Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Can Éirigí replace Sinn Fein as Ireland's main Republican party

Nicked mercilessly from Mick Hall's Organized Rage. Please direct any comments you have there.

By Mick Hall

I have published below in full an article about Éirigí, (Arise) a comparatively new Socialist Irish Republican organization that first emerged in April 2006, after a number of Sinn Fein's leading members in the Dublin City area resigned from the party. At first they concentrated on building a core leadership base in both political jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. Then gradually began organizing against partition, the Afghan war, support for the Shell to Sea campaign and various other progressive causes.
Éirigí is now in the process of registering as a political party after its Ard Fheis [Conference) last May agreed by democratic vote to go in this direction. There is little doubt that Éirigí has steadily recruited experienced Republicans, many of whom first cut their political teeth, helping to build SF in the post Hunger Strike period. Éirigí has also managed to attract a younger generation of Republicans, something that SF is finding difficult to achieve these days.

Éirigí has made it clear it is opposed to armed struggle, claiming at this time there is no mass popular support for it. It’s main strategy seems to be, to replicate the manner in which SF in the 1980s-90s gradually built its support base by patiently building political support at a local level within working class communities in both rural and urban areas, before moving forward electorally.

After I recently wrote it is imperative for Éirigí to challenge SF at the polls if it is to gain ground, I was told by an Éirigí member I must have patience as the party has no intention of entering the electoral fray, before it has prepared its support base on the ground, as it intends taking its membership and any potential voters with it every step of the way. Which was something I found encouraging as it means without a solid presence in a constituency or ward, it has no intention of parachuting in candidates etc...


* Photo above of leading Belfast republican and Éirigí member Brendan Mac Cionnaith.
Éirigí: New kids on the Republican block.
By Conor McMorrow.

Slowly, but steadily and obviously, a new political group has started to make its presence felt. It was present last weekend when workers from the Thomas Cook travel agent locked themselves in their Dublin office to protest at inadequate redundancy terms. It has been a regular at the Shell to Sea protests in Mayo. Staff at the Israeli embassy in Dublin have become very familiar with its protests. It expects to play a prominent part in the campaign to oppose the Lisbon treaty, and soon it will apply to be registered as a political party. Already, two Sinn Féin councillors have resigned to join the new grouping.

So who is behind this organisation, éirigí, whose name translates as 'Arise'? What defines éirigí's politics? And is this dissident group in support of or opposed to violence?

Dissenting voice.

The group was formed in April 2006, on the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, as a dissenting voice against the status-quo republicanism of Sinn Féin. It barely registered on the Irish political radar at first but it has recently become more prominent. éirigí protestors have been particularly noticeable at the Shell to Sea protests in Co Mayo.

Other activities have included distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods at shops in Belfast, organising a protest at an RIR (local British army unit) homecoming parade for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and picketing Stormont when former British prime minister Tony Blair visited, to oppose British foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group is thought to have around 200 activists in the North and a few hundred in the south, with the highest concentration in working-class areas of Dublin.

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune, the organisation's chairperson Brian Leeson said, "We are in the process of registering as a political party after our ardfheis in May gave us a mandate to contest elections." So how does Leeson define éirigí's politics?

"We are socialist republican. We would define our politics relative to all other parties and not just by comparing ourselves to Sinn Féin. Over the last three years, we have succeeded in attracting people who were never involved in politics at all so it is wrong to assume that our members are all from Sinn Féin.

"We see the Good Friday Agreement as more likely to reinforce partition than get rid of it. We favour building a mass movement in support of Irish freedom and British withdrawal.

"We started in Dublin and now have a good foothold across the six counties and a more scattered membership across the south."

A republican source, who defected from Sinn Féin some years ago, said, "It was started by people who had been in Sinn Féin but grew disillusioned with the progress and development of the party three or four years ago.

"They were not particularly pleased with the way Sinn Féin was moving within the establishment in the six counties and they were concerned about Sinn Féin's social and economic policies in the south. Sinn Féin's position in the 2007 general election would have confirmed their outlook that Sinn Féin moved away from being a republican socialist party."

Mary Lou McDonald's sister Joanne is one of a number of Sinn Féin activists that left to join éirigí around that time.

"éirigí has accepted the IRA ceasefires and it has non-insurrectionist policies," the republican source continued. "It is not planning an insurrection and there is no armed wing in the undergrowth. It is not a younger version of the Continuity IRA."

Sources in the North view éirigí as having a militant profile in the south but it is not seen as "serious" about national sovereignty issues by militant republicans, who view it as just a "more active Sinn Féin".

Militant republican Dominic Óg McGlinchey was formerly a member of éirigí, and two men (Brian Shivers and Colin Duffy) charged with the killing of two British soldiers at Massereene army barracks in Co Antrim last March had been members, but they left éirigí before Massereene.

Sources claim the organisation genuinely does not want a return to violence in the North; it just initially attracted people who thought otherwise. One republican source said, "éirigí doesn't want to be within spitting distance of those involved in armed struggle against British soldiers or police."


Informed sources say there have been a number of events in recent weeks that prove éirigí is not a violent organisation. Firstly, it had several members present at anti-Orange Order protests in Ardoyne in north Belfast last month but none were involved in the violence that ensued.

Secondly, the North's First Minister Peter Robinson held talks with Brendan Mac Cionnaith, spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road residents, last month. The talks were aimed at finding an end to the protracted dispute between the Orange Order and residents over the annual Drumcree march.

A republican source explained, "Mac Cionnaith left Sinn Féin some time ago and he is now in éirigí. It is significant that Robinson met him. As First Minister, he would be well briefed by the PSNI chief constable so I would be very surprised that if Robinson had the slightest suspicion about éirigí having an armed wing those talks would have gone ahead.

"The UUP was decimated by the DUP for doing business with Sinn Féin. If Robinson was willing to meet éirigí there must be no lingering doubt that it has a military wing."

When asked about éirigí's position on the use of violence, Leeson, who is from Lucan in west Dublin, replied, "We are not in support of or aligned to any armed organisation as we don't believe the conditions exist for a successful armed struggle and we believe there are more constructive ways for republicans to channel their energies."

So who is joining éirigí? Sources claim it is attracting a demographic of people in their 30s, mainly from working-class areas of Dublin.

"They are people who joined Sinn Féin as teenagers and are now a generation of republicans that have become disenchanted with the direction Sinn Féin is taking. They are fairly solidly working-class Dublin and they seem to have a good grip on social and economic issues in the capital.

"Éirigí has no grip in areas like Cork and Kerry so, apart from its supporters in the North, it is pretty much a Dublin phenomenon. It had no candidates in the local elections and that is probably because it doesn't have the resources, capacity or manpower to contest elections yet.

"I don't think it is a massive organisation but it could pose a real threat to Sinn Féin as it has some very articulate, intelligent people in their 30s involved and these people are hard working and full of energy."

One republican, who has closely watched the emergence of éirigí, drew an interesting analogy between the new movement and the politics of former Official IRA chief of staff Cathal Goulding.

He said, "éirigí seems to be very interested in the nationalisation of natural resources. It won't like this comparison but its politics sound a bit like the republican movement of Cathal Goulding. There are certain similarities as it is aiming at building a party on a base of Dublin working-class socialists."

Opinion is mixed on whether or not éirigí poses a realistic threat to Sinn Féin. While some observers say Sinn Féin is concerned, others say it is not, as éirigí doesn't pose an electoral challenge.

Éirigí has caused Sinn Féin some embarrassment in the last fortnight when councillor Louise Minihan left the party to join the new organisation, claiming Sinn Féin had "steadily moved away from the core values of Irish socialist republicanism".

The reality is the beneficiaries of Sinn Féin's mediocre electoral performance in the June elections were the Socialist Party's Joe Higgins, in taking McDonald's Dublin EU seat, and People Before Profit, which capitalised on a move to the left by gaining council seats.

One observer said, "éirigí is pointing out the inconsistencies in Sinn Féin to a younger generation. Its critique is intellectual rather than on the street in gunfire. Unlike other breakaway groups in the last decade, it cannot be written off as the people who are responsible for Omagh."

A republican source told the Sunday Tribune Brendan Mac Cionnaith provided a significant insight into éirigí's modus operandi at a meeting in Belfast shortly after the two British soldiers were killed at Massereene barracks.

"At that meeting, Mac Cionnaith went to some lengths to point out the importance of a point made in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) constitution drawn up in 1873," said the source. "That constitution stated that the IRB would not stage an armed insurrection without the will of the people.

"Bulmer Hobson, a key figure in the IRB, was opposed to the 1916 Rising, as it was contrary to the 1873 document. It was significant that Mac Cionnaith highlighted this at a meeting in Belfast as he was showing that it is opposed to arms."

In some quarters, éirigí is seen as a trendy left-wing group. Its emphasis on becoming a party of protest is not incompatible with Sinn Féin membership except that Sinn Féin has admitted itself that it has drifted away from grassroots activism.

In her controversial article in An Phoblacht last month, Toireasa Ferris said the party was "suffering from an identity crisis" and needed "to get back to the basics of representing people on the ground and building republicanism from the ground up".

Hardliners in the North believe éirigí's efforts are tokenistic and do not challenge British rule. Some even suspect a conspiracy theory behind the group's motives. There is some suspicion among hardline republican dissidents that while many éirigí activists are 100% genuine, Sinn Féin had a hand in the organisation's formation and some of its main figures' loyalties lie with Sinn Féin.

The conspiracy theory goes that Sinn Féin knew it would lose people, so it decided to set up a "tame opposition" that would engage in left-wing activities rather than have members defect to dissident paramilitary organisations.

The IRB framed a constitution in 1873 and Hobson opposed the 1916 Easter Rising because it contravened that document.

Éirigí's recent reference to that 1873 constitution is part of the latest chapter in the kaleidoscopic history of Irish republicanism. Just three years into its existence, it is still unclear to what degree éirigí will feature in future chapters of that troubled history.

Additional reporting by Suzanne Breen.