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!