Kathleen has already given a brief taster of the Irish Republican Forum for Unity public meeting held in Toome last Thursday. I got along and wanted to blog this much earlier but had to nip off for a carbon footprint expanding weekend away. Ill be revisiting some of the participants in the future.
Its a long running joke that the first item on the agenda of any republican meeting is the split and thats what makes me all the more interested in covering the Forum for Unity. Its unusual in republican circles and particularly dissenting republican circles to see unity as a primary concern.
Adds: minor edit to text while we seek further clarification from source.
At present republican groups dissenting from the pro-Stormont Agreement line include groups ranging from traditionalist Republican SF, to the supposedly Marxist IRSP, to the Im not sure about the ideology beyond sovereignty 32CSM, to trendy leftist agitprop junkies eirigi, to the newest group Republican Network for Unity (RNU).
Three of the groups have come together under the banner Irish Republican Forum for Unity the IRSP, 32CSM and RNU. RSF wont join any broad front on ideological grounds being supporters of the true government and all that guff and erigi too seem to be traipsing a route of ideological purism that means theyre not for joining either (I reckon they are just too feared of being near men that might be near men with guns).
As Id heard IRFU (not the rugby guys) had been getting good crowds at meetings in Derry, when they got a bit closer to my stomping ground I decided to go along and try to find out who is involved, what theyre at and do they have any plans.
When we arrived at the venue it was already filling up, mostly with men (there couldnt have been more than 5 women at this meeting) and by the time it kicked of there were between 150-200 gathered across a wide age range.
The meeting was chaired by former shinner and current Forum member Lawrence ONeill. He was joined on the platform by Tony Catney (RNU), Francie Mackey (32CSM) and Tomas Gorman (IRSP).
Tony Catney, a former shinner, was very much on my radar and as Id been hanging about in éirígí circles and people close to him had put it the public domain that he was declined membership of that group so I was intrigued to hear him speak under this new RNU banner. Francie Mackie was clearly someone I knew of but this was my first time to see what others would portray as a big bad wolf in the flesh. Tomas Gorman was a pure leftie and Im a sad case for that rhetoric.
So we kicked off with an introduction to this eclectic group – some associated with standing armed wings, others with stood down armed wings and some that dont have an armed wing (unless we believe SF briefings – Ill get to that later)
The chair for the night; Lawrence ONeill
The Irish Republican Forum for Unity was formed 6 months ago and started holding public meetings in Derry 2 months ago.
Lawrence addressed the question early of are you armed? (Something he undid right at the end by encouraging anyone that may be making rockets in the garage to keep at it) with the line; we are armed with a potent weapon that cant be confiscated or decommissioned, that weapon is a republican umbrella
He went on to say the meeting was about addressing Irish reunification but while Id not like to get hung up on other matters, I can think of a few bastards Id like to hang up.
Marion Price then took the floor and Kathleen has covered that.
So then it was over to the first speaker proper; Tony Catney of the RNU.
Tony stated that the words of republicans were coming back to haunt them. The GFA is not a Republican document now they argue for it like it is. They argue on terms set for them by Unionism. Republicans can raise any issue and have it dealt with, as long as Unionists dont disagree.
He asked how giving a vote for SF promotes unity and said those that disagree need to be on the streets doing something about it.
Then Francie Mackie and Im not a fan of his speech delivery wooden wouldnt be in it.
He started off by encouraging grassroots engagement via the Republican Unity Forum.
He then went back to pre-98 to suggest the consensus of a British led agenda had already been reached at that point well before SF entered any kind of open pubic discussions. He said there had never been a place for debate within republicanism when everything was on the table, leaders knew this and they adopted a poacher turned gamekeeper attitude to disagreement from within the ranks.
He then moved on to discuss future strategy and suggested the forum shouldnt be a talking shop. He said previously dissenting republicans had missed opportunities to build support around key issues by being fractured.
He went on to suggest he was not hung up on holy grails
Then bizarrely a mobile phone interfered with the PA and we got a blast of Only fools and horses – gotta say it spoke to me
Then over to Tomas Gorman (I liked him)
He described the GFA and political arrangements as merely a more sophiscated sectarian head counting exercise. He said failing to win battles on an IA or a Bill of Rights was not what republican struggle was about. He said weve ended up with pro-capitalist politicians implementing EU and British policy at one remove.
He reminded people of Paisley saying he did smash them and stated every demand of unionists over the ast 80 years continues to be met.
He summed up with:
To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, these were my means.
Then we hit the floor and this was some craic at stages.
Do you think letting prisoners out on license was agreed by SF to ensure control over their actions once outside?
How do you let immigrants and Diaspora know of dissenting views?
Then a big debate on if the Forum should attack SF positions consensus was to promote own views and challenges as appropriate. One what seemed like a genuine shout from the crwod to shoot Mcguiness.
It was raised from the floor about absentee landlords (claims that in West Belfast they were mostly/often SF/IRA connected) profiting from the poorest
Enoch Powell was quoted on ignoring your enemy- I assume this was a SF reference
Then bizarrely a suggestion from the floor to vote for Jim Allister as tactical
Ive too many notes, thats enough for now but too finish off:
Tony Catney seemed to infer a senior member of SF (I assumed Gerry Kelly from his P&J reference) was briefing SF/provos he was part of an armed group intending to assassinate Adams and other senior Provo figures.
[off to bed, Im just off a plane. Sorry I didnt write it up better. Any complaints do it yourself next time]