Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

4 August 1999 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Remembering the Past: The IRA and electoralism

By Aengus O Snodaigh

ALTHOUGH the IRA (or the Volunteers) supported Sinn Féin throughout their resurgence after the 1916 Easter Rising, they recognised the danger of Volunteers being distracted from the important work of reorganising, rearming, recruiting, and training which was underway.

The IRA also contained many who were impatient with the politicking and with the electoralism of Sinn Féin and the Liberty Clubs. However, in a bid to clarify where the Army stood in relation to the rapid growth in the Republican Movement and the electoral success of Count Plunkett and Eamonn de Valera, the Army Executive issued a statement on May 22 1917 stating: ``Volunteers are notified that the only orders they are to obey are those of their own Executive.''

It further stated that Volunteers ``are at liberty, and are encouraged, to join any other movement that is at making Ireland a separate and independent nation'' before cautioning:

``They are reminded, however, of what occurred when Parnell induced the Fenians to fall into line with him - a fusion that resulted in the almost complete abandonment of physical force as a policy.

``They are warned, therefore, against devoting too much time or energy to any movement except their own, but to help them solely for the reason that they may enable them to spread the principles of their own organisation, which is the one to which they owe and must give their first allegiance.''

The directive also dealt with the rebuilding of the Army of the Irish Republic. It called on ``all officers and men to co-operate with [the Army Executive] in carrying out as speedily as possible'' the work of training and arming.

``Each Volunteer is expected to do his own part under the present difficult circumstances towards making himself an efficient soldier in the national army and each county is expected to see to the training and arming of its own men. It must see also that well-defined lines of communication are kept with the surrounding areas.''

The Executive guaranteed that it would not issue an order ``to take to the field'' until they considered the force was ``in a position to wage war on the enemy with a reasonable hope of success''.

It continued:

``Volunteers as a whole may consequently rest assured that they will not be called upon to take part in any forlorn hope.''

Count Plunkett's, or possibly the Irish Republican Brotherhood's, counter-organisation the Liberty Clubs was also growing rapidly, but suffered from not having a reputation, a central head office, but it was competing for members in the same towns where Sinn Féin had established cumainn. Thomas Dillon quotes the Royal Irish Constabulary as teasing its members, ``So ye're afraid to call yerselves Sinn Féiners.''

Avoiding the continuing danger of fracturing the Republican Movement into factions was the task undertook by the Mansion House Committee, elected after the April convention. They had several meetings to try to iron out the differences which existed between, the two main groupings especially, but the other organisations as well, and to come up with a coherent, unifying policy and strategy.

One such meeting, its fourth, was described as ``hot and strong without being too acrimonious''. At this meeting it was decided to retain the title Sinn Féin for the proposed amalgamation of all republican and nationalistic groups, but that a new constitution would be drawn up. A provisional committee was set up to begin the work of drafting the document and organising an Ard Fheis for October. The IRA Executive was also looking at a date in October 1917 for an IRA Army Convention.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1