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Clan na Gael split a worry for Sinn Féin

(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune)

The oldest and most important Irish republican political organisation in the United States, Clan na Gael, is in the process of splitting over disagrements about the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process strategy of the Provisional leadership, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The split is bound to have implications for both Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA in Ireland especially if the anti-Belfast Agreement elements in the Clan emerge as the largest force, as some US observers of the Irish-American scene predict.

Sources in the US say that the Provisional leadership can only rely on the loyalty of two districts, New York and Pittsburgh, while most of the remaining Clan areas, like Philadelphia, the largest, and Chicago are either coming out against the Adams's line or are split themselves.

The importance of this split in Clan na Gael lies not just in the respected role the organisation has played supporting the cause of Irish independence in the past but because of its intimate links with the modern day Provisional IRA.

In some places the two organisations are believed to overlap so closely that senior members of Clan na Gael will hold similar senior office in the IRA in the United States. A split in the Clan can thus mirror a split in the IRA; such a development is therefore bound to cause concern to the IRA leadership back home.

But it is as the IRA's secret fund-raising body - some also allege gun-running as one of its functions - that Clan na Gael is really significant. While Noraid attracted all the public notice and vitriol during the years of the Provisional IRA's campaign, the real fund-raisers, Clan na Gael remained invisible to the public eye. And while Noraid's funds went largely to the families of IRA prisoners, those from Clan na Gael are believed to have gone straight into the IRA's war chest.

Since corporate Irish-America opened its coffers at the start of the peace process, the Provisionals probably no longer need the more meagre funds that Clan na Gael used to provide but the other important aspect of this split is that any future rival dissident organisation would almost certainly need the support network the Clan can provide. Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA leaders will be especially concerned at this possibility.

According to dissident Clan sources this split, although simmering before and since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, came to a head over money and in particular because of demands from the Provisional leadership that Clan funds be handed over to them.

It is understood that this message was delivered twice in recent months, first by Sinn Féin Monaghan councillor, Owen Smyth in April and then by former SF treasurer, Joe Cahill in July. "Cahill said that if districts didn't give the money then they couldn't call themselves Clan na Gael. If that was supposed to frighten people it didn't work, it made people angry", said one source. Pro-Provisional leaders in Clan na Gael did not return 'phone calls to discuss the split.

Usually eager to avoid any publicity or the charge of washing dirty linen in public the Clan dissidents say they have gone public with the split so that anyone contributing to Clan na Gael in future will not be doing so under false pretences. "Just in case they think they're giving money to Gerry Adams", said one source.

"We have a lot of people here who have spent most of their lives working for the movement", said a dissident leader explaining the split. "Those of us who are breaking away are very distressed at what is going on. We feel that (the Good Friday Agreement) is very possibly the worst settlement in all of Irish history.

"There is no merit to it. We are not hawks, we are not seeking war. Clan na Gael survives very well in peace as in war. But the way things are lining up it is unacceptable to our constitution, our oath and our tradition. Quite honestly we don't see how it is possible for people to sit there (in the Assembly), take a big British check and continue to fight for Irish freedom. It doesn't seem to make sense".

The dissidents have not aligned themselves with any particular anti-Provisional faction in Ireland. They say they are recommending that Clan members unhappy with the SF startegy should instead donate money to one of three organisations: Republican Sinn Féin, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee and the National Graves Association, a non-political body which tends IRA gravesites.