Century of Endeavour
RJ and Politics in 1967 and 1968
(c)Copyright Roy Johnston 2002, apart from the excerpts from the Desmond Greaves Journals and the Minutes of the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society, for which the copyright resides with Anthony Coughlan, with whom right of access and permission to publish any extracts must currently be negotiated, prior to their eventual deposition in the National Library of Ireland. Copyright relating to these abstracts belongs also to Roy Johnston, any extracts from which must be cleared by both parties.
What follows is basically an integrated chronological account culled mostly from the Wolfe Tone Society archive, the Sinn Fein minutes and the Greaves Diaries during the period, with some linking material as necessary. I have provided occasional hotlinks to the underlying material.
Enquiries or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this next period, while the Sinn Fein and Wolfe Tone Society records are the primary source of insights into the development of political republicanism, the Greaves diaries are an additional source giving a useful outsider's perspective, especially where they record encounters with the present writer. Greaves was of course during this period in Ireland primarily in the context of gathering material for his Mellows book.
On January 1 1967 Greaves recorded that AC had told him that '..the Belfast Civil Liberties meeting was most representative, and that Eddie McAteer was present. AC dilated on the CG article decisions and expressed the opinion that the republicans always pulled out of any relationship with the Left.
Back at MacLiam's Cathal remarked that he regarded Tony Meade as being consistent and straight in his dealings. Then 'to our surprise' Cathal Goulding turned up, along with wife and young Cathal, then about 14. CDG was critical of CG's positive opinion of Dominic Behan, concluding that he was lacking in political acumen. CG wanted CDG to speak to the students, but the latter found it difficult to decide.
During this period it seems CG must have been regularly tipped off by his cousin CMacL when CDG was around, and CG often took the opportunity to cultivate the contact.
The January 1967 AGM of the Dublin WTSThe Dublin Wolfe Tone Society Annual General Meeting took place on Saturday January 21 1967; this constituted a showcase event; the various current areas of interest were all covered by specialist reports, and there was a review of the previous year's work. This contained a reference to the setting up of the Cork society. It also expanded on the Maghera conferences of the Belfast WTS on August 6, and the second one in October, both of which were attended by Dublin and Cork WTS delegates, the second one also by Republican Club delegates from Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Derry. A draft document was discussed in depth at the second conference, which later became the editorial of Tuairisc no 7. Ciaran Mac an Aili analysed the Special Powers Act and the need for a six-county Civil Rights Convention was discussed.
"The first step was implemented in Belfast on November 28 when a symposium was held... The audience represented all shades of anti-unionist opinion, including nationalist, NILP, Social Justice, trade unionist, socialist and republican. The symposium was organised by an ad-hoc group consisting of Belfast WTS and trade union representatives. No elected committee was set up, but the ad-hoc committee was extended by calling for voluntary support for the purpose of organising the next meeting, which would be addressed by an NCCL speaker from London... It was considered unwise to establish a Civil Rights Convention under circumstances in which it would be rapidly torn asunder by political rivalry; the goal was a strictly non-political Convention. This could clearly not have been achieved at the first meeting..."
The formation of the Cork WTS had begun with an informal encounter between RJ and a group of UCC graduates 'known to a member of the Dublin society of Cork origin' this of course was Eoghan Harris. A meeting subsequently held in June 1966 was aimed at making a link in Cork with the republican movement, but this proved abortive due to internal problems in the Cork movement. These relate to the anti-political militaristic mind-sets of Mac Stiofain and Mac Carthaigh who then dominated the Cork scene. "..a preparatory committee was set up which held a number of meetings, expanding the membership to include individuals prominent in the trade union movement, in Dochas, in the West Cork small-farm co-operative movement and in amateur drama. The Chairman was Dave O'Connell and the secretary Brian Titley. The inaugural public meeting was held on December 3rd and featured a review by Anthony Coughlan of Ireland since the Treaty, as well as shorter talks by Uinsean O Murchu (Cork WTS) on the language movement and by Uinsean mac Eoin on the situation in the North. The second public meeting was held on Friday December 16 and was addressed by Jim Fitzgerald of Dublin on the national Theater..."
The November 11 public meeting, which had tried to sell the farmers' struggle to Dublin citizens, had been addressed by Tom Llewellyn for the NFA, Michael Dillon the Irish Times columnist and Barry Desmond of the Labour party. The November 18 public meeting on the proposed constitutional amendment had featured Enid Lakeman on the advantages of PR, Seamus Sorahan on the Offences Against the State Act, and Risteard O Glaisne who pointed out the deficiencies as seen from the angle of the Protestant community.
Specialist reports to the AGM covered Housing and Town Planning (UMacE), restoring the Tailors Hall (Maire Comerford), Micheal Mac Aonghusa on the Irish Language, Derry Kelleher on science and technology (unrecognised by the Government as a factor in economic development), Anthony Coughlan on Civil Liberty. Mairin de Burca reported on the changes occurring within Sinn Fein, and Fred Heatley reported on the Belfast WTS. Eoin O Murchu spoke on the development of the TCD students republican club, and Paul Gillespie spoke on behalf of Labour students. Dave O'Connell outlined the development of the work of the WTS in Cork. Sean O Cionnaith on behalf of the Sinn Fein leadership appealed for support in the coming local government elections.
Cathal Mac Liam was elected Chairman, Roy Johnston vice-chairman, Noel Kavanagh secretary, assisted by John Tozer, the treasurer remained Uinsean mac Eoin.
This clearly represented a milestone in the development of political left-republicanism, with signs of growing influence and acceptance, and increasing friendly links with the labour movement. In the coming period, we must try to establish 'what went wrong' such as to neutralise this promising renaissance.
In the February 1967 issue of the United Irishman it was reported that the AGM of the WTS had taken place in the West County Hotel: Daithi O'Connell came from the Cork WTS, Fred Heatley from Belfast. Harry White was in the chair. Noel Kavanagh was secretary, assisted by John Tozer. Uinsean Mac Eoin was treasurer. This was the peak of the WTS as an all-Ireland supportive intellectual structure. It was far from being an 'IRB' but it did fulfil a role of being a theoretical think-tank, linking republicans and left-oriented nationalists.
None of this shows up in the SF record, though it does partially in the WTS record.
At this meeting also AC reported on his Common Market document and called for a special meeting on March 7, with the document to be published in a special issue of Tuarisc, #8 in the series. This is on record in the WTS archive: it consists of a 16-page document covering all aspects of the EEC, and promoting the 'Association' process as an alternative to full membership. It got full treatment on the April 21 issue of 'Business and Finance' and can be regarded as constituting the founding document of what later emerged as the Common Market Study Group, the CM Defence Campaign, and eventually the Irish Sovereignty Movement, in all of which the leading light was Anthony Coughlan.
This indicates that the left-republican convergence was very much still alive, at the level of mutual recognition and willingness to exchange ideas, and that CDG was supportive of the process. But in practical terms the choice of dates for events was unco-ordinated, so that mutual participation was subject to constraints.
Dublin WTS March 14: Protestant patriots were still on the agenda; George Gilmore to be approached, also Maire Comerford, for sources. RJ to meet the CIE management. SF was to discuss the proposed meeting at the next Ard Comhairle. £15 sent to Belfast. AC to represent the Dublin WTS at a meeting called by the Republican Clubs to protest against their being banned.
There is correspondence on record with republican contacts in Limerick in mid-March exploring the possibility of starting a WTS there. I recollect a fruitless visit about then, in which we met with Jim Kemmy. There is also a letter from Mairin de Burca inviting 4 WTS people to meet the Sinn Fein Standing Committee on April 10; this later was reconvened for 24th. From the archive it appears that the emphasis was on getting support for the work of the Dublin Housing Action Committee.
'...Last night AC telephoned saying that there might be ructions in Belfast next weekend and that somebody was coming to see us about sending an observer... (this) proved to be Sean Garland. I had met him for two minutes once at Cathal's. He told me that the Republican Clubs, which had been made illegal in the Six Counties, had decided to defy the law and hold a Convention in the Ard Scoil Divis St on Sunday. They wanted me and Sean to go, as many British MPs as possible, and observers of all kinds. What were we going to observe? He could not say, anything might happen. I roundly ticked him off for not consulting us over something he wanted us to take part in, and added that I could think of nothing more foolish for an illegal organisation to bring all its members together in one place ready for the authorities. I did not think we could participate. However I would see what could be done about observers. I asked why they had decided on this action, and he replied that they felt that if they did not do something they might as well give in. I would prefer the alternative course of a legal campaign for the lifting of the law, I said. He was throwing in his main forces without consulting his allies, merely expecting them to follow suit, and I was afraid they might split the Civil Liberties committee over there. He listened to all this quite quietly. He was here to get what he could, I presume, and an observer would be better than nothing...'.
The next day March 17 1967 we have '..Garland came again in the morning. I got him to tell SR what he had told me before I told Sean my own view. SR did not perhaps put things as forcefully, but his conclusion was the same. I then asked SR to take him up to Tony Smythe, and see what NCCL would do. They went up, and came back laughing. Instead of urging caution, Smythe had thumped the table and cried "That's the way to treat those laws! Direct Action!". He was all for the NCCL sending somebody, and later offered to go himself if we paid for the trip and his EC members did not object. Meanwhile we would wired the Leicester group of Amnesty International which is studying the Special Powers Act. Johnson telephoned and said he thought somebody would go, and I phoned J(ack) B(ennett) asking him to have these facts announced. Smythe was to meet Garland at the dance at the Dorchester Hall (this was the annual St Patrick's Day event organised by the CA). Marcus Lipton was there (Labour MP for Brixton). "I hope Tony Smythe is not going to get into trouble" he said to J(oe) D(eighan) as he left... "...two weeks jail will not hurt him and 'twill make wonderful propaganda..". When speaking to Garland I adverted to the prospect that Amnesty's man would be hit on the head by the RUC. He replied "we can only pray for it". So these allies are highly expendable..!.
Smythe's EC agreed he could go, and he leaked stories to the papers, and arranging a press conference in London for his triumphant return. The next day, March 18 1967, after noting the performance of the ultra-left element who had infested the dance unsuccessfully, they met in the office. SR was to get an emergency resolution passed at the conference of the MCF (the CA was affiliated to the Movement for Colonial Freedom and Sean Redmond was the delegate). Contact with Belfast trade union people (DATA) indicated that they could not touch it. From JB it emerged that the convention had been 'cleared' by the police: '...in other words an illegal organisation had asked police permission to hold a meeting of its entire membership, and had obtained it.... Kelleher was in the office at the time and told us that AC was going. But he entirely agreed that we would be wise not to do so, as we would hardly be classed as disinterested observers, and would be fulfilling the purpose the republicans wanted us to fulfil rather than the one decided at our own conference...'.
Then later JB rang from Belfast to the effect that Craig had announced on the radio that the convention was after all banned, whereupon the republicans announced that they would hold it in a 'secret place'. JB was left with the problem of how to get the observers there, which presumably was resolved; in the March 20 entry CDG notes that there were 80-100 people present, including Betty Sinclair and Tony Coughlan. Six resolutions were passed. The preamble had involved the Trades Council, to which Betty Sinclair objected, as they had not been consulted in advance. '..They cannot involve organisations through individuals..'. In the aftermath Tom Mitchell was arrested, and when Smythe and Gerry Fitt went to enquire about him were told he was not there, though they could see him. '..The second in command, who is to take over shortly, showed visible embarrassment - and spoke with an impeccable Oxford accent..'.
Regrettably the record of this episode from the SF side is missing, but gets a mention in the Wolfe Tone record; Sinn Fein had after the 1966 Ard Fheis set up a Standing Committee to work between Ard Comhairle meetings, and did not get round to minuting it properly until the following June. It was clearly a seminal event. Yet its impact was already being undermined by Mac Stiofain, who claims in his memoirs to have been organising the Northern IRA units from the angle of military intelligence, in a role given him by Goulding. The process was riven with contradictions(1).
WTS April 4 1967: RJ, CMacL, UMacE, AC, JT, Cathal Goulding, Maire Comerford, RNiD, CNiC, SMacG, Noel Kavanagh. RJ reporting from CIE: responsibility ultimately with Westminster Dept of Transport and Power. CIE were genuinely concerned. RJ to prepare a memo for next meeting. AC reported on the success of the Belfast meeting.
During March-April 1967 there is on record in the archive a correspondence with the Teilhard de Chardin Society; Derry Kelleher was the prime mover in this, in the context of the Marxist-Christian dialogue. This aroused some interest in Ireland among socially concerned Christians, but had little political impact. There is a record in the archive of a meeting organised by the WTS in the Moira Hotel addressed by Mrs Croose-Parry and Derry Kelleher, and articles were published in the United Irishman and in the Irish Democrat.
On April 17 1967 there is a mention in the Greaves Diaries of how the Clann na hEireann people had been to Dublin to see if it was OK for them to join the CA: '..The idea was abroad that Cathal Goulding had urged them to "make use of" the CA and it was very clear to me that my man was completely oriented in this direction..'. The entry continues with an analysis of the current 'left-republican honeymoon' and problems of dual membership, with the prospect of the CA becoming a 'front' organisation.
I was not aware of this at the time. It would suggest that the CG perception was one of infiltration and takeover of the Left, rather than one of agreeing on a common platform and procedures.
CDG went on April 20 1967 to Belfast from Glasgow, where he met with Betty Sinclair in her office: '...She told me that she discovered that when she was prevented from speaking at Casement Park it was not the fault of the GAA but that the republicans had cold feet at the last minute. How she found this out was that on the way to Murlough last year Sean Steenson drove her up in his car. "I believe you objected to my speaking last year" she remarked. "Not a bit of it". The republicans had told her they would be delighted to have her but they had been threatened that if she spoke they would never get the Park again. Even when she got to Murlough she was left off the agenda and the chairman was closing the meeting after S(ean) R(edmond) spoke. But one of the officials ran to the chairman. Betty wondered it a fight would ensue. Then the chairman, a local man, said "Miss Sinclair wished to say a few words". Such is he fear of Communism...'.
Later CDG the same day got to talk to Liam McMillan, Art's brother (and at that time O/C of Belfast RJ): '...he showed me an exercise book in which he was endeavouring to get to grips with political ideas. He said "the Army would like to co-operate with everybody, including Communists, but there is a strong group of old-fashioned Sinn Fein in the way". He asked if I thought Betty Sinclair would co-operate in a campaign against unemployment. I said I was sure she would provided they did not attempt to usurp the functions of the Labour Movement. For that is the danger. She thinks they are all very suspicious of Protestants, and that the Protestants feel lost, not knowing what nationality they belong to, or having any history or culture. But he did not show signs of this. He is probably the most thoughtful and broadminded though the brother is more forceful...'.
Here CDG is getting to grips with the width of the culture-gap between the left-politicising Belfast IRA and the Protestant radical tradition which was expressed in the CP. I was of course aware of this, and was similarly feeling my way towards bridging it. He went back across the water on April 21, after a brief encounter with Sean Caughey, who expressed a high opinion of Gerry Fitt, and was optimistic about the way things were going...'.
I recollect this period; the prime movers were Uinsean Mac Eoin, Deasun Breathnach and Micheal O Loingsigh; I must say I found it a constraint on the process of development of ideas which we could at the time have done without. But it was impolitic to say so.
On May 26 1967 CDG arrived in Dublin and stayed with Cathal. He recorded that my wife Mairin was going up as a Labour candidate for the Council in O'Leary's constituency: '..she is candidate, election agent, finance officer and committee... Roy was as usual on top of the world...'. On the next day he recorded that '..Cathal and I... walked in the protest march against the Common Market sell-out. Sinn Fein had organised it, but if they had not invited the Irish Workers' Party they would have had nobody..'. Derry Kelleher was there and I understand spoke.. after some comments on wage levels etc CDG concluded: '...so this movement is in a rather confused state.'
Viewed in retrospect it may seem strange that the EEC issue should have been so high on the agenda so early, while the Northern situation was developing so rapidly. The UK application however had just been renewed, and it was just before de Gaulle's second veto.
Greaves on June 1 1967 entry recorded an encounter with Tony Meade, editor of the UI, and his assistant '...Seamus O'Toole the Misneach man..'. TM wanted to abolish Sinn Fein and convert the IRA into a political party. O Tuathail was a member of neither, though the UI was owned by the IRA; CDG found this most odd. O Tuathail was critical of the level of political skill of the republicans; he had been getting Haughey flustered at a Ground Rent meeting, when someone comes out with 'what about the offences against the State Act?', whereupon '..Haughey's face lit up... he immediately switched on the subject of democracy..'.
On a subsequent visit to Dublin on June 25 1967 CDG arrived at CMacL's house, where there was a gathering of Wolfe Tone society representatives from Dublin and Belfast, the objective of which was to persuade the Belfast people to oppose the Common Market, and not to be embarrassed by the fact that Paisley was doing the same.
There is in the archive considerable correspondence relating to a meeting of the Dublin, Belfast and Cork Wolfe Tone Societies which took place on June 24-25, on the fringe of the Bodenstown event. There was student republican club participation, and the booklet on Ulster Protestant patriots was on the agenda. The agenda is on record, which included a proposal to set up a 'central committee' of the 3 societies, meeting regularly. A document from the Dublin WTS analysed the roles of a range of organisations in Ireland, classified on the basis of (a) degree of opposition to the 'neo-unionist drift', (b) whether political, economic or socio-cultural, and (c) degree of involvement of their members in decision-making. It is not clear whose document this was, but I recognise some of it has having been mine, and some of it could have been Anthony Coughlan; it would have been amended in the light of discussions at a Dublin WTS meeting.
There are extensive notes on this conference, by Noel Kavanagh, and a list of the participants: these were as follows:
Dublin: Micheal O Loingsigh, Micheal Mac Aonghusa, Derry Kelleher, Maire Comerford, Anthony Coughlan, Roy Johnston, John Tozer, Cathal Mac Liam, Noel Kavanagh on the Saturday, and on the Sunday also Uinsean mac Eoin, Tony Meade and Cathal Goulding.
It was proposed by Mary O'Shea and seconded by Anthony Coughlan and agreed that a liaison committee for the 3 societies be set up to meet quarterly, the first meeting to be before the end of August.
There was on the Saturday some discussion of the sub-committee structure for the society, and fear was expressed that less frequent general meetings would lead to lack of cohesion. The overall basis for WTS membership was discussed: accept the constitution and be prepared to work etc. Avoid going too far left. There was a distinct difference in attitude to the EEC as between Belfast and Dublin, and the complexities of the relationship between the EEC and the national question began to be probed.
On the Sunday the Civil Liberties question was discussed, again bringing out the differences between North and South; an all-Ireland movement would not be appropriate. It was the priority issue in the North, rather than the EEC. The idea of a paper or a journal in the North was discussed and postponed. Student republican clubs in TCD and QUB had been established and recognised. A meeting on the EEC was planned for July 22. UCC students should be targeted by Cork WTS.
The assessment of the Left, in the 'analysis of organisations' document introduced by RJ, is worth quoting: "Both CPNI and IWP remain in relative isolation due (a) to the negative tradition of Stalinism and consequent foreign orientation, and (b) to failure to come to grips with the existence of the national question and the rule of British imperialism in Ireland, which led to their condemnation of the '50s campaign on the Border. The CPNI and the IWP have not succeeded in working out an agreed joint national strategy and remain organisationally distinct. Both groups have, however, a wealth of trade union experience and a number of members with considerable influence in the trade union movement. Theoretically speaking, the CPNI, half-heartedly, and the IWP, in full, accept the republican classics as an essential part of our revolutionary heritage..".
Anthony Coughlan produced a paper for this conference:
He went on to list the issues; in the 26 counties he listed:
1. Opposition to the Common Market and the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement... economic integration with Britain, involving free movement of labour, goods and capital.. rules out.. building an independent economy.. sustained criticism..
2. Defence of Civil Liberties, in particular PR and trade union rights..
3. political education of the younger generation of republican and labour supporters in the universities..
He went on to list in the 6 counties:
1. Defence of civil liberties and organisation of political actions against the Unionist Government in relation to their reactionary policies in the civil liberties area, in respect of gerrymandering, electoral reform, the ban on the Republican Clubs etc.
2. To foster unity of action among non-Unionists; detailed criticism of economic policies... launch a radical anti-Unionist political monthly, appealing to the labour and trade union movement.. win the working-class Orangemen from their present political allegiance to Unionism.. civil liberties issues.. non-sectarian outlook... the idea being to get around the ban on the United Irishman.
He also had the following specific proposals:
1. Dublin and Cork societies to help build the Defence of the Nation Committees to organise opposition to the Common Market, with public meetings etc.
2. Public meetings also in defence of PR, trade union rights, full employment, preservation of the urban environment.
3. Dublin, Cork and Belfast societies to promote initially an all-Ireland student conference for republican and labour clubs, seeking to identify common ground, followed by local conferences and study groups to suggest action projects.
4. Each society to produce pamphlets and newsletters, along the lines pioneered in Dublin with Tuarisc, and the Common Market pamphlets.
5. The Belfast Society should give priority to civil rights work, via the NICRA which it had helped to establish, and try to develop the monthly political paper as suggested above.
He concluded by urging the adoption of this document as a guideline, and the setting up of societies in Galway, Limerick, Tralee, Waterford and Derry...
We have here indications of tensions within the republican politicisation process. Meade, who earlier had been advocating transforming the WTS into the political party, was now talking of the politicised IRA replacing Sinn Fein, rather than expanding into it. He was impatient with the SF 'sea-green incorruptibles'. Greaves and Coughlan were clearly giving some priority to the European dimension, then looming prior to de Gaulle's 2nd veto. It was however not yet publicly perceived as a threat.
On June 11 1967 CDG and the present writer set out on out bikes towards the north Dublin countryside; I recollect this occasion, and I remember distinctly trying to interest him in some theoretical ideas on how a State firm should be managed, keeping track of the management costs. I had picked up a feel for the problem in Aer Lingus, and had homed in on the role of management in the reduction of entropy, with the manager having the role of 'Maxwell's demon'. I have discussed this substantively elsewhere. I had hoped to get a discussion going with CDG around this concept, with which he as a combustion technologist would have been familiar, via the second law of thermodynamics. He was however totally dismissive, along the doctrinaire lines that 'there is no basis of a theory of management overhead costs in Marxism'. I felt the existence of an intellectual gulf; we were not on the same theoretical wavelength. This I think was a turning-point in our relationship.
On a subsequent visit to Dublin on June 25 1967 CDG arrived at CMacL's house, where there was a gathering of Wolfe Tone society representatives from Dublin and Belfast, the objective of which was to persuade the Belfast people to oppose the Common Market, and not to be embarrassed by the fact that Paisley was doing the same.
The foregoing I think must have been on behalf of the SF Standing Committee, of which at this time the record is missing.
A document 'The Case Against the Common Market: Why Ireland Should Not Join' was produced by Anthony Coughlan subsequent to the foregoing Conference, and it was circulated on June 29 1967 to all TDs and Senators with a covering letter. A handful acknowledged. This was basically the conference document as discussed; it marks the beginning of the anti-EEC campaign.
Rex Cathcart was a historian, one of the 1940s Promethean stalwarts; he had been introduced to Marxist history by JdeCI in St Patrick's Grammar School. Prior to Sandford he had been in Raphoe. Subsequently he headed the educational programmes in BBCNI. The Berkeley hare is perhaps worth chasing, in case it interfaces with what JJ has done, and I have done this; regrettably it is purely Marxist-philosophical, and has no interface with Berkeley as pioneer development economist, in which role he was of interest to JJ. I have summarised it in the 1960s module of the academic thread of the hypertext.
Then on July 4 1967 CDG recorded an encounter with Uinsean Mac Eoin, in which the latter expostulates about the present writer's 'hare-brained schemes' for various committees to do this and that; CDG commented that '...Roy can of course be mechanical to the point of utter impracticability...'. He picked up from Mac Eoin that '..he thought that the south side (of Dublin) was the revolutionary centre from having the intelligentsia. But he agreed that the classes involved were broader, and that the activists were the intelligentsia of the newly rising nationalist small business people..'.
This indeed corresponded to my then view; it had motivated me away from dependence on post-Stalinist pseudo-Marxist orthodoxy and the Irish Workers' Party (which the Irish Workers League had by now become). I don't think CDG ever appreciated the basic weakness of the Irish working class as a source of Marxist organisation, let alone Marxist theoretical analysis. As for the 'hare-brained schemes', this suggests the conflict between simplistic centralist ideology-driven organisations and the need for working analytical groups to explore in depth various aspects with a view to uncovering opportunities, and I was pursuing the latter course. If UMacE regarded this as 'hare-brained' and CDG as 'mechanical', well then, those were their opinions, let the reader judge.
There seems, alas, to be no record of the projected July 4 meeting at which the outcome of the 3-society conference was to be discussed in the Dublin WTS.
WTS July 7: Brian Titley wrote from the Cork WTS naming David O'Connell and Edward Williams as their delegates to the August liaison committee. These were leading Cork republicans, subsequent to 1970 respectively provisional and official.
WTS July 18: Fred Heatley wrote to Noel Kavanagh stressing that the Queens students had approached the Belfast WTS, with the republican club as a fait accompli; this had pre-empted the idea of a Queens WTS.
WTS July 18 1967: committee minute by Noel Kavanagh, typed; committee to propose to a general meeting on August 22 a re-grouping with conveners in national economics, student groups, science and technology, urbanism, culture and fund-raising. This represents a weed-out of the over-ambitious structure of a year previous.
WTS August 24 1967: officers and conveners of sub-committees to constitute the Committee of the Society. General meeting once a month. Sub-committees as required. Active sub-committees: national economics (AC); Housing and Urbanism, Tom Mitchell; Fund Raising, CNiC; Cultural, Micheal O Loingsigh; Student Liaison, Kevin McCorry; Science and Technology, Derry Kelleher. Members to contact convener of choice.
I certainly was not in 1967 'preparing my own exit', as the republican politicisation process was going well, the NICRA was in existence, and the Clubs were supporting it. Mac Stiofain was intriguing against this process; I was aware of this in general terms, but seriously underestimated his specific influence, as Director of Intelligence, with the Northern IRA units, which we were trying to transform into political clubs.
I have a copy of a letter written by me to Derek Peters dated 4 Sept 1967, in response to receiving a copy of the NICRA newsletter, in which procedures were proposed for dealing with 'arrest without charge' situations. We were aware of how this procedure was used to harass those trying to develop politically the Republican Clubs. I was seeking to establish procedures to convey to Club members for use in such situations, involving contact with the NICRA: '..what to do so as to get the maximum embarrassment for the authorities out of it.. it will mean that we will be able to build a self-maintaining federation of Clubs with a life and communication system of its own; in fact a forum in which political ideas can evolve. They are of course doing their best to stop this; they want to keep the rebels in their ghettos and without influence..'. Derek Peters was a CPNI member and was the NICRA Secretary. He replied on Sept 9 1967; they undertook to get an authoritative legal opinion; in the meantime we were warned that the Act does not require the police to invoke it when arresting, but unless they do they could be charged with illegal arrest. There experience was that they went to extremes of provocation before invoking the Act.
The foregoing I think must also have been on behalf of the SF Standing Committee, of which at this time the record is missing.
WTS September 7 1967 (John Tozer's minutes): Vincent McDowell had joined the group. Anti-Apartheid suggests plans for Human Rights Year; WTS to nominate a representative. 'Fenian Lectures' series planned, to replace October meeting.
AC is adamant that he has no recollection of ever having been approached to become Editor, and would have had no interest in joining the Republicans at that time, being far too cautious. He was approached later, during the August 1969 crisis, but declined, preferring to depend on informal contact with the present writer.
WTS September 26: Fenian centenary events in the Moira Hotel: Joe Deasy, Jim Fitzgerald, Uinsean Mac Eoin. Tailors Hall. Terence McCaughey. These minutes are obscure
WTS October 3: history sub-committee: Cathal MacLiam, JT, Derry and Phyllis Kelleher, Maire Comerford. Contact with de Courcy Ireland. No clear decisions
In the Wolfe Tone Society record for October 15 1967 there an undated document by Anthony Coughlan planning the meeting, and then a minute of the meeting of the 3 WTSs in Dublin; the Dublin agenda prioritises economics and the EEC (the Wilfred Beckermann lecture, and the development of the Defence of the Nation League), but is also active on language, history, theatre (Jim Fitzgerald and TP McKenna addressed a meeting in the Moira Hotel) and trade union history (Joe Deasy). Belfast had published a Life of Henry Joy McCracken, and was developing a Connolly centenary programme for 1968; a lecture series was projected for January on a range of topics: Irish music, the EEC, the Protestants and the nation, theater in Ireland, the Anglo-Irish literary tradition etc. The Cork society is into urban preservation, trade union law, the EEC (lecture by Coughlan) and the need to promote discussion in Irish of things other than Irish itself.
Then on October 28 1967 Noel Kavanagh's resignation was accepted. Present CMacL, RJ, AC, DK, Helen Hanrahan, CNiC, P Hogan, RR, UMacE, T Mitchell, RNiD, DOB, SMacG, George Hodnett. Tony Coughlan reported on the work of the Defence of the Nation League (this was an ad-hoc group set up to address Common Market issues). Kelleher reported on the work of the history sub-committee; deCI had produced a document.
On November 8 the history sub-committee (M Comerford, D Kelleher, JdeCI, Oliver Snoddy, CMacL, JT) met and projected a pamphlet on 'Ireland's European Tradition'.
One gets a decided impression of loss of momentum, despite AC's visionary document of June. Momentum was shifting away in the direction of the perceived EEC threat.
Meanwhile in London, on November 24 1967 there was an extensive entry by Greaves in his diary relating to an encounter with one Ben Owens in Central Books, which records encounters with the police and alleged IRA bomb threats. This story needs further elucidation, but it suggests to me that the British dirty tricks department were prepared to re-invent the IRA for their own purposes, just as the B-Specials were with the Silent Valley incident, in order to try to prevent the development of progressive Irish political republicanism allied to the Labour Movement in Britain. Could this have been connected with the work of Mac Stiofain, who in his memoirs claims at this time to have been active in military mode? I leave this as a challenge to future historians.
The next day November 25 CDG recorded a Manchester meeting commemorating the Martyrs, at which Jimmy Steele spoke, attacking the 'New Departure' of Davitt and Devoy; then '..someone plucked the chairman by the sleeve and he called Mr Fitzmorris to speak. That gentleman then announced that the Manchester Martyrs Committee had no connection with another committee purporting to commemorate Allen Larkin and O'Brien. "We are Catholics first and Irishmen afterwards" said he "and we do not want our freedom given us by Moscow"..'. CDG then goes on to describe the meeting they had organised, with Stan Orme MP for Salford, followed by the Secretary of the Stockport Trades Council, and then talks by Tom and Sean Redmond. Eventually Pat Dooley arrived, with the plaque, which weighed heavy, and broke a chair.
There are various nuances within the foregoing episodes which perhaps deserve analysis in the context of a detailed treatment of the history of the Connolly Association, but I don't feel competent to go into them now. It does however illustrate the culture gap between the rational democratic Marxism of Greaves and the Catholic-nationalist forces within Republicanism which subsequently fuelled the 'Provisional' split. The perception of Moscow domination, though totally false in the case of the Connolly Association, was also a negative factor.
At the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle on 14/10/67 there was a further reference to the chronic 'social and economic policy' question; positions to be taken for the 1967 Ard Fheis motions were proposed. Then at the Ard Comhairle on 4/11/67 a steering committee was set up for Ard Fheis motions: RJ, Seamus Costello and Tony Ruane.
The idea was to get the motions into a logical order, so as to encourage a sensible discussion of the issues, and to do compounding where appropriate, in accordance with democratic conference practice. SC however took it as a 'licence to rig or railroad'; he issued voting instructions on bits of paper, to trusties who were in the 'other branch', thus trying to use what remained of the military command structure. According to Mick Ryan Costello was court-marshaled and suspended for this. MR was O/C of Dublin at the time, and the Dublin Comhairle Ceanntar was actively political. Costello's voting instructions for elections to the AC it seems were Goulding and Costello plus about 10 straw men supporters of Costello. MR was not on Costello's list.
At the AC on 18/11/67 the report of the steering committee was adopted, after a long an heated discussion, centred round Costello's motion on abandonment of 'abstentionism as a principle'.
The 1967 Sinn Fein Ard FheisThis Ard Fheis took place in the basement room of Liberty Hall; but unfortunately the agenda is not readily accessible, though I do have two key composited motions, and a long amended version of one of them, proposed by the Ard Comhairle. Group 1 was a composite of motions 1, 4, 12, 15 and 36 and was an attempt to prevent abstention being discussed except every third year. Group 2 was a call for principled participation in assemblies, to be decided on tactical grounds by the Ard Comhairle.
The Ard Comhairle composited motion 2 is quite long and complex and I give it in full:
This Ard Fheis:
recognising that the Policy of seeking election on an abstentionist platform is a tactic applicable to the situation of a 32 county Dail becoming an immediately attainable and credible national body, derived from the 1918 election, which occurred before the British Government's 1920 lreland Act partitioned the nation into two states with two Governments and Parliaments; and
recognising that the continuation of this policy in relation to the two partition parliaments up to the present has been reinforced by the experience of those political parties which have entered Leinster House and Stormont and which, in the case of Leinster House, are now proposing to surrender and abandon such partial powers as even this body possesses, either by entry to the Common Market or by economic integration with Britain under the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, to the detriment of the interests of the Irish People;
accepts that under appropriate conditions - which do not at present exist - a policy of revolutionary parliamentary action by disciplined deputies of high quality and purpose, under the control and leadership of a well-organised and politically conscious revolutionary republican movement, linked with outside agitational work and mass-organisation pressure, could be used as a means:
* of showing the inadequacy of the present partition parliaments to champion the interests of the people,
* of discrediting the claims of the Leinster House parliament to be the legitimate repository of political sovereignty over the Irish nation as a whole,
* of struggling to maintain and extend the rights and interests of the Irish People against the sell-out policies of the partitionist parties and of transferring real legitimacy, sovereignty and power to a 32 county assembly with the mass support of the organised people and the armed revolutionary movement.
* This 32 Co assembly would be set up simultaneously with the initiation of revolutionary parliamentary action and would act as a focus for the ensuing struggle for National Unity and Independence.
and accordingly instructs the incoming Ard Comhairle
* to examine and analyse the most suitable basis for convening such a 32 county national assembly and of bringing about the appropriate conditions for revolutionary parliamentary action referred to,
* to evaluate in so doing the experience of national revolutionary movements in other countries, and
* to report back on this matter to the next annual Ard Fheis or to a special Ard Fheis, whichever is considered suitable.
This compromise motion did not attempt to amend the Constitution, but set up procedures for the incoming AC to take a hard look at the whole philosophical basis of abstentionism. It provided for a procedure which could have rendered the 1968 'Garland Commission' unnecessary; the objective of the latter was to continue this process, initiated in 1967, under which the politics of principled parliamentary participation could be discussed in depth throughout the Movement, in a series of local conferences. The Garland Commission later produced a report, of which copies exist. This tactic was adopted in 1967 and 68 in an attempt to avoid a split.
If Costello had got his way, the Provisional split would have taken place at this 1967 Ard Fheis, or perhaps at the next one, in the O Liatháin Hall, when the Garland Commission was set up, in a further split-avoiding procrastination. It could be argued plausibly that the split, had it occurred in 1967 or in 1968, would not have given the Provisionals the initial momentum generated subsequently by the 1969 events in Belfast, and would have enabled the politicising movement successfully to contest and build on the mid-Ulster by-election, thus keeping at bay the Queens ultra-left which generated Bernadette Devlin. This is one of the crucial historical 'might have beens'.
It is evident, in retrospect, that this repeatedly postponed politicisation process had been initiated too late, and was too indecisive and uncertain, to enable a strong, principled and united movement to be developed, fit to face with political weapons the armed B-Special counter-attack of August 1969.
Mick Ryan is inclined to agree with this. Given that a split was imminent, whoever controls the timing of it has the advantage. This advantage was left to the Provisionals, who waited to vote at the 1969/70 Ard Fheis in Jury's Hotel, and then walked out, leaving the movement crippled politically for another year. Costello on this occasion wanted to force a walk-out before the vote, by suitably amending the standing orders, tactically a good move. The development of such a tactic in 1967 or 1968 however was prevented by mutual distrust between the key actors (Goulding, Garland, McGurran, Ryan and Costello).
On the whole we get the impression that a lethargic membership was reluctantly following, with heavy hearts, a basically modernising leadership. The 'socio-economic programme' mentioned in 1966 seems however to have sunk without trace.
Mick Ryan around this time became organiser (IRA/SF) for Dublin and Leinster except Wicklow, the latter being left to Costello. In his memoir, published in 1998 in a commemorative United Irishman' issue produced in Belfast, he recounts how he had to struggle to get Cathal Goulding to understand the extent to which the organisation was moribund.
In this situation the VPs both were representatives of 'SF3' as defined by Laffan. If we define the emergent politicising Sinn Fein as 'SF4', I have marked the proto-SF4 Cathal-Goulding-supporting group with asterisks. It was somewhat uneasily divided at this point. Monica Ui Riain was Mick Ryan's mother; she lived in the East Wall area, and had good local standing.
Specialisations were agreed for AC members: Tony Ruane Finance, Sean O Bradaigh Publicity, RJ Education. On the proposal of SC seconded by RJ the post of Director of Industrial Activity was created, with a view to cultivating relations with the Trade Union movement. This was taken up by SC. Goulding proposed Sean Garland as National Organiser, with terms of reference to act '...on behalf of the Army and the UI...assist with the educational programme...and the director of industrial disputes... to sit in on CS meetings and be co-opted to the AC. This was proposed by CG, seconded by EMacT and passed unanimously.
There was clearly here differing perceptions. The old military / IRB tradition would have seen it in terms of 'infiltrating' trade unions and 'assisting' industrial disputes with various kinds of quasi-military direct action. The politicising people would have seen it in terms of participating in the democratic organisations of the working people, and giving a lead where appropriate. The divisions between these perceptions however were somewhat fuzzy.
* Sean Garland was then co-opted; also the regional representation was ensured by co-opting Eddie Williams from Cork and Paddy Kilcullen from Mayo, both of these being Goulding supporters.
It was also agreed from then on to record the minutes in English, recognising the de facto situation regarding the need for accurate and transparent record-keeping.
The Coiste Seasta was then elected: it consisted of Walter Lynch, Mairin de Burca, Tomás MacGiolla, RJ, Cathal Goulding, Tony Ruane, Sean Garland and Sean O Bradaigh.
The motions from the AF which had not been discussed there were dealt with. All those leading to actions in favour of working people and their organisations were adopted. They also adopted the aim of Sinn Fein as being a Socialist Workers Republic, with the intention of taking up appropriate international affiliations. This motion was from Bray, and originated with Costello. Motions to do with taking seats or otherwise were referred to the next Ard Fheis.
There was a discussion on the Mid-Ulster question and it was decided to hold meetings in the constituency with the Clubs as a matter of urgency, and the delegate this to the CS.
The voting for the AC in the 1967 Ard Fheis is on record. Goulding topped the poll at 95, Sean O Bradaigh came next at 71, and then the present writer, at 70, followed by Costello at 67, Eamonn Mac Thomáis at 64, Tom Mitchell at 51, Frank McGlade 44, Mick Ryan 41 and so on.
I feel the relatively high vote for the present writer needs explanation. I was not all that well known, and did not have any track-record of having 'gone to jail for Ireland', military service or other conventional popularity qualification. It could simply be that Goulding, as the leading politicising moderniser in the movement, ordered the Army people to vote for me, and they obeyed. On the other hand it could be that there was a genuine perceived need on the part of the rank and file to support the sort of approach I had been advocating via the United Irishman and via the various educational seminars which had taken place in the previous year or two. Or it could have been a bit of both. MR tends to agree with the latter; it was a combination of the two factors.
From here on the AC meetings became infrequent, as much of the business got done via the CS. There was thus somewhat of a hiatus in the record until CS minutes came on stream in June 68.
At the AC on 18/12/67 it was agreed that the Republican Clubs in NI were to sell the United Irishman (UI). This was a step in their process of coming out from being underground branches of an illegal organisation, which SF was in NI at the time.
It was agreed to context the Wicklow by-election, with SC as candidate (still however on the abstentionist ticket, much to SC's disgust).
Mick Ryan has stated (in a 2001 meeting with the present writer) that Costello refused initially to sign the pledge, but MR and MMcG refused to work with him unless he did. In the end MR was his election agent, though 'on the run' as a result of some Housing Action episode. MR and MMcG spent every weekend in Wicklow, along with about 10 others, including the present writer. He discovered that there was no organisation in Wicklow outside Bray. Costello got 2200 votes.
Greaves in his Diary mentions arriving in Dublin on January 17 1968, where he encountered Cathal MacLiam in the process of moving to Belgrave Road Rathmines, no 24, two doors east from the present writer. He met Anthony Coughlan (AC) for lunch; Justin Keating had joined the Labour Party. He contacted Kader Asmal (KA). He met Donal Foley of the Irish Times and Cathal O'Shannon in the Pearl Bar. Finally AC brought him out to KA's house and they spent the evening. He had a brief encounter with the present writer in which he suggested that Geoffrey Byng would be a good alternative to Austin Curry for Mid-Ulster.
There was a mention in his diary of a contact with the present writer on February 10 1968; it seems I was trying to track down some Clann na hEireann contacts; I was in London for a weekend break.
I recollect this weekend; there were other non-political priorities and the contacting of the Clann was somewhat peripheral, there was I believe something on, but if I had been there it would have been informally as an observer. I must have phoned CDG in the hopes of an encounter with him, to tease out the theoretical implications of the way things were evolving. But he was, I think, putting up the barriers; he had written me off as some sort of apostate.
In retrospect what must have been on my mind was the nature of the distinction between 'labour movement' and 'petty-bourgeois' modes of organisation, and whether the distinction was as black and white as he seemed to want to make out. Scratch a Dublin 'proletarian' and you find a 'petty-bourgeois' not very far below the surface. The Irish Workers' League in the early days had used Party funds to buy equipment to one of its EC members, to set him up in business, as an alternative to chronic unemployment. Most bricklayers were 'on the lump'. I was critical of Marxist orthodoxy, and anxious to explore how 'workers, working managers, working owner-managers and self-employed' could be brought into the developing movement for all-Ireland national democracy, and brought around to accept something approximating to a co-operative or democratic socialist vision as the follow-through.
There is in my personal Wolfe Tone Society record a letter dated February 6 1968 from Frank Gogarty of the Belfast WTS enclosed a cutting from the Irish News of the same date, reporting the Belfast Wolfe Tone Society symposium on the Irish language, which was organised jointly with the New Ireland Society, and took place in Queens University. Micheal O Loingsigh spoke at short notice, replacing a speaker who had let them down. He made the case that the language revival must be accompanied by 'the spirit of social revolution'. Flann O Riain and Tomás O Muimhneachain also spoke, accusing the Dublin government of insincerity. Gogarty mentioned that 12 bodies in NI political and cultural fields had notified the Belfast WTS of their willingness to attend 'Connolly co-ordinating committee in the Presbyterian hostel on Monday next'. He also mentioned that the AGM would take place on February 25.
The 1968 AGM of the Dublin WTS took place on Saturday March 15, being convened by the Secretary Anthony Coughlan in a letter dated March 6. Cork and Belfast representatives were expected and would report. I was not present, but had submitted a memorandum to AC. I was obviously attempting to develop a broad-based radical-democratic intellectual leadership of a national-democratic movement, at a time when the students were occupying, or were about to occupy, UCD.
At the SF AC on 23/03/68 Frank McGlade was now included, co-opted to represent the NI Republican Clubs, which were the legalising SF Cumainn under a new politicising banner. It was noted that the CS had handled the correspondence, and there was a CS report, but we will have to await archive access for this, if it exists.
* Costello felt let down over the lack of support he got in the Wicklow by-election. Clearly the movement was voting with its feet on the matter of contesting elections under abstentionism.
* Mick Ryan was appointed organiser for the whole of Leinster, including Wicklow, Costello's weakness having been exposed.
* Malachi McGurran was appointed organiser for Ulster, and an educational conference was arranged for Belfast. On this matter I can interpolate my own memoir. The objective of this educational conference was to introduce the Belfast movement, which hitherto had been dominated by considerations of illegality, to the opportunities for working in open political mode, once the Civil Rights issues were addressed, and concessions won. It was therefore necessary to give total priority to open work under the CR banner. I was to attend it and make this case.
The NI authorities however acted first. They had their spies, and knew our movements, which in any case were quite open. In the context of a visit to the Belfast Wolfe Tone Society prior to the planned conference, I encountered a gentleman who subsequently turned out to have been a 'plant'. He said he wanted to join Sinn Fein, and proffered a membership application form, which I accepted, not smelling a rat, though with hindsight I should have done. I did not take seriously enough the actual illegal status of SF in NI.
Subsequently I was picked up by the RUC and held in the Falls Road police station. They went through every bit of paper I had on me, but by sheer good luck failed to pick up the SF application form. Betty Sinclair, the secretary of the Belfast Trades Council, and a leading member of the CP, got wind of my predicament, via Fred Heatley, of the Belfast Wolfe Tone Society, with whom I had been when picked up. She came with her NICRA and Trade Union auras, and argued forcefully that they had no reason to be using their Special Powers in my case. So in the end I was released, but the Belfast meeting was aborted, and the understanding of the opportunities presented by the opening up of Civil Rights, in the case of the Belfast Republican Clubs, was delayed.
Returning to the minutes of 23/03/68: I am on record as having proposed setting up a sub-committee to examine the Sinn Fein Constitution. This was referred to the CS.
There were some problems with Na Fianna and the Dublin Housing Action Committee. I seem to remember that Fianna tents were used for emergency housing.
There was a draft article on the 'Sinn Fein Definition of Socialism' which had been asked for by the Irish Democrat. Costello insisted that this be circulated to Cumainn rather than sent to the Democrat.
I have a copy of this draft document, which amounts to over two pages of foolscap, duplicated, impossible to scan in. I will try to summarise its essentials:
It begins by referring back to the 1967 Ard Fheis amendment which refers to a 'Democratic Socialist Republic in accordance with the 1916 proclamation', and the key concept is 'cherishing all the children equally', this being inconsistent with large-scale inheritable private property. Connolly's formulation is suggested: 'the application to the ownership of the means of production of the democratic principle of the Republican ideal'. What follows expands on this.
The 'democratic socialism' as defined in the context of the British Labour Party is rejected as a phony facade. We need to make our own definition, in terms of how to democratise the production process, seen as comprising 4 elements, supply, production, distribution and management, the latter being an essential part. There is a fifth element, ownership, which is in a different category. When this is under capitalist rules, ownership has over-riding rights, and sets management against the rest with orders to maximise profits, under criteria which ignore the social investment in the skills of the work-force.
Socialism rejects private ownership of the means of production, counter-posing social ownership. This can be municipal or co-operative in form, with decisions taken by elected management committees, from groups of those directly concerned. Examples are given. Large firms would function under policies decided by delegate conferences. Small family retail outlets would own collectively their wholesale supply systems. Managers would implement policies defined by management committees, in the interests of the people co-operatively owning the firm: workers, consumers and suppliers, in due proportion, depending on the nature of the business and its environment.
The State as known today would no longer exist; it would be replaced by federations of peoples' organisation. Parties would exist, uniting common-interest groups; three such groupings were suggested, with an 'activist group' catalysing the interaction between the other two, but without a dominant role.
Some feedback came in during June on the 'definition of socialism', and this is on record with the present writer. People preferred co-operative rather than municipal ownership, and were uneasy about the potential for evolution into a 'one-party State'; a 'no-party state' was preferred, with elections to management committees of individual citizens known to electors. I have however no record of an integrated amended document having been prepared or agreed. I think we regarded it as an educational or consciousness-raising procedure, rather than a decision-making procedure.
WTS archive: I wrote to Maire Woods on 24/03/68 enclosing signed petition-forms relating to the anti-Vietnam-War campaign, of which she was a leading member, as well as being a member of the WTS. I suggested to her that there was a need for a radical women's rights group top be set up, and urged her to look into this, if she had time at the margin of the Vietnam campaign.
From April 17 1968 there is in the Greaves Diary a sequence of entries where CDG was trying to get a Republican spokesman for his Trafalgar Square meeting in commemoration of Connolly. Peadar O'Donnell was not fit to travel. Between Mairin Johnston and Cathal MacLiam more options were tried, including George Gilmore. In the end he got options on Cathal Goulding, Seamus Costello, Tomáas Mac Giolla and Ronnie Lindsay, the latter being active in the TCD Republican Club. CDG selected the latter.
It is interesting that CDG preferred to give a platform to the 'new blood' rather than to the old leaderhip in transition. This suggests to the present writer, in retrospect, that he was increasingly sceptical about the integrity of the transition, but this interpretation is open to question. It could equally be that he simply preferred to give young people a chance.
[A] The New Republic: this was an outline of the social and economic structure of a model 32 county Republic, based on the ideas of Connolly's socialism, under the headings the State, Culture, Social Services, Production, Trade, Finance , Defence and External Affairs. Tuairisc went on to outline this: it was in fact basically the Eire Nua document, subsequently hijacked by the Provisionals after the split. It was strong on the 'Regional Government' concept, with the Capital moved to Athlone, cutting the link with Dublin perceived as the legacy of the Pale, the imperial focus, the centre of British influence.
[B] The Movement and the People: this was aimed at people '..who are actively concerned with building a conscious united revolutionary movement for a Socialist Republic in Ireland today..'. This covered definitions of political terms, evaluation and classification of various existing organisations, enumeration of the main issues, an outline of methods of awakening people's understanding of the issues, analysis of the special conditions in the Six Counties, and an outline of the structure of the movement. NB there was absolutely no military dimension in this context; this was the blueprint for the movement to 'go political' definitively.
[C] The Technology of Independence: the United Irishman from September 1967 and January 1968 had published a series of articles on this theme, from Derry Kelleher and myself; it called for being printed in a more permanent form, '..for use in propagating the idea that there is no need for basing our industrialisation plans on the employment of the foreign expert and that Ireland is technologically quite capable of developing an advanced economy, provided we use correctly our assets of talented manpower..'.
[D] Ireland and Europe, the Historical Links: This was the material presented at the Wynn's Hotel meeting in November 1967. '..It shows that there are two Europes: the Europe of the monarchists and monopolists and that of the ordinary working people. The main Irish historical links are with the latter, and the modern neo-Unionist trend, centred round the EEC and free trade with Britain, is a reversal of this tradition and an attempt to put us under the hegemony of the former.'
I don't think this publication project got off the ground. If it had, it would have constituted a valid theoretical basis for the development of an all-Ireland democratic revolution with social-revolutionary content, along the lines to which we had aspired in 1964. Its publication was pre-empted by the pace at which events developed, and the diversion of the attention of the movement towards the sterile issues of abstentionism, and its associated threat of re-emergent militarism.
In the May 4 Greaves Diary there is recorded an indication that the 'old Dublin crowd' were planning on the assumption of the demise of the Connolly Association, and on initiating fund-raising in London among the emigrant Irish for the Irish Workers' Party. He got this from Betty Sinclair, who had been drinking with Prendergast, a Russian emissary and others, at the expense of Telifis Eireann, probably in the context of the Connolly programme in which CDG had earlier declined to participate. Betty had written to CDG not knowing that he was supposed to have been kept in ignorance.
On May 12 1968 there is a further revealing passage which indicates that Micheal O'Riordan had been lobbying various East European embassies seeking to get goods for his fund-raising sales of work, with the support of Jim Prendergast, whom CDG labels '..something of an embassy-fly..'. CDG notes with disapproval that '...they still have the conception of a subsidised movement, with a low-priced paper and literature...'.
Prendergast and O'Riordan were of course both International Brigade veterans, and as such they had status of sanctity with the 'international movement' of post-Stalinist orthodoxy. It could credibly be argued that a military background is incompatible with good Marxist democratic politics in peacetime, and Greaves, and indeed the present writer, were up against this on the one hand with Prendergast and co, and on the other with Goulding and co. Prendergast, it seems, according to Betty Sinclair, had been influential in getting an 'English-type' public house set up in Moscow, which he frequented when there.
There is on May 14 a reference by Greaves to a meeting on Nottingham, with its Fergus O'Connor connection, at which the question of a Joint Council between the IWP and the CPNI was discussed. Greaves attended in his capacity as the Irish expert on their international affairs committee. John Gollan, the CPGB chief, very sensibly did not want the CPGB represented. The question arose of CDG or J(oe) D(eighan) going in their individual capacities, as neutral observers.
There are complex issues here, arising from the delicacy of the relationship between the CPGB and the movement in Ireland. The CPGB would undoubtedly have wanted discreetly to catalyse the process of formation of an all-Ireland 'official' Marxist party as part of the 'international movement'. Greaves with his Connolly Association and Irish Democrat roles would have wanted to maximise support for Civil Rights in the North from the organised labour movement. The CPNI - IWP joint meeting could perhaps be helpful in this context. This was of course a distinct process from the present writer's aspiration to develop the republican movement into an all-Ireland democratic Marxist party having broad-based support from 'workers, working management, working owner-managers and self-employed'.
The SF CS minutes for its first year or more are missing. Maybe they did not get around to keeping them, seeing the CS as a routine administrative operation. The next Ard Comhairle meeting took place on 18/05/68 No replies from Cumainn had been received regarding the 'definition of socialism' paper.
I have on record from about this time a file of letters from Anthony Coughlan, with one of which was included a copy of a letter he had sent to May Bean Mhic Giolla in which he had suggested a definition of socialism, in terms of social ownership of the means of production and distribution by the central state, local government, regional organisations or co-operatives. He distinguished it from communism by the latter implying State support for an atheistic philosophy. The letters to me outline the principles governing a revolutionary movement such as to enable it to survive exposure to parliament, and suggested that he considered that the republican movement was not yet in fact ripe to be able to take this step, and that I should not be trying to rush the process. The key issue was the quality of the candidates, and the nature of their relationship with the organised political decision process.
I was of course aware of these arguments and had been propagating them internally through the educational conferences. In retrospect however I think he was perhaps right to warn me that the process would be slower to ripen than I was at the time expecting.
The question arose of finding a means for ensuring the legal existence of the Republican Clubs in NI, with SF banned, such as to enable them to participate in the Ard Fheis as affiliated Cumainn. I undertook to draft a Constitution which would serve this purpose.
It was reported that sales of the United Irishman were on the increase. This was a consequence of secret meeting of 'army' unit OCs, which had taken place earlier in a 'safe house' north of Nenagh, at which this task was accepted as part of the Army politicisation process. Increasingly it was the accepted duty of Army people to give priority to activating SF Cumainn, and making things happen at the political level. There were however those who accepted this role grudgingly, or simply withdrew, to come out of the woodwork later when the Provisionals emerged.
I was present at this meeting, which took place under conditions of the usual 'military' discomfort, people sleeping on the floor and suchlike macho cultural procedures. There was however no evidence of any actual military plan in the background; this aspect at this time was confined to the thinking of Mac Stiofain, who I don't think was present on this occasion. Mick Ryan has filled in that this meeting was in Andy McDonnell's house near Pallas; he agrees it was a turning point, being a recognition of the key role of the UI as an organiser and purveyor of political ideas, on the Leninist principle. He expanded on this in his 1998 published memoir.
Then on June 9 1968 CDG gave an account of the Connolly commemoration meeting in Dublin, which took place in Moran's Hotel. It was due to start at 10.45 a.m. and to CDG's surprise the meeting was already crammed; 150 people at least. He noted some names: '...Peter O'Connor (from Waterford, another ex International Brigade man), Maire Comerford, RHJ ie the present writer, AC, Mrs Tom Johnson who is 93, Ina Connolly, Desmond Brannigan, Donal Nevin, Barry Desmond, Seamus Costello, C(athal G(oulding), Seamus O'Toole, Vincent MacDowell, John Swift, Micheal O'Riordan, Sean Nolan, P(acky) E(arly), indeed the whole of the progressive movement of Dublin... Carmody took the chair - needless to say the IWP were cock-a-hoop. And they were well received what was more..'.
This was indeed one of the high points of the left-republican convergence. In the aftermath he had a meal with Maire Comerford, Sheila Humphries and Aileen McGrane. He clearly preferred the company of the old-timers who were his historical sources. Later he ended up in Belgrave Road; Cathal's place was still in a mess after his move in, and the group ended up in no 22, the present writer's (then) place. There is a record of an encounter between CDG, CMacL, AC and the present writer, at which the membership status of people in the republican movement and the Irish Workers' Party was discussed. The question of the secretaryship of the Wolfe Tone Society came up; it seems I declared myself to be going for it, on the understanding that the republican education programme would be otherwise taken care of (perhaps with the WTS contributing to aspects. CDG however recorded, quite mistakenly, that I had asserted that AC was in the same position as myself as regards membership of the republican movement. The ensuing conversation, as recorded by CDG, indicates that he quite wrongly regarded both AC and myself as both being also actual members of the IWP, and this therefore suggested that we both had dual memberships.) He went on: '...we would get the republicans into a mess and then we'd get the blame..'.
Cathal was an active IWP member at the time, and was happily able to combine this with the Chair of the Wolfe Tone Society. AC however was never a member of the IWL or its successor the IWP, though he would have called himself a sympathiser, nor was he ever a member of the republican movement. I had ceased to be a member of the IWL/IWP since at the latest June 1964; more likely I had simply not re-registered on return from Britain in 1963, though I had remained on good terms with them. Both AC and I had been acting on our own initiatives, in our disparate ways of attempting to influence the republican movement in the direction of democratic politics, myself as a member, AC from outside, though informal contacts with myself, Cathal Goulding and others.
Greaves went on: '...Cathal, who is Chairman of the Society, heard of impending changes on his committee for the first time... (and then, to the present writer) your main defect is over-rapid passage from thought to action... Don't do it again. Don't take anybody else..'.
It is evident from the above that CDG was under the impression that I had been actively trying to recruit AC. I had not.
Later on June 10 1968 CDG met with Sean (New Books) Nolan, told him about RJ and AC, and SN was as angry as he was: '..it's like having the IRB over again..'. I was said to have '..no more understanding of Marxism than a cat...'. He then went back to Liverpool.
CDG had not grasped the extent to which the IWP vision and mode of operation, rooted as it was in the by then totally corrupted and Moscow-dominated 'international movement', was a political cul-de-sac in the Irish context. They were like a religious cult, with Moscow instead of Rome. AC and I had, in our separate ways, understood this, and envisioned a much broader-based movement, with civil rights in the North the primary focus in AC's case, while in my case I tried to develop the Marxist core-idea of getting democratic control over the capital re-investment process. In my 'feline Marxism' I had the vision of building a national unity movement around the combined interests of working people, including small business and self-employed in the definition. The idea of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in the Irish context was a non-starter, whatever dubious value it may have had in more industrialised countries, and that indeed also was open to question. The ultra-left of course regarded this as heresy, and openly attacked us, as indeed they did with CDG when he tried to promote the Connolly Association as a broad-based national movement. AC and I were trying to do in Ireland something somewhat similar to what CDG was trying to do in Britain. I don't think he ever understood this.
In June 1968 the Coiste Seasta started keeping proper minutes. The first minutes available are for 13/06/68. The Connolly Youth requested a representative to attend their annual convention. There was a call for protests relating to the contents of the proposed Criminal Justice Bill, which had been drafted in response to the situations created in the 'Housing Action' campaign, dealing with squatting etc.
CS 01/07/68: TMacG CG SG MdeB RJ were present; the political transformation is moving things in the direction of the CS basically being CG's 'HQ Staff', with the latter ceasing to meet as such. There were contacts with Melbourne and the Scottish Nationalists. Industrial issues existed at the de Beer diamond factory at Ennis, and with the proposed closure of the Potez aircraft factory. TMacG agreed to take RJ's draft Republican Club Constitution and filter it for issues that needed to be addressed via Ard Fheis resolutions. The Ard Fheis was fixed for November 31/Dec1.
Greaves on July 6 in his Diary referred to a conversation with Micheal O'Riordan (MO'R) regarding my alleged attempt to 'induct' Tony Coughlan (AC) into the 'republican outfit'. I was guilty of '..failure to appreciate the role of the working class..' and of preferring the 'respectability' of the republican movement to the 'disreputability' of the communist element. Later in the day CDG recorded an encounter with me, in which I told him that AC had decided not to follow me after all; I went on unrepentantly however that I had 'never been integrated with the IWP'. He went on to note, of the present writer, that '..he draws our Marxist ideas without acknowledgement, and retails them to the republicans opportunistically tailored to suit their prejudices..'. In this context I can 'become the fountain-head... like Bulmer Hobson must have been like 50 years ago.. individualist... political impresario... we parted without a vestige of agreement..'.
CDG then went out to AC's place. Anthony Coughlan '..understood that (CDG) had expressed concern at his proposal to take up the same position as RHJ. But he had seen the republican constitution and did not agree with it. So he was not joining them. I don't know who told him I had tackled Roy. I did note however a few of those confused American New Left magazines about the place, and was relieved that he was so far so good. He claimed that his appearance on Sinn Fein platforms was in his capacity as secretary of the Wolfe Tone Society..'.
Thus we see that Anthony Coughlan rejected the constitution and did not join. I was prepared to accept the constitution, warts and all, on the assurance of the leadership that they wished to change it, and needed help in doing so. With hindsight, I am inclined to be unrepentant, and to come down on the side of the philosophy of broad-based Marx-inspired political entrepreneurship.
CDG went back to Liverpool on July 12, and on July 13 1968 he recorded an encounter with Tom Redmond, who at the time was close to Brian Farrington. TR was telling CDG about Fanon, whose book Les Damnés de la Terre Constance Farrington, Brian's ex-wife, had translated: '..and this is where RHJ got his nonsense from... BF is RHJ's closest friend..'. He totally over-estimated the Fanon influence, which was negligible, apart from the one mention of Fanon's name in the 1964 United Irishman article on 'economic resistance'
CS 08/07/68 TMacG reported on the Scottish Nationalists' Convention. Copies of the Republican Clubs constitution were to be printed and distributed in the North.
CS 15/07/68 It was noted that the status of the Republican Clubs Constitution was that it was a facade for public consumption in the North, given the legal situation there; the real Constitution was that of Sinn Fein. A meeting was to be called of all SF Councillors to prepare resolutions for the General Council of County Councils (GCCC).
The Ard Comhairle meeting on 20/07/68 decided to go for Liberty Hall for the Ard Fheis; Sean O Cionnaith was to be Organiser for Connaught. There was Support for Austin Currie and civil disobedience in the North. There was a report of an Educational Conference held in June. There was concern about local councillors; it was agreed to write to local Cumainn urging that they write to TDs about local issues. The question of how to commemorate the First Dail (1919-1969) was referred to the CS.
CS 29/07/68 Progress on the PR referendum was reported; also on the campaign on the Potez closure. SG reported on a Belfast meeting at which it was stated that Betty Sinclair had disagreed with 'holding it under NICRA'.
I suspect this was a reflection of a situation where Garland had planned to meet with BS as a contact between the Republican Movement and the Communist Party, but somehow the wires had got crossed, and it had ended up as an NICRA event. Such contacts were going on fairly regularly, with a view to trying to ensure that the NICRA was kept 'cross-community', in the sense of having a Protestant trade-unionist component. This was regarded as important, the CP being seen as a useful window into Protestant radical activism.
A committee for the 1919 First Dail commemoration was set up; this included Greta Ryan (Mick Ryan's sister, now Ni Murchu) and Eamonn Mac Thomáis; it also brought in Cathal Mac Liam, who by then was Chairman of the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society, and Seamus Mac Riocaird. The latter was a 30s stalwart, who had become politicised post-Curragh via the co-operative movement; he ran the Howth Fishermens's Co-op, and had been an active supporter of attempts to develop a new wave of co-operative organisation in the West, as part of the process of development of the social concerns of the Movement.
CS 12/08/68 The PR campaign was in progress; there was mention of PR Society literature via May Hayes, who was their contact in Dublin. May Hayes had been a Connolly Association stalwart in London; she had retired on pension to live in Dublin (She had been secretary to Captain Harrison, who had been secretary to Parnell, a sort of apostolic succession on the constitutional side.) She was however not active and proved elusive.
The Mid-1968 WTS ProgrammeI wrote to Anthony Coughlan on 24/07/68, referring to a WTS meeting the previous day which Tony as Secretary had been unable to attend; it conveyed from the meeting a vote of sympathy on the death of his father. I went on in the letter to fill him in on what had happened; we went on with the meeting because Maire Comerford had plans well advanced for her 'Aeriocht' and needed support (this was an open-air political-cultural event, in a mode pioneered earlier by Constance Markiewicz, which Maire was resurrecting).
I mentioned also in the letter about our move to collect signatures of notables for publication, in support of a campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill, then a Civil Rights issue in the Republic. I later sent out a circular convening a WTS meeting for August 13; this is annotated from the meeting itself, of which however I do not have minutes. It was proposed to re-examine the 'specialist group structure' of the Society with a view to reconstructing it.
The circular outlined an approach to specialist group project procedure: define the scope, allocate research to people, draw together the results and draft a paper, discuss this before the Society as a whole, revise the draft in the light of feedback, publish the revised draft, in Tuairisc or elsewhere, in preliminary mode, publish finally in referencable print, and then implement to the extent of getting it adopted as policy by a national organisation. '..This represented a steady systematic development of theory into practice, involving ever widening circles of people..'.
The circular then went on to list some current issues lending themselves to the above 'project group' approach:
A: To develop the Criminal Justice Bill critique into an effective Civil Rights organisation;
Of the above aspirations: A became the Citizens for Civil Liberties, later the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL); B contributed via press-controversy to the emergent 3rd-level politics of the 1970s, C later generated the 'Association for Democracy in Education' which campaigned, unsuccessfully, for comprehensive schools to be under the VECs rather than under the religious denominations, D was stillborn, E generated some poetry readings between Ireland, Wales and Scotland which have persisted, being eventually taken over (I think) by Comhdhail Naisiunta na Gaeilge, F laid the basis for the Divorce Action Group, G was stillborn, and H helped to produce Maire Comerford's book on the First Dail.
This broad-based approach remained the present writer's aspiration for the development of a theoretical basis for a projected democratic movement for national unity, some time in the future, and I was pushing it on the eve of the Coalisland-Dungannon march, which attacked the Achilles heel of Unionism, and triggered the subsequent rapid and increasingly chaotic developments. There was thus a clear mismatch between the present writer's strategic vision of a broad-based radical democratic movement capable of picking up some Protestant political support in the North, and the Greaves-Coughlan tactic of going for the Unionist underbelly via the Civil Rights demands. It is quite clear from the above that I had not put these together. We were not acting in concert. The consequence was that when the NICRA demands began to be realised, and the situation opened up politically in the North, there was not in existence enough of a broad-based non-violent democratic movement, with an all-Ireland structure, to take advantage of it. Fianna Fail irredentism took over, with a strong Catholic-nationalist flavour, and the basis for the armed B-Special pogroms of August 1969, and the subsequent emergence of the Provisionals, was laid.
Filed with my 1968 WTS material is the last 4 pages of a 5-page letter, probably from Tom O'Connor of Coalisland, a leading member of the Dungannon Republican Club. In it he outlined the view from below of the various organisation in Dungannon concerned with the housing issue: the Homeless Citizens League, the Campaign for Social Justice and the Dungannon Housing Association. This was in the lead-up to the famous incident where a Council house was allocated to a single Protestant woman, while families were in the queue, triggering the Coalisland to Dungannon march led by the NICRA. This letter supports our contention that the Clubs were active in the grassroots, and were in a position to give local support to the march, ensuring it went off peacefully.
I feel I should intersperse here a recollection, as I was there, and so was Anthony Coughlan. The latter, working via the Wolfe Tone Society, was much more actively committed than I was to the specific NI Civil Rights situation. He had produced a written statement for the occasion, and I remember someone trying to get it 'read off the platform', or into a situation where it could be read, if there were to be a meeting, with a platform, and words said. The approach was via Fred Heatley, who was an NICRA activist, and a member of the Belfast Wolfe Tone Society. Fred objected strongly, as it had not been discussed in advance. He later claimed, and to the best of my recollection published, that the paper was a 'statement from the Army Council', and that he was right to block it for this reason. I feel I need to go further into this episode.
The paper was Coughlan's own, and he intended it as a genuine attempt to capture the sense of the occasion. It has turned up in my own papers, and I am certain that Fred Heatley was mistaken in his attribution. The Army Council at this time was politicising as hard as it could, and would have had no interest in issuing public statements in such an environment, realising full well their potential for damage.
The copy I have is not fit to scan, but I summarise it here. It is entitled 'Declaration.... Dungannon August 24 1968', and begins: 'To our fellow-countrymen, to the people of Britain and to all democrats and democratic governments everywhere..' continuing with a lengthy introduction listing the grievances, which concludes with reference to Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act under which Westminster has the right to legislate to give equal civil rights in Northern Ireland as in the United Kingdom. It then goes on to list the items which should be in a Bill of Rights, including the lifting of the ban on the Republican Clubs and the repeal of the Special Powers. It calls on the Parliament in Westminster to act, and on that in Dublin to press the former to act, and to raise the matter at the UN. It is an exemplary document as regards content, though unimpressive in presentation, being duplicated in rather small typescript on two sides of a foolscap sheet, so many copies must have been produced and some distributed. It was however not read off the platform, at the meeting which took place at the road-block near the hospital, which was addressed by Betty Sinclair on behalf of the NICRA.
The foregoing shows how the leadership of the NICRA, and those actively promoting the process and supporting the demonstration, were relatively unorganised and unprepared, because if this document had gone through the appropriate channels, it undoubtedly would have been adopted by the demonstration with acclamation. It is one of history's 'near misses'.
CS 19/08/68 The PR campaign is developing, without May Hayes. The Dublin Comhairle Ceanntair was seeking to build support via the Dublin Trades Council. There were moves to try to co-ordinate the Republican Clubs in the North; a meeting was arranged for Derry on Sept 14, followed by an all-NI meeting, to be held in Monaghan (due to difficulty in getting a place in the North). CG was to contact Anthony Coughlan.
Note that there is a continuing clear acceptance of AC as a source of advice to the Northern Republicans about how they should relate to the developing Civil Rights campaign. There was an acceptance of him as being 'part of the movement' via the Wolfe Tone Society, with Cathal Goulding, Malachi McGurran and Liam McMillan as the personal links.
Regarding 1919 it was noted that Maire Comerford was writing a history.
There was some contact with the Basques.
CS 26/08/68 No action on the Basques, due to splits. The PR referendum question continued. There was a report on the NICRA Dungannon meeting. This had ended with the march being blocked, where the Coalisland road came in, near the hospital; they had a token sit-down; there was some speechifying; it all ended peacefully.
In the Greaves Diaries the Czechoslovak situation then became acute on August 21 when the USSR invaded; Des Logan phoned CDG early to get a reaction. Pat Devine submitted his Irish Democrat copy, in support of the Russians. CDG had to edit it down. Questions came in; what did the CA think? CDG took the line, we don't know, we have not yet discussed it. Des Logan was indignant, '..this will split the Party..'.
In the August 29 entry we have an account of the CPGB meeting at which the Czechoslovak crisis is discussed. It is beyond our scope to analyse this. It seems he prefers the Irish to the narrow parochialism of the English. He remarked that apart from Des Logan all the Irish tend to be pro-Russian. The overall impression is that CDG took up a position of defence of Soviet intervention.
Then on September 5 1968 in London it seems I phoned and then looked in. While I was there MO'R phoned, congratulating CDG on his stand on the issue; there had however been complications in Dublin, and a statement critical of Russia had gone out, despite MO'R, who now wants to get CDG to '..knock sense into people's heads..'.
A leading group of IWP activists, including George Jeffares, Sam Nolan, Joe Deasy, Paddy Carmody and a few others, later broke with the IWP on the Czechoslovak issue, mostly ending up in the Labour Party. The attention of the IWP leadership was concentrated on this issue for many months, extending to years, while the Northern situation developed its positive potential. My evaluation of their minimal utility in the developing Irish situation, as outlined above, was on the whole confirmed.
In the same entry CDG went on to record a long conversation with the present writer, whom he regarded as being '..largely at sea... wondering if he had been wasting his time with SF... he had opposed the burning of the ship at Galway... he was not.. persuaded that the Russians might have a case in Czechoslovakia.. AC had drawn the conclusion that the Russians must be mad... Cathal thought that they could do no wrong... others filled into other parts of the spectrum...'. Joe Deighan turned up, he also was seen as '..very confused..'. Returning to the Irish situation, when I claimed not to be a physical force man, his response was, 'then why masquerade?' He went on: '...he told me the republican clubs were about to launch a grand civil disobedience campaign in the North. Now that in itself would not worry one. But I asked him if they had consulted the Trade Unions or the Labour Movement. Of course they had not. So they learn nothing and forget nothing, and are liable to go off on any tangent..'.
SF CS 09/09/68: No word from the 1919 committee; PR campaign still going on; the projected meeting on Sept 15 was taking shape (Maghera, not Monaghan); 80 delegates were expected; TMacG, CG, TM and Anthony Coughlan were to go. This was for the purpose of ensuring that the Clubs understood their role in relation to the broad-based NICRA movement, and the need to keep to restricted CR objectives (no nationalist sloganising or flag-waving etc)
There is an entry on September 11 which fills in some detail on the IWP meeting which decided about Czechoslovakia, O'Riordan being voted down 18 to 13, Nolan being away. There was also a second-hand description of the present writer's behaviour on the day of the invasion, indicating the extent of my upset.
SF AC 21/09/68: Attention was on the Criminal Justice Bill, and on the 1919 project, for which the Mansion House had been booked for June 21 1969. It was agreed to hand it over to the National Commemoration Committee (the ad-hoc committee referenced earlier having apparently not delivered).
Cathal Goulding laid down an ordinance to the effect that Cumann na mBan was no longer part of the Movement. This had resulted from the development of feminist equality all round, and a sense that there was no need for a special group reflecting traditional female roles. The shell of the organisation at the time was occupied by a traditional apolitical group, regarded by CG as a source of right-wing intrigue.
MR adds some background to this. He had been chief marshal at Bodenstown. The CP had been there, and had wanted to carry a banner. This was a political decision, and MR referred it to CG, who was indecisive and referred it back to MR, who said OK carry it, whereupon Cumann na mBan refused to march.
CG then went on to give an account of the Maghera meeting. The activists had objected to the failure at Dungannon to break the police barrier; military-type thinking was still the norm. It was agreed that the Republican Club representatives on the NICRA Committee should put their views, but then accept and implement majority decision. A Regional Council was set up, chaired by Malachi McGurran.
CS 30/09/68 PR campaign: Irish Congress of Trade Unions had produced a leaflet; this was to be distributed by the Cumainn. Attempts by the Pearse Cumann in Rathmines to contact local Fianna Fail, with a view to public debate, had been blocked by FF HQ. External Cumann contacts in this context were to be encouraged. There was a call be Seamus O Brogain the Cumann secretary for a more comprehensive registration, so as to identify hidden talents.
He went on: '...I was at Cathal's and AC and O'Toole came in. Then RHJ came in looking very jaded. I gave him a further talking-to - but he is entrapped in a web of his own weaving. At midday I had seen O'Riordan who told me he had trouble with Nolan over Czechoslovakia. This was indirectly confessed when Nolan came in. Smilingly he said "I hope you're not here to make trouble." I said I doubted if I could add much to what was here already.
The disastrous nature of the USSR's action was indeed showing up across the board. What chance was there of getting any sensible approach to developing a broad-based politicised left-republican convergence in this situation? At least the republicans were not allowing themselves to be diverted by it, but the Left, such as it was, was effectively neutered.
The next day October 10 CDG went to Belfast, failed to find Betty Sinclair, and went on to Derry, where he met with Ivan Cooper, picking up the impression that they were all under the influence of McCann and the Trotskyite element, though Cooper told him of the new committee from which McCann had walked out. He had no contact addresses in Derry and was depending on contacts made via the Derry Journal.
He returned to Dublin, and stayed until October 14, when he returned to London.
On the Civil Rights question: it was noted that there was a new group in Derry.... There had been a march in Dublin on the British Embassy and it was agreed that this had been a mistake. It was agreed to write to the 'other branch' to ask for an explanation, to see what thinking had motivated the idea. Yet CG was on record as having been at this meeting. Why did he not explain there and then? It was felt that the Wolfe Tone Society should be in a position to initiate the setting up of some sort of Civil Rights group relevant to the situation in the 26 Counties, which included the Criminal Justice Bill issue. It was agreed to combine meetings of Regional Executives with educational conferences on the same weekend.
A proposal had arisen, initiated by Heatley, to the effect that those who had participated in the 'illegal march' at Derry should sign a paper saying they had done so. Betty agreed initially to this at the meeting, then went home and had second thoughts, conveying these to McAnerny the secretary, who also began to have doubts. Together they went to a third, who felt the same. Heatley was indignant. Some compromise formula was agreed.
Betty, whose heart was in the right place, was thus being left out on a limb by her Party. Her wavering on the signing issue must have been influenced by her relative exposure. The inability of the most advanced sections of the Northern Labour Movement to take up the issues, in the manner that CDG had hoped, must have been increasingly obvious.
SF AC 26/10/68: Despite the decision of the previous CS, this was concerned mainly with consideration of the draft constitution which was to come before the coming Ard Fheis. It paid no attention to the opening up of the NI situation arising from the Derry Civil Rights events. Various amendments to the draft were considered, the key one being to make participation in Assemblies (ie Stormont or the Dail) an AC decision on tactical grounds, rather than a 'principle' enshrined in the constitution.
Representatives of the Connolly Youth, the Workers Party and Connradh na Gaeilge were to be invited to the AF.
I had been in Princeton at an AGIFORS meeting when the Derry events took place. I remember seeing the Derry events on TV in the US. The result was that I was not in on the 21/10/68 meeting. I get the impression from the record that the SF leadership was too obsessed with its internal reconstruction problem to appreciate the full significance of the developing Northern situation. I was at the 26/10/68 meeting, and had to go along with its priorities, as I had been in on the drafting process of the constitution.
SF CS 28/10/68: This was an extended meeting at which CG's regional organisers reported; it was part of the process of CG's 'HQ Staff' being subsumed into the political shell of the reforming Sinn Fein. The core-CS group was all there and consisted of Tomás MacGiolla, RJ, Tom Mitchell, Sean Garland, Sean O Bradaigh, Wally Lynch and Mairin de Burca. Mick Ryan, Bartley Madden and Malachi McGurran were brought in in their capacities as regional organisers for Leinster, Munster and NI (nominally 'Ulster' but NI de facto) respectively.
MR retrospectively regards choice of Bartley Madden for Munster as having been a disaster; he was quite unsuitable for the job, leaving Munster full of Provisional raw material, through lack of political impact.
MMcG's report is recorded in most detail: a regional executive to be held in Maghera; TM or WL to attend. There were 5 clubs in Belfast, 6 in Armagh, 5 in Tyrone, 7 in Derry. The next NICRA march was fixed for November 16 in Armagh.
The need was noted for the Fianna to meet with the CS. There was Housing Action work in Dun Laoire.
MR suggests currently Martin Shannon and Liam McNulty as Fianna contacts. However I don't feel up to following these contact in the current context; perhaps I will later, for infill. RJ March 2002.
CS 04/11/68 TMacG CG WL TR SG RJ SO'B TM MdeB... There had been no contact with the Fianna; the latter had not been involved in the politicising process. TMacG and WL reported on the Maghera meeting; all areas had been represented; they wanted to push for a CR march in Derry on November 16 and Armagh November 23 or 30. There were 22 clubs and 4 regional executives. An educational conference was planned for Armagh on December 1. The commemoration at Edentubber on November 10 was to be used as a means of handing over Ard Fheis papers.
This sort of arrangement was still considered necessary, given the illegality of SF in NI; Edentubber was considered a convenient near-border location to which people came annually to commemorate a 50s tragedy. There is however an implied contradiction here. People attending an event linked to 50s militarism would tend not to be in tune with 60s politicisation.
There was a court-case involving one McEldowney in the North; this was innovative in that the movement up to now had not defended itself in court, refusing to recognise its legality. They decided to ask Geoffrey Byng QC to defend; this was a significant nod in the direction of linking with the Left in Britain, and cultivating pro-Irish elements with it. Byng had written extensively on Ireland, Partition and the Special Powers.
It was agreed that MMcG would instruct the Clubs not to support in NICRA any move to dislodge Betty Sinclair from the chair. The link with the Belfast Trades Council, and Protestant radical activism, as expressed via the CP, was to be maintained. The NICRA must not be allowed to become simply a protest organisation of the Catholic ghettos.
MR commented retrospectively to the effect that McGurran felt that the movement went too far into embedding itself in the NICRA and lost its own political identity. My own impression is that from here onwards the IWP and the CPNI, and the 'international movement' generally, were in effect so shattered and divided by the events in Czechoslovakia that they increasingly became irrelevant in the developing Irish situation. Their original relevance was as a window into the thinking of the Belfast Protestant working-class; this window became closed off in proportion as the NICRA was forced into the Catholic ghettos.
I recollect this episode. I was indeed uneasy about the way the republican movement was going, and had made an informal approach to O'Riordan to seek his views. But no way could I at that stage have re-joined his party. I felt that the politicisation process among the republicans had been started, had momentum, and needed to be completed as far as possible. I had no inkling of the impending Provisional threat. Mac Stiofain was playing his cards close. Although critical of Greaves, especially his hard-line Czech attitude, in line with that of O'Riordan, I felt I needed to keep up the contact. There were signs of internal reform within the 'international movement'; I had not totally written it off. Maybe if the politicised left-republican project succeeded, there would be a place for it in a reconstructed international movement, without the heavy centralist hand of Moscow, then dominated by the so-called 'Brezhnev doctrine' which justified intervention.
We may have on December 10 in the Greaves Diaries the beginnings of doubts about the integrity of the USSR-dominated 'international movement'; he recorded a conversation in CPGB circles about a 'spontaneous' meeting in Moscow in support of some proposal, with the result appearing in print within a few hours: obviously a 'put-up job'. He went on to note the opinion of a Hungarian, to the effect that differences between 'socialist' countries arose from competition for the West German market. The Czechs with their reforms would have been well positioned to improve their market share. CDG concludes '..I did not feel that this was an adequate explanation for the gigantic sledgehammer taken to this nut..'.
In Dublin on December 13 1968 CDG recorded seeing Sean Nolan and lunching with AC, without comment. The next day he showed up at the IWP Christmas bazaar, where he discussed the Czech situation with Carmody: '..there is nothing for us in an anti-Soviet campaign..'. Carmody agreed. CDG also encountered the remains of the IWL group who had been so destructive of the CA a decade previously. Carmody wanted to talk with them, expressing sympathy with Pat O'Neill who had been 'crucified' while in the Electrical Trades Union. CDG: '..the "crucifixion" consisted of touring England in a motor-car posting bogus election papers for Haxell. It would be impossible to have the slightest sympathy for anybody involved in that discreditable operation..'.
The evidence of the deep-rooted corruption of the USSR-dominated 'international movement', extending right down to the membership and practice of its component member-parties, as observed at first hand by CDG, was visibly accumulating. Thus Carmody was prepared to defend O'Neill even in 1968.
There is an interesting record of a meeting on December 16: '..some kind of Wolfe Tone Society caucus.. which had not been properly convened... this was the plot, revealed by O Loingsigh after complaints that the IRA took every major policy decision themselves without consulting the Wolfe Tone. Mac Eoin added that he did not think anything of Sinn Fein either. The decision in question related to Mid-Ulster..'. It emerges that Mitchell resigning to take his seat, and Conor Cruise O'Brien, are considered as options preferable to Austin Currie. CDG disapproved of both.
In the end we were usurped by Bernadette Devlin, who fuelled the anarchist fringe. The incubus was of course abstentionism. We were still stuck with this, though we were working on it via the 'Garland Commission'. The frustration was palpable.
Notes and References1. One fruit of the above ambiguity is the way the IRA is mentioned by Robert W White in his biography of Ruairi O Bradaigh (Indiana 2006); on p138 it is suggested that the IRA participated in the NICRA march from Coalisland to Dungannon on August 24 1968 on foot of having got the OK of the Army Council in Dublin. But they had already been involved in the development of the Republican Clubs and the attempt to organise openly a Convention, attended by leading NCCL people. So they would have been participating in NICRA events as open members of Republican Clubs, seeking legitimacy under reforms of the Special Powers. Ruairi O Bradaigh at this time would have out of touch with SF and WTS thinking, while retaining links with Mac Stiofain, who was organising in the North on his own perceived agenda. IRA units in the North, while attempting a political transformation into Republican Clubs, would have been getting conflicting signals (note added 10 April 2007).
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