|Contributors:||Gerry Adams, Pat Doherty, John Joe McGirl, Joe Cahill, Martin McGuinness, Seán McManus|
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Yet again from an anonymous donation to the Archive, this week we have a fascinating historical document. Here is Sinn Féin’s “The Politics of Revolution”, ‘the main speeches and debates from the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis’… it ‘includes the presidential address of Gerry Adams’. This Ard-Fheis was arguably the most important of the past two decades and it was the one where abstentionism from Leinster House was finally dropped and the power and authority of the Northern leadership of PSF was fully consolidated. The Ó Brádaigh grouping left the Ard Fheis and never came back (and entertainingly there is actually a photograph or two from the rival meeting convened by Ó B in the West County Hotel - perhaps chosen for their selection of in the main either glum looking or rather elderly activists). From here on in - although it didn’t look like it at the time - the way was clear for a fundamental and frankly staggering change in PSF tactics, if not goals.
So much to say about it but instead of a full analysis - which might be worth doing some other time - I’ll just draw your attention to a number of points. There are a number of interesting omissions. For example, there is no speech from the opposing group centred around Ruáiri Ó Brádaigh (unlike the Workers’ Party’s seminal ‘Patterns of Betrayal’ issued after the WP/DL split which carried a number of pieces from the soon to be DL proponents - which I might put up here as well sometime). There is a clear explication of the rationale for the move in all the pieces. There is a thread of social radicalism. Consider if you will the very open debates on social issues. However - and remember this is a partial sampling and collation of the Ard Fheis with effectively a single purpose - the economic side is so thin as to be transparent. Unionism? Hardly even mentioned. If the game plan was long in terms of repositioning PSF then at this point that box on the agenda had yet to be ticked.
And it is all couched in pragmatism. Republican legitimation of the RSF kind gets short shrift here. Everything is about achieving power. And in that process is it is notable that those who ‘support’ the move are very much of the militarist ilk - at least in terms of the reported speeches. A PIRA statement rubbishes legitimation arguing that ‘to suggest that the IRA is not legitimate because of the decision it has taken on abstentionism is ridiculous. The IRA predates the Second Dail and the First Dail [incidentally, what is it with ‘fada’s’ and these guys? - wbs], it’s constitution, and our legitimacy stems from organised popular resistance to British rule in Ireland, a tradition whcih was reinforced in 1916, by the Fenians, by the Young Irelanders, by the United Irishmen’. And in a final flourish an argument is used which was - no doubt - to come back to haunt them, even if only slightly, in 1997/98… ‘It’s legitimacy stems from a tradition of resistance which has been a fact of history since Britain first encroached Irish sovereignty 800 years ago’. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the twin arguments which would diverge eventually as the peace process grew momentum… on the one hand 32CSM and their outriders would push ‘sovereignty’, on the other the bulk of PSF would argue that the forms of that resistance - whether militarist or political - were less important than its effectivity in achieving goals…
Note the concentration on ‘Revolution’. In fairness to R Ó B (a sentence you will rarely enough find on this site) any ‘revolutionary’ links were very much - if not solely - the fruit of his endeavours in the 1970s and early 1980s as something of an ambassador for Irish Republicanism of the PSF stripe. But. There’s awful little about a revolutionary programme here. Republicanism remains the central ideology, and leftist thinking while apparent (although not entirely clearly explicated) is hardly the key issue. Indeed the binding narrative is one which rests on ‘convictions about sovereignty and resistance [again that duality-wbs] which have sustained republicans through thick and thin, through brutal interrogations, through the pomp of ‘courts and justice’, in desolate prison cells, against the might of the British authorities’…
And Martin McGuinness is quoted as saying: ‘They [the IRA] will not split…’
Could anyone envisage that twenty years later, or so, the same Martin McGuinness who here breathed fire about how PIRA ‘will not walk away from the armed struggle. They are the real revolutionaries. If you allow yourselves to be led out of this hall today, the only place you will be going is home’ would be shoulder to shoulder with Ian Paisley on Wall Street?
Prophetic words though about ‘going home’. And revolutions, as Martin might accept today, come in many different forms.
Apologies for the file size (incidentally if people are having trouble downloading these please tell me and I’ll see if I can scan them in at lower resolutions). It’s about 7.5 mbs…