Irish Republican Socialist Movement
Twenty Years of Struggle

Origins of the IRSM

Most founding members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army came out of the Official Irish Republican Movement. Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA had split from what became known as the "Officials" in late 1969/early 1970, ostensibly over Sinn Fein's decision to drop its traditional position of abstentionism in regard to Dail Eireann (the parliament of the 26-county statelet), but the cleavage represented divisions of a deeper nature concerning the Officials analysis that the movement had to integrate its commitment to Ireland's national liberation with a revolutionary orientation towards the economic and social interests of the working class. Following the departure of the Provisionals, a section of the Officials' leadership used bureaucratic manipulation and subterfuge to cripple internal democracy, thereby permitting them to push through a ceasefire in mid-1972 and to steer a course towards political reformism. Thwarted in attempts to alter the direction of the Officials, its revolutionary socialist cadre left the movement en mass and, with like-minded independent activists, founded the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army, December 10, 1974, to "Mobilise our class towards the objective of dis-establishing the Northern colonial and Southern neo-colonial statelets on this island, thus ending imperialism and capitalism, and preparing the basic structures for an Irish Workers' State."

Legacy of Repression

Following soon after its formation, the Irish Republican Socialist Movement came under relentless attack from a host of adversaries. The Officials put aside their ceasefire in order to wage war on members of the IRSM, baptizing the infant movement in the blood of martyrs. The OIRA attacks continued sporadically over the course of two years, ending with the murder of the IRSP's founder and first chairperson, as well as leading theorist Seamus Costello--once Official Sinn Fein's Vice President and OIRA's Director of Operations--in October 1976. Also within the first years after the IRSM's founding, the Dublin regime unleashed what would become known as "the Heavy Gang" within the Garda against the young movement, arresting and torturing virtually the entire IRSP leadership at one point. The arrests stemmed from accusations of INLA involvement in the robbery of a mail train, despite the PIRA taking responsibility for carrying out the action. The charges against all of the republican socialists, except one, were eventually overturned on the basis of evidence that the Garda had used torture to extract confessions from the accused, but the fiasco still drags on to this day, as the former defendants fight for compensation from the State for the ordeal. The lone conviction remaining after the original trials was finally pardoned, after a lengthy hunger strike by IRSP prisoner Nicky Kelly in Portlaoise Prison nearly toppled the Dublin government. In the occupied six counties, the "Shoot-to-Kill" policy of the British Army and the "Supergrass" system of using paid perjurers to obtain mass arrests were both used against the IRSM in numbers greatly disproportionate to the size of the IRSM. SAS assassination squads, masquerading as Loyalists, carried out the murders of IRSP and National H Block/Armagh Committee leaders Miriam Daly, Ronnie Bunting, and Noel Lyttle in a manner unprecedented in modern Irish history. The 1981 Hunger Strike resulted in the death of three INLA prisoners of war, again greatly disproportionate to the size of the IRSM's prison population. INLA Chief of Staff Dominic McGlinchey became the most wanted in man in both the six and 26 counties, as well as the first republican to be extradited by the Dublin government to the occupied six counties. Indeed, the Dublin regime have sought more extraditions of IRSM members into British custody than any other republican organization.

Beginning in the mid-1980's, Provisional Sinn Fein displayed a policy of hostility towards the IRSM as well. This included the refusal to share a platform with the IRSP, eventually leading Sinn Fein to launch a counter-demonstration against the long established Manchester Martyrs Commemoration, and to exclude the IRSM from a 10th anniversary commemoration of the 1981 hunger strike in which three of the ten who died were INLA members. Yet while seemingly seizing every chance to malign and condemn the IRSM, throughout this period Sinn Fein adopted many symbols and names long associated with the IRSP; from the "Broad Front" policy (which resembled the IRSP's in name only), to the name "An Camcheachta" for one of its publication, Sinn Fein seemed to want nothing to escape its hegemony. In late 1993, the INLA was even forced to publicly decry repeated looting of INLA arms dumps by the PIRA.

In 1987, a collection of factions, who had previously resigned or been purged from the IRSM for criminal activity, banded together under the name of the "Irish People's Liberation Organization," with the avowed aim of destroying the IRSM. The "iplo" carried out a campaign of murder and intimidation against IRSM activists while the British occupation forces looked the other way and the Provisionals called for the INLA to disband. Eventually a military response from the INLA ended the attacks.

Despite these unceasing attacks against the IRSM, which led the renowned socialist activist Bernadette Devlin McAlisky to call it "the most persecuted movement in Irish history," the IRSP has survived, and now forms the nucleus of efforts to bring all revolutionaries continuing to oppose British occupation in Ireland into an anti-imperialist broad front; and the INLA remains the only proscribed paramilitary organization in Ireland to have refused to declare a ceasefire.

The Way Forward

Survival as an organization can be cause enough for celebration, when a movement has surmouned the array of obstacles the IRSM have had placed in their path, but a revolutionary movement must do more than simply survive. Accordingly, the pressing concern as the IRSM prepares to enter its third decade is, where do we go from here?

The political hegemony the Provisionals created over the nationalist community of the six counties throughout the 1980s, and their subsequent alliance with the SDLP and ceasefire, have made far more difficult the ability of other voices within the nationalist community to assert themselves effectively and credibly, while creating a political vacuum that demands alternative views be presented forcefully.

The IRSM is preparing to undertake a crucially important attempt to unite the scattered voices of opposition into a resounding chorus. Activists such as McAliskey, Des Wilson, Eamon McCann, Republican Sinn Fein, PD, and the IRSM must put aside their differences aside for the time being, and collectively strive towards those goals they hold in common. The subject people of the six counties and the oppressed working class of Ireland, must again achieve a voice with which to speak.

TWO DECADES OF THE REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST STRUGGLE IN IRELAND

  • Irish Republican Socialist Movement reintroduced the revolutionary analysis first presented to Ireland by James Connolly, that national liberation is an aspect of the struggle for socialism, and the two cannot be separated; ending partition without overthrowing the Dublin neo-colonial regime, or without ending imperialist economic domination of Ireland, cannot bring about national liberation; conversely, the struggle for socialism is thwarted by partition, which arrests the development of class consciousness by the workers of both statelets.

  • IRSP calls for building an anti-imperialist Broad Front of organizations and activists. Though the Provos consistently rejected the idea, the IRSP effectively coordinated a number of campaigns with PD and other activists on many occasions. Correctness of the IRSP's position became clear during the hunger strikes, when the H-Block/Armagh Committee example demonstrated the strength gained from anti-imperialist unity. Sinn Fein took up the slogan in late '80s, but to refer to its pan-nationalist alliance with bourgeois and social democrats and trade union bureaucrats.

  • IRSP was the first Irish party to support a woman's right to abortion and consistently supported free availability of contraceptives. IRSP later ran abortion referal service information in its newspaper, openly violating Ireland's anti-abortion laws.

  • Seamus Costello (IRSP co-founder) was elected to Bray Urban Council and Wicklow County Council, where he was a model of socialist electoral intervention. He used his office to empower local workers to fight for their own interests.

  • IRSP analysis of Loyalism remains unique among Irish republicans and socialists. While rejecting sectarianism based on religious affiliation -- counting those of Protestant heritage in its leadership throughout its history -- the IRSP recognizes Loyalism as a fascist ideology, with which republicans and socialists cannot compromise.

  • IRSP was active in Divorce Action Groups in Ireland. It also actively fought for the women's liberation and Gay & Lesbian rights.

  • IRSP first publicized NATO's encroachment on Irish neutrality, exposing the sophisticated microwave phone system installed in the underpopulated Irish West, to relay NATO communications to 6ases in England; also active in Irish neutrality campaign and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

  • Irish Republican Socialist POWs were actively involved in the blanket and dirty protests against crimin alization of political prisoners, with the highest ratio of prisoners participating of any republican organization.

  • IRSPOWs participated in the '80 (John Nixon) and '81 hunger strikes. Three of the 10 prisoners who died on hunger strike in 1981, O'Hara, Lynch and Devine, were INLA volunteers.

  • IRSP was among the most active supporters of the Relatives Action Committees and later the National H Block/Armagh Committees' campaign for Irish POWs. IRSP comrades Miriam Daly and Noel Lyttle were killed in two of the four assassination attempts in 1980 against the national leadership of the H-Block Com mittee, with John Turnley (IIP) and Bernadette McAI isky. IRSP/H-Block activist Ronnie Bunting was killed along with Lyttle.

  • IRSP & People's Democracy won two seats each on the Belfast City Council during the hunger strike, running on "H-Block ticket" to demonstrate popular support for the prisoners' struggle. The election victories inspired the later campaign which elected Bobby Sands to the British parliament while on hunger strike.

  • The IRSP consistently opposed the European Economic Community, exposing its negative impact on the Irish economy & led several boycott campaigns of EEC elections.

  • An IRSP comrade elected to Shannon Town Council again used the office to provide workers a forum to fight for their own interests. The IRSP candidate was the 4th seated in a hotly contested race for 9 vacancies.

  • IRSP proclaimed solidarity for other anti-imperialist struggles regularly in its press, with articles in support of Palestinian, Angolan, Salvadoran, Iranian, Native American, African American, Basque, South African and many other struggles. In the 1980s, the IRSP coordinated an Irish speaking tour for the Pan-Africanist Congress.

  • IRSP joined the campaign to boycott the Northern Ireland Assembly election with IIP and others despite SDLP and Sinn Fein standing candidates for the resurrected Stormont. The INLA lent support with a bombing campaign of polling sites.

  • IRSP was one of the first parties to make a detailed analysis of multinational corporations' impact on Ireland, publishing findings that Ireland is among the world's most exploited economies, per capita, by multinationals.

  • IRSP exposed Loyalist death squads' links to international fascist groups, South Africa and Israel.