A few days ago one of our regular commenters, Panchos Horse; asked me to analyse the current situation from a Republican perspective. At the time I though that it might be an interesting intellectual challenge but I have tried to look at this sort of thing before and have been attacked by republicans for not understanding. Anyhow here goes again. Complaints should also be directed to Panchos Horse.
For those who complain my blogs are too long a brief summary: In my view the there are short and medium term opportunities and potential pitfalls. The long term cannot be predicted.
Since the resumption of power sharing republicans have not had a litany of successes to crow about. Ruane has removed the 11 plus but it may come back from the dead; a sort of undead 11 plus. The other SF ministers have been relatively undistinguished, I mean that not as an insult but their departments have not had especially dramatic things to crow about possibly excepting Conor Murphys road building plans. They have, however, managed to avoid making an overt mess the way Ruane, Poots, Paisley junior and McGimpsey have.
Part of the problem is that day to day politics is just not as exciting as the negotiations were. The republican faithful may get bored with what they see as the administration of British rule (actually just normal government). This has been partly to blame, I suspect, for the resignation of Gerry McHugh; although as I have suggested before I always get the impression that republicans in Fermanagh are the most hard line and ideologically committed. I doubt the assorted new republican parties can make that much headway and I doubt that in the short term dissident republicans can create an organised terrorist campaign; whether or not the IRA itself will return to violence is a question I cannot answer from a republican position. Most regular readers will know what I think.
The assorted potential malcontents do, however, need to be kept happy and there have been a number of strategies: the cavalcade for Londonderry (okay I will call it Derry since it is a blog on republicanism), the episodes of symbols in Limavady and Banbridge. The recent episode over Farrell can be seen in a similar light but it was actually much cleverer than that. By now raising the issue of unionist symbols at Stormont, this opens up a whole new front in trouble making and hence, in things to demand to be changed. If acquiesced to this would reduce the general Britishness of Northern Ireland and even if the demands are not met other concessions might be gained instead. It was a well thought out idea and I guess if it benefits republicanism Ms. Farrell would be pleased whatever her views on Stormont. It gains media coverage for another youngish republican woman Jennifer McCann, it also keeps the appearance of momentum. Again, however, there is always the short term danger that some expect every republican wheeze to produce a victory. From a republican view point it is better to see themselves as besieging the castle of unionism. Each little attack may weaken the wall a little more and indeed weaken the defenders resolve (I actually disagree with both those points but I suspect it is a good way to analyse it as a republican). Using a similar analysis, republicans can point to the DUP dumping Paisley and the emergence of the TUV as examples of the fact that unionists are unhappy with republican gains. They can also present it as the danger of unionists rolling the process back unless vigilance (and the SF vote) is kept up.
In the short term then there are problems and opportunities. In the medium term it is the same. There is always the danger of the supporters loosing heart. What is needed is a way to ensure that republicans feel they are gaining more than unionists and yet keep alive the sense of being outsiders; still needing to push on towards the final goal. They need to be seen to work the system, use the system, benefit from the system yet not be of the system.
If McGuinness or any other Sinn Fein member became First Minister that would be a great boost yet care would need to be exercised to ensure that did not lead to the executive being collapsed by unionists. Maybe a case for magnanimity, letting a unionist be First Minister and repeatedly reminding them that you allowed them that? Maybe a rotating First ministership?
All this of course ignores the RoI. I cannot comment on it but I do think that they need to hold their current support yet dump some of the socialist baggage. That might loose less support than they think. Much SF support comes from the border regions and I doubt Monaghan, Louth and Donegal farmers are that wedded to socialism. I accept in Dublin it would be more of a problem.
In the longer term who knows. Maybe there will be an RC majority in Northern Ireland and maybe that majority will vote for a united Ireland. I think anyone who claims to be able to answer that question is deluding themselves. There are too many variables. Maybe also republicans will go back to violence. Even if current republicans were committed to non violence (something I personally do not believe); I have always maintained that the hatred and what are to an extent ethnic divisions (though I know we are all ethnically the same) will make violence resurface. If you do not believe me: look at Yugoslavia; look at how violence here has recurred frequently. In my view to say that future generations would never resort to violence is folly. Our children may well think of the romance of the rebellion and not the horror of its out workings (and yes that applies on both sides).
Overall I think the republican leadership have played their hand pretty well. They achieved a great deal from violence and even more from its ending. They may still gain concessions from disbanding the army council. Being nice to Paisley has bedded Stormont in and if it is collapsed it is unlikely that they will be seen as solely or even mainly responsible; they might well be seen as the innocent parties.
Can all this achieve their goal? Well it depends on what that is: demographics might do it for them. Of course as The Dubliner (I hope you are enjoying Israel) always observed they may want a lot more than merely a united Ireland and I very much doubt a 32 county socialist republic is possible. To get more concessions for their own side is probably possible. However, to make unionists want a united Ireland; I think is impossible for the current generation of the republican leadership. One of our family friends is about 10 years older than me and Elenwe. He is a border Protestant who maintains that but for the IRA there might well have a united Ireland. He may be correct. However, any chance of getting unionists to accept it, if by chance that was what republicans had wanted; that died when the IRA started their campaign. I genuinely think that when Adams talks about unionists being willing to accept a united Ireland may not understand that his friends killed that possibility when they started and I need not list the names by which they confirmed that ideas death. As I said in another blog: much too long the memories of Adams, McGuinness and their and their friends pasts; much too long the dark nights for unionists in the likes of South Fermanagh to recall what they had done, much too recent the pain and much too significant for unionists throughout Northern Ireland.
Well Panchos Horse I tried my best. There you go.