I remember going to a debate in Oxford a few years ago for a debate entitled, “the future of Republicanism”. Given the promise of an analogue to our future of Unionism paper a couple of years before. Sadly much of the debate between two extremely thoughtful commentators from mainstream and dissident Republicanism focused almost exclusively on the past. Fionnuala O’Connor in last Friday’s Irish Times asked what alternative dissident Republicans have shown to Sinn Fein (subs needed): “For 12 years they have failed to build even the first stage of a credible alternative to Sinn Féin’s exit path from the Troubles, or to attract any sizeable support”.
They never quite spell out what it is that they recommend, beyond a cloudy coming together of the like-minded to keep on keeping on. One recent article decided the Adams leadership was “at the mercy of Paisley’s whims” and advised them to admit defeat. There was no suggestion of alternatives in waiting, only a counsel of despair: “Leave it to the generations to come. You did wrong. Others will fix it.”
Now that the crunch has finally arrived, it is hardly surprising to hear reports of threats as well as speeches about betrayal and “settling for salaries”. The surprise is the new disaffected voices, people who put their faith in the Adams team until this point or at least until comparatively recently. How could anyone take this long to realise where the process was headed? Policing was always going to be the decider: no way around it, no way out.
Join the government, support the forces of the state. Earlier difficult passages contained wriggle room. There was elastic confusion about decommissioning, some of which might have been denial. But for a long time and at many levels there was optimism, perhaps understandably, that it might be possible to avoid what finally happened.