Ireland Revisited: Part 10
Inspired by the wave of fresh support for republicanism in the aftermath of the Hunger Strike, key republican thinkers devised a new strategy along with their Sinn Fein counterparts. Impressed and revitalized by Bobby Sand’s electoral victory and the potential it had in the future of republicanism, Sinn Fein formally began contesting elections. However, if successful in elections, they would not take their seats in the Westminster parliament. This new school of thought within republicanism was a dramatic shift away from the traditional ‘Brits Out’ mantra, instead acknowledging that politics may be an invaluable tool to further enhance and ameliorate republicanism, not just within the compounds of Northern Ireland, but on the international stage.
Although Sinn Fein began contesting the seats, by very nature of their intertwined and sometimes overlapping relationship with the Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein also supported the continued use of violence to achieve a united Ireland. With this new strategy Sinn Fein started upon a long road which would ultimately lead them to become a serious political force within Northern Ireland some two decades later. In June 1983 Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams fought and ultimately won the election for the West Belfast seat at Westminster against Gerry Fitt, leader of the more moderate nationalist party, the SDLP. This particular success laid the foundations for a political route to be used in the ‘Troubles’, with Sinn Fein believing that all votes won in the nationalist community provided a mandate from the people in support of the ongoing conflict.
It also suggested that earlier British claims of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein having no support from the Catholic community was more of a fabrication than a reality. In such circumstances the ‘armalite and ballot box strategy’ – a two pronged strategy of political and paramilitary methods came into its own. Sinn Fein’s Danny Morrison, at the party’s Ard Fheis in 1981 gave credence to this relatively new philosophy; “Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?”
Whilst Sinn Fein focused on building a political party capable of contesting more major elections the Provisional IRA continued its military campaign. On 20th July 1982 eight British soldiers were killed in London following two bombs. The first, in Hyde Park, injured 23 people and killed two British soldiers whilst the second blast in Regents Park just two hours later killed 6 soldiers, further injuring 24 others. Admitting responsibility for the attacks, the Provisional IRA defiantly argued that; “The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.” The statement echoed an earlier quote from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on her own declaration of war against Argentina.
The Provisional IRA remained active in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain for most of 1982 and 1983, killing three RUC officers with an under-car booby-trapped explosive in October 1982 and a car bomb outside Harrods store in London just seven days before Christmas in December 1983, killing three police officers and three innocent civilians as well as injuring a further 90 people. However, the Provisional IRA’s most daring and infamous bombing, after months of planning, would not come until October 12th 1984, when the Provisional IRA carried out an attack which nearly wiped out the whole of the British Cabinet along with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher…
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