seamus dubhghaill

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


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Irish Ferries Protest

irish-ferries-protestNearly 150,000 people take to the streets on December 9, 2005, as the Irish Ferries protest mushrooms into the largest public demonstration the country has seen for two decades.

The national day of protest is called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is demanding Government action to combat exploitation of migrant workers and the displacement of jobs. There are rallies in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Athlone and Rosslare.

An Garda Síochána estimate that 40,000 people take part in the march in Dublin, although organisers claim the figure is far higher. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party and John Gormley of the Green Party participate in the march in the capital. Staff on board the MS Isle of Inismore in Pembroke and the four engineers holed up in the ships control room say they are overwhelmed by the level of support shown by marchers in the rallies.

Bus and rail services are disrupted during the protest but return to normal for evening rush hour.

The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) strongly criticises the National Day of Protest. In a statement, ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding says the protest is undermining the industrial relations process in this country and has very little to do with the Irish Ferries dispute and is in fact an attempt by the unions to influence negotiations in advance of any new national pay agreement.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Services Industrial Professional Technical Union (SIPTU) President Jack O’Connor says the rallies give workers the chance to take a stand.

Director General of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) Turlough O’Sullivan says there is nothing to be gained from disrupting business and the general public. He adds that whatever one’s views on the Irish Ferries dispute, nothing can justify calling a national work stoppage when discussions are already underway in a bid to resolve the row.

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The Founding of Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin, a left-wing Irish republican political party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is founded on November 28, 1905, when, at the first annual Convention of the National Council, Arthur Griffith outlines the Sinn Féin policy, “to establish in Ireland’s capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation.”

The phrase “Sinn Féin” is Irish for “ourselves” or “we ourselves,” although it is frequently mistranslated as “ourselves alone.” The meaning of the name itself is an assertion of Irish national sovereignty and self-determination; i.e., the Irish people governing themselves, rather than being part of a political union with Great Britain under the Westminster Parliament.

Around the time of 1969–1970, owing to the split in the republican movement, there are two groups calling themselves Sinn Féin, one under Tomás Mac Giolla, the other under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. The latter becomes known as Sinn Féin (Kevin Street) or Provisional Sinn Féin, and the former becomes known as Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) or Official Sinn Féin. The “Officials” drop all mention of Sinn Féin from their name in 1982, instead calling itself the Workers’ Party of Ireland. The Provisionals are now generally known as Sinn Féin. Supporters of Republican Sinn Féin, which comes from a 1986 split, still use the term “Provisional Sinn Féin” to refer to the party led by Gerry Adams.

Sinn Féin is a major party in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is the largest nationalist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the second-largest overall. It has four ministerial posts in the most recent power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive. It holds seven of Northern Ireland’s eighteen seats, the second largest bloc after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), at Westminster, where it follows a policy of abstentionism, refusing to attend parliament or vote on bills. It is the third-largest party in the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland. As Ireland’s dominant parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are both centre-right, Sinn Féin is the largest left-wing party in Ireland.

Sinn Féin members have also been referred to as Shinners, a term intended as a pejorative.


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Birth of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams

Gerard “Gerry” Adams, Irish republican politician who is the president of the Sinn Féin political party and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Louth since the 2011 general election, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 6, 1948.

Adams attends St. Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road, where he is taught by La Salle brothers. Having passed the eleven-plus exam in 1960, he attends St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School. He leaves St. Mary’s with six O-levels and becomes a barman. He is increasingly involved in the Irish republican movement, joining Sinn Féin and Fianna Éireann in 1964, after being radicalised by the Divis Street riots during that year’s general election campaign.

In the late 1960s, a civil rights campaign develops in Northern Ireland. Adams is an active supporter and joins the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967. However, the civil rights movement is met with violence from loyalist counter-demonstrations and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In August 1969, Northern Ireland cities like Belfast and Derry erupt in major rioting.

During the 1981 hunger strike, which sees the emergence of Sinn Féin as a political force, Adams plays an important policy-making role. In 1983, he is elected president of Sinn Féin and becomes the first Sinn Féin MP elected to the British House of Commons since Philip Clarke and Tom Mitchell in the mid-1950s. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he is an abstentionist Member of Parliament (MP) of the British Parliament for the Belfast West constituency.

Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin since 1983. Since that time the party has become the third-largest party in the Republic of Ireland, the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland and the largest Irish nationalist party in that region. In 1984, Adams is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by several gunmen from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), including John Gregg. From the late 1980s onwards, Adams is an important figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, initially following contact by the then-Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume and then subsequently with the Irish and British governments.

In 1986, Sinn Féin, under Adams, changes its traditional policy of abstentionism towards the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, and later takes seats in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) states that its armed campaign is over and that it is exclusively committed to democratic politics.

In 2014, Adams is held for four days by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for questioning in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. He is freed without charge and a file is sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, which later states there is insufficient evidence to charge him.

In September 2017, Adams says Sinn Féin will begin a “planned process of generational change” after its November ardfheis and will allow his name to go forward for a one year term as Uachtaran Shinn Fein (President Sinn Fein).


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Long Kesh Prison Hunger Strike Ends

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strike is called off at Long Kesh prison – later known as HM Prison Maze –  on October 3, 1981. While the IRA does not win immediate concessions, in some ways it is a Pyrrhic victory for Margaret Thatcher’s government. It galvanises support and membership for the IRA and generates huge sympathy for the strikers in the United States where fund-raising is a major priority. The death of the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands, creates a martyr and an iconic figure.

In January 1981, prison authorities begin to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demand the right to wear their own clothing. On February 4, the prisoners issue a statement saying that the British government has failed to resolve the crisis and declares their intention of a hunger strike. The hunger strike begins on March 1, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former officer commanding (OC) in the prison, refuses food. Unlike the first hunger strike the previous year, the prisoners join one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believe would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The republican movement initially struggles to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands begins his strike, 3,500 people march through west Belfast. During the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000. Five days into the strike, Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire dies, resulting in a by-election. There is debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election. After negotiations they agree not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stands as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West. Following a high-profile campaign, the election takes place on April 9, and Sands is elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.

Sands’ election victory raises hopes that a settlement can be negotiated, but Thatcher stands firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. The world’s media descends on Belfast, and several intermediaries visit Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, including Síle de Valera, granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II‘s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials. With Sands close to death, the government’s position remains unchanged.

On 5 May, Sands dies in the prison hospital on the 66th day of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. More than 100,000 people line the route of his funeral, which is conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher shows no sympathy for his death.

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, hunger strikers Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara die. Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson, the families of some of the hunger strikers attend a meeting on July 28 with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families express concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision is made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. The following day Adams holds a meeting with six of the hunger strikers to outline a proposed settlement on offer from the British government should the strike be brought to an end. The six men reject the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than the “Five Demands” would be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers who had died.

The hunger strike begins to break on July 31, when the mother of Paddy Quinn insists on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch dies, followed by Kieran Doherty on August 2, Thomas McElwee on August 8 and Michael Devine on August 20. On September 6, the family of Laurence McKeown becomes the fourth family to intervene and asks for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issues a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.

The strike is called off at 3:15 PM on October 3, 1981. Three days later, James Prior, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announces partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times. The only one of the “Five Demands” still outstanding is the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983, the prison workshops are closed, effectively granting all of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.

(Pictured: A Belfast mural of the Long Kesh hunger strikers)


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Ireland Approves Same-Sex Marriage by Popular Vote

Ireland becomes the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote on May 23, 2015, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.

With the final ballots counted, the vote is 62.1% in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and 37.9% opposed. The turnout is large with more than 60% of the 3.2 million eligible voters casting ballots. Only one of the 43 districts, Roscommon-South Leitrim, votes the measure down.

With early vote counts suggesting a comfortable victory, crowds begin to fill the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the center of British rule. By late morning, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, concedes the outcome on Twitter: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”

Cheers break out among the crowd of supporters in the courtyard of Dublin Castle when Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile announces in the evening that the ballot has passed.

In recent history a vote such as this would have been unthinkable. Ireland decriminalizes homosexuality only in 1993, the church dominates the education system, and abortion remains illegal except when a mother’s life is at risk. But the influence of the church has waned amid scandals in recent years, while attitudes, particularly among the young, have shifted.

“Today Ireland made history,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says at a news conference, adding that “in the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement.” He also adds, “This decision makes every citizen equal and I believe it will strengthen the institution of marriage.”

Alex White, the government’s Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, says, “This didn’t change Ireland — it confirmed the change. We can no longer be regarded as the authoritarian state we once might have been perceived to be. This marks the true separation of church and state.”

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, says, “There are two Irelands, the elite Ireland and the hidden Ireland. And today the hidden Ireland spoke.”

Nick O’Connell, who is from a rural area in County Kilkenny, cradles a celebratory drink in a Dublin pub. He says he had been too afraid to come out as gay until his mid-20s. “Today I’m thinking of all those young people over the years who were bullied and committed suicide because of their sexuality. This vote was for them, too.” He adds, “This is different from other countries because it was the people who gave it to us, not a legislature.”


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Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


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Birth of Northern Ireland Politician Gerry Fitt

Gerard Fitt, Northern Ireland politician, is born in Belfast on April 9, 1926. He is a founder and the first leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a social democratic and Irish nationalist party.

Fitt is educated at a local Christian Brothers school in Belfast. He joins the Merchant Navy in 1941 and serves on convoy duty during World War II. His elder brother Geordie, an Irish Guardsman, is killed at the Battle of Normandy.

Living in the nationalist Beechmount neighbourhood of the Falls, he stands for the Falls as a candidate for the Dock Labour Party in a city council by-election in 1956, but loses to Paddy Devlin of the Irish Labour Party, who later becomes his close ally. In 1958, he is elected to Belfast City Council as a member of the Irish Labour Party.

In 1962, he wins a seat in the Parliament of Northern Ireland from the Ulster Unionist Party, becoming the only Irish Labour member. Two years later, he left Irish Labour and joined with Harry Diamond, the sole Socialist Republican Party Stormont MP, to form the Republican Labour Party. At the 1966 general election, Fitt won the Belfast West seat in the Westminster parliament.

Many sympathetic British Members of Parliament (MPs) are present at a civil rights march in Derry on October 5, 1968 when Fitt and others are beaten by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Fitt also supports the 1969 candidacy of Bernadette Devlin in the Mid Ulster by-election who runs as an anti-abstentionist ‘Unity‘ candidate. Devlin’s success greatly increases the authority of Fitt in the eyes of many British commentators, particularly as it produces a second voice on the floor of the British House of Commons who challenge the Unionist viewpoint at a time when Harold Wilson and other British ministers are beginning to take notice.

In August 1970, Fitt becomes the first leader of a coalition of civil rights and nationalist leaders who create the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). By this time Northern Ireland is charging headlong towards near-civil war and the majority of unionists remain hostile.

After the collapse of Stormont in 1972 and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 Fitt becomes deputy chief executive of the short-lived Power-Sharing Executive created by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Fitt becomes increasingly detached from both his own party and also becomes more outspoken in his condemnation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He becomes a target for republican sympathisers in 1976 when they attack his home. He becomes disillusioned with the handling of Northern Ireland by the British government. In 1979, he abstains from a crucial vote in the House of Commons which brings down the Labour government, citing the way that the government had failed to help the nationalist population and tried to form a deal with the Ulster Unionist Party.

In 1979, Fitt is replaced by John Hume as leader of the SDLP and he leaves the party altogether after he agrees to constitutional talks with British Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins without any provision for an ‘Irish dimension’ and then sees his decision overturned by the SDLP party conference. Like Paddy Devlin before him, he claims the SDLP has ceased to be a socialist force.

In 1981, he opposes the hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast. His seat in Westminster is targeted by Sinn Féin as well as by the SDLP. In June 1983, he loses his seat in Belfast West to Gerry Adams, in part due to competition from an SDLP candidate. The following month, on October 14, 1983, he is created a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell’s Hill in County Down. His Belfast home is firebombed a month later and he moves to London.

Gerry Fitt dies in London on August 26, 2005, at the age of 79, after a long history of heart disease.