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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Proinsias De Rossa, Labour Party Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Proinsias_De_Rossa.jpgProinsias De Rossa, former Irish Labour Party politician, is born in Dublin on May 15, 1940. He serves as Minister for Social Welfare from 1994 to 1997, leader of Democratic Left from 1992 to 1999 and leader of the Workers’ Party from 1988 to 1992. He serves as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency from 1989 to 1992 and 1999 to 2012. He is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North-West constituency from 1989 to 2002.

Born as Francis Ross, he is educated at Marlborough Street National School and Dublin Institute of Technology. He joins Fianna Éireann at age 12. Soon after his sixteenth birthday he joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and is politically active in Sinn Féin from an early age. During the IRA Border Campaign, he is arrested while training other IRA members in Glencree in May 1956. He serves seven months in Mountjoy Prison and is then interned at the Curragh Camp.

De Rossa takes the Official Sinn Féin side in the 1970 split. In 1977, he contests his first general election for the party. He is successful on his third attempt, and is elected at the February 1982 general election as a Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin North-West constituency. He retains his seat until the 2002 general election when he stands down in order to devote more time to his work in the European Parliament.

In 1988, De Rossa succeeds Tomás Mac Giolla as president of the Workers’ Party. The party had been growing steadily in the 1980s, and has its best-ever electoral performance in the general and European elections held in 1989. The party wins 7 Dáil seats with 5% of the vote. De Rossa himself is elected to the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency, where he tops the poll and the party almost succeeds in replacing Fine Gael as the capital’s second-largest party. However, the campaign results in a serious build-up of financial debt by the Workers’ Party, which threatens to greatly inhibit the party’s ability to ensure it will hold on to its gains.

Long-standing tensions within the Workers’ Party come to a head in 1992. Disagreements on policy issues are exacerbated by the desire of the reformers to ditch the democratic centralist nature of the party structures, and to remove any remaining questions about alleged party links with the Official IRA. De Rossa calls a special Ardfheis to debate changes to the constitution. The motion fails to get the required two-thirds majority, and subsequently he leads the majority of the parliamentary group and councillors out of a meeting of the party’s Central Executive Committee the following Saturday, splitting the party.

De Rossa and the other former Workers’ Party members then establish a new political party, provisionally called New Agenda. At its founding conference in March 1992, it is named Democratic Left and De Rossa is elected party leader. Later that year he resigns his European Parliament seat, in favour of Democratic Left general secretary Des Geraghty.

Following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party coalition government in 1994, Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left negotiate a government programme for the remaining life of the 27th Dáil, which becomes known as the “Rainbow Coalition.” De Rossa becomes Minister for Social Welfare, initiating Ireland’s first national anti-poverty strategy, a commission on the family, and a commission to examine national pension policy.

The 1997 general election results in the defeat of the outgoing coalition. At this point, Democratic Left, having accumulated significant, merges with the Labour Party. Labour leader Ruairi Quinn becomes leader of the unified party. De Rossa takes up the symbolic post of party president, which he holds until 2002.

In 1999, De Rossa is elected at the European Parliament election for the Dublin constituency. He is re-elected at the 2004 European Parliament election. He does not contest his Dáil seat at the 2002 general election.

As a member of the European Parliament, De Rossa takes a strong pro-integration approach from a distinctly social democratic perspective, as well as a keen interest in foreign policy and social policy. He is a member of the European Convention which produces the July 2003 draft European constitution. He is chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the Conference of Delegation Chairs, and a substitute member of the Committee on Development and the delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.

On January 16, 2012, De Rossa announces his decision to resign as an MEP and steps down on February 1.

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Passage of the Special Powers Act 1922

special-powers-act-1922The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is passed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Northern Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. Nationalists, the much larger group, are mostly Roman Catholic, identify primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. Unionists, the smaller group, concentrates primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identify primarily as British (although many see themselves as Irish and British), and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enables the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Act is initially current only for one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent.

Despite rhetoric accompanying the Act which asserts that it is for the purpose of restoring public order, its provisions continue to be used for the entire period of the Northern Irish parliament’s existence. Because the Ulster Unionist Party is the only party ever to form a government in this parliament, the Act is used “almost exclusively on the minority population.” Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial.

After the troubles of the early 1920s dies down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s Border Campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists. Due to inadequate intelligence-gathering, many of the interned republicans are members of the Official Irish Republican Army rather than the recently formed Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which is much more heavily involved in terrorist activity at the time.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the PIRA amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.


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The End of the “Border Campaign”

united-irishman-1962On February 26, 1962, due to lack of support, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ends what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation,” which is also known as the “Border Campaign.”

The Border Campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it in the 1940s.

The campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by approximately 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours of December 12, 1956. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt, a B-Specials post near Newry is burned, and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

On December 14, an IRA column under Seán Garland detonates four bombs outside Lisnaskea Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station before raking it with gunfire. Further attacks on Derrylin and Roslea RUC barracks on the same day are beaten off.

On the evening of December 30, 1956, the Teeling Column attacks the Derrylin RUC barracks again, killing RUC constable John Scally, the first fatality of the campaign. The new year of 1957 begins with Seán Garland and Dáithí Ó Conaill planning an attack on the Police station at Brookeborough but they assault the wrong building. Two IRA men, Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon, are killed in the abortive attack. Garland is seriously wounded in the raid. He and the remainder of the group are pursued back over the border by British soldiers.

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. In November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb, which explodes prematurely, in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated with many within the IRA in favour of calling the campaign off. By mid-year, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned. The decline in IRA activity leads the Fianna Fáil government in the South to end internment in March 1959.

Following their release, some of the interned leaders met Seán Cronin in a farmhouse in County Laois and are persuaded to continue the campaign “to keep the flame alive.” The number of incidents falls to just 26 in 1960, with many of these actions consisting of minor acts of sabotage.

The final fatality of the conflict comes in November 1961, when an RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh.

By late 1961, the campaign is over and has cost the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters, and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during the campaign and another 150 or so in the Republic.

The Campaign is officially called off on February 26, 1962, with a press release drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and several other persons including members of the Army Council. The statement is released by the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau and signed “J. McGarrity, Secretary.”


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Birth of Former IRA Chief of Staff Seán McBride

sean-macbrideSeán McBride, Irish government minister, prominent international politician, and a former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Paris on January 26, 1904. He is the son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne.

After his father’s execution for his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916, Seán is sent to school at Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford in Ireland. In 1919, at the age of 15, he joins the Irish Volunteers, which fights as part of the Irish Republican Army, and takes part in the Irish War of Independence. He is imprisoned by the Irish Free State but is released in 1924 and resumes his IRA activities. He returns to Dublin in 1927 and becomes the Director of Intelligence of the IRA.

Toward the end of the 1920s, after many supporters have left the IRA to join Fianna Fáil, some members start pushing for a more left-wing agenda. After the IRA Army Council votes down the idea, MacBride launches a new movement, Saor Éire (“Free Ireland”), in 1931. Although it is a non-military organisation, Saor Éire is declared unlawful along with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, and nine other organizations.

In 1936, MacBride becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA after Moss Twomey is sent to prison for three years. At the time, the movement is in a state of disarray, with conflicts between several factions and personalities. In 1937, MacBride is called to the bar and then resigns from the IRA when the Constitution of Ireland is enacted later that year. As a barrister, MacBride frequently defends IRA political prisoners, but is not unsuccessful in stopping the execution of Charlie Kerins in 1944 who is convicted of killing Garda Detective Dennis O’Brien in 1942. In 1946, during the inquest into the death of Seán McCaughey, MacBride embarrasses the authorities by forcing them to admit that the conditions in Portlaoise Prison are inhumane.

In 1946, MacBride founds the republican/socialist party Clann na Poblachta, hoping it would replace Fianna Fáil as Ireland’s major political party. In October 1947, he wins a seat in Dáil Éireann at a by-election in the Dublin County constituency. However, at the 1948 general election Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats.

MacBride is serving as Minister of External Affairs when the Council of Europe drafts the European Convention on Human Rights. He serves as President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of this convention, which is finally signed in Rome on November 4, 1950. He is instrumental in the implementation of the Repeal of the External Relations Act and the Declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

In 1951, Clann na Poblachta is reduced to only two seats after the general election. MacBride keeps his seat and is re-elected again in 1954. Opposing the internment of IRA suspects during the Border Campaign (1956–62), he contests both the 1957 and 1961 general elections but fails to be elected both times. He then retires from politics but continues practicing as a barrister. He expresses interest in running as an independent candidate in the 1983 Irish presidential election, but does not receive sufficient backing and ultimately does not enter the contest.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, MacBride works tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He is a founding member of Amnesty International and serves as its International chairman from 1961 until 1975. During the 1980s, he initiates the Appeal by Lawyers against Nuclear War which is jointly sponsored by the International Peace Bureau and the International Progress Organization.

MacBride is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice.” He later receives the Lenin Peace Prize (1975–76) and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service (1980).

Seán MacBride dies in Dublin on January 15, 1988, just eleven days shy of his 84th birthday. He is buried in a simple grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.