The Plough, Vol. 3, No. 6
Date:1977
Organisation:Sinn Féin [Official]
Publication:The Plough
Issue:Volume 3, Number 6
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

29th April 2008

For a somewhat different view of matters on the ground within the Official Republican movement as distinct from some of the ideological strands that would come to fruition in the 1980s this document entitled ‘The Plough: South Down/South Armagh’s own Republican Paper’ is revealing. Dating from 1977 it approaches topics such as the withdrawal of special category status in a way which was diametrically opposed to that expressed in WP material from just a few years later.

Consider how it suggests that:

We don’t live in a normal society with normal laws and normal courts so the prisoners are not normal criminals and should be recognised as such. Since there are Special Courts there must be Special Category Prisoners. The Plough greets the Political Prisoners and wishes them Freedom and Justice.

Of course, this was the hard edge of the struggle and one might note that Newry and Armagh always had an independent streak to them. In some respects it points up the difficult position that Official Republicanism was in following the ceasefires, rhetorically at odds with the state, but more and more having to come to terms with it. This is exemplified by the piece (accompanied by a photograph entitled ‘The Results of British Terrorism’ - not quite the subject matter we see later) which ends…

Report every example of [British] harassment to the Republican Clubs Advice Centre and make a formal complaint to the R.U.C. Not that you can expect help from the R.U.C. But you must do this to make a claim and force the situation into public view.

The visual iconography is not one that many would associate with OSF/WP, with the concentration on prisoners, prison cells etc… (although interesting to see a couple of pages under the heading Industrial Front inside). And then there is the column at the back of ‘gossip’ from ‘what’s the crack’ which excoriates the ‘Provo’s’ and British Army equally.

In a sense here was a legacy issue that Official Republicanism never got to grips with in the way that PSF and PIRA did. Prisoners disrupted certain narratives established by OSF and later the WP, despite the impact of security legislation and frameworks, they pointed up contradictions between the aspirations of OSF and the reality of the environment within which they were embedded. This is not to say they were simply forgotten. I remember one house in Dublin where WP branch meetings took place where a souvenir made by Official prisoners in H-Block was on prominent display. But their story faded from view with remarkable, and arguably undue, speed.

All told a fascinating addition to the Archive.

More from Sinn Féin [Official]

Sinn Féin [Official] in the archive


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  • By: Garibaldy Fri, 02 May 2008 14:24:38

    I’m inclined to agree with Redking that this is best forgotten. But there are some things here that need addressed. Firstly, forming a faction within the Party is banned by the constitution. And a small number of people were expelled for violating that, rather than, for example, arguing that The WP should stand in fewer seats. I note that so far there has been no mention of frustrated ambition and inflated egos (lots of talk of who was going to get which job), the advocacy of policies that violated the most basic of all republican principles – the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter – under the pressure of the marching issue, nor of behaviour in Newry that those interested can find detailed in the Sunday Life, and that led to the dissolution of the branch there. Now they could happily make “ex-prisoners” their primary identification, freed from the burden of even the suggestion of actual political struggle while benefiting from funding from the British government on that basis, and gaining a sense of importance to boot.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Fri, 02 May 2008 16:29:33

    Well John points to problematic aspects as regards the lack of take up of the term Republican Left despite the wish of a majority, but that said since they didn’t become a campaigning group per se, isn’t it a bit difficult to see it simply as ego or ambition? That might well be part of it, but all? Again, I’m not close enough to the raw information to make a judgement, one way or another.

    Are the Sunday Life articles web accessible?

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  • By: Garibaldy Fri, 02 May 2008 17:44:56

    I think some of them are, but this is so long ago that the newspaper websites were just getting up and running, and may not be there.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Fri, 02 May 2008 20:16:19

    Zounds!

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  • By: john o neill Sat, 03 May 2008 00:43:58

    “I note that so far there has been no mention of frustrated ambition and inflated egos (lots of talk of who was going to get which job”

    Nor mention of a leadership that deemed itself to be infallable.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 03 May 2008 13:07:09

    Just as there is good in all, there’s also a fair bit of stuff that’s problematic in all – to put it kindly.

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  • By: Rob Wed, 13 Aug 2008 21:20:23

    Up the real “sticks” remember where you party/s came from

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 14 Aug 2008 07:18:01

    Indeed.

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  • By: sliabhdubh1 Sun, 08 Mar 2009 01:55:33

    you ust did not get expelled for talking about the leadership,you got abuse and expelled for,talking to them,the egotist remain,just do not dare to contradict them.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 08 Mar 2009 12:29:16

    Interesting point sliabhdubh1

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  • By: Meadow-man Hickory Dick Mon, 13 Apr 2009 17:50:38

    For myself, the son of a prominent, old, Newry die hard leading stick, who was interned, imprisoned, remanded and shot by the provos, I feel the Newry ORM guys were hard done-by. Dublin & Belfast has always felt the arrogant right to dictate from their offices. This final split (expulsion?) was inevitable after what the S.Down/S.Armagh OIRA had been through in the past – from British harassment to provo feuds. With regards to what the WP leadership wanted them to put up with, a split was their only choice.
    The Stormont sitting, (new stick) provos, a movement that lasted not even 30 years. Yes, look at their policies in 1970 – they are not the same organisation as back then, with their adopted OSF full circle policies and 3000 plus deaths to answer for (factually provable) are facing the same crumbling fate, hence the increasing number of IRAs roaming the island.
    Hail the new sticks – Gerry & Martin.. you’re in for trouble

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 13 Apr 2009 19:55:11

    I know where you’re coming from, but isn’t your last paragraph a counsel of despair? After all you seem to suggest that there can never be a resolution…

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  • By: Declan Giggs Mon, 13 Apr 2009 21:39:18

    ‘3,000 deaths to answer for’? As usual the Officials, Loyalists and Brits killed nobody. I think the Provos bodycount is offically 1,700. Bad enough. But no history of the conflict can be written by blaming them for everything, something that many WP members are wont to do.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 13 Apr 2009 21:44:59

    Yep, it’s hard to disagree that anyone who picked up a gun, including (particularly?) state players had a responsibility for the ultimate outcome of the situation.

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 14 Apr 2009 09:05:33

    I see that a supporter of an organisation that is not The WP is being taken as representing the views of WP members. Of course the Provos are not to blame for everything. As WP documents have stated for a long time (in fact since the events themselves took place), the responsibility for the outbreak of violence rests with reactionary unionism and the attitude of the London and Dublin governments, especially Fianna Fáil; and for continuing it beyond the initial couple of years, the responsibility rests mainly with sectarian forces, added to state actions like the Falls Curfew and Bloody Sunday.

    I have absolutely no interest in attempting to speak for Meadow Man (whose contribution I find bizarre), but what I will say is that we oughtn’t to forget that for a long time – and the majority of the Troubles – the Provos were responsible for most of the violence. The Provo refusal to call a ceasefire despite the overwhelming wishes of the Irish people north and south ensured that things continued from some other sources, loyalist and nationalist, as well. Pointing that out at the time or since is not the same as blaming them for everything. Part of the rhetoric of the last decade or so has been to even everything out so everyone bears equal responsibility – we all hurt each other etc. Nonsense. The unionists bear the brunt for the violence breaking out, but in the decades that followed people took their own decisions and bear responsibility for them. And, as The WP has repeatedly pointed out, that includes people who voted for any of the sectarian political parties who perpetuated and exploited the divisions here just as it does those who were members of paramilitary groups.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 14 Apr 2009 11:11:23

    I think Declan is correct to point out that it’s impossible to assign 3,000 deaths to the Provo’s – which as you correctly note isn’t the WP line.

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  • By: Declan Giggs Tue, 14 Apr 2009 12:24:53

    Actually Mr. Garibaldy I think you will find it has on occasion been your party’s line.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 14 Apr 2009 13:49:48

    Well it is true that if one looks back at certain WP docs particularly from the early and mid 1980s they do place the primary blame (almost sometimes exclusive blame) on PIRA at various points in time. There’s certainly an element of truth in the idea that the conflict was prolonged by violence (but we’ve seen how difficult even in the context of ‘peace’ it was to bring Unionism to the table and the idea that they were prepared to do so in the late 70s or 80s is nonsense… and that’s putting to one side the uncomfortable fact that OSF/Republican Clubs were anti-Sunningdale, albeit they stood in the elections). But, I think as certain elements detached themselves from the WP a more nuanced view came back into being. I have an interesting piece by E. Smullen which I’ll post up soon that takes a very very harsh view of SF in the wake of the hungerstrikes. But it’s important to remember that there were various strands within WP which on those occasions came to the fore or not.

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 14 Apr 2009 18:16:31

    Declan,

    When exactly, was it The WP line that they were responsible for all the deaths? As I’ve said above, I’ll happily admit that there were times when – partly due to the preponderance of activity and partly due to a bitter history – that criticism focused, perhaps excessively so, on one particular group. I imagine that in media interviews some leading members came close to saying what you are suggesting. But sectarianism and sectarian violence were never seen as restricted to one particular group. Quite the opposite – the whole society is poisoned by it, and the whole political structure. I note also that we’ve moved from as usual to on occasion. I think that that seems more reasonable, and I am open to the idea that it certainly seemed that way due to some angry or intemperate language.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Wed, 15 Apr 2009 07:00:22

    I think what you say is a lot closer to the truth Garibaldy. That said in the mid to late 80s a certain faction held considerable sway and Ard Fheiseanna programmes make for interesting reading. Again it comes back to strands which at one point or another were closer to power than not.

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