Decommissioning: they said it would never happen…

On 10th May 1998 just after the Belfast Agreement, Gerry Adams told his party’s Ard Fheis that “The IRA has made it clear that it will not surrender its weapons”. And Danny Morrison as recently as 2001 felt confident enough to state “…there will never, ever, be IRA decommissioning, an IRA surrender.” Throughout however, one consistent voice of dissent has been Anthony McIntyre, who now reflects on the significance decommissioning in the wake of Monday’s press conference.

  • Henry94

    Anthony McIntyre, like a lot of other people, misses one very important point. The IRA does not exist in a vacuum. It could have forever ignored the decommissioning demands of the British and the unionists but when it became an issue for nationalists the mood for decommissioning was overwhelming. Why? Because we believe that we will win the political struggle. The IRA have responded to the confidence of the people and if people thing words like surrender are going to deflect or upset republicans then they are barking up the wrong tree.

  • Gonzo

    Tell me Henry, and I mean this, how will republicans now advance the case for a united Ireland without the threat of violence?

    Now that SF are ‘just another party’, I’m curious about what strategies they will employ.

  • Flash

    I know Gonzo – read my piece below

    A moment of revolutionary opportunity

    Photo: Jim McVeigh – former republican POW

    Opinion

    Republican activists should seize opportunity provided by latest IRA initiative

    BY

    JIM McVEIGH

    What a week! Indeed what a year it has been for republicans. This week again the Army has taken another huge initiative, putting its weapons beyond use. Many republican activists will be looking back, reflecting upon the sacrifices made during our most difficult days of struggle, thinking of the friends we loved and lost, and perhaps looking forward with a little trepidation, asking where do we go from here? Thinking, what is my role in the time ahead?

    Let me say straight away that we stand on the brink of an unprecedented opportunity in the time ahead. The Republic is at last within our grasp. In this phase ahead and we need something like a ten-year strategy to deliver this, we can at last end partition and establish a radical republican government on the island, a government of which we are the heart and soul.

    Now is not the time to be paralysed by fear or doubt. We must believe in ourselves and recognise this moment, this point in our struggle, for what it is — a moment of decisive revolutionary opportunity.

    When the Army decided upon its most recent course of action, or indeed any of its previous initiatives, it did so perhaps with one simple objective in mind — to create the maximum amount of goodwill for our cause here in Ireland and beyond these shores. Our job in the time ahead then is to turn that goodwill into real political muscle and support and then to use that muscle to advance more quickly toward the Republic. So what does that mean in real terms?

    ‘Every revolution needs a revolutionary party’
    The above quote from an Ógra poster sums up one of the essential tasks in the time ahead for every republican activist- building the revolutionary party. That means joining the party, supporting it, developing it. We must open up the party to new faces and voices and all of the energy and new ideas they can bring. That means intensifying recruitment across the country. It also means that in the time ahead we need more than ever, the wise and steady guidance of older, more experienced republicans. We must invite ex-prisoners, former activists, all those people who have quietly supported us in the background for years, to play a more direct role in the party.

    What about the setting up of another cumann up the road or in the next village? We need a cumann, a republican presence and voice in every part of every city, every town, town land and village in every corner of this island.

    Of course, none of this will simply happen or drop from the sky. Each one of us, each particular cumann or tier of leadership must plan for it. That means sitting down together and devising a plan of work, the who, what, where and when? Look beyond your present horizon and seize the opportunities that lie there.

    Building a mass movement
    Of course you can’t have a revolution without the people and the job of the party is to help build a radical mass movement. That means making sure that at every level within the party or every place where we exist, we campaign. Campaigning must become a central focus of all of our party work.

    Campaigns can take many different shapes, some are designed to mobilise large numbers of activists, others to create new ones, some are publicly driven and some are about networking or building alliances on a smaller scale. We need to do all of those things simultaneously. Every time we begin a campaign or join with others in an existing one we open up a new front, a new site of struggle, we make new friends, create more republicans, turn spectators into activists.

    The list of possible campaigns is exhaustive. While we have set before ourselves a number of priorities, those too will constantly evolve and change. At all times we must be guided by our primary objectives. Not just the ending of partition but our absolute commitment to equality and revolutionary change.

    That means in the time ahead campaigning to have our prisoners released, making the demand for truth and the end to state collusion impossible to ignore. It means placing the all-Ireland agenda at the heart of every campaign. It means pressing our demands for real demilitarisation now. It means pushing the equality agenda and demanding our rights. But it also means shifting our emphasis and prioritising other issues in keeping with our revolutionary objectives.

    Campaigns
    It means us spearheading and developing a major anti-poverty campaign. Building an anti-racism campaign. It means opposing with greater vigour, privatisation North and South and the running down of public services. It means intensifying the Rossport 5 campaign. It must mean that these issues of social justice become an ever-increasing focus of our campaigning energies.

    How do we join these many campaigns up and deliver the Republic? This is also a challenge to republicans, to reach out, to make alliances with others, to identify those objectives that might unite us. Across this island there are other people, not members of our party, republicans, socialists, radical trade unionists, environmental campaigners, green party activists, community activists with whom we might make common cause. We must begin that search with greater vigour in the weeks and months ahead, we must begin to forge these alliances at a grass roots level, where it counts most.

    Now it is time to build a broad-based republican labour coalition, a movement for radical change. A movement that can unite all of the most progressive forces on this island behind the demands for unity and social justice.

    This is indeed a moment of decisive revolutionary opportunity. Let each and every one of us each in our way and in a spirit of comradeship seize that opportunity.

    Ar aghaidh chun na Poblachta!

  • Gonzo

    Tell me Henry, and I mean this, how will republicans now advance the case for a united Ireland without the threat of violence?

    Now that SF are ‘just another party’, I’m curious about what strategies they will employ.

  • DerryTerry

    Gonzo, I’d imagine through argument, discussion, debate, campaigning and reaching audiences that the armed campaign made inaccessible.

    The discussions that will emerge from the silence of Republican weapons will increasingly focus on the merits of the points being made, and less on the politics of the last atrocity.

    For many Republicans this won’t be easy, but thats why they call it struggle.

  • Henry94

    Gonzo

    I can only tell you, in broad strokes, what I would like Sinn Fein to do. It is based on my belief that a united Ireland is manifestly the most sensible way to run the island. I’d like them to work the institutions while arguing for the maximum devolution of power from London and the maximun use of the cross-border bodies. The inescapable logic of co-operation will assert itself in this area.

    I believe that London will fade very rapidly from the picture because we have more in common with the south in economic terms more to learn from them and more business to do with them.

    By building its own political strength north and south Sinn Fein will be in a unique position to lead these developments.

    The question arises as to how to convince unionists that Sinn Fein are sincere and genuine in its peaceful political objectives. I would say by being sincere and genuine over time.

    I think we are now heading into a wonderful period of change which will transform this place. Those who want to hang on to old ways and old scores will soon find that nobody is listening. I have never in my life been more optimistic.

  • Jo

    I’d be interested to hear a genuine argument why Unionists should buy into a UI now that any of us who are so minded for debate can hear without the sound of gunfire. 🙂

  • spirit-level

    Jo,
    The clearing of your “collective unionist conscience” of guilt, is one arguement that springs to mind.
    Wanna hear it?

  • Ross

    having read Henry94 and Derry Terry we now know there is no way SF can get a UI. This is so disappointing

  • Ross

    having just read Flash, it is clear there is definitely nothing there. This is just bluster. Why can’t we admit we are making the best of a bad situation? Talk about revolution and the Republic being so near is demoralising for us. We are not children who need to be protected from harsh facts.

  • stu

    Anthony McIntyre’s piece was something of an eye-opener. Contrast excerpts from opinion pieces by two former prisoners:

    ‘If there is any point in fighting a war, it lies not in fighting one that cannot be won. Sometimes surrender is the only feasible option. Pride alone should not stand in the way of lives being spared and misery avoided. The degree to which surrender is ignominious is determined by the quality of the conditions won by the losing side. People must make their up own minds on the conditions secured by the Adams leadership in return for its surrender to the British state objective of an internal Northern Ireland solution. ‘ (McIntyre)

    ‘Let me say straight away that we stand on the brink of an unprecedented opportunity in the time ahead. The Republic is at last within our grasp. In this phase ahead and we need something like a ten-year strategy to deliver this, we can at last end partition and establish a radical republican government on the island, a government of which we are the heart and soul… What about the setting up of another cumann up the road or in the next village? We need a cumann, a republican presence and voice in every part of every city, every town, town land and village in every corner of this island.'(McVeigh)

    McIntyre’s closing paragraph rings true with a very real pragmatism, and, while I think it was unintented, gives a democratic outlook as well.

    McVeigh’s, by way of comparison, is filled with pseudo-Bolshevik language. To make an inference, the picture is of SF grasping control of new, radical Republican government, setting up Soviets in every community, and politicising the population in a way that I’m sure McIntyre, given his views on the politicisation of the proles, would be very skeptical of. Which voice, if either, speaks for the rank and file of the Republican movement?

    On another note, it’s very encouraging to hear so much optimism from a movement that has (and they’re not alone in this) engaged in very cynical activities over the past fifty years. Henry, your last two comments in particular are music to my ears; regardless of constitutional opinion, change is coming. If all Republicans were as eager to move in such a common-sense orientated way, and we could give the loyalists enough of a kick up the backside to cooperate likewise, change could happen a lot faster than people think.

  • eranu

    im a moderate unionist from belfast living in dublin for years. i know what living in ROI is and what living in NI is. its my opinion that there is no benefit or point in NI leaving the UK and joining the ROI. the arguement that nationalists put forward seems to be some vague “if we can all work together then we can build a better world” stuff. i dont think this is realistic at all. economics of scale make the UK a better option. more variety, more competition and lower prices. this applies to social things such as TV programmes and all sorts of recreational pass times. there is just less in the ROI and more in the UK. quick example, people in the irish media go to england to make it in UK TV. eg that guy from dublin doing the travel program. i dont think anyone in england travels to ROI to make it big in RTE…

    also i would say that most people in NI dont have any real interest in the republic or identify with it. they have no real knowledge of southern society or any interest in it. they are more interested in what goes on in mainland britain.

    in general things migrate from the UK to the ROI. they watch our TV, shop in UK shops, buy the same products as the UK etc.
    in the ROI they are outside the UK looking in. what is the point in leaving the UK and then turning to look back in ? you’d be looking at what ‘they’ have when ‘we’ already have it !

    if any northern nationalists have an idea of ‘irishness’ they identify with. they should live in the south for a year or two. they will find they have much more in common with their old NI neighbors.

    i wont mention the free NHS verus paying for medical care in ROI…

    had to rush that as its friday and time to go home. have a nice weekend all !

  • Ringo

    i dont think anyone in england travels to ROI to make it big in RTE

    Oh yeah? So you never heard of Tracey Piggot?? 😉
    Probably never heard of her auld fella either…

  • peadar o donnell

    While i agree with Flashes’ assessment of how the Republic can be won, I as a long time republican have serious concerns as to the capability of SF to follow this through,the 26 counties have piss poor political leadership, Belfast is a mess and Down does not exist, the irps control half of Tyrone .
    Terry is right in saying it is a struggle, the Organisation (SF) is nowhere near strong enough, the thoughts of it now having the “do you know who I am brigade” entering SF en masse is gonna make the strugle even more difficult.
    An Irish Social Rebel

  • Ross

    Peadar, the Flash piece is utterly demoralising. It is rhetoric, no more to be taken seriously than the statements that there would never be decommissioning. He could as easily have said SF are now poised to take over the world. On the ground there is a need for blunt talking of the type you just gave in your post. But it is not happening. At least when you state it as you see it people can take heart and say, now this is the real challenge. The future outlined by Flash is mythical.

  • peadar o donnell

    Ross a chara,
    I do not feel demoralised by the Flash piece, however i do feel a bit like a granny being taught how to suck an egg or two,
    Is the Republic close? yes
    is SF strong enough to achieve it? no,
    the achievement of the Republic now directly correlates with the political & electoral strength of SF,
    I agree with you that instead of trying to bullshit us Flash would be better off doing a realistic assessment of SF on the ground,
    It is (sf) contrary to popular belief filled with spectators, the anticipated influx of new members( those with more time on their hands) will only exaserbate this problem!!
    I believe it is the responsibility of all Republicans to help rectify this problem but how can this happen when the leadership dont even recognise the problem exists.

  • Chris

    Bout ye Andrew?!

    I have read with interest several letters of yours in the Belfast Tele and Ulster Newsletter, and also your posts on the loveulster.com site, and believe we have a mutual acquaintance in Ray & Lillian McMichael in East Belfast. Are you still living in Halifax? Are you politically-active in GB? I am no longer involved in any political party although I publish a bi-monthly newsletter on current affairs affecting the UK with a bias towards Ulster Unionism; if you would like to receive a copy, please send me your e-mail address.

    I was interested to see that you work as a carer for the disabled as, believe it or not, I worked as a Senior Support Worker for Leonard Cheshire (the UK’s leading voluntary sector provider of support services for disabled people) from April 1988 to May 2004 when, after coming perilously close to burnout, I changed direction and now work for the hated retail giant Tesco.

    Hope all is well with you and to meet you sometime, either on the Mainland or in our beloved Province.

    Keep well and in-touch. Best wishes and kind regards,

    Christopher Luke.

  • Ross

    Ross, it does not add up. The Republic is no closer now than it was in 1970 – we can be axiomatic and say that it is 35 years nearer but that would be pedantic – because with the failure of the armed struggle the only thing that will unite the country is a majority in the North agreeing to it. But with out behaviour since 1994 unionism is now totally opposed to a UI and can not trust us. While nationalists are favourable many of them are content to stay under rule from Britain. Flash’s p[iece is demoralising because it is as you say bull. What is the leadership doing pushing that nonsense on us rather than address the issues raised by yourself?

  • spirit-level

    Ross
    may I invite you to you to take heart from this bit of Flash’s piece:
    “to create the maximum amount of goodwill for our cause here in Ireland and beyond these shores. Our job in the time ahead then is to turn that goodwill into real political muscle and support”
    You’re not alone, the world is on your side.
    Been a bad 6 months from January, but the pendulum swings the other way too!

  • Ross

    Spirit-level, if only. The extract from Flash identified by you is meaningless. Nothing specified. All of it amounts to nothing if republicans do not overcome the ramifications of the consent principle. Neither international goodwill nor support in the Republic can change matters if NI does not consent. Exhorting people ever onward as Flash does sounds like the behaviour of Squealer in Animal Farm. Republicans need strategy not exhortation.

  • spirit-level

    Ross
    I see what you mean. I just see evidence of a strategy coming together in terms of out-flanking, out-manoeuvring, out-smarting, and out-witting a DUP that has lost all sense of direction. With the “good cop, bad cop” approach I think we can persuade our opponents of the merits of re-unification, and get the vote.
    I’m keeping my pecker up.
    Have this chat again in January!

  • Ross

    Spirit-level, there is nothing we can get our teeth into. Today’s position could quite easily be abandoned tomorrow. The past ten years is littered with examples of that. The only opponents who matter in terms of persuasion are the unionists, now supporting the DUP. It seems the greater SF electoral advance the more hostile to a UI become those who can actually bring it about. It seems republicans are in a Catch 22.

  • willowfield

    On 10th May 1998 just after the Belfast Agreement, Gerry Adams told his party’s Ard Fheis that “The IRA has made it clear that it will not surrender its weapons”.

    And Danny Morrison as recently as 2001 felt confident enough to state “…there will never, ever, be IRA decommissioning, an IRA surrender.”

    Why are unionist politicians not humiliating the Provos, and giving a bit of confidence to their own supporters, by highlighting this? Unionist ineptitude gets more and more surreal by the day.

  • spirit-level

    Ross,
    With due respect Ross we need to get our teeth into policing and criminality, we have more to do to be fit to govern. I know that’s unpopular but it’s true. I admire Gerry Adam’s patience.
    And he’s keeping the pressure up on the DUP.
    Meanwhile look at Alex Kane’s letter in Mick’s new post. Seems like a different guy to me. If you think we’ve got problems, look at their position. I’m very strict on this. We need to do more to show our credentials and take the moral high ground, and the DUP need to get a grip with changing realities. Its all new and nervy for all of us. Am happy to be the tortoise on this, and not the hare. Slow and steady wins the race.

  • Claire

    The strength of SF seems to sway – needs consitent strength and a steady building within the political spectrum.. I have lived both NI and the Republic and have dual nationality..without doubt the republic for me personally is better, but then may be that’s just an identity thing. I think UI is so near and yet so far away. It would be easy to get swept up in the optimism of the seeming present political situation, but I cannot see how the reality of the situation at ground level in NI is really changing that quickly. I think being happy to be a tortoise is possibly the most relaxing position to be in!!

    A hell of a lot of resentments need to be gotton over before much more can be done.

  • lib2016

    willowfield,

    Both sides are in negotiations, and have been so for years. The republican move from ‘not an ounce’ to total decommissioning is matched by the DUP’s ‘Nevair! Nevair! Nevair!’ to ‘Not for two years’ to ‘late next year’.

    That’s what negotiation is all about, after all.

  • Ross

    Spirit level, what does this mean ‘we need to get our teeth into policing and criminality. We have more to do to be fit to govern’? I know you don’t mean it but fit to govern sounds very close to Trimble saying we must be house trained. Are republicans just to become one more political party resembling the other parties and not in any way resembling what we were and what sustained us through this conflict? I know armed struggle is not an option but does the baby also go out with the bath water? And I do not wish to become a cop. Who will hold the cops to account if we become cops? Don’t say the justice minister. It just does not happen in the real world. And what position do we take when the Real IRA and Continuity IRA behave as Bobby Sands did and take up arms against the British? Are we to jail them? What if they hunger strike – are we to let them die? As two former hunger strikers wrote there are just some places republicans cannot go – becoming cops is one of them. I know you are grappling with these difficult matters but I don’t think you are winning with yourself.

  • Ross

    Spirit level, the two former hunger strikers referred to in my last post are Laurence McKeown and Tommy McKearney

  • spirit-level

    Ross friend,
    I don’t mean to sound aloof, but George Burns’s post of 6:03 “Unionist self pity and supremacy”, sums up the position better than I ever could.
    It puts the ball back in the DUP court. you’re right I don’t think I’m winning with myself.
    I’m worried about how the heck the vast criminal empire is going to be dismantled, and yes who is going to police these republican areas. Yes who wants to be a cop in a British state? I don’t think any of us wanted to be in this position, but we are here. Any republican involved in criminality is a traitor to the noble cause. Do you think these toe-rags are just going to sign on at universities etc if and when we get to powersharing, or the preferred United Ireland?
    See alot of these scumbags have gotten used to the easy criminal lifestyle: all day drinking, do a few drugs runs here and there, go betting,
    look like hard gangsters. Then turn up at a few parades, looking good. This is a real mess.
    Can you help me out here?

  • Ross

    Spirit level, unionism has problems – but has had for years. Given their contingent citizenship status within the UK (something not applicable to Finchley) unionists know they cannot rest on past victories. They will always be tormented by the shadow of the ROI and the ‘enemy within’ NI. But that merely allows republicans to point at unionists and say ‘look at the problems we have caused them.’ Such problems within unionism do nothing to bring a UI closer. In fact it may make it all the more difficult to achieve.

    Winning with yourself is not the main problem. Imagine if you were not even to fight with yourself. The problem is the same for us all. A serious opponent to be overcome is the lure of blind obediency.

    ‘Yes who wants to be a cop in a British state? I don’t think any of us wanted to be in this position, but we are here.’ – A very interesting take. Outlining it so starkly leaves me to conclude that we have to make the best of a very bad situation. Fair enough point. The road of CIRA and RIRA is hopeless so what do republicans do? But you would get no sense of the dilemma as outlined by you from Flash. From his point of view we are just going from one great victory to another. If that is so why then would anybody bother asking the type of questions you do?

    The vast criminal empire that you refer to, I presume you mean the Republican Movement? It is an allegation that is growing harder to deny. Yet, if you look at the bulk of RM people they do not live criminal lifestyles. I think what has happened is that activity not regarded as ‘criminal’ during the armed struggle looks criminal when the struggle is over. Because SF cannot defend it and pretend it does not happen the criminality allegation hurled by the PDs and others wins by default. But in my view the leadership use it to finance their current strategy. This puts those carrying it out in the public spotlight as ‘criminals’. They go to jail and the leadership asks them to pretend that they are criminals despite having previously told them it was a legitimate action on behalf of the cause.

    I don’t think things are as bleak as suggested in your last lines. Most RM people don’t fit into that category in my view. For those that do, the law may take its course. The leadership should no more protect them from the law than it would from media probing. Okay, we don’t at present support the PSNI but we would still like to see them discover the body of Arleen A. and bring her killer to court. The same should be true of republicans who commit similar acts – I am thinking specifically of the McCartney slaying here.

    Overall, we may just have to conclude that republicanism no longer provides an answer to the problem that this society faces. When Flash outlines a jargonised future I feel instinctively we have run out of space. I think that is one reason the leadership are moving away from the substance of republicanism while trying to mask that move in republican language. The difficulty is to where is the leadership moving? If it was merely social democracy, then fair enough. But if it is some form of authoritarian populism we are in for trouble.

  • spirit-level

    Ross,
    I think we both agree that Flash, is doing just that “flashing”, and needs to cover himself up lest he be arrested for exposing himself in a public place.
    But haven’t we all wanted to get the Republican raincoat on and flash ourselves to the unionists community. ” Have a look at this yer bastards, we’ve got our peckers up”.
    Its testosterone driven. Previously all we could do was bend over and do a moonie at them.

    On the serious points:
    In my humble opinion the key to the moral dilema is when you outlined the following: “I think what has happened is that activity not regarded as ‘criminal’ during the armed struggle looks criminal when the struggle is over.”
    Mick Fealty asked the same question a week or so back, when he gave way to the idea that in principle he had no problem with “fund-raising”, what concerned him was the legacy.
    Sinn Fein are vulnerable on this, as you pointed out, to attack by the PD’s,and the rest.
    Can we really say that one day before a settlement “breaking the law” is not a crime; but a day afterwards it is a crime.
    Maybe this is true, I’m open to it.
    Look at South Africa.
    Can we convince our opponents?
    I’m optimistic this is a hurdle that can be seen ” in the historical context of struggle” and so be dealt with alongside all the other issues.
    I expect talks about talks to begin soon, and proper table talks in february, and so am more confident today than yesterday.
    Great talking to you bye the way 🙂

  • Ross

    Spirit level, your analysis of Flash brings you so close to the position of Ed Moloney in today’s Sunday Independent. The sad thing is that whatever the intentions of Flash, both you and Moloney are probably right. In any event it seems to me that it is better to flash a big moon than a small pecker. While strategically speaking the guns were pretty much redundant, their destruction or whatever you wish to call it is a symbolic castration. Flash doesn’t do anything other than give unionism cause for confidence. Unionists see through all that. His take is so threadbare that unionists must see that SF have lost the plot in terms of a republic.

    It is a moot point you make when you raise the issue of ‘Can we really say that one day before a settlement “breaking the law” is not a crime; but a day afterwards it is a crime?’ The disturbing thing about it is that it echoes the British strategy of 1976 when at 12 o’clock midnight IRA volunteers became criminals. Which meant that at 11.55 pm on the way to an operation IRA members were politically inspired but at 12.05 on the way back they were criminal. It is even more disturbing because in his interview with Warren Hoge, Gerry A followed the exact same logic. He argued (trying to correct what he saw as a faux pas at the ard fheis) that since the GFA no lawbreaking was justified and was by extension criminal.

    Talks will begin at some point. The DUP must be confident that if the IRA does not disband that it will at some point queer the pitch again and take matters back to the period post Northern Bank. Even if talks conclude successfully we are back to the old internal solution and all republicans can do is behave towards it in a constitutional nationalist manner, or else put it into hiatus. But no where from this springs a UI.

    Perhaps a new generation will produce a republicanism that can avoid militarism but at the same time can sidestep the downside of constitutional nationalism.

    Perhaps a wider debate is needed that addresses the relevance or republicanism in modern Ireland. Flash merely persuades people it has become irrelevant and must therefore be disguised in jargon. At present we have a situation whereby ‘republican’ is anything which carries the imprimatur of the leadership. This is dangerous. Republicanism should be people rather than leadership driven.