Ireland, Autumn 1981
Date:1981
Organisation:Sinn Féin The Workers' Party (see Workers' Party)
Publication:Ireland
Issue:Autumn 1981
Contributors:Tomás MacGiolla, Des O'Hagan
Collection:The Hunger Strikes
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Hunger Strikes, 1981

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

8th November 2010

This is a notable document, published as it was at the height of the Hunger Strikes in the North and it clearly exemplifies the attitude of SFWP towards them and towards Provisional Sinn Féin. It’s important to note that this was intended for circulation outside Ireland, particularly amongst left and progressive forces which explains the explanatory note on the front detailing an SFWP perspective on the nature and genesis of the ‘Provisional Alliance’ and a certain stolid explicatory tone to its contents.

The leading article is headed ‘Order End to Hunger Strike says Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party’. It details a call from the ‘standing Committee of SFWP.

It was not enough for the Provisional leader Mr. Gerry Adams, to tell the prisoners this. Neither is it enough to say that if they come off the hunger strike the people outside will understand. They must be given a firm directive. If the Provisional leadership want an end to the hunger strike they must tell the prisoners this.

Perhaps reflecting the difficulties of articulating this message in the broader context the article also ‘affirm[s] the policy of an end to direct rule from Westminister and the establishment of a democratic devolved government in Northern Ireland with civil rights of all citizens guaranteed by law…’ and continues with an attack on Margaret Thatcher headlined ‘Iron Maiden’ although there is an effort to generate a linkage between her and PIRA… ‘The tragedy is that many innocent people have already died outside of the prisons due to the intransigent attitude of both herself and the Provisionals’.

It bluntly states that ‘SFWP has no sympathy with any of the Provisionals. We know well the kind of monster that has been created by the Blaney’s and the Haugheys. We do not forget the many victims of the Provisionals killed, maimed or terrorised. Likewise we hold no brief for the State or sectarian forces which have contributed to the present polarised and explosive situation in Northern Ireland.’

There’s considerably more, from H-Block - The Socialist Perspective to a piece on ‘Ireland’s political parties - who condemns the Provos?’ which lists each Irish political party and their stance on that issue (there’s an interesting admission in the entry for SFWP itself: ‘in some rural areas there would possibly be an emotional response in support of the Hunger Strikers’. This follows a certain thread of counterposing the rural and the urban throughout.

On Page 3 there is a photograph entitled ‘Members of the Provisionals give the fascist salute at the funeral of hunger striker Raymond McGreesh, May 21, 1981’, which is clearly meant to dovetail with an article explaining ‘Why the Provisionals Are Fascists’. It’s hard to credit that any such salute was given, it certainly wouldn’t be characteristic of the iconography of Republican funerals.

There’s also a grim photograph on page 7 accompanying that article. The article argues that PIRA should ‘be seen in the same context as the Red Brigades in Italy, the Baader Meinhof gang in Federal Germany, ETA in Spain, the neo-Nazi’s of France and Italy… It is known that some links have been established between the Provisionals and British Fascist Organisations. A Conference of European Fascists held in Belgium some time ago was attended by representatives of the Provisionals’. This is an interesting assertion given that there has been and remains a profound antagonism on the part of British fascist and neo-Nazi groupings towards the very concept of Irish Republicanism.

More interesting again is that the article name checks specific journalists as ‘[giving] more coverage than necessary to the H-Block campaign’. It also considers ‘Backward elements’, these being those ‘dominating’ the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association, ‘Maoists’ and makes some unusual political linkages. For example murders of Gardai are attributed to ‘Provisional/ultra-left Maoist gangster elements’. Then there is the assertion that due to the presence of Fr. Denis Faul as RCC prison chaplain, ‘it is hardly surprising then that most of the prisoners see themselves as being engaged in a religious or Holy War’.

The language and interpretation that infuses the document may well be in part explicable both by the political goal of demonstrating difference between two organisations both sharing the name Sinn Féín, casting the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin in a profoundly negative light internationally and by the text inset on page 2 which references the October 1975 conflict between PIRA and the Official IRA and members of OSF and PSF. The legacy of that and other conflicts is evident in the bitterness of the analysis - the young daughter of an OIRA member was murdered in the feud and that and other actions where people on both sides died were such as to generate very real political and psychological effects that would reinforce and exacerbate already existing approaches.

But added to that is perhaps a recognition that the political terrain in Northern Ireland was altering fundamentally, from their perspective, for the worse in the wake of the Hunger Strikes and with the rise of much more politically oriented and, in truth, left-leaning Sinn Féin.

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  • By: john O'Neill Mon, 08 Nov 2010 20:46:02

    “Ireland” was the publication of the International Affairs committee of the WP. The content was usually ‘pulled’ together by Sean O’Cionnaith (Kenny). To be fair, most solidarity from left groups would be carried as the purpose of the mag was to challenge the automatic knee-jerk support for the Provo’s on the International left. I have to agree that the term Trot was the ultimate disparaging remark in the WP and was a label strewn about to the extent that it became meaningless, Trotskyist = BAD another term used (sometimes in the same sentence as Trot) was Ultra-Leftist. The Provo’s were simultaneously: Catholic Nationalists, Ultra-Leftists, a fascist militia and a bunch of Trots. I thought we should have called them Narodniks, but it would have never caught on. Have to agree with WBS, the photo is atypical of any other PIRA funeral, but, as we all know, once outside Belfast or Dublin, the locals can be fairly independent in all sorts of ways. Iwatched a programme on RTE1 about nazi’s in Ireland, and one interviewed was a Belgian (I think Waloon, could be wrong) who fought with the SS as a volunteer and had been ‘spirited’ out of Europe, with help from the Catholic Church and ended up joining the Officials! Does that make the WP Neo Nazi’s?

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  • By: Mark P Mon, 08 Nov 2010 20:47:21

    I’m only older than you in spirit!

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 08 Nov 2010 21:08:39

    Hmmm… is it quite the same thing though?

    It’s a big step from a nationalist/Republican paramilitary in an Irish context to fascism.

    Republicans of all stripes believe that within a Republic the rights of all are vindicated, not that some sector would be consigned to second class citizenship or worse. In other words that there wasn’t something innate in a Protestant or a Unionist that made them unable to be acceptable if they changed their mind. That’s sort of different from a belief, as exemplified under Nazism, that one could not change some supposedly essential part of ones identity.

    Now you’re right again that that often might mean a lip service to that idea and there’s little doubt there were sectarian aspects to the situation, to put it mildly. But unlike the situation in fascist states there were clear power relationships that made the mapping of fascism onto the situation a bit tricky. Take the settler point. That wasn’t simply restricted to sectarians on the Nationalist side but was a part of some within Unionism and Loyalisms identity (a bit parodic one might have thought).

    As regards the use of force without reference to populations, I’m not sure that’s clear evidence of fascism. As you say yourself, or imply, that can lead to an elitist view. But one could point to legacies in our own and others histories which could be used, however inaptly, to validate that stance. Or one could point to the aftereffects of a rupture like 1969 onward through the proroguement of Stormont, etc to see how relatively easily people could get caught up in a process that was murderous but was internally coherent and consistent in terms of providing validation and thereby prolonged the situation dismally.

    On a slight tangent I’ve heard some people argue that had the hunger strikes not happened PIRA was finished, and that they’d have been crushed in the mid-1980s. I’m not entirely convinced.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 08 Nov 2010 21:34:32

    I think it’s important to remember that fascism isn’t the same as nazism, and that other fascists were less caught up with the racial thing, and for them it was much more about nationalism, protection of property, the interests of the petty bourgeoisie etc.
    We can certainly see a lot of that on both sides during the Troubles.

    Were Kingsmill or the bookies massacre fascist acts? It seems to me that when put like that, we are talking about a different level than economic ideology and the like. It’s about the way you view other people on the basis of who they are and how they were born. It;s not directly comparable but it does share some aspects of the mentality.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 08 Nov 2010 21:55:10

    Well, yes, but the problem with that is that we then begin to stretch the meaning of fascism to one where almost any nationalist movement that used force could slip within its definitions and to reiterate what I said earlier, I think it’s important to note that little politics isn’t the same as fascism (of course they were petty bourgeoisie, of course they were in favour of property rights, and so were those, for the most part who went out in 1916 and in the WoI… and that’s typical of our revolution). The IRA wasn’t simply operating in a vacuum, there were objective aspects of the Northern context which were deeply repressive beyond their own activities.

    WRT the examples you cite. And I’m well aware of how difficult this is to articulate because even to discuss this seems in some ways to undermine the appalling nature of the acts that took place which is not my intention. But the question is were these systemic attacks that were part of a much wider pattern that was intrinsic say to Nationalist/Republican or Loyalist ideology? And it doesn’t seem to me to be possible to say that they were, that on the contrary they were murderous attacks that took part on a local, yes, sectarian, but also reactive level, between opposing groups who were unable or unwilling to take on the armed combatants on the other ‘side’ but were willing to use terror to maximize fear in order to halt sectarian murders. Part of this was a fatal misperception on the part of the IRA as to effect of their own actions on Protestants and Unionists, in other words that they thought, or were under the illusion, that what they regarded as political acts could be separated in others minds from attacks on their communities particularly where the attacks were focused on RUC, UDR, etc.

    And the fact that they were typical only of a relatively short period of the conflict, and that they were characteristic of periods of instability, mid-70s, late 1980s and early 1990s, when political certainties seemed to be less clear cut seems to point to them not being an intrinsic part either of the conflict.

    What they did do, and this is unquestionable, is to make opposing analyses have much greater credibility and validity as the situation continued which in a sense is why the document above isn’t regarded at this remove as being without some merit even if the language is overly emphatic.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:10:01

    on nationalism and violence. I understand what you are saying. As I’ve said, I’m not commited to the idea that those involved with violence in NI were fascists. But I do think some were, with no monopoly among one group. And I think we can say that without tarring everyone with the same brush, nor with stretching fascism beyond any sensible meaning.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:40:54

    There’s another reason for my strong aversion to using the term fascism, though I agree with you there are events and elements that tipped close. In simple utilitarian terms while it might, though I’m dubious about the idea, had some currency in abroad (though it certainly did in the South which remains problematic for Republicans like you and I being applied to all who use that term) it had SFA purchase in the North. Very few would agree however horrific the deeds done by PIRA that say Bobby Sands was a fascist… And so on. In othervwords as an explicatory phrase it had no power and worse again could undermine those using it because people didn’t see their jimmy or maire as fascists but belonging to a very different historical lineage.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:42:27

    “very few republicans and even many nationalists would agree”… Darn mobile.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:48:34

    That’s fair enough. Although worth bearing in mind that the same holds true on the other side for claims that the Orange Order is fascist or whatever. Alienating. And worth bearing in mind how quick some people are to denounce unionists as fascists.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 08 Nov 2010 22:54:55

    Again entirely agree and yes we know who didn’t cover themselves in glory on that score. Indeed one of the most abysmal aspects of the last forty odd years was how slow some came to terms with Unionism as an actually existing entity. Not that Unionism could be termed exactly loveable much of the time but even so, when people share a fairly defined space it’s only sensible to get to grips with them. One of the truly depressing aspects of Republican News posted up last week was how simple minded the analysis of Unionism and Unionists was.

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 08 Nov 2010 23:03:35

    Yeah, that paper was the sort of thing I was thinking of. Religious, nationalist and unreflective. It could tip over quite quickly towards something much nastier – and it was more than nasty enough.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 09 Nov 2010 11:35:02

    John
    You refer to Staf Van Veltoven, flemish nationalist. I knew him when I was in the Frank Ryan Cummann.As far as I know Staf stayed withg the Officials during the IRSP split. Manus O’Riordan has written about him.You could google Manus and Staf His family were far left and CP and according to Manus quite ashamed of Stafs dalliance with fascism.
    I would distinguish between dalliance with the Nazis and damning Flemish nationalism. They were quite discriminated against. eg shot for not understanding orders given in french during WW!.
    The book? is very interesting.
    Actually Manus is very balanced in his critiques. I especially like his take on Russell.

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  • By: Eamonn Grimes Tue, 09 Nov 2010 14:15:38

    ‘You refer to Staf Van Veltoven, flemish nationalist’
    ‘Stafs dalliance with fascism.’
    He was a volunteer member of the Waffen SS, and unapologetic about it. He tried to organise an anti-EEC action in 1970/71 with the VMO in Belgium. (Look them up).
    Of course had he been a Provo his face would have been all over the magazine featured above.

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  • By: hold on a sec Thu, 11 Nov 2010 07:57:50

    Garibaldy, the claim ‘foreign nationals” are not allowed full membership of RSF’ was not made nor is it true. An individual who backs those who were either expelled or left after the expulsions stated he personally had a complaint that ‘foreign nationals’ are of course, permitted and that a number of the tellers at the ard fheis were included in these. It was due in no small part to Limerick racist motions the last two years which would led to Des Longs’ massive loss at his bid to Presidency. It was this loss and all their motions losing year after year (no support whatsoever outside of their own area)that would initiate this split, though expulsions from another branch of the movement in Belfast are interwoven. In any case, it is untrue that ‘non -Irish’ are not permitted membership in RSF.

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  • By: Mark P Thu, 11 Nov 2010 08:49:41

    The person making the claim, who appears to be a long time RSF supporter and is now a supporter of the Long wing of the split, was claiming that “non-national” are only entitled to associate rather than full membership according to the RSF constitution.

    That sounds bizarre to me. Are you saying that this isn’t true and that non-nationals can be full members?

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Thu, 11 Nov 2010 09:53:55

    […] * Sinn Féin The Workers’ Party (SFWP): Ireland, Herbst 1981 […]

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 11 Nov 2010 10:20:24

    Here is exactly what was said

    “It is relevant because they [“foreign nationals”] are not constitutionally permitted to be members of Sinn Féin, but only associate members. It is also relevant because they were recruited by Dalton.

    Their interest in Irish affairs is also unclear.”

    On reading it again, I stand by my description of what he said. That looks like a claim that foreign nationals are not allowed to be full members to me. He may have misrepresented the situation, but as Mark P points out, there was no reason to doubt his knowledge.

    Whether he was right or not, I guess we’ll take your word over his, although I don’t think you have interpreted his statement properly.

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  • By: Ciarán Thu, 11 Nov 2010 13:26:53

    ‘Likewise we hold no brief for the State or sectarian forces which have contributed to the present polarised and explosive situation in Northern Ireland.’

    Why do I doubt that piece was written with a straight face?

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  • By: seamus Mon, 29 Nov 2010 14:51:15

    Help!!!
    Can any of your readers tell me when Provisional s F,stopped say a decade of the rosery at the republican plot what year?
    Many thanks
    Seamus

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  • By: roasted snow Sat, 05 Mar 2011 22:42:45

    This funeral image was not one I remember at the time. Did it really occur? Yes it did when Raymond’s remains were carried from Daisy Hill hospital to his home about three miles away. Try this link

    or if this doesn’t work type 208:news coverage of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes. Half way through this clip. Still can’t explain this but it looks like the Nazi salute. Doesn’t take away from the bravery of Raymond Mc Creesh.

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