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The Birth of the Provisionals - Liam O Comain

The Birth of the Provisionals - Liam O Comain

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Published by Nevin
O Comain: "Following the IRA ceasefire of 1962 (the so-called Border Campaign) a small group of republicans, centred around Cathal Goulding , Seamus Costello and Tomas MacGiolla, were interested in the ideas contained in a pamphlet by Desmond Greaves: 'The Irish Question and the British People'.

Greaves was a member of the Connolly Association in Britain and editor of its newspaper, The Irish Democrat. In the pamphlet he argued that the best way forward for the anti-partitionist movement was through a civil rights campaign.

In August 1966 representatives of an Irish version of the Connolly Association, namely the Wolfe Tone Society (a republican think-tank) met in Maghera, Co. Derry. The subject of the conference which included invited guests was whether a civil rights movement should be established in the six counties of British occupied Ireland (as distinct from the 26 county neo-colonial statelet).

Those in attendance included the IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding, Roy Johnston, Ciaran Mac an Aili, two Nationalist Party MPs, and Conn and Patricia McCluskey...IRA OCs and republican organisers from the north were also in attendance."
O Comain: "Following the IRA ceasefire of 1962 (the so-called Border Campaign) a small group of republicans, centred around Cathal Goulding , Seamus Costello and Tomas MacGiolla, were interested in the ideas contained in a pamphlet by Desmond Greaves: 'The Irish Question and the British People'.

Greaves was a member of the Connolly Association in Britain and editor of its newspaper, The Irish Democrat. In the pamphlet he argued that the best way forward for the anti-partitionist movement was through a civil rights campaign.

In August 1966 representatives of an Irish version of the Connolly Association, namely the Wolfe Tone Society (a republican think-tank) met in Maghera, Co. Derry. The subject of the conference which included invited guests was whether a civil rights movement should be established in the six counties of British occupied Ireland (as distinct from the 26 county neo-colonial statelet).

Those in attendance included the IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding, Roy Johnston, Ciaran Mac an Aili, two Nationalist Party MPs, and Conn and Patricia McCluskey...IRA OCs and republican organisers from the north were also in attendance."

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Published by: Nevin on Oct 06, 2008
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The Birth of the ProvisionalsLiam O Comain
Following the IRA ceasefire of 1962 (the so-called Border Campaign) a small group of republicans,centred aroundCathal Goulding, Seamus Costello and Tomas MacGiolla, were interested in theideas contained in a pamphlet by Desmond Graves: 'The Irish Question and the British People'.Graves was a member of the Connolly Association in Britain and editor of its newspaper,
The Irish Democrat 
. In the pamphlet he argued that the best way forward for the anti-partitionist movementwas through a civil rights campaign.In August 1966 representatives of an Irish version of the Connolly Association, namely the WolfeTone Society (a republican think- tank) met in Maghera, Co. Derry . The subject of the conferencewhich included invited guests was whether a civil rights movement should be established in the sixcounties of British occupied Ireland (as distinct from the 26 county neo-colonial statelet).Those in attendance included the IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding, Roy Johnston, Ciaran Mac anAili, two Nationalist Party MPs, and Conn and Patricia McCluskey...IRA OCs and republicanorganisers from the north were also in attendance.After an agreement was reached to establish a civil rights movement, the Belfast Wolfe ToneSociety agreed to sponsor a meeting, later, in order to present the proposal to a wider spectrum of  potential supporters. In November the second meeting took place, and Kadar Asmal (who waseventually to become a member of the South African Government, then a Law Lecturer at TrinityCollege, Dublin) made an interesting contribution to the meeting. Among the other contributors,Ciaran Mac an Aili, in a talk on civil disobedience as championed by Martin Luther King suggestedthat similar tactics could be used in the 6 counties. A proposal to launch a movement was wellreceived, and at a third conference on January the 29th, 1967, the Civil Rights Association(NICRA) came into being.Parallel with these developments a reorganising of the republican movement was taking place. Thelate Malachy MacGurran of Lurgan and myself (a native of Limavady, Co. Derry) were appointedfull- time organisers of the movement in the north of Ireland. In addition to republican structure our task was to include the involvement of rank and file republicans in the civil rights campaign as wellas co-operating with individuals and groups in the establishment of housing action committees and branches of the civil rights movement.At the 1967 Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, Tomas MacGiolla stated that it was the intention of Sinn Fein tolaunch a campaign of social agitation north and south, particularly in the area of housing.In the north housing agitation had an anti-unionist complexion. And because of Derry's uniqueness,
 
as a place of unionist discrimination and gerrymandering, I was given the task of forming acoalition between members of the local James Connolly Republican Club and local radicals. In duecourse this became a reality through the holding of meetings attended by a select number of people.The meetings usually took place in the Silver Dog Bar and those in attendance were NormanWalmsley, Eamon McCann, Janet Wilcox, Johnny White, Matt O'Leary, Dermie McClenaghan andmyself. There may have been others occasionally in attendance but the aforementioned were thecore unit. As stated, the meetings were selective and were not common knowledge at the time. Infact this became as news to others who were involved in the resulting Derry Housing ActionCommittee and other agitations. However it laid the basis as history now records for a large number of protests including squat- ins, occupation of the city corporation chambers, sit-downs, street blocking, etc, bringing to the fore such prominent activists as Fionnbar O Doherty, Brigid Bond,andMichael Montgomery,etc.The clandestine nature of the original Derry meetings as well as others taking place throughout thenorth was based upon the need for republicans to keep a low profile. This was done precisely so thatthe Civil Rights movement would attract diverse political tendencies. Not all republicans of the timeagreed with the 'new venture' for sadly the movement split in due course. Which raises the questionof whether those who supported the venture were seeking the mere democratisation of the northernstate. There were those who apparently inclined in that direction but to state categorically that wasnot the objective of republican participation in the civil rights movement.Otherwise Seamus Costello and myself among many others including people like Joe McCann of Belfast would not have remained with the so-called Officials.In fact, in an oration at a special Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare, Iemphasised the point that republican participation in the civil rightsmovement was for one reasononly: a means for "nurturing a revolutionary consciousness in the Irish people and gaining their support."This oration was delivered during the re-dedication of a new memorial by the National GravesAssociation, after loyalists (allegedly) bombed Tone's grave some months previously.As a member of the Ard Comhairle of Sinn Fein at the time, I recall writing the oration in the homeof the then president, Tomas MacGiolla, who agreed with the contents and endorsed it on behalf of the leadership.Retrospectively, the tragedy of the split which gave rise to the birth of the Provisionals arose from personality struggles, wrong assumptions, and the mistaken idea that physical force was arepublican principle rather than one of a number of means to achieve our objective of a free andself-determining Ireland.At a deeper level the split was the result of a decision by the Dublin Government to deliberatelydestroy what they saw as a developing revolutionary movement which threatened their control and
 
stability. Recently released state documents confirms the above, and I personally at the time wasapproached by elements of Fianna Fail seeking my allegiance. As were many others in the north,some of whom were conned by the southern government representatives promising training, arms,etc. Some training did take place in army premises at the time because it was felt that it would begood for morale and being aware of what the Dublin Government was about that in turn they should be used to the republican advantage.There is also the case of one County Derry OC who received from a Fianna Fail member a coupleof dozen bullets as a bribe. Needless to say this person was not easily conned. One humorousaspect, which I now recall, is the occasion when the southern Prime Minister Jack Lynch made hisfamous untruth — 'we will not stand idly by' or words to that effect.Volunteers from Counties Derry, Tyrone, and Cork were billeted at that time in the old Golden Grillin Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, which was loaned to us by a Fianna Fail member Senator McGlinchey. We had been in it for some time and one night the Cork OC and myself were returningvery tired after travelling many miles looking to getting our heads down for a good sleep. But after trying for some time to gain access to the Grill without success, a shadowy figure approached fromthe darkness and informed us that the good Senator had chased the IRA volunteers and their equipment out of the building because Fionnbar O Doherty had arrived from Derry and used theGrill as a basis for the distribution of pamphlets calling upon the southern Irish Army to desert. Needless to say, those who were thrown on the streets of the Donegal town took the initiative and bedded down in a large straw barn some miles away.This had all happened prior to the split proper but the cancer had started to take its toll,unfortunately.I believe that if those who left and formed the Provisionals had stuck their ground the republicanmovement's potential to achieve revolutionary change would have been immense and unstoppable.Whereas, what we have at present is the rise of the recurring myth of 'a stepping stone towards theRepublic'.In fact, the Provisionals have now abandoned the Republic of 1919 and are content with de Valera's'con' construction of a republic and their exercising of power in the northern state, which inherentlyis beyond equality of esteem.Ironically, they have come full circle and are more politically negative than those whom theycondemned at the time of the split. Although admittedly some of my former comrades in theOfficials have also betrayed the Republic and tread the road that the Provisionals are now treading...However, to return to those earlier developments, following a republican led squat-in at Caledon,Co. Tyrone, which resulted in a publicity coup of some importance, the Dungannon-basedCampaign for Social Justice placed pressure on the NICRA leadership to hold a march fromDungannon to Coalisland.

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Sean Garland speech at Bodenstown, Co Kildare, June 1968 - recorded in Stormont Hansard Sean Garland speech at Bodenstown, Co Kildare, June 1968

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