seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Sinn Féin Splits in 1970

sinn-feinOn January 11, 1970, at Sinn Féin‘s Ard Fheis at the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin, the proposal to end abstentionism and take seats, if elected, in the Dáil, the Northern Ireland Parliament, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom is put before the members. A similar motion had been adopted at an Irish Republican Army (IRA) convention the previous month, leading to the formation of a Provisional Army Council by Seán Mac Stíofáin and other members opposed to the leadership.

There are allegations of malpractice and that some supporters cast votes to which they are not entitled. In addition, the leadership has also refused voting rights to a number of Sinn Féin cumainn (branches) known to be in opposition, particularly in the north and in County Kerry. The motion is debated all of the second day, and when it was put to a vote at 5:30 PM the result is 153:104 in favour of the motion, failing to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority.

The Executive attempts to circumvent this by introducing a motion in support of the IRA Army Council, led by Tomás Mac Giolla, which only requires a simple majority. In protest of the motion, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and his minority group walks out of the meeting. These members reconvene at a hall in 44 Parnell Square, which they had already booked in anticipation of the move by the leadership. They appoint a Caretaker Executive, and pledged allegiance to the Provisional Army Council.

The Caretaker Executive declares itself in opposition to the ending of abstentionism, the drift towards irish-republican-armyMarxism, the failure of the leadership to defend the nationalist people of Belfast during the 1969 Northern Ireland riots, and the expulsion of traditional republicans by the leadership during the 1960s. At the October 1970 Ard Fheis, it is announced that an IRA convention has been held and has regularised its structure, bringing the “provisional” period to an end.

At the end of 1970 the terms “Official IRA” and “Regular IRA” are introduced by the press to differentiate the two factions. During 1971, the rival factions play out their conflict in the press with the Officials referring to their rivals as the Provisional Alliance, while the Provisionals refer to the Officials (IRA and Sinn Féin) as the National Liberation Front (NLF).

The Falls Road Curfew, coupled with internment in August 1971, and Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972, boosts the Provisionals in Belfast. These events produce an influx into the Provisionals on the military side, making them the dominant force and finally eclipsing the Officials everywhere. Despite becoming the dominant group and the dropping of the word “provisional” at the convention of the IRA Army Council in September 1970, they are still known to the mild irritation of senior members as Provisionals, Provos, or Provies.