Key members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), led by the sister of H-Block hunger striker Bobby Sands, meet on April 19, 1998 to draft an outright condemnation of the Good Friday peace deal.
The 32CSM is an Irish republican group that is founded by Bernadette Sands McKevitt. It does not contest elections but acts as a pressure group, with branches or cumainn organised throughout the traditional counties of Ireland. The organisation has been described as the “political wing” of the Real Irish Republican Army, but this is denied by both organisations. The group originates in a split from Sinn Féin over the Mitchell Principles.
The 32CSM is founded as the 32 County Sovereignty Committee on December 7, 1997 at a meeting of like-minded Irish republicans in Finglas in Dublin. Those present are opposed to the direction taken by Sinn Féin and other mainstream republican groups in the Northern Ireland peace process, which leads to the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) the following year. The same division in the republican movement leads to the paramilitary group now known as the Real IRA breaking away from the Provisional Irish Republican Army at around the same time.
Most of the 32CSM’s founders have been members of Sinn Féin. Some had been expelled from the party for challenging the leadership’s direction, while others felt they had not been properly able to air their concerns within Sinn Féin at the direction its leadership had taken. Bernadette Sands McKevitt, wife of Michael McKevitt and a sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands, is a prominent member of the group until a split in the organisation.
The name refers to the 32 counties of Ireland which were created during the Lordship of Ireland and Kingdom of Ireland. With the partition of Ireland in 1920–1922, twenty-six of these counties form the Irish Free State which becomes the Republic of Ireland. The remaining six counties of Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom. Founder Bernadette Sands McKevitt says in a 1998 interview with the Daily Mirror that people did not fight for “peace” – “they fought for independence” – and that the organisation reaffirms to the republican position in the 1919 Irish Declaration of Independence.
Before the referendums on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the organisation lodges a legal submission with the United Nations challenging British sovereignty in Ireland. The referendums are opposed by the organisation, but are supported by 71% of voters in Northern Ireland and by 94% in the Republic of Ireland.
The 32CSM has protested against what it calls “internment by remand” in both jurisdictions in Ireland. Other protests include ones against former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley in Cobh, County Cork, against former British Prime Minister John Major being given the Keys to Cork city, against a visit to the Republic of Ireland by Police Service of Northern Ireland head Sir Hugh Orde, and against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Anglo-American occupation of Iraq.
In 2015, the 32CSM organises a demonstration in Dundee, Scotland, in solidarity with the men convicted of shooting Constable Stephen Carroll, the first police officer to be killed in Northern Ireland since the formation of the PSNI. The organisation says the “Craigavon Two” are innocent and are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
The 32CSM once criticised the Real IRA’s military actions, with respect to the Omagh bombing. However, the group is currently considered a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in the United States, because the group is considered to be inseparable from the Real IRA, which is designated as an FTO. At a briefing in 2001, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State states that “evidence provided by both the British and Irish governments and open source materials demonstrate clearly that the individuals who created the Real IRA also established these two entities to serve as the public face of the Real IRA. These alias organizations engage in propaganda and fundraising on behalf of and in collaboration with the Real IRA.” The U.S. Department of State’s designation makes it illegal for Americans to provide material support to the Real IRA, requires U.S. financial institutions to block the group’s assets and denies alleged Real IRA members visas into the United States.