The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Cumann Frithdheighilte Na
An outline

Could micro-groups become the mainstream?

Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh • 25 March 2006

"Welcome to the Irish Anti-Partition League Associate Members' Website" is the inviting opening message of Cumann Frithdheighilte Na h-Eireann, which can be located at This site was created to promote alternative and diverse platforms in opposition to what was being presented in the late '90s as a political cure-all, a much heralded, yet highly dubious, Pan-Nationalist front.

Like many republican projects there was a parting of the ways, quite early on, re. agreement as to what could, and should not be tolerated, or promoted - personal attacks being considered "beyond the Pale". One recalls Brendan Behan's famous quip, 'get a group of republicans together, and no doubt the first motion to be tabled is "I propose a split". In the embryonic IA-PL's case it was no bad thing, as the individual/s who posted personal attacks against defenceless, untried people behind bars, were doing so in a very covert fashion. Without making an issue of it at the time, they greatly resented being blocked, it emerged some time later. Such led to their absence, without an open and honest explanation, until, later they insisted that the policy should be changed, even on the basis of permitting their postings "to remain for a mere 24-hour period". Such a proposal was naturally rejected, as it was not in keeping with the basic strategy of the IA-PL 'experiment'.

While "Dissident" unity was viewed as Utopian, mutual co-operation between groups and individuals, on issues and campaigns, was considered the best avenue to pursue, especially in the midst of so much division in the aftermath of the Belfast 'Agreement'. That continues to be the bedrock on which the IA-PL managed to survive, maintain independence and be pro-active. It has expanded mainly on that basis, which down the years enabled a measure of trust to take root across the networks.

"The Watch" ticks on

The site originally revolved around the IA-PL's on-line forum, Stormont-Watch, which in the early days had the illustration of Dublin-born Lord Carson on his plinth, apparently with the right hand gesturing towards heaven, or was it the bigoted Orange masses, but ironically with his back to Stormont buildings itself. That monument by way of illustration has latterly been replaced by the pillared White Elephant on the hill, which unlike the Trojan horse, has no would be victors inside, even though the lights are on.

The forum is commonly referred to as "The Watch" and was primarily designed to be a "Human and Civil Rights Monitor". Obviously it goes deeper and wider than that term of reference. Initially a 'Free for All', which caused difficulties and friction, for some years it's been monitored and as its creators' desired postings reflects a much-needed diversity of facts and opinion. One wag in the States often refers to it as the "Stormont-Bored", rather than "Board"; because it allows a mere six or so posts a day. This is because many "Watchers" say their time is limited, desire an emphasis on pro-active reports, and only news items deemed to be important. They correctly argue that current affairs and breaking news can be tapped into elsewhere within as well as the Home Page of the more recently created Both boards, alas, have yet to reflect any high degree of attention to environmental matters, particularly the abuses being carried out by multi-nationals such as Shell, or the get-rich-quick developers/politicians, and their brown envelope culture. Such antics insult every honest citizen and what passes for the rule of law within any democratic system.

Carson or "The Watch" were not left standing alone for too long, and were soon in the company of Unionism's most dedicated enemies - the October Fifth Association [OFA] - a truly global network of 1968 civil rights veterans and supporters. In the main these activists are fiercely anti-partitionist, and see no full human rights or civil liberties ever dawning without the realisation of national rights, as a pre-requisite. The black and white oak leaf, the symbol of the earlier civil rights movement in Derry, made its appearance, and their traditional emphasis on non-violence no doubt is a strong influence on the entire network, and what it should stand for. A deeper study of the network's component parts confirms such to be the case.

By contrast, the CR Vets forum is not as active as "The Watch", mainly because of their emphasis on being an historical archive, with retrospection to the fore, although its original aim was also to cater for current affairs. However, students of the civil rights struggle have found it to be highly useful. Moreover, from any short study of the network's development, one will soon realise that the OFA has other pressing priorities, and has not been wasting its time on mere keyboard historical pursuits, but is in fact tackling current affairs by creating new dedicated and campaigning sites, linked to pro-active external networking with leading clergy, politicians, the media and especially Irish-America..

The OFA Campaigns

The "CR Vets" in more recent times created the Irish Rights Watch, located on This site campaigns for the reform of the Garda, on a similar basis as the Patten-style recommendations and radical changes to the system of highly-exorbitant tribunals. It evolved as a result of the dramatic Morris Tribunal's exposures and the site was quickly endorsed by the McBrearty family of Raphoe, Co. Donegal, whose story is told therein backed up by video evidence. It also contained a hard-hitting petition which no doubt will be ignored by the current Minister of Justice, Mr. McDowell, unless it attracts a massive show of practical solidarity, from at home and abroad, which has, unfortunately, been lacking so far.

A much more successful crusade, the Captain Kelly Justice Campaign, took root after Capt. James J. Kelly passed away on July 16, 2003. Again this is a controversial issue which should not be ignored, and who could even harbour the thought that the civil rights struggle could be anything other than controversial, given the status quo in Britain and Ireland. Located at the site is dedicated to "clearing the good name of the recently deceased Capt. Kelly. A co-accused in the Arms Trial of 1970, who although acquitted was unjustly scape-goated throughout his life by partisan sections of the Irish establishment and media".

The site was launched on St. Patrick's Day 2004, and on July 16th, the first anniversary of his demise, his widow, Sheila, a son and two daughters attended a press conference in Derry. It was disrupted for a few minutes before it began. However, when sober sanity returned, both widow and son spoke, as did John Kelly, former Sinn Fein MLA and Niall Blaney Ind. FF, T.D., Co. Donegal, whose uncle, the late Neil Blaney TD, was also one of the co-accused in 1970. The well attended event included several former leading members of the civil rights movement as well as high-profile figures of yesteryear within the Belfast and Derry Citizens' Defence Committees. An international petition, which is the centre-piece of the website, has attracted hundreds of signatures, including many prominent in the spheres of politics, religion, literature, and the media. Three DVDs relating to this period are essential viewing to those who wish to learn more, and equally revealing are numerous press reports on the campaign which are re-produced on the Home-Page.

The OFA views it most constructive years as 2002-4. It had lobbied widely and held two pivotal press conferences. These firmly placed spotlights on the situation within the prisons and re-opened the 1970 Arms Trial controversy. Key SDLP politicians within the networks, several prisoners' relatives and other campaigning groups firmly believe such targeted lobbying was pivotal in bringing about the Steele Report [Sept. 2003]. This gradually led to the separation of Republican and Loyalist prisoners. Republicans then were greatly outnumbered and occasionally subjected to physical attacks, some certainly life-threatening.

The OFA's contacts in the USA, at the time of writing, purchased a new domain which is now ready for development. It is - The Irish Prisoners' Rights Watch. Once again, it will be independent of any one party, faction or group. It emerged from the CR Vets efforts since before February 2003, and thereafter, to co-ordinate a campaign aimed at highlighting the prolonged suffering of Aiden Hulme, HMP Full Sutton. It will carry a petition on the Co. Louth man's plight aimed at Justice Minister, Michael Mc Dowell TD. Repatriation will be its central demand. It intends to promote the work of other concerned groups, including those dealing with several known non-political prisoners, who believe they have been unjustly incarcerated. The work of the Irish Political Status Committee (IPSC) and the Catholic Church's Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) will be focused upon, and input is now cordially invited from any interested groups or individuals, via

Other features

There are several other interesting features on, and more are in the pipe-line. Students of history will be delighted to find there the history of the United Irishmen and Robert Emmet, as well as a series of lessons based on a US-created curriculum on An Ghorta Mhor-the Great Irish Starvation (or Genocide) -of 1845-53. Some years ago, on a cross-community basis, around 350 colleges and schools across the Six Counties were notified of this educational project by the N-W Great Hunger Memorials Committee, which is also part of the IA-PL Network. There are now plans to include more cultural links, and embrace genealogy resources relating to the O'Dochartaighs, O'Kane's, O'Neills, O'Donnells, McGuires etc. This should materialise in the not too distant future with the assistance of the Inishowen Heritage Centre, based on the Shore Front, Buncrana, Co. Donegal. The centre, since 1984 has created databases which currently contain around eight million entries.

Somewhat outdated is an item on the Siege of Short Strand but still very topical are items relating to Bloody Sunday, especially as we await the publication of the Saville Inquiry Report. Under "Voices for the Republic" are The Blanket, New Republican Forum, Radio Free Eireann (NYC), Fourtwrite, the Irish Republican Writers Group and the highly informative Irish History DVD Project.

The latter are only some of the useful links. Others are categorised, e.g. Civil Rights-British Irish Rights Watch, Amnesty International (Irish section), Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Troops Out Movement and the Wolfe Tone Society (London).

On-line news is provided by Newshound (N. of Ireland), Irish American Voice, Irish American News Service (daily email news update), RTE Teletext, Reuters (top news), the BBC on-line et al, as well as a list of newspapers, magazines and other sources.


This is not a site that can be studied in a few minutes, needing more like a few hours. It does not reveal the full work of the IA-PL, but gives more than the tip of the iceberg. All its campaigns, although coming under one umbrella, so-to-speak, are separate by way of their own contacts lists etc. The most crucial impact of is in the fact, that where co-operation between groups has emerged, there has been a sharing of interests in each other's viewpoint, e.g. expressed in their publications, as well as diverse campaigns and issues. What has emerged from such a collective effort is a very powerful, and no doubt influential, On its own it has become a deep well of contacts, some of whom are household names, within politics, literature, and religion. It becomes even more potent as a result of the daily input from other workstations. Most important of all, some would argue, are those in the print, radio and TV Medias, as well as scores of groups concerned with similar issues. Most have reacted positively, and welcome being alerted or ignited by these complimentary crusading networks in cyberspace.

It takes a lot of rain from the hills or mountains to create a stream, and several of those to produce a river. It takes several rivers to create a sea or an ocean, but every drop of rain contributes to those overall creations of nature. In similar vein, every one of us can make a difference, if we but dare to turn our dreams for Ireland into its everyday reality. One therefore wonders, from the point of view of the republican ideology, could the dissenting approach of the IA-PL and its associate members, those 'micro-groups', ever become the "mainstream"?


Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh, Derry, was a co-founder of the Civil Rights Association in 1967. His writings include: Ulster's White Negroes-From civil rights to insurrection (AK Press, 1994).




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