Death of former OIRA leader Sean Garland

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There have been tributes to Sean Garland, a former IRA leader who helped to bring about the 1972 ceasefire by the Official IRA. He died on Thursday at his home in County Meath after a long illness.

A controversial figure in republicanism, he was remembered by his comrades as a “fearless revolutionary standard bearer” and a “colossus of socialist politics”.

After joining the IRA in 1953, he was active in the Border Campaign from 1954 to 1957. He led the fateful 1957 attack on an RUC barracks in Brookeborough in County Fermanagh, in which legendary figures Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon were killed.

After serving jail sentences at Mountjoy Prison and internment in the Curragh, Mr Garland became a Marxist during the 1960s. Following the split with the Provisional IRA in 1970, he was a leading member of Official Sinn Fein and the Official IRA. He was subsequently a key figure in the OIRA ceasefire of 1972 and that movement’s transition to left-wing activism, first as Sinn Fein the Workers’ Party, and then as the Workers’ Party.

He came to bitterly oppose the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle. Amid deep animosity between armed republican groups in the 1970s, he was the target of a failed assassination bid by the INLA in 1975.

Following a further split within the Worker’s Party and throughout the departure into mainstream politics of former colleagues who in 1992 formed Democratic Left, subsequently absorbed into the Labour Party, he continued to espouse Marxist-Leninist ideology.

He was arrested in Belfast in 2005 on foot of a US extradition warrant and fled to Dublin, where he was arrested in 2009. He fought extradition to the US, and in 2012, the High Court ruled that US authorities had no jurisdiction to extradite him.

His former comrades said that his support for a ceasefire and his party’s political metamorphosis took place decades ahead of similar transitions by the IRSP and Provisional Sinn Fein.

Workers’ Party President Michael Donnelly said Mr Garland was “a unique and charismatic individual whose contribution to Irish political life cannot be overestimated”.

“Sean’s contribution to rethinking and redefining the republicanism of the late 1950s and early 1960s was immense.

“It changed the course of progressive political thought, emphasised the internationalism of the class politics of the Workers’ Party and the common struggle of all workers wherever they lived and decisively rejected the narrow nationalism that others chose to pursue with catastrophic consequences,” he said.

“Comrade Sean Garland devoted his life to the struggle to build a socialist future. His legacy and his influence will endure in the class politics which he espoused and in the generations of working people at home and abroad that he has influenced and inspired.

“We have all lost a fearless revolutionary standard bearer, a colossus of socialist politics, a comrade and friend.”

In a letter to international comrades, Gerry Grainger, international secretary of the Workers’ Party, said his late comrade was a committed internationalist and committed to the revolutionary transformation of society.

“We have lost a fearless revolutionary fighter, we are eternally in his debt,” he said. “His legacy and his inspiration will endure.”

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