The Big Question

The big question I find being asked at the minute is: What’s Sinn Fein at? My question is: What have they been at since the mid-1990s?

Not so much the “Road to Peace” as the road to constitutional politics, they embarked on the Armalite and ballot box strategy a decade before. Indeed, they stuck a political toe in the water back in 1981 when they decided to back candidates for election to Westminster and Leinster House during the hunger strikes. The candidates included two strikers and it was a Sinn Fein election campaign in everything but name.

The results of the elections encouraged the think tank in Sinn Fein to make a concerted effort to end the policy / tactic (depending on one’s interpretation) of abstention. Skipping past a few years of inside wrangling, the split with the traditional Republicans came in the form of the walk out at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in 1986 when stalwarts and former leaders Ruairi O’Bradaigh and Daithi O’Connaill left the meeting to form Republican Sinn Fein.
What interested me was the claims by the RSF faction that the Adams leadership were telling the remaining traditionalists that contesting elections was merely a tactic that the war would go on – whilst telling the politicos that the war was indeed coming to an end. It all sounds very confusing but the Adams leadership were not confused – they knew what they had to do and they knew how to go about it.
By the time of the 1986 Ard Fheis, the Adams faction knew the state of play. They realised the “long war” was a nonsense, that Irish Unity would not be achieved through force of arms. They needed to wind the military campaign down but with great care. Not all who supported abstention and the campaign had left with O’Bradaigh et al. The hawks would need to be handled gently and persuaded.

Not all were, thus the departure of Ivor Bell and others and then, dramatically Kevin McKevitt and Co who went on to found the Real IRA. But in the main, the Adams leadership kept the majority onboard.
So my question is not how, why or when did the Adams faction decide to wind up the PIRA campaign and take Sinn Fein into constitutional politics. What gave them the JUSTIFICATION or made them believe they had the RIGHT to take the Republican Movement in a direction they said they would NEVER take? They derided and ridiculed the Officials for their ceasefire and entry into constitutional politics and demonised the Old Guard who presided over the 1975 ceasefire. They made grandiose declarations that they would never end the campaign until Ireland was free. So, in that context, why did they feel they could do exactly what they ridiculed and berated, condemned and accused others for doing?

I believe they didn’t actually buy into the notion that they were the heirs of 1798. I don’t believe they even saw themselves as the heirs to 1916. I believe they regarded the PROVISIONAL Republican Movement as theirs to do with as they pleased. With the departure of the Old Guard, the leadership of the 1990s were the original founders of the PIRA and the Sinn Fein we know today. To put it crudely, It’s our thing so we will do as we please. We started it and we will end it.


I often wonder if John Hume thought likewise when he sacrificed the SDLP and gave their clothes to Sinn Fein?
We are where we are and I have posed a question to myself as well as others. It might not be an important question. It’s not exciting like RHI or an emotional hand-wringing eulogy to a retiring politician. But it is something I often wondered about. Anyone like to respond?

William Johnston




.Crimes Against Humanity

‘..the midwife of the ogre-friendly language showered upon us this day.’

‘Spin it, spoof it, anything but truth it’; salivate over Martin McGuinness as polite society might, McGuinness, indelibly, is one of the cruelest of modern serial killers. Whatever, his great friends and supporters: Ian Paisley Jr, and the Presbyterian minister David Latimer would have us think.

Salman Rushdie strikes a much more honest note, ‘When a tyrant falls, the world’s shadows lighten, and only hypocrites grieve’.

Latimer, the ‘Revisionist Reverend’ and Dudeist High Priest of the Derry and Strabane Presbytery took time out on Thursday night, presumably from writing his memoirs, ‘The Lies I Have Told ‘, to appear on BBC Northern Ireland News in order to ….well…. tell us some more.


images (1)

Inundated, he claimed, by unionists wanting Sinn Fein’s useful idiot to pass on their best wishes and prayers to McGuinness. I wondered how many among the imaginary multitude had been subjected to his malevolence? Why pray for McGuinness? Why not sacrifice a goat or do a rain dance in the midday sun? There is nothing out there that will listen to prayers for Joanne Mather’s killer in the absence of his own repentance.

Decades ago, when Latimer could pass himself off as a Protestant cleric, people may have listened, but having dumped Ephesians for An Phoblacht there just isn’t the same following anymore. People buy and enjoy fiction, just not Latimer’s fiction.

Deranged as he often appears by the constant fluttering of bats that occupy his theological belfry, I initially thought his appearance was to announce his candidacy in the forthcoming elections for the Legalise Cannabis Party. Only someone on cannabis could claim that when the organisation that McGuinness ruled over, strung Paul Quinn up in a Co Monaghan barn and clubbed him to death, it did so peacefully.

Even without the trademark Woodstock waistcoat, his commentary was no less psychedelic. Straight from the gospel of guff we heard him preach, to us ungrateful types, the parable of the ‘Cup & Saucer’


St Martin, the Enniskillen Bomber, in his unceasing benevolence towards unionists had once buttered Latimer’s scones but moreover, he had generously inherited a genetic disease so that Latimer could promote the peace process in praising him publicly. And In promoting the killer, Latimer diminishes those who were killed.



Reconciliation? No, merely the latest installment of self-serving publicity seeking that explains more than anything why David’s Church Of The Latter Day Dudes will remain Ulster’s slowest growing religion.

Willie John Nixon

Tony Blair and the IRA: The ‘On The Runs’ Scandal by Austen Morgan. Published by The Belfast Press.

Perhaps the greatest atrocity carried out by the PIRA in England was the joint bombing of Regents and Hyde Parks. The grotesque nature of the attacks were played out on televisions screens and newspaper front pages across the world. Who could not have been touched, as they read of the terrible suffering that a bomb, with over 30 pounds of nails packed around it, inflicted on human and horse?


The bloodied carcasses of horses spewn on London’s streets and mixed with the dead of the Queen’s Guard still haunts many today. Around an hour later, in Regents Park, the band of the Royal Green Jackets, played to a crowd of 120 spectators. As the music of Oliver entertained the crowd, a bomb exploded under the bandstand, killing and injuring both musicians and bystanders. The only redeeming factor of the day was the bravery of injured and the remarkable recovery of Sefton the horse. Two decades later the suffering and loss would be compounded, by the government who, in all effect, protected the perpetrators.

On Tony Blair’s last day as prime minister, 27th June 2007, the structure was put in place, which would see the main suspect in the Hyde Park Bombing issued a letter of comfort. This would have a dramatic effect on the rule of law. Austen Morgan states that this has been “interrupted significantly by the peace process. ”

There had been whispers and theories for a decade. Had a secret deal been done between the British Government and the IRA, which would see mass murders forgo due process and, indeed, be free, under government protection, despite evidence that would prove them guilty? The answer was to come on 21st February 2014, when a British court ruled that an abuse of process had taken place and that the trail of the lead suspect could not continue.john_anthony_downey

So what was the driving force behind such appalling decisions being taken? Johnathan Powell would say that there was a prolonged threat of a return to violence by republicans when he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee ” At any stage you could have tipped this back into war. ” Blair also stated “I did believe there was a chance of it (the peace process) collapsing. ” But this is contradicted by the likes of Tim Dalton, who stated that Gerry Adams told him that the PIRA “would not go back to violence” as “their own community would not allow them. ” This was also backed up by John Hume who briefed the UDA in the Maze Prison to that effect. It is hard to believe that the Irish Government were being brief that the PIRA were unable to return to an armed campaign and the British Government were not. Even UDA prisoners were being made aware of this “strategic weakness” something which Austen Morgan states “the UK failed to use tactically. ”

Sir Quinton Thomas was one of the main architects of the Belfast Agreement (1998). After his retirement and knighthood, he was tasked with being an advisor to the NIO on the subject of “outstanding criminal investigations” . In January 2001, he finalised 77-page report, Clean Sheets: dealing with outstanding criminal cases was sent to the NIO. Quinton was to form the opinion that any criminal cases, which might arrive out of historical offences, that might have been committed by Security Force members would not be covered by the amnesty he proposing. He would state “Despite the difficulties, the better course is to exclude the security forces from any amnesty scheme. ” This was “because the greater public (and British) interest ” lay in doing so. Austen Morgan observes that this decision “was to play later into the hands of republicans.” Quinton put forward a number of options but astutely, he said that Option 3, an “automatic amnesty” “will minimise the contamination of the system of justice.” But this contamination had already begun and the secret deals between corrupt government and a murderous mob will resonate for generations. By 2005, the government would try and put in place a proviso that would include all participants in that had taken part in the Northern Ireland conflict but this scuppered by republicans. During the early 2000s, there were intensive talks between the British Government and republicans, interestingly Northern Ireland’s future Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory acted on behalf of a number of those, who were of interest.

In January 2014, written evidence was produced in the Downey case. It covered Kevin McGinty’s appraisal of Sir Alasdair Fraser’s role. He would state that there was a reluctance on Sir Alister’s behalf to implement the scheme. This was because of the “actual and perceived impartiality” was of the most “crucial importance” for the “maintenance of public confidence”. Confidence could be damaged due to fact that the “administrative scheme would only benefit one side of the community.” The very structure of the government proposal and its implementation was profoundly flawed, in that it administered justice or the lack of it on the grounds of political/religious affiliation. Since the 15th Century, Iustitia, Justitia, has been depicted blindfolded and holding both scales and sword. Under the leadership, first of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Cameron she was blinded, her scale was tipped and sword broken.

This partisan use of the judicial system was carried out under the radar of most observers. The reason being that process could be challenged in the courts if the general public became aware of the situation. Lord Goldsmith told John Reid that if the minister conceded to Sinn Fein’s demands it could cause a “constitutional crisis”. Lord Williams would later write to the government stating that “It would…be an unlawful fettering” of his “discretion” and that the government’s policy “would amount to an amnesty”, which was illegal without a parliamentary decision . Lord Williams would also tell Peter Mandelson that he was “seriously concerned that the exercise” which “is being undertaken has the capacity of severely undermining the confidence in the criminal justice system.” He would then continue “I am not persuaded that some unquantifiable benefit to the peace process can be a proper basis for a decision based on the public interest. ” The concerns put forward by senior figures in the judiciary, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland did not dissuade New Labour from continuing to put its pernicious and partisan plan into action. It is to the credit of a number of legal figures that an unfettered form of shadowy amnesty is not in place.tonyblairarmagh1998

By early 2002, the government had put a form of amnesty together in the form a consultation. This would have an independent commissioner grant immunity to those Sinn Fein put forward. This scheme was to exclude all but republicans. William Fittall was to act as a sounding board for the views of David Trimble. He would state, that while Trimble would have to oppose the bill, he (Trimble) might not endure political impairment if the scheme involved some form of “determination of guilt” and “subsequent licencing arrangement”. Later in March of that year, Trimble wrote to Blair setting out his stall on the matter. The subterfuge continued until press reports in November brought the policy to the public’s attention. Trimble then disengaged with the process.

While the widespread violence of the past was to be curtailed by the PIRA leadership, it still continued criminal activity on a grandiose scale. While Nelson’s eye was being applied to those who were suspects in over 300 hundred murders, robbery, extortion, and fuel laundering were lining the PIRA’s coffers. Most notably of these: The Norther Bank robbery, which was undertaken by the PIRA’s Director of Intelligence. By September 2005, the PIRA had supposedly decommissioned its full military arsenal. This was contradicted by Tony Blair, who when giving evidence to NIAC, in January 2015, stated that December 2006 was a critical moment, in which, “it was going to go down. ” How it would have gone down, given that this was over a year after PIRA decommission, is not alluded to. But the inference is of a return to violence. There are two positions here, one is that intel was not filtering to the government or that the PIRA, despite all we are being told, still constitutes a threat to the United Kingdom. Either way, negotiating with a terrorist threat and dilution of the justice system and has weakened the constitutional integrity of the British State.

Austen Morgan’s work does a great service to the people of the United Kingdom. It analyses a part of history that was meant to stay hidden from the public and does so in great detail. His forensic mind untangles the web spun by both terrorist and nameless mandarins in what must be one of the British Government most shameful episodes.

Tony Blair and the IRA: The ‘On The Runs’ Scandal by Austen Morgan is available in paperback and Kindle editions from The Belfast Press Limited.

It is available in both Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon. 


Why I’ll Remember But Won’t Celebrate.



History is a strange thing; people know just enough of it to fight but not enough to understand it. This week I was the observer to a number of conversations that went beyond cringe-worthiness. Two women from different traditions conversed about Easter 1916, what ensued was like a kindergarten history lesson, that included jumbled names, dates, and meanings. I love to debate but it has to be logical and factual. Most are not, people hold to a position without proper knowledge and consideration of opposing stances. Doing so makes holding to a view unwise, as it means you adhere to it without a proper sense of reality. The events surrounding the failed 1916 Rebellion are a case in this. Most will march, or not, due to the social conditioning of their surroundings and influences. Their attitude is projected onto their being, it is not one that has been brought about by a close analysis of events and policies. I will be remembering 1916, after all, it brought about the state of my birth and saved the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth from a protracted civil war. But in this, I will not be celebrating it as it was a cataphoric event that stunted the growth of the British Isles. Something which we are still suffering the effects of one hundred years later.

On the face of it, Easter 1916, is a blow against an imperial nation holding a subservient people in political chains. This small band would eventually defeat a world power and gain freedom through the shedding of its adherents’ blood. It all seems so simple and heroic but this is not the case and the facts are a lot more complex and sinister. Irish self-determination had already been assured by the efforts of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The anti-imperial argument evaporates in the light of the agreement made by Germany and the rebels to open up another front. The Rebellion and the subsequent Anglo-Irish War brought defeat to the IRA by 1922, both in the North and South; it did not achieve anything that was not going to be put in place by pre-war agreement and its only true achievement was the eternal partition of the island. The Southern State functioned with a British king as head of state and did not become a Republic until 1949.

images (1)
In 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. The German Kiser wanted his place in the sun and that place was currently held by Belgium. The aggression against its ally forced the British into action. Belgium had been part of the Grand Alliance helping with the defeat of Napoleon. This was to influence the British aristocracy so much, it resulted in catholic emancipation. The fact remains, that while hundreds of thousands of Irish men answered the recruitment poster’s call to defend “poor little Catholic Belgium”, others saw “England’s difficulty as Ireland’s opportunity” and worked with the Kiser to open up a second front in Ireland. The latter being a very small number, 92% of the movement following Redmond in his support of the war effort. As soon as the war was declared, the rump of republicans opened up negotiations with Germany, through Americans based in New York. Roger Casement was shipped off to make arrangements with the Hun.

By February 1916, the Germans had been given the date of the second front opening and despatched the Aud with 25.000 Russian rifles and a million rounds of ammunition. This was caught causing the leadership of the Irish Citizens Army to call off any action. These friendships are manifested in the words of the Proclamation. Stating that the rebellion was “supported by her exiled children in America” and also “by gallant allies in Europe.” This action could not be seen as anything other than high treason, by any state, that was at war. This was most certainly know of and the true objective of the rising was to cause a propaganda backlash. This is why Bulmer Hobson would not take part: that the rising had no military or strategic purpose in seizing public buildings. These would not be defended against a British counter. Hobson was kidnapped by IRB, in order that their plans could be enacted. He would say those involved were “anxious for a demonstration in blood” which only “turned out well” because the English executed the leaders. If this had not have taken place then the affair would have been “a complete fiasco”, in Hobson view.


Despite the execution of the Rising’s leaders, widespread support for Sinn Fein did not take place until 1918. The death of Thomas Ashe, as a result of forced feeding, acted as a propellant for Sinn Fein; this was further added to with the British introduction of the Conscription Act for Ireland. The anti-British feeling was also increased by the arrest of most of Sinn Fein’s leadership, after the uncovering of another German plot in May. By the time of December 1918 election, Sinn Fein had made considerable gains. The election result was more a rejection of British policy than the whole-hearted acceptance of Sinn Fein principle. The casting votes reached just over 900,000 out of an electorate of 1.937,663, with Sinn Fein gaining 476,087. Only one out of four people able to vote, cast in favour of the revolution politic. This was a vote for propaganda more than policy. The Vice-President of the victorious party, Father Michael O’Flanagan, would say that “The people have voted for Sinn Fein. What we have to do now is to explain to them what Sinn Fein is”.

The narrative adhered to by republicans is that a small band of guerrilla forces were able to take on the imperial might of Brittan and win. The evidence for this is totally lacking. The republican forces entered a three-year campaign, that first employed hit and run tactics, and then descended into a terrorist crusade against easy targets, under the guise that they were pro-British, when they could no longer sustain any structure of operations. By 1921, the IRA were running out of weaponry and British tactics had them already defeated. Liam Lynch would state that the “enemy where continual dogging me and often close on my tail.” Liam de Rosite would dependently state “we cannot beat the English forces…this is accepted by even the most sanguine of volunteers.” Things fared even worse in the north where unionist had by the summer of 1922 completely defeated the IRA and the catholic population had rejected them. The IRA commander of Northern Division, Seamus Woods, would state:

The position in No.2 and 3 Brigade of the 3rd Northern Division today is that the Military Organisation is almost destroyed (and the enemy) believe that they have beaten the IRA in Antrim and Down…The people who supported us feel they have been let down by Dail Eirenn, for our position today is more unbearable than it was in June 1921.

He would then go on to state that the vast numbers of nationalist had rejected the IRA campaign:

…Practically all over the Division the Police Barracks are stormed with letters giving all available information against the IRA and their supporters. We have captured some such letters and in most cases suggestions are made to the Police as to how they could best cope with the situation. In most cases they regret they did not give this information two years ago.

The result was, that Home Rule came in its pre-war form but only after the more pragmatic forces used British guns and artillery to pulverise those who waved the green flag and cried republic or nothing. The National forces executed seventy-seven captured anti-treaty guerrillas, declared martial law, and instituted military tribunals. All of which were condemned when the British had used them after 1916. But the irony is lost in the fog of historical myth.

The post-rebellion Ireland was not to gain independence until the twilight of 1937, with the passing of de Valera’s constitution. The spectre of 1916 brought a narrow, religiously, and politically exclusive factor to Irishness, causing mass emigration to the land that Ireland wanted to be free from. This Ireland brought about by the gun, was divided, it became an island that romanticised murder for political ideals, something that still haunts the island’s psyche and looks as it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Despite this, people are now openly questioning the legitimacy of what took place a century ago. The real question is whether, Ireland, both British and Irish will finally end a century of death brought about by events by those, of whom, David Norris states were “traitors to the empire” and traitors to their own cause”?

Operation Demetrius: A Review

od1When George Santayana, made his observation, “History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten.” He could easily have been making it about the subject of Martin McCleery’s work Operation Demetrius and its Aftermath. The populist thought on the introduction of internment is clear; it was a failed attempt by the former Northern Ireland Government, which callously targeted the innocent. But history is like observing an impressionist painting. If you are too close then your analysis will only observe how the paint is applied and the hue of the colour. The overall effect of the artist’s work will not be seen, only a mash of colour and texture merging into an indistinguishable mass. It is only when the observer stands back from the subject that they can see the whole work. But if this observation is from too far, the intricate makeup and complexity is lost. Sometimes, not very often, a historian is able to put a subject in complete perspective. This is what McCleery has achieved in this work: an almost 20/20 vision look at internment. This achievement is made possible through the amalgamation of historical documentation and the personal recollections of some of the protagonists. All of which are set in context by the author’s analytical expertise.

The work also challenges supposed accepted truths: that the British Army was one of main supporters of its use. Evidence is produced that shows that GOCNI, Tuzo, and CGS, Carver, were both initially opposed to the introduction of internment. The army believing that the IRA could be dealt with within a period of months if a robust engagement policy was put in place.

The policy had other critics, the Police Federation, the Law Society, and even Ian Paisley, who would state that the internees should be brought “to a court of law” and evidence shown. This was “the basic principle of British justice” he would further remark. His friend Desmond Boal would compare the practice to that carried out by Nazi Germany. This was the main problem with such a tactic, the government found itself in a pincer movement between two opponents willing to make every opportunity, of any situation. This according to Robin Baillie was a “political fight for survival”. Ultimately, a fight that would be lost. The irony should not be lost on the fact that the two protagonists, making up that pincer, now form the government forty years on.

IRA man Tommy Groman would state that “we wanted to get behind the public reaction” to internment. By the 23rd of August, 1971, Tuzo would state “the other side had already won a propaganda victory.” This victory had been effectively foretold by the RUC Special Branch. When they stated, in a report, that “republican, opposition politicians, the civil rights movement and the Catholic Church” had in their combined front, “an expertise and a capability,” which the Northern Ireland regime could not “effectively match,” in the sphere of propaganda.

The work also revealed that there were suggestions that a mole in the Northern Ireland Civil Service tipped off the Provisional IRA to the likelihood of interment. Tommy Gorman would state that “I was expecting internment as an IRA volunteer” and that he had “been on the run for several months”. Joe Cahill corroborated this by saying that “senior IRA members” had been “instructed in late July” – a month before its introduction – “not to sleep at home.” This forewarning would lead to an estimated 2000 IRA activists still at large in the weeks after its initial use. Field Marshal Carver was also of the opinion that “poor intelligence” and the “short notice” given for the operation, was responsible for its shortcomings. This was also mixed with suspicion, that the Northern Ireland Government had used it as a tool for political suppression, more than a precision instrument in the fight against terrorism. Despite this, the figures, as provided, cast serious doubt on the claims that internment did not target IRA members and that it was totally inadequate.

Interment also caused a domino effect on long term issues. Its failure cost the Northern Ireland Government its political existence, causing decades of political uncertainty. The treatment and privileges that were given to the internees would transcend into political status and, in turn, laid the foundation for the 1981 hunger strike. It would also prove to be the final break between the Roman Catholic community and the British military. The resulting clamour of IRA activists to go to ground, caused by interment, spread their network and increased the organisation’s support, spreading violence and ultimately prolonging the Troubles.

Perhaps the book’s best asset is its style. While most academic books have a sluggish and dense writing style, which can leave the reader struggling through the work, as if traversing a bog wearing boots that are too big, this is not the case with McCleery’s work. It is fluent, lucid and articulately written, which drives the reader on. This is something of a talent and a rarity, in the all too often, stuffy and formal literature of academia.

There is of course, one major downfall with the work and that is the price. As with most academic history books it has a hefty price for the consumption of a wider audience. Which is a shame, as it is a work, well worth investing in. But this will not, I am sure withhold a well-researched and well-written work from the shelves of most.

Operation Demetrius and its Aftermath: A New History of the use of Interment Without Trial in Northern Ireland 1971-75. By Martin J. McCleery. Available through Manchester University Press Price: £70.00. Hardcover.

Clifford Peeples.


The Rise of Sinn Fein

hr The Irish Parliamentary Party held the pinnacle of Irish politics for over three decades and was the architect of Home Rule. By 1914 it had within its grasp an Irish legislative body, all be it a limited one, but within four years it suffered a catastrophic collapses in its support base. This was not the result of one single event but a chain of occurrences that marginalised and radicalised a large mass of the Irish populace, which, in turn, brought about a political revolution.  Political opposition: Ulster Unionism; war, rebellion, radicalisation and ultimately the populace’s perception of unfulfilled aspirations drove the party to the threshold of extinction. As 1914 drew, it seemed that the leadership of Redmond and the ascension of the Irish Parliamentary Party were assured. He had wily used his influence to bring about the Parliament Act 1911 ,which had ended the House of Lords’ veto on acts passed by the Commons once and for all.  With the Passing of the Third Home Rule Bill, the Lords were only able to suspend its passing for a further two years. This “great barrier” as Professor Edmund Curtis put it was removed in 1914.   1914 should have been the year that assured Redmond’s place at the pinnacle of Irish history, but this was not to be. Resistance from Ulster Unionists and those in his own party dogged him and would unravel, what should have been: his hour of glory. Edward Pearce would remark that, “Redmond was almost embarrassingly fond of England and loyal to the British imperium”.  This aspect of Redmond’s outlook would be expressed, say his critics, by his view of Home Rule. He, Redmond, would sate to the party convention, after its final reading that the nation was about to embark on “the greatest charter ever offered to her, one resulting in the greater unity and strength of the Empire”.   This was not the view of all in his party or of Irish nationalists.  William O’Brien would have a far more radical   position on Home Rule and what it meant for Ireland when he said:

The Irish people are to be asked to accept this bill as a complete and final satisfaction of Irish national rights and demands, it will involve a degree of renunciation by Irish nationalist of the old school of dreams …for which many generations of the best men of our race were proud to risk their liberties and their lives. I do not think we are changed, can ever possible be changed in our eagerness for a genuine and enduring peace with the people of England and what was once called their garrison in Ireland.

He would go on to state that Home Rule would not give real autonomy to the Irish people and that it was “ not the repealing of the Union”  He would astutely access that “it is not colonial rule any more than it is an Irish  Republic; It is a federal devolution pure and simple.” carson The greatest threat to the fulfilment of Home Rule for Ireland came from the Ulster Unionists, from 1903 groups of northern unionists had been preparing for the introduction of Home Rule.   They had, in small isolated pockets drilled and trained for what they saw as an Armageddon scenario.  This was to take a more focused form from 1911 onwards.  By 1912, with a new leadership in place and the defeat of southern unionism, the Ulster Unionists put in place a process of protest and civil disobedience, which would lead to the formation and arming of a private army: Ulster Volunteer Force.  Men like Sir James Dougherry would advise, that the leadership of Carson and Craig were involved in a hefty bluff that should be called. Augustine Birrell, Chief Secretary for Ireland, was not so convinced and believed that the outcome would be blood on the streets.  In a number of cabinet memorandums, which were also seen by the King he stated “he wanted the noise made in Ulster taken seriously”. curr By March 1914, things had dramatically intensified, with what has become known as the Curragh Incident.  When orders were issued to prepare for action to secure areas in east Ulster, sixty one officers attached to the 5th Lancers resigned their commissions.  This made any military intervention in order to enforce Home Rule improbable.  Things would be further complicated by the unionist spectacular of arming the UVF in April. Curragh and the Larne Gunrunning would ensure partition of some sort was inevitable.  The bluff or the blood was not to be seen as Europe was to erupt into a quagmire of death that would move the Irish people form a purely parliamentary struggle, to one reminiscent of scenes in France. Professor Fanning states that the First World War changed the whole landscape of the Irish political sphere:

It was the war that put Home Rule on ice…it was the war that demanded executions after the Easter rebellion…and again in 1918, dictated internment without trail, thus empowering Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers while destroying the Irish Parliamentary Party: it was the war that conceived, brought forth and nourished the ‘terrible beauty’ of Yeats’s ‘Easter 1916.

The war was a major factor in the disabling of the support base of the Irish Parliamentary Party. It put in place a series of events that would ultimately bring about its down fall.  Home Rule was postponed due to the war and as a result those frustrated at this would band together in a symbolic rebellion that was doomed. The victory over them was a pyric one.  The treatment of those captured by the British forces, although no different from what would be expected anywhere else in Europe,  not only gave rise to Sinn Fein but soured Anglo Irish relations for generations.  Redmond fared little better, he had threatened to resign if the executions continued, he fail to have them ceased and failed to resign. The death tolls of the Irish Parliamentary Party rang out much stronger after the summer of 1917.  In the spring, Lloyd George, acting under the influence of the American President, Woodrow Wilson, called for an Irish Convention to help with the transition of Irish self-governance.  The offer was once more offered to give immediate Home Rule with the exclusion of Ulster.  Redmond refused to countenance   the separation.  The Convention was predestined to failure; Redmond and his party were further left on their own, as Sinn Fein along with Labour boycotted the proceedings.  The ultimate failure for the Convention was its inability to persuade Ulster Unionists to accept any form of Home Rule.  Redmond would try and out manoeuvre them by making sounding to southern unionist.  Professor Lyons would state this would be:

…to the extent of contemplating the abandonment or the limitation of the right of the prospective Irish parliament to levy its own custom duties.  The only effect that this would have was to open a gulf between himself and his closest colleagues.

This would not only weaken him but also his party.  Professor Lee observes that Redmond was drifting from the populist thinking as he “increasingly saw his role as essentially that of a dominion statesman” while others saw themselves as “a small but fiercely independent people”.  By staying on the outside Sinn Fein could do nothing but gain favour from a process that was a failure, even with the compromises and sacrifices Redmond had offered. Lyons suggests that Sinn Fein used the time that others focused on the Convention to build its planning and “propaganda”. By September 1917, Sinn Fein was given a further boost, due to the death of Thomas Ashe, as a result of force feeding by prison authorities in Mountjoy Gaol.  The Ashe affair would solidify support for Sinn Fein who would use the funeral arrangements to great effect. It is also significant in that it was the first time Michael Collins took an authoritive role by giving the graveside oration.  This also signified the re-emergence of the IRB as a force in Irish politics. Easter 1918 saw British forces so depleted, by the war, that a Conscription Act for Ireland was announced.   Lloyd George offered the immediate introduction of partitioned Home Rule if it was agreed to. He told the House of Commons that:

When the young men of Ireland are brought into the fighting line it is imperative that they should feel they are not fighting for the establishing a principle abroad which is denied to them at home.

The day that the bill was passed, the Irish Parliamentary Party withdrew from the Commons in protest, returning to Ireland.  No nationalist party, could now back the forced conscription to the army that was now openly seen as the oppressor of their national aspirations.  The anti-British feeling was also increased by the arrest of most of Sinn Fein’s leadership, under suspicion of a German plot in May.  By the time of the first general election after the war, in December 1918, Sinn Fein obtained a landslide winning seventy three seats to the Irish Parliamentary Party’s six.  The Vice-President of the victorious party, Father Michael O’Flanagan, would say that “The people have voted for Sinn Fein. What we have to do now is to explain to them what Sinn Fein is”. red The collapse of Redmond’s party was due to its failure to deliver Home Rule within the time that it had set out.  Most Irish voters believed that Home Rule would be fulfilled in 1914. The outbreak of war ended that, and it is not clear if a dual form of Home Rule would have been acceptable in 1914. The frustrations felt by some at its postponement, or as they thought stalling tactics, brought violence on to the streets. While this did not have an effect on the support of Redmond, the treatment of those involved did. The public became incensed and a radicalisation process began. The continued failure of Redmond’s policies and plans  was the gain of Sinn Fein, who could rightly point out that they were not part of the process and, therefore, not responsible for its failings.  By 1918 the majority of the public saw a vote for the Irish Parliamentary Party as a vote for stalemate and continued British rule.   1918 saw the death of Redmond and with him died his party; the ascension of militant republicanism was now assured.

The Belfast Dockworker’s Strike and James Larkin.



“It would be Larkin’s boast that the basic core of the strike which he, a Catholic, was leading, was Protestant and Orange.” (Patterson, 1980, p.68)


The 1907, Belfast Dockworker’s Strike, is often viewed as a seminal moment in Irish history. It is romanticised, as period of time in the tumultuous and sectarian history of Belfast, when workers threw aside religious/political differences for the good of the working-classes.  For a few months in the summer of 1907 members of the Orange Order and Republican Socialist banded together to challenge big business’ treatment of workers.  This was the first time that a “serious test of the Trades Disputes Act 1906”   was to take place since it had been passed in parliament.  It would also see the only munity of police officers in the history of the RIC; they would strike and refuse to act against fellow workers. But it was the ability of an unknown Liverpool docker and union organiser, James Larkin, which would really capture the public imagination and lay the foundation for more decisive and successful struggle in Dublin.


James Larkin was born to Irish migrant workers, in Liverpool in 1867.  His parents had migrated to Liverpool from County Armagh, due to the adversity caused by famine and economic hardship.  He would find work at the Liverpool Docks, the largest in the country, outside London, when he was old enough.  He would be known for his hard work ethic, earning him the moniker “the rusher”, and was to reach the position of foreman by 1903.  A year later he would marry the daughter of a Baptist preacher, Elisabeth Brown.  By 1905 he was to have an influential role in the Liverpool strike.  He was appointed temporary organiser of National Union of Dock Labourers. This would soon be made permanent, with his travelling to organise branches.


By 1907 Belfast was the fastest growing city in the United Kingdom.  Its industrial base was flourishing, as was its shipbuilding.  It had become the world’s most prolific linen producer and had the world’s biggest shipyard.  By this point it was also the third largest port in the British Empire, only being surpassed by London and Liverpool, with an annual tonnage of just over 3.000.000 tonnes.  It was in this background: mass industrialisation that James Larkin first became acquainted with Belfast and its dockers.  In January, 1907, the emergent Labour Party picked Belfast as the venue for its first party conference. James Larking was picked as a representative of the National Union of Dock Labours at the conference.


The first signs of trouble came in early summer when The Belfast Steam Company refused to recognise the right of its workers to organise a union. The company was owned by Thomas Gallaher who, had had a run in with Larkin over organising his tobacco workers.  Gallaher brought labours in from Liverpool and would not re-employ the workers or meet Larkin.  Dr Austen Morgan, sates that it was not the numbers involved that was important but only when it “spread through picketing, causing considerable economic and social dislocation in central Belfast” that the authorities started to take notice.  The dispute initially involved one hundred and sixty workers who were mostly Protestants.  Dr Austen Morgan would relay that the origins of the dispute are now confused when he stated, “The strike took place within the protestant community, contrary to historical mythology”.  This was the remarkable aspect of the strike: a considerable number of not only Protestants but also members of the Orange Order became fervent supporters of Larkin. Alex Boyd and Lindsay Crawford with other orange leaders had “created favourable conditions for the local labour movement “at the time.  Later speaking in Dublin, Larkin would say that orange supporters:


“…were there that day to say that the old sectarian curse had been banished for ever in Ulster.  Ninety per cent of the strikers were members of the old Orange Institution.” 


As well as, the significance of the sectarian divide being breeched, a major historical incident was to take place within context of the historical event we know as the Dockers’ Strike: the Police Mutiny.  During the 1907 Dock Strike, RIC offices influenced by the rhetoric of Larkin and who had sympathy with strikers began to agitate for better conditions for police officers.  While the police rate of pay was much better than the dockers and carters, they could not reside in lower-class neighbourhoods, this led to a large part of their income being exhausted on rent or lodgings. In late June, a number of letters started to appear in the Belfast print media. They complained about conditions, long hours and stated the police “were willing to strike” and went on that they “need a Larkin of their own”. Larkin would comment on the feelings within the Belfast RIC region and the fact that the police “were working eighteen hours a day, and they would go on strike too – only they dare not”.  This would soon turn from literary rebellion to literal.



On the 19th July, just a number of days after the coal-carters’ lockout, a detective constable stationed at Roden Street, William Barrett, refused to accompany blackleg drivers.  He was suspended from duty.  Within three days the Irish News had published a circular, in which, Barrett called for a meeting in Belfast’s Musgrave Street.  Around three hundred officers attended and a petition was sent to the government, with the resolutions that the meeting carried.  Barrett was dismissed as a result of the action.  On the 27th July five hundred men, half the police officers stationed in Belfast marched from Musgrave Street to Custom House Square, carrying Barrett on their shoulders.  On the Monday, 29th, the Irish News carried the headline “Belfast Police Make History.”  The next day, Dublin Castle moved twelve hundred troops into Belfast and transferred almost third of the police stationed in the city to other areas.

This action brought the strike to an end but the remarkable events in Belfast would give a lasting loss in the labour movement’s psyche of what might have been.    The foundation, that would ensure that nothing like the 1907 strike would take place again, was laid in 1906. The Liberals had won the British General election of that year and soon the national question or Ireland’s Home Rule would soon take central stage.  This would prevent the circumstances, that brought Larkin to the fore, enabling him to unite different side of the sectarian divide on class and social issues, from happening again. Professor Henry Patterson would observe “The strike’s conclusion and developments outside Belfast forced an end to their myopia.”

Emmet Larkin would regretfully remark that “This break up of an alliance so pregnant with possibilities was the real tragedy and lesson of Belfast in 1907”.