Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gerry Lawless on Saor Uladh

  In what is one of the only published pieces by a former member, Gerry Lawless talks about Saor Uladh and the Christle Group.
     It is an excerpt from a much larger article called "Where the Hillside Men have Sown" (See here: ), written by Lawless in reply to a series in the United Irishman commemorating the 10th anniversary of Operation Harvest. He points out the fact the IRA was not the only one at war and calls them out for the unfair treatment meeted out to dissidents of the time.

 "....The impression deliberately given that the IRA was alone in the field: but it was Saor Uladh which began the campaign independently with the burning of the 6 customs posts along the border on Armistice Day 1956 – more than a month before the 'official' campaign began. In the Role of Honour Aloysius Hand is listed, and the inference is that he was of the IRA ... but be was a member of Saor Uladh. During his political life he was slandered and ostracised by the IRA and Sinn Fein in Monaghan in the most viciously sectarian manner, by institutionalised leaders who feared for their own control. For years they ignored his death. And now they silently slot his name into their Role of Honour! But still not mention is made of his comrade Connie Green, killed in 1955. Why? Because they must preserve the fiction that there was no activity before their official campaign began in Dec. 1956. Even in tearful eulogies to their dead they tamper with the records, behaving like sordid bureaucrats!

They boast about the preparatory arms raid on Armagh barracks in June 1954, but do not mention that over half the participants had been expelled by 1956, and slandered as police spies and British agents (see United Irishman Oct. and Nov. 1956).

    Another item highlights the work of the Republican Publicity Bureau which, says United Irishman, “built up a reputation for integrity and truthfulness". In fact the RPB, the voice of the narrow sectarians who led the IRA, more than once aided the state against Saor Uladh. RPB disclaimers of Saor Uladh activities, in the name of “The Republican movement”, played into the hands of the Special Branch.* Once the RPB issued a statement disclaiming a 'job' Special Branch and the RUC knew who to look for. In 1957 when members of Dublin Saor Uladh were arrested and charged with armed robbery at an explosives dump, workers refused to identify them. Some days later the RPB denounced the raid, and the denunciation was used by the police to persuade the witnesses to identify those whom the police said were “Dublin gangsters” - Sean Geraghty and Joe Chrystal. Saor Uladh conveyed the truth to these workers just in time for them to retract their evidence.

The main article says that in 1958 the Cypriot EOKA made contact with the IRA, and joint plans to release Irish and Cypriot prisoners were laid, these being broken off when the Cypriot struggle ended and the EOKA prisoners were released. This is not quite the truth. In 1958 the more militant members of EOKA contacted the more militant Republicans - i.e. Nicky Samson contacted Joe Chrystal. The 'dialogue' did not end: the EOKA militants played their part in releasing Joseph Murphy from Wakefield jail in 1959. The only member of the 'official' movement involved was the prisoner -- and he too has now (1966) been expelled!

An Cumann Cabhrach is credited with the "Herculean labour” of caring for the prisoners' dependents. This is a lie. It is also a slander, because if An Cumann Cabhrach successfully cared for all prisoners' dependents, then those who formed the Irish Political Prisoners Fund must have been guilty of false pretences. Sinn Fein refused aid to the dependents of those who would not accept its discipline in jail. One man treated thus had lost a leg in the ambush in which Aloysius Hand died. Still, at meeting after meeting in New York in 1958 Sinn Fein spokesmen gave assurances that no discrimination was being practised in the distribution of money ... False pretences?

No, it is not as pleasant a picture as they paint it in the United Irishman. And the putrefaction emerges more clearly still in view of the situation inside the Curragh Camp.

In the first year in the camp twelve men who between them had taken part in the Arbourfield raid, the first Roslea raid, the return to Armagh and the return to Omagh; two of whom had been continuously on the run from '55 to their internment in '57; five of whom had been members of the first Column to move North; all but two of whom had been involved in the opening shots of the Campaign (11.XI.56, not 12.XII.56) – these twelve were deliberately and systematically ostracised by the other prisoners on the orders of the Camp OC, Thomas MacCurtain. Any prisoner who associated with them was himself victimised. Clothing and foodstuffs sent in by sympathisers and intended for all were denied them, Why? Because the twelve refused the discipline of MacCurtain - who had been elected OC at a meeting to which they were refused admission! Only the official leaders' ability and willingness to cut off aid from the dependents of those who refused this discipline within the camp allowed them to impose this shamelessly sectarian regime on the other prisoners.

   Saor Uladh were more serious in their approach (than the IRA), rejecting much of the traditional out-[word illegible] of the 'hillside men'. They felt under no obligation to keep faith with an [word illegible] whose strength was superior force; tactically they recognised the courts; they rejected the official line that RUC and Dublin Special Branch should not be shot at. More important, they tended to face the [act, religiously denied by Sinn Fein and the IRA, that it is not merely a question of 'British occupied Ireland' but of the tie-[word illegible] of both sections of Irish capitalism, as the local garrison of Imperialism; and that it was a question of civil war against this garrison, on both sides of the border. Largely made up of workers, Saor Uladh became involved in Dublin unemployed struggles, helping to form unemployed defence groups in 1958. It also became involved in land agitation in Kerry. It tried to link up with the world movement against colonialism, thus departing from the traditional myopia of seeing only British imperialism, and had contact with the EOKA and the FLN. The tendency of Saor Uladh, striving to escape the contradictions of traditional Republicanism, is clear. But as a body it did not succeed in adopting a clear revolutionary working class perspective. However, its conflicts with the IRA had the effect of starting a number of its worker members on the road to a Marxist class consciousness.

-----------------(end excerpt)-------------

* A couple of points:
- Lawless uses the name "Saor Uladh" for both "the" SU and the men of Joe Christle group, who operated together but were quite distinct from each other. His analysis of war on both sides of the border in the last paragraph is a reflection of the Christle Group's views, not Saor Uladh, who politically recognized the Free State and abhorred "civil war mentality."

     The purpose of reposting this is not to reopen wounds or to make a point against the whole IRA, but just to record the historical fact of what happened to a group of dedicated, worthy republicans- both for the record and a warning for today.

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