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Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 31November 1993

Class Struggle and National Liberation

Counter-revolution in Ireland


by Erna Bennett

IV – Calls for Peace

In the absence of official labour representatives, either urban or rural, in either Dail Eireann or in the political leadership of the independence struggle, the conservative elements of Sinn Fein, dominated by the figure of Arthur Griffith, were able to effect a confident reversal of the tide of revolution without significant opposition, and move into positions of decisive control. Many of the Dail’s more militant members, though sympathetic to labour,33 were too much in the thick of the fight, as IRA combatants, to be able to do much about, or even be much aware, of the political shenanigans in Dublin.

While they and rural and urban workers were on active service, and provided the backbone of the IRA, while dockers and railwaymen all over the country were refusing to handle British military supplies, and telephone operators, domestic servants and even prostitutes served as the never-resting agents of an IRA intelligence network, Griffith, by the autumn of 1920, had assumed undisputed control of the Sinn Fein political machine.

In September of that year, he and MacNeill felt confident enough to reassure investors they had nothing to fear from the Dail administration. Their purpose, as they saw it, was to establish the Dail’s ability to provide strong and respectable government, and to dispel alarm created by IRA attacks on British institutions, by showing that in all respects other than national sovereignty, nothing in the new Ireland would be changed. Above all, they sought “to distinguish themselves clearly from the Bolshevist uprisings which had occurred in a number of European countries.”34

Labour party protests at Sinn Fein’s anti-labour policies were no longer effective in changing anything. The Labour Party had missed its opportunity. The time to have warned against such policies and to have played a role in preventing them had been in the general elections of November 1918, from which Labour had abstained so inexplicably.

By the autumn of 1920, too, “certain personalities who believed that the hostilities in Ireland would be inconclusive, would inflict too intense suffering, sow enduring hatreds, and in the final analysis accomplish no commensurate constructive purpose”35 began to put out peace feelers. Some “social strata up to now in support of the revolution were beginning to doubt if it served their interests to continue it”.36

A peace party emerged cautiously, even within the Dail itself. In short, while combatants who came above all from the ranks of the labouring classes and the unemployed of town and country continued to fight the unequal struggle for which these classes more than any others were called on to pay a heavy price, the middle class – under pressure from employers, the press and the church – was already beginning to waver and to entertain the notion of compromise, even betrayal.

A vice-president of Sinn Fein declared publicly that Ireland was ready for peace. In Galway, where the great majority of the elected members of the County Council were in prison or on the run, a handful of non-combatant members, constituting less than a quorum of the council, passed a “resolution” calling for a truce, to which the press gave wide publicity. A member of the Dail wrote a letter to the ever-willing press deploring IRA violence.

Thomas Johnson, general secretary of the Labour Party, welcomed and energetically canvassed the British Labour Party's call for negotiations in Ireland. The higher clergy and the press eagerly took up the refrain. From on high came a gathering call for peace and a return to normality; in the field there were rumours in the air, but no combatant “had the slightest official indication that these efforts were likely to end in a truce to hostilities”.37

Next Section: V – Preparations for Compromise
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  1. Though sympathy, Gilmore has pointed out, unlike agitational involvement, leaves no heirs.
  2. Rumpf and Hepbum. (1977) Nationalism and Socialism in twentieth-century Ireland. Liverpool Univ. Press. pp.24, 25.
  3. Cox, T. (1975) Damned Englishman: A Study of Erskine Childers (1870-1922). New York, Exposition Press. p.119.
  4. Greaves’ Liam Mellows. p.238.
  5. O’Donoghue, F. (1954) No Other Law. Dublin, Irish Press. p.173.

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