No answer from the ‘bitter enders’?

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.

  • Reader

    Well,the dissidents may have seen the policing crunch coming, but, as Fionnuala noted, it’s the new disaffected who have some explaining to do. But remember, the first Assembly ran without a policing agreement. The reason it has come so close to a resolution now may be down to the DUP (I *hated* to say that).
    But also because the Assembly is looking less and less like a temporary situation. If there isn’t a United Ireland in prospect in 10 years, then even Republicans need for a policing solution to be found. They are moving inside the tent. There will be a certain amount of discomfort all round.

  • seabhac siúlach

    “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”.

    For some, the aim is surely just to prevent the end of the Troubles, not to find some form of alternative path from it like the Provos. That is the flaw in O’Connor’s thinking. There is no need for some sort of alternative grand strategy if your belief is that armed struggle is politically and morally justified, and an end in itself (leading as it will to an eventual British pullout). The strategy (or tactic) of the republican ‘dissidents’ would then be to merely prevent everything bedding down politically as is (slowly) occurring at the moment. For this to occur might, as they might see it, put the chance of an end to partition off for another fifty years. So, the strategy would be to continue to offer a military alternative to the Provo’s peace process, to attempt to distabilise the process, to keep things fluid. By merely maintaining themselves, by carrying out occassional attacks, by openly confronting the Provos, by, in the case of Republican Sinn Fein or the other groups(?), offering some form of political vision, built, e.g., on the idea of a federal Ireland, they can provide an alternative. Whether that alternative, politically, militarily or morally is attractive to the majority is debatable (Recent opinions polls, however, put the support at 7-8% within the nationalist community…a rise from a position of virtually zero not so long ago). By merely maintaining themselves, they position themselves well in the event that the Provos are seen to have sold out, and offer a home for any young person who is not interested in the necessary compromises that are found in politics. In their ‘strategy’, they do not need to do anything more than to continue on…

  • páid

    The degree of support for ‘armed struggle’ is influenced by a number of factors; and the situation today is manifestly different for Nationalists than it was in the late 60s.
    The tactic of neutralising armed Nationalism by compromise as opposed to force has worked and is working.
    Of course the Nationalist dream of Ireland united and free from Britain has not been achieved…but people generally pick up guns against oppression, and British oppression continues to decline to the point in which ‘armed struggle’ appears to be an overreaction.
    A side effect of ‘armed struggle’ was the reaction of Protestants to distance themselves from Irishness. In time, I would expect this phenomenon to alter too.

    So the future’s there for the making; joining the cops doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. There’s a lot of talk about acknowledging the British State but the cops don’t shift societies. They enforce the rules politicians make.

  • mickhall


    It took 16 years of what some would describe as wadding in blood for Gerry Adams to come up with his so called strategy, yet you condemn the majority of dissidents who have not returned to the armed struggle for taking 12 years to find a way forward, I know what I prefer.

    You are well aware this has been a long drawn out process that has still not yet reached its conclusion. Gerry did not come out with the fact that he was intending to decommission the IRA arms, recognizing, the PSNI etc. Indeed he did the reverse, lieing about his intentions, thus many republican gave him the benefit of the doubt and it has been a very slow process for them to understand the extent of Adams game and in some peoples eyes his betrayal.

    I do not feel you should blame dissidents for not acting with haste, it is to their credit that the majority did not, for if they had more of them may well have returned to war. Whereas today they are feeling their way to a ‘political’ alternative to the sleight of hand politics of Mr Adams.

  • John East Belfast


    I think your analysis of Dissident thinking is spot on and simply revolves around destabilising NI to the extent that a British withdrawel is inevitable.

    However the British ‘propaganda’ message that needs to be put out there is how many are prepared to pay the price.

    I – if it were legally possible – would bring in a law that anyone convicted of a terrorist offence from hereon will never ever avail of a GFA type Sentence let off.

    Basically if you are going to play with guns and explosives you are going to spend the best part of your life in prison while your fellow republicans are enjoying the benefits of a prosperous and peacefully stable NI.

    That message needs to be put out there.

    In addition because their support base is so negligible then they could never exert the type of pressure that would gain them anything.

    Basically they would be throwing away their lives for nothing and I think the majority of them get that message.

  • joeCanuck

    Sadly much of the debate between two extremely thoughtful commentators from mainstream and dissident Republicanism focused almost exclusively on the past.
    Well, we’ll know in a few short months whether or not there is to be a different future in our (well, my) lifetime.

  • Plum Duff

    “In their ‘strategy’, they do not need to do anything more than to continue on…”

    S. Siúlach puts his finger on the button to show up exactly the futility of the Dissident Republicans’ alternative. It is, in effect, the ultimate counsel of despair – a downward spiral of mayhem and carnage. Sisyphus’s task was a doddle in comparison to what these w**kers offer as an option – and he was going uphill!

    However, does not the very nature of Republicans and their struggle encourage this strategy from the outset? One would have thought that after the Civil War that they would have accepted defeat. No way. The victory of the pro-Treaty forces was treated merely as another setback in the ongoing struggle for unification. The mantle of the ‘true faith’ was passed along the line from 1923 until the last major split in Jan 1970. (BTW, to re-check this date, I looked up Brian Feeney’s book, ‘Sinn Féin’ and it’s interesting to note that he describes MacStíofáin, Cahill, O Brádaigh, Adams and all those who took part in the mass walk-out, as ‘dissidents’, p. 250. Plus ca change…)

    As a lifelong republican, nonetheless, I’ve never accepted this concept of the handing down of the mythic mantle. It is the nearest thing to war in perpetuity that anyone could ever have dreamt up and is the equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmas to occur every weekend.

    I am therefore grateful that, at long last, the nightmare scenario thrown up by this concept appears to have been understood by G Adams and his colleagues. To that end I am prepared to ‘lend’ them my vote as long as they pursue the ‘exit path’ they appear to be following. The ‘police thing’ is the single most important decision yet to be taken and is without doubt much more far-reaching and monumental in its implications than, say, decommissioning. From recent conversations with current SF members I understand that it is causing all sorts of soul searching and upheavals within the party. The path of peace may have been stepped upon 30 years too late – and it still is very slippery – but we are where we are and can only hope that they succeed in their endeavours.

  • Garibaldy

    Mick Hall,

    Surely the timeframe for viewing dissident political development is since the late 1960s, not since 1994, or 1997. This makes their failure to develop any serious political programme even more risible. After all, we are repeatedly told that the nationalist voters of NI are the most sophisticated and aware voters in Europe. And we were told for so long what a politically aware and socially revolutionary force the various nationalist terrorist groups were. So how then can we explain the execrable political policies of the dissident provos? Other than that all the stuff about the political nature of provisionalism
    was lies, and that at heart it was for very many an acrid devotion to militarism and sectarianism.

  • lib2016

    There is and always has been huge support for the GFA amongst nationalists and all present nationalists including the SDLP are republicans. If the British continue prevaricating and postponing it’s implementation then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the physical force option being endorsed by a much wider public than has ever done so before but that’s at least five years away.

    For the present we can only hope that the British do something right for once in Ireland, even if it’s only in their leaving of it.

  • BeardyBoy

    The present British policy is following a typical path – after the violence appeasement, followed by stagnation, followed by insurrection, followed by appeasement and on the cycle goes.

  • Secur O’Crat

    Somevery good posts here. Beardy, you are right but each bounce of the ball is less than the one before it. The dissidents lost the Civil war, the Provos lost to the Sticks, the IRSPs were gunned down by the Sticks and hounded by the cops etc etc. Being a dissident means you might come up with a new strategyu, eg shoot judges, cops or Prods. So the forces come down very heavily on you.
    The RIRA were inflitrated, shopped on by the Provos etc. Omagh was a set up as it got the Provos off the hook, allowijng them to “condemn” violence. Whither the RIRA? Washed up and lending legitimacy to the Provos.
    Also, the flow of immigration weakens the one Ireland objective. It seems a little pointless when everyone is from Poland, Slovakia or China.
    John East Belfast: Interesting input but the Irish Republic tradion sings from a different huymn shee,t the same one they asang from in the 1940s when Harry White, Danny Morrison’s unle, was runing loose and Brave Tom Wiliams and Joey the Tout Cahill shot the copper:

    Fill up once more, we’ll drink a toast
    To comrades far away.
    No nation upon earth can boast
    Of braver hearts than they.
    (II) And though they sleep in dungeons deep,
    Or flee, outlawed and banned,
    We love them yet, we can’t forget
    The Felons of Our Land!

    In boyhoods bloom and manhoods pride,
    Foredoomed by alien laws,
    Some on the scaffold proudly died
    For holy Irelands cause,

    And, brothers, say shall we today
    Unmoved. like cowards, stand
    Whilst traitors shame, and foes defame
    The Felons of Our Land?

    Some in the convicts dreary cell
    Have found a living tomb
    And some unseen, unfriended, fell
    Within the dungeons gloom!

    Yet what care we, although it be
    Trod by a ruffian band
    God bless the clay where rest today
    The Felons of Our Land!

    Let cowards sneer and tyrants frown
    Oh, little do we care,
    A felons caps the noblest crown
    An Irish head can wear!

    And every Gael in Innisfail
    Who scorns the serfs vile brand.
    From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
    The Felons of Our Land.
    Good sentiments but not quite the Celtic Tiger.