Des Dalton quits Republican Sinn Féin over criticism of dissident violence

Former party leader says changed political climate supports traditional arguments for unity

Des Dalton: said he would be ‘untrue to myself and to ideas I passionately believe’  if he accepted his suspension by the party, and he had no choice but to resign. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Des Dalton: said he would be ‘untrue to myself and to ideas I passionately believe’ if he accepted his suspension by the party, and he had no choice but to resign. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Former Republican Sinn Féin president Des Dalton has resigned from the party after its ardchomhairle suspended him for arguing against violent actions by dissidents.

Mr Dalton (49) said he would be “untrue to myself and to ideas I passionately believe” if he accepted the suspension and that he had no choice but to quit.

During a recent online discussion on the future of Ireland hosted by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, Mr Dalton said armed actions by dissident republicans are hindering traditional arguments to end partition.

Prior to his suspension and resignation, Mr Dalton told The Irish Times that current armed actions by the Continuity IRA and others did not amount to “an armed campaign” and were distracting from the debate on ending partition.

He stressed he was speaking personally and noted that the political landscape had changed considerably in recent years in Ireland, and Britain particularly, because of Brexit.

Accelerated

“I think if you look at the number of armed incidents over the last four to five years and particularly those where somebody has lost their life, as for instance happened with the tragic death of Lyra McKee, it has actually accelerated an agenda which traditional republicans oppose,” he said.

“In the case of the death of Lyra McKee, it accelerated the reconvening of Stormont and retrenched the institutions of partition,” he went on, adding that such actions were sporadic and did not constitute a morally or strategically justified armed campaign.

Mr Dalton said he still supports the republican movement’s right to engage in an armed struggle against British rule in Ireland but he believed that what should happen now was similar to 1923 and 1962, when republicans called ceasefires to end the Civil War and the Border campaign.

“In both 1923 and 1962, it was just a practical question of what was the best course of action for the republican movement – there was no stepping back from traditional republican principles by either of those republican leaderships, unlike with the Provisional IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997.”

Service

Speaking on Wednesday after he was suspended, Mr Dalton said he had given “over 30 years of service” to Republican Sinn Féin and he was not departing lightly.

“Irish republicanism needs to free itself of the shrill voices who shout ‘sell-out’ or ‘slippery slope’ when any initiative or fresh thinking is advanced for discussion. This is irrational and stifles the kind of honest and open debate that is necessary if the ideals of Irish republicanism are to be advanced,” he said.

Mr Dalton added that his allegiance remained to an all-Ireland republic as outlined in the 1916 Proclamation. By refusing to “engage with objective realities”, he said Irish republicanism risked isolating itself further and those advocating perpetual armed action without clear goals do a disservice to their cause.