The IRA - A Fairly Secret Army
Irish Republicanism in the 20th/21st Century
As a former member of Sinn Fein/IRA (the republican movement) for twelve years, I am often asked for my insight into how the republican movement works and where the republican movement is going. So with these constant requests in mind I have decided to write this e-book on the republican movement. I will complement my own knowledge and experience by drawing on the writings of some of Ireland’s foremost experts on Irish Republicanism.
What might have been is an abstraction,
Remaining a perpetual possibility,
Only in a world of speculation
This book will unravel the tapestry of 20th/21st Century Irish Republicanism that has been held together by such mythological threads as socialist republicanism and Irish national liberation. It will uncover the true identity of Irish Republicanism as embodied in Sinn Fein/IRA as a sectarian movement whose objective was and remains to coerce the Protestant people of Northern Ireland into a United Ireland, through a campaign of physical and psychological brutality. This book will further show that whatever the republican movement was intended to be in its embryonic stages, it emerged as a sectarian/criminal empire. This book will give a brief history of Irish Republicanism from 1916 to 1960, including the IRA’s close relationship with the Nazis. It will look at the establishment of the Irish Free State and how many tens of thousands of Protestants were driven from that State by way of murder, intimidation and discrimination at the hands of militant republicans. It will then cover events that led in the late 1960s to a Civil Rights campaign, launched by the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland (the north) against what were seen as institutional sectarian discriminations imposed on the Catholic community by the Unionist (Protestant) dominated Stormont Government in Northern Ireland.
This book will then look at the re-emergence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the late 1960s and the ideological conflicts that eventually lead to the split within the IRA in 1970, from that split emerged the Provisional IRA. The role played by the democratically elected Irish Government in Dublin at this time will be analysed. It will be shown that as early as 1970 the republican leadership realised that the real obstacle to their desired United Ireland was the Protestant people of Northern Ireland. However, it will be shown that a specific strategy for directly and intentionally targeting Protestants was not adopted by Sinn Fein/IRA until the mid-1980s.
This book will then examine the development of the Provisional IRA and its Political wing Sinn Fein. I will analysis the roles played by republican prisoners and the hunger strikes in which ten young Irish men lost their lives. I will then look at the political status and political momentum that these hunger strikes generated for the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein.
I will look at key sign posts that lead to another split in the IRA in 1986 from which was established Republican Sinn Fein/Continuity IRA. The Provisional Sinn Fein/IRA strategy of the Ballot box in one hand the Armalite in the other will be examined as will the Anglo-Irish-Agreement signed by British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and Irish Prime Minister, Garret Fitzgerald, on the 15th November 1985.
The split that occurred in Sinn Fein/IRA in 1986 will be explored in detail, emphasising the importance of such a split for the future direction of the republican movement. It will be shown that the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein leadership believed that a twin track approach of political and physical coercion could be used against the Protestant people of Northern Ireland to physically and psychologically force them into a united Ireland. The same twin track approach would be used to both economically and psychologically force the British Government and public to become persuaders of the Protestant people of the benefits of a United Ireland.
I will show how the IRA’s numbers were reduced as The Northern Command of the Republican Movement under the leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness took control of both Sinn Fein and the IRA by placing loyal followers into key positions. I will evaluate Sinn Fein’s electoral performance and investigate why the republican movement became involved in secret talks with the British Government, The Irish Government and the SDLP (Catholic/Nationalist Party in the north). These secret talks would eventually bring about the Hume/Adams initiative. I will examine the influence of the American administration on what had become known as the peace process. And why the President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams had bought into the idea of political coercion to further the aims of the republican movement.
This book will critically examine the road on which the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein has continued to travel after 1986. This examination will include: the 1992 Sinn Fein policy document ‘Towards a lasting Peace in Ireland’, the secret talks between British Government intermediaries and the leadership of Sinn Fein/IRA, the Peace Process which produced the 1993 ‘Downing Street Declaration’, the 1995 ‘Framework Document’ and culminated in the 1998 ‘Good Friday Agreement’ all of which lead to Devolution and the Power Sharing Executive at Stormont Buildings in Belfast, the all-important but less than perfect Republican and Loyalist cease-fires.
This book will take us up to 2011, a time in which the peace process has produced a Power Sharing Executive at Stormont including the devolution of Policing and Justice from Westminster. The present threat from 'dissident' republicans will be examined and following the collapse of Unionism in the 2010 Westminster Elections I will ask what can the future hold for Northern Ireland and is a United Ireland any closer today than it was before thousands of people were slaughtered in its name.
The IRA – A Fairly Secret Army
Irish Republicanism has, in every epoch of its existence, sustained life and meted out death through a combination of romanticised martyrdom and an outright hatred of the great British oppressor. Both can be seen here in a letter from one of the republican heroes of the 1916-1923 Irish revolution against British rule, Terence Mac Sweeny, writing from Brixton Jail in 1920:
Oh my God, I offer my pain for Ireland. She is on the rack…I offer my sufferings here for our martyred people beseeching Thee, O my God, to grant them the nerve and strength and grace to withstand the present terror in Ireland…that by Thy all powerful aid the persecution may end in our time and Ireland arise at last triumphant.
Contemporary militant republicanism is embodied in Sinn Fein/IRA, Sinn Fein/IRA has at all stages failed to be a homogeneous ideological unit because of the diversity of its personnel. Countess Markievicz wrote in one of her prison letters (17 August 1919):
Sinn Fein is not a solid, cast iron thing like English parties. It is just a jumble of people of all classes, creeds, and opinions, who are already to suffer and die for Ireland. 
Following the 1916 Irish Republican up-rising and from the very outset of the creation of the new liberated territory known then as the Irish Free State (Irish Republic/Eire), Irish republicanism was in confusion. Britain had withdrawn from twenty-six of Ireland’s thirty-two counties leaving behind a divided republican movement. Those who had supported and signed the treaty with Britain were prepared to kill their former IRA colleagues to advance their vision for Ireland. Those who opposed the treaty with the British were willing to defend to the death the Irish people’s rightful claim to national self-determination over the entire national territory of Ireland. Some militant republicans continued to murder, intimidate and discriminate against those Protestants who wished to continue to live in the Irish Free State where they had lived for generations. Tens of thousands of Protestants were forced from their homes and went either to the newly created Northern Ireland or England for their own safety. In conflicts all over the world it is the case that extremists who have tasted the power of dictating life and death over fellow citizens, do not wish to let go of that power.
In the aftermath of the Irish Civil War (pro and anti-Treaty republicans fought each other) Irish republicanism was a fragmented ideology that had beaten itself into constitutional politics. As republicans began to regroup there were obvious ideological differences. Those who had signed up to a 26 county constitutional frame work free from British interference were content to allow the six northern counties of Tyrone, Armagh, Antrim, Down, Derry and Fermanagh to be a Protestant State remaining under British rule. Others continued to pursue a united Ireland through constitutional politics. Others remained within the ranks of militant republicanism and they would not accept that the Free State was anything more than a neo-colonial British state.
Simply put, those supporting the Treaty and accepting the Free State would become known as Fine Gael (political party), those who wished to pursue the ideal of a united Ireland through constitutional politics would after the 1926 extraordinary Sinn Fein Ard Fheis  be known as Fianna Fail (political party). Those who would continue to support the IRA Army Council would be a combination of socialist O’Donnellites and others of a purely militaristic mind set who had supported the IRA’s break with Sinn Fein and second Dail in 1925 to pursue a policy of social agitation. 
It must be mentioned here that in 1922, when the opponents of the Treaty left the Dail (Irish Parliament) and precipitated the Civil War, the Labour Party provided the first opposition, and constitutional politics was born in Ireland. While this book is focused on militant republicanism, it must be noted that the Labour Party would be the only true voice of the oppressed working class in the newly liberated territory and it continues in that role in the 21st Century. In a poll published in the Irish Times 12th June 2010, the Labour Party was found to be the largest party in the Irish Republic. This is the first time in its history that the Labour Party appears to have made Irish politics a three party contest and it is certain that Labour will be a major player in the Government of Ireland following the 2011 General election.
In the 1920s central Government in Dublin introduced the Local Appointments Commission and the Civil Servants Commission in order to stop corruption and nepotism at local Government level. However, discrimination and jobbery were rife in local councils; this discrimination against Protestants in particular was highlighted by the appointment of a Trinity Graduate and Protestant to the position of County Librarian in County Mayo in 1930. Mrs Natasha Dunbarr-Harrison was appointed by the Local Appointments Commission on the basis of merit; however, Mrs Dunbarr-Harrison's appointment was not endorsed by the Library Committee of Mayo County Council. The committee initially suggested that Mrs Dunbarr-Harrision had not got a good enough grasp of the Irish Language, however, the real reason for her rejection was reflected in the comments of a Fianna Fail member of Mayo County Council as reported in the Connaught Telegraph on the 29th of December 1930:
I am opposed to the appointment of a product of Trinity which is not the culture of the Gael but poison gas to the history of the Celtic people......bigoted anti-Irish out-post of England in Ireland....that feeds like a parasite on the flesh and blood of our kindly Celtic people...we must check the progress of the pest if we are to preserve Celtic Culture.
These were the words of a constitutional 'republican' and while Mayo County Council were sacked for refusing to endorse the appointment of Mrs Dunbarr-Harrisson, Protestants would continue to be discriminated against in every walk of life in the new Free State. When Sinn Fein or what remained of Sinn Fein, came out of the debris of the 1920s it was a party in total confusion. British withdrawal, yes, but was Sinn Fein purely a nationalist party or had it the socialist blood of James Connolly in its veins, bold uncompromising socialism appeared absent. Richard English, Professor of Politics at Queens University, Belfast suggests that socialist republicans sustained their project through self-deluding myths:
James Connolly’s socialist republican theory was their intellectual point of reference, but they failed to see that even Connolly’s own career demonstrated the inadequacy of his central thesis. Inter war socialist republicanism offered incoherent readings of the 1916-1923 revolutionary periods; on the basis of these misconstructions they maintained the fiction that republicanism, properly understood, had class conflict at its root. 
Peadar O’ Donnell, one of Connolly’s most ardent followers in the subsequent generation acknowledged that it had been possible for Connolly’s socialism to be drowned in nationalist tears. Writing in 1933, O’ Donnell claimed that Connolly was not presented as having seen,
That the final battle ground for Irish Freedom must be the revolutionary struggle of the Irish workers against Irish capitalism. 
If Connolly’s socialism is ever mentioned, it is to admit a fault which the manner of his death redeemed. In the 1940s and 1950s the IRA Army Council continued to pursue a purely militaristic campaign. That said, the IRA’s military capacity even at its height was nothing more than a blot on the landscape as the Second World War raged, however, there were some exceptions:
At 2.30pm on the 25th of August, 1939, Broadgate in the centre of Coventry was crowded with shoppers and people returning to their places of work. It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and the weather forecast for the weekend promised two days of sunshine. What the people did not expect was for an IRA bomb to rip through the crowded streets. When the smoke cleared, fifty-two, men, women and children lay dead, dying or injured. 
What was even more alarming and in stark contrast to their rhetoric of Freedom was the IRA’s links to Hitler and Nazi Germany. One might suppose that the IRA viewed the enemy of their enemy as a friend. In February 1939 a German Intelligence agent Oskar Pfaus using the alias, Eoin Duffy, arrived in Dublin to make contact with the IRA. Pfaus meet with the IRA staff at General Headquarters, including some of the most senior republicans at that time, Sean Russell and Seamus O’Donovan. The Nazis wanted the IRA to work as a fifth column inside Britain and the IRA was happy to do business with them. O’Donovan travelled to Germany on many occasions in order to secure guns and explosives. On the 23rd of August, nine days before the Germans invaded Poland; O Donovan was on his third trip to Nazi Germany, which surely proved that there was nothing progressive about contemporary militant Republicanism.
The IRA’s pursuance of a purely militaristic agenda failed to draw any real attention except from the legislators in The Irish Republic and the Protestant dominated Stormont Government of Northern Ireland, both of whom introduced the usual measures to control militant republicanism, namely, internment, interrogation, raids, shootings and censorship.
Since the foundation of the Irish Free State/Republic there has always been a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the minority Catholic community that was abandoned to the dictate of the Unionist dominated Stormont Government. However, sympathy for the Catholics in the north among the masses in the south is sympathy for an oppressed minority; such sympathy cannot be taken to imply support for a united Ireland. In the north, the predominant concern of the Catholic community has been for an end of the Unionist regime at Stormont and its oppressive anti-Catholic policies. Compared with the question of reunification is of little more than sentimental significance. 
Following the creation of the Irish Free State the IRA had few friends; former allies had given their allegiance to de Valera and his new Government in Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament). American sympathisers with Irish republicanism consoled themselves in the Irish Constitution of 1937 (Bunreacht Na hEireann), a constitution that was drawn up by de Valera and the Catholic Church, in Articles 2 and 3 of the original constitution it laid claim to the whole Island of Ireland. This claim would be watered down in a constitutional referendum in order to facilitate the fledgling peace process in the late 1990s.
The initial claim to the whole Island of Ireland by de Valera in the original constitution was enough to convince Irish Americans to give their hard earned dollars to the new constitutional politics of de Valera and Fianna Fail rather than the militant politics of Sinn Fein/IRA. The American input even up to the modern day is a key component of Irish politics. The American input takes on many forms and they will be discussed throughout this book.
 Page 46 English, 1994
 Page 29 English 1994
 Page 36 Patterson, 1989
 Page 44 Patterson, 1989
 Page 270 English, 1994
 Page 28 English, 1994
 Page 32 Dillon, 1994
 Page 160 Morgan, 1980
The IRA - A Fairly Secret Army - Chapter 2
The Civil Rights Campaign and the role of the IRA
In Northern Ireland (the north) in the mid-1960s a campaign for Civil Rights was launched by the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland against the Protestant controlled Stormont Government. The Civil Rights campaigners were demanding changes in the laws that controlled elections, the allocation of public housing, employment and education. The Civil Rights movement was seen by Unionists/Protestants as a threat to their privileged position in Northern Ireland, a State that had been created for the Protestants following the creation of the Catholic Irish Free State. The British and Irish Governments had partitioned Ireland in order that the Protestants in Northern Ireland could remain part of the United Kingdom.
In 1995 I had the pleasure of speaking with Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, a senior Northern Ireland civil servant in 1965. Sir Kenneth told me that in 1965 he had received a communication from a friend at Westminster, which informed him that little notice was being taken of demands from certain Labour and Liberal MPs for investigations into Northern Ireland’s affairs. These demands had been inspired by Nationalist/Catholic politicians in Northern Ireland.
So it was that the cries for reform from moderate Catholic politicians were ignored at Westminster. The Civil Rights campaign in Northern Ireland took on new momentum as Catholics were no longer prepared to be treated as second class citizens. Documents released by the British Government on May 27th, 2010, under the thirty year rule give a telling insight into how the British viewed the north and the Irish Government. In 1970 the then British Home Secretary, James Callaghan was told by a senior British Diplomat that the Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of the Irish Republic, Jack Lynch needed to realise that the only way to Irish unity would be by way of the “seduction, not the rape of Northern Ireland”. Mr Oliver Wright, a senior British Diplomat had written his observations in a letter to Mr Callaghan after Mr Wright had served as a Diplomat for six months at Stormont in Northern Ireland.
Mr Wright continued, “So long as we keep the North quiet, the South will give us no trouble, for Mr Lynch also went to the edge of disaster last August and stepped back in time [in his “we will not stand by” speech].
“His courageous speech to his party conference in January marked a change from fantasy to realism about the Irish question,” “If he recognises, as he now does, that force cannot be used to solve the problem of partition, he must come to realise that the only prospect of Irish unity lies in the seduction, not the rape of the North. The South will, I suspect, be a long-time a-wooing, if they ever start: the Irish tend to marry late, I believe,” he wrote.
Wright had been sent to the north in 1969 after British troops had been deployed as peace keepers. Wright described Catholics as ‘Micks’ and Protestants as ‘Prods’, both derogatory terms used in local sectarian parlance in the north.
“It is a tribal society, and the natives stranded by partition on the wrong side of the borders like and trust each other about as well as dog and cat, Arab and Jew, Greek and Turkish Cypriot.” The “Orange Protestant ascendancy” had abused “the existence of British-style democracy” to guarantee and perpetuate a most un-British-style injustice towards the Catholic community” said Mr Wright.
“But the minority, though perhaps more sinned against than sinning, has been far from blameless. In true Irish fashion, the Micks have enjoyed provoking the Prods as much as the Prods have enjoyed retaliating”.
“Catholic attitudes have been at best ambivalent and at worst treacherous. It makes the Prods’ blood boil – and all Irish blood boils at a very low temperature – to see the Micks enjoy the superior material benefits of the British connection while continuing to wave the tricolour at them,” said Mr Wright in truly Imperialist tone.
In the back ground to the Civil Rights campaign lurked the ever present and not so peaceful IRA. 1969 would see the first real appearance of the IRA on the Streets of Belfast since the failed campaigns of the 1940s/50s/60s. The IRA were ill-equipped, yet had answered the rhetorical call of the Ghettoised Catholic people to take to the streets and defend them from the tyranny of loyalist (Protestant) gangs, gangs who were on a daily basis burning Catholics out of their homes while the Police stood ideally by. Initially the IRA was seen as defenders of the Catholic community as the State seemed uninterested in the plight of Catholics. This ghettoised resurrection of militant republicanism was the opportunity the IRA leadership had been waiting for. The Civil Rights campaign and social agitation gave the IRA an opportunity to redeem and reinvent them-selves following their previous humiliating defeats at the hands of the British in the 1940s/50s. While the Civil Rights campaign was just and right, for the IRA it was simply a vehicle to get them back on the road. The Civil Rights campaign and the adverse loyalist (Protestant) reaction to that campaign created the very waters in which militant Irish republicanism could once again swim.
Some revisionists of modern day Irish Republicanism try to suggest that the IRA were simply innocent by-standers who were created by the conditions of Unionist/Protestant oppression in the 1960s/70s, however, the IRA had never gone away since the founding of the Irish Free State. With people such as John Kelly leading the ghettoised Catholic community it is clear that the IRA were not going to miss the Civil Rights opportunity to get their militant campaign back on the road. To the contrary, the IRA was the very flint that created the spark for decades of sectarian violence.
Whatever the IRA’s aspirations it had no resource to play the role of Catholic defender and so its leadership needed money, weapons and training very quickly. The IRA leadership in the person of IRA Chief of Staff, Cathal Goulding turned to a sympathetic Irish Government at that time. The Government in power in the Irish Republic in 1969 was Fianna Fail (constitutional republicans) under Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Jack Lynch. One of Lynch’s TDs (TD - Member of Parliament) was Neil Blaney from Donegal, and it was to Blaney that most unofficial reports came from Northern Ireland because of his position in the Government. It was to Blaney that Captain James Kelly, the Irish Army Intelligence Officer, who was to be later accused of conspiracy, reported first on his own return to the Republic from Northern Ireland on September 14th 1969. Upon his return Captain James Kelly reported,
“When I came back from Northern Ireland on the 14th September 1969 or around that date it came to my notice that a committee in the Government had been appointed, named to me as rightly or wrongly, I don’t know – but named to me as Mr Haughey, Mr Blaney, Mr Faulker and Mr Brennan. In view of the information I had obtained I decided that I should see some of these members of the Government and I made arrangements to see Mr Blaney on a particular evening after my return. I went and did so and told him the result of all the information I had gleaned in Northern Ireland and in effect he was able to assist me also. I then went to see Mr Haughey…so to say I was a liaison officer/it was a liaison officer on an ad hoc basis”.
While Captain James Kelly would later be used as a fall-guy by some for this whole affair, there is no doubt that Captain Kelly was reporting to the highest ranks within Lynch’s Government even if he was not reporting directly to the Defence Minister, Jim Gibbons, who would have been his natural political superior. Captain James Kelly’s main contact in the north was John Kelly; John Kelly was the main organiser of the Citizen’s Defence Committees throughout Northern Ireland at that time. John Kelly was a traditional militant republican; he had been educated by the Christian Brothers in Belfast and had been active in the IRA’s failed campaigns in the 1950s/60s. In a subsequent court appearance on the 14th October 1970, John Kelly, having become a leader of the Citizen’s Defence Committees from August 1969, Kelly made it clear to the Court and all listening that the Defence Committees were simply a cover for militant republicanism. Whether Kelly intended to expose the role of the IRA in such a public fashion remains unclear.
John Kelly had made it quite clear what he wanted from the Irish Government, when he stated,
“I want to be emphatic that we were coming from all parts of the six counties not to indulge in tea parties, not to be entertained, but to elicit, in so far as we could what was the opinion of this Government in relation to the six counties. We did not ask for blankets or feeding bottles, we asked for guns. No one from Taoiseach Lynch down refused us that request or told us this was contrary to Government policy”.
The meetings continued between the militant republicans from Northern Ireland and Captain James Kelly. Captain Kelly also continued to meet directly with the IRA Chief of Staff, Cathal Goulding. When Peter Berry, the Secretary at the Department of Justice, was notified by the Irish Garda Special Branch (Irish Police) about one such meeting in County Cavan, and Captain Kelly’s meetings with IRA Chief of Staff Goulding, Berry informed Jack Lynch. Lynch told Berry that anybody implicated in any illegal dealings must be brought to justice. Berry however objected to this. The IRA had been infiltrated to the highest level and Berry did not want to expose his people in the IRA.
Whoever knew, or what exactly was the extent of the money, training and guns given to the IRA by the Irish Government, may never be known. What has gone down in history however, is an affair only comparable to Nixon’s Watergate or Regan’s Nicaragua. The end result of the Irish Government’s links to the IRA was the charging of two Government Ministers with conspiracy and the trial of one of these Ministers in the autumn of 1970. IRA Chief of Staff Goulding had from 1962 been directing the IRA up a one way street of social agitation through political awareness. He realised that any new direction in the way the republican movement challenged British Imperialism must include a role for the IRA, for if they were not led then they would decide for themselves what to do next. 
The new thinking being pursued by IRA Chief of Staff Goulding created problems for those republicans who believed in the purely militaristic traditional role of the IRA, so it was that sectarian tensions in the late 1960s created an opportunity for the IRA to take up arms in what appeared to be a defensive role among the Catholic people of Northern Ireland. This sectarian distraction gave breathing space for Goulding’s re-thinking of Irish Republicanism. However, Goulding would soon find opposition to his new plans for the IRA, the Belfast IRA under the leadership of Billy Mc Millen wanted more than a defensive role for the IRA. Billy wanted to strike back at both the British establishment and their loyalist cheer leaders. Goulding viewed the IRA in Belfast as “sectarian bigots” and he did not want the IRA again to become a purely militaristic liberation force for the ghettoised Catholics in the north.
 Pages 53-54 Arnold, 1984
 Page 55 Arnold, 1984
 Page 92 Patterson, 1989
 Page 95 Patterson, 1989
 Page 98 Patterson, 1989
Civil Rights and The IRA
From as early as 1966 Goulding’s policies were facing continued opposition. As an IRA document captured in May 1966 by the Gardai gives a clear indication of the problems being faced by Goulding for creating political activity as the primary role of the IRA. Goulding’s re-thinking of the role of the IRA and the broader republican family was taking the leadership principle from that of militarist idealism of traditional Fenianism into a semi-Leninist path.  In 1967 Billy Mc Millen carried out a number of fire bomb attacks on British Territorial Army bases in the north contrary to G.H.Q. policy and the latter’s backing simply of a Civil Rights campaign of civil disruption. Goulding continued to view the IRA in Belfast as “sectarian bigots” as they refused to accept the new thinking of the IRA leadership.
Goulding’s hopes in 1967 for new political direction for the IRA especially in the south, development which would divert the IRA away from an isolated militaristic force, would be dealt a severe blow, as sectarian violence in the north escalated out of control, the IRA leadership in Dublin had lost control almost three years after the IRA Army Council had agreed a gradualist campaign of Civil Rights through civil disruption. The original embryonic, peaceful and legitimate Civil Rights Campaign was now consumed by militant Irish Republicanism and the British/Loyalist response to that militarism.
The new Northern Ireland, Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill, addressed the question of discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland and provided a world audience with a new image of Northern Ireland, as a progressive society, by implementing new policies in regards to housing, education, and employment. The Civil Rights campaign had been hi-jacked by militant republicanism and people such as IRA leader Billy Mc Millen wanted a sectarian tit-for-tat killing head count. The problem for Mc Millen and his Belfast IRA command was that they had clocked up little intellectual mileage and were driven purely by sectarianism. As Henry Patterson explains,
“The resistance of the Belfast leadership to the new thinking was explained by the fact that the movement there was dominated by ‘Catholic Bigots’”. 
In 1969 many leading republicans left the movement because they felt that the Dublin leadership did not understand the north and that the Dublin leadership simply wanted to engage in politics. One of those to resign, Kevin Mallon, would ironically in 1986 be one of the leading Provisional IRA members supporting the removal of abstentionism as a long held Sinn Fein/IRA policy and therefore the politicisation of the republican movement. Mallon had by 1986 come to realise the benefits of the Janus face of republican coercion in its politico-militaristic style.
It must also be remembered that the British attitude to the Civil Rights demands by Catholics showed little empathy with their plight, British troops were deployed against Civil Rights marchers and this could only lead to serious injury and death. In 2010 Lord Saville published his report into the shooting dead of fourteen innocent people on what is now known as Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. British Paratroopers fired live rounds at the Civil Rights marchers and murdered in cold blood fourteen unarmed civilians on that Bloody day. The families of the victims had to wait 38 years to have the truth admitted by the British. However, it is also clear from the evidence given to the Saville Inquiry that the PIRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday were using the Civil Rights march to move guns and explosives into Derry City, while their actions do not in any way justify the murderous intent of the Paratroopers, the role of the PIRA on Bloody Sunday is yet another damning indictment of their murderous and reckless intent under the leadership of Martin Mc Guinness MP.
The IRA - A Fairly Secret Army - Chapter 3
Politics and the Direction of the IRA
So it was then that in 1969 the flames of sectarian violence were flaming across Northern Ireland (the north), Catholics living in Belfast were being burned out of their homes by loyalist mobs. The Unionist (Protestant) dominated Stormont Government of Northern Ireland had lost any hope of regaining order, the British Government decided to send the British Army to Northern Ireland as ‘peace keepers’. The British Labour Government appeared to be acting with good intent however behind the scenes of sectarian mob rule the IRA were watching and planning.
IRA Chief of Staff Goulding and his GHQ did not want a military campaign in the north that would further divide the Northern Ireland Protestant and Catholic working classes. However, Goulding’s ideas were not dealing with the reality being faced by many Catholics on the Falls Road in Belfast or the Bogside in Derry. Goulding established a nine county Northern Command to appease the IRA men in the north who felt they had been let down by GHQ as they had not given guns and explosives to the IRA in Belfast to strike back against the Loyalists. 1969 also seen republicans back a young Civil Rights campaigner Bernadette Devlin to run as their candidate in the Mid-Ulster constituency for the Westminster elections. While Devlin was returned MP for Mid-Ulster on the 17th April 1969 her election had no real impact and was viewed by many as nothing more than a political stunt.
In December 1969 the IRA convention met in Dublin and voted, reportedly, thirty-nine to twelve to recognise de-facto the Unionist Government at Stormont, The Irish Government in Dublin and the British Government at Westminster. For the IRA abstentionism had died on the flaming streets of Belfast. The Northern “political” policy was approved and the decision for a liberation front accepted. 
However, not all of the IRA wanted to listen to Goulding’s soft political and social agitation approach to the northern situation, revolutionary rhetoric and political policies were one thing but the principle of abstentionism was not one to be given up lightly. Republicanism, for many was only valid so long as it was principled and abstentionism was a moral principle not to be discarded by a vote in the IRA convention. Those who disagreed with Goulding and his soft approach to the north withdrew from the Official IRA and formed the Provisional IRA and they publicly stated:
“We declare our allegiance to the thirty-two county Irish Republic proclaimed at Easter 1916 established by the first Dail Eireann in 1919, overthrown by force of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British imposed six county partition state”.
When I interviewed a former member of the Official IRA he had this to say about Goulding’s leadership;
“I believe as most republicans in west Belfast do, that the stickies (name for Official IRA) should have helped us out when we needed them, if they had waited until the initial attacks had subsided, they may well have carried a lot more people with them, at that time we would have done anything to get back at the Prods”.
Many republicans, who had become disillusioned with GHQ, returned and joined the Provisional IRA. A new six county northern command was created and based in Belfast. The IRA convention in December 1969 which had decided to recognise the Governments of Dublin, Belfast and London was to be followed by a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on the 10th January 1970. The Provisional IRA knew that they could not get control of the Ard Fheis but they were determined not to go down the unprincipled road of politics at a time when there was an opportunity to reinvent the IRA on the Streets of Northern Ireland.
Tom Maguire, the last republican member of the second Dail (the second Dail, a prescribed organisation, was elected in May 1921 with a Sinn Fein majority and de Valera as its leader; it replaced the first Dail which had been a useful myth for republicans at that time) announced that the IRA convention “had neither the right nor authority”, to pass a resolution ending abstentionism, and the dissidents agreed wholeheartedly. 
On Sunday night, 11th January 1970 the resolution ending abstentionism was passed by 19 votes but not the two thirds needed to pass a policy. A call was made for delegates to support the IRA policy. This would have needed a simple majority to pass. Approximately one third of the delegates walked out and went to a pre-arranged meeting at a venue in Parnell Square. There in their own Ard Fheis they gave their allegiance to the Provisional IRA Army Council and care taker executive of Sinn Fein, which was ‘dedicated’ to abstentionism.
Many in the Official IRA believed that the split had been encouraged by forces on the outside of the republican movement. Fianna Fail (constitutional Republican Party in the Irish Republic) intermediaries had made contact with the stickies (Official IRA) and offered money and guns as long as they stayed out of politics in the Republic and directed military operations in the north only. GHQ had rejected such proposals as Goulding had political ambitions in the Republic. However, it was widely believed that the Provisional IRA had already accepted money and guns from Fianna Fail.
At the end of 1970 Sean Mac Stiofain was Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA and Ruiri O Bradaigh was President of Provisional Sinn Fein. Mac Stiofain in his memoirs states that as early as 1972 the British Government in its Green paper had acknowledged the fact that Northern Ireland was no longer simply a matter for the British alone. Mac Stiofain and the Provisional IRA set about organising themselves from nothing and began to look around the world for support.
Irish Americans as always were generous both in terms of their dollars to fund militant republicanism and their naivety about the motivation of that militant republicanism. As Vincent Conlon (RIP) of the 1950s IRA campaign and who avoided capture by the US authorities when shipping three hundred riffles and one hundred and forty thousand rounds of ammunition in December 1977, told this author;
“Irish Americans do not want to know about blood and guts, just shamrocks and leprechauns”.
Just before his death Vincent Conlon took to the stage in America with Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams on one of his early visits allowed by Bill Clinton in 1995 and helped Provisional Sinn Fein/IRA with the collection of over one million dollars. World renowned terrorists such as Colonel Gadhafi of Libya were ready and willing to supply guns, ammunition and semtex (explosive) to the Provisional IRA, as proven by the many seizures of many thousands of Libyan weapons by the Irish Police (An Garda Siochana) in the 1980s. Libyan diplomats would in 1995 give detailed information to the Mitchell Commission, on how Libya had helped train, arm and finance the PIRA. Some of the PIRA members I meet during my years in the PIRA told me that they had trained in Fedayeen bases in Lebanon and had close contacts with FARC and other narco-terrorist organisations.
Sean Mc Kenna (RIP) a leading IRA activist during the 1970s and later one of the leaders of the first IRA hunger strike in Long Kesh in 1980, told this author that during the early days of the PIRA;
“I remember new Sinn Fein Cumanns being set up all over the north and these Cumanns like the one in Newry which I was involved in were used as the nucleus to organise and train the PIRA”.
Sean Mc Kenna died in 2009 and is buried in Dundalk County Louth, his Father Sean Mc Kenna Snr was one of the ‘Ten Hooded Men’ who were tortured by the British during Internment in the north, their case was brought to Europe where it was declared that they had been subjected to inhuman treatment during their unlawful detention.
Belfast became organised into three battalions lead by Billy Mc Kee, the Provisionals commanding officer in Belfast. The country side in the north was left to JB O Hagan to organise and the prodigal son of abstentionism, Kevin Mallon, had returned to get the Provisional IRA restructured. On the 7th of August 1971 the British Government introduced internment in Northern Ireland. Over three hundred people were immediately imprisoned without trial. This poorly thought response by the British simply created a recruiting sergeant for the PIRA as the innocent were imprisoned alongside active republicans. As mentioned above some of those interned were tortured and brutalised.
In March 1972 Direct Rule was imposed on Northern Ireland as the British tried to take back control of the ever deteriorating situation. William Whitelaw would be the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Stormont was gone and this had been the demand of the Civil Rights campaigners, however, there appeared to be no road map going forward for either side. The PIRA now had a taste of blood and they were not going away anytime soon. The Stormont Government had failed miserably and this was summed up at the fall of Stormont by Captain Terence O’Neil, the Northern Ireland Prime Minister (1963-1969) when he said;
“You either succeed or fail, I failed”.
On March 10th 1972 the Provisional IRA declared a three day cease-fire, cease-fires have historically been used by the republican movement as an opportunity to regroup, show that the leadership are in control and gain concessions from the British. British Home Secretary, Maulding said;
“The IRA would not be defeated, not completely eliminated, but have their violence reduced to an acceptable level”. 
This statement by a British Home Secretary was another propaganda coup for the Provisional IRA. On the 29th May 1972 the Official IRA called a cease-fire after a catalogue of civilian murders, and Goulding’s new thinking was finally accepted by those remaining within the Official IRA. In June of the same year, Dave O’ Connell and Gerry Adams met twice with Whitelaw negotiators and arranged for a truce, during which the British Army would step back from its front line role in the north. A PIRA and Whitelaw meeting would take place if the truce lasted long enough, PIRA leader Mac Stiofain agreed.
The northern leadership of the Provisional IRA never wanted a cease-fire and on the 9th June 1972 rioting broke out in Lenadoon in Belfast and the British Army became the focus of the rioters’ attention. The PIRA leadership in the north put pressure on the southern command and the truce ended. The PIRA announced that they had talks with Whitelaw and Whitelaw was furious, he had been caught out talking to terrorists and he had nothing to show for his efforts.
As so often happens in Irish history twenty-two years later, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew would find himself in the same position as Whitelaw. Whitelaw in the House of Commons assured Captain Willie Orr, leader of the Unionists at Westminster, that nobody from the British Government would ever talk to the PIRA again. The IRA’s response was predictable; they killed 11 and injured 130 civilians in Belfast. A former Belfast IRA member had this to say about the breakdown of talks between the British and the PIRA in 1972;
“I personally think, as many republicans in West Belfast do, that the 1972 talks proved one thing and that was that the conflict was not a British and Republican thing, because the Brits were prepared to talk to us about a settlement, the PIRA realised that it was the Protestant people of Northern Ireland who had to be beaten into submission if the concept of a United Ireland was to come about”.
 Page 366 Bowyer Bell, 1990
 Page 28 Bowyer Bell, 1990
 Page 330 Mac Stiofain, 1975
 Page 68 Arnold, 1984
The IRA - A Fairly Secret Army - Chapter 4
Gerry Adams an IRA leader
Some will know the name Gerry Adams some will not. In Ireland Gerry Adams is widely viewed as the face of the republican movement. Gerry Adams is the President of Sinn Fein which is the political wing of the republican movement. The IRA is the now ‘decommissioned’ military wing of the republican movement. Gerry Adams has for some strange reason always publicly stated that he was never a member of the IRA. For those of us who were members of the republican movement it is well known that Gerry Adams was a senior member of the IRA in Belfast and that he had a seat at the table of the IRA Army Council. Indeed I can put my hand on my heart and say that in 1984 I was present when Gerry Adams arrived at a venue for a meeting of some of the most senior members of the IRA. I was not a senior member of the IRA but was simply present before the meeting started. Gerry Adams and Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes did not leave when the meeting started. I will set out here the reality of Gerry Adams Janus-face position in the republican movement.
So it was that the British Army were brought into the north as ‘peace-keepers’. The British army were initially feed and given tea by many grateful Catholics who had suffered so much at the hands of loyalist mobs. Indeed the IRA leadership had initially put in place a no shoot policy in relation to the British Army, this policy was put in place as the British Army were so welcomed initially, however, the IRA had no such policy in relation to Protestants and they continued to murder Protestants at will. Yet as the British army were used to break up no-go areas and were the main body tasked with the Internment of Irish Catholics their role as ‘peace-keeper’ would wear thin quickly. There is no doubt that Internment, the breaking up of no-go areas and the IRA’s own mishaps were insuring that the IRA could not operate at full capacity. It was this inability to operate at full capacity that foolishly led the British and Irish Governments to believe that the IRA could be defeated as the ordinary people turned away from the men of violence. The ordinary people could be bought off with reforms in Stormont and the IRA defeated by isolation and imprisonment, thought the Governments.
The Irish Government under Jack Lynch who had just recovered from the controversy surrounding the supplying of guns to the IRA appeared ready and willing to take on rather than tolerate the IRA. Lynch had been backed into a corner as loyalist terrorists had already moved into the Irish Republic in 1972 and fire bombed hotels in Dublin and the loyalists said they would carry out further attacks if the Irish Government did not stand up to the IRA. The loyalists did return and murder dozens of innocent civilians in Monaghan and Dublin.
At the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in 1972, the PIRA Chief of Staff, Mac Stiofain was not offering Lynch any hope of compromise when he said there would be no compromise with the British; it was all or nothing, “Brits Out”. Lynch decided it was time to put the Provisional IRA out of business and he had Mac Stiofain arrested and imprisoned.
In 1973, when Seamus Twomey was arrested Gerry Adams took over as commanding officer of the IRA in Belfast. The Adams leadership was well able to match the body count which occurred under Twomey in 1972 which read, 81 innocent Catholics and 41 innocent Protestants mainly murdered in no warning IRA bomb attacks. In his book, ‘Voices from the Grave’, Ed Moloney gives a clear insight into the role played by Adams when Moloney reproduces an interview that he conducted with Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes before Brendan died in 2009. Brendan Hughes who was a close friend and comrade of Gerry Adams alleges that Adams was the person who ordered the murder and secret burial of innocent Catholic Mother of ten, Jean Mc Conville. The sectarian bloodbath was overflowing and the British and Irish Governments were at a loss as to what the next step should be. The sectarian drive of the PIRA and indeed Gerry Adams is best captured by Adams himself in his book A Pathway to Peace.
Of all the differences between the Ireland of Tone’s time and the Ireland of today, unquestionably one of the most noticeable – although far from being the most significant – is the changed political attitudes of the mass of Protestants, especially in the North. Instead of forming a cordial union with their fellow Irishmen to run their own country for themselves in their own interests, they find themselves the prisoners of a fossilised, politico-religious sectarianism which is entrenched and institutionalised as an integral part of the imperial administrative system in the six counties. 
Adams fails to see in his own words the very sectarianism of his own politics in the fact that the deaths of over three thousand mainly innocent people in forty years of republican death and destruction have driven an insurmountable wedge between Protestants and Catholics. Few families in the North’s population of 1.5 million have been left unscathed by both loyalist and republican violence, the deaths of over three thousand, the maiming of tens of thousands, the imprisonment of tens of thousands have left the Protestant community more fundamentally opposed to Irish Unity than the British State could have achieved in another eight hundred years of Imperial rule. Interesting though is that fact that Adams himself would eventually become part of what he described as:
An integral part of the imperial administrative system in the six counties
While Adams and other members of the republican movement continue to try and attach their brand of republicanism with that of Wolfe Tone there is no link, there is no attachment. Wolfe Tone represented the aspirations of a united Irish people both Protestant and Catholic fighting for a French style Republic free of British Imperialism, modern day militant republicanism does not fall within the shadow of Wolfe Tone’s republic. Adams continues to refer to Wolfe Tone and others as the starters of the unfinished business, as if the work of Wolfe Tone is to be found in the sectarian politics of 20th/21st century Sinn Fein/IRA. In the Sinn Fein document The Evolution of Sinn Fein (1995) this desired linkage to Wolfe Tone and others is made six times, this would not be so noticeable if this were not a one page document.
This attempt by the Adams to claim linage to the old IRA is clearly seen in the re-write of the IRA’s Green Book in 1977. In the 1956 edition of the IRA’s Green Book the authors do not engage in any legitimisation of the armed struggle beyond its historical context of resistance to occupation. The 1977 edition which was written by Gerry Adams and other leading republicans claims direct legitimacy from the members of the second Dail, who transferred their authority to the IRA in 1938 after the takeover of the IRA Army Council by Sean Russell. Antony Mc Antyre a former republican prisoner, now an academic and scholar says that:
The modern republican movement has persistently been the product of British State strategies rather than a body which has existed for the sole purpose of completing the unfinished business of uniting Ireland. 
Contrary to what Imperialist type motives republicans attribute to the British State, it remains in Ireland in response to the Protestant/Unionist demands to remain British. This is a correct analysis and one that was supported in my own research as republicans admit to having recognised that Protestants were the real obstacle to a united Ireland as early as the 1970s. Tugwell states that;
That campaign (IRA violence) would use the international, domestic and economic side effects of armed struggle on the British Government and ‘Public’ to cause the necessary shift from the British state viewing the North of Ireland as an asset to a liability.
Following forty years of sectarian violence resulting in over three thousand deaths, the majority of whom were Northern Irish, the public can now be more clearly defined as being physically and psychologically the British Protestant people of Northern Ireland and psychologically and economically the British people of England, Scotland and Wales. All of whom would eventually see the benefits of a united Ireland unless the sectarian bankruptcy of the republican movement was first realised.
Up until September 1973 an IRA bombing campaign had lasted several months with death and mutilation becoming part of the daily routine for the people of Belfast and Derry. Lynch’s Government had taken a tough line against the men of violence and had initiated a sustained program of anti-terrorist legislation as extreme and as tough as the British response to the men of violence. 1974 began with the Provisional IRA planting bombs all over the north and in Birmingham (England). The PIRA’s New Year message was;
We look forward with confidence to 1974 as a year which the British rule in Ireland shall be destroyed and the curse of alien power banished from our land for all time.
On the 28th of June the new Northern Ireland elections had returned Twenty-three Official Unionist candidates, twenty-seven loyalist candidates, nineteen SDLP (Catholic), eight Alliance (cross-community) and DUP (loyalist). On Tuesday the 14th of May 1974 at six o’clock in the evening, the Assembly voted forty-four to twenty-eight in favour of Faulkner’s amendment supporting the Sunningdale Agreement for reform. The Ulster Workers Council (Protestant/loyalist) announced a province wide strike. The north came to a standstill as Protestants held key positions in all of the utility control centres in the north including electricity and water. Loyalists sent death squads back into the Republic of Ireland once again and on the 17th of May 1974 they exploded bombs in Dublin and Monaghan killing dozens of innocent civilians and injuring hundreds more.
The British Government under Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson were not prepared to break the loyalist strike. Intimidation, food shortages, water shortages and electrical shortages continued Wilson’s inaction had simply made matters worse. Wilson defending the new Northern Ireland Assembly called the loyalists, “Spongers on the British public”. The strength of the loyalist strike proved too much for the constitutional politicians and when Faulkner asked Secretary of State, Rees to talk with the UWC and Rees refused Faulkner and his loyalist colleagues resigned and Sunningdale fell.
Meanwhile the republican movement was again at war within its own ranks. In 1974 the Official IRA lead by Goulding called the PIRA “Fascists” as more splits began to unfold. Republican uncertainty manifested itself into yet another split; on the 8th of December 1974 Seamus Costello and other uncompromising Official IRA members created the IRSP (INLA) yet another republican splinter group. In 1975 members of the INLA killed a number of their former Official IRA comrades. The INLA while small in number would prove to be a ruthless sectarian killing machine, only out done in number and deed by the PIRA.
In 1974 the Official IRA dropped abstentionism to Westminster and the Northern Ireland convention and were now out of the business of violence, at least on any political level. From the 22nd of December 1974 until the 2nd of January 1975 the PIRA called a cease-fire as they were told that if they showed good-will talks with the British could take place. Merlyn Rees, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said on the 20th of December, no specific undertakings had been given. The IRA extended the cease-fire for two weeks, this writer being 11 years old at that time, remembers that IRA cease-fire well, but that hope was soon extinguished. Rees refused to talk directly to the IRA and on the 16th of January the IRA returned to violence, having used the cease-fire to get organised and rearmed.
On the 9th of February 1975 the IRA Army Council announced an indefinite cease-fire following discussions with British officials. Loyalists however continued to kill innocent Catholics and the INLA and Official IRA continued to kill each other. The British Government would not or could not give a declaration of intent to withdraw from Northern Ireland and the PIRA continued to use the threat of violence. The loyalists believed that the IRA cease-fire was simply a ploy by the PIRA to get regrouped and rearmed and that a return to full scale violence was only a matter of time. The PIRA wanted the British Government to become persuaders of the Protestant people of Northern Ireland of the benefits of a united Ireland; this was not going to happen in the short term.
The first four chapters of this book have focused on the regression of the republican movement who were constantly falling back into a politico-sectarian blindness coupled by internal feud and disagreement. Their central focus to this point has been the physical and psychological brutality of the Protestant people of Northern Ireland in order to coerce them into a united Ireland. Loyalists are not faultless; however, a clear distinction must be made between ordinary decent hard working Protestants and the small number of criminals who made up the loyalist murder squads.
 Page 44 Adams, 1988
 Page 98 Irish Political Studies, 1995
A Fairly Secret Army - Chapter 5
The IRA – A Fairly Secret Army - Chapter 5 – Prisons and Hunger-strikes
In order to try and understand the direction taken by the republican movement (Sinn Fein/PIRA) particularly the Northern Command from the late 1970s early 1980s it is essential to try and understand the role played by republican prisoners and in particular their Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 1981. Prior to the 1st Day of March 1976 IRA prisoners were accorded the rights of political prisoners, however, once again the British Government showed their lack of understanding of the northern conflict when they removed that political status from IRA and other republican prisoners who were housed in Crumlin Road Jail (remand), Long Kesh Jail (sentenced) and Armagh (women’s jail). It was inevitable that the removal of political status from republican prisoners would bring about a campaign of protest as those republican prisoners believed their own actions to be political rather than criminal.
In their book The Provisional IRA Bishop and Mallie believe that republican prisoners played a pivotal role in relation to the future direction of Sinn Fein/IRA when they say:
In the late seventies and early eighties events inside the prison (The Maze/Long Kesh) were as important as events outside and the evolution of the republican movement into its current shape is a result of a sequence of actions and reactions that reverberated back and forth over the prison walls. 
Following the removal of political status from republican prisoners the British authorities tried to force Irish republicans to wear prison uniforms rather than their own clothes. Kieran Nuggent (RIP) was the first republican prisoner to refuse to wear the prison uniform and so the blanket/dirty protest began. Republican prisoners were left naked in their cells and only had a blanket to cover them. This then developed into a dirty protest where prisoners refused to leave their cells and human excrement, urine and waste food were left on the cell floors or rubbed on to the walls. The conditions were filthy and inhuman. The best account I have ever read from inside Long Kesh relating to this period was a book by IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands entitled One Day in my Life. This short book by Sands highlights the inhumanity of what was a totally unnecessary set of circumstances created by a distant and uninterested British Government.
The blanket/dirty protest went almost unnoticed for four years by those in authority. There was a great deal of brutality in the prisons and as a result dozens of prison officers were killed by the IRA on the outside. By the end of 1980 the republican prisoners decided to go on hunger strike to try and draw international attention to their plight. Several weeks into the first hunger strike and on the night that IRA hunger striker Sean Mc Kenna was expected to die a senior British Civil servant offered a deal to the republican prisoners. The IRA leadership in Long Kesh Prison accepted the deal and called off the hunger strike.
However, the British withdrew the deal and a second hunger strike was inevitable. There are many republicans who believe that the British would have quietly granted the prisoners demands if given time and that a second hunger strike was simply a waste of human life. However, it is widely believed that the political leadership of the republican movement wanted the second hunger strike as they had seen how people were starting to react to the first hunger strike. The political leadership believed that they could make political gain from the hunger strikes. So it was then that on the 1st of March 1981, Bobby Sands began a second hunger strike in Long Kesh. On the first day of his hunger strike Sands stated:
I am dying not just to end the barbarity of the H. Blocks (Long Kesh), or to gain rightful recognition as a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the republic and those wretched oppressed, whom I am proud to know as the risen people.
Bobby Sands would lead a hunger strike that would see ten young Irish men die. The hunger strike in terms of its political demands was a failure, although the British would eventually return political status to the prisoners. However, outside the prisons Sinn Fein would find a new political life line as a result of the wave of public sympathy for the hunger strikers. People who had never supported Sinn Fein or the IRA were out raged that Prime Minister, Thatcher had allowed ten young men die for a few simple demands. Shortly following Bobby Sands commencing his hunger strike the MP (Member of Parliament) for the electoral constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Frank Maguire died. The death of the very popular Frank Maguire presented an opportunity for Sinn Fein to put Bobby Sands forward as a hunger strike candidate for the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat.
Outside the prisons the republican leadership debated about whom Sands would be representing and under what banner he would run for election. The republican movement wanted to maximise the vote for Sands which in turn they believed would show the world outside the north that their cause was just. Eventually at a meeting in County Monaghan in the Irish Republic it was decided that Sands should stand for election simply as an H-Blocks candidate rather than for Sinn Fein, republicans believed this could maximise the vote as people could vote on the single prisons issue rather than anything more closely associated with militant republicanism. The politicos within the republican leadership knew that they could capitalise on any significant vote achieved by Sands in subsequent elections whether Sands lived or died.
John Hume (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) and leader of the SDLP (constitutional Nationalist/Catholic party) withdrew his party from the Fermanagh and South Tyrone election when he stated:
“We will not do the British Government’s dirty work for them”.
However, behind John Hume’s publicly stated position lay the reality of the situation at that time which was that the public’s sympathy with a young Irish Catholic dying from hunger would have wiped the SDLP out in one of its strongholds. Bobby Sands was elected with a majority beyond the imagination of even the greatest enthusiasts of his election campaign including myself. The unionist candidate who was defeated by Sands was devastated when he publicly stated:
“I never thought the decent Catholics of Fermanagh would vote for the gunman”
These comments by the defeated unionist candidate show clearly that unionists had failed to grasp the fact that the Catholic community were not voting for a gunman, but were voting for a young Irish Catholic who was being starved to death by an uncaring British Governmen
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