THE man you love to hate, Kevin Myers, gives us either a cynical or uncharitable view (depending on your own political outlook) of the IRA statement. Meanwhile, Tommy McKearney believes the IRA statement throws down many challenges to republicanism. Republican critic Anthony McIntyre believes little has actually changed, except that the IRA may now be used to quell republican dissent. On the other side of the fence, Eric Waugh believes there are many implications for republicanism if it is to play by democratic rules.
Supporters of the peace process will of course declare that the IRA has finally announced the campaign is over, so what reasonable objection could Unionists have to sharing power with Sinn Fein? First, the statement did not say the IRA was disbanding; the reverse is true. It talked of its volunteers and “oglaigh” (Irish for “soldiers”: a deliberate use of a formal military word). Nor did it say the war was over, merely that the campaign was over. Any soldier knows the difference: the end of the campaign in North Africa in 1943 did not end a war that finished in 1945.
So, contrary to many fantastic media exegeses, by its own admission, the IRA will remain in existence, and it will still be armed.
No matter what view the contending schools of republicanism take on the Good Friday Agreement, it is imperative that the core republican task of establishing an independent, democratic republic be reiterated and a strategy for achieving this made clear.
It must be repeated, moreover, that this duty should not be confused with building and/or strengthening a parliamentary party.
Fuzzyheaded thinking suggesting that it is possible to manipulate the Northern state by subterfuge should also be discarded since it is not possible to transform an existing state apparatus. Quite the contrary, an existing state always swallows up its administrators. Just look at Fianna Fáil if proof is needed.
In the absence of an insurrectionary element, republicans now need absolute clarity about their rejection of the flawed Six-County state and its links to Britain.
This is one of the big challenges being posed as republicans are confronted with questions such as what to do about policing, the judiciary and the civil service and on policy issues such as privatisation, employment and ownership of the means of production.
If ever there was a time for republicans to commit themselves to the concept of encouraging a hundred schools of thought to contend, it is now.
It will be incredibly damaging if people uncritically and defensively repeat the party (any party) line. Sinn Féin has not convincingly outlined, for example, how it intends moving beyond the Good Friday Agreement.
The party (and all other republicans) should be asked to answer this issue.
The IRA statement effectively recognises material reality. The current imperative is now for all republicans to address the future with an equal amount of reality and candour.
This morning’s (Friday) headlines should read ‘excitable hacks go orgasmic over IRA statement.’ But such headlines are ‘not helpful to the peace process’ and therefore long suffering readerships will have to endure the guff about seismic shifts, historic developments and whatever else takes the fancy of the scribbling class.
Yesterday’s statement by the IRA on its future merely formalised what we have known for quite some time that the organisation’s armed campaign against Britain ended in failure. The British are still here, the consent principle is safely enshrined and partition entrenched. Commentators can openly speculate on current IRA volunteers eventually becoming British bobbies. Hardly the heady stuff of revolutionary success.
The IRA’s war has ended and the organisation shall not disband. This is exactly the same position we were at this time last week, last month, last year. Given that the statement tells us what we already know and therefore contains only rhetoric about future IRA intent, journalists and government officials have set themselves the task of wild spinning and hyping the statement.
The strategic purpose of the statement is to flush out idiots in both the London and Dublin governments who will wave the IRA’s A4 paper, Chamberlain-like, and declare ‘peace in our time.’
There would be some justification for this if the IRA were to follow through on its statement with facts on the ground. But the organisation has consistently lied about its involvement in numerous activities and there is no reason for believing it will not do so in the future. A promise to quit lying might have greater potential than yesterday’s verbiage.
Like the Official IRA before it, and in whose shoes it now so comfortably strides, the current IRA, by the mere fact of its existence, will continue to function; not militarily against the British state, but as a militia to give muscle to Sinn Féin and as an organ of intimidation.
There must be a law-abiding state provided for a fledgling administration to govern. If the state is lawless, that administration will not survive. But a law-abiding State has as its sine qua non that all its citizens support it, its laws, its institutions and, above all, its constitution for the time being by democracy established.
There will be dissent: of course. Democracy provides for its expression. But – and this is the absolutely vital caveat – in a democracy the will of the majority rules: the majority devises and approves the social and political system. Yet that majority is still beholden to the minority to go along with it – at least until the next general election, else the system cannot work.
So now the nature of the necessary miracle begins to take shape. Reduced to fundamentals, it consists of a requirement that Irish republicans agree to dissent from the current constitution of Northern Ireland democratically; in effect, that they become comrades of mainstream SDLP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru – until such time as the said republicans become persuasive enough to command a convincing electoral majority within this part of the British state.
This means that, in the meantime, to become “lawful” they must observe its laws; not oppose the armed forces of the State (within whose ranks, after all, previous generations of republicans have served with distinction); they must join its police force; play a full part in Parliament, according to the will of the electorate; and its representatives accord a modicum of courtesy to the head of state and her family on ceremonial occasions.