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Peter Hadden

IRA dissidents split on Mitchell Principles

(November 1997)

From Voice [Dublin], Issue 9, November–December 1997.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Three members of the IRA’s ruling Army executive plus 20 other senior republican have split away from the IRA. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams dismissed it as a “little spat”, But Peter Hadden, from the Socialist Party in Belfast, told the Voice that this division goes back throughout the “peace process”.

“Some key people have left; one is a quartermaster general, one a key figure from Belfast and one a relative of a republican hunger striker who died in 1981.

“At the convention in Donegal, about 20 people left but some press reports say that votes on the peace process and on the leadership’s position were only passed by 60–40. This is a deep split.

“The people who have left will probably reform into a movement of their own rather than go to Republican Sinn Fein or the relatively small Continuity IRA.

“Back in November 1996, an army convention was called because of pressure from hard-liners and dissatisfaction with the peace process.

“Concessions were made such as expanding the Army executive and on conditions for a future ceasefire. But the hardliners who have left now allege that the full cease fire declared in the summer was never discussed.

“Even though the talks wouldn’t achieve a united Ireland, Adams and McGuinness hoped for a move away from the old unionist state, for changes which would be seen as being in the direction of reunification.

“The section of the republican movement that never accepted this have been strengthened by what’s happened in the talks. Adams and McGuinness have adopted publicly a very contradictory but overall quite mealy-mouthed stance.

“They say for example that the bottom line in these negotiations is the British government’s framework document. Having said that publicly, the bottom line then becomes the top line and the framework is the best they’ll get.

“There have been no real negotiations. The talks are just different capitalist and sectarian parties making statements at each other across the table.

“One public reason given by the people who have split is the Mitchell Principles. In particular, Sinn Fein have given a commitment in advance that no matter what happens they will accept the result of the talks and that people who want to make changes will do so through purely peaceful means.

“To republicanism this is like signing away future generations’ rights to struggle. They fear that the whole basis of republicanism has been surrendered but nothing has come out of the peace process.

“Some of them may want to split, but most will probably say wait and see. The problem for the hardliners is they have nothing to put in the place of what Adams and McGuinness are doing.

“Firstly the military campaign didn’t succeed in the past. Secondly there’s the mood in the Catholic areas. This is more hardline, it wants big concessions. It’s a nationalist mood but not one for a return to the armed struggle.

“This pressure of opinion was seen last week on the tenth anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing, when Adams came out to say that he was sorry for what happened in Enniskillen.

“It would take a period of regroupment before a new campaign and they would also have to consider how damaging a very deep split within the IRA would be, politically and militarily.”

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Last updated: 17 September 2011