This article, published in Irish Militant of January 1967, demonstrated the confusion of the Irish Workers' Group in relation to Republicanism. It was by-lined for though not written by Phil Flynn, later vice-president of Sinn Fein, a prominent trade unionist in the 26 Counties, and later a high-profile businessman.
Sinn Fein is in danger of blundering into a parliamentary blind alley. At its Ard Fheis. held late in November, there emerged a considerable body of opinion in favour of entering Leinster House. Motions calling for the party immediately to declare its willingness to take seats in the Dail were not voted upon, but there was obvious strong support for them. Moreover, discussion and voting on other related motions revealed a drift towards gradualism and an unformulated desire to come into the centre of the political stage as another respectable participant in the sordid sham of conventional Irish politics.
In his presidential address Tom Gill said that certain people "are urging Sinn Fein to take part in the political dogfight in Leinster House in the hope of extracting some concessions from a reluctant establishment." Mr Gill did not identify the "certain people" which was not surprising since he subsequently showed a strange willingness to collaborate with them and to go some of the way with them.
The motions dealing with this subject, unquestionably the most important before the Ard Fheis, were numbers eight, nine, ten and eleven. Numbers eight, nine and ten called on Sinn Fein to take seats, if elected, in Leinster House. Number eleven advocated the expulsion of anyone putting forward this idea. Discussion was such that the movers of motion Number nine - Pearse Club, Armagh - withdrew, acknowledging that the passing of the motion would obviously result in a split movement. After this Tom Gill - the man. who had so contemptuously dismissed Leinster House politics shortly before - moved an amendment to the effect that Sinn Fein' would enter the Dail if it got a majority. The amendment was passed. This represents the high watermark to date for the "Johnston line" inside Sinn Fein.
Johnston has been advocating this policy and recruiting a faction on the basis off it for over two years, The measure of success he has achieved in stimulating a gradualist tendency was evidenced by voting on other motions. Resolution number two, the effect of which was that republicans would recognise the Free State courts, was passed, as was a motion binding Sinn Fein to inform the Free State or Northern police of their intention to hold parades or public meetings.
A resolution asking that the United Irishman set out clearly the reasons for not entering Leinster House was defeated, giving the impression that some people are hedging their bets.
The relative strength of the opposing sides on these questions did not reflect the division within republican ranks. At the Ard Fheis roughly half of the delegates supported the Johnston line. A smaller percentage was opposed to constitutionalism under any circumstances. The remainder, while not irrevocably opposed to entry into Leinster House, correctly saw these moves as. an attempt to turn Sinn Fein into an ordinary parliamentary party. There was a missing factor in all this. Had Richard Behal been present there is no doubt that he would have swung the vast majority against Johnston. But Behal, in the words of one Northern delegate, "was expelled in his absence for breaking out of gaol without permission", and there was an impressive turnout of Special Branch detectives hoping to arrest him if he turned up. (It is alleged that while on the run he was summoned to appear at the United Irishman office, the very office which, according to the U.I. is under constant Special Branch surveillance). Other absentees for whatever reason included one republican who was wounded at Brookeborough in 1957. Another one who received a life sentence for the Arborfield raid in |955 and was rescued by Saor Uladh in 1959 and Walt Dunphy, who had been in prison with Behal. Many other militants have been squeezed out or expelled in recent months. The reason for this purge is quite clear. If such elements were still within Sinn Fein the present gang of parliamentary cretins would be exposed for what they are.
Tom Gill is a political innocent. Whether or not he has swallowed the Johnston line completely, it certainly seems that he does not recognise the dangers. Nor, as evidenced by their reported statements during the last few weeks, have certain other leading personalities.
Johnston's political career should be instructive for these people. Until recent times he was uninvolved in the republican movement. He was a loyal member of the British Communist Party (South Hammersmith Branch) and supporting Fianna Fail. When, on Sunday October 14th 1962. a demonstration took place in London demanding the release of Irish political prisoners. Johnston was Treasurer of the Connolly Association, which refused to take part because the demonstration was attacking both the northern and southern governments. (Among the slogans carried by the Irish Workers Group at that demonstration was: "No persecution of Tom Gill." Gill was at that time in danger of losing his job because he had been convicted under the Offences Against the State Act.)
This was a continuation of C.A. policy. When the Military Courts were in operation in 1961 a committee was formed in London known as the "Irish Military Courts Protest Committee." This committee organised protests outside the Free State Embassy. Johnston and the C.A. refused to take part' on the grounds that "it would embarrass the Irish Government."
What brings this unholy alliance together? In the first place the utter bankruptcy of the republican movement in the early sixties made it the land of the blind in which a one eyed man could become king. Coincident with this was Fianna Fail's turning from a "progressive" "anti-imperialist" stance towards the Common Market and integration with Britain. This leads Moscow and therefore the British Communist Party and therefore the Connolly Association to look less favourably upon it. Johnston and his ilk needed a new milieu in which to operate. So Mr Johnston became a republican and set about the task of moulding Sinn Fein in an image pleasing to his mentors. The task is clear. He must try to bring Sinn Fein onto that "peaceful road" so beloved of Moscow dialecticians.
It is clear that Johnston will now try to move more of Greaves' men into the organisation; and to push out those who would openly oppose them. Anthony Coughlan, the Dublin Correspondent of Greaves' song sheet "The Irish Democrat" for example, was going around Cork in 1957 vehemently attacking republicans and republicanism. His speeches are now fully reported in the United Irishman. We can expect Coughlan to join the leadership in a few months time. Tuairisc will gradually be pushed forward as a semi-official theoretical magazine.
Many will be fooled into thinking that this is a leftwing swing. It is nothing off the sort, as witness the treatment meted out to the Derry republicans. by Johnston's gang, when they put Connolly's photograph on their masthead. Manchester republicans on the other hand were praised for a magazine which mainly comprised knitting hints and cooking recipes, one more proof of the fake left character of this clique. Johnston has organized a faction. He is operating as a faction. He will not be defeated by passionate speeches or romantic idealism. He will be defeated by militants organised against him. The organisation must start now, and must be on a clear socialist programme.
Those who recognise the legality of the state end up as, at best, another Clann na Poblachta, at worst another Fianna Fail.
The Irish Militant believes that the social and political freedom of the Irish working people can only be achieved through revolutionary politics. The Johnston tendency is clearly and unashamedly non-revolutionary in content. Its immediate aim is to "take the gun out of Irish politics." Marxists ask. all republicans must ask: whose gun?