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So, here it is. Another pivotal document from the the history of the Irish left. This document, perhaps above all others from Sinn Féin during this period, symbolised the shift in their political direction and an arrival at a position, which while not identical was not entirely different to that taken by Official Sinn Féin in 1971 (for ironically abstention was not successfully carried in 1970 – and indeed there remained a rear-guard action by some of those who stayed with OSF against it thereafter).
It is arguable that along with the question as to the relationship with armed struggle abstention has been one of the key primary defining aspects of Irish Republicanism, at least as that is perceived by Republicans.
And the issue of abstention weighs heavily upon these pages.
Turn to page 83… Constitution/Electoral Strategy and one will see multiple motions in favour of or against abstentionism.
Consider these two examples, one from each position…
164: That paragraph 1b of the Constitution, which holds Sinn Féin to an abstentionist policy in the 26 Counties, be replaced by the following:
“No person who is a member of any political party organisation or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons, who, if elected, intend to take part in the proceedings of the British or Stormont governments by which the 6 Counties is ruled, or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons who sign any form or give any kind of written or verbal undertaking of intention to take their seats in these institutions, shall not be admitted to membership or allowed to retain membership.”
170: That Sinn Féin contests the next general election in the 26 Counties on the understanding that it will take its seats if so elected, if the collective leadership of the Republican Movement decides it is tactically advantageous to do so at the time.
But, the key motion is:
RESOLUTION 162 THAT this Ard-Fheis drops its abstentionist attitude to Leinster House. Successful Sinn Fein parliamentary candidates in 26-County elections: a. Shall attend Leinster House as directed by the Ard Chomhairle. b. Shall not draw their salaries for personal use. (Parliamentary representatives shall be paid a Sinn Fein organiser’s subsidy, and the Leinster House salary shall be divided at the direction of the Ard Chomhairle to defray national and constituency expenses.) To accommodate this change, the Constitution and Rules be amended as follows: That Section 1b of the Constitution be amended to read:
“b. No person who is a member of any political party organisation or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons who, if elected, intend taking part in the proceedings of the Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliaments or who approves of or supports the candidature of persons who sign any form or give any kind of written or verbal undertaking of intention to take their seats in these institutions, shall be admitted to membership or allowed to retain membership.”
That Section 1f of the Constitution be amended to read:
“f. No member of the British armed forces shall be eligible for membership.
“No person who has taken an oath of allegiance to the Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliaments shall be eligible for membership so long as he/she retains the office or position involving such oaths or until he/she repudiates the oath of declaration in writing to a cumann.”
That Section 5 of the Constitution be amended to read:
“5. Sinn Fein candidates in Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliamentary elections shall, on selection and before nomination, publicly and solemnly pledge themselves, as follows:-
I …………. freely and solemnly declare: “a. That, if elected, I will not sit in, nor take part in, the proceedings of the Westminster or partitionist 6-County parliaments. “b. That, pending the establishment of the parliament of the Irish Republic, in all matters pertaining to the duties and functions of a parliamentary representative I will be guided by and hold myself amenable to all directions and instructions issued to me by the Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin. “c. That, pending the establishment of the parliament of the Irish Republic, I will, at any rime, if called upon to do so by a majority of the ,members of the Ard Chomhairje of Sinn Fein, resign my seat as a parliamentary representative of the constituency of… “d. That I take this pledge voluntarily, of my own free will. “That Sinn Féin candidates in Leinster House elections take pledges 5b, 5c and 5d.” It is this that was eventually supported, precipitating the withdrawal from Sinn Féin of Ruairi O Bradaigh and others to reform as Republican Sinn Féin.
There are other motions that are of a part with the general issue, take 152 (p.79) which proposes that:
…at future Ard-Fheiseanna resolutions relating to sensitive internal issue be discussed in private session, in order that delegates be able to express their opinions openly.
And what of 150…
That all motions of national importance be discussed at prime attendance time.
Both of which suggest a certain degree of unease at the structural aspects of the movement.
But there’s much more here for consideration. There is the impact of social issues, note the debate over the approach to abortion which is particularly heated. There are Foreign Affairs motions… Number 61 is particularly interesting…
That this Ard-Fheis supports the following socialist countries and the aid many of them give to Third World countries engaged in struggle:
a. The Republic of Cuba, and the aid it gives to the people of Angola and Nicaragua; b. The Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea, and its aim of uniting all of Korea under socialism; c. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which has united its country after years of struggle and foreign interference;
h. That the Ard-Fheis recognises the governments of the Soviet Union, Poland, GDR, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria as being progressive countries, with good socialist policies int he way of housing, health care, job creation, etc. Recognises the suffering these countries endured during the last world war at the hand of fascists and collaborators. Sinn Féin recognises that it was the Soviet army and its people which broke the back of the Nazis. Sinn Fein is totally opposed to the anti-Soviet policies of the Washington, London and Bonn governments. That Sinn Fein in recognising the above does not in any way compromise its position on neutrality and non-alignment.
Now that seems oddly reminiscent of another party I can think of.
In sum a document that manages to demonstrate the multiple strands within Sinn Féin during this period and the debates and disagreements that characterised its political development.