Independent Media Centre Ireland

Were 'Anti-Fascists' Right To Vandalise The Sean Russell Statue?

category dublin | history and heritage | feature author Sunday January 16, 2005 21:34author by Pádraig Ó Ruaircauthor email flannbui at yahoo dot com

A brief analysis of Irish Republicans and their alleged collaboration with Nazi Germany.

"I am not a Nazi. I am not even pro-German. I am an Irishman fighting for the independence of Ireland" - Sean Russell whose memorial statue in Fairview Park was recently beheaded by an unknown and previously unheard of group of 'anti-fascists'.

Earlier this month a group of (supposed - Ed) anti-fascists beheaded a statue of the republican leader Sean Russell because of his connections with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Russell's request for German aid to help the I.R.A has long been controversial but the historical facts, and the extent of Russell's alleged collaboration with the Nazis often escapes the sternest critics of wartime republicans. This article hopes to examine the extent of Sean Russell and Frank Ryan's involvement with Nazi Germany and asks "Was the destruction of the statue justified?" (The Original Indymedia article on this subject is here)

The idea that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" is as old as war itself. The United Irishmen and later the Fenians held that "England's difficulty was Ireland's opportunity" as the British military became increasingly involved in colonial wars and disputes. In the First World War Irish republicans sought German military aid. The small amount of aid rendered does not mean that the I.R.B. supported German imperialism or a German monarchy. Pearse stated at his courtsmartial "Germany is no more to me than England is. I asked and accepted German aid in the shape of arms and an expeditionary force, we neither asked for nor accepted German gold, nor had any traffic with Germany except what I state: My aim was to win Irish Freedom." It was in this tradition that republicans saw themselves acting, when they sought foreign military aid in later years.

In the 1920's the I.R.A. had very strong connections with the Soviet Union. Pa Murphy was granted an audience with Stalin where he requested finances and arms for the I.R.A. and members of the I.R.A. attended celebrations in Russia marking the tenth anniversary of the 1917 revolution. Few today would however claim the I.R.A was Stalinst or die-hard Communist in its ideology.

Prior to the outbreak of war in 1939 there had been no expressed sympathy for Nazism in the I.R.A's philosophy, nor had there been any delegations to, or alliances with, Nazi Germany. The opposite was the case as I.R.A men and ex-I.R.A members of the Republican Congress fought O'Duffy's blue shirted fascists on the Dublin streets. They also volunteered to fight against Franco's Fascist insurgency, its German NAZI and Italian fascist allies in the Spanish civil war. The only time the I.R.A turned to Nazi Germany for support was when it was at war with England. The thinking behind this move is outlined above. England's difficulty was the oppourtunity the I.R.A. needed to end Partition.

A number of ex-I.R.A men in the Republican congress including Peadar O Donnell and George Gillmore had spoken out against seeking German assistance, claiming that if the persecution of others was the price of exploiting Ireland's oppurtunity then Ireland's oppurtunity should not be taken. Sadly they were not listened to by republican traditionalists such as Russell.

Sean Russell the republican leader was a veteran of both the 1916 Rising and Black and Tan War. He had been in America in the late 1930's and escaped prosecution for unauthorised republican fundraising by skipping bail. He returned to Europe by working as a stoker on a ship. In April 1940 and he arrived in Genoa, Italy. He soon found his way into the custody of the Abwehr, probably on purpose. He was taken to Berlin and trained in explosives and sabotage while the Germans planned "Operation Dove" : Russell's return to Ireland and his launching of a new I.R.A. campaign to coincide with the Invasion of Britain. Russell was not involved in "Operation Green" (the Nazi plan to invade Ireland.)

Russell was a devout Catholic and a traditional physical force Republican, his ideology was minimal, and he regarded himself as a soldier not a politician.

While Russell was enlisting Nazi assistance in Germany he did not undergo a conversion to Nazism or any of its philosophies. During his stay in Germany he was close to the Austrian Catholic Lahousen whom he told:

"I am not a Nazi. I am not even Pro German. I am an Irishman fighting for the independence of Ireland. The British have been our Enemies for hundreds of years. They are the enemy of Germany today. If it suits Germany to give us help to achieve independence, I am willing to accept it, but no more, and there must be no strings attached." Irish Times Sunday 6th June 1958
It is clear from the above quote that Russell was not trying to establish a Nazi puppet state in Ireland. Russell set back for Ireland with Frank Ryan aboard a German U-boat in 1940 but died of a perforated ulcer on the way. The U- boat returned to Germany with Ryan aboard.

Frank Ryan was a republican and anti-fascist who had fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War. During the recent controversy around Sean Russell, Ryan has also been cited as a NAZI collaborator. Alot of unsubstantiated rubbish has been written about Ryan on the internet recently including claims that he was incharge of transporting Polish Jews to Auschwitz by rail. Such allegations are entirely fictional and are not accompanied by any historical proof. Ryan was captured by the Italian fascist "Black Arrows" tank unit during the Spanish Civil War, he was courtmartialled and sentenced to death. "Upon his return Ryan was placed on the road in view of the Prisoners and, with bayonet prods, ordered to give the fascist salute. He refused whereupon an officer lined up a firing squad in front of him. Still he refused. Ryan was placed in a truck and driven off." (Taken from _In Green and Red. The Lives of Frank Ryan_ by Adrian Hoar.) Ryan's continued refusal to give the salute while in captivity earned him repeated beatings and punishments. These are hardly the actions of a Nazi sympathiser.

Ryan was kept under sentence of death in a Spanish prison until released into German custody through the endeavours of Nazi diplomats. Ryan did not request such diplomacy on his behalf and was unaware of its existence. Ryan was brought to Germany but after two years of imprisonment his health was very poor. He was almost completely deaf and spent alot of his time in cafes so that people could warn him when the air raid sirens were sounded. He was to suffer from a stroke, pneumonia, blackouts and an apoplectic fit. The Nazis frequently asked Ryan his opinions on Irish Affairs North and south. Ryan was a supporter of De Valera's neutrality policy and counseled the Germans according to this. Ryan remained under suspicion and investigation from the Gestapo. Ryan kept his opinions about his Nazi saviours mostly to himself and declined the opportunity to broadcast German propoganda to Ireland by Radio. He once commented to Francis Stewart while in Germany "All this is not my work and I must not become too involved."

Ryan agreed with some reluctence to speak to Irish prisioners about forming an Irish Brigade amongst British Army P.O.W.s in Germany as Roger Casement had done in 1916. It was insisted that this would only fight for the Germans if the Irish Free State was invaded by the British and/or the American armies which was a real possibility. However after his initial contact with the prisioners Ryan refused to have anything further to do with the Idea. The extent of Ryan's actual participation in this venture is not certain. Red Cushing, an Irish P.O.W. who says he knew Ryan and who later wrote his experiences in a book _Soldier for Hire_ claims that in Lamsdorf P.O.W camp the Naz's used a speaker imitating Ryan to deliver a "ranting address in a brogue thick enough to plant potatoes in." Cushing later challenged the imposter. (Red Cushing - _Soldier for Hire_)

According to Francis Stewart (one of Ryan's companions in Germany) Ryan had a "hate" for the regime. "He detested the arrogance and contempt shown by officials towards foreigners and even toward their own people.... To survive however he had to hide his real attitute towards most officials. He did not like Veensenmayer but played along in the hope that some day he would return to Ireland." (Irish Times 11 april 1975) Ryan lived in relative comfort and claimed he got "everything I ask for - except a deportation Ticket." (In _Red and Green the lives of Frank Ryan_ by Adrain Hoar). At this stage ryan was refusing to do much more than advise the Germans on how best to maintain Irish neutrality. He died in a hospital in Loschwitz on June 10 1944. His friend Francis Stewart stated "Never to the day of his death abondoned his beliefs. He rejoyced at the Red Army victory At Stalingrad." (Irish Times 11 Aprill 1945)

I am not a racist or a neo-nazi sympathiser. I have campaigned for refugee and immigrant's rights, and for a No vote in the citizenship referendum. I am saddened that people will launch attacks on both Ryan and Russell without doing any research. It seems a tabloid approach toward republican history is taking place where by people can say anything to descredit republicans without proving it. I think Russell was wrong to seek German aid and was equally stupid in launching his bombing campaign in England in the 1930's. He was incredibly short sighted in sticking to the "Englands difficulty /..." philosophy because it meant he had to ally himself with imperialists and warmongers far worse than the British military. However Russell himself was not a Nazi. (Despite the fact that the racists on the stormfront website try to claim him as one. without any proof!) He was not trying to set up a Nazi state in Ireland and did not know about the holocaust. The world public only found out about it in 1945. Had he been less of a physical force man and more of a republican idealist Russell might not have associated himself with such racists, imperialists, warcriminals and mass murders.

Finally, I wonder how much research those who attacked the statue actually did on Russell and his Nazi connections? Did they pour over history books and documents to inform themselves of the fact? Or did they take the Irish Independent's word for it? Do they know Ghandhi was once described by the British as a Nazi sympathiser?

I can't help thinking the anti-fascists who attacked his statue were a lot like Russell himself. Their aims and ideology were noble, they were ignorant of the full facts, and their methods were questionable and shortsighted.

Is míse
Pádraig Ó Ruairc

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