Dáithí Ó Conaill: Twenty Six Years On

Glasnevin Cemetery, Sunday January 1st 2017

Republicans gathered at the gates of Glasnevin Cemetery on January 1st, 2017 for the annual commemoration of Dáithí Ó Conaill.  Andy Connolly chaired the event.  A decade of the Rosary as Gaeilge was read was read by Paddy Ennis, the wreathe was laid on behalf of the Republican Movement by Seamus Byrne and the oration was delivered by Sinn Féin Poblachtach National PRO, Seán Ó Dubhláin.  Afterwards the National Anthem was played by Seán Ó Sé.  Those in attendance then retired to Joxers Pub for refreshments.  Sinn Féin Poblachtach Átha Cliath would like to thank everyone who attended.   

“A chairde,

First of all I want to thank the organisers for asking me to speak here today. It is a great honour. Like many young republicans before joining Republican Sinn Féin I was acutely aware of Dáithí Ó Conaill, his significance to the cause and the massive role he played throughout the course 20th Century Irish politics. A strict and disciplined revolutionary, he never waned in his responsibilities nor compromised on the principles so dearly held by every Martyr of Irish freedom. He was a top soldier, a strong leader and a competent political mind. He understood very clearly the methods needed and the strategy to be implemented. Leo Martin, a veteran Belfast Republican now deceased who served with Dáithí described him as “brains, strategic thinking, and leadership, “all combined into one person.” With his untimely death on New Year’s Day 1991, the Republican Movement lost an invaluable member coming into a crucial period of reorganisation and planning.

Born into a family with Republican connections in Cork in May 1938, Dáithí was nephew of Michael O Sullivan of the IRA’s Cork Brigade. Michael was murdered by the British in 1921 having been stabbed with a bayonet. No doubt this would have made an imprint on the mind of the young Dáithí. He went onto join the Republican Movement at the age of just 17.

He went onto play a central part in the Resistance Campaign of the 1950s. He was second in command during the ill-fated Brookeborough Raid in 1957, an attack in County Fermanagh on an RUC Barracks which cost the lives of Seán Sabhat and Fearghal Ó hÁnluain.

Very much active as a full time revolutionary during this period he was to be captured in the Free State, served six months in Mountjoy and then interned in the Curragh Camp. He escaped along with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh in 1958 and got straight back to work.
During this time due to the scale of the arrests against the IRA leadership Ruairí Ó Bráidaigh was made Chief of Staff and Dáithí was made Director of Operations bringing him onto the Army Council. Despite the young ages of these men they had proven themselves soldiers worthy of the challenge.

Dáithí had aimed to expand the campaign deeper into the occupied six counties toward the end of 1959, a plan was underway in East Tyrone around Lough Neagh to increase operations. However it became compromised on the night of November 10, 1959 when along with J.P O’Hagan and local man Mark Devlin they were ambushed by the B Specials and RUC. The Brits opened fire and in his escaped Dáithí was hit six times. He managed to make it to a country house and take refuge for a time but he was later captured, covered in blood and in terrible condition, the injuries he received that night no doubt contributed to his untimely death this day 26 years ago. He was sent to prison in Belfast for 8 years, he was released unconditionally in September 1963.

A year prior his release in 1963, the IRA had called off the campaign. The lives of eight Republican soldiers were lost but lack of finance, weaponry and the arrest of senior figures caused a stagnation in the ranks. An issue to dump arms was delivered, the fight would continue another day. To quote from the Army Council statement, “The Irish resistance movement renews its pledge of eternal hostility to the British Forces of Occupation in Ireland. It calls on the Irish people for increased support and looks forward with confidence – in co-operation with the other branches of the Republican Movement – to a period of consolidation, expansion and preparation for the final and victorious phase of the struggle for the full freedom of Ireland.”

Confident in the next phase, the final and victorious phase in the struggle was for Ireland’s full freedom was stated, not as token but as fact. Dáithí Ó Conaill would go on to play his biggest role yet. In the 1960s while teaching in Glencolmcille in Donegal he was made O/C of the Donegal IRA.

The Republican Movement faced two terrible splits in the second half of the 20th century. The first in 1969/70 and the second in 1986. Not all in the Movement were on the same page about the direction this final phase would take.

An element led by Cathal Goulding in ‘69 had pushed to end abstentionism and take seats in Leinster House, Stormont and Westminster as a way to appease unionists into a working class struggle. However, paying recognition to one paritionist state was abandoning the Republic set out in 1916, it was counter revolutionary and counterproductive to ending the root cause of the conflict, British rule. And the argument made by Dáithí as his comrades was, go into that system, you will simply become part of that system.

The split came and the Republican Movement was reorganised with full recognition by the last surviving members of the Second Dáil, the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin had come about. Dáithí played a key role in the reorganisation, serving on the Army Council as Publicity Officer. He travelled extensively, establishing NORAID in the US which was instrumental for raising funds for the war effort back home. In the 1971 he travelled to Prague to procure arms and ammunition. However they were intercepted on route to Ireland.

Knowing that the final solution must be political, Dáithí Ó Conaill along with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh had drafted ÉIRE NUA, a proposal for a four province federal Ireland. In 1974 this document was put to loyalists who were open even at that stage to the idea. But talks were scuppered by the Free State and Brits who have a vested interested in centralised politics under the current neo-colonial institutions.

Not long after an internal power struggle came about within the Movement, resulting in ÉIRE NUA be dropped in 1983 by the new Adams leadership, ironically they who now administer British rule considered it a “sob to unionism”. Under the new so-called leaderships direction the Movement was again diverted down the path of counter revolution. In 1986 the Provisionals accepted to take seats in Leinster House, a counter revolutionary British imposed parliament.

Again, the Republican Movement went into a period of re-organisation and with the backing of the last surviving member of the second Dáil, Comdt. Tom Maguire Sinn Féin reorganised as Republican Sinn Féin. The IRA was also reorganised at this time under the Continuity Army Council. Dáithí Ó Conaill played a key role yet again in keeping revolutionary republicanism on the correct path, the only path with a guarantee of attainable Irish independence. And I say this is the only attainable path because the end goal is not merely a united Ireland, no, it is an independent Ireland free from British rule. As Dáithí once stated, “Two principles which are not negotiable, the unity of our country and the sovereignty of the Irish People.” He made sure to include the issue of sovereignty when speaking about unity.

The current path all constitutionalist parties including the Provisionals are on is an, “Agreed Ireland”, one where we are looking at possible Irish unity of sorts, perhaps a two state federal solution but where British politics and law is still enmeshed within the Irish political framework. This will never be acceptable.

Prior to his death Dáithí had drafted, “Towards a Peaceful Ireland” a document setting out the position of revolutionaries. It has since been adopted as core Republican Sinn Féin policy. For revolutionaries it is the clearest and surest path towards a united and free Ireland. It calls for the convening of a National Assembly, in the form of a Constitutional, Constituent or Consultative Assemble with the purpose of bringing together all sections of Irish society. Ní neart go cur le cheile. There is no strength without unity.

Sadly today due to the long drawn out manner of the Provisionals eventual surrender, Irish republicanism has become very fractured, very divided. Well regardless of which group, if you’re a revolutionary then “Towards a Peaceful Ireland” needs to be examined and taken on board or else the mistakes of history will be repeated.

Republican Sinn Féin going forward into 2017 will be vocal on many fronts, but crucially it will be active as well, concerning the national issue, social issues, highlighting the cause of our POWs, the fight against imperialism is local, national and international. Apply yourself where you can. There is no shortage of work.

If Dáithí Ó Conaill was alive today I think from what we know of him he would apply himself with absolute dedication, discipline and professionalism in all his duties, let us aim to reach these same standards and make the Republic a living reality through example. If we can all do that individually, then the Republic will be a collective reality. Believing is seeing.

An Phoblacht Abú.

– Seán Ó Dubhláin, Sinn Féin, January 1, 2017



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