•   21st March 2022
  •   1 hr 42 mins

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In this episode we’re joined by Charles Tuba to discuss the book Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary, by Robert White (Indiana University Press, 2006). The discussion looks at Ó Brádaigh’s strand of Republicanism, and in particular the policies of abstentionism and the Éire Nua policy outlining a federal Irish state.

This is one of a series of episodes centred on particular books, to discuss key issues in the history of the Irish Left and Republicanism. We’ve spoken to Charles previously in episode 25 when we discussed Official Irish Republicanism, by Seán Swan, and also heard about Charles’ own political background and interest in Irish Republican history, including visiting Ireland and finding himself inadvertently on a Republican Sinn Féin march.

The discussion mentions the Éire Nua policy which you’ll find in the archive:

Éire Nua

Éire Nua

  •  Sinn Féin
  •   1971

There are further editions, including from Republican Sinn Féin, listed under the Éire Nua subject heading.

Listeners may also be interested in the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis ‘86 Clár agus Rúin:

Sinn Féin Ard Fheis '86: Clár agus Rúin

Sinn Féin Ard Fheis '86: Clár agus Rúin

  •  Sinn Féin
  •   1986

Update note: The discussion looks at the issue of abstensionism at national level while participating in local government. Thanks to listener Gearóid Clár for noting that the position of Ó Brádaigh, outlined in White’s book, was that local government does not claim sovereignty over the area administered, whereas the Dáil does.


The Irish Left Archive Podcast aims to hear from a broad range of voices on the Left. We are not affiliated with any particular political organisation, and the views, information, or opinions expressed by guests are solely their own and do not necessarily represent those of the Irish Left Archive or those associated with it.

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Comments 4

  • Des Dalton

    Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

    By: Des Dalton | 3rd April 2022, 12:56pm

    I have long been a fan of the Irish left Archive and believe it has built an invaluable archive of Irish left and republican material. The podcasts also provide an informed and nuanced analysis from a diverse range of politcal activists.

    It is for all the above reasons I was surprised and disappointed at the tone and content of the review of Robert W.White's biography of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. I will declare my own interest immediately, I was a member of Republican Sinn Féin for over 30 years, and worked closely with Ruairí for almost 20 of those years. I would have considered him a good friend, comrade and mentor. Without gainsaying my own politcal bias I was disappointed that instead of a nuanced and in-depth analysis of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and traditional Irish Republican ideology and politcs. Instead I found a discussion that never rose above the level of stereotype and caricature, which is ironic considering Bob White's book challenges and demolishes such a simplistic and narrow view of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and his politcs.(I even heard the "rosary beads wrapped around the rifle" image invoked)

    A number of points.

    1. There seemed to be an obsession with the fact that Ruairí Ó Brádaigh's father had been a co councillor as if this was in some way contradicted abstention from Leinster House, Stormont or Westminster. This has always been a policy of republicans, (the country Councils actually predate the 26-County state.) Terence MacSwiney addresses the same point in his 'Principles of Freedom' and pointed out that the councils represented 'an enemy trench', but also marked as close to the enemy system republicans were willing to go. Unlike Leinster House, Stormont or Westminster, the councils are local government bodies who do not claim to be representative bodies of the Irish people or nation and so participation is such bodies does not grant recognition or legitimacy to the partitionist politcal structures imposed on the Irish people in 1920/21.

    2. The republican policy of abstaining from Leinster House, Stormont and Westminster is based on two pillars, one is the issue of legitimacy. Participating in such assemblies defacto gives them a legitimacy and fatally undermines the legitimate and historic right of the Irish people to national independence and sovereignty. The second pillar is the inescapable logic that it is impossible for an revolutionary organisation to have a foot in both the constitutional and revolutionary camps. Once the legitimacy of the state is accepted that carries an inevitable logic the acceptance that there is only one army etc and that consequently delegitimises any movement that operates outside the state paradigm. Consequently you have Provisional Sinn Fein at times dancing on the head of a pin in order to give legitimacy to the PIRA armed campaign from 1969-1997. However, when pressed on each occasion they have retreated further from ant claim of legitimacy to a point where Mary Lou McDonald publicly denied there was a correlation between the IRA of 1920 and that which carried out the Narrowwater attack in 1979. At the moment they are in the same politcal space occupied by Fianna Fáil in the early 1930s as they prepare for possible involvement in government within the 26-County state. Whether one agrees that such a movement away from revolutionary republican politcs is a good or a bad thing is another debate. But to pretend as the Provisional Belfast leadership claimed that such a move was merely about symbols or outdated shibboleths was disingenuous. All of this was pointed out by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and others in 1969/70 and in 1986. In both instances the politcal tragectory of their opponents bear out the arguments of traditional republicans. Indeed, your reviewer inadvertently made the case for abstentionism in his observations on the ineffectiveness of Westminster as a platform for advancing Irish national aspirations or grievances. I would argue that it is not on ideological grounds that PSF do not take seats in Westminster but based on purely practical considerations in that Stormont provides them with a similar platform, with the added bonus that they can hide behind the excuse that their budget etc is set by Westminster when they preside over cuts in education and heath etc within the Six Counties. If Stormont remains in permanent suspension and such a platform is removed it is highly plausible that the Provisional will rethink their policy of abstention regarding Westminster.

    3. Again the discussion fell into repeating the Provisional narrative that the idea and catalyst for electoral politcs came from the so-called northern"young Turks". Again, this is dealt with by Robert White in his biography of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. The reality is republicans have always contested elections, in many cases in the midst of an armed campaign. Indeed it was Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill etc who pushed for increased electoral involvement in the 1970s and were opposed by Gerry Adams etc. In 1981 the idea to nominate Bobby Sands came from Dáithí Ó Conaill. This proposal was vehemently opposed by Gerry Adams et al. It required two meetings of an election convention to finally secure Sands' nomination. In the 26-County elections in June of that year Ó Brádaigh and Ó Conaill again had to overcome opposition from Adams and company to contesting these elections. The reviewer fell into the trap of repeating a particular narrative of history which has been created to justify the Belfast Provisional strategy. According to this narrative the war from 1969 to 1997 was primarily an armed civil rights campaign, whose primary objective was to address inequality and sectarian discrimination within the six-county state. As your reviewer correctly points out, 1981 is year zero within this narrative, when a "far seeing" dynamic young northern leadership seized the opportunity presented by the elections north and south. As you of course understand history is never that simple and there are nuances and layers to be considered. Unfortunately your discussion did not reflect this complexity but rather repeated the carefully constructed and partisan narrative.

    4. Regarding Ó Brádaigh being from the south, I found the points made here simplistic and again followed a particular narrative that was constructed by the Adams faction to justify the sidelining of Ó Brádaigh. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, far from being out of touch was regularly in the six counties, even after his ban, when he risked arrest. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was asked to give the oration at the funeral of hunger striker Raymond McCreesh in Camlough, Co Armagh, and indeed he spoke there on the 20th anniversary where he met again with the mother of the dead hunger striker. References to his living safely in Roscommon are petty and unbecoming. The reality is Ruairí saw little of his family in Roscommon at this time as he travelled throughout Ireland and internationally.

    5. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was very conscious of the international dimension of the struggle in Ireland, and along with the Sinn Féin Director of International Relations, Richard Behal travelled widely in Europe and North America fostering vital links with other anti-colonial and anti-imperialist organisations. He personally gave a huge focus to the Basque Country, Brittany, Corsica and Palestine. Again the facts do not fit a certain narrative, one which is challenged in Robert White's book.

    6. I thought the reference to Éire Nua again was an almost flippant dismissal of it as a serious politcal proposal. This is assessment is contradicted by the reaction of many loyalist leaders such as the late David Irvine. David Adams described Éire Nua as the only serious attempt by republican/nationalist Ireland to give unionism/loyalism a considerd and practical outline of what a post British withdrawal united Ireland would mean. Regarding Cavan and Monaghan, I doubt very much if these two ulster counties would feel particularly at home within either Connacht or Ulster.

    7. The traditional Republican leadership of 1969/70 had a very clear view of where the Republican Movement stood and developed view of what a New Ireland would constitute. This is reflected in the literature that was issued at this time including within the pages of An Phoblact and Republican News. Beating in mind that events were moving rapidly the difference I would say between the Republican leadership and those of the 'Officials' is that the latter found themselves in an ideological straitjacket of their own construction, based on a Marxist stages theory which events had rapidly overtaken and they were unable to adequately react to and so found themselves increasingly sidelined within the six counties. Conversely the traditional republican analysis met the situation head on and recognised the colonial nature of the state forces that were violently confronting the nationalist population.

    Finally having known Ruairí Ó Brádaigh personally i can say that he had not a sectarian bone in his body and so I found the constant references to a "Gaelic, catholic Republic" jarring and in no way refected Ó Brádaigh's politcs. On a lighter note, I know Ruairí would laugh at any notions of him seeking some saintlike purity.

    Of course yig do not have to agree with your subject to engage with them. But it is important to do so free from simplistic stereotype and based facts. Opinions are free, facts are sacred.

    A critical interrogation of history and politcs is crucial, but it must be done so with regard to the nuance and complexity of the subject.

    Reply to this comment

    • Irish Left Archive

      Re: Ruairí Ó Brádaigh

      By: Irish Left Archive | 4th April 2022, 9:16pm

      Just a quick response - thanks for your thoughts and we’re very appreciative of the fact you have made them and so comprehensively.

      The intention of the podcast is absolutely not to be insulting or to caricature anyone. We certainly didn’t wish to demean Ó Brádaigh, someone we feel was a figure of considerable stature and influence and of personal conviction. And, as an example, the use of the term ‘rosary beads wrapped around the rifle’ was used to demolish that stereotype, not to reinforce it. It is worth keeping in mind that we were approaching this from a position where we were not criticising White or Ó Brádaigh, but offering a critique of the book and the life portrayed in it. But the take on the book, for that was the original spring board for this dive into the life and work of Ó Brádaigh, was that at this remove it was difficult not to feel that that aspect of political activity - abstentionism and focus on councils seemed to belong to an approach that is not as easily grasped by us as those who were not born into or joined that particular Republican political tradition.

      We didn’t think that the fact Ó Brádaigh’s father was a councillor was something that was some sort of previously concealed fact of great importance, simply that it was interesting in illustrating how far Republicans of his generation were able to work within the Free State system, a system in many respects inherited from the British and one which you yourself describe as ‘an enemy trench’ (and particularly given parallel structures were established during the War of Independence one might ask why something similar wasn’t attempted at least at the time - obviously there were efforts later to greater or lesser success).

      We worked through abstentionism - as you note we might even have made a case for abstentionism, even though we don’t consider it inadvertent to our overall discussion. Without question we don’t particularly favour abstentionism or Éire Nua as core ideologies - we come to this with our own frameworks for understanding these issues, but we sought to convey the book and the man as best as we could.

      And the point re his being in Roscommon as against a later SF leadership in the North was in no way to suggest he was personally lacking in courage, but that his perspective, even as an intrinsic part of the movement, was one that would of necessity due to the structural aspects of the conflict be different - possibly something that was used in later disputes within Sinn Féin.

      We did go to considerable lengths to point out that the very nature of the conflict meant that initially the space for politics was narrow - due to the need to conduct armed struggle. We did mention in the podcast that Ó Brádaigh was very concerned with politics and that the output from SF in that time was prodigious, but it’s also fair to say that the political activity was much more limited and that in some ways for all Ó Brádaighs efforts the political side simply didn’t take light. Again due to the constraints of conducting an insurrection.

      But as the long war came into being there was a greater need for political activity. As you rightly say initially Adams was cautious and Ó Brádaigh was pushing for elections but as it went on clearly there was a switch in positions with Adams and his allies more eager to engage on the political front than Ó Brádaigh. Certainly we don’t believe that it was simply the ‘young Turks’ who were political and Ó Brádaigh not. Rather that the function of SF was different in some respects during the two decades and that when matters went more political Ó Brádaigh’s form of political activity didn’t quite click - as it were - with the broader tilt of the movement.

      With respect to Éire Nua, we think it’s fair to say we believe that interest in that was fairly limited beyond its supporters. And while you’re right that some in loyalism and other points of the political compass on the island were interested we would suggest that a broader support was lacking. This doesn’t make it an unserious document. It is, but its efficacy and impact was limited and in part due to its own proposals.

      We’d certainly not wish to argue Ó Brádaigh wasn’t serious on international relations. He clearly was - and we mention that, particularly in his time with RSF.

      With regard to your point about the traditional Republican leadership of 1969 and 1970 we suspect we’d actually be in some agreement with you as regards their analysis of events on the ground, whatever about their ideas for the future.

      And to conclude we would be as one with you in agreeing that Ó Brádaigh was not a sectarian in the slightest and nor was it a religious or religious-like purity he sought. That said he was a man of a certain cultural and political and social context and - for example as White recounts, his analysis of the Catholic inflected commemorations of IRA volunteers would at this remove read differently not merely to others at the time but from the perspective of these many years later. As regards the issue of purity, our use of that was in respect of the his belief in certain intractable principles - up to and including Éire Nua and never deviating from them. That is a political purity - or, if you prefer, a principled approach.

      We still feel our recommendation stands that this is an excellent book on a fascinating individual who was part of a very significant movement in Ireland that continues to shape politics and left politics to this day. Our belief is that everyone with an interest in this area should read it and should read your comments too in tandem with listening to the podcast in order to gain further insight into Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Sinn Féin.

      Reply to this comment

  • Pádraig Malone

    Charles Yuba on Ruairi O'Bradaigh

    By: Pádraig Malone | 8th June 2022, 12:18am

    I find it difficult to understand why you have to resort to a rather obscure, if not wholly imperceptive, observer from Colorado, USA to review two major works on the the political development of Irish Republicanism. It seems to me that there are surely lots of people with a more nuanced and informed position that could have been be consulted on these issues.

    Reply to this comment

    • Ciarán Swan

      Good question

      By: Ciarán Swan | 14th June 2022, 10:19pm

      Pádraig, a chara, apologies for the delay in getting back to you. Bank Holiday weekend etc. I can understand your point, but to address it I should outline what the Archive is and is not. It is an informal archive and not linked to any academic or other institution. A key goal, and I know Aonghus and I have discussed this in the course of previous podcasts, has been to allow the documents in the Archive to be unmediated by us to the greatest possible degree. Similarly on the podcast activists and others are framed as they see fit, not as we would do so. And to extend that to the podcasts you reference it is our belief that the works of Swan and White are excellent, we wouldn’t have selected them otherwise, but that the discussion is one between well-informed, but not expert, activists and former activists who have some insights (and Charles obviously has a different perspective by dint of location and experience of activism which frankly I think is particularly useful) but that the final conclusions about those texts is for those who have read them to arrive at. We could discuss this in different ways but we think that some of the best discussions are between those who are, again, well informed but not expert. We’ve all had those discussions and it seemed like an interesting way to examine those texts. Without question we would love to discuss the books with those authors too, as we have spoken to authors before and will again but that’s a different sort of discussion. One doesn't cancel out the other but retaining that informality and willingness to encourage activists and those interested in the area to speak is at the heart of the Archive's purpose.

      Obviously another goal is that we hope that those who listen to the podcasts who haven’t read these and other books take the opportunity to do so and I was surprised to learn that quite a number of people listening in hadn’t encountered them before. So far the response we’ve received for those two podcasts has been almost uniformly positive - people appeared to enjoy hearing the three of us kicking back a little at the end of a sequence of interviews and some of those who were already on the podcast likewise said how much they enjoyed them. And one very useful aspect of the last one was that on foot of the discussion we were able to make contact with people adjacent to R ÓB and RSF and they will be interviewed in the near future for a future podcast.

      We also have plans to add different formats to the podcast in addition to the interviews and these discussions, with panels examining aspects of political practice and so on. In other words we hope there’ll be something for everyone as much as is possible.

      Reply to this comment

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