Irish Republicanism

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Irish Republicanism is the nationalist belief that all of Ireland should be a united independent republic.

Between 1169 and 1921 Ireland was periodically ruled by England; after 1603 Ireland became firmly under English rule as a colony. In 1801, it became part of the United Kingdom. Discrimination against the Roman Catholic faith and discrimination against Irish culture and the Irish language among many other things led to Irish resistance to British rule.



At first, Irish nationalists who advocated renewed independence from England either were in favour of an independent Ireland retaining the British monarchy (like Canada and Australia) if they were "moderates" or if they were "radicals" favoured reviving the Irish monarchy. The republican revolutions in France and America during the late 18th century influenced young Irish men and women, leading to the nationalist movement becoming predominantly republican. The United Irishmen were the first group to advocate an independent Irish republic. With military aid from the republican government in France, they organized the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798.

After the Act of Union in 1801 merging Ireland with Britain into the United Kingdom, Irish independence movements were suppressed by the British. Nationalist rebellions against British rule in 1848 (by the Young Irelanders) and 1865 and 1867 (by the Fenian Brotherhood) were followed by harsh reprisals by British forces and Irish Protestant loyalists.

In 1916 the Easter Rising was launched in Dublin against British rule. Even though the rebellion failed and most of its leaders including James Connolly were executed by the British, it was to be a turning point in history leading to the end of British rule in Ireland.

From 1919-1921 a newly organized guerrilla army, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) led by Michael Collins fought a successful campaign against British forces. During the Anglo-Irish War (or War of Irish Independence) the British sent paramilitary troops called "Black and Tans" to help the beleaguered British army and police. The Black and Tans committed atrocities against captured POWs and Irish civilians viewed as being sympathetic to the IRA, the most infamous of all their actions being the burning of half the city of Cork in 1920 and the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1920. These Black and Tan atrocities, together with the popularity of the republican ideal, and British repression of republican political expression, led to widespread support across Ireland for the Irish rebels.

In 1921 the British government led by David Lloyd George negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Collins and the other republican leaders, ending the war.

Irish Republicanism in independent Ireland (the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland)

Many Irish republicans were enraged by the treaty. Eamon de Valera, who had led the IRA's provisional government during the war, led the opponents of the treaty, whilst William Cosgrave (viewed as a conservative moderate) led the pro-treaty faction in the IRA. Cosgrave was elected the first Prime Minister of the Irish Free State in 1922 and shortly afterwards a civil war began between the new Irish government and the radical Anti-Treaty faction in the IRA. Most of the IRA supported the treaty with Britain and thus became the Free State's official army, whilst the small Anti-Treaty faction retained the title of the IRA.

By 1923 the war was over and the new IRA had lost to Irish government forces. The murder of Michael Collins and the self-defeating terror tactics used by the rebels led the public to support the government. Though many across the country were still unhappy with the treaty, during the Anglo-Irish war, the IRA had fought for independence for all of the island nation, including the 6 counties in the northeast and for a republic, not an independent dominion within the British crown. Michael Collins and William Cosgrave had supported the compromise with the British because after 3 years of war, thousands had died and both sides were in a stalemate, so they came to the conclusion that the only way to achieve a united Irish republic, would be to compromise with the British and then slowly through political means reunite with the north and replace the British monarchy with a republican form of government.

De Valera who had led the rebellion against the Cosgrave government reformed his views while in jail and disassociated himself from the IRA. He formed a more moderate nationalist party called the Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) led by himself and other war veterans. In 1932 he was elected Taoiseach of Ireland and began a slow process of turning the country from a constitutional monarchy to a constitutional republic, thus fulfilling Collins' prediction of "the freedom to achieve fredom". In 1937 the Irish Constitution was written by the De Valera government; the Irish language was given legal status over English for the first time in centuries, the government claimed jurisdiction over the six counties and replaced the British King as Ireland's head of state with an elected Irish President. Although officially Ireland was a republic in every way except in name, technically the country was still considered a British "dominion" like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.

The long struggle to make Ireland a fully independent republic finally ended in 1948 when the Republic was proclaimed. The Republic of Ireland still did not include the six counties, but had no political connection with Britain or The Commonwealth. In 1955 the Republic joined the United Nations and in 1973 joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in a move designed to bring Ireland closer to other European nations and keep a strong distance from Britain. Irish anger at the continuation of partition was such that during World War II, although the Irish government covertly supported the Allied war effort and tens of thousands of Irishmen enlisted in the British armed forces, officially the Irish Free State was neutral and stayed out of the war.

As Irish Protestants were traditionally more likely to be supporters of the Union with Britain, many left the new Free State for England or the six counties that remained in the United Kingdom. Nowadays there is little sympathy for the British monarchy in the Republic of Ireland, although there are some Irish monarchists who have argued for replacing the republic with one of the original Irish royal families (the O'Neills, O'Connors or O'Briens). Today all of the dominant political parties in the Republic of Ireland both left wing and right wing consider themselves republican.

Republican parties in Ireland

Fianna Fáil - Translation: Soldiers of Destiny. The socially conservative, economically liberal governing party, it is Ireland's largest party.

Fine Gael - Translation: tribe of Irishmen. Currently the second largest party in Ireland, created by a merger of Cumann na nGaedheal with other pro-Treaty groups in 1933.

Sinn Féin - Translation: We Ourselves. Far left Economic Nationalist and Irish republican party. Retains the name of the Sinn Féin party of the 1920s though most of that party's political inheritance can be found in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael today.

Irish Labour Party - a social-democratic party.

Progressive Democrats- A Liberal centre-right party.

Republicanism in Northern Ireland

In 1921, Ireland was divided into two and most of the country subsequently became part of the independent Irish Free State. However, the six counties in Ulster with a safe loyalistmajority and a substantial republican Catholic minority remained part of the United Kingdom. The territory of Northern Ireland, as established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, had its own provincial government which was controlled for 50 years by the conservative Protestant Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), until it was prorogued in 1972. The election system at that time was designed to favour areas with large Protestant populations and give less representation to areas with a large Catholic population (see gerrymandering).

The Irish Catholic population in the six counties, besides feeling politically alienated, was also economically alienated with far worse living standards compared to their Protestant neighbours, with less job opportunities and were often crammed into ghettos in Belfast, Derry, Armagh and other places. To most Irish Catholics the loyalist UUP government was undemocratic, bigoted and openly favoured Ulster Protestants. The IRA which was officially dissolved and incorporated into the Irish Free State's Army after 1922, was reorganized by radical republicans opposed to the peace treaty between Ireland and Britain and to the Irish and British governments. They believed that the only way to achieve reunification of Ireland was a violent campaign against the British in the Six Counties.

During the 1930s the IRA launched minor attacks against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC- Northern Ireland police force consisting almost entirely out of Protestants) and British army in the six counties, however most of their efforts were focused in the Irish Free State against the Blueshirts. The Blueshirts were an armed fascist group led by a former IRA leader during the Anglo-Irish War, General Eoin O'Duffy. O'Duffy had supported the treaty with the British that ended the war, but had disagreed with the moderate policies of Cosgrave and De Valera, and looked over to Fascist Italy as an example for Ireland to follow.

During the Great Depression years of the 1930s, Irish Republicans and Blueshirts clashed in very violent street battles. Though for a while the fascist blueshirts had some support in the Free State, they were never really able to create any base of support among nationalists in the north who strongly favoured the IRA. During World War II the IRA helped German spies hiding from the British.

From 1921-1945 most Irish Catholics opposed British rule, though were not strong supporters of the IRA, who launched a short campaign against RUC barracks in the late 1950's. In the 1960's Irish civil rights groups modelled themselves on their emerging counterparts in the U.S., and moderate liberal nationalist lobby groups used passive methods to try and end British rule in Northern Ireland. As a response to the civil rights campaign militant unionist terrorist groups started to emerge in the Protestant community. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was the first. The UVF had originally existed among loyalist Ulster Protestants during World War I to oppose Catholic Republicans, but became defunct after 1921. In the 1960's it was relaunched by militant unionists to oppose any attempt to reunite the six counties with the Irish Republic or to grant civil rights to Catholics.

The UVF engaged in attacks against Catholics, the IRA engaged in attacks against the RUC (police) and British Army, while the British targeted Irish nationalists both militant and peaceful. In the 1960s the violence in Northern Ireland exploded. It deteriorated to such an extent that after 1969 the British had to declare a state of emergency and move a large number of troops into Ulster. In 1969, militant unionists threatened to attack a Roman Catholic ghetto in West Belfast, and thousands of British forces were deployed throughout the city to prevent this. This made British forces at first popular with Catholic residents, however after British troops failed to follow this up in east Belfast and began arresting suspected IRA members and generally targeting all nationalists, that support quickly faded.

Divisions began to emerge in the Republican movement between leftists and conservatives. The leader of the IRA, Cathal Goulding believed that the IRA could not beat the British with military tactics and should turn into a revolutionary movement that would overthrow the Irish government, than retake the north (after WWII the IRA no longer engaged in any actions against the Republic). Goulding also drove the IRA into an ideologically Marxist-Leninist direction which attracted idealistic young supporters in the Republic, but alienated and angered most of the IRA's core supporters in the six counties. Most of the IRA's membership were either traditional social-conservatives, or socialists or other left-wingers and also felt alienated.

The argument led to a split in 1970, between the Official IRA (marxist members loyal to Goulding) and the Provisional IRA (also called Provos, the vast majority of the IRA who were non-communist). The Provos were led by Sean MacStiofáin and immediately began a large scale campaign against the unionist paramilitaries and British forces in Northern Ireland, while the Official IRA launched a few attacks (mainly against the Provos, the British forces and Irish police) but for the most part began becoming more of a radical political party than a rebel army. In 1972, the Official IRA declared a permanent cease-fire and was dissolved by Cathal Goulding who founded the Irish Worker's Party. After that and up to today the Provisional IRA has simply been known as the IRA.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the conflict continued claiming thousands of lives, with the UVF (and other unionist groups) extending attacks into the Republic of Ireland and the IRA launching attacks on targets in England. However some things slowly began to change. In the 1980's Sinn Féin (the IRA's political ally) began contesting elections and by the mid 1990's was representing the IRA at peace negotiations. In the loyalist movement splits occurred, the Ulster Unionist Party made tentative attempts to reform itself and attract Irish Catholics into supporting the union with Britain, while the radical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by Rev. Ian Paisley began attracting working class Protestant loyalists who felt alienated by the UUP's overtures towards Catholics. The UDA (Ulster Defence Association) became strongly associated with the DUP.

At the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis a motion declaring the end of the policy of abstentionism (boycotting the 26 County and 6 County elections) was passed, causing a split in the movement creating Republican Sinn Fein, a party mixing traditional Republicanism with Federal Socialism, led by former Sinn Féin President Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.

In 1994 N. Ireland's two most important nationalists, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein and John Hume, the leader of the SDLP (Irish Social-Democratic Labour Party) entered into peace negotiations with loyalist leaders like David Trimble of the UUP and the British government. At the table most of the paramilitary groups (including the IRA and UVF) had representatives. In 1998 when the IRA endorsed the Good Friday Agreement between Nationalist and Loyalist parties and both governments, another small group left to form the Real IRA (RIRA). The Continuity and Real IRA have both engaged in attacks not only against the British and loyalists, but even against their fellow nationalists (members of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and IRA).

Since 1998, the IRA and UVF have adhered to a ceasefire. However on the loyalist side the UDA and radical splinter groups that left the UVF after it endorsed the Good Friday Agreement (like the Ulster Loyalist Front - ULF) have continued attacking Catholics and each other.

Today the republican movement can be divided into moderates who wish to reunite with the Republic through peaceful means and radicals who wish to continue a violent revolution.

Moderate parties

Sinn Féin is Northern Ireland's biggest nationalist party and the fastest growing party in all of Ireland. It represents a mixture of progressive, socialist and conservative political views. Led by Gerry Adams, it is the only party to field candidates on both sides of the Irish border. The party was first formed in 1905 by Arthur Griffith from nationalists disenchanted with the pacifist Irish Party. The party led Ireland's provisional government during the Anglo-Irish War but split after the 1921 treaty with Britain. Eamon de Valera and many of its other members eventually abandoned the party and moved onto more moderate groups like Fianna Fáil. However after the 1950s, even though Sinn Féin did not take part in either Irish or British elections at that time, their popularity began to grow during "The Troubles" of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. After 1986 they reversed their original policy of not taking their seats in the Dáil. By the late 1990s they had replaced the SDLP as Northern Ireland's main nationalist, republican and Catholic voice. They currently hold a small number of seats in the British parliament, a modest number in the Irish parliament, and a large number in Northern Ireland's provincial assembly. Sinn Féin members elected to the British parliament refuse to take part in debates or votes, as they would have to take an oath of loyalty to the British monarch to do so.

SDLP - Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party, or Páirtí Sóisialta Daonlathach an Lucht Oibre in Irish. Formed in the 1960s, it associated itself entirely with the Civil Rights movement and was strongly opposed to the tactics of the IRA even in response to unionist paramilitary and British army actions. However in the 1980s Sinn Féin began to re-emerge as an important political force under the leadership of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Gerry Adams. Some critics even assert that the SDLP's position on a United Ireland is deeply ambiguous, in an attempt to retain the support of northern Catholics who are in favour of the United Kingdom but not the overtly Protestant unionist parties. The party is today led by Mark Durkan and tries to model itself on other social-democratic parties (like those in Ireland, Sweden, France, and Germany). The SDLP, unlike Sinn Féin does not organise in the Republic of Ireland, but is strongly allied to the Irish Labour Party.

Workers' Party of Ireland - Small nationalist group that evolved from Sinn Fein. After the IRA split in 1970 between non-communists (the Provos) and communists (the so-called "Official IRA"), Sinn Féin split as well between Marxists who supported Cathal Goulding and the Official IRA and non-Marxists who supported Sean MacStiofáin and the Provisional IRA. In 1972 after a 2 year minor campaign of terrorism, Goulding dissolved the Official IRA and the Official Sinn Fein to create the Irish Workers Party. The Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin simply became known as the IRA and Sinn Féin and have been known as that ever since. The Workers Party engaged in a Marxist-Leninist platform stressing "class revolution" as well as national reunification hoping to attract lower class Catholics in Northern Ireland away from Sinn Fein, and lower class Protestants away from the loyalist parties of the Far Right. However their efforts yielded little success as the Workers Party has performed poorly at the polls. Goulding was respected by some as a dedicated nationalist, but after his death in 1998 the party's future became very unclear.

Radical parties

Republican Sinn Féin Does not take part in parliamentary elections in either the Republic of Ireland or the six counties because it views both as illegitimate. It speaks for the Continuity IRA, whose goals are the overthrow of British rule in the six counties and the reunification of the country. They are sometimes called the "Green Book" IRA because their political manifesto heavily resembles that of Libyan leader Muamar al Qadhafi. And they are known to have political ties with the government of Libya. They are led by former Sinn Fein leader Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who led radicals in a break with Sinn Fein in 1986 to create the party.

Irish Republican Socialist Party- Originally the party of Irish-socialist rebel James Connolly during the early 20th century, the IRSP was reborn by Seamus Costello in 1974. Costello led other former Official IRA members dissatisfied with Goulding's policies and tactics. The party quickly organized a paramilitary wing called the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) which is still operating today. It claims to follow the principles of Republican Socialism set out by the 1916 rebellion leaders, James Connolly and Jim Larkin.


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