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Sinn Féin (English: "We Ourselves", often mistranslated as "Ourselves Alone" ) is the name of an Irish political party founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith. Sinn Féin provided a focus for Irish Nationalism in its various forms. Consequently, it encompassed political philosophies from the left and right, Republican and Monarchist, theocrats and atheists. Its break-up during the Irish Civil War in 1922 has had a dramatic effect on politics in Ireland to this day.

Contents

1905 to 1917

Arthur Griffith, Founder (1905) and Third leader (1908 - 17)

The original Sinn Féin movement crystallised around the writings of Arthur Griffith, a nationalist typesetter, and William Rooney, a republican office clerk, both of whom were extremely active in Dublin's nationalist clubs at the beginning of the 20th century. In his account of the movement's early years, the writer Aodh de Blácam said that Sinn Féin "was not a party: it was the amorphous propaganda of the Gaelicised young men and women".[1] Griffith was first and foremost a newspaperman with an impressive network of friends in the Dublin printing industry. His propaganda newspapers, the United Irishman and Sinn Féin, channeled the enormous energy of the self-help generation into an unorthodox political project based on the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy of 1867 and the theories of the German nationalist economist Friedrich List. Tapping into the growing self awareness of an Irish identity which was reflected in movements like the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League (Conradh na nGaeilge) and in the founding of the Abbey Theatre, he created a loose federation of nationalist clubs and associations which competed with John Redmond's Irish Parliamentary Party to embody the aspirations of 20th century nationalists.

The origins of the term "Sinn Féin", according to the current Sinn Féin party's publication, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, can be traced to the Conradh na Gaeilge journal An Claidheamh Soluis. A leading article titled Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin, which appeared on 27 April 1901, and afterwards as "Sinn Féin agus ár gCairde" over the advertising section to encourage readers to buy Irish-made goods.[2]

On St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1902, in Oldcastle, County Meath, members of Conradh na Gaeilge founded Sinn Féin: the Oldcastle Monthly Review.[3] In a later edition of the Review the paper commented "While Sinn Féin is in existence it will always champion the cause of the oppressed against the oppressor and will be the stern champion of the labouring class."[4]

Most historians opt for 28 November 1905 as the founding date because it was on this date that Griffith first presented his 'Sinn Féin Policy'. In his writings, Griffith declared that the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 was illegal and that, consequently, the Anglo-Irish dual monarchy which existed under Grattan's Parliament and the so-called Constitution of 1782 was still in effect.

Though Sinn Féin had a high name recognition factor among voters it attracted minimal support. By 1915 it was, in the words of one of Griffith's colleagues, "on the rocks", so insolvent financially that it could not pay the rent on its party headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin. It was rescued by the mistaken belief among the British administration running Ireland from Dublin Castle that it had been behind the 1916 Rising, an unsuccessful attempt to establish an Irish Republic.

1917 to 1922

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The Easter Rising, 1916

Sinn Féin was not involved in the failed Easter Rising, despite being blamed by the British Government for it. The leaders of the Rising were certainly looking for more than the Sinn Féin proposal of a separation stronger than Home Rule under a dual monarchy. Any group that disagreed with mainstream constitutional politics was branded 'Sinn Féin' by British commentators. The term 'Sinn Féin Rebellion' was also used by the mainstream Irish media, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and even by a few of those involved in the Rising.

Later in 1916, surviving members of the Rising led by Éamon de Valera joined the party and soon took control of it. De Valera replaced Griffith as president. It nearly split between its monarchist and republican wings at its 1917 Ard Fheis (conference) until, in a compromise motion, it proposed the establishment of an independent republic, after which the people could decide whether they wanted a monarchy or republic, subject to the condition that if they chose a monarchy, no member of the British Royal Family could serve as monarch.[5]

Sinn Féin's status was boosted in public opinion by the anger over Maxwell's execution of Rising leaders. This was despite the fact that, before the executions, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Irish Independent newspaper (the biggest selling daily newspaper in Ireland then and now) and many local authorities actually called for the mass execution of Rising leaders. Yet even that public sympathy did not give Sinn Féin decisive electoral advantage. It fought a tough battle with the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond, later John Dillon, with each side winning by-elections. It was only after the World War I German Spring Offensive, when Britain threatened to impose conscription on Ireland to bring its decimated divisions up to strength, that the ensuing Conscription Crisis decisively swung support behind Sinn Féin.

1918 electoral victory

Sinn Féin won 73 of Ireland's 106 seats in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland parliament at the general election in December 1918 and many of the seats it won were uncontested. There were four reasons for this. Firstly, despite being the largest party in Ireland for forty years, the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) had not fought a general election since 1910. In many parts of Ireland its organisation had decayed and was no longer capable of mounting an electoral challenge. Other seats were uncontested because of mass support, with other parties deciding that there was no point in challenging Sinn Féin given it was certain to win. Contemporary documents also suggest a degree of intimidation of opponents. (Piaras Béaslaí recorded one example in a by-election in Longford in 1917 where a Sinn Féin activist put a gun against the head of a Returning Officer and forced him to announce the election of the Sinn Féin candidate even though the IPP candidate had more votes. Potential candidates who were thought of as serious challengers to Sinn Féin candidates were warned against seeking election in some Ulster constituencies and in Munster, though in Cork all the All-for-Ireland Party MPs stood down in favour of Sinn Féin candidates.)

In Ulster, Unionists won twenty-two seats, Sinn Féin twenty-six and the Irish Parliamentary Party won six (where they were not opposeed by Sinn Fein). In the thirty-two counties of Ireland, twenty-four returned only Sinn Féin candidates. In the nine counties of Ulster, the Unionists polled a majority in only four.[6]

Because twenty-five seats were uncontested under sometimes dubious circumstances, it has been difficult to determine what the actual support for the party was in the country. Various accounts range from 45% to 80%. Academic analysts at the Northern Ireland demographic institute (ARK)[7] estimate a figure of 53%[8]. Another estimate would suggest Sinn Féin had the support of approximately 65% of the electorate (unionists accounting for approximately 20-25% and other nationalists for the remainder). Lastly, emigration was very difficult during the war, which meant that tens thousands of young people were in Ireland who would not have been there under normal circumstances.

On 21 January 1919 twenty-seven Sinn Féin MPs assembled in Dublin's Mansion House and proclaimed themselves the parliament of Ireland, the First Dáil Éireann. They elected an Aireacht (ministry) headed by a Príomh Aire (prime minister). Though the state was declared to be a republic, no provision was made for a head of state. This was rectified in August 1921 when the Príomh Aire (also known as President of Dáil Éireann was upgraded to President of the Republic, a full head of state.

In the 1920 city council elections, Sinn Féin gained control of ten of the twelve city councils in Ireland. Only Belfast and Derry remained under Unionist and IPP (respectively) control. In the local elections of the same year, they won control of all the county councils except Antrim, Down, Londonderry and Armagh.

The Split over The Treaty

File:Dev-st.jpg
Éamon de Valera, Fourth leader of Sinn Féin (1917–26)

Following the conclusion (December 1921) of the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations between representatives of the British Government and de Valera's republican government and the narrow approval of the Treaty by Dáil Éireann, a state called the Irish Free State was established. Northern Ireland (a six county region set up under the British Government of Ireland Act 1920) opted out, as the Treaty allowed.

The reasons for the split were various, though partition was not one of them — the IRA did not split in the new Northern Ireland and pro- and anti-treaty republicans there looked to pro-treaty Michael Collins for leadership (and weapons). The principal reason for the split is usually described as the question of the Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State, which members of the new Dáil would be required to take. It explicitly recognised that the Irish Free State would be part of the British Empire and many republicans found that unacceptable. The pro-treaty forces argued that the treaty gave "freedom to achieve freedom".[9] In the elections of June 1922 in the southern twenty-six counties, de Valera and the anti-treaty Sinn Féin secured 35% of the popular vote. The anti-treaty element of the IRA had formed an Executive that did not consider itself subordinate to the new parliament.

A short but bitter Irish Civil War (June 1922 – April 1923) erupted between the supporters of the Treaty and its opponents. De Valera resigned as President of the Republic and sided with the anti-treatyites. The victorious pro-treaty "Free Staters", who amounted to a majority of Sinn Féin TDs and a majority of the voting electorate, set up the Irish Free State. The pro-treaty Sinn Féin TDs changed the name of the party to Cumann na nGaedhael, subsequently merging with the Centre Party and the Blueshirts in 1933 to form Fine Gael.

1922–1926

Having temporarily suspended armed action in the Free State, the movement split again with the departure (March 1926) of its leader Éamon de Valera, after having lost a motion to abandon abstention if the statement of "Fidelity to the King" were abolished. He subsequently founded Fianna Fáil with fellow advocates of participation in constitutional politics, and entered the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) the following year, forming a government in 1932.

1930s to 1968

In the 1960s the party moved to the left, adopting a 'stagist' approach similar to orthodox Communist analysis. The party came under the influence of a generation of intellectuals who were associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain's Connolly Association and sought a decisive break from the confessional politics of the past. The new generation of leaders sought to engage Ulster's Protestant workers in an anti-imperialist popular front.

1969–1970

There were two splits in the Republican Movement in the period 1969 to 1970. One in December 1969 in the IRA, and the other in Sinn Féin in January 1970.[10]

The stated reason for the split in the IRA was ‘partition parliaments’ [11] however the division was the product of discussions in the 1960s over the merits of political involvement as opposed to a purely military strategy. [12] The political strategy of the leadership was to seek to unite the Protestant and Catholic working classes in class struggle against Capital: it saw the sectarian troubles as fomented to divide and rule the working class. The split when it finally did come in the December 1969, arose over the playing down of the role of the IRA and its inability in defending the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland in the violent beginning to the Troubles. [13] One section of the Army Council wanted to go down a purely political (Marxist) road, and abandon armed struggle.[14] IRA had been dabbed on the walls over the north and was used to disparage the IRA, by writing beside it, “I Ran Away.” [15]Those in favour of a purely military strategy accused the leadership of rigging the Army convention, held in December and the vote on abandoning the policy of abstentionism and abandoning the Nationalists.[16]

In January 1970, a triumvirate consisting of Seán Mac Stiofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill and Seamus Twomey together with others established themselves as a "Provisional Army Council". This Council 'overturned' the two motions in December. It called itself 'Provisional' because it intended to reconvene in six months in order to regularise the IRA, when the term provisional would be abandoned. [17] The split in the Republican Movement was completed on 11 January 1970, when at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis the proposal to drop abstention was put before the members. [18] The policy of abandoning abstentionism had to be passed by a two-thirds majority to change the Party’s constitution.[19] Again there were allegations of malpractice and pro-Goulding supporters casting votes though they were not entitled to. [20] In addition, the Leadership had also refused delegate status (voting rights) to a number of Sinn Féin Cummann (branch) particularly in the north were they knew them to be opposed. When the vote was taken the result was 153 to 104 in favour. The leadership had failed to achieve the two-thirds majority. The Leadership then attempted to propose a motion in support of the (pro Goulding) IRA Army Council, led by Tomás Mac Giolla. This motion would only have required a simple majority. [21] As the (pro Goulding) IRA Army Council had already resolved to drop abstentionism, this was seen by the minority group (led by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh) as an attempt to subvert the Party's Constitution, and they refused to vote and withdrew from the meeting.[22] Anticipating this move, they had already booked a hall in 44 Parnell square, were they established a “caretaker executive” of Sinn Féin.[23] One faction of the Party was referred to as Sinn Féin (Gardiner Place) – the offices of Sinn Féin for many years – and the other as Sinn Féin (Kevin Street), the location of the opposing offices of Ó Bráidaigh's dissident group. Both claimed to be the real Sinn Féin.

Despite the dropping of the word 'Provisional' at a convention of the "Kevin Street" Army Council in September 1970, and becoming the dominant group, they are still known 'to the mild irritation of senior members' as Provisionals, Provos or Provies.[24][25] People began to flock to join the “Provos” [26], as they were called, and in an effort to reassert its authority the Goulding section began to call itself “Official IRA” and “Official Sinn Féin,” but to no avail. Within two years the “Provos” had secured control of the militant Republican Movement. [27]

Leaders

In 1923, a substantial portion of the membership became Cumann na nGaedhael
In 1926, de Valera resigned from Sinn Féin and launched Fianna Fáil
In 1970, split into two parties claiming to be the legitimate Sinn Féin
In 1986, Ó Brádaigh left and set up Republican Sinn Féin.

References

  1. ^ What Sinn Féin Stands For, Aodh de Blácam, Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1921.
  2. ^ Mícheál MacDonncha, ed (2005). Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle. Dublin: Sinn Féin. ISBN 0 9542946 2 9, p.12"
  3. ^ Patrick Pearse attended the first meeting as a guest speaker
  4. ^ MacDonncha (2005), p.12
  5. ^ The wording was "having achieved that status the Irish people may by referendum freely choose their own form of Government".
  6. ^ MacDonncha (2005), p.63
  7. ^ ARK - Social and Political Information on Northern Ireland, in association with Queens University and the University of Ulster
  8. ^ ARK:The Irish Election of 1918
  9. ^ Timothy Shanahan (2009). The Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Morality of Terrorism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 133, 205. ISBN 0-74863-530-0.  
  10. ^ The Secret Army: The IRA, J Bowyer Bell, Poolbeg Press Ltd. Ireland 1997 (revised Third Edition), ISBN 1 85371 813 0 pg.366-1, Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 250-1, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9 pg.131-2, The I.R.A., Tim Pat Coogan, HarperCollins Publishers London 2000 ((Fully Revised & Updated), ISBN 0 00 653155 5 pg.337-8, Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993, Paul Bew & Gordon Gillespie, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1993, ISNB 0 7171 2081 3 pg.24-5,
  11. ^ The I.R.A., Tim Pat Coogan, HarperCollins Publishers London 2000 ((Fully Revised & Updated), ISBN 0 00 653155 5 pg.337-8
  12. ^ The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, Diarmaid Ferriter, Profile Books, London 2005, ISBN 978 1 861974 43 3 pg.624
  13. ^ Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993, Paul Bew & Gordon Gillespie, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1993, ISNB 0 7171 2081 3 pg.24-5, Ireland: A History, Robert Kee, Abacus, London (Revised Edition 2005), ISBN 0 349 11676 8 pg.237, Eyewitness to Irish History, Peter Berresford Ellis, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Canada 2004, ISBN 0 471 26633 7 pg.281, The Secret Army: The IRA, J Bowyer Bell, Poolbeg Press Ltd. Ireland 1997 (revised Third Edition), ISBN 1 85371 813 0 pg.366-1, Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 249-50, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9 pg.131-2
  14. ^ Ireland: A History, Robert Kee, Abacus, London (Revised Edition 2005), ISBN 0 349 11676 8 pg.237, Eyewitness to Irish History, Peter Berresford Ellis, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Canada 2004, ISBN 0 471 26633 7 pg.281, The I.R.A., Tim Pat Coogan, HarperCollins Publishers London 2000 ((Fully Revised & Updated), ISBN 0 00 653155 5 pg.337-8
  15. ^ Ireland: A History, Robert Kee, Abacus, London (Revised Edition 2005), ISBN 0 349 11676 8 pg.237, Eyewitness to Irish History, Peter Berresford Ellis, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Canada 2004, ISBN 0 471 26633 7 pg.281
  16. ^ The Secret Army: The IRA, J Bowyer Bell, Poolbeg Press Ltd. Ireland 1997 (revised Third Edition), ISBN 1 85371 813 0 pg.363, Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 250-1, Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  17. ^ Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.184
  18. ^ Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  19. ^ Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 250-1, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9 pg.131-2, Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  20. ^ Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  21. ^ Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 250-1, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9 pg.131-2, Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  22. ^ The Secret Army: The IRA, J Bowyer Bell, Poolbeg Press Ltd. Ireland 1997 (revised Third Edition), ISBN 1 85371 813 0 pg.366-1, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9 pg.131-2, Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  23. ^ The Secret Army: The IRA, J Bowyer Bell, Poolbeg Press Ltd. Ireland 1997 (revised Third Edition), ISBN 1 85371 813 0 pg.367, Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle, Parnell Publications, Mícheál MacDonncha, 2005, ISBN 0 9542946 2 9 pg.131-2, Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186, The I.R.A., Tim Pat Coogan, HarperCollins Publishers London 2000 ((Fully Revised & Updated), ISBN 0 00 653155 5 pg.337-8
  24. ^ Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 674 6, pg.186
  25. ^ Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993, Paul Bew & Gordon Gillespie, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1993, ISNB 0 7171 2081 3 pg.24-5 cite.’ Two leading commentators on the Provisionals noted: ‘The nomenclature, with its echoes of the 1916 rebels’ provisional government of the Irish Republic, reflected the delegates’ belief that the irregularities surrounding the extraordinary convention rendered it null and void. Any decisions it took were revokable. They proposed to call another convention within twelve months to ‘resolve the leadership of the movement. Until this happened they regarded themselves as a provisional organisation. Ten months later, after the September 1970 Army Council meeting, a statement was issued declaring that the “provisional” period was now officially over, but by then the, name had stuck fast.’ (Bishop and Mallie, p.137)
  26. ^ Eyewitness to Irish History, Peter Berresford Ellis, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Canada 2004, ISBN 0 471 26633 7 pg.281
  27. ^ Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0 86278 695 9 pg. 252, The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, Diarmaid Ferriter, Profile Books, London 2005, ISBN 978 1 861974 43 3 pg.624

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