Category Archives: Republicanism 1960s

When CS gas came to the floor of the House of Commons

by Mick Healy

The RUC used CS gas for the first time on August 12, 1969, in the Bogside of Derry. It invisibly covered the streets and seeped into every room of the houses, causing choking, vomiting and irritation of the eyes and skin. The British Army first used the gas in April 1970 when they indiscriminately fired off 104 gas canisters in Ballymurphy in West Belfast during a night of rioting.

Máirín Keegan of Saor Eire suggested to Butch Roche, an original member of Peoples Democracy, that they mount a publicity campaign to highlight the use of CS gas, because they were convinced it had done considerable harm. She also acquired two CS gas canisters that were photographed with the intention of using them in the publicity campaign. Roche decided on a symbolic action that wouldn’t injure anyone but bring home to the British public and establishment the impact of its use against the civilian population in Belfast and Derry.

On July 22, 1970, Butch arrived in London with the two CS gas canisters. The next day he entered the Public Gallery of the House of Commons, with a newspaper to cover the bulkiness in his pockets. He threw the gas grenades 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

Liam Sutcliffe photo

Thanks to my friend Mick Healy for this fine picture of Vol Liam Sutcliffe (1933-2017), a veteran of the Irish Republican Army and later of the Dublin-based Saor Eire.

Liam Sutcliffe.

IRA Volunteer.

Saor Eire Volunteer.

Socialist-Republican.

And the person who blew up Nelson’s Pillar.

Frank Keane and the Irish revolution

by Mick Healy

“The magistrate in his summing up said that he had no doubt whatsoever that I was politically involved. This should stand to my benefit at a later stage and should really nail the lie that I’m a gangster, a criminal”.      – Frank Keane, Brixton jail, 14th August, 1970.

Frank Keane, who is now over eighty years of age, was born on May 8, 1936 in Peter Street, Westport, Co. Mayo.  He was once regarded as a dangerous political opponent by the Irish establishment.

Frank was the eldest of three brothers and a sister and was educated at the local Christian Brothers School.  In 1952 he moved with his family to North Road, Finglas in Dublin.  The following year he joined the Jackie Griffith Sinn Fein Cumann. (The cumann was name after a republican activist shot dead by the Free State special branch in Dublin on 4 July 1943.)

Frank volunteered for active service during Operation Harvest, the IRA 1950s border campaign.  With training/recruitment officers interned or on the run, he enlisted in the 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 . . .

 

Film Review: I Dolours

We asked former H-Block prisoner and blanketman Dixie Elliott for a review of this movie.  Dixie suggested we use something he had written that appeared on The Pensive Quill; so this is it with some slight editing to fit this site.

I Dolours, 2018, directed by Maurice Sweeney; produced by Ed Moloney; 82 mins.

by Dixie Elliott

I Dolours is a film about a committed and brave IRA Volunteer telling her own harrowing story.  What struck me was the haunted eyes of someone who, like her sister Marian, carried out orders without question and who did terrible things in the belief that what they were doing was right.  Who remained seated when asked to go and bomb England while others got up and walked out of the room, unable to do it.  Dolours couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to go as she wanted to take the war to the Brits’ door.

The Brits were waiting on them, she told us, and when asked if she believed there was an informer, she said “yes” without hesitation – in Belfast.

The actor who portrayed Dolours as a young IRA Volunteer is so like the older woman it’s uncanny, especially the eyes.

Dolours spoke about her staunchly Republican parents, her father who had bombed England in his youth, her aunt who lived with them and who had lost both hands and eyes in Read the rest of this entry

Revisiting People’s Democracy and the ‘Burntollet’ march

The January 1969 Belfast to Derry march, organised by People’s Democracy, modelled on the US civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965

Last week I watched a video of a public meeting at the CP’s Dublin headquarters marking the 50th anniversary of the explosion of the civil rights movement onto the streets of Derry and the wider six counties.  One of the speakers was Tommy McKearney, someone whom I respect a great deal.  To my unpleasant surprise, however, Tommy wheeled out the old Stickies and CP attacks on “ultralefts” going destructively ahead with activities which unnecessarily provoked violent clashes instead of listening to the advice of more seasoned folk like Betty Sinclair.

Wow!

It’s hard to know where to start in responding to this, so I’m linking to two articles on the People’s Democracy organisation, the civil rights movement and Burntollet.  One is by Matt Collins, from SWN/People Before Profit looking back on the events as a Marxist today and the other is by John McAnulty, a veteran of PD and the movement back then and an active Marxist still.  John agrees with much in the Matt Collins article, which defends PD, while also noting a few things Matt got wrong.

Before linking to these, I just want to say something about Betty Sinclair and the question of ‘experience’.  Tommy is dead wrong to say Bernadette Devlin, Michael Farrell, John McAnulty and the “ultralefts” should have Read the rest of this entry

Bernard Fox letter on the road to armed struggle

The following letter appeared in the October 26 issue of the Belfast-based Irish News.  Bernard Fox spent decades in the Irish Republican Army, including a stint on the Army Council, the IRA’s seven-person central leadership.  He came to oppose the direction the Adams-McGuinness cabal took as they decided to become part of the political establishment across the island.

I commend The Irish News coverage of the emergence of the civil rights association and the events surrounding the Duke Street march 50 years ago. Leona O’Neill’s column (October 9) about her brave father’s involvement and decisions made then were made in response to what he experienced on the ground. However, at that time there were no easy decisions to make.

I was a 17-year-old in 1969 living in the St James’s area off the Falls Road. My interests were sport, the Beatles and girls. I was serving an apprenticeship in an engineering firm where I had many Read the rest of this entry

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