Ronnie Bunting: Republican Socialist Martyr

Updated on September 19, 2019
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The author is a QUB Political Science honours graduate, a political analyst and has written on a variety of related issues.

Ronnie Bunting was a founding member of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, which included both the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). He was brutally murdered in the early hours of the 15th of October 1980, shot dead, along with his friend and comrade, Noel Little (a close relative of IRSP veteran Paul Little), by a pro-British death-squad. Ronnie Bunting's wife, Suzanne, was also shot and seriously injured during the attack on their Downfine Gardens home, in the Gransha area of West Belfast.

History and Early Political Background

Ronnie Bunting was a living example of the non-sectarian, secular nature and universal appeal of Irish Republican Socialism. Ronnie was from a northern Protestant background and indeed his father, Major Ronald Bunting, although at one time Gerry Fitt's election agent, later became closely and publicly associated with Ian Paisley and the extreme right-wing politics of Ulster Unionism. In spite of his father's association with reactionary Loyalism, Ronnie Bunting became involved with the revolutionary socialist, Peoples Democracy group, while studying for a BA honors degree at Queens University Belfast. He eventually joined the Official IRA in 1970, who at that time was a leftist alternative to the narrow nationalism of the Provisionals.

It must be remembered that the Official IRA, at that juncture, were the genus of what would later become the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. By this stage, Ronnie Bunting's revolutionary activism had come to the attention of the RUC's Special Branch and he was interned, without trial, in Long Kesh concentration camp from 1971 until 1973. At one stage he was the only Protestant internee in Long Kesh but for Ronnie Bunting and like-minded comrades, denominational differences were, and are, irrelevant.

IRSP and INLA Involvment

Ronnie Bunting was among the revolutionary Republican Socialists, who disagreed with the Official IRA's ceasefire of 1972, the OIRA reformist direction and their adherence to stage-ism, which was eventually to see the Stickies embrace the 6 county statelet. He was among the militant comrades of Seamus Costello, who were eventually expelled alongside him, from both the Official IRA and Official Sinn Fein/Republican Clubs.

When the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Irish National Liberation Army were founded in 1974, following the inaugural convention at the Spa Hotel, Lucan, Ronnie Bunting was an enthusiastic founding member. Although not a named member of the IRSP's, 1974 Temporary National Executive, he was soon elected to the party's Ard-Comhairle (executive). Ronnie Bunting held senior positions in the INLA, including, reportedly, Chief of Staff, during the last two years of his life.

In the turbulent times of the fledgling years of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, Ronnie Bunting was a deadly enemy of British imperialism. Shamefully, his former comrades in the Official IRA passed his personal details to Loyalist paramilitaries and publicly named him, in their newspaper, as a leading member of the INLA. Loyalist paramilitaries, from the UVF, wrongly and maliciously, at the behest of the OIRA, named Ronnie Bunting as a 'Trotskyist' and 'a renegade Protestant' in their publication Combat and made no secret of the fact that he was their number one target for assassination.

The Loyalist's use of the Trotskyist term, to describe Ronnie Bunting was almost certainly an indication that their source for information, on him, came from the Officials. The Official IRA (or Stickies, as they were colloquially referred to) who had by then descended into their terminal counter-revolutionary trajectory and made several serious attempts to murder Bunting, including shooting him in the neck while at the wheel of his car in Belfast.

Ronnie Bunting and Noel Little, comrades assassinated by a pro-British death squad.
Ronnie Bunting and Noel Little, comrades assassinated by a pro-British death squad.

Ronnie Bunting became active in the Relatives Action Committees, which subsequently became known as the Smash H-Block/Armagh Committees. He worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of the protesting Republican prisoners, in the H-Blocks, irrespective of their organizational allegiance. Unfortunately, Ronnie Bunting's adherence to broad front politics was not matched by elements, within the Provisionals, who largely watched from the sidelines as the RAC's gained momentum and effectiveness, then characteristically, later tried to exclude Republican Socialists from platforms and committees.

On the military front, as reportedly Chief of Staff of the INLA, Ronnie Bunting's name was, rightly or wrongly, linked to the spectacular assassination of Airey Neave, within the heavily guarded palace of Westminster. Neave, an extreme right-wing, ultra-reactionary ally of Margaret Thatcher, was tipped to have become the secretary of state for the occupied 6 counties, in the next Tory government and had threatened to re-introduce mass internment without trial. The INLA pragmatically prevented that planned appointment from becoming a reality.

Murder of a Revolutionary

The murder of Ronnie Bunting and his comrade Noel Lyttle, can not be viewed in isolation. Certainly, Ronnie Bunting was high on the Thatcher regime's hit-list and it is rumored that she may have held him personally responsible for the assassination of her fellow ultra-right Tory, Airey Neave. However, Ronnie Bunting's murder, along with his comrade, Noel Little, was one of a series of murders of some of the most able and articulate, Irish Republican Socialists and H-Block activists, who included the senior IRSP member, Miriam Daly, IIP leader, John Turnley, and the attempted murder of Bernadette Mcaliskey and her husband in Tyrone.

Suzanne Bunting, Ronnie's grieving widow, who despite being seriously injured by the pro-British death-squad, who had just murdered her husband, recounted that the murderers wore military-type clothing and acted with military discipline. Furthermore, the Bunting home was in the heart of Republican West Belfast and for any Pro-British death-squad to operate in that area would have required state collusion, in the murders, at the very least, to clear a safe getaway zone for the killers, in an area usually bristling with the British army and RUC checkpoints and patrols.

The murder of Ronnie Bunting, by a pro-British death-squad, at the age of just 32, deprived his wife Suzanne of a loving husband and his three young children of a father. The Irish Republican Socialist Movement was deprived of one of their most dedicated, articulate and able revolutionaries. The IRSP's magazine the Starry Plough said:

"Ronnie Bunting and Noel Lyttle died as they lived - as revolutionary socialist republicans murdered in a conspiracy hatched by the combined military forces of British Imperialism in the Six Counties. The unashamed grief and sense of loss shown in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery last weekend is doubtless mirrored by gloating satisfaction in British militarist and other reactionary circles in these islands. But in Pearse's historic phrase, they are fools. They understand neither the commitment that drove Ronnie Bunting and Noel Lyttle nor the inspiration that their example - in life as well as death - provides and will continue to provide to countless other Irish men and women."

Present-day Irish Republican Socialists will always remember and commemorate the lives of their fallen comrades, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of an Irish workers Republic and draw inspiration from their example. Ronnie Bunting, the Marxist revolutionary and INLA guerrilla leader, was too deadly and dynamic an enemy of imperialism, for the forces of reaction to allow him to live. Like Ta Power, Ronnie Bunting was the epitome of the Republican Socialist revolutionary, aptly summed up by the old IRSM saying:

"They can kill the revolutionary but not the revolution!"

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    © 2019 Liam A Ryan

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