read the rest of this entry

Frank Keane, veteran socialist-republican and former national organiser of Saor Eire, interview

Frank Keane is one of the living people I most admire and respect.  The questions for this interview were written by myself and Mick Healy, and Mick conducted the actual interview.  Mick has done more than anyone to retrieve the story of Saor Eire, which disbanded in 1973, and its significance and relevance.

 

In Review: Marisa McGlinchey’s ‘Unfinished Business’

Marisa McGlinchey, Unfinished Business: the politics of ‘dissident’ Irish republicanism, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2019, 231pp; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

Marisa McGlinchey’s book should be read by all radical republicans, Marxists and anyone else genuinely interested in national liberation and socialism in Ireland.

Don’t be put off by the fact that the back cover features praise for the book from the likes of Lord Bew of the Stickies and Richard English, both of whom have carved out well-rewarded academic niches writing attacks on republicanism and producing material that can only aid British imperialism.  Their reasons for praising the book are entirely different from those of anti-imperialists.

There are two key strengths to this book.

One is that it is based on on a substantial set of interviews (90 in all) the author conducted with republicans opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and the Provo leadership’s move into the service of the British state and the statelets which are the result of partition in Ireland and the Provos’ move from sort sort of vision of socialism to embracing the market and capitalist austerity.

The other strength is that she largely lets the interviewees speak for themselves, rather than trying to stitch them up.  Thus, for instance, she refrains from referring to them in the book as “dissident” republicans – the book’s sub-title was chosen, presumably, by the publisher.  Instead, she refers to them by the much more accurate term of “radical republicans” and treats them as rational political activists rather than some kind of pathology.

The interviewees, some of whom are now dead and some of whom have left the organisation they were in at the time they were interviewed, cover the gamut of radical republican groups, some of which are linked to armed organisations and some of which are not.  Thus the interviewees include independents and members of Eirigi, RNU, Saoradh, the IRSP, RSF and the 32CSM.  They range from younger activists such as Louise Minihan to veterans who go back to the 1956-62 border campaign and even earlier, such as Peig King and Billy McKee.  Some of the activists support Read the rest of this entry

In Review: Michael Ryan’s Border Campaign

Michael Ryan, My Life in the IRA: The Border Campaign, Cork, Mercier Press, 2018; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

Opinions differ in republican circles about Operation Harvest (the ‘border campaign’).  Often it has been suggested that the entire campaign was misconceived and then poorly executed, turning into a disaster for the Movement.

Some more recent interpretations have suggested that it had more going for it.  I certainly find it a bit difficult to see that someone of Sean Cronin’s intelligence and military experience would have put together a plan of campaign that could only ever have been a disaster.  Moreover, things started out well – Sinn Fein had captured two six-county seats on an abstentionist basis in the 1955 British general election, winning over 150,000 votes there and then got four further (abstentionist) candidates elected to Leinster House in 1957, taking over 65,000 first-preference votes.   And, after almost being destroyed in the 1940s, the IRA had been able to substantially re-arm, with a series of arms raids in both the six counties and England.

The degree of optimism was such that Mick Ryan writes how he and other Volunteers felt they’d free the north in three months! (p91)

However, very early into the border campaign, problems arose.  Ryan’s book suggests that these problems were Read the rest of this entry

Interview with Alan MacSimoin (1957-2018)

Alan MacSimoin 1957-2018 was a long-time anarchist activist and a founder member of the Workers Solidarity Movement.

MacSimoin joined the Official Republican Movement (Official Sinn Fein) as a young man in the 1970s.  He was involved in the Murray Defence Committee in 1976-77 to stop the state execution of anarchists Noel and Marie Murray for the killing of a member of the police.

He was also involved with the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott of South African goods in Ireland and the Irish Anti-Nuclear Movement that stopped the building of nuclear power stations around the coast of Ireland in the 1970s.

Below is an interview my friend Mick Healy did with him a year or two back and has passed on to me . . .

 

Some more great stuff on the Irish Republican Marxist History Project

D.R. O’Connor Lysaght reviews Seamus Murphy, Having it Away: an Epic Story of Freedom, Friendship and IRA jailbreak, Bray, Co. Wicklow:  https://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/triumph-and-tragedy-lessons-of-a-republican-prison-escape-by-d-r-oconnor-lysaght/

Video in which veteran republican Richard Behal talks about the Border Campaign and the Republican Movement in the mid-late 1960s:  https://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/operation-harvest-the-republican-movement-in-the-mid-late-1960s/

Seamus Costello in very first issue of ‘Starry Plough’ on differences between IRSP and the Officials

The following appeared in the very first issue of the Irish Republican Socialist Party’s paper, The Starry Plough. in April 1975.  The IRSP was founded on December 10, 1974.  A military organisation, the Irish National Liberation Army, was founded at the same time.

Q. What caused the present feud between the IRSP and the Officials?

As far as we can see, it is the fact that the IRSP is undermining the Officials organizationally, particularly in Belfast where the feud is most intense. During the past 3 or 4 months, since the party was launched on the 12th of December, the IRSP has taken some 200 members from the Officials in the Belfast area. This has led to a situation where, at the moment, the Officials in Belfast have only half the numerical strength of the IRSP. As a result of this, a request was made by the (Official) Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle to the Official IRA to prevent the organization of further IRSP branches in the Belfast area. Immediately after this request, starting on Dec. 12th, a number of our members were kidnapped in the Belfast area. From then until the murder of Hugh Ferguson, we have had dozens of people kidnapped, people beaten up, people wounded through shooting, houses petrol bombed, cars burned and so on. Undoubtedly the immediate cause of the feud is the fact that the Officials are losing members.

Q. What are the main ideological differences between the IRSP and the Officials?

The principal ideological differences would be their attitude towards the National Question as against our attitude. Basically, the position of the leadership of the Officials is that there is no hope of achieving National Liberation until such time as the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North are united and therefore there is nothing which can be done in political terms or in any other terms about this particular issue. Our attitude, on the other hand, is that the British presence in Ireland is the basic cause of the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic working class in the North. It follows from that, in our view, that the primary emphasis should be on the mobilization of the mass of the Irish people in the struggle for National Liberation. We believe, also, that the left in Irish politics should play a leading role in this struggle. Up until recent years, many of us felt that the Official Movement was capable of and willing to do this. Indeed the rank and file of the Official Movement had expressed their views on this at the 1972 and 1973 Ard Fheiseanna, where they rejected the position of the national leadership on the national question and put forward a policy which would have led to a more militant approach on this question.

However, the leadership disagreed with this policy and deliberately frustrated its implementation. The result of this was that the Official Republicans, who, at that time, were the largest single body of organized left-wing opinion in Ireland, deliberately divorced the working class struggle from the national struggle and gradually degenerated, taking a reformist position on a number of very important issues.

Q. What issues in particular?

The principal issues that come to mind immediately are the Civil Rights struggle, the Assembly Elections, the question of taking seats and the question of the rent and rates strike. In all these issues, the leadership of the Officials hesitated to take a stand. They have, for instance, regarded the Civil Rights struggle since 1969, as the only struggle worth taking part in. They ignored the presence of 15,000 troops on the streets. They ignored the torture and terror perpetrated by the British Army on the Nationalist population and they acted as though there was no change in the situation since 1969. In other words, they failed to realize the change in the nature of the struggle in Ireland, particularly in Read the rest of this entry

Jim Lane speech at 1982 Seamus Costello commemoration

Below is the speech delivered by Jim Lane at the commemoration for Seamus Costello on the 5th anniversary of his murder by the pro-Moscow ‘Official’ IRA.  Jim was a member of the central leadership of the IRSP at the time, becoming its national chairperson in 1983.  The speech was delivered at Seamus’ graveside in Bray on October 3, 1982.

The original text had some very large paragraphs.  I have broken these up, simply to make it easier to read.  None of the text has been changed.

Special thanks to Mick Healy for passing the original text on to me and suggesting I put it up here.

Seamus Costello

Gathering beside the graves of our patriot dead is a long-established custom for Irish revolutionaries. In doing so, we honour our dead and seek strength and inspiration to help further the cause for which they struggled. Such strength and inspiration derives not alone in recalling the deeds of our dead patriots, but also in restating and clarifying our political philosophy, in terms of existing conditions. The deeds of our dead comrade, Séamus Costello, republican socialist and founder member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party are legion. This year in a fitting and timely tribute, such deeds have been recorded with the publication of a book by the Séamus Costello Memorial Committee. For an insight into the contribution that Séamus made to the revolutionary socialist struggle in Ireland, it is required reading, guaranteed to strengthen our resolve and provide inspiration. Therein can be found not alone an account of his life, achievements and writings, but an excellent collection of tributes from his friends and comrades. No words of mine spoken in tribute could match theirs.

Jim Lane today

Nora Connolly-O’Brien, recently deceased daughter of Irish socialist republican martyr James Connolly, considered him to be the greatest follower of her father’s teachings in this generation and hoped that his vision for Ireland would be realised in this generation.

For Tony Gregory, Séamus “personified more than any Irish man or woman, at least of our generation, the republican socialist – the revolutionary activist who organised and worked in tenant organisations, trade unions, housing action committees and cultural organisations.”

From the young men and women of the republican socialist movement, to whom he was friend and mentor, came the following tributes:

Gerry Roche – “Like Lenin, he was pragmatic in his tactics, and while recognising the corruption of the courts and parliament, he was quite prepared to use them as a platform while remaining totally inflexible in his politics.”

Seán Doyle – “Séamus Costello was a man of the people. He got his degree in working-class involvement, on the streets with his people, campaigning with them for justice.”

Niall Leonach – “He had an irrepressible dedication and energy to carry on with the struggle, to learn new lessons and to break new ground.”

Íte Ní Chionnaith – “Bhí a fhios aige in gcónai go raibh a bheatha i mbaol agus go mbeadh, an fhaí is a lean sé den obair a bhí ar bun aige ach níor lig sé dó sin cur as dó. Ba chailliúint gan áireamh é do phobal na tíre seo, thuaidh agus theas.”

And it was Miriam Daly, first chairperson of the Séamus Costello Memorial Committee and a member of the Ard-Chomhairle of the IRSP when Séamus was murdered, who highlighted the point that made him stand out as a republican socialist, when she said he never  Read the rest of this entry

Book launch of Mick Ryan’s ‘My Life in the IRA’

Video on the book launch; the book I think concentrates on the years of the Border Campaign (Operation Harvest):

 

Seamus Costello

October 5 marked the 40th anniversary of his murder by the Officials.

There’s a chunk of material on him here and some also on the other blog I’m involved in, Redline.

The stuff on this blog includes:

1975 interview with Seamus on the initial attempts of the Sticks to destroy the IRSP

Text of speech by Sean Doyle, a comrade of Seamus in Wicklow, on the 35th anniversary of the murder

Miriam Daly – successor to Seamus and murdered a few years later – on Seamus

1969 educational talk by Seamus on Democracy and the Mass Movement

Seamus Costello’s 1966 Bodenstown speech

There is also lots of material on particular commemorations re comrade Costello.  If you click into the categories section, you’ll find there is a Seamus Costello category and you’ll find much more stuff there.