Official Republicans Meet in Dublin:  A Step Forward for the Irish Vanguard
Publication:Intercontinental Press
Issue:January 22nd 1973
Author:Gerry Foley
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Discuss:Comments on this document

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

25th November 2019

Thanks to Jim Monaghan for forwarding this to the Archive.

This short piece adds to the collection of articles and publications written by Gerry Foley. In this one he discusses the Official Republican convention in December 1972 in Dublin. He writes:

Irish republicanism is unique. It is a traditional movement that continues the age-old struggle against the social relations introduced by the conquest of Ireland, a fight so ancient that its motivations are more instinctive than conscious. It combines bits and pieces of contradictory philosophies and outlooks whose implications have never been developed in a consistent way.

And he notes the 800 delegates and visitors at the convention in the Mansion House. He suggests that the outlook was more ‘international’ and the ‘sale of political literature… seemed to have been expanded’ with books by American Trotskyists, including his own.

This snapshot of a movement at a time of expansion and optimism is striking. He quotes the treasurers report mentioning, ‘plans for the building [Dublin HQ] includ[ing] a modern walk-around bookshop, new offices for the United Irishman and SF Secretariat. A Library room… a room for press conferences, and Cumainn meetings’.

He also suggests that ‘in the area of political analysis important progress has been registered in breaking with conceptions that proved one-sided or overly rigid in the past’.

He notes that ‘condemnations of the ‘Provisional Alliance’ have ‘become almost a ritual in OSF’ and ‘serve no rational purpose’. And he points to this being ‘essentially moralistic, metaphysical absolutism’ which ‘weakens the militant nationalist current in general’ and ‘poison discussions and introduced an atmosphere of dogmatism and suspicion. In particular, blaming all the defeats of the past year on the Provisionals is unpleasantly reminiscent of the Stalinist practices of looking for traitors when things go wrong. A more materialistic analysis would be to analyse objectively the factors that enabled the Provisionals to grow and to play the ‘disastrous’ role Mac Giolla ascribes to them, especially the errors of the Official movement that contributed to the growth of the rival grouping’.

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  • By: John Mon, 25 Nov 2019 18:10:38

    Of course the Official’s should have taken it’s lead from Foley of the American SWP, one of the most sectarian of all the Trotskyist tendencies in the USA who, whilst pretty progressive on organisations outside of the US spent quiet a lot of their own time denouncing other American left formations. It’s a bit, ‘do as I say not as I do,’ isn’t it?

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  • By: Daniel Rayner O'Connor Mon, 25 Nov 2019 22:25:44

    ‘Whilst pretty progressive on organisations outside of the USA spent quite a lot of their time denouncing other left formations.’
    On the above, the Sticks had little to learn from the SWP.

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  • By: Colm B Tue, 26 Nov 2019 12:01:13

    Since the 80s the SWP has been a sectarian cult led by madcap guru Jack Barnes but before that it was a large and serious orthodox trotskyist party, active on the ground across USA, with serious internal debates. They played a substantial role in the anti-vietnam war movement etc.
    There was a lack of internal democracy, centralised leadership and all those things that the Joes and Colms of the world wearily point to as seeds of destruction but the description you give is of the later degenerated version once Barnes had purged most of its members.
    Btw Foley was right about the obsession with the Provos – it was understandable in the context but politically mistaken. This obsession destroyed the Officials in the North, especially once the Harris faction pushed it to its ultimate extreme.

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  • By: Colm B Tue, 26 Nov 2019 12:02:17

    Sorry, that should have read John not Joe

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  • By: tafkaGW Tue, 26 Nov 2019 12:26:27

    Really? Fair play for outing yourself. 🙂

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  • By: John Tue, 26 Nov 2019 12:35:16

    Hi Daniel, that’s exactly the point I’m making. The criticism of the Provo’s was as bad (no worse) as the Provo criticism of the Officials. Or the Irish SP’ s criticism of the Irish SWP (I heard a hardliner from the SP once describe the SWP as the biggest obstacle to progress on the left in Ireland). To say the Officials were more obsessed with the Provo’s than the Provo’s were with the Officials is dishonest. They were struggling with each other for status in the nationalist community, Ideologically on the way forward for progress, for solidarity funding, for material to defend their areas and for members.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 26 Nov 2019 13:27:07

    I’m not sure I’d agree the obsession was as great in PSF as in OSF at least not once it was clear by the early to mid 70s that OSFs star was waning and that they’d lost enormous ground. Being in the WP in the early 80s and later the obsession if you call it that was fierce. Later in the 1980s were slightly different as WP built up politically in the South and yet for all the rhetoric they were competing in different areas. As to which was ‘worse’ I’m conflicted – the line the Provisionals were ‘fascist’ is about as bad as one can get (as well as inaccurate as noted by no less an authority (!) Henry Patterson on the Times Change years later). Not that the Provisionals were behind the door in their criticism of the Officials and later the WP.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 26 Nov 2019 14:09:29

    The SWP became a cult. They were not then. Indeed Intercontinental Press was and is an amazing source for a variety of mainly Left opinion, publishing a lot of documents by other Left tendencies. On a general aside, I am greatly suspicious of the messianic attitude of so many groups big and small. “There is one anointed successor party of Lenin et al” Funnily this is something they share with many of the Republican splinter groups with the line of succession from the Second Dail nonsense.
    In 1972 it was all to play for with Official Sinn Fein. I still regard what happened as a huge tragedy. Gerry would not have seen himself as giving THE LEAD, but as someone giving a sympathetic viewpoint in as friendly a way as possible. He engaged with everyone.

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  • By: roddy Tue, 26 Nov 2019 14:46:57

    All I can say is take the public denunciations with a pinch of salt.Lines of communication were always kept open in local areas between both groups.

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  • By: Joe Tue, 26 Nov 2019 15:10:16

    Johns and Colms may sometimes point to a lack of internal democracy, centralised leadership and all those things as seeds of destruction… Joes on the other hand sometimes pine for them.
    Like, how the f**k else are gonna get anything bleedin done?
    Or, as Joe’s most recent slogan goes: Shut the f**k up and do wot Jez sez.

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  • By: roddy Tue, 26 Nov 2019 15:26:43

    You see its easy to detest somebody you don’t really know that well or run into on a daily basis.If I encountered the likes of De Rossa or Harris,I would have to be restrained from throwing a punch.However when I meet old sticks round here,the civility is nearly embarrassing.Last year for instance I attended the funeral of a veteran Republican.He spent a few years on the run for most of the 70s and had family in the H blocks in the early 90s.As is the custom,I carried his coffin and as I stepped out ,4 elderly sticks stepped in to act as pall bearers.They would have parted politically 50 years ago but would all have been”50s” men.Similarily when another veteran died this year ,one of the last to visit him on his death bed was a very well known WP man who many on here would probably know.Again this man had family in the H blocks in the 80s and would have parted company with the WP man decades ago but they had been comrades once and this still counts.

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  • By: Joe Tue, 26 Nov 2019 15:30:06

    “Not that the Provisionals were behind the door in their criticism of the Officials and later the WP.”

    Provisionals being behind the door became quite a problem for Officials and WP people in Belfast on occasions during the Troubles of course. The problem was that the Provisionals were not behind the door to criticize the Officials but to kill them. And they did just that. And only stopped when the Officials killed them back.

    But, for sure, describing the Provisionals as ‘fascist’ was totally inaccurate. The English language still lacks a single-word adjective to describe an armed group which, when seeking hegemony in the community it purports to represent, kills those who stand up to it and put forward alternative views.

    Jesus, lads. I really didn’t want to but yiz made me do it.

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  • By: Joe Tue, 26 Nov 2019 16:13:56

    That’s lovely stuff Roddy.
    I read a piece recently about a veteran Sth Derry stick who had just passed away. The piece told how he had taken part in the burning of his H Block back in the day.
    As I get on in years, I appreciate the importance of funerals more and more. As the wife’s father used to say “If I don’t go to his, he won’t come to mine”.
    And one mellows. I’ll be giving Mary Lou a vote next time because SF advocate building public housing. And Roddy, I enjoy your posts on here now whereas a few years ago they used drive me up the wall!
    But Sth Derry isn’t Belfast and it’s a pity (to put in mildly) that things got as bloody as they did there. Harder, I’d guess, to carry each other’s coffins after killing each other decades earlier.
    Never again, please God, le cúnamh Dé, insh’Allah.

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  • By: roddy Tue, 26 Nov 2019 16:34:34

    Ceasefire restored!

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  • By: Alibaba Tue, 26 Nov 2019 17:14:13


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  • By: Colm B Tue, 26 Nov 2019 17:54:02

    IMO two things turned the OSF attitude to the provos from the rivalry that John describes into something else – the rise of the Harris faction and their influence on the leadership but also the 1975 feud. by trying to wipe out the Officials the provos contributed significantly to the mistaken direction taken. I’m not trying to put all the blame on the Provos but things might have turned out differently if that and other feuds hadn’t happened.
    But then we’re in the realm of alternative history: what if McMillen or McCann hadn’t been killed? What if Harris had been kicked out early? “Men make their own history but not as they chose….”

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 26 Nov 2019 17:54:28

    There are others who might think that description you offer in your third para also applies to what happened to another group again! Now I think there was fault on both sides but… when alternative views were expressed it all got pretty grim.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 26 Nov 2019 17:57:46

    Yes, I’d agree with those as key events. Although I also think that the OIRA/INLA feud was central too to the later trajectory of the Officials. As noted above, there was fault on both sides, to put it mildly. But perhaps the reality that there were now two separate groups that the Officials were in opposition to both military and ideologically began to shut down the conceptual room that they could function in as well and started to dictate how they defined themselves not os much as themselves but what they were in opposition to.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 26 Nov 2019 18:03:57

    But it strikes me that we need to get the chronology down. The military conflict between Officials and Provisionals after the initial split was not a huge feature as I understand it until later, so that was a good five years or so before it flared up to the level seen in Oct 75. And is it entirely fair to say that it was about suppressing alternatives, as much as suppressing armed rivals (which is not to justify it but to say that it’s not quite a freedom of speech or democratic activity issue so much as something different). After all the SDLP and other nationalists did manage to function freely throughout the period offering starkly different views to PSF (albeit with harassment and intimidation etc).

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  • By: roddy Tue, 26 Nov 2019 18:49:52

    What isn’t widely known is that no two Belfast republicans were closer prior to the split than Joe McCann and Gerry Adams.When a monument to McCann was unveiled a few years ago,the event was attended by all Republican factions and Adams was prominent.

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