Anthony McIntyre argues that the overwhelming democratic success of Sinn Fein constitutes a major challenge to the thinking of what might now be called ‘the Republican fringe’.
Since the onset of partition Fianna Fail has been the most popular party in the island. Politically, republicanism never mounted any serious challenge to Fianna Fail hegemony. It is even less likely to so do so against ‘Provisional Fianna Fail’ in the North whose adroit nurturing of sectarian nationalism secures for it a following that republicanism at its most popular failed to attain.
Moreover, republicans were quickly disabused of their illusions if they were tempted to militarily challenge a Fianna Fail government. It will be no different for any republican who may in their finite wisdom opt to wage armed struggle against a government which contains Sinn Fein. Critics can debate all they wish the extent to which they feel Sinn Fein has sold out and been responsible for a divagation of the republican project. Even with Sinn Fein proclaiming, a la General Douglas MacArthur, ‘we are not retreating – we are advancing in another direction’, that very direction is immensely popular as confirmed by the electorate two weeks ago.
It has, he argues, been a damning indictment of physical force Republicans: “As the French revolutionary Robespierre discovered far too late, ‘no one likes armed missionaries’.” He continues:
For politicist republicans, it should be recognised that republicanism rather than the Northern state is the failed entity of six county politics. Since partition there has been no effective republican challenge, as traditionally understood, to the existence of the Northern State. The Provisional campaign was based less on widespread republican sentiment against the British presence, than it was based on popular nationalist resentment towards the British reinforcing of unionist created inequality.
The energy that sustained the Provisional IRA was not primarily a response to the British being here, but to the manner in which the British behaved while here. The difference did not go unnoticed by the British, who realised that they did not have to leave Ireland, but to merely change their behaviour while in Ireland and the wind would be taken out of Provisional sails.
There is no republican strategy, either political or military, for ending partition; only the terms dictated by the British — consent of a majority in the North, which Sinn Fein long ago dismissed as a partitionist fudge. Republicans facing the cold blast of a post-republican world need to consider what micro contributions they can make to the smatterings of radical politics that battle to survive in a conservative political environment. Expending effort in rebuilding the grand macro republican project will only take radical energy down a cul de sac called futility. To kiss the corpse is not to breathe life into it.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty