|Ruairi O Bradaigh kept Anti-Treaty Republicanism alive within mainstream political opinion in the 26 Counties for forty years after a majority at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis of January 1970 voted to dissolve it. He kept it alive by being a public figure who gave it a voice that was heard.
The Sinn Fein majority at that Ard Fheis, Official Sinn Fein, went on to become part of the 26 County Establishment. It fought a war in the North for a couple of years in a medium of ideological fantasy, it robbed banks in the South, it killed its dissidents and threatened others, and it became an agency of the Kremlin in Catholic Ireland, but everything was forgiven it because of its lethal enmity towards the Provos—that enmity at lest did its best to be lethal. It is now in government in Dublin as the Labour Party.
O Bradaigh founded the Provisional Republican movement when the Sinn Fein majority made its peace with the Treaty. That is to say, he gave the provoked nationalist insurrection of 1969 in the North its direction in the course of 1970. That insurrection was not Republican in origin. It came about through defensive action by Catholic communities against Protestant forces connected with the State which attacked them. Successful defence by a community against the State is tantamount to insurrection.
The insurrection found itself in being before it knew what it was. All it knew was that it had happened and that it would not stand itself down. And it stood in need of a purpose in order to maintain itself.
The whole thing grew out of a very modest 'civil rights' demand for reform, which the Orange apparatus in which the British State chose to present itself in the 6 Counties could not cope with. The response of the State to the demand carried the Civil Rights leaders out of their depth. All sorts of radicals and revolutionaries had associated themselves with the movement as it caught the headlines but none of them knew what to do next when the situation was changed abruptly by the effective resistance of the Catholic or Nationalist communities to the assaults launched against them by the forces of the State.
The Official IRA, largely disarmed and in ideological transition, had lost its bearings. The People's Democracy had run out of perspective. The New Left Marxists, who had come over from Britain for the revolution, went back home when it happened. Jack Lynch had urged on the insurrection with an inflammatory speech in mid-August 1969, and had followed this up with measures apparently intended to hold the insurrection in a stance of organised Catholic defence officially backed by Dublin, but he backed down under British diplomatic pressure, and discredited his own policy by criminal prosecutions of those who had served him. And Ruairi O Bradaigh shaped the insurrection into the Provisional IRA and made war on Britain in the medium of Anti-Partitionism and Anti-Treaty Republicanism.
There was, however, a twist in the Treaty arrangement which Anti-Treatyism had not taken account of. The Treaty did not just Partition Ireland and hold part of it within the British state. If it had done that, it is unlikely that Anti-Partitionism would have remained an active force.
Catholic or Nationalist discontent in the North did not derive from resentment at the memory of its exclusion from the Irish state. It was not a form of nostalgia. It arose daily from current experience. When Partitioning the country, Britain placed the Six County Nationalists or Catholics under the dominance of the Six County Protestant community outside the political democracy of the British state—and the British state was the only state there ever was in Northern Ireland.
Democratic politics was not possible within the Northern Ireland variant of the British state. Most of the services of state were supplied by the British State proper. All that was devolved to Northern Ireland—i.e. to the Six County Protestants—was policing and local government. The role of the Catholics was to be policed by Protestants and to have planning decisions made against them. British reforms, such as free education and the National Health Service, came to Northern Ireland from the political system of the state proper. They could therefore have no effect on alleviating the antagonism of two communities in the North. And that antagonism was aggravated daily by the devolved power. The ruling Protestants were in the grip of a Papist phobia. They could not themselves, in their local predicament, distinguish between politics and religion. And their permanent preoccupation was with the need to curb Papism in all its manifestations.
The British State undoubtedly had a purpose for taking on this perverse form in its Northern Ireland region, but it has chosen not to reveal it, and its apologists maintain a studied silence about it.
It was this twist in the Treaty arrangement that maintained the antagonism of the communities in the North, and that gave the Provisional IRA its mass support in the War. But it also meant that the War could have a substantial secondary objective—which could be seen as a stepping-stone on the way to the ultimate objective. And that was the cause of the split in the Provisional movement between O Bradaigh and Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Adams pursued the secondary objective of overcoming the Treaty arrangement as it applied specifically within the North. He did not explain that that is what he was doing—nor should he have done so. The actual conduct of politics in an intricate situation is not the same thing as historical explanation.
The split was bitter. O Bradaigh saw Adams as giving away one of the major strengths of the Anti-Treaty position. But what Adams did was a necessity of development in the North.
After the Good Friday Agreement, Martin Mansergh, adviser to Fianna Fail Taoiseachs, published a tirade against O Bradaigh in the Times Literary Supplement. Mansergh could not tolerate Anti-Treaty dissidents having a public voice in the state. But Mansergh did not say that the War, as diverted towards a secondary objective by Adams, had been legitimate. And, at the same time, Mansergh was covering over the Anti-Treaty origins of Fianna Fail and tracing the legitimacy of the 26 Co. state to the Treaty.
In the presence of such chicanery, one could only applaud Ruairi O Bradaigh for his stubbornness in presenting a clear Anti-Treaty record of events monthly in Saoirse.
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