Sean Russell’s statue an embarrassment to Sinn Fein president
With so much discussion around the world about statues, it was only a matter of time before one particular statue in Dublin came up for debate. The statue is that of Sean Russell, a former IRA chief of staff and a Nazi collaborator.
In June this year, Dublin Fine Gael councillor Ray McAdam submitted a request to Dublin City Council for the removal of the Russell statue, which is owned by the National Graves Association, but situated in a public park owned by Dublin City Council.
Later, his party leader, Leo Varadkar, commented: “We have a few of our own statues we may need to take down.
There is a statue in Fairview Park in Dublin of an Irish republican man who was also a Nazi collaborator.”
The original statue of Sean Russell was unveiled in Fairview Park in Dublin in September 1951, with an IRA colour party organised by Cathal Goulding, three volleys of shots by IRA gunmen and a prominent role for Irish-American supporters.
Ever since, it has been a subject of controversy and has been defaced, daubed with swastikas and vandalised many times.
As a result, the original statue had to be replaced with a sturdier version.
While many Ulstermen and Irishmen, Protestant and Catholic, were fighting the Nazi war machine, the IRA leader spent the summer of 1940 in a large villa near Berlin.
He was a guest of the SS and he enjoyed all the privileges of a diplomat, courtesy of Adolf Hitler.
Russell was there to develop the relationship between the IRA and the Nazis and his proposals were incorporated into Operation Sealion, Hitler’s plan for the invasion of Britain.
Russell then boarded a German U-boat to return home to Ireland, but died on board the vessel
The IRA leader was then buried at sea, with full German naval honours, wrapped in a swastika flag.
Sinn Fein is clearly troubled by the situation. They want to portray themselves as a party of the Left, modern, progressive and ready for government. But that doesn’t sit well with defending a Nazi collaborator.
So, how will Mary Lou McDonald and her friends deal with this?
The first clue came in an article by councillor Micheal Mac Donncha, a former Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Dublin, in the online Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht.
It marked the 80th anniversary of the death of the IRA leader and the article was entitled “Sean Russell and the IRA of the 1940s”.
It is typical of the republican hagiographies that appear in An Phoblacht and councillor Mac Donncha is profuse in his praise of Sean Russell, highlighting his “courage” and dedication to the IRA.
Meanwhile, he tries to argue that Russell did not see himself as a collaborator and downplays the IRA-Nazi collaboration by describing Russell as “naive” and “isolated”.
It’s an argument that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, because the IRA collaboration with the Nazis continued after the death of Russell and, on November 21, 1940, the main IRA publication, War News, published a short piece of eulogistic doggerel that began, “Here’s to Adolf Hitler”.
The truth is that, while Russell may have said he wasn’t a Nazi, Mac Donncha cannot produce any evidence of him saying he wasn’t a Nazi collaborator.
He didn’t have to be a Nazi to be a Nazi collaborator, although some republicans did share the views of the Nazis.
Now Mary Lou McDonald will be considering all this with the benefit of past experience.
In 2003, when she was standing as candidate for the European Parliament, she participated in a republican commemoration ceremony at the Russell statue, alongside IRA leader Brian Keenan.
It led to criticism and controversy then, but, of course, at that time, Sinn Fein wasn’t presenting itself as a party that is ready for government.
Nowadays, that is how it wants to be seen and anything that draws attention to republican collaboration with the Nazis will be unwelcome.
Questions were asked about the statue in 2017, but this time the issue seems to be getting more traction and the An Phoblacht article is evidence of that.