After the trouncing of dissident Republicans…

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.

And finally:

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.

  • kokane

    Orthodox republicans will be disappointed like orthodox unionsists and will sound off.

    For the rebels to have hollowed out the union ( police, courts,cross border bodies etc ) from within and have 50% of the power is not fairly reflected in the remark “that republicanism rather than the Northern state is the failed entity of six county politics”.

  • paschal

    A united Ireland will come about but not as a result of physical force republicanism. The European Union, over which the people of Ireland have even less control than the British state at its strongest will hasten the demise of the border. Glogbal ecomnomics, not ideology, won the war against those of a loosely progressive nature which included the various stands of republicanism,nationalism ,socialism and the communist movements.The key to progress is the new alliances that can be made without the contrived sectarianism that split the left in the 2oth century. The border will be an irrelevance in living memory. Both Dublin and Belfast oulets of ikea open soon and it is these developments and the individualism being fostered on both sides of the border that will hasten its demise. Those who maintained the border for so long didnt do so as a point of principle. After all we all know it is who contols the process rather than the process itself that determine the direction of that process.

  • Henry 07

    I don’t agree with the terms of the debate as he suuggests them but I credit him with facing up to the need for a debate in the circles he is addressing.

  • jake

    [edited by moderator – play the ball not the man]!
    what i find extraordinary about you chucks is your arrogance and your total ignorance of the history of revolutionary movements in europe and elsewhere which decided to participate in the system they were previously pledged to overthrow and replace – every single one of them said they would join the system to change it but in the end the only thing that was changed was themselves – their politics became diluted in the search for votes, their leaders got used to the comfortable life, their membership changed in quality and commitment (eg mary lou) and bit by bit they came to like the system they were supposed to hate – it is an immutable law of politics and why should the provos be any exception? answer: they won’t be.

  • kokane


    No need for abuse my good man.

    I did not say that the current scenario would lead to a United Ireland or any ‘collapse’ – but that the union had been hollowed out – and half the control of the local government given to people with allegiance to another state. Clearly Ulster is not quite Kent?

  • Jake,

    Your “analysis” is not exclusive to us “chucks” though, is it?

    The DUP’s belated acceptance of The Good Friday agreement commits them to fully participating in All-Ireland institutions. In other words, they are both recognising and participating in an institution that THEY were also supposed to hate.

    As for your other comment :

    ” their politics became diluted in the search for votes, their leaders got used to the comfortable life, their membership changed in quality and commitment”

    – If that doesnt apply also to The DUP, then I am Elvis…!

  • seanzmct

    “the absolute failure of armed struggle as a strategy for the removal of partition”

    The great tragedy in all of this is that it took so very long for SF and the Provos to abandon an inherently flawed strategy which put the north through so such suffering and communal polarisation.

    The bulk of IRA Volunteers were not laying their lives on line for a d’Hondted six county British statelet with Ian Paisley as First Minister.

    SF would do themselves and the rest of us a favour if they honestly confessed to the folly of the failed strategy of armed struggle and found in themselves the humility to express even a modicum of apology.

  • jake

    don’t disagree with any of this but it needs explaining:
    first the provos existed and won support not because of their republicanism but because they were catholic defenders – the anecdotal evidence is all over the place, people joined the provos not because they gave their allegiance to a united ireland (except rhetorically) but to get the ruc/loyalist boot off their necks – at its most extreme the provo position was that since the n.i. state was irreformable it had to pulled down but it was not a yearning to join with rest of ireland that motivated provos – in fact one could argue that there was a deep reservoir of resentment against the southern state for abandoning them in 1921 – i therefore dispute the notion that half the new stormont arangement consists of people who owe their allegiance elsewhere but rather they are people who have accepted the status quo, reformed to take into account catholic grievances – there is a dynamic here which will inevitably kick in – the more they work the system, the more their place in the sun is secured the less inclined they will be to change or want to change the status quo;

    as for the dup, and unionism in general, the same logic applies to them – their bigotry derives in part from their fear of being absorbed in an alien state but as catholics become more reconciled to the reformed northern state their bigotry will lose its edge – over time both unionism and nationalism will be stripped of much of what was previously their defined ideologies and n.ireland will become stabilised – so the dup will change in much the same way as will sinn fein;

    having said all that unionism has been deprived of the sort of victory that characterised that ideology pre-1972 – but the fact that unionism has emerged victorious is nonetheless undeniable – the provos have accepted the principle of consent (which incidentally governs cross-border institutions in way sunningdale didn’t); the ira has disarmed and ended its war, effectively admitting it failed, articles 2 & 3 have gone and the provos will soon fully accept the policing, criminal justice and prison systems – they haven’t donned sackcloth and ashes for sure but given the strategic goals outlined by the provos in 1970, they have been defeated and unionists have secured the union, albeit one unrecognisable in 1970!

  • Mayoman

    Jake, its all talk about ‘partial’ victories. The ‘war’ was fought to a stalemate where nobody won (outright!). To suggest that Dr No wanted ANY involvement with the Irish govt is laughable. He has to now, he lost. To suggest the IRA wanted to be ANY part of the british state is laughable, but they are, they lost. Or, they both partially won.

  • Tyrone Now

    Might look like that in Mayo mate but in reality unionists have won. There is less involvement of the Irish Govt in NI during devolution than during direct rule. So Paisley held out, got the Provos to disarm and to all intents disband.
    A United Ireland is as far away now as any time in our history.
    No wonder Paisley can make such generous remarks at Stormont and in Dublin (and on BBC TV)

  • The Dubliner

    “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.” – Anthony McIntyre

    That’s right on the money. But if you remove self-determination from the equation as McIntyre has done, what are you left with as political justification for PSF/PIRA violence? PSF/PIRA then becomes a militant nationalist protest movement and its violence becomes purely sectarian – indistinguishable from loyalist violence. The contempt that nationalists feel for loyalists should properly be felt by nationalists for nationalists (specifically, supporters of PSF/PIRA). So, you have two sectarian tribes both killing each other for the greater gain of their respective tribe and for no other purpose. It’s a very uncomfortable conclusion (and an unavoidable one) that McIntyre doesn’t state.

    Physical force republicanism in the north was never a workable strategy for achieving reunification. But that wasn’t its purpose, anyway – another conclusion McIntyre doesn’t state but which is implicit in his recognition that those who predominantly engaged in it in the north did so for the purpose of securing reforms. The British government could not legally withdraw until the society was normalised. It would not do so while unionists threatened civil war. And the Irish state would not accept the north under such conditions, anyway. Nothing could be achieved by PSF/PIRA’s campaign except the alienation of the unionist community, ensuring that they would never consider joining an Ireland that was tainted by PSF’s murderous and treasonous campaign of sectarian violence. Logically, all that was meant to come out of it was the political power of the sociopaths who orchestrated it.

    In a few generations, and with PSF marginalised, unionists may consider joining the south, but that will be down to the actions of the Dublin government and the citizens of the south, having very little (if anything) to do with the shenanigans of nationalists in the north. Those who are republican in the north should understand that they were always a tiny minority of republicans on this island since 87% of republicans live in the south. To that end, they should look to leadership from the Dublin government and forget their crackpot cults and deluded notions of a two-country socialist republic. Socialism is as dead as Paisley’s sex life – and republicanism in the south is uncontaminated by murderous schemes of PSF and that despicable ilk.

  • saenzmct

    The Dubliner is correct. What PSF/PIRA waged was a dirty sectarian little war which masqueraded at the time a struggle for national determination and which is now being revised by the day as having really been about a struggle for equality within the north.

    Those who supported the Sunningdale deal in 1974 are the ones who deserve the historical accolades not the PSF/PIRA and Paisleyite political knuckle-draggers who took so long to get back to the future at the cost of so many lives.

  • Cahal


    “To that end, they should look to leadership from the Dublin government and forget their crackpot cults and deluded notions of a two-country socialist republic. ”

    What exactly does that mean? Would you say administrations in Dublin have done *anything* at all to benefit Irish people in the north?

    SF may be a ‘crackpot cult’ as you put it, but there aren’t a whole lot of options for voting republicans in the north.

    The fact that Fianna Fail (and Fine Gael) don’t even organise outside the 26 says it all really.

  • Richard Dowling

    ”There is no strategy, either political or military, for ending partition” … for the very good reason that radical colonisation of the heart and soul involves forces far greater and persuasive than the military or the merely political allows. The trouble with the Provisional IRA campaign of terror was that it was just that. A mostly malign narrative imposed with triumphalist vigour, it succeeded it branding ordinary Prods as Brits (especially in the North), and dissenting Catholics (like myself) as West Brits (especially here in the South). Notice how the McCartney sisters were subject to the same pressure to conform and applaud the honeyed charm of the Sinn fein leadership at the Ard Fheis in Dublin immediately after the murder of their brother. And that is what colonisation of the heart is all about. The Chinese have a more ‘refined’ way of doing things … they make the family of the ‘guilty’ man pay for the bullets which are to be used in his execution.

  • Aquifer

    “no one likes armed missionaries.”

    Well spotted Tony.

    There is no republicanism outside people resolving their differences free from the influence of heriditary dominant classes, external powers, and religious elites. And that is the action at the casino at Stormont.

    A self regarding gaelic cultural separatism might have a use for murder as an instrument of systematic alienation, but the Irish peoples now have too much in common to lapse into such bloody narcissism.

  • Garibaldy

    To be pedantic on a Baker-esque scale, Robespierre said that quote in opposition to plans to launch a war he opposed, not after the war had started.

  • Wilde Rover

    Part of the problem was that republicanism was always intellectually crippled by that auld “Celtic Mists” anvil around its neck.

    Perhaps it’s time for northerners to take a serious look at what the SNP is at in Scotland.

    A Republic of Northern Ireland within the EU seems to be the only viable option for true northern republicanism, and it also resolves that vexing paradox of wanting to be in a United Ireland but not particularly liking those “abandoning Mexican bastards down south.”

    (Or, as a neighbour in Newry once told me when I moved into his estate when I lived there years ago, “We don’t like Free Staters around here.”)

    It is entirely possible that this would create a dynamic of its own.

    Freed from the Sword of Damocles that is the threat of a United Ireland, “Unionist” northerners (of the closet Northern Ireland Republican variety) finally would be able to tell “those English bastards” where to go.

    The island of Ireland in the EU: two votes good one vote bad.

  • Aaron McDaid

    Republicans can’t be equated directly with Loyalists based simply on the fact they were defending themselves mililatarily. There is nothing sectarian about taking a military campaign to combatants who are supporting a sectarian and violent statelet.

    The real issue is the extent to which they attacked civilians from “the other side”. Most loyalist paramilitaries pretty much unashamedly did this. Many republicans too. But it can’t be denied that many republicans wanted to direct their campaign solely against the military occupation and that they wanted to defend everybody from sectarianism. (I’m not in any way trying to excuse the traitorous actions of those so-called republicans who used IRA weapons for sectarian purposes)

    So by all means compare and contrast republicans and loyalists and discuss the extent to which they were sectarian, but it’s not just enough to say they were automatically both sectarian. IRA members were a varied bunch (just note all the splits!), and maybe loyalism too. For example, I would say the average British soldier on the ground wasn’t sectarian.

    So even if the SF leadership become just a non-republican minority lobby group, there will still be many genuine republicans and a new wave of new republicans. There votes will have to go somewhere and parties, perhaps new parties, will go for those votes.

  • Richard Gadsden

    [blockquote]A united Ireland will come about but not as a result of physical force republicanism. The European Union, over which the people of Ireland have even less control than the British state at its strongest will hasten the demise of the border.[/blockquote]

    There was a United Ireland before partition, but united as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (as was). This would be a United Ireland united as part of the European Union, which would, incidentally, also include Great Britain.

    I’m not sure this is what DeValera fought for.

  • The Dubliner

    “What exactly does that mean? Would you say administrations in Dublin have done *anything* at all to benefit Irish people in the north?” -Cahal

    For one, we haven’t bombed the northern province into a state of economic penury as PSF/PIRA did. Instead we have created a dynamic and successful economy that is the biggest selling point of Irish unity to unionists, along with creating a pluralist society that respects the equal rights of all of its citizens. We have also ensured that PSF/PIRA gained no legitimacy or support from the south in their sectarian campaign to ethnically cleanse the northern province of its protestant population. Further, we have consistently supported all attempts by constitutional nationalists to resolve the conflict by political means, ensuring that the British didn’t come to regard the conflict as a ‘war’ and consequently wipe out the sectarian scum who pretended that their terrorist campaign was a war instead of a civil dispute/protest movement. Some may regard that as a mistake, but I think it right that we opposed state murder of PIRA criminals. It should also be noted that PSF would be out of the political game if it wasn’t for the insistence of constitutional nationalists (the SDLP, particularly the influence of John Hume) and the Dublin government that a political settlement include them. That insistence wasn’t because PSF/PIRA deserved to be rewarded for murdering thousands for no purpose other than their own selfish sectarian and party political interests, but because it was recognised they would murder thousands more if a political settlement for nationalists was negotiated exclusively with constitutional nationalists instead of terrorist scum. Alas, crime does pay.

    The real game plan of Albert Reynolds and the Dublin government was to create a period of peace that would make it very difficult for PSF/PIRA to recommence their sectarian murder campaign once nationalists got a taste of normality. If the process could be dragged out for a few years, that would do it. No one actually expected it would go all the way to restoring Stormont.

    So, while PSF achieved nothing for the nationalist population except 30 years of misery and the removal of Articles 2 & 3 from the Irish constitution, the guarantee that the north would always remain under British rule as long as they majority of its residents wanted it to, and the destruction of the north’s economy (and the poverty of its citizens), the Dublin government played the only positive role among republicans in the duration of the civil strife. No need to thank us for that. 😉

    It’s true that PSF have been the main obstacle to Irish unity for the last 35 years and that they continue to be the main obstacle to Irish unity. Unionists will never pay heed to a party that murdered so many of their community for no purpose other than malice and sectarian gain. Since you now have to convince unionists to vote for a UI, you are severely handicapped by the nature of the beast you support. The arrogance of PSF in pushing convicted terrorists into ministerial roles isn’t lost on that community, but is rightly seen as a slap in the face to it. You won’t win friends and influence unionists in that manner, kid. But, ultimately, what the northern nationalists do in the political fish bowl of NI really doesn’t matter in the long run since they are powerless to influence change. It is the citizens of the south and the Dublin government who will determine it unity on the agenda and what form it will take. PSF and their ilk are just pissing in the wind. If republicans (the few there are in the north) want unity, then they need to influence the south to influence the unionists in the north. That is the only agent of constitutional change. But all anyone can do is persuade as the power to say yes or no now lies with the unionists (hello, PoC), so it’s going to be a process that few of us will see completed in our lifetimes – bar someone putting hallucinogens into the water on referendum day. Joint Authority was the last chance for Irish unity, but PSF scupper that option in favour of state jobs for the boys in Her Majesty’s administration.

  • Cahal

    Dubliner, your post was a bit confusing there.

    You obviously despise SF for their attempt to “ethnically cleanse the northern province of its protestant population”. THis type of language is usually used by the Love Ulster brigade.

    You may not believe it but there are many good people in SF whose only desire is to see a UI through purely peaceful means. Remember anybody below the age of thirty will have reached voting age and become politically active after the ‘conflict’ ended.

    I have to disagree with you; I believe Irish people in the north have a key role in advancing a UI, through whatever peaceful means are possible. Whether this is the SDLP or SF I really don’t care.

  • The Dubliner

    Yeah… I need to ease up on the venom, generally. I’ve been reprimanded by Mick Fealty on another thread for ad hominem vitriol.

    If you’re confused by that post it’s probably because I can’t decide if unionists can be persuaded about the virtues of Irish unity or if it all comes down to a sectarian headcount. There isn’t any data to base a definitive decision on.

    The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that a proposal regarding unity has to be put to the north’s citizens at some point. Since the detail of it is a matter for the Irish government and the citizens of the south, it is the south that needs to take the lead.

    I wasn’t referring to nationalists who don’t support PSF. The SDLP played a hugely important role in bringing PIRA’s violence to an end. In so far as PSF can be said to have a unity strategy at all, it seems to be in the form of making themselves as obnoxious as possible to unionists so that the alternative of Irish unity seem preferable.