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Free Statism and The Good Old IRA by Danny Morrison

The Old IRA Grafton Street Dublin



Ciarán Quinn, Sinn Féin’s Representative for North America, writing in a personal capacity, reviews Danny Morrison’s latest book, Free Statism & The Good Old IRA available for purchase here. THE GOOD OLD IRA was a pamphlet published in 1985 by Sinn Féin. It detailed the brutal reality of the Tan War. It was a challenge to the hypocrisy of those who celebrated the Old IRA of the 1920s while attacking the IRA in the 1980s.


The original edition was a book of its time. A time of conflict. Out of print since the early 1990s, its status grew in Republican circles. Much talked about; but seldom read. I first got my hands on a copy in 2005 in a second-hand book table at a primary school fundraiser in Cabra, Dublin. It was a simple, compelling piece of propaganda. Contemporaneous newspaper clippings from the Tan War listing the shooting of informers, the killing of civilians, the assassination at close quarters of locally-recruited policemen, and ruthless attacks on the British Army. The myth of a ‘Good Old IRA and a ‘Bad Modern IRA’ lay exposed on every page. I was intrigued when Danny spoke about republishing the pamphlet. After all, things had moved on. The war was over and the IRA had left the stage. We have a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity. A generation on from the Good Friday Agreement. Was it still relevant? This new edition is very much a book of this time. The partition of Ireland and subsequent civil war created a paradox for successive Irish Governments that has not been resolved. How do you honor a state established by a Treaty that partitioned a nation under the threat of immediate war at the hands of the then British Government? Following partition, Irish territory consisting of Twenty-Six Counties gained a degree of independence from Britain and became known as Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State); the unionist-dominated, northeast Six Counties was carved out to create the state of ‘Northern Ireland’. For some, the Twenty-Six Counties is Ireland. The North is a place apart.

Morrison sets out to explain how we have arrived at the point where an Irish Government refuses to plan for Irish unity. A time when television maps of Ireland create a coastline between Louth and Donegal. Divided into chapters the book lays out the development of modern Free Statism from pre-1916 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The strongest writing, not surprisingly, relates to the North. It is essential reading for those who want an informative and accessible account of the Northern nationalist experience. The most intriguing section is the chapter on Modern Free Statism. It tracks the arc of the ideological development of Free Statism. In 1921 the signing of the Treaty was never portrayed as a victory but an alternative to a bloody and brutal war. It was never to be an endpoint but a staging post. Michael Collins, the hero of then non-existent Fine Gael described it as ‘Freedom to achieve freedom’. Free Statism provides an ideological underpinning: the promulgation of the illusion that the southern state is ‘Ireland’. The endpoint. The North, however. That’s separate. That’s different. That’s other. Free Statism rationalized partition and turned a blind eye to the repression in the North. As the book reminds us this reached its nadir when the official video of the centenary to remember the patriots of 1916 didn’t even mention the patriots of 1916. The relevance of this book today is not just in its historical narrative or its exposing of hypocritical standards. It is at its essence about the future. We are at a tipping point. We now have the opportunity to realize the vision of generations of republicans – to unite the people and the island. But peace and the achievement of unity is proving a fundamental challenge to the ‘Free State’. As the book makes clear, peace and unity are an existential challenge to those who managed the state since partition. Free statism is the last pillar of the state left standing. A further book could be written on the political articulation of Free Statism and Irish unity.This is a timely and significant book. It is the start of a discussion, not a conclusion. This updated edition with a new and comprehension introductory essay is a must-read and primer for further debate. The 1984 edition was a book of its time. The 2022 edition is now a book of this time.

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