Partitionism - Another Angle

Simon O’Donovan, a member of the Seán Heuston Society in Dublin, gives his opinion to the 1916 Societies on the need for the republican struggle to become fully all-Ireland in nature if it hopes in any way to prosper.

The woes of the ‘Free Stater’ or a ‘Southern’ republican (although I’m more eastern). On a personal level down through the years I was always very assertive when meeting those from the Six Counties, to challenge what their perception of a Free Stater – especially a Dub – might be. Me or my family did not support partition or ‘abandon’ our northern brethren, so that was usually a good foundation to start from.

On a more specific republican level, although quite young, I remember the debates around the Good Friday Agreement and knew some Dublin republicans were quite critical of the whole process, especially being told that we had to listen to northern leaders, that they were the people who bore the brunt of the struggle. That seemed fair enough at the time but it started my interest in looking at a number of aspects of republican struggle.

The democratisation of the movement itself is one; we should never again have a northern top-heavy movement. The failure to broaden out the republican struggle some say can be traced back to the Official/Provisional split, which probably hindered a real chance of following the vision of Connolly and Mellows and mixing our national and social visions. There are numerous theories, some conspiratorial, of what divided the movement of that time. Some probably delved too much into exoticism and theory and veered too much into importing leftist theory into what already should have been a radical republican movement.

Of course we couldn’t leave people undefended too and people needed, and wanted, action. But I can’t help but think that this division suited the Dublin Government and the Brits equally. We are all aware of the Brits’ later strategy of ‘Ulsterisation’. Well, I think from this time the 26-Counties pushed a form of this, in regards that there was a ‘northern problem’ or ‘issue’. In the ’60s, republicans in Dublin and elsewhere were becoming very militant and vocal on Housing Action Committees and natural resource issues. It seemed that the 26-county government were happy to concentrate any sentiment of unrest or activism on the ‘north’.

The more that emerges about the shadowy and murky side of the conflict – in regards black ops, agents and informers etc – the more we have to think that this was also used to bolster what could be called ‘Free Staterism’ – or basically further embedding the neo-colonial entity, the 26-Counties, as Ireland, Official Ireland, the expression of Irishness in many spheres. This was part of the plan of Britain and other imperial interests.

How could a broad island-wide movement for genuine independence and socialism be built if the campaign only involved an armed campaign and one that focused on the north? It left a whole section of the population, potential support, without having their input and participation. Through the years, we have seen the Dublin Government’s attitude to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, real acts of terror in the truest sense, to detract support for any radical politics. Apart from extreme loyalist violence, there is more and more evidence to suggest that certain republican actions were compromised or led a certain direction – again to quell support for a radical political movement.

It is not the place here to give a full military evaluation of these events, but to see when they were happening. We have to remember the infancy and fragility of the Free State, especially up to this time. There were survivors of the revolutionary period still alive and a wider sense that the stepping stone argument was still at play. There was at the very least politicians who maybe even cynically held a romantic notion of a United Ireland or paid lip service but it was in the political discourse.

Some would say we were finding our feet as a state, others that were it was set up never to work; economically, socially or politically. From the start of recent struggle there was a rapid hypering of Free Statism and we see things happening that aid in its direction as an openly neo-colonial neo-colony, with EU treaties, selling off natural resources, downgrading of the Irish language, loss of our neutrality, banking scandals and the establishment of narco-terrorist gangs.

Sure why would we be freeing ‘The Six’ when we have nothing substantial to offer them, nothing close to the ideals of republicanism. Sometimes in fact, on a shallow level, I am envious of what battle-hardened communities have fostered in areas of the Six Counties, especially as a Dublin native. I see vibrant Irish language communities and good social solidarity. I don’t feel the narco-gangs could take hold up there and hold communities to ransom. I do not think the increasing number of private security groups that intimidate at evictions and water meter installations would last in many communities up there.

The gist of my article is that partition is terrible for this island but to fight it we need to focus on getting large numbers of people in the 26-Counties politicised and convinced of our arguments. This needs to happen before or hand-in-hand with bringing our unionist neighbours on board. How are we to sell a United Ireland to unionists when we are not sure and confident of the support of the large swell of support across the island?


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your depiction of the social disconnect between the people and the powers of government after partition, particularly in the 1960s on, as the 26 county state began its move towards the European sovereignty surrender we have all witnessed this last 10 years particularly when democratic ballots for Lisbon and Nice were discarded and re-run with greater fear campaigned in the run up to Nice and Lisbon 2.

    Our country has never been a true Republic, territorially or Socially. Upon receipt of commonwealth limited power from the British Empire we allowed the Anglo Irish ascendency to occupy high positions in our senate and in our society and the status quo of tiered society was maintained.

    By the time we gained full sovereignty over the 26 county state the power was held by high political dynesties, the Catholic church, the protected Anglo Irish ascendency and the rich.

    It is rumoured that De Valera was offered a United Ireland by Churchill during World War 2 for the use of our ports, but fearing the influx of a United Protestant opposition in a changed domestic political landscape and likely to surrendering power chose to do as many have since and maintain his position in power above national long term interests.

    I as a southern Republican feel that there was without doubt a negligence from the free state government towards our brothers and sisters locked in the occupied six counties. I wonder how a strong leader like Michael Collins may have fulfilled his own words of "Stepping stone to achieve Independence" had he lived through the Civil war as his achievements in our history are almost unrivaled as a leader. His credentials to Republicans suffer because of his position on the Anglo Irish Treaty and the Civil War but without him would Ireland have achieved anything and you are left to wonder what more could he have achieved.

    Ireland has had numerous successors to the Soldiers of 1916 and at times with differing levels of ligitimimacy, the old IRA of the border campaign succeeded by the Provisional movement borne from the oppression of the orange state. Any actions against British Institutions of Colonialism be it Police/Army or State assisted Loyalist paramilitaries and British political/Military Institutions were in a War sense legitimate and you can only dispair of instances of Republican aggression of a sectarian nature which in indiscriminate bombings and shootings either in Ireland or England were counter to any aim to further our cause and were wrong and damaged the movement.

    On reflection the Provisional movement has surrendered the aspirations they once had of a 32 county Socialist Republic for a settlement which at least has saved lives, I am starting to believe that because the movement was so heavily infiltrated they could not have done any better. The dirty war was a British speciality they have done it for hundreds of years and while I share the ideals of men from Tone to Connolly to Sands it seems now that our best way to achieve a United Ireland is build on the Belfast agreement and try to break the establishment in the 26 counties. If we can do this we can try to wrestle power and through politics establish the first semblance of the Republic declared in 1916.

    We as a nation have vast national resource potential and fantastic agri/Fishery/tourist sectors as well as being a prefered destination for Multi-National tech companies. If I say Tiocfidh at la does it frighten people of the British identity on this Island or the people who hold power in the 26 county establishment more because the Social inequality in our land is the bigger crime than the temporary partition of it.

  2. " Through the years, we have seen the Dublin Government’s attitude to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, real acts of terror in the truest sense, to detract support for any radical politics. Apart from extreme loyalist violence, there is more and more evidence to suggest that certain republican actions were compromised or led a certain direction – again to quell support for a radical political movement."

    This statement is exactly why the 'societies' will never gain much in the way of traction. You can't learn from the past if you are trying your hardest to subtly absolve yourself of responsibility for any of your f*ck ups in it. Yes the Loyalist did some heinous, disgusting things at the direction of and the assistance of various State actors, but at least they went on record and said as much. I remember a Portadown Loyalist on BBC saying he had so much British Intelligence documents he didn't know where to store them all.

    This article comes across as 'only the really bad ops that gave us bad PR was done by Brit agent infiltration'. Laughable and child like, and fooling nobody.

    More than that the Societies are rapidly appearing as nothing but hot air, no mechanics only mantra. Say what you want about the Shinners but at least they got 'somewhere'.

  3. Dear AM

    Partition freed two evil demons; the Ulster Protestant / Loyalist and the the Catholic Nationalist.

    Any decent historian would be reminded of the Thirty Years War and shake his head sadly.

    The country has been plagued with obsequious people and morally bankrupt leaders. With very real malevolence infused by various British governments.

    This can change.