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Sinn Féin councillor stands by assessment of the Rising

Sinn Féin councillor JJ Magee. Picture by Mal McCann
John Monaghan

A SINN Féin councillor has been criticised after claiming that the Easter Rising would never have happened if its republican leaders had the same electoral backing as the party today.

Belfast City councillor JJ Magee, who represents the Oldpark ward, tweeted: "Let's be honest if Connolly had the support over the island that SF have now he would never have went (sic) to war."

Former republican prisoner Dixie Elliott replied: "Your lack of historical knowledge is exposed. What about the 1918 election and its aftermath: 1919-1921?"

Councillor Magee tweeted: "Connelly (sic) wasn't about then."

The War of Independence broke out shortly after Sinn Féin's election victory to the first Dáil in 1918, when the party swept the board with almost three-quarters of the seats.

Mr Elliott asked: "Sinn Féin won 73 out of Ireland's 105 seats yet the IRA went to war. Were they wrong according to your logic?"

The Sinn Féin councillor did not reply to that question on Twitter, but told The Irish News that he stood by his remarks.

"I was talking about the different conditions between today and then, and it is hard to get that across in a tweet. If they had had that support they wouldn't have gone to war."

Regarding the 1918 Sinn Féin landslide election victory and subsequent violence, councillor Magee added: "It showed that the British didn't respect the democratic wishes of the people. It was a last resort."

Irish News columnist Brian Feeney, the author of Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, said that those involved in the Rising had no interest in electoral politics.

"They took a definite view - and of course we should remember that Sinn Féin itself had nothing to do with the Rising - based on the old republican ideal of breaking the link with England.

"Connolly had support in working class Dublin and very few places elsewhere. There was no way he was going to get substantial electoral support."

Mr Feeney added: "The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) engaged in the Rising because they thought it was the only prospect of success. It wasn't about fighting elections."

He said the "big change" in the republican strategy came during the 1980/81 hunger strikes in Belfast.

The former SDLP councillor said: "During the first Sinn Féin by-election in 1908, the IRB told them it was a waste of time. They simply didn't believe in electoral politics.

"In 1918, while fighting the election campaign, republicans were preparing for another uprising if the British didn't give them independence.

"The day that the first Dáil sat saw the first action in the War of Independence. They were geared for war."

Mr Feeney added: "Professor Ronan Fanning (Professor Emeritus of Modern History in UCD), in his new book, states that all the evidence suggests that under no circumstances were the British going to give Ireland independence through electoral politics."

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