Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

27 September 2001 Edition

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In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Irish republicanism was searching for a political way forward. The republican movement had split again with the formation of de Valera's Fianna Fáil, which began attracting widespread support among ordinary people who opposed the Free State regime. The abstentionist Sinn Féin had grown ineffective and increasingly irrelevant and its relationship with the IRA had become tenuous.

In 1931, the IRA endorsed a new departure in Irish political life. Its aim was to achieve and consolidate a 32-County Republic and to secure the leadership of Irish workers and small farmers in order to overthrow British imperialism and Irish capitalism. The new political project was given the name Saor Éire.

The two men most responsible for outlining the form Saor Éire should take were Peader O'Donnell and Dave Fitzgerald. O'Donnell, the main proponent of Saor Éire within the IRA Army Council, envisaged it as a movement based on the IRA and appealing to workers, small farmers and working class supporters of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party.

An Phoblacht at the time summarised the political programme of Saor Éire:

Every citizen shall be guranteed a livelihood and adequate means of existance. Industry shall be made to serve the community, not to make profit for individuals as heretofore.

Republican supporters of the Saor Éire idea felt the IRA would be able to organise a political organisation that was both socialist and republican. It would be an engagement by the IRA in practical politics. But unlike Fianna Fáil's concentration on parliamentarianism, it would be revolutionary and at the same time far removed from what was seen as Sinn Féin's high minded purism and preoccupation with the ethereal Second Dáil.

The IRA General Army Convention which endorsed the formation of Saor Éire took place at the home of Roisin Walsh, Chief Librarian of Dublin City Library, in Templeogue, Dublin on 15 February 1931.

Saor Eire's inaugural conference took place in Dublin's Iona Ballroom the following September. In session there, 120 delegates approved a number of resolutions, including public ownership of transport and co-operative ownership of the land.

The increasing radicalisation of the IRA at this time was viewed with alarm by Cosgrave's Free State government, which launched a campaign of disinformation and smears to discredit the latest republican political project and Ireland witnessed its own `Red Scare'.

With prompting from the government, the Catholic Bishops condemned Saor Éire because it said it was striving ``to mobilise the workers and working farmers of Ireland behind a revolutionary movement to set up a Communist state. That is to impose upon the Catholic soil of Ireland the same materialistic regime, with its fanatical hatred of God, as now dominates Russia and threatens to dominate Spain'' - a reference to the overthrow of the Spanish monarchy earlier that year and the the vote in the Cortes in favour of the separation of Church and state. According to the bishops, Saor éire and the IRA were ``sinful and irreligious'' and no Catholic could be a member of either.

New Free State legislation provided for the proscription of the IRA and Saor Éire and banned every other organisation with references to workers or labour in its name. The republican paper An Phoblacht was suppressed.The government crackdown effectively killed off Saor Éire.

Saor Éire turned out to be a short-lived political venture by republicans. It marked a high point for revolutionary politics in the movement and showed that the Connolly tradition had widespread support within the ranks. Its proscription and the subsequent vicious suppression of all forms of militant republicanism North and South ushered in a dark era for Irish republians.

Saor Éire was officially launched on 26 September 1931, 70 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1