Debate within Republicanism, part 2

As noted, the proposed (but postponed) meeting in Toome has sparked off some debate, both about republicans and between republicans. It has also sparked some dialogue between unionists and republicans. Dr. John Coulter has interviewed republicans who are interested in pursuing a “Pan Republican Front”.

Items on the agenda for the Pan Republican Front (PRF) are: organising to oppose Sinn Fein candidates in local elections, in order to give Republicans a choice. As it stands, the electoral choices for Republican voters are limited, to say the least. It is either SF or some form of protest vote, voting for another party to deny SF, or not voting at all. It is suggested the PRF would negotiate directly with unionists. Michael Donnelly, one of the republicans interviewed, elaborates:

“We will not be taking seats in Westminster or in a puppet regime in Stormont, but we would take council seats and that is very likely to happen in Derry. We have supporters from Tyrone, Belfast and Derry who no longer support the Stormont Shinners.
“We hope a separate republican party will emerge after the next council elections. We would negotiate directly with the Unionist community rather than waste time with the British.
“There is no value in talking to the British and there is little reason for this. We want to build an electoral power base to defeat the MI5 led Sinn Fein in the polls and dilute their power base.
“The Pan Republican Front would be a description of what we want to achieve. Three or four years ago, we had an Anti Partition League, but it didn’t take off. If we were to have electoral success, we would take it from there.
“We have never had a problem dealing with Unionists. I came from the era of the civil rights movement and Protestants were involved in that, as well as the housing action campaign in 1968 and ’69. The British deliberately put a wedge between the Protestant and Catholic community.”

The other republican Coulter spoke with continues,

“If we win seats on an abstentionist ticket, we will have public support for a united Ireland and we don’t have to go to Stormont for this. People voted for the SDLP to harm Sinn Fein; now we can encourage them to vote for independent Republicans.
“We want a republicanism which is open, democratic and peaceful. I realise it may take several elections before we achieve this. We want to discuss a strategy of getting into elections and to find people who can negotiate properly with the British. There are people there who don’t know what they are talking about.”

So it seems, contrary to their detractors, those republicans outside of SF do have ideas of alternatives and strategies, where they want to go and how they may get there, and they are willing to work together to hammer them out. They are aware that things won’t happen overnight, and appear to be looking at things in a medium to long term manner. Perhaps the “dissident republican” picture is not as dreary as some would paint it?

Dr. Coulter:

“The emergence of the Front represents the most significant political development in republicanism since the formation of Provisional Sinn Fein in the early Seventies.
The Pan Republican Front wants an agenda of talking to Northern Unionists rather than the British Government. The trouble is, while you have active dissidents around your ranks, Unionists will not touch you with their traditional 40-foot barge pole.
Then again, the Front could rightly ask – what is the point in holding out any hand of friendship to Unionists when the DUP won’t do a deal with what the Front has branded the ‘Stormont Shinners’?”

This interview is encouraging on a number of levels. We are seeing dissident republicans articulate alternative strategies to the one promoted by Sinn Fein, albeit in early stages; ‘dissident’ republicans are not reliant on the armed struggle as their defining characteristic or only alternative, and the alternatives emerging from them are taking a non-violent form; it was a Unionist who conducted this interview, which surely is fairly unprecendented? It shows a willingness on the part of Unionists and Republicans to break the mould and engage directly with each other, publicly as well, instead of at each other.

If that spirit continues, it may be the sort of thing that can break the deadlock Coulter touches on above.

  • James St John Smythe

    “The emergence of the Front represents the most significant political development in republicanism since the formation of Provisional Sinn Fein in the early Seventies.”

    Yet more waffle from John Coulter who has obviously been speaking to republicans with as much credibility as Jim Sands – the so-called source for the Committee, which Coulter helped put together.

    The fact is that the vast majority of dissident republicans are not leaving Sinn Fein to follow a path of political discourse but instead to use the bomb and the bullet for their murderous ends. The meeting in Toome was not arranged to bring together ‘democratic, peaceful republicans’ but for those who still believe in the ballot box and armalite. Coulter is barking up the wrong tree completely by linking this to the meeting in Toome.

  • James St John Smythe

    The more you read that line, the more ridiculous it looks. MA more significant political development within republicanism than the decision to take seats in Dail Eireann? More significant the decision to take seats at Stormont? I could go on and on.

  • Occasional Commentator

    James St John Smythe,
    Hold on a minute. I don’t see any reason to assume that all non-SF republicans are anti-ceasefire.

    I don’t suppose people would be bothered to ask what a republican’s position on the ceasefire is before denouncing them?

    “while you have active dissidents around your ranks, Unionists will not touch you with their traditional 40-foot barge pole. ”

    If there are some unionists who refuse to talk to pro-ceasefire republicans then they really have to explain themselves. “active” and “dissident” does not mean violent or anti-ceasefire. It could just mean non-SF and politically active.

    It all just sounds like some politicians using any lame (and false) excuse to avoid being held to account by their electorate.

  • Patrique

    Will the Scottish football hooligans, also known as the Catholic Reactionary Force, be there? I mean with no drugs about, they will need to do something.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Beware of trolls …

  • James St John Smythe

    OC,

    ‘Let’s hope the planned Toomebridge meeting – which has had to be postponed – will soon be organised to form an alternative peace strategy to the current Gerry Adams/Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein policy.’

    I do not dispute that there are a handful of republicans who are pro-ceasefire and anti Sinn Fein. However I believed there are many more ‘dissidents’ who are anti-ceasefire and anti-Sinn Fein.
    And those who were planning to meet in Toome were of the latter ilk and not the former.
    They were meeting not for an alternative peace strategy but for an alternative war strategy.
    One of the organisers of the meeting, Paddy Murray, is an unreconstructed sectarian terrorist. When asked by a local paper what he thought of comparisons made by Unionists with Al-Qaeda, Mr Murray said ‘I wish – we might be not be in the bother we are in if we did those sorts of things’
    A joke? Perhaps. The words of someone wanting to follow a peaceful strategy? No.
    Others invited were dissident IRA members from South Derry with no interest in politics whatsoever and Dominic Og McGlinchey who would only be interested in a solely democratic approach if he held assymetric political opinions to his father.
    To my mind, it is foolish in the extreme to associate the meeting in Toome with a solely democratic plan.

  • Chris Donnelly

    “Three or four years ago, we had an Anti Partition League, but it didn’t take off.”

    Did anyone actually hear of this collection of assorted dissidents at the time? What are the odds that Mickey Donnelly’s new venture meets a similar fate?

    The truth, of course, is that this represents the collective failure of those involved within the dissident movement to re-launch an armed campaign in the decade plus since the IRA cessation.

    If dissidents are to re-assemble under a party political banner, then of course that is their prerogative.

    But the idea that republicanism is lacking a democratic debate simply because the dissidents have failed to make any political impact in the post-Omagh period is simply ridiculous.

    Comparisons to the Provisional IRA in the late 1960s/ early 1970s are not credible for many reasons, most importantly being that the conditions giving rise to the support for militant republicanism at that time do not exist at the moment.

    Nationalism has moved considerably forward in the interim. There is not one geographic district in the six counties in which the dissidents could point to having significant grassroots support within the republican community.

    To outsiders that may seem unimportant, but to those from within republicanism it is very revealing. Neither at an activist or communal level within republicanism do these people have anywhere near the type of support to mount a credible challenge to Sinn Fein.

    Time, of course, can deliver many surprises. But I would be willing to bet quite handsomely that this initiative- like its ill-fated predecessor- will end up fading away from memory within the year.

    The truth is that nationalists and republicans endorse the pragmatic steps taken by the republican leadership in the past decade.

    Finally, I note the irony of a new ‘true’ republican party organising only in the six counties…..

  • Occasional Commentator

    Chris,
    By your logic Adams should have refused to attend PIRA meetings at the time when most would have been against a ceasefire. But he did take part and do whatever he did to move things on. Similarly, these anti-SF republicans could be organising politically precisely to encourage the more militant people to consider politics. If you actually read Coulter’s interview, you’ll see that this seems to be the plan.

    From all the non-SF republican threads on Slugger I’ve seen recently, it seems more and more the case that SF send out trolls to hypocritically criminalize fellow political republicans just to selfishly protect their own votes.

    If SF would come down off their high horse and discuss republicanism, we’d have a more secure peace and a better chance of a UI. But SF just want all the glory for themselves.

  • Chris Donnelly

    “we’d have a more secure peace and a better chance of a UI. But SF just want all the glory for themselves.”

    Aaron McDaid

    With respect, you’re talking nonsense. In the interview, the agenda of those involved in the exercise is made clear. I’ll repeat it for your benefit:

    “We want to build an electoral power base to defeat the MI5 led Sinn Fein in the polls and dilute their power base.”

    What exactly do you want Sinn Fein to discuss with people who are intent on destroying the party- ironically, the shared ambition of British intelligence as well as dissidents? And how do you work out that we’d have a more secure peace if the dissidents were to somehow succeed in eradicating the support for Sinn Fein?

    The first point you make is bizarre in the extreme, as I never indicated that I’d be against these individuals dissuading their militant supporters from continuing their military campaign.

  • curious

    Why the use of OC’s name? What point were you trying to make, exactly? That you know who he is?

  • Occasional Commentator

    Chris said: “The truth, of course, is that this represents the collective failure of those involved within the dissident movement to re-launch an armed campaign”

    Then he said: “I never indicated that I’d be against these individuals dissuading their militant supporters from continuing their military campaign”

    Make up your mind. Are all non-SF republicans to be demonised as anti-ceasefire or not?

    curious,
    As to my name, it’s not as if I’m anybody important. Chris, do you know me personally somehow? Why did you use it? I was considering using my real name in future anyway, and being honest about the changeover, but why do it yourself? I could adjust my tinfoil hat and say that SF must be investigating anybody reasonable sounding that might have something interesting to ask about republicanism.

  • piebald

    “We would negotiate directly with the Unionist community rather than waste time with the British.” – Michael Donnelly

    “We want to discuss a strategy of getting into elections and to find people who can negotiate properly with the British.” -unamed supporter of Pan Republican Front

    So what’s it to be : negotiate with the British or not?

    piebald

  • k

    “There is not one geographic district in the six counties in which the dissidents could point to having significant grassroots support within the republican community.”

    Chris,
    what about the Creggan in the last district council elections? Gary Donnelly (of Raytheon fame) polled 500 votes as an independent republican and this was with an amateur, last minute campaign.
    The reality is that the hard core ‘green’ SF register in many republican areas has dropped substantially. Luckily for SF, these long time republicans who stood by the movement in the tough times have been replaced by middle class ‘new’ republicans like yourself who were nowhere to be seen when being an SF supporter wasn’t as trendy or respectable (in qub or elsewhere).

  • Rory

    Again and again and yet again we have another example of the egotistical arrogance of these wannabe leaders, these failed convincers, prepared to twist any objective truth, do any dirty deal or indeed, dirty deed, that they might be lauded as leaders of the people who consistently reject them, distrustful both of their motives and their ability.

    Why do they continue when all the world tells them they are wrong? Because the mirror into which they constantly stare tells them that is the only truth.

    Fortunately the people prefer to look out at the world through unclouded glass.

    What he hell vision of a pan-nationalist anti partion front do they have that does not already exist in reality? Any “purer” vision of that which already exists can only serve to create division and it was the very division among nationalists and republicans that allowed free-statism and unionism to triumph. These selfish rogues would again create division. And more murder and mayhem will result and partition more firmly imbedded and progress retarded.

    But, what the hell, young excitable men and women will have been influenced to take up arms and kill and die and suffer imprisonment and these bonzos will be seen, by themselves at least, as leaders.

    Reactionary unionism must love them. Objectively the ultra-left and the ultra-right always swing round to embrace each other and this is yet another example.

    When the guns do come out and a few attempted “liberation of funds” succeed they will of course expend most of their energy shooting one another and “re-liberating ” funds, but only for the purest of ideological motives you understand.

    Joe Stalin and Pancho Villa where have you gone in our hour of need?

  • Occasional Commentator

    Chris,
    I never said I would definitely vote for these people. In fact, I probably wouldn’t vote for anybody if there was an election tomorrow. But while some in SF stoop to lying about their intentions (‘they are all warmongers’) I feel duty bound as a democrat to listen to them and defend their right to organise and speak. It is not only the Provisional movement who have the right/responsibility to “to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means.” Any person, republican or not, SF or not, has the same right.

    If these people do start putting up candidates, I want SF to do what any democratic and peaceful party should do, namely produce manifestos and strategy documents which we can compare with other republican parties, and debate with them when the situation arises. If these people do get mentioned on say Hearts and Minds during an election campaign, will SF take part and engage in sensible discussion? If SF can take part in the normal rough and tumble of political debate, they might convince me that they deserve my vote. But while they refuse to do so, I can’t wholeheartedly support SF.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Beware of yet more trolls …

  • Rory

    “partition more firmly imbedded and progress retarded”

    of course, firmly imbedded (BTW it’s 94 years old) partition is progress advanced in some quarters.

  • Pete Baker

    “Why do they continue when all the world tells them they are wrong? Because the mirror into which they constantly stare tells them that is the only truth.”

    No, Rory, it’s because they are following those who, previously and still in their minds accurately, had attempted to argue that, although they were right then, now that same violence is now wrong.

    Break that cycle, by acknowleding, in full the implications of the 1998 Agreement -including policing – and there might be a start to a resolution.

  • Rory

    Oh, do stop it, Pete. It is not about violence per se that I argue, nor you. We cannot have mashed potatoes without violence and certainly not a juicy steak with it.

    The state itself, of whatever regime is institutionalised violence, nor could exist as other.

    It is not because these guys will resort to violence that I oppose them, it is because they are wrong. If I thought they were right it would be my duty to assist them in every way to obtain the greatest measure and means of delivering violence to achieve their ends, exactly as supporters of state violence do.

    Is that not what all citizens of all states do everywhere? It certainly seems to have been in modern times from the aftermath of Culloden through blitzkreig, Hiroshima, My Lai and any thousands of others that may spring to mind.

    Anyway, Pete, you know as well as I do that, ultimately, parking restrictions or anti-littering legislation are useless without the certain final sanction of state violence to reinforce them. So please don’t be going all coy and “vegan” on serious political matters.

  • lies, damned lies

    “What exactly do you want Sinn Fein to discuss with people who are intent on destroying the party- ironically, the shared ambition of British intelligence as well as dissidents?”

    Mr Donnelly, it is abundantly clear to anyone not in acute denial that the Brit security services co-opted SF a long time ago. Given the number of senior agents that we know of and that in this field there will always be many more that we do not. And given that SF has performed a volte face over every single pledge is has made to the republican community over the past ten years: no return to Stormont, no decommissioning, no acceptance of partition, etc ad nauseum. Now they stand on the verge of the final surrender, their backing for a Briths police force in Ireland.
    We are no closer to a United Ireland than we were before this raft of concessions began: indeed, by convincing the republican base to back an agreement which enshrines the unionist veto we are further away than ever. And the weaponry which volunteers sacrificed their lives and liberty to procure so that we could at least provide a level playing field with the Brit war machine was surrendered for nothing. Now the Brits need only a peacetime garrison and MI5 digs in with a huge new HQ in North Down. The SF leadership has achieved nothing other than wholesale sell out.
    The British security services cultivated (at least some of) the current SF leadership so that they could bring the north to this point. Their main objective is to bolster that leadership at all costs.

  • pith

    I have a tendency to be wary of people who think their first name is “Dr” but then I realised it was Dr John Coulter so it’s ok this time. No wariness there. Weariness maybe.

  • puzzlement

    It’s “Radical Unionist Dr John Coulter” in the Blanket…

    Anyone even remotely inclined to take him seriously should go read the archive of his articles on the Blanket site.

    “Surreal” isn’t the word for his *ahem* unique brand of political analysis…

  • Betty Boo

    As much as a good debate is appreciated and needed but I doubt the intention of this one is being fair criticism. Life has improved in the last 10 years and some call it sellout. Anti or pro SF Republican, surely a better life for everyone should be one of the goals of any true Republican.

  • This could be the best possible thing for Provisional Sinn Fein and the peace process!

    If the dissidents want to launch a marginal political wing to attempt to justify their blood-lust, it would make SF no longer the most extreme wing of republicanism. There would be a new bogeyman, and the DUP might find it easier to talk to the old bogeyman.

    Roll on the Irish Republican People’s Revolutionary Gaelic Phalange Movement Party!

  • harpo

    ‘The truth is that nationalists and republicans endorse the pragmatic steps taken by the republican leadership in the past decade.’

    Chris Donnelly:

    By ‘republican leadership’ I presume you mean ‘Provisional leadership’.

    And by ‘pragmatic steps’ taken by the Provisional leadership I presume you mean ‘abandoning just about every principle of Irish Republicanism’.

    It’s always a laugh to hear comments from supporters of the Provos. You want to airbrush the existence of true Irish Republicans out of the picture. That’s why you make all these statements seemingly on behalf of all republicans – in this case ‘republicans endorse the pragmatic steps…’, as if the Provo brand is actually the only version of republicanism that exists.

    Why can’t you be honest and state something like what you actually mean – that supporters of the Provisional Movement endorse the decisions taken by the leadership of the Provisional Movement? That doesn’t sound so grand does it?

    But then your use of the word republican in an exclusive way is meant to give the impression that Provisionalism IS republicanism. It’s nothing more than a branding exercise.

    Provisionalism isn’t republicanism, no matter how much you snipe at all of these other groups.

    Your biggest fear is that as the Provo snowball continues to roll along, enough of it is going to fall off to enable someone else to come along and add all the lost bits together to form a new snowball that rivals the Provo one.

  • harpo

    ‘…dialogue between unionists and republicans. Dr. John Coulter has interviewed republicans who are interested in pursuing a “Pan Republican Front”.’

    Can we call members of this PRF ‘Pan’s People’?

  • harpo

    ‘The SF leadership has achieved nothing other than wholesale sell out.’

    lies, damned lies:

    I’m not an Irish Republican, but if I was, I’d not think very much of the present day Provisional Movement and their attempts to pretend that they still have something to do with Irish Republicanism.

    I have to ask, if you actually think about Irish Republicanism, can there be any actual Irish Republicans left within the Provisional Movement? Surely by now, as principle after principle has been abandoned by the Adams leadership, all that is left in the Provo Movement are those who believe anything that Adams tells them.
    The leadership worshipping drones.

    We’ve had major bunches of actual IRs leave the Provos over the years – the RSF lot in 1986 and the 32CSM lot in 1997 – and we hear about various smaller lots giving up on the Adams vision these days, so can there really be any IRs left within Provisionalism?

    You see people say that endorsing the police would be the final straw, but really – are there really IRs within the Provos now, who would only reach their limit and leave if the Adams leadership endorsed the police in the near future? Have these people been content enough with all of the other dropped principles all along, and policing would really be the final straw for them? I’m not buying it.

    I think you are correct – Provo SF have delivered nothing but wholesale sell-out of Irish Republicanism, and all that is left within the Provo Movement are those who have benefitted in financial terms from their faith, and those who are leadership worshipping drones.