seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

Bobby Sands Dies on Hunger Strike

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies on hunger strike while imprisoned at Long Kesh Prison on May 5, 1981.

Born in Belfast on March 9, 1954, Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of a large furniture company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at Long Kesh Prison, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


Leave a comment

Ahern & Blair Conduct Talks at Hillsborough Castle

ahern-blair-hillsboroughTaoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conduct talks at Hillsborough Castle on March 3, 2003, in the latest bid to salvage the floundering Good Friday Agreement. The negotiations last eight hours.

This meeting is very important, as it is Tony Blair’s last chance at intensive negotiation before his attention is totally caught up in the Iraq War. Progress cannot afford to slip further as the Stormont Assembly election has to be formally declared by March 21 if it is to take place as scheduled on May 1.

David Trimble, representing the unionists, has said the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must “go out of business” before his party will re-enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In late 2002, he uses the word “disbandment” but he is now careful to avoid being overly prescriptive.

He wants visible, verifiable decommissioning to restore unionist confidence, severely damaged by the IRA spy ring allegations which led to the collapse of devolution in October 2002. Trimble is also urging sanctions to punish republican politicians if the Provisionals renege.

The key demands of the republicans are demilitarisation, guarantees that unionists cannot pull down the Stormont Assembly again, devolution of policing and criminal justice, further police reforms, and a dispensation for 30-40 fugitive IRA members to go back to Northern Ireland without prosecution.

Republicans insist discussions must not revolve around getting rid of the IRA. They prefer to interpret the prime minister’s talk of “acts of completion” as an admission of failure to implement his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, shortcomings they outlined in a 57-page dossier handed in to Downing Street.

Tony Blair claims he does not want to get involved in a bartering game – but in fact the government is prepared make major moves in return for IRA concessions. The prime minister is offering a radical three-year plan to withdraw 5,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and tear down a large number of border watchtowers and military bases.

Sinn Fein wants written guarantees on troop withdrawal and police reform, criminal justice and on-the-run terrorists. But important details need ironing out.

Policing and the return of fugitive paramilitaries are extremely sensitive issues for both republicans and unionists. A balance must be struck so that on-the-runs, mostly republican, are freed on licence after some sort of judicial process but not given amnesty, unacceptable to unionists.

Government sources claim Sinn Fein is poised to join the policing board, endorsing the police service for the first time, but this too will require delicate handling to ensure unionists don’t walk away.

One British government source states, “Everybody knows what has to be done, the question is if the will is there to achieve it. One of the problems is no one is absolutely clear what the IRA is prepared to do.”


Leave a comment

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 Becomes Law

government-of-ireland-act-1920The Government of Ireland Act 1920, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, becomes law on December 23, 1920.

The Act is intended to establish separate Home Rule institutions within two new territories of Ireland – the six northeastern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone are to form “Northern Ireland,” while the remaining 26 counties of the country are to form “Southern Ireland.” Each territory is to be self-governing, except in areas specifically reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom such as defence, foreign affairs, international trade, and currency. Provision is made for their future reunification under common Home Rule institutions.

Home Rule never takes effect in Southern Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence, which results instead in the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment in 1922 of the Irish Free State. However, the institutions set up under this Act for Northern Ireland continue to function until they are suspended by the British parliament in 1972 as a consequence of the Troubles.

The final provisions of the 1920 Act remaining in force are repealed under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement. In the republic, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 repeals the Act almost 85 years after Constitution of the Irish Free State replaced it as the basic constitutional law.


Leave a comment

The Sunningdale Agreement

council-of-irelandThe Sunningdale Agreement, an attempt to establish a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland, is signed at Sunningdale Park in Sunningdale, Berkshire, England on December 9, 1973. Unionist opposition, violence, and a loyalist general strike causes the collapse of the Agreement in May 1974.

On March 20, 1973, the British government publishes a white paper which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, to be elected by proportional representation. The British government would retain control over law, order and finance, while a Council of Ireland composed of members of the executive of the Republic of Ireland, the Dáil Éireann, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly would act in a consultative role.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Bill resulting from the White paper becomes law on May 3, 1973, and elections for the new assembly are held on June 28. Republicans boycott the elections and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) continued its campaign of opposition throughout the outcome.

After the Assembly elections, negotiations between the pro-White Paper parties on the formation of a “power-sharing Executive” begin. The main concerns are internment, policing, and the question of a Council of Ireland. On November 21, an agreement is reached on a voluntary coalition of pro-agreement parties. This new power-sharing Executive take up office and have its very first meeting on January 1, 1974. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is deeply divided – its Standing Committee votes to participate in the executive by a margin of only 132 to 105.

Provisions for a Council of Ireland exist in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, but these have never been enacted. Unionists resent the idea of any “interference” by the Republic of Ireland in their newly established region. In 1973, after agreement has been reached on the formation of an executive, agreement is sought to re-establish a Council of Ireland to stimulate co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. Talks are held between December 6-9 in the Berkshire town of Sunningdale between the British Prime Minister Edward Heath, the Irish Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the three pro-agreement parties. On December 9, a communiqué announcing the agreement is issued, which later becomes known as the “Sunningdale Agreement.”

On December 10, the day after the agreement is announced, loyalist paramilitaries form the Ulster Army Council, a coalition of loyalist paramilitary groups, including the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which oppose the agreement.

In January 1974, the Ulster Unionist Party narrowly votes against continued participation in the Assembly and Brian Faulkner resigns as leader. He is succeeded by the anti-Sunningdale Harry West. In March 1974, pro-agreement unionists withdraw their support for the agreement, calling for the Republic of Ireland to remove the Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution first. These Articles are not revised until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Following the defeat of a motion condemning power-sharing in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Ulster Workers’ Council, a loyalist organisation, calls a general strike for May 15. After two weeks of barricades, shortages, rioting, and intimidation, Faulkner resigns as chief executive and the Sunningdale Agreement collapses on May 28, 1974.

(Pictured: Unionist Party leader and designated leader of Ulster’s new executive, Brian Faulkner, sits with SDLP leader Gerry Fitt and John Hume, during talks at Sunningdale, Berkshire, to establish a Council of Ireland.)


Leave a comment

The Good Friday Agreement Comes Into Operation

good-friday-agreement-signingThe Good Friday Agreement, a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process, comes into operation on December 2, 1999 as the British and Irish governments formally notify each other that all the necessary arrangements are in place.

The notification ceremony takes place at Iveagh House, St. Stephen’s Green, headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, at a joint signing by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade David Andrews and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson.

Northern Ireland‘s present devolved system of government is based on the agreement. The agreement also creates a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed upon in Belfast on Good Friday, April 10, 1998. The first is a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties. The second is an international agreement between the British and Irish governments, known as the British-Irish Agreement.

The agreement sets out a complex series of provisions, or strands, relating to a number of areas:

Strand 1 addresses the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and establishes two major institutions – the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Strand 2 addresses the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the institutions to be created between them – the North/South Ministerial Council, the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association, and the North/South Consultative Forum.

Strand 3 addresses the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and institutions to be created between Ireland and Great Britain – the British/Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the British-Irish Council, and an expanded British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

Issues relating to sovereignty, civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice, and policing are central to the agreement.

The agreement is approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on May 22, 1998. In Northern Ireland, voters are asked whether they support the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters are asked whether they will allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it. The people of both jurisdictions need to approve the agreement in order to give effect to it.

The Good Friday Agreement comes into force on December 2, 1999. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday Agreement)


Leave a comment

Founding of Republican Sinn Féin

republican-sinn-feinRepublican Sinn Féin (Irish: Sinn Féin Poblachtach), an unregistered Irish Republican political organisation, is founded at the West County Hotel in Dublin on November 2, 1986.

Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) claim to be heirs of the Sinn Féin party founded in 1905 and take its present form in 1986 following a split with Provisional Sinn Féin. RSF members take seats when elected in local Irish councils but do not recognise the partition of Ireland and subsequently the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland governments, so does not register itself under them.

The decision to form, or to reorganise or reconstitute as its supporters see it, the organisation was taken in response to Gerry Adams-led Sinn Féin’s decision at its 1986 ard fheis to end its policy of abstentionism and to allow elected Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála take their seats in Leinster House‘s Dáil Éireann. The supporters of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill who go on to form RSF oppose this move as it signals a departure from the traditional republican analysis which views the parliament of the Republic of Ireland as an illegal assembly, set up by an act of the British parliament. They argue that republicans owe their allegiance to the All-Ireland (32 County) Irish Republic, maintaining that this state exists de jure and that its authority rests with the IRA Army Council. Hence, if elected, its members refuse to take their seats in the Oireachtas.

The organisation views itself as representing “true” or “traditional” Irish republicanism, while in the mainstream media the organisation is portrayed as a political expression of “dissident republicanism.” Republican Sinn Féin rejects the Good Friday Agreement and indeed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As part of this they refuse to discount Irish republicans using militant means to “defend the Irish Republic” and considers the Continuity Irish Republican Army (IRA) to be the legitimate army of the Irish Republic. The CIRA is designated as a terrorist organisation by the governments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.