1 December 2013 Edition
‘Freedom Struggle by the Provisional IRA’
Remembering the Past
"Any man who claims to be a republican and gets involved in sectarianism is denying the real meaning of republicanism and has no place in our Movement. We appeal to the Protestant people of the North to join with us and let us go forward together to the New Ireland" – Martin McGuinness, Bodenstown 1973, ‘Freedom Struggle’
BY the end of 1973, the armed conflict in the Six Counties had been going on for four years. British military repression in nationalist areas was intense and hundreds of Irish political prisoners were interned in Long Kesh and other prisons and hundreds more were held as convicted prisoners in the North, the 26 Counties and England.
Despite the intensity of British repression, republican resistance, spearheaded by the IRA, had gone from strength to strength since the formation of the Provisional Army Council in December 1969 and the beginning of its armed campaign in 1970. This followed attacks on nationalist districts by the RUC and loyalist mobs and the expulsion of many hundreds of nationalists from their homes and workplaces.
The one-party Unionist regime at Stormont would not deliver the reforms sought by the Civil Rights Movement. On the contrary, with the support of the British Army, redeployed in the Six Counties in strength in 1969, the unionist government reacted with violence, imposing internment without trial in August 1971. The murder of 14 nationalists in Derry on Bloody Sunday 1972 and the subsequent surge in support for the IRA forced the British government to abolish Stormont and introduce direct rule from Westminster.
An increasingly confident IRA won widespread support at home and abroad. It called a truce and republicans held talks with the British Government in June 1972. British military and loyalist actions ended the truce and the IRA campaign resumed with numerous attacks on British forces across the Six Counties. In 1973, the campaign was extended to England, with scores of bombings taking place that year.
The intensity of the war, republican confidence and the belief that British withdrawal from the Six Counties was achievable in a short time were all reflected in a major publication by the IRA in June 1973.
Freedom Struggle by the Provisional IRA was a book that detailed the course of the struggle since 1969 from the republican viewpoint. It gave the Irish historical background, outlined previous IRA campaigns, set out the Provisional IRA position on the split in the IRA and Sinn Féin in 1969/70, and narrated the conflict from 1970 until the middle of 1973.
At this time, Sinn Féin was banned in the Six Counties, republicans were legally barred from TV and radio in the 26 Counties and self-censorship was extensive in print and broadcasting media in Ireland and Britain. Thus it was felt that (in addition to the weekly republican newspapers, An Phoblacht in Dublin and Republican News in Belfast) a susbstantial publication was needed to state the republican position.
• 'Freedom Struggle' outlined previous IRA campaigns, set out the IRA position on ‘the Split’ in 1969/70, and narrated the conflict from 1970 until the middle of 1973
Freedom Struggle carried all the main IRA statements from 1970 until 1973. It gave the background to the truce and defended IRA actions before and after it. It also carried commentary on the political manoeuvres of the British and Dublin governments and the unionists. It stressed the non-sectarian nature of Irish republicanism, repeating the words of Martin McGuinness at Bodenstown that year:
“Any man who claims to be a republican and gets involved in sectarianism is denying the real meaning of republicanism and has no place in our Movement. We appeal to the Protestant people of the North to join with us and let us go forward together to the New Ireland.”
Freedom Struggle was banned and treated as an illegal document on both sides of the Border. People were charged and convicted for possession of it. However, it was estimated that up to 20,000 copies were sold. The defiant spirit it reflected was also seen in the helicopter escape by three IRA leaders from Mountjoy Jail in October 1973.
The changing nature of British counter-insurgency and harsh political realities, North and South, would soon mean that republicans had to critically re-assess British Government intentions and IRA strategy; but at the end of 1973 the prevailing republican outlook was summed up in the closing words of the introduction to Freedom Struggle:
“Finally, a warning to the Tory Government of Great Britain. The Provisionals, as you already know from talks in the past, will never go cap in hand to London. They are not an army in disarray or fatigued; in fact they speak from a pinnacle of proficiency and strength never before enjoyed by Irishmen at war with England. Prime Minister Heath and others would do well to take cognisance of these facts.”
• Freedom Struggle by the Provisional IRA was published 40 years ago in 1973.