IRA left ‘darkened stain on our nationalist history’, says former diplomat

Call for commitment to peace and rule of law to be condition for registering as a party or taking seat in Dáil

The IRA had washed out in a sea of blood the life’s work of the SDLP, the civil rights movement and the campaign for social justice, a former diplomat has said.

Seán Donlon, former secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was addressing a conference “50 years of the Northern Ireland peace process” held in Navan and organised by the Meath Peace Group and Meath County Library.

Speaking about the “campaign of terror and violence and the major role played in it by the republican movement, Sinn Féin and the IRA”, he said that Sinn Féin was linked to the IRA by labyrinthine administrative structures. Quoting its Constitution he said “Sinn Féin is the political wing of the republican movement and supports in principle the legitimate struggle being waged by the IRA”.

Mr Donlon said that Martin McGuinness had “put it succinctly” when he said the IRA “freedom fighters” and Sinn Féin “freedom fighters” were one and the same thing. Gerry Adams had also said “We support the IRA”, he said.


During the 30 years of the Troubles there were 3,636 fatalities. That compared with 504 fatalities during the Easter Rising, 2,346 in the War of Independence, and about 2,000 in the Civil War. Some 1,771 fatalities during the Troubles were directly attributed to the IRA and at least 636 of these were innocent, uninvolved citizens. “The IRA killed five times more people than the British army, the UDR and the RUC combined. Their campaign extended to Britain and the Continent of Europe and in this jurisdiction they murdered a member of the Oireachtas, members of An Garda Síochána, of the Army (Oglaigh na hEireann) and of the Prison Service. “They robbed our banks and post offices and kidnapped people like Ben Dunne, Don Tidey and Tiede Herrema.

“They washed out in a sea of blood the life’s work of the SDLP, the Civil Rights movement and the Campaign for Social Justice. They have left a darkened stain on our nationalist history”, Mr Donlon said.

Church leaders of all faiths from as early as 1971 and 1974 had concluded that there was no justification in the present situation in Ireland for the existence of any paramilitary organisations and no justification for the use of violence to achieve political objectives. Mr Donlon acknowledged that in recent times the IRA had discontinued their campaign of violence and had joined with other parties in the Belfast Agreement. However, the structures linking Sinn Féin and the IRA remained in place, he said. Their ultimate loyalty appeared to be to the “sovereign Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 rather than to the Irish Constitution of 1937″.

“As Sinn Féin now aspire to take control of government in this jurisdiction, it would be helpful if they further clarified their position,” he said, going on to ask: would they break their links with the IRA? Would they use their influence to disband the IRA?

“It is time that we should definitively clarify for ourselves and for the world that violence has no place in our democracy. One way to achieve this would be to have the new Electoral Commission, which is responsible for registering political parties, require as a condition of registration that all political parties declare their fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State and undertake to faithfully observe the laws of the State and respect its democratic values. Alternatively or additionally, members of the Dáil and Seanad might be required to take an oath with similar wording which, incidentally, is the wording New Irish citizens are required to take.