The following article was compiled by the Republican Network For Unity (RNU):
A History of Felon-Setting:
Felon-Setting has a long and not very honorable place in Irish history. British imperialists have used various tactics to impose their rule in Ireland for centuries. Demonisation, Criminalisation and Felon-Setting has played a massive role in attempting to isolate Republicans from their communities.
In 1858, a Cork Newspaper Editor published an article about the drilling and marching of Fenians in the Skibbereen area. He called on the British Police to arrest and imprison those involved. In response, Leading Republican, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa described the article as; 'felon-setting’.Within a year, Rossa found himself in a British prison.
During the 1919-21 Tan War newspapers were forbidden to describe IRA Operations as ‘Guerilla Attacks’. Propaganda has always been an essential element by governments across the world to influence public opinion.
In modern Ireland with mass communications like the radio, television and the Internet. It is not surprising that the British and Irish States and their supporters use propaganda such as, felon-setting, censorship, smears, slurs and demonisation in describing Republican Activists. These Activists are regularly called; ‘Godfathers, Criminals, Racketeers, Drug Dealers, Informers’ etc. However, it is more akin to American than Irish politics.
The reality behind these smears seriously hurts Republican families who have to cope with stories in the media, rumours in local communities and the targeting of Activists who pursue a legitimate political objective. In a number of cases, negative slurs have led to the deaths of Republicans like, Óglach. Joe O’Connor (RIRA) shot dead in Ballymurphy in 2000 and former Volunteer, Gerry (Whitey) Bradley from sucide in Larne. The rumours continue even after death with others such as, IRA Leader, Brendan Hughes.
(IRA) fought a successful Guerrilla War against the British occupation in Ireland between 1919–1921. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the majority of Volunteers in Óglaigh na hÉireann voted against it.
The Treaty was ratified by a slim majority. Éamon de Valera and a significant number of Dail Deputies left the Assembly in protest. The Free State issued directives to newspapers that its Forces were to be called; ‘The National Army’, its opponents were to be called; ‘Irregulars and were not to be associated with the IRA of 1919-1921'.
The Dublin Government called the IRA; ‘Rebels and were not entitled to recognition as legitimate Combatants’. The Free State executed over 77 Anti-Treaty POWs’ including, Veteran Republicans, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey, Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor and Liam Lynch.
De Valera failed to persuade Sinn Féin to participate in the Free State’s institutions in 1926 and left the Party immediately. He later formed Fianna Fáil and his new Party took power in 1932. Initially, Fianna Fáil was friendly towards the IRA, legalising Óglaigh na hÉireann and freed all Republican Prisoners who had been interned by the Free State. However within a few years, this had dramatically changed.
In 1938 Óglaigh na hÉireann’s, new Chief-Of-Staff and 1916 Veteran, Sean Russell reiterated that the Free State and its Institutions were illegitimate. He maintained that the IRA was the true Army of the Irish Republic. The IRA was backed by a number of Second Dail Deputies who gave their legitimacy. They also declared War on Britain and conducted a bombing campaign in England. Fianna Fail responded by banning the IRA and introducing Internment against Republicans.
The IRA was severely damaged by the measures taken against it by the Dublin and Stormont Governments during the Second World War. A number of IRA Volunteers including, former Chief Of Staff , Charlie Kerins, was hanged in 1944. Despite legal moves by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs in Leinster House, De Valera refused to issue a reprieve. Political Prisoners were also badly mistreated which led to former Adj-General, Sean McCaughey dying on Hunger & Thirst Strike for Political Status in Portlaoise in 1946.
From 1948 on, under the leadership of Tony Magan the IRA rebuilt its organisation. They began a renewed armed campaign in 1957 that involved various military columns carrying out a range of military operations, from direct attacks on security installations to disruptive actions against infrastructure. However, Internment in both States seriously hampered Republican activities and broke morale.
During the 1957 Leinster House elections, S/F won four seats which helped end the criminalisation campaign by the Dublin and Stormont Governments. The IRA Campaign ended in 1962, due to a lack of support for Armed Struggle.
For the remainder of the Sixties, the IRA came under the influence of a Dublin-based Leadership and gradually lost touch with its grassroots. Northern Volunteers were sidelined in favour of left-wing thinkers.
Despite repeated warnings from senior Republicans, Cathal Goulding ignored the growing demand for Civil Rights in the Six Counties. In answer to the demands, the Unionist Government used the RUC to attack Civil Rights Marchers and vunerable Nationalist communities throughout the summer of 1969.
IRA Units in the North were not able to properly defend these areas because of the lack of arms. Many Volunteers laid the blame at the door at the Leadership. Around the same time, Republican Leaders wanted to end its policy of Absentionism from Leinster House and Stormont and called an Ard Fheis for December, 1969.
The Leadership failed to get the two-thirds needed to change policy. The Party split and a walk-out ensued with a number of Veterans forming the Provisional Movement. The IRA followed suit after an Army Convention was called in January, 1970. The PIRA was born and declared War against the British Government and her Forces.
The split was particularly bitter and caused long time friends, comrades and families to choose sides. In spite of the bitterness Goulding, continued with his plan to push the Official’s into electoral politics, while the Provisionals began attacking the British occupation. The Officials used phrases such as, Catholic Defenders, Dublin Government Dupes, Nationalist Militants, Sectarian Thugs to demonise the Volunteers. This type of language led to the killing of over 20 Activists.
The Officials also mounted attacks against the British until it declared a ceasefire in 1972. It split again in 1974, which led to the formation of the Irish National Liberation Army or INLA. The Provisional Movement had a number of ceasefires throughout the Seventies and Eighties, however they did not declare an end to hostilities until 2005. When they destroyed most of its weapons under British and international supervision.
Throughout the the late Seventies, the British Government implemented a number of new policies to suppress political dissent in the Six Counties. They were called Ulstersation, Normalisation and Criminalisation. Emotive and negative language used against Republicans such as, Godfathers, Criminals, Racketeers, Drug Dealers and Informers.
In the South, the Dublin Government reactivated the Special Criminal Court to ‘convict’ and imprison Republicans. They also imposed severe censorship against Political Activists particularly, those who opposed the British State in Ireland. Eoghan Harris and a number of other Officials used RTE to pursue an Anti-Republican agenda. Which in effect censored news from the North.
The truth of what was happening in the North was not being reported properly by the British media either. News stories had to be vetted by Government Censors before being aired. It wasn’t until 1988 that Maggie Thatcher introduced regulations similar to those in the South and censorship became formal.
Sadly, former comrades have taken on such tactics and use the same language against anyone who opposes their strategy. Provocative phrases like, Drug Dealers, Criminals, Conflict-Junkies, Traitors etc.
A year after the IRA ended its armed Campaign they were again forced into a corner by the British and Unionists to endorse the renamed RUC as a legitimate Police Force. In spite of generations of Republican and Nationalist communities being murdered, targeted, oppressed and criminalised by the British occupation of the Six Counties. The Provisional Movement attempted to convince its grassroots that the future of the struggle lay in such an endorsement.
In response, the Republican lobby group, Concerned Republicans and Ex-POWs’ Against the RUC and MI5 was created and advocated a return to Republican principles. The new group received substantial support from a number of other groups including, the IRSP, 32CSM, Eirigi and a number of Independent Republicans. Due to the endorsement of British Policing, Concerned Republicans and Ex-POWs’ Against the RUC and MI5 changed its name to the Republican Network for Unity or RNU.
With the signing of the GFA, anyone ‘convicted’ of Republican Activities would no longer be treated as a Political Prisoner and have their Status removed. A status that was fought hard for and caused the agonising deaths of ten young Republican Volunteers in 1981.
Since then dozens of Republicans have been ‘convicted’ in Non-Jury (Diplock) Courts and incarcerated in Maghaberry and Portlaoise Gaols. Two former IRA Prisoners, Martin Corey from Lurgan and Marian Price from Belfast have had their Life Sentences revoked by the British Secretary of State and remain imprisoned. Another, Gerry McGeough from Tyrone was arrested by the new RUC, after he stood for election urging no support for the RUC/PSNI. He was subsequently tried in a Diplock Court and given 12 years for PIRA attack back in 1981. The ongoing imprisonment of Gerry McGeough, Martin Corey and Marian Price underscores the existence of Political Policing. Their incarceration is also a snub to the Provisional Movement who promised separation between political and civil Policing in the Six Counties.
Fourteen years after the GFA and five years after endorsing the British system of justice in Ireland. Political Prisoners in Maghaberry are still protesting for dignity, human rights and Political Status.
According to Frank Burton who wrote; The Politics of Legitimacy, Struggle in a Belfast Community in 1978. ‘Irish Republicanism has a phrase — “felon-setting”. It is used to describe the enterprise of those people who, in classifying IRA violence as ordinary criminality, attempt to deny its political essence.’
Since the 1994 Ceasefire, much of our history has been revised to alter the truthful account of why the Nationalist and Republican community in the North revolted against Stormont and the British occupation. Part of that revisionism has included the myth that the 1969 Uprising and subsequent War were carried out to secure equality. It fails to mention that the discrimination, political policing, military curfews, state murders, draconian legislation and Internment added fuel to the fire.
As part of the myth is that the Provisional Movement had popular support for its armed campaign in the Six Counties. Any former Combatant will testify that a small amount of people in working-class areas supported the IRA. It did not attract widespread support which the Provisionals claim today. They pretend that only the IRA had support and that current Volunteers have none.
They fail to say that the British Government in still in full control of six Irish counties, with over 6,000 armed British Troops stationed on Irish soil, backed by MI5 and a British Political Police Force. Political Prisoners are still incarcerated by Diplock Courts. Partition and the Unionist Veto over reunification are still very much in operation. The Irish working-class continue to live in poverty with the crumbs from the Westminster table.
The Provisional Movement condemn, criticise and actively work against their former comrades. They believe they are travelling the road to a United Ireland, but the objective has always been a 32 County Socialist Republic. They may have garnered tens of thousands of votes but what are votes when you leave working-class communities behind.
The term often used to describe current Volunteer and Political organisations, is Micro-Groups and an Alphabet Soup of initials in a demeaning manner. If one studies 1916 Rising, the Revolutionaries who fought that week consisted of various groups including the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann Na mBán, Na Fianna Éireann and the Hibernian Rifles. They united to form the IRA and struck a blow for Irish freedom.Surely, the Provisionals aren't suggesting that the above organisations were also Micro-Groups too?