The centenary of the First Dail and the Soloheadbeg ambush in perspective. A chance to put this ‘ Old ‘ IRA ‘ New ‘ IRA nonsense to bed once and for all. By Emmett Gladney

It’s nearly three years since the arms race of legitimacy swept through Leinster House. Political parties in the twenty – six counties rushed to the podiums to utter empty rhetoric words of recognition bestowed upon the men and women of 1916 who died for Irish Freedom. Many found themselves in an awkward ideological maze to which no amount of revisionism could provide an exit. Throughout the duration of the last conflict the moral issue of the mandate had dominated centre stage. Some manipulated it , some hid behind it , for many at the coalface of the conflict there wasn’t much time to think about it. On the 21st of January 1919 the First Dail convened at the Mansion house. The Election of 1918 saw Sinn Fein win 73 out of 105 seats. It’s over a hundred years since the results of that election and it still continues to spawn debates over IRA legitimacy. The same day a group of IRA volunteers attacked and shot dead two Catholic RIC men who were transporting gelignite to a British army barracks of occupation in Soloheadbeg Co Tipperary , widely regarded as the first shots of the tan war. The Volunteers were acting on their own initiative and like the rebels of 1916 , they did not hang around for authorisation. Genuine republicans will have no qualms about commemorating Soloheadbeg. Other establishment parties may , as this could prove more problematic than 2016 , luckily for them this particular event just about made it inside the mandate defence mechanism , a couple of hours to be precise. There will be local commemoration committees present ; who undoubtedly still believe there was a difference between Dan Breen’s IRA , the Provo’s and present day ” dissidents ”. This piece strongly argues that there is no difference. That the use of the mandate card to justify one republican generation from another is void. In 1918 the Irish people as a whole voted overwhelmingly for Independence. This is absolute , unconditional and can not be misinterpreted. On how this independence was to be achieved ?. Some argue the result stemmed from the conscription crisis , more argue the people voted passively for independence , albeit the overriding result was still in favour of independence. This piece coming from a republican perspective , is not overly concerned with the arguments of external forces , rather it deals with the hypocritical attitudes of external forces , former republican’s , politician’s and their double standards concerning the mandate subject. This piece will show how former republicans and southern politicians leave themselves wide open to accusations of been politically incorrect when referring to mandates. It dispels any notion that the ” Old ” IRA were justified and the PIRA were not and how the ” Old ” IRA was really just an obscured label of differentiation that emerged post 1969 from people in the twenty – six counties. Since the Good Friday Agreement It focuses on how Sinn Fein are now practising the same propaganda tools their citics once subjected them to and this mad notion that somehow previous generations of IRA men were saints in relative context to the next generation.

Irish history has repeatedly shown us that those who refuse to go down the constitutional path and continue with revolutionary methods to achieve Irish sovereignty become vulnerable to this ridiculous ” Old ” IRA , ” New ” IRA contrast. The next generation of republicans to emerge , usually , and in a covenant fashion become branded by former republicans and their new-found allies in the media as somewhat fraudulent , self-fulfilling or having a cynical reason for existence. Irish republicans are no strangers to this phenomenon. It happened during the civil war when the Catholic Church once again asserted their  self-righteousness and condemned anti – treaty elements in the IRA. It happened during the thirties , forties and fifties when republicans came face to face a hypocrite unprecedented in Irish history called Eamon de Velera. For the last twenty years Sinn Fein have been practising those same worn out propaganda techniques against republicans who unapologetically still believe in the restoration of the Irish Republic. The draconian measures imposed on republicans by former comrades in the past ‘ haven’t gone away you know ‘ with the continuing existence of special non – jury courts which constantly witnesses republican activists convicted on as little evidence as the word of a sole Garda detective. Revisionists work by purposely misinterpreting beliefs and attitude’s held in the past often to serve a false political narrative in the present. It has come to this authors attention that in some newspaper articles a more tolerable approach by commentators and journalists seems to have emerged when revisiting the Provisional IRA’s campaign ( 1969 – 1998 ). Apart from Sinn Fein , the notion that the Provisional IRA had widespread support is valid , but it is worth noting that a large percentage of people who are now claiming they had widespread support , did not seem to harbour the same views during the conflict. So why has the tune changed from a time when the press were purposely instructed to print that the PIRA had no support ?. Is it simple revisionism ?. Or is the claim made in deliberate relativity to ” dissident ” republicans for propaganda reasons. This seems to be the new popular assertion among a broad spectrum of journalists , historians and political entities in the south , some who would have been their strongest critics twenty or thirty years ago.

Political labelling from press outlets describing present republicans as conflict junkies and PIRA impersonators is a cynical futile attempt to try to demean republicans who are motivated by the same desire for Irish unity as the Provo’s once were . It’s sole aim is to denigrate existing republican organisations and to deter young nationalists from becoming involved in any form of republicanism that is not constitutional. Remember It is not that long ago the PIRA suffered an unhealthy comparison to the ”good ” ” Old ” IRA nor is it that long ago that the PIRA were thought of as the bad new generation of IRA men. An example of such hypocrisy is a piece in the Irish Mirror during marching season 2018 where it covered an IRA attack on a PSNI land rover in Derry. The headline read ” Armed and Deadly, new dissident republican group wants to take over from the Provisional IRA” . The article continued: ” they want to be known as the IRA, but we call them the New IRA because it p…..s them off. It’s a little message to them that they’re not recognised in the same way as the old guard they emulate ”. * Another example was an article in the Irish Times written by historian Richard English in July 2017 stating ,” This group has nothing like the scale of personnel, resources or support that the Provo’s enjoyed. The Provisional IRA represented the most sustainably significant Irish Republican Army in history to date, and there is no basis for predicting that the standing is about to be eclipsed ” *. Although these may be the views of the contributing author. The question remains would the Irish Times have published such articles praising the Provisional IRA for their ingenuity during censorship or section 31 at the height of the conflict ?. Would such articles describing the Provisional IRA as the most ” sustainably significant Irish Republican Army in history to date ” in comparison to the so-called ” Old ” IRA have been allowed to be published after ” significant ” PIRA operations ?.

Is history repeating itself ?. Are the shinners now been awarded that frustrating label ” Old ” IRA , almost as vexatious as the word ” dissident ” to distinguish themselves from present republicans who disagree with the Good Friday Agreement ?. De Velera famously stated in 1922 ” the majority haven’t the right to be wrong ”. Between 1923 – 1969 the IRA found it hard to gather momentum as Fianna Fail managed to pacify a large proportion of republicans. There then began this obscured notion post 1927 that those left who picked up the pieces and continued to uphold the IRA’s green book and 1916 proclamation. Thus advocating physical force or ; igniting a fresh campaign at a later stage were somehow not the same as their predecessors. As Fianna Fail continued to fraud the republican electorate much the same way Sinn Fein have for the last thirty years. This attitude continued towards republicans who remained in the IRA. Ironic as it may be those who remained in the republican vanguard for the next fifty years , upholding republican principles and the legitimacy of the First and Second Dail became viewed with having lost their raison d’ etre. Their methods and tactics were also viewed in a negative light. The fact that their methods and tactics resembled that of their predecessors was largely ignored. The IRA in the thirties fell victims to this attitude after the Coventry bomb exploded in 1939. The IRA in forties were described as gangsters and as a rouge outfit. The IRA in the fifties were viewed as a hindrance and out of tune with political realities. This attitude then spilled over into the last conflict with Danny Morrison ‘often known for widening the goalposts ‘ when it suited him constantly defending the morality of the Provo’s campaign , often equating it to that of the ” Old ” IRA. Finally Sinn Fein figures would now have you believe it was right to shoot British soldiers and police before 1998 but it is wrong now in 2018. So where did this ” Old ” ,  ” New ” IRA contrast originate from ?.

As long as there remains a committed revolutionary movement dedicated to driving the British out of Ireland. Unfortunately but not surprisingly an unhealthy amalgamation develops to some extent between the reformist and the media. The sole aim of this amalgamation is usually to counteract any embarrassing ideological difficulties former revolutionaries may face. It has always been the case in Irish history when the revolutionary departs from his ideology and makes his principles subordinate to a slice of the establishment pie. A honeymoon period ensues. One only has to look at the cosy relationship enjoyed between Adams , Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair during the first ten years of the peace process as they used all and every means necessary to keep the Provisional movement from splitting . As the government were prepared to look the other way. The PIRA enjoyed considerable immunity from certain quarters who were told to turn a blind eye to certain activities in the south ( let’s sleeping dog lie ). Sinn Fein have been persistent in their condemnation of  ” dissident’s ” since the Good Friday Agreement. The most memorable came from Martin McGuinness’s when he sent a shocking affirmation throughout the six counties ” traitors to the island of Ireland ” his opportunistic echo bellowed , after the IRA shot two British soldiers dead outside Masserenne barracks in 2009. Since 1998 condemnation has been strong from Sinn Fein and ex PIRA men with repeated references to support , mandates and the moral justification of continued armed struggle. Senior Sinn Fein figures claim the PIRA had widespread support but that today’s republican gunmen have ” no place within the community ” . While there was considerable sympathy towards the Provo’s in the south. This usually peaked at emotive times such as the Hunger strikes or Bloody Sunday. However misguided people may have been in the south towards the conflict the reality was there was widespread intolerance at the Provo’s campaign from a large section of people in the twenty – six counties. Having said that , it is difficult to gauge the complex nature of support for the Provo’s , it is not black and white in its entirety . Many people in the twenty – six counties may have kept their sympathies private while at the same time engaging in the act of populist condemnation. Repression was severe for republicans in the south as open support meant occupations , licensed premises etc were all susceptible to threats by the special branch , still are.John Healy of the Irish Times once stated ” the Irish will give the IRA everything but the vote …. We’ll give them safe houses , we’ll put money in collection boxes but we wont give them the vote ” *. Gerry Adams once asserted that he had ‘met members of every party in the 26 counties who are in some sense supporters of the IRA., or who have a sneaking regard for the IRA’.* Danny Morrison when discussing Sinn Fein‘s performance at the polls complained that ” people try to make a defeat for Sinn Fein into a defeat for the IRA But it’s just not so, because Fianna Fáil, and to some extent Fine Gael grassroots supporters support the IRA that’s how the IRA is able to exist ” *. Many IRA volunteers in the twenty-six counties claim to have had assistance from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members in the form of safe houses , etc , etc. However complex it may be , One can not deny there was a popular sentiment during the eighties and nineties that saw Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness viewed as pariahs from every quarter of the general public in the twenty six counties , before , of course Irish America fabricated him into a West Belfast ” statesman ”. The common attitude in the south at the time was simple , the ” Old ” IRA ( 1919 – 1922 ) as it were fought a good honourable fight but the PIRA were simply cold-blooded terrorists. That the men and women of 1916 were heroes and the PIRA were in no way the same. That Sinn Fein could only muster two per cent of the southern vote , therefore they had no mandate to carry out bombings and shootings in the name of the Republic that Pearse and Connolly died for. Brian Feeny once stated in an RTE television programme about Sinn Fein ” As a northerner, you cannot be struck by the deep hypocrisy of all this stuff. Because all of the guys in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael who were deploring the IRA in 1972 and 1973, their Fathers did the same stuff in 1920 and 1921 ” * . Denis Bradley also exposed the blatant hypocrisy ” I mean let’s not do this whole southern naivety bit that our violence was ok let’s make heroes out of our violence but see these black evil people in the North their violence is not ok ”. He simplified southern attitudes to the conflict ” IRA up here were bad , British and Irish were good, not true , this was as complex up here as it was in Dublin in that age ” *. As Brian Hanley put it ” most people in the south had an emotional attachment to Republicanism and the Revolution of 1916 – 1923 and the ” Old ” IRA*. People in the south tend to believe in the good ” Old ” IRA and didn’t believe that the Provisional IRA were the same.* So the ” Old ” IRA , ” New ” IRA question of morality has arisen in some shape or form since 1922. There is no doubt the question became more prevalent and resurfaced during the Provo’s campaign. This is probably why it is so particularly hard to stomach Sinn Fein’s present stance , giving that they are now subsumed in the ” politics of condemnation ” that they once adamantly refused to become involved in before 1998.

Since 1922 former republicans in the guise of Fianna Fail , The Workers Party and Sinn Fein have constantly tried to sell defeat as victory in the past in a bid to heal their troubled conscience. But the continuity of a dedicated rear-guard has always painfully delivered a humiliating reminder that there is unfinished business. Nerves are touched , uncomfortable questions , silent doubts about direction , political incorrectness and an array of moral awkwardness. These are the psychological prices that are paid for entering the establishment and falling short of objectives. But It can be just too difficult to handle for some. It was too difficult for Sinn Fein , they dealt with it by intimidation while also deceptively canvassing the big myth that the war was for civil rights therefore , power sharing was a victory in itself. In the past when the dust settled and in their new parliamentary setting The Worker’s Party , Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein , when confident enough with the polls and in sanctimonious fashion could raise the mandate issue to condemn existing physical force republicans. The mandate issue is a hypocritical circle that can not be squared. While republicans do refer to 1918 as the ultimate electoral expression of Irish Independence , if republicans were to go down the road of mandates to justify armed actions. Then our leaders of 1916 who self appointed themselves should have stayed at home. It is naïve of Sinn Fein to talk of mandates to justify armed struggle and to discredit ” dissidents ” when one can easily point to the complete lack of electoral mandate they achieved during the PIRA’s campaign from 1970 to 1981. Support for armed struggle is far too complex to gauge from the ballot box as sympathy for those who perpetuate it is not determined by political definition. If this were the case Sinn Fein would be paradoxically shooting themselves in the foot regarding mandates , as the limited electoral success suffered from 1982 to 1992 would mean that only six per cent supported armed struggle in the north. Election results for Sinn Fein were even worse in the twenty six counties receiving only 1.6% of the vote in the 1992 general election just six years after abstentionism was dropped.

Dave Andrews, minister for foreign affairs 1997 – 2000 , when speaking about Sinn Fein ( 1969 – 1998 ) believed the core difference between his Fathers IRA is that ” they had a mandate and the Sinn Fein people didn’t have a mandate and they went on for thirty years , 3000 deaths, many people injured beyond repair, criminality, bank robberies , smuggling , drugs , so on so forth ”. He went on to describe the Provisional campaign as total anathema to the pure Republicanism of his Fathers era. As hypocritical as Sinn Fein are in preaching about mandates to ” dissidents ” . Dave Andrews is equally as hypocritical in preaching about mandates to Sinn Fein. While the length and military activity of Andrew’s fathers IRA and the PIRA may have differed , the legitimacy of the both organisations did not. Andrews believes his Father had the right to kill British intelligence officers because of the mandate received by Sinn Fein in 1918.* Andrew’s views are stereotypical of the views familiar in your local Fianna Fail or Fine Gael grassroots in the south. Unfortunately Andrews views who claims to be republican or at the very least nationalistic in outlook are representative of many misguided people in the twenty six counties . Mr Andrew’s who is sitting on the high altar of the mandate cushion must rationalise at some point that the IRA existed long before the election of 1918 , maybe not in name , but in many forms. The history of the IRA traces itself back to earlier movements, notably the IRB , the Irish Volunteers and 1798 all these movements acted without a mandate and all are heavily celebrated by Fianna Fail. In November 1972 Jack Lynch asserted that his party was the ‘direct descendant of the ” Old ” IRA the true IRA , which would have nothing to do with those who now claim to be the IRA*. However the Provisional’s early campaign was endorsed by many veteran’s of the tan war , to republicans, men like Tipperary’s Dan Gleeson who joined the Irish Volunteers in 1917 it symbolised the ‘unbroken chain which links earlier phases of the republican struggle to today’s struggle for freedom’ *. During 1972 Tom Malone refuted the suggestion ‘that veterans of the war do not support the fight in the North against Britain *. Easter Rising veteran and Free State army officer Commandant W. J. Brennan-Whitmore argued during 1975 that he could not ‘see any difference, moral or legal, between the fight now being waged by the present generation IRA , and that waged by the IRA of my generation. The objective of both is precisely the same – the liberation of our beloved country from foreign domination. Of course there were many revered veterans of the 1916 – 1923 period who were outspoken critics of several PIRA tactics. Tom Barry an example ,  but the most notable condemnation came from Vinny Byrne when asked about the Provo’s , he claimed ” They destroyed the name of the IRA , they should not have been allowed to call themselves IRA men at all ” * . Apart from Byrne’s theatrical analogy , much to the horror of people like Andrew’s , Michael McDowell and other fantasists from the twenty six counties ; who think the tan war was this bourgeois romantic affair. The ” Old ” IRA disappeared almost four times as many people in Cork in the 1920′ s as the Provisional IRA *. Mary Lindsay a Protestant woman living near Coachford in Cork was executed in 1921 for passing on information to Crown forces. Historians continue to argue over the ” Old ” IRA campaign in West Cork with some arguing that it was overly sectarian much the same way they argued the Provo’s campaign was in the seventies *. The ” Old ” IRA robbed several banks to fund their campaign the same way the PIRA did. It is clear that the ” Old ” IRA did not set out with a sectarian agenda in Belfast in the early twenties , however the pressure of the B- specials ruthless treatment of Catholics and the pogroms of the Loyalists left them with no choice. Much the same way the Provo’s had no choice. The ” Old ” IRA threw bombs on to tramcars packed with shipyard workers , they held up a group of workmen travelling to Hughes and Dickson flourmill , separated the workers by religion those of a Protestant faith were shot *. In May 1922 workmen in little Patrick street were lined up against a wall by nine armed IRA volunteers , when asked their religion four Protestants were separated from their Catholic workmates. Thomas Boyd , Thomas Murphy , William Patterson and Thomas Maxwell were shot.* The British media constantly described the ” Old ” IRA as terrorists and murderers , much the same way they described the PIRA throughout the conflict. This author does not claim to know what it was like to live in Belfast in the twenties or in the eighties or nineties for that matter but is by no means condemning the ” Old ” IRA or the Provisional IRA for their tactics , rather positively endorsing what had to be done amidst a brutal sectarian loyalist onslaught. But in comparing their similar revolutionary methods hopefully this piece has exposed the blatant hypocrisy when people claim the ” Old ” IRA were not the same as the PIRA. This piece has also focused on the similar hypocrisy by Sinn Fein in their condemnations against ” dissidents ”.

So where does this leave us ?. Establishment parties will get by with the skin of their teeth regarding this particular centenary. They can safely say Dan Breen , Seamus Robinson and Sean Treacy were acting on behalf of the democratically elected Dail. Question is did Breen and co hang around for authorisation from the Dail?. Did Pearse and Connolly hang around for authorisation in 1916 ?. Does our mandate come from 1918 or does it come from perpetual resistance to British rule down through the centuries. Does it come from the First and Second Dail or that same perpetual resistance from 1169 to Wolfe Tone and from the Young Irelanders to Robert Emmet and the Fenians. While the results of the general election of 1918 may have transformed the previous spirit of resistance into a ratified elected Republic. The revolutionary zeal existed long before 1918. This piece has used the centenary of both to put the debate of legitimacy in perspective and how brainless and deeply hypocritical some of the arguments put forward have been in the past. Nobody is suggesting there was not overlapping considerable support for the PIRA but the paradoxical cap Sinn Fein puts on that support when referring to mandates in order to criticize others is both self defeating and hypocritical. Have attitudes softened towards the Provo’s as the years go on ?. Would the Provo’s still be the badie’s if the so called ” dissidents ” were not around ?. Is it inevitable that attitudes soften as memories fade or is it just a continuing phenomena in Irish history that those Republicans who refuse to be bought ultimately places the ” Old ” ones in some sort of misguided favourable relativity.

Shaun Woodward the Labour secretary of state for ” Northern Ireland ” in the outgoing Labour government in 2010 , described ” dissidents ” as criminals who just like shooting people and contrasted them with the ” clearly political ambitions ” of the PIRA.* Interesting , was it not his same predeceasing Labour government who abolished political status in the seventies because they believed the PIRA were common criminals and well as he said himself ,

” just like shooting people.

*references on request