Republican News, fifty years on…

Fifty years ago this summer a new run of Republican News began to be published by the Publicity Department of the Belfast IRA’s Brigade staff under the editorship of Jimmy Steele. The importance of publicity and communication had long been recognised across the political spectrum in Ireland. The anti-colonial movements, in particular, recognised the need for a platform to disseminate their message free from the bias and censorship required by the various administrations in Dublin and Belfast.

In the past (before 1970), Republican News had been published in various formats in the past, often as Republican War News or, more typically, War News. In the 1942-1945 the title Republican News became more established and was the main publishing outlet of the IRA. Due to security pressures, various local editions were issued from Belfast, Dublin and (periodically) Galway. Judging by surviving issues there was often little direct correspondence between content, editorial line or ideology in the local editions nor was there complete co-ordination between publication dates and issue numbers.

After the arrest and prosecution of Dan Turley Jr in 1945 included charges relating to possession of Republican News, it was to be thirty-six years until Patricia Haddock was prosecuted for possession of bundles of Republican News in 1971.

The early issues of Republican News in 1970 are typically presented as being some sort of anti-communist platform. In A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, mentioned Jimmy Steele and Hugh McAteer as influencing early editorial policy writes that “Anticommunism was to be a recurring obsession of the new IRA. The editorial in the first ediion of Republican News, the Provisionals weekly newspaper….Outling the malign influence of Goulding supporters, RN [Republican News] railed against them in language that would not have been out of place in a speech by Senator Joe McCarthy: “Gradually into Executive posts, in the IRA and Sinn Fein, the Red agents infiltrated…and soon these men became the policy makers. Young men and girls were brainwashed with the teachings and propaganda of the new policy makers and well-trained organizers were sent into different areas to spread the teachings of the Red infiltrators.

Yet, this is largely the only negative reference to left wing politics in the first issues and was not actually the editorial (instead it appeared in an article entitled ‘Republican Policy – Then and Now’. The actual editorial in that same June 1970 issue stated that “The Socialism of James Connolly, the idealism of Patrick Pearse and unrepentant republicanism of Tom Clarke we shall try to inculcate into our people…“. Just to note – the (recurring) discrepancy here is largely down to contemporary perceptions of Soviet policy in the Prague in 1968 or Budapest in the 1950s as distinct from left wing socio-economic platform. The invocation of a left-right split within Irish republicanism (that isn’t supported by actual events in 1969) features in recent revelations about the 1970 arms trials and the role of Fianna Fail and British military intelligence (for more see here).

Hugh McAteer and Jimmy Steele also both died fifty years ago this summer in July and August 1970.

If people are interested, I’ll try and post up further early issues of Republican News (I currently have copies of 1970: Vol 1, No 1 June, No 2 July, No 3 August; No 6 November/December; 1971 no number July – anyone with copies of Vol 1, Nos 4, 5 etc might let me know to

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