Ruairí passes on the baton

Two issues in the world of republicanism to be tackled today. Firstly, Sinn Féin Eile held its Ard Fheis at the weekend, whereat Ruairí Ó Brádaigh stood down from the party presidency he has occupied for the past 23 years. Some shit-stirring from the Sunday World notwithstanding, there’s no evidence that Ruairí’s decision wasn’t on the stated grounds of age and health – remember, he’s in his late seventies and hasn’t had the best of health in recent years – and the handover seems to have been amicable. The report in the Irish News indicates the, not merely respect, but the real affection in which Ruairí is held within RSF. His leadership held a small and beleaguered movement together through some very barren times, and that’s not nothing. I expect there will be many tributes in the next issue of Saoirse. And if RSF aren’t already planning a festschrift in his honour, they really should.

The remarkable thing was that there wasn’t a staged succession, but actually a contested election – itself a rarity in republican politics – with neither candidate being called Ó Brádaigh, although both were called Des. This resulted in Des Dalton of Kildare edging out Des Long of Limerick for the presidency. The issue here wouldn’t be ideological – neither man dissents from RSF’s rather fundamentalist trad-republicanism – but generational. Des Long would freely admit that he isn’t in the first flush of youth, and while you could be absolutely sure that party orthodoxy would be safe in his hands, it would have been a bit like Benedict succeeding JP2. The decision of the Ard Fheis to go down a generation and elect the relatively youthful Dalton demonstrates that the party has decided to pick a leader who will be in place for quite some time to come. We await to see what comes from his mission to make RSF politically relevant at grassroots level – squaring practical activism with RSF theology will take some doing.

There’s also a northern interest in the elevation of veteran Ard Chomhairle member, Geraldine Taylor of Poleglass, to vice-president. Geraldine isn’t exactly part of the youth wing either, so this can be seen as a tribute to her many years of stalwart service, and in particular her undoubted ability to annoy the hell out of the Provos.

More details will of course follow, especially in terms of whether or not there are new people coming through into leadership positions. To the extent that RSF have a perspective of moving away from just being a holding operation for traditionalist republicanism, and towards trying to build their movement outwards, there will be some difficult questions to be answered, of the sort that always arise when republicans try to break out of an insular sectism. I expect the Dalton leadership to be cautious, and the man himself has shown absolutely no desire to challenge the various taboos of RSF theology, but those issues implicit in, say, trying to build a local government base can’t be avoided entirely. Nor can the contradiction of the physical force tradition between trying to build a popular movement and simultaneously having an armed conspiracy on the go. Although the party’s core cadre is tightly knit and highly ideological, I have my doubts about some of the young people in the north who are attracted to dissidence.

A further point about dissidence: the arrests linked to the Massereene barracks killings continue. They have by now encompassed rather a lot of individuals belonging to a whole range of organisations or none. Most are being rapidly released without charge. Some of these are political activists who may have a paramilitary past but who, given their profile, would have to be absolutely insane to go around taking part in armed actions. As with the media campaign against éirígí – and I note that the IMC report includes an examination of éirígí, an entirely political group with no armed wing – it’s hard not to conclude that the cops are taking the opportunity to shine a spotlight on republican irreconcilables, and getting their names into the public domain. Back in the Troubles, that sort of thing used to get people killed.

Search of the week: In a reprise of our popular feature of old, I’d like to give a shout out to the Googler who landed on this blog searching for “Scooby Doo on crack”. I always had Shaggy down as more of a psychedelics man…


  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    November 18, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    It will be instructive to see if it can deal with the contradictions you point to. I don’t think sufficient analysis has been done of how generational shifts, or even just the changing of guards can alter organisations across decades. How that plays out will also be telling. I can’t help though but feel that it’s ripe for being supplanted by something else which covers the same area… so to speak.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 18, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    They’ve had some trouble with people in the north who turned out to be just apolitical militarists. But the core group is very very stable, they have their own distinct ideology and their pockets of support are mostly in places where nobody else is on the horizon. It gives them stability, but it’s also self-limiting. Innovation isn’t totally unthinkable, but there are quite strict parameters on what that might be. And if you’re not willing to accept abstentionism, for instance, they more or less tell you to bugger off and find some other group.

    They remind me a bit of the Plymouth Brethren.

  3. Ciarán said,

    November 18, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Say what you will about RSF, but their leadership contest doesn’t appear to have been anywhere near as bitter or cutthroat as the SDLP’s.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 19, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Oh, those constitutional nationalists. You couldn’t watch them.

  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    November 19, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    That’s a very interesting comparison, even if tongue in cheek splintered. I’m always taken by the fact they have a representation in Connacht… the hard work I’d guess of many many over the years in that neck of the woods. I know I’ve said it to you before but I found the Ó B biography remarkable.

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 19, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Oh yes, they regained that council seat in Conamara. And in Limerick city they were outpolling PSF as recently as five years ago. That old western trad-republicanism slowly declines with each generation, but it’s never really gone away.

  7. moofaeTAE said,

    November 20, 2009 at 12:05 am

    ‘Although the party’s core cadre is tightly knit and highly ideological, I have my doubts about some of the young people in the north who are attracted to dissidence.’

    Would you elaborate on that a bit, please, on your specific concerns. Do you think they’re just out for the craic in having some riots, or apolitical/catholic defenderist, etc. Just curious. Many 32csm types seem to fit that profile.

    ‘As with the media campaign against éirígí – and I note that the IMC report includes an examination of éirígí, an entirely political group with no armed wing’

    Hmm, most the media coverage I’ve seen didn’t seem to be attacking them. I saw one report on their rep Brendan MacCionnaith meeting with Robinson I think it was, and from this the article inferred that Brendan would not have been allowed to meet with a unionist politician had the PSNI not vetted his organisation for military activity. And that could be wrong, but hardly seems like a campaign against éirígí. If anything, I’ve seen the opposite more so- media comments about éirígí’s southern “toff” members aside.

    As far as RSF goes, it’s correct they’ve definitely got their own brand going, and though they’re losing a few members here and there, they can probably create more support for their blend of traditionalist populism in the west at least.

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 20, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I think there is an apolitical defenderist element that can become quite sectarian at times, but the Real Republicans fit that profile better than the Contos. And a more general problem of young hotheads, especially if they get access to arms.

    On the eirigi thing, there was quite an intense condemnathon run against them after the shootings, and they do get stick in the press semi-regularly. They might have more potential to build a popular base and they definitely have a few people rattled. But as they’ve expanded into the north that’s had an impact back on them – the southern lot look to have a profile of Dublin PSF of maybe five or six ardfheiseanna ago, while the northerners would have more traditional concerns.

    • Doloras said,

      November 20, 2009 at 2:25 am

      Wikipedia says that eirigi are in thick with the IMT, aka Continuity Militant. I thought the IMT were all over the IRSP a while back?

      • Ciarán said,

        November 20, 2009 at 11:58 am

        An éirígí speaker was at an event organised by the IMT, I think that’s about as deep as it goes. (As I recall it grew out of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign stuff.)

        The IMT’s relationship with the IRSP does seem to have petered out, which is odd considering the book about Ireland the IMT did that was very, very sympathetic to them. I wonder what happened.

  9. Babeuf said,

    November 20, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Ciaran, believe it was Gerry Ruddy’s influence as a member of the IRSP Ard Comhairle, and he has now left as far as I’m aware?

  10. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 20, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Yes, the IMT link was very much Gerry’s brainchild and changes in the IRSP leadership have seen that slide. But it’s also worth noting that the Grantites have shed a lot of the old Militant idiosyncrasies (so have the SP, just different ones) and now have some aspects – especially around anti-imperialism – that look a bit more like a USec affiliate from the 1970s. What I still haven’t figured out is whether there is method in Alan Woods’ madness, or if he’s just winging it.

  11. Liadnan said,

    November 25, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Spent the weekend reading Bishop and Mallie’s 1989 The Provisional IRA. Obviously out of date now but somehow couldn’t help feeling reluctant admiration for Ó Brádaigh.

    Reports on Sunday’s events speculated that CIRA and RIRA were co-operating – are 32CSM and RSF thought to be moving closer to one another?

  12. Halfer said,

    November 26, 2009 at 10:27 am

    The IMT IRSP fling was a three tier relationship. Gerry Ruddy was very much the architect and was pushing hard to have the movement join the tendency, (co-authoring a fairly dishonest book), others were happy to cooperate on single internationalist issues and the rest were suspicious/oppositional to it.

    Gerry may have talked it up with Alan et al and made assurances but was eventually left stranded when the movement rebuked an invitation to join the current (with the invitation for fraternal links to stay open).

    I believe the unrequited nature of the relationship sent the London IMT to look elsewhere and they haven’t bothered to contact the movement at all, I think, since Gerry’s departure.

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