The big news of the weekend? The convergence of a wide range of republican paramilitary groups into a new one called, erm, the IRA…
So it hasn’t gone away you know… That’s the PR of it anyway. I suppose one might be tempted to say that it took them long enough to decide that the current spilts were killing any ‘credibility’ they might have had at representing a coherent idea never mind anything else.
What it proves is that you cannot legislate any anti state actor out of existence by merely saying it doesn’t exist any more… The IRA that ceased to operate after the 2007 St Andrews deal was only one of several incarnations of that organisation…
Now there’s another one….
How do we know they are the IRA? Well, simply because they say they are. That’s all that’s required, along with the commensurate belief in the moral efficacy of the ‘Armed Struggle’.
That’s all the Provisionals had when they rested the name off the Official IRA (the term ‘Official’ quickly becoming a term for a complacent status quo)…
So is it more dangerous than it was before? Well potentially, yes.
Pooling of resources should bring them more materiel and experience, not least in Derry where the latest recruits to the dissident cause where the most recent defectors from the Provisionals.
But they also have a problem that their Provisional predecessors did not have. There is no longer a maximal greivance amongst the wider Catholic population. For all its innumerable faults, the Stormont settlement has guaranteed nationalist represenation in the highest office.
These may be meaningless trifles to the various republican organisations that reject the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements on the basis that they provide no resolution to the ongoing ‘national problem’ but, along with fair employment legislation that’s been in train for nearly forty years they’ve helped to depopularise the ‘direct route’ to a united Ireland.
And that’s not to mention a list of names of the dead in which civilians far outnumber Republican volunteers; for which reason there is no wider appetite for armed revolution. Intended or not, salvation for the modern armed Republican has lain in the death of others than in the kind of self sacrifice of Pearse had in mind..
Sinn Fein (and the Provisionals) made a timely jump from a sinking ship for the calmer (and in Northern Ireland at least for now, more predictable) waters of constitutional politics. It remains to be seen what these dissident groups can make of the various bits of the wreckage.
But it is highly unlikely that they will ever again have the opportunities presented by the widespread social unrest of 1969/70. And it will be at least another generation before people forget the living hell of having (at least) two armies playing cat and mouse through the front and back yard doors of whole communities.
And critically, at the heart of this deal is the tying together the fates of the two former extremes. As result, Loyalism is not in the perpetual state of agitation and paranoia it was in the 50s and 60s.
Nor are the vast majority of Catholics in the Republican heartland (never mind the new Catholic middle classes whose kids now got to BRA and Methody as much St Pats and St Malachy’s)…
Some people may never abandon the hope of a glorious revolution that unites the island of Ireland… But they face (though more likely they will continue to ignore) the ultimate dilemma of non constitutional Irish Republicanism that in order to do so they inevitably kill Tone’s governing idea of building a Republic for Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty