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Republican Sinn Féin, A Political Party That Became A Political Cult

I’ve discussed Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) several times before on ASF, a faction of (Provisional) Sinn Féin which broke away from the mainstream republican movement in 1986. It is closely allied to the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA), a traditionalist splinter of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, also dating from the same period. RSF essentially functions as the political wing of the CIRA and like its military partner it has led a largely pointless existence. The party has failed over three decades to garner any real electoral support and remains wedded to an anachronistic, almost wilfully anti-modernist view of revolutionary republicanism. In early 21st century Ireland its claims of legitimacy, of ideological purity, have become the stuff of satire not respect. While the late RSF president, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, was willing to take upon himself the role of a Fenian King Canute, railing against the waves lapping at his feet, time and tide have simply rolled over him and the political cultism he promulgated.

Over the last few years CIRA has been periodically riven by internal divisions, leading to the formation of three rival factions all claiming ownership of the Continuity “brand” during one of the more recent bouts of dissension. Those splits have inevitably shown up in Republican Sinn Féin, with several personality-led groupings claiming leadership of the organisation. The movement has also, perhaps unavoidably given its peripheral and desperate position, become enmeshed in underworld activities, engaging in everything from arson to gangland murders. While attempts have been made at “housekeeping” the air of criminality which hangs over RSF and CIRA (and others) will take a long time to fade, if ever. Personally I think it is time for people in both organisations to recognise them for the footnotes of history they already are, while young republicans look elsewhere for inspiration and comradeship.

Belfast-born Marisa McGlinchey, a political scientist at Coventry University, has written a short observational piece on Republican Sinn Féin for the Village Magazine. It is well worth a read if you are interested in the occasionally fissiparous nature of Irish nationalism and some of the minor bodies on the fringes of the Fenian tradition. That is not to denigrate all such bodies, or the men and women who form them, but rather to reflect the reality of where they sit on the broad spectrum of republicanism. Finally just to note this paragraph from the article:

“There was one organisation present at the RSF commemoration that day, which is the only organisation to have never split, and that is Cumann na mBan. The women standing to attention behind the RSF colour party and alongside the Fianna Éireann colour party were not there in a commemorative capacity. They were not in dress uniform. Nor were their silver badges which were striking when the sun caught them, commemorative. Rather these are the active members of Cumann na mBan, an organisation which formed in 1914. 2016 has witnessed women partaking in pageantry, dressing up in Cumann na mBan uniforms or flying Cumann na mBan flags and regarding the organisation as of historical interest. Sharing the ideology of Republican Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBan are very much still in existence, contrary to popular treatment of the organisation as historical. While the organisation is illegal in the North it is legal in the South of Ireland.”

Unfortunately that is a bit of contemporary myth-making by people associated with Republican Sinn Féin. Cumann na mBan (CnamB) has been subject to several splits down through the years and the particular incarnation viewed by Dr. McGlinchey is effectively an all-female branch of RSF. One could only hope that an independent, feminist-republican movement was active in 2016. God knows they would have more sense than to concern themselves with antiquated arguments over the legacy of the Second Dáil when there is an 8th Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann to repeal!


10 comments on “Republican Sinn Féin, A Political Party That Became A Political Cult

  1. the Phoenix

    Whatever good people who are left in RSF should leave and join more responsible republican groups. And the handful of vols in Lurgan and Craigavon who have accomplished nothing but getting scores arrested should call it a day and work to bring about unity and end to brit rule peacefully.


    • Totally agree. I know that there are some good folk in RSF and those bodies associated with it but enough is enough. They are trapped in an antiquated form of early 20th century republicanism unfit for early 21st century use.

      While the rest of us are using FLAC and MP3 audio files they are still insisting on the fidelity of vinyl and cassette! 😉


  2. Thomas Elliott

    Meanwhile members of the larger Cult Adamsite SF are leaving like rats from a stinking ship.


    • Ah now, surely you’re not referring to the recent troubles up in Antrim? Weren’t we informed that Daithí McKay acted entirely alone and without the knowledge of any members of the SF Ard Chomhairle or assembly party?! 😀


  3. Sean Hurley

    Look where we are now, SF in a cosy situation with the DUP that aids the support and maintenance of English rule in occupied Ireland. There has been and always will be different strands to Irish Republicanism, there is no one right way only. The fight for Ireland’s right to exist has had to be fought for and not talked for. Will Gerry’s next be ”The long talk to Irish freedom”?


  4. Dara O Rourke

    O Bradaigh and his brother , Seán , were quite frequent visitors to the three roomed hovel we lived in near Lanesboro in the mid to late fifties. I don’t actually recall them but my older sister does.They would leave certain items after their nocturnal adventures. Wonder if he noticed we had no running water or toilet? Much later he would talk a bit about socialism but I think it was always less inportant than flags ans symbols to him.


    • He was a fine man in his way but the insistence on the rhetoric of the Free State and Free State Parliament was just meaningless by the 1980s. I still don’t understand where RSF folk think it will lead them. Their whole political philosophy just shrivels up and dies as soon as it is exposed to the real world. At a certain point its stops being politics and becomes cultism.


  5. The hyperlinked part, “a political scientist (…)” going to Mackers’ site, to use an americanism – is this for real?

    Why is this very dangerous intelligence-fishing not being reported elsewhere? Utterly, utterly sinister, if it is as represented on thepensivequill.

    “Links between senior academics and the British security services has collapsed an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded study into “dissident” Irish republicans that has cost more than a quarter of a million pounds [£300,000, according to the University of Liverpool website].

    The project, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, sought to gather opinions across the wide spectrum of dissident republicanism. It imploded after it emerged that a senior academic leading the study had pledged to the funders that the study findings would be shared with British security agencies, a measure the front line researchers vehemently opposed.”


  6. What’s makes you think CnamB would be pro-abortion?


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