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Short History of Sinn Fein
history and heritage |
Wednesday June 07, 2006 22:10 by B Ó Ruairc
sinn féin, sinn féin amháin
Who are Sinn Fein?
Why those you may be thinking of clearly aren't.
In 1902, Arthur Griffith, Editor of the United Irishman, presented to the third annual convention of Cumann na nGaedheal the most revolutionary political idea since the fall of Parnell; it was that the elected Irish Members of Parliament should refuse to sit in Westminster, demand reinstitution of the Irish Parliament of 1782, and pledge allegiance only to a king of Ireland, not to the King of England. While the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, had once considered such unilateral action, he had not forced the issue. Griffith provided a strategy of passive resistance by turning an assembly of Irish MPs into a de facto constitutional convention. Modeled on Frank Deak’s policy, which resulted in the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, Griffith serialized his abstentionist program in the United Irishman as the Resurrection of Hungary, and then published it as a pamphlet and distributed it widely in 1904. The direct result of this idea was the formation of Sinn Féin on 28th November 1905, as an abstentionist political party, with internal self-reliance as its principal plank, pledging never to recognize or use the services or forces of the enemy. The founders of Sinn Féin were Arthur Griffith, Seán T. O’Kelly, Bulmer Hobson, Countess Markiewicz and Seán Mac Diarmada. In addition to contesting a Parliamentary election in North Lietrim in 1908, Sinn Féin was also active locally, electing a number of men to county councils and other local bodies.
Historian, lecturer, Conradh na Gaeilge president and Radio Free Éireann (public service broadcasting, 99.5 FM in New York) commentator Nollaig Ó Gadhra points out that the big change in Sinn Féin came in the Árd Fheis of 1917, when the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) under the guidance of Michael Collins and the Irish Volunteers under Cathal Brugha, caused Sinn Féin to change its policy from monarchist to republican abstention. After the Rising, Sinn Féin adopted an election manifesto for all elections, insisting upon the Irish Republic Proclaimed on Easter Monday, 1916. Éamonn deValera, campaigning in an Irish Volunteer uniform, was elected for East Clare in June 1917. At the Árd Fheis of Sinn Féin in October 1917, Arthur Griffith graciously stepped down from President to Vice President of Sinn Féin, to allow the election of deValera, who, after the death on hunger strike of Thomas Ashe, was the senior surviving Commandant from 1916.
This was the Sinn Féin which contested the general election of 14 December 1918, promising to NOT represent their constituents or their country in the mighty Westminster Parliament in London, but rather to set up, without foreign let or hindrance, a Republican assembly which would form an Irish government for Ireland. Sinn Féin won over 79% of the popular vote in all Ireland, and 73 of 105 seats, in what can only be described as a plebiscite for independence. The delegates who assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin formed the First Dáil Éireann and issued the Irish Declaration of Independence on 21 January 1919 (legally the equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress, promulgated on the 4th of July 1776). That Easter Monday, 1916 is regarded as the significant date is a consequence of the pre-existing Army Council of the Irish Republican Army – Óglaigh na hÉireann (the IRA) insisting upon the First Dáil Éireann recognizing the Irish Republic proclaimed in arms in 1916, as a condition for the IRA coming under the authority of the government formed by the First Dáil Éireann. [See also Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic (New York, 1965).]
The democratic voice of the Irish people had spoken (vox populi, vox Dei), and their elected representatives sought the recognition of their national self-determination as promised by American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, on which basis the Armistice ending the Great War on 11 November 1918, had been accepted by the Central Powers. Ireland was denied recognition and a seat at the Versailles peace conference. The ensuing conflict between the forces of the Imperial Government in London and the Irish Republic has become known to history as the “Black and Tan War” (1919-1921). But, the military lessons of Dublin 1916 having been studied in the internment camp of Frongoch, the forces of the Irish Republic waged an asymmetrical conflict against the alien forces of occupation. Modern guerilla warfare entered on to the twentieth century. England, though still in control of many strong points, could no longer coerce Ireland into remaining peacefully within her empire. A Second (Republican) Dáil Éireann came together in August 1921 (124 Sinn Féin and 4 Unionist members). Nollaig Ó Gadhra, in Civil War in Connacht (Cork & Dublin: Mercier Press, 1999), points out that the Sinn Féin delegates regarded their mandate to be as Teachta Dála Éireann (TDÉ), that is, deputies to the assembly of all Ireland (not just 26 counties, as presumed by the British Government of Ireland Act, 23 December 1920 – for which no Irishman voted). There was a truce, and a delegation sent to negotiate a peace was sent to London. This delegation, under the threat of “immediate and terrible war,” and without referring the text to the government of the Irish Republic in Dublin, signed Articles of Agreement [The Treaty] on 6 December 1921. The “Treaty” was accepted by a vote of 64 to 57 on 7 January 1922 (Brian O’Higgins, in more than one issue of the Wolfe Tone Annual, pointed out that only three of the TDs accepted it on its merits, the remainder who voted for it said it would be a “steppingstone to the Republic” – all of the women TDs voted against the Treaty). The issue was to be referred to the people in a general election on 16 June 1922, by a “Pact” between Éamonn deValera and Michael Collins (negotiated by Harry Boland) there was to be a coalition “Panel” government of pro- and anti-Treaty members, whichever faction dominated. The Republican Second Dáil was to reassemble on 30 June 1922, under its Ceann Comhairle, who would then summon the new Third Dáil. Brian O’Higgins points out that, on 28 June, at the instigation of Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, the Provisional Government of the Free State attacked the Republican (Army) Executive in the Four Courts, thus seizing power through a coup d’état, precipitating civil war. The Second Dáil Éireann never met to dissolve itself in 1922. The Republican political leader was deValera, President of Sinn Féin. After the deaths of Griffith and Collins, on 12 and 22 August 1922, the political leadership of the Free State fell to William Cosgrave, who, having abandoned the Republic, did not call his party Sinn Féin, but Cumann na nGaedheal (later Fine Gael).
When, in 1926, deValera, sensing the opportunity to wrest power from Cosgrave, wanted to be able to enter the 26-County Dáil of the Free State (the creation of the British government) should he gain a majority of TDs, he was forced to form Fianna Fáil, a new party, with a new name, for that purpose. In 1929, in Leinster House, deValera, stating that he was not saying the same thing as he had said in 1922, acknowledged that “there are people outside this house who can claim the same legitimacy as we can,” but who differ on the road to be taken to the Republic. Those people were Sinn Féin, the IRA and Tom Maguire and the other surviving members of the Republican Second Dáil Éireann.
In 1937, under deValera, the 26-County state (still the “fruit of the poison tree” – to use a legal explanation of the pedigree of the mutated descendant of the 26-County Irish Free State enacted by the Westminster Parliament and imposed by collaborators politically analogous to the later Vichy government in that part of France not immediately occupied by the Nazis in 1940) adopted the “Éire” constitution, which was republican in form, but allowed the continued Partition of Ireland (while claiming sovereignty over “the entire island of Ireland, its islands and territorial seas” – an article later dispensed with).
Seán Mac Bride, who had been Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1936, feeling that he could work within this framework, resigned from the movement, but did not call his new political party Sinn Féin, but Clann na Poblachta. Republican Sinn Féin former Donegal Councilor Joe O’Neill points out that before Mac Bride’s acceptance of the 1937 constitution the alienation of the mass of the people from the Free State could be seen in the fact that the majority of the eligible 26-County electorate boycotted the general elections altogether.
In 1938, the surviving members of the Second Dáil Éireann, the legitimate government of the Irish Republic, dissolved itself (in accordance with a 1921 Dáil statute requiring it to do so should its membership be in danger of falling below seven), passing the mantle of legitimacy to the Army Council of the Irish Republican Army. Sinn Féin continued as the abstentionist Republican party, remaining loyal to the Irish Republic Proclaimed in arms on Easter Monday, 1916, ratified by the Irish electorate in 1918 and established by the First Dáil Éireann in 1919.
In 1950 the torch was passed by Sinn Féin President Margaret Buckley to a new generation of Republicans. Sinn Féin was reorganized and new leaders emerged, among them Seán Cronin, Séan Kearney, Joe Murphy, Tomás Mac Curtain, Gearóid Mangan, Tom Doyle, Charles Murphy, Paddy McLogan and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. Sinn Féin, still abstentionist, contested elections. On May 6, 1955, two Sinn Féin (abstentionist) candidates were elected to the Westminster Parliament: Tom Mitchel for Mid-Ulster, and Phil Clarke for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. Both men were disqualified by the British as “convicted felons” (read: political prisoners or prisoners of war). Mitchel ran again in a bye-election August, tripling his margin of victory; again he was disqualified. A third election in May 1956 saw him defeated after another so-called “nationalist” was persuaded to enter and siphon off a little over 6,000 votes (to Mitchel’s over 24,000) to elect a Unionist. Sinn Féin had demonstrated the existence of strong Republican/anti-Partition sentiment in those six of the divided Irish Province of Ulster’s nine counties known as “Northern Ireland.” Another consequence of Sinn Féin’s activity was to demonstrate to the world the denial of democracy by the British government in the 6-County statelet. [See also J. Boyer Bell, The Secret Army (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1979).]
The next step in the quest for national re-unification (inspired, in part, by the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet occupation) was the IRA physical force campaign of December 1956 – February 1962. In the March 5, 1957 26-County general election Sinn Féin elected abstentionist TDs in each Province: in Leinster, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh; in Ulster, Eunian O’Hanlon (brother of Fergal, killed in action at Brokeborough RUC Barracks on New Year’s night); in Connacht, John Joe McGirl; in Munster, John Joe Rice, garnering some 65,640 first preference votes in some nineteen constituencies. Again the political point was made.
In the 1960s there was an attempt by Marxists with an reformist agenda to infiltrate the Irish Republican movement. When pogroms and the violent suppression of the civil rights movement in the “North” led to a cry for Republican support, the Marxists were found wanting. During the winter of 1969/1970 another split occurred in the movement. It was reflected in Sinn Féin; the Marxists-Leninists-Stalinists (in possession of the Gardiner Street office – thereby calling themselves “Officials”) sought to end abstentionism. The traditional Republicans, agreeing with Commandant General Tom Maguire, sole surviving member of the Republican Second Dáil Éireann, that they had “neither the right nor the authority” to end abstentionism, gave their allegiance to the Provisional Army Council. The traditional Republicans of Sinn Féin (including Joe Clarke of 1916 fame) set up offices at 2a Lower Kevin Street in Dublin. In 1972, the so-called “Official Sinn Féin” (the “Stickies”) withdrew from even nominal support of an armed struggle they could not control, and later had a name change to the Workers Party, then the Democratic Left; their remnant are now to be found in the Irish Labour Party.
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was elected President of Sinn Féin (“Kevin Street,” later “Provisional” Sinn Féin, later Sinn Féin (subsequently Republican Sinn Féin)) and maintained the allegiance to the bright dream of Pádraic Pearse and the men of 1916, and to the traditional Republican abstentionist policy. As the political party of the Irish Republican movement, Sinn Féin not only supported the struggle to end English occupation of Ireland, seeking a British declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland, and the release of all political prisoners, but also, in 1971, proposed a vision for a New Ireland, to be presented to an all Ireland Constituent Assembly, based on the principle of subsidiarity and self-reliance, grounded in Ireland’s ancient past but using the latest democratic political and economic analyses to help restore, as Sinn Féin Vice President Daithí Ó Conaill put it, “the ancient prosperity of Ireland.” Promulgated through the efforts of Seán Ó Brádaigh and the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, and later by Éamonn Mac Thomáis, as Editor of An Poblacht, it was the Éire Nua plan, which would reunify Ulster as one of four Provinces, each with its own devolved government, while incorporating a Charter of Liberties (analogous to the American “Bill of Rights”) which would assure the religious and civil liberties of all of the people of Ireland, in the spirit of the Proclamation of 1916. [See also William Irwin Thompson, The Imagination of an Insurrection, Dublin, Easter 1916: A Study of an Ideological Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967); see also, Margaret Buckley, “A Proud History gives Confidence of Victory: Sinn Féin 1905-1956” (Dublin, Sinn Féin, 1956).]
Dissident elements, swayed by the siren song of potential political power in a Partition government, from time to time proposed the abandonment of abstentionism. Lifelong Republican and Irish Northern Aid co-founder Michael Flannery said to one such group who told him that they might elect four TDs and hold the balance of power in Dublin, that “if was not right for us to go into Leinster House with 44 TDs in 1926, it is certainly not right for you to go in with only 4.” Ed Moloney, in A Secret History of the IRA (New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), very accurately describes how a radical, Northern, power-hungry clique secretly manoeuvred to wrest control of Sinn Féin from the veteran leadership, and lead it away from its traditional policies, including abstentionism, in the process. One major difference from most other defections (except the initial “Stickies”) was that they sought to retain the name of Sinn Féin, whilst abandoning its principles.
In 1986 Republican Sinn Féin / Sinn Féin Poblachtach, re-organized under the leadership of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Daithí Ó Conaill, and continues in the tradition of the Sinn Féin which embraced the 1916 Rising and elected the deputies which formed the First Dáil Éireann. The adjective Republican was added to demonstrate the continuity with 1916, continued abstentionist opposition to the Partition of Ireland and to highlight the contrast with any other party or organization which might seek to trade on the good name of Sinn Féin. The Éire Nua plan (see Daithí Ó Conaill, “Towards a Peaceful Ireland” (Dublin: Sinn Féin Poblachtach, 1991)) continues as a vibrant part of the program of Republican Sinn Féin under the leadership of An Uachtarán (President) Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, re-confirmed at the 100th Árd Fheis of Republican Sinn Féin in November 2004.
sinn féin, sinn féin amháin