22 September 2005 Edition
An Phoblacht - 35 years of continuous publication
The 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin has witnessed a range of commemorative events and initiatives to consolidate and build upon the party's continued support throughout the island of Ireland. One of those initiatives is the re-launch of the republican newspaper An Phoblacht with a new format and updated style.
After 35 years of continuous publication An Phoblacht remains the only weekly paper in Ireland to give an unmediated Irish republican message.
The paper has been a key component in weekly republican activity across Ireland for three decades. In the past it was a vital tool of political organisation through advertising mobilisations, events and political activity. Through its distribution network within Sinn Féin activism over the years it became a focus for weekly political activity.
In a proud tradition
An Phoblacht follows in a long and proud tradition of republican journals over 200 years since the the United Irishmen's Northern Star, edited by Samuel Neilson in the 1790s; the Young Irelanders' Nation of the 1840s, edited by Thomas Davis; the Fenians Irish People newspaper 1863-'65, edited by Thomas Clarke Luby, John O'Leary and Charles J Kickham; and the numerous republican papers in each decade of the 20th Century.
Although re-launched in 1970, the title An Phoblacht has a long and historic association with Irish republicanism. It was used for the first time in its English form (the Republic) by the Dungannon Clubs. But the title An Phoblacht became better known in the 1920s and 1930s through its use by a newspaper of those decades which became in effect the voice of the Irish Republican Army.
Following the upheavals within Irish republicanism in 1969/'70, one of the tasks of the new leadership was the publication of a new republican newspaper. The first issue of the new monthly paper, An Phoblacht, under the editorship of Seán O Brádaigh, appeared 31 January 1970.
Developing with the struggle
From its inception in the turbulent political events of the late 1960s and early 1970s An Phoblacht has continued to develop with the wider republican struggle. In 1972 after a move to Parnell Square in Dublin city centre An Phoblacht went fortnightly.
When Eamonn Mac Thomáis took over as Editor from Coleman Moynihan, major changes were made to the paper and it eventually went weekly in 1973.
An Phoblacht was a target for state repression North and South over three decades and its offices in Belfast and Dublin were subjected to raids while several of its editors were arrested. In July 1973 Eamon Mac Thomáis was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment for IRA membership. Within two months of his release and after resuming editorial duties at An Phoblacht he was again arrested and sentenced to a further 15 months in jail.
Since 1970 An Phoblacht has been the official newspaper of the Republican Movement, but its main area of distribution throughout most of the '70s remained the 26 Counties. The republican paper most widely read in the North at that time was the Belfast-based Republican News, founded in July 1970 by the veteran republican, Jimmy Steele.
A four-page monthly, Republican News was edited and almost exclusively written by Steele. It had a circulation of 15,000 copies a month. Jimmy Steele was succeeded as Republican News Editor by Proinsias Mac Airt.
In mid-1975 Danny Morrison took over as Editor and the paper was re-organised.
In 1978, following his imprisonment in the H-Blocks at Long Kesh, the late Bobby Sands, using the pen-name 'Marcella', became a contributor to Republican News, describing in detail the appalling conditions in the H-Blocks.
Throughout 1978, Republican News staff came in for increased harassment by the RUC and British Army and its offices were regularly raided and issues of the paper seized.
In the autumn of 1978, following years of debate republicans agreed to amalgamate An Phoblacht and Republican News. The first issue of the merged paper, under the title An Phoblacht/Republican News, edited by Danny Morrison, appeared on 27 January 1979.
During the early 1980s, An Phoblacht was to the fore in reporting many issues, including the appalling conditions in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, the torture of prisoners in the interrogation centres of Castlereagh and Gough Barracks, the H-Block/Armagh Prison Hunger Strike of 1980, the seven-month Hunger Strike in Long Kesh from March to October 1981, during which ten republican prisoners died and numerous other political, social and economic issues throughout the 32 Counties.
In the week of Bobby Sands' death in May 1981 An Phoblacht sold around 60,000 copies.
Under the Editorship of Mick Timothy who succeeded Morrison as Editor the paper was expanded from 12 to 16 pages allowing greater coverage of social, economic and political issues throughout the 32 Counties.
Following Mick Timothy's sudden death on 26 January 1985, he was succeeded by Rita O'Hare. The paper was extremely important during this period in combating the fog of censorship against Sinn Féin on both sides of the border. In the face of Section 31 and the British broadcasting ban, An Phoblacht gave a republican analysis of what was really happening in the North and why.
An Phoblacht was to the fore in exposing British military and RUC collusion with unionist death squads. During the '80s several shopkeepers in the Six Counties were murdered just for stocking the paper. In the South, paper sellers faced regular and severe Garda harassment.
British state forces in the North harassed An Phoblacht van drivers over the years and they were often endangered by being identified to unionist paramilitaries.
Moving with the times
An Phoblacht has continually moved with the times. In 1988 An Phoblacht moved to new customised offices at 58 Parnell Square. The move to the new building dedicated to the memory of former Editor Mick Timothy, added to the paper's efficiency and professionalism.
The paper eventually expanded again from 16 to 20 pages and introduced colour before much of the mainstream Irish print media.
An Phoblacht's offices in Dublin and Belfast later became fully computerised and the paper was one of the first in Ireland to go on-line.
In August 2003 An Phoblacht modernised its operations further with the launch of a new website.
An Phoblacht formally became part of the Sinn Féin structure following a meeting in Wynn's Hotel, Dublin in 2004.
New format next week
An Phoblacht will be published in its new format from next week. Current Editor Seán Brady says that the re-launch will "update and sharpen the look of the paper bringing it further into 21st Century and making it more appealing for our readers across Ireland and around the world".
"It is appropriate that in this centenary year of Sinn Féin, that the republican paper modernises its look and its approach.
"The time ahead brings great challenges and great opportunities for Irish republicans. A great new strategic space is opening up for our struggle. It is vital that Sinn Féin connects with Irish people in every corner of this island and at all levels. Making our politics accessible will be an important consideration in the time ahead and our paper is vital to that task.
"The motto of our paper has for many years been that of the United Irish Society, 'Equality — it is new strung and shall be heard' -- those words and that objective are as relevant in Ireland today as they were when first spoken. Sinn Féin has the vision to build that objective into a reality. An Phoblacht intends to play its part in that project by bringing the clear and powerful message of equality and freedom for the people of Ireland to as many readers as possible every week."
A special souvenir edition of An Phoblacht is being issued to mark the re-launch. It features 20 historic An Phoblacht front pages since the first edition in 1970 and a history of the paper over those 35 years