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27 January 2005 Edition

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Minister plays fast and loose with facts

Fianna Fáil minister Dick Roche

Fianna Fáil minister Dick Roche

Minister Roche and the Sinn Féin centenary

THIS year marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Sinn Féin by Arthur Griffith. Last week it was announced that SF would be holding a year-long series of commemorations, seminars, exhibitions, "leadership" tours and rallies to mark the centenary across Ireland as well as in Britain, Europe, Australia, the US and other parts of the world.

In particular, Sinn Féin said that they will use the centenary celebrations to embark on a major recruitment drive in Ireland on both sides of the Border. Brass neck stuff!

The first Sinn Féin party (1905-1917) was a pacifist party that relied primarily on the journalism of Arthur Griffith to gain support for its nationalist ideas. Foremost among these were his advocacy of a protected Irish economy, which would enable native Irish industry to flourish, and a dual monarchy, in which the British monarch would be crowned in Dublin as the king or queen of the kingdom of Ireland. Ireland would have its own autonomous parliament in Dublin, while the "two kingdoms" would remain united under the British-Irish monarch.

There is no historical continuity between either the Sinn Féin of Griffith or the Sinn Féin which spearheaded the War of Independence and the present-day political party, which calls itself by the same name.

The first Sinn Féin party was opposed to higher wages, believing they would harm the interests of businesses in Ireland. Griffith denounced the 1913 Lockout workers, claiming, "whatever causes the area of manufacturing to contract in Ireland dangerously affects the future as well as the present prosperity".

No doubt the various commemoration events throughout 2005 will seek to perpetuate the myth that modern day Sinn Féin and the IRA are the heirs to the Easter Rising. Yet it is one of the great misnomers of Irish history that the 1916 Rising was a Sinn Féin rebellion or had anything to do with Sinn Féin. As the historian Calton Younger has pointed out, the majority of those involved in the rising had never belonged to Sinn Féin and "many took umbrage at the misnomer".

The reason why this misnomer — which Sinn Féin are still seeking to make political capital from even today — took root was that after the defeat of the rising, it was inaccurately described both by British politicians and the media as the "Sinn Féin rebellion", even though Sinn Féin had no formal involvement. It was not until 1917, when most of the insurgents were released under the amnesty from jail that they joined Sinn Féin en masse, using it as a vehicle for the advancement of their objective of an Irish Republic.

The Armani Shinners will also choose to ignore that this resulted in a bitter clash between those original members who backed Griffith's concept of an Anglo-Irish dual monarchy and the new members, including Constance Markiewicz, Margaret Pearse (mother of Pádraig Pearse) and Kathleen Clarke (widow of Thomas Clarke, the first signatory to the Proclamation), whose aim was to achieve a republic and give effect to the 1916 Proclamation under de Valera's leadership. Significantly, all of these individuals would be central to the establishment, a decade later, of Fianna Fail, the Republican Party. They would have little truck with the Armani Brigade.

Had the present-day propagandists in Sinn Féin even a cursory respect for Irish history, they would have recognised that 1917, and not 1905, is the key date in the republican history of Sinn Féin. It was not until the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in October 1917 that matters came to a head between the pro-monarchy old guard and the post-1916 intake, who would settle for nothing less than a republic.

The 1917 Ard Fheis was to all intents and purposes a victory for the republican wing of Sinn Féin. Griffith resigned the party leadership and presidency and was replaced by de Valera. It was only at this point that Sinn Féin became a Republican party.

While Provisional Sinn Féin spin doctors may have viewed the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Sinn Féin by Griffith in 1905 as a timely and convenient means to generate publicity for their party, they might have been advised to do a little more preliminary research.

One awaits with some interest reference to these inconvenient facts in some of Mr Adams's forthcoming speeches.

Minister plays fast and loose with facts

By Mícheál Mac Donncha

It's an awful pity the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche TD, did not avail of the opportunity to attend the launch of Sinn Féin's Céad Bliain events before penning his column. If he had joined the hundreds who thronged the Round Room of the Mansion House on 14 January he would have answers to many of the questions which perplexed him. Likewise, had the Sunday Independent chosen to report the meeting, its readers would have benefited from a more balanced view of what it was actually about.

It is not clear from the Minister's column whether he thinks the centenary of the founding of Sinn Féin should be marked in any way at all. Perhaps he misses the point that most historians seem to agree on. Though Sinn Féin in its first manifestation was small, it contained the seeds of many future political developments, bringing together key people who would play pivotal roles in the struggle for Irish independence. Its principle of self-reliance and its call for Irish MPs to withdraw from Westminster struck a chord and posed the first concerted challenge to the Irish Parliamentary Party. Out of that challenge emerged the independence movement from which almost all modern Irish political parties claim descent. It seems reasonable to expect that each of them, including Fianna Fáil, would consider the 100th anniversary of the founding of Sinn Féin worthy of marking in some way. They cannot complain if they leave it to Sinn Féin to do so.

The Minister displays his own weak grasp of history when he states that Sinn Féin 1905-'17 was a pacifist party. My understanding of pacifist is principled opposition to war in any circumstances. It is a noble position but one certainly not held by Griffith or early Sinn Féin. Griffith himself had been an IRB man and was later a Minister in the wartime Government of Dáil Éireann. The founders of Sinn Féin believed that, at that time, an armed challenge to the British Empire had no prospect of success. Their opposition to force was pragmatic, not principled, as they made clear in their newspapers. The view of many of them on this matter certainly changed. Witness Seán MacDiarmada, a National Organiser of Sinn Féin, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising.

(In passing it may be noted that one of the few pacifists in Ireland in 1916, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, was murdered by a British Army officer in Dublin in Easter Week).

Where does the Minister get the idea that Sinn Féin today, by marking this centenary, is claiming continuity from a policy of dual monarchy or that it does not realise that Sinn Féin emerged as a republican party in 1917? What was most significant about the first Sinn Féin was made clear by Gerry Adams in the Mansion House: "The most important principle of Sinn Féin was self-reliance. Only the people of this island can secure our liberation and mould our society to suit our unique heritage, our character, our economic needs and our place in the wider world. And that is still true today."

As for the Minister's bizarre charge that we do not understand the significance of the republicanisation of Sinn Féin in 1917, Adams said the 1916 Proclamation was "the founding document of modern Irish Republicanism and a charter of liberty with international as well as national importance". What could be clearer?

The Minister is correct in pointing out that Griffith was opposed to the Transport Union during the 1913 Lockout. Others in Sinn Féin supported the workers, including some trade unionists who had been among the first Dublin city councillors for the party, as did prominent republicans like Pádraig Mac Piarais, Thomas Ashe and Constance Markievicz.

Rather than denigrate Sinn Féin for our efforts to mark this significant year, it would be far better for the Minister and his party, Fianna Fáil, to set out their own stall. How do they propose to complete the journey to Irish independence and unity? What is their strategy to end Partition, to

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