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2 April 2009 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Republican Congress - The Athlone Manifesto

BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA

AT the General Army Convention of the Irish Republican Army in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day 1934, ideological and strategic differences which had been widening in the organisation for a number of years finally came to a head and resulted in the formation of the Irish Republican Congress.
A number of senior officers and others in the rank and file were concerned that the IRA, as they saw it, was drifting while Eamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party was gaining all the political advantages. Two years earlier, the IRA had suspended its rule forbidding Volunteers from working or voting in elections to the Free State parliament to ensure the defeat of the Cumann na nGaedhal government and the election of Fianna Fáil. Immediately after the 1932 election, de Valera lifted the ban on the IRA and released republican prisoners.
In 1931, the IRA had sponsored a short-lived political party, Saor Éire, with an avowedly socialist programme. It met with immediate and hysterical condemnation from the Catholic Church, the press and the Cumann  na nGaedhal government which tightened repression. Thereafter, many in the IRA leadership saw a choice between promoting socialism and preserving the IRA intact and chose the latter. At the same time, they believed that they could act as a lever, pushing Fianna Fáil towards completing the national struggle and achieving the all-Ireland Republic.
Others disagreed and argued that unless the IRA rallied urban workers and rural small farmers then the dangers of Blueshirt fascism would continue to grow and Fianna Fáil would continue its swing to the right, while slowing to a standstill on the road to the Republic.

WORKERS’ REPUBLIC
At the St Patrick’s Day IRA Convention, senior officer Michael Price proposed a resolution essentially committing the IRA to a Workers’ Republic. The motion was defeated after it was successfully argued by its opponents that it would amount to a change in the IRA Constitution which would allow Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to claim that this was not the same IRA that had fought in the Tan and Civil Wars. Price withdrew from the IRA.
Then Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore proposed a motion calling for a Republican Congress and a rallying of republican opinion. This won the support of a majority of delegates but the leadership voted against it and swung the vote.
O’Donnell, Gilmore and Frank Ryan left the IRA and began organising Republican Congress. The first meeting was held in Athlone and included republican and labour representatives. The meeting adopted what became known as The Athlone Manifesto. It stated:
“We believe that a Republic of a united Ireland will never be achieved except through a struggle which uproots capitalism on its way... As the Republic, when established, will be a Republic of the workers and small farmers, the forces that will achieve it must be drawn from those sections of our life.”
The IRA Army Council responded with a public statement in which it said it was “in complete agreement” with the Congress attack on the social and economic system and the partition governments but that Congress was an attempt to “disrupt the Army” at a time when it was under attack from “a combination of imperialists and pseudo-republicans”.
Public criticism of the IRA leadership by Congress led a number of those who had attended the Athlone meeting – including Sheila Humphreys and Eithne Coyle – to withdraw from Congress. A further and politically fatal split was to occur in the new grouping later that year.
The Irish Republican Congress was formed at a meeting in Athlone on 7 and 8 April 1934, 75 years ago next week.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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