Sorting through what was left of the new republic
Expressing the hope that snow would block the march from Belfast to Derry, she writes: “They are really irresponsible and have no real idea of the dynamite they are playing with – and I say advisedly, playing.”
Sinclair was a supporter of the approach put forward at the time by left-wing intellectuals such as Roy Johnston and Anthony Coughlan, who favoured a more gradualist approach to the situation. Coughlan is best known these days for his long-running campaign to halt and indeed reverse the trend towards European integration, but at that time he was a leading ideologue of the left.
Sinn Féin strategy
The author of this book, Matt Treacy, is, to put it mildly, not an admirer of the Coughlan-Johnston-Sinclair strategy. Currently a political adviser to the Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris, he is a former republican prisoner who was incarcerated with the Kerry North deputy in Portlaoise.
In the Provisional world view, Coughlan and Johnston caused great damage to the republican movement by promoting an alliance with left forces such as the CPI.
Coughlan has always strongly denied being a party member, but Treacy insists that this was the case. Again delving into the CPI archive, he has found what he says are membership lists with Coughlan’s name on them, although a senior CPI member says that these are actually the names of subscribers to the Irish Worker’s Voice paper.
There seems to be little dispute about the party membership of the late C Desmond Greaves (1913-1988), historian and editor of the Irish Democrat, published by the Connolly Association, a British-based organisation of Irish emigrants.
Treacy again clearly regards Greaves, who promoted an approach similar to that of Johnston and Coughlan, as a negative influence on Irish republicanism. Yet Greaves’s recommendations for an alliance of republicans and the left, using a nonviolent approach based on street and parliamentary politics, carry many echoes of current Sinn Féin strategy.
Treacy’s previous book, The IRA 1956-1969: Rethinking the Republic, published by Manchester University Press, was based on his PhD thesis at Trinity College Dublin. The current volume is the first in a planned two-part history of the Communist Party, the second of which is due out next summer.
It is not an easy read, and the index is deeply unhelpful, but the author has done a great deal of research, and his book shines a light on a little-explored but fascinating strand of modern Irish history. He makes a sustained effort to examine the close relationship between the party and its fellow thinkers in London and Moscow. Likewise, his study of the ins and outs of republican politics and the willingness of some activists to be seduced by the CPI, while others regarded it as anathema, is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of this little-known but not insignificant moment in our history.