A talk given by Dieter Reinisch at the book launches of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: Selected Writings & Speeches, Volume 1, on January 17 in Teachers’ Club, Dublin, and on January 19 in Conway Mill, Belfast. Dieter Reinisch is Researcher at the European University Institute, Department of History & Civilization in Florence, Italy, and Lecturer in Celtic Studies and Irish History at the University of Vienna, Austria. He is Editor of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s Selected Writings & Speeches, published by Cló Saoirse/Irish Freedom Press, Dublin.
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, former President of Sinn Féin, Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army and TD representing Longford/Westmeath, died in June 2013. He was one of the most influential figures in Irish Republicanism for more than half a century. This became once again most obvious at his funeral in Roscommon Town when thousands of people from all over Ireland, Europe, North America and Australia joined and saluted him on his last journey. The presence of dozens of armed Gardaí and Special Branch in and around Roscommon Town, his house, outside and inside the church and even on the graveyard, surrounding his grave, proves that his influence, tradition, politics, ideas and values are feared by the Freestate even today.
Let me give you some quotes what other people, comrades, journalists, and his opponents said about Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. Sinn Féin Poblachtach President Des Dalton called Ruairí Ó Brádaigh “a towering figure of Irish Republicanism,” Henry McDonald writing in the Guardian characterised him as “an icon for a new generation of hard-line republicans,” for journalist Ed Moloney, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was simply “the last Republican,” contrary, his biographer Robert W. White writes that “on occasion, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh has been described as the ‘last republican.’ In fact, however, he made sure he was not the last republican. That is his legacy,” and IRA-Volunteer Dolours Price just called him “’Ruairí’ as he calls me ‘Dolours’;” the former IRA Prisoner turned academic and writer Anthony McIntyre wrote: “[Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s] entire life was immersed in the politics of Irish Republicanism and its associated physical force tradition.”
However, at the same time, he is one of the most controversial figures of 20th Century Ireland; the Irish Independent compared him with Robespierre, The Telegraph wrote he was a “unrelenting opponent of British rule in Northern Ireland”, and while politically opposing Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Irish Marxist D.R.O’Connor Lysaght acknowledged “his heart was in the proper place.”
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh described himself as a “ready-made” Republican in a personal Interview with researcher Robert White. Born in 1932, he joined Sinn Féin in 1950 and the IRA in 1951. By 1959, he was Chief-of-Staff of the IRA. IN 1969, he was on the initial Provisional IRA Army Council. From 1970 until 1983, he was President of so-called Provisional Sinn Féin; again, from 1986 on he was first President and later Patron of Republican Sinn Féin. In 1919, Ó Brádaigh’s father, while attempting to seize arms, was shot, never fully recovering. Until his death in 1942, he was an uncompromising Republican. Ó Brádaigh’s mother was in Cumann na mBan, the women’s wing of the Republican Movement, in the 1918-22 time period. A lifelong Republican, she allowed her home to be used as a safe house in the 1950s.
As can be seen, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh held the highest positions, both in the military as well as the political wing of the Republican Movement. However, in today’s Ireland, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh is largely remembered as a militant republican, trying to keep armed resistance to British occupation intact, turning it from a tactic in the anti-imperialist struggle to a solid republican strategy. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh is often-quoted saying: “As long as British rule remains in Ireland, there will always be a section of the Irish people resisting this British rule.” While Ruairí Ó Brádaigh is correct with these analyses of Irish history, his opponents use this quote to portray him as a die-hard militant, unaffected by political developments. Indeed, painting such a picture of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh is far from the reality.
While holding leading positions in the Irish Republican Army for more than 60 years since the 1950s, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was not just a soldier, a Volunteer of the Irish Republic. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was a thinker, a speaker, a writer, and a politician. Therefore, this volume aims to provide Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s theoretical contribution to Irish Republicanism during a crucial period in Irish history. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was a revolutionary politician; elected to Dáil Éireann on an abstentionist platform representing Longford/Westmeath.
The writings included in this volume span the period when Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was member of the so-called Provisional Irish Republican Movement and President of Sinn Féin (until 1983). This was a crucial period in the life of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, the Republican Movement and Irish history. The period is encircled by two important splits in the Republican Movement, the formation of the Provisional Army Council (1970) and the formation of the Continuity Army Council (1986). Consequently, the Volume starts with the programmatic What is Irish Republicanism? (1970) and ends with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s speech at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis in 1986 before leading a historic walk-out.
In the 16 years between these two historic events, Ireland witnessed the heights of the War in the Occupied Six Counties, the formulation of Éire Nua, the Hunger Strikes of 1980/81 and the introduction of the Armalite and ballot box strategy. All these events are mirrored in this volume.
The strengths of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s writings lay in his openness to international developments while at the same time defending basic Republican principles. Consequently, portraying Ruairí Ó Brádaigh as an “Irish Nationalist” would be to underestimate the political capacity of this man. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was a revolutionary Republican in the finest tradition of Theobald Wolfe Tone.
The first part of this Volume includes Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s press releases, statements and Presidential Addresses following the formation of so-called Provisional Sinn Féin until 1973. These contributions were initially compiled for a booklet published in autumn 1973 called Our People, Our Future: What Éire Nua means.
Further writings and speeches from the late 1970s and the 1980s were included in this volume. Among those are The Protection of Human Rights in the Republic of Ireland, a document submitted to the United Nations; a Reply to then US-President Jimmy Carter; his speech commemoration the First Dáil Éireann in 1979; as well as his Presidential Address to the 69th Ard-Fheis in 1973; and his Presidential Addresses to the Ard-Fheiseanna from 1980 to 1983.
These years were a crucial period of the Republican Movement; the Hunger strikes started shortly before the Ard-Fheis in November 1980 and the year 1981 was marked by the death of the ten Hunger strikes and the election of Bobby Sands as TD while on hunger strike. At the same time, a reformist clique pushed for reforms within the Republican Movement. Danny Morrison introduced his idea of “the Armalite and the Ballot-box,” and Gerry Adams called the progressive, direct-democratic programme Éire Nua a “sop to Unionism”.
In 1982, the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis voted to drop the policy, and the following year all reference to it in the Sinn Féin Constitution and rules was removed. In protest to these developments, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh stepped down as President of Sinn Féin, making the Address to the 79th Ard-Fheis in 1983 his last Presidential Address until 1987. The Presidential Address of 1983 is also reprinted in this Volume. The Volume concludes with his famous speech “Opposing the Motion on Abstentionism (Resolution 162),” at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis in 1986. This Ard-Fheis witnessed the historical significant walkout of revolutionary republicans who later re-organised under the name Republican Sinn Féin.
Additionally, the Volume includes an appendix with three historical Sinn Féin documents from this period: Where Sinn Féin Stands (1970); Sinn Féin Yesterday and Today (1986); and Historic Sinn Féin Declaration (1986).
Yet, let me come to another important aspect of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s political thinking which is also very much reflected in this volume: Internationalism. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s political opponents in Irish politics, such as the protagonists of the Official-IRA and the Workers’ Party or the post-1986 Provisional Movement, try to portray Ruairí Ó Brádaigh as a petty-bourgeoisie, conservative, and religious Irish Nationalist. Nothing could be further from the truth. I got to know Ruairí Ó Brádaigh in the last years of his life. I always met a progressive revolutionary very interested as well as informed by international developments. At a very young age, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh became interested in the national liberation struggles of Cyprus and Algeria, establishing links with Philippine Maoists back in the early 1970s and meeting representatives of the PLO in the mid-1970s.
When introducing Ruairí Ó Brádaigh to an Indian Communist from Calcutta in autumn 2011, he presented the Indian visitor with a copy of his book Dílseacht. While writing a personal message on the first page, he turned to me and said:
Dieter, can you help me, please. I want to write the correct message in the book, is it ‘This is the final struggle; Let us group together, and tomorrow; The Internationale will be the human race, or The Internationale will unite the human race’?”
This is the Ruairí Ó Brádaigh I know; a revolutionary, internationalist Irish Republican defending the principles of militant Irish Republicanism throughout his whole life.
I think that this progressive approach of his political thinking is reflected in this Volume. I tried to choose the contributions collected for this Volume carefully to reflect the most crucial events during Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s time in the Provisional Republican Movement. Writing in the Preface for this Volume, Prof. Robert Write writes:
This collection of speeches and writings by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh covers the years 1970-1986, when he arguably had more influence on Irish Republicanism than any other single person. He helped lead the IRA split in December 1969 and the Sinn Féin split in January 1970. By the end of that year, he was in the unique of position of holding a seat on the Army Council of the “Provisional” IRA and serving as President of “Provisional” Sinn Féin. Sixteen long years later, he was no longer in the leadership of either organization, but he remained important enough to lead a split in Sinn Féin that resulted in the creation of Republican Sinn Féin, the first of the so-called “dissident” organizations that remain active to this day.
These speeches and writings present the depth of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s politics. He is best known for his principled refusal to support involvement in the constitutional parliaments in Dublin, Belfast, and London. Sources of his principles are found here. Writing in “A New Democracy” (Spring 1971), for example, he quotes Liam Mellowes,
“Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed – or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure.’ (p. 38)
Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh today, his politics were based on an interpretation of historical events that was accepted at one time or another by Eamon de Valera, Seán Mac Bride, Cathal Goulding, and Gerry Adams.
There is a tendency for external observers to assume that Ó Brádaigh’s politics were based simply on tradition and therefore they were socially and economically conservative. However, his socialism was an extension of arguments raised by Fintan Lalor (see “What is Irish Republicanism,” p. 15), and the co-operative movement (“Restore the Means of Production to the People,’ p. 12) of the 1930s and 1940s. His defence of “abstentionism” was linked to his progressive politics, as witnessed by questions he raised at the 1986 Ard-Fheis, including: “How can the fundamental change in property relations come out of Leinster House?” (“Speech opposing the motion on abstentionism,” p. 73). The question then informs debate today as Ireland recovers from the economic downturn of 2008.
As these speeches and writings show, what Ruairí Ó Brádaigh said was consistent with what he did. In this, he was similar to many other Irish Republicans, from Wolfe Tone, to Padraig Pearse and on to Bobby Sands. That made him dangerous to the authorities and to some of his fellow activists.
This collection is a welcome addition to the vast body of Irish Republican literature. The most recent of the contributions here is now almost thirty years old. Because they often draw on the past to inform a New Ireland of the future, they remain important. (Prof Robert W. White writes in the Preface to this Volume.)
I thank Prof. Robert W. White for writing the Introduction to this Volume. There would be no one better to write the Introduction to this first Volume than a person who was not just his biographer but also a friend. Special thanks go to Líta Ní Chathmhaoil, Josephine Hayden, and Brian Kilcommins for assisting this publication.
This Volume is the inaugural publication of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s Selected Writings. While this Volume spans the period when Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was member of the Provisional Republican Movement, Volume 2 will include selected contributions from his later period, when he reformed Republican Sinn Féin and the Continuity Army Council. Volume 2 will be launched in New York City on the 17th of October 2015 and in Dublin at the Republican Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis in November 2015. Successive Volumes 3 and 4 will be published in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Finally, a personal note on Ruairí Ó Brádaigh; I met him first in Dublin in 2007; he later invited me to his house to conduct an interview with him for SAOIRSE. As Dolours Price, I also had the fortune to call him “Ruairí” as he called me “Dieter.” I had the honour to accompany him on his two final journeys through Roscommon Town on June 7 and 8, 2013. On these days, we honoured an Irish soldier; this book is my way to honour an Irish politician.