About this Collection

This collection brings together documents from 1975 that give an overview of divisions in Republicanism at that time. 1975 saw the feuds between Official Sinn Féin (OSF) and the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), and between OSF and Provisional Sinn Féin (PSF) later that year.

The IRSP was founded at the end of 1974 in a split from the OSF led by Seamus Costello, precipitated by Costello’s expulsion from OIRA and OSF following a court-martial. The series of editions of the United Irishman, the paper of OSF, and of Starry Plough, the then newly founded paper of the IRSP, provide an insight into the divisions between the newly founded party and the Official movement.

For example, the first edition of Starry Plough (April 1975) leads with an outline of the new party and its formation in December of the previous year, and notes that:

It was unanimously agreed that the object of the Party would be to ‘End Imperialist Rule in Ireland and Establish a 32 County Democratic Socialist Republic, with the Working Class in control of the Means of Production, Distribution and Exchange. (Starry Plough, Vol. 1, No. 1, p.1)

The assassination of Billy McMillen (who was an officer of the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA)) in April 1975 is dealt with in the May editions of both papers, with the bitter divisions evident. The United Irishman leads with ‘A Tribute to Liam MacMaolain [McMillen]’, and states: “The statement by the IRSP that their members were not involved simply means that the killing was done under the name PLA [People’s Liberation Army - a name sometimes used by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the paramilitary wing of the IRSP]. The attacks on our membership over the past few months have been carried out by full-time paid killers, mercenaries, whose purpose is to smash our organisation” (The United Irishman, Vol. 33, No. 5, p.1). The Starry Plough on the other hand, disavows the attack, saying “the shooting of Liam McMillen, a member of the Ard Comhairle of Sinn Féin was the work of [an] ‘agent provocateur’ said Seamus Costello, chairman of the I.R.S.P.”, in a piece entitled “Who shot McMillen?” (The Starry Plough, Vol. 1, No. 2, p.5). The Eagarfhocal (Editorial) of the same edition also deals with the feud, with the title “Feud - Or Fascism”.

Issues of the United Irishman also correspond with the feud between OIRA and PIRA later in the year. For example, the editorial of the December 1975 edition seeks to rebut “…the propaganda campaign waged by the Provisional Alliance… and accusations that our members were engaged in acts of petty gangsterism against the people of Belfast” (United Irishman, Vol. 33, No. 12, p. 7).

Finally, the OSF/IRSP split is dealt with further by a selection of articles from Gerry Foley, written for Intercontinental Press. Many thanks to Nollag O for these documents, the first of which is ‘Officials’ Split over Stalinist Power Play from 24 February 1975. The second from 3 March 1975 is entitled ‘Officials’ Turn Against Their Own Past. The third is ‘In Tribute to Billy McMillen’ from June 9 1975. The last document is an interview with Séamus Costello - described as ‘one of the most prominent leaders of the Irish Republican Socialist Party’ - and entitled ‘The Need to End the Feud Between ‘Officials’ and IRSP, from July 1975.

They provide both a clear, albeit subjective, view of the situation as regards the origins and development of the split - though note that at that time there was no admission that it was IRSP members who had assassinated McMillen and mention is made by Costello of ‘the People’s Liberation Army and the other armed groups that have acted in this way’.

As always Foley is scrupulously fair to all protagonists while making clear the general perspective he viewed the events through.

We hope this collection can provide a rounded overview of these Republican divisions from all perspectives, so any additional documents from Official or Provisional Sinn Féin, the IRSP or other left groups from that period would be very welcome. In particular editions of the PSF papers from 1975 would be appreciated. You can contact us here, or directly by email at contact@irishleftarchive.org.

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