Totally Useless Armchair Strategists..?

Sinn Fein really needs to tell its armed critics that the struggle for a united Ireland was abandoned because there was no strategy either armed or otherwise to secure it. Moreover, that the activities the party is now involved in are designed to gain a better deal for Northern Irish Catholics under British rule.

So wrote dissenting republican Anthony McIntyre on Friday. The day beforehand, Newton Emerson, from the other side of the political fence agreed. And, while both are veteran critics of Sinn Fein, neither sees the dissidents’ military campaign as likely to succeed. More likely it’s doomed – although it’s still a fairly clear, easily understood and simple strategy. Just destined to failure. And elsewhere, the DUP is in the driving seat and being careful not to rock the boat, to mix metaphors badly.

So where now for the republican project? Mainstream republicanism is now part of an establishment and is wedded to politics – yet SF’s political strategy for uniting Ireland seems more elusive and illusionary now than ever before. At the ard fheis, Adams pointed to a drive to unite the Irish diaspora behind a campaign for a UI. ‘Unionist outreach’ has been barely visible, perhaps occasionally contributing to warmer relations, but is unlikely to result in votes, either in elections or a referendum. So is that it? I guess many republicans have invested too much trust in SF to let go, but it seems more like blind faith these days. Or perhaps the pleasure is in the chase, and not the catch, with fuzzy aspiration replacing the zeal of old. Read the keynote speeches from the ard fheis; the Assembly seems less and less a means to an end, and looks more and more like an end in itself.

Which is just fine for virtually everyone (except republican dissidents and the Jim Allister cult following), but it shouldn’t be confused with a master plan for re-unification.

So does SF’s strategy really lie in tatters? If not, then what exactly is it? And if it does exist, then why is a naturally suspicious and distrusting unionism so unconcerned? Beard-stroking platitudes can only cut it for so long. It’s going to have to be a helluva speech next Sunday, Gerry…Newton Emerson’s article:

Dissident republicans have ?no strategy? for uniting Ireland. This was the standard response Sinn Fein trotted out yet again after Monday?s coordinated disturbances.

In fact, the dissidents have exactly the same strategy Sinn Fein had until at least 1994 although we are far too sophisticated to mention that now.

The dissidents are attracting people back to Sinn Fein?s old strategy because Sinn Fein does not appear to have a new strategy although we are far too sophisticated to mention that either.

Over the past 15 years, most people have finessed the constitutional issue down to the point where mentioning a united Ireland at all is akin to breaking wind in church.

If the dissidents have brought any new tactic to republican strategy, it is their willingness to blow a raspberry at the congregation.

Sinn Fein did once have a post-ceasefire strategy for uniting Ireland.

The details are debatable but a rough outline can still be discerned from the wreckage.

After softening unionism up with a bad-faith approach to the Good Friday Agreement, the coup de grace would be delivered by the 2001 census, which was projected to show an imminent Catholic majority.

The first of the agreement?s septennial border polls could thus be demanded as early as 2002, commencing a countdown to unity.

Sinn Fein would then turn its attention south, aiming for cabinet posts. Ministries would be coordinated on both sides of the border to create de facto all-Ireland governance.

Gerry Adams would have been nominated for the Irish presidency in 2011 and a second or third border poll would have been timed for the final triumph in 2016.

Failing that, the next generation of republicans could crack open the IRA arsenal and go back to ?doing what they do best? as senior figures assured the faithful at numerous graveside orations.

Sinn Fein has been known to deny that this was the gist of Tuas, its Totally Unarmed Strategy.

Sinn Fein also denies that Tuas actually stood for Tactical Use of Armed Struggle. But whatever Sinn Fein?s strategy was, it has clearly gone horribly wrong.

The 2001 census showed a majority of Catholics among children but not enough Catholics to deliver a Catholic majority overall, perhaps ever.

Unionism survived the carefully plotted implosion of the UUP and is probably well rid of it.

International opprobrium over the Robert McCartney murder and the Northern Bank robbery forced the IRA off the stage in 2005.

Denied the whiff of sulphur, Gerry Adams merely stank in the 2006 Irish general election. The last deadline to time a border poll before 2016 has expired.

But the most incredible failure of Sinn Fein?s united-Ireland strategy has been the failure to adapt it to circumstances.

In particular, Sinn Fein should have seized on Ian Paisley?s emergent Ulster nationalism during his year as first minister.

Instead, it spent a year planning a stand-off with Peter Robinson.

Gerry Adams often talks about ?the logic? of political positions.

The logic of Mr Robinson?s position, as he inherited Ian Paisley?s crown, was that he could not back down under any circumstances.

The dissidents must have drawn great strength from Sinn Fein?s ensuing humiliation.

It is notable how Sinn Fein and the dissidents still use the terms ?ending partition? and ?British withdrawal? interchangeably, while also insisting that unionists are not British.

There is no logic in this position either. If unionists are not British, then partition and the British presence are not the same thing, even if ending them are steps on the same road.

A once-in-a-lifetime chance to develop this difference opened up in mid-2007, when Ian Paisley declared himself ?a proud Ulsterman and a proud Irishman? and blamed the Troubles on ?British betrayal?.

Why was this opportunity to build a united Ireland via Northern Ireland squandered?

Sinn Fein has dropped enough principles in its time to drop the rhetoric on ?partitionism?.

It has stolen enough of the SDLP?s clothes to rework John Hume?s ?post-nationalist? vision. But still the only united Ireland it will contemplate, when it publicly contemplates it at all, is a 32-county republic declared from the Hill of Tara by President Adams the First, flanked by weeping women, jubilant youths and a chorus of harp-playing virgins. The gap between this fantasy and reality is where the dissidents flourish.

So we are back to the politics of the burning barricade, which is real enough for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

If it is Sinn Fein?s united Ireland or nothing, some degree of nihilism is inevitable.

  • “the Jim Allister cult following”

    Please elaborate, BG. Are mind altering substances involved? Have you got a Totally Useless Armchair Strategy for dealing with the Branch Jimiam sect?

  • dub

    why are so many non republicans so concerned with sf’s united ireland strategy? It is a wonder to behold all these unionists, republican dissidents, british tories and 26 county nationalists write an endless stream of articles with the subtext that sf are traitors, incompetent liars who have cruelly deceived their followers etc etc…

    SF strategy is to make ni, the new orange and green “state”, work. Britain is just the financier. An orange and green “state” that works is irish republicanism in action. This “state” or semi autonomous region will intersect more and more with the Dublin run state to the south. Britain will continue to pay the subsidies. Perhaps a strong indigenous economy will develop. If it does it will do so with strategic cooperation with Dublin. A bond of trust and mutual respect is being built up with the ulster nationalist dissenter tradition in Ulster. That too is irish republicanism in action. the orange church of ireland british unionist tradition is in ruins. A great RESULT for irish republicanism. Becoming clearer now why every reactionary of every creed and stripe on this island and beyond is using the recent murders to attack sf who had nothing to do with them….

  • Gael gan Náire

    Young people attracted to the dissendent message have to ask themselves the question …

    Why does anti United Ireland after anti-united Ireland continually condemn the dissedents actions but boost their analysis?

    Why is it important for commentators to denigrate Sinn Féin even at the price of boosting those on a violent course.

    Think about it – what motivates them?

    Stamping your feet and wishing really reallyhard is not going to get a United Ireland.

  • Gael gan Náire

    after anti-united Ireland *commentator* continually

  • Scaramoosh

    “Sinn Fein really needs to tell its armed critics that the struggle for a united Ireland was abandoned because there was no strategy either armed or otherwise to secure it. Moreover, that the activities the party is now involved in are designed to gain a better deal for Northern Irish Catholics under British rule.”


    McIntyre knows full well that many of his former colleagues are the driving force behind the dissident movement. They had a better angle on the strategy behind the armed struggle than most. The fact they have decided to attempt to resurrect it, is not dependent on what Sinn Fein may or may not say.

    Sinn Fein has embraced the democratic process; what is McIntyre’s alternative? Sadly, his writing seems to be centred around finding a solution to the fact that he personally wasted thirty years of his life. Time to let to, perhaps?

  • Scarecrow

    ‘Unionist outreach’ was never more visible than on Saturday when a leading loyalist from Ballymoney who works at Wrightbus praised Sinn Féin in the area and slammed the Unionist parties for not doing enough to help the working-class Protestants. The fact that loyalism is not reacting to the recent attacks is indicative of how succesful unionist outreach has been and will continue to be.

  • ArchiePurple

    Belfast Gonzo wrote: ‘Unionist outreach’ has been barely visible, perhaps occasionally contributing to warmer relations…’

    Yes….Unionist outreach….what a farce that was….Martina Anderson in charge [convicted felon]…just the sort of person to engage the Unionist who never threw a stone during the Troubles. She spoke to those that her cohorts spoke to anyway, when they were dividing up the areas for the various rackets that went on for years…namely the UDA and UVF fellow travellers and terrorists.

    But lo and behold the ‘boul’ Martina is back in harness….the nonentity that replaced her was never seen nor heard from, but moves are afoot in Londonderry to get ‘Unionists to a meeting’ to see how they can become more involved in the affairs of the city.

    This follows on from an ILEX Initiative [the Regeneration body for the city], who hosted a big conference in Donegal [of all places] and only had two Prods in attendance [two middle of the road community activists]. Martina has now engaged one of these two to be her’recrutiing sergeant’ as she rides on back of ILEX having a meeting with Protestant community workers last week, as she attempts to ‘woo the Prods’ into engaging with her, as she feigns an interest in their welfare.

    She will probably get a few DUPes, a smattering of ‘ex-combatants’, weak, lily livered community activists with paramilitary backgrounds, but the decent Unionists/Protestants have long seen through her antics and will not be anywhere near her pow-wow..

    When Martina and her terrorist friends make full apologies for their crimes against humanity and their wholesale butchering of Protestants, then decent folk may engage with her and her kind, but as of now, Sinn Fein / IRA cab paddle their own leaky canoe.

  • padraic

    While McIntyre’s comments are invariably fascinating, insightful and expressed with exceptional clarity he doesn’t seem to offer an alternative to Sinn Féin’s strategy other than, perhaps, to engage in some sort of passive resistance with British rule in the north. I could be wrong but that’s the message I get when I read his articles.

    I don’t expressly support Sinn Féin but at least they have faced up to the fact that, now that there is absolutely no excuse for violence in the name of Irish republicanism, Irish nationalists need to participate in governing the 6 counties. As unpalatable as administering British rule in Ireland is to many nationalists like myself, we simply don’t have another option while a majority in the north wish to remain within the UK. To ignore the fact that we must have a strong voice in government and to choose to boycott those institutions that facilitate this participation would, once again, leave northern Irish nationalists voiceless, marginalised and exposed to the whims of whatever brand of ultra-Protestant fundamentalism is in vogue at the time in question. All this just goes to show the genius of the visionary that is John Hume.

  • The Continuity John O’Connell

    We haven’t gone away you know. Nevertheless, we remain committed to our cessation of hostilities.

  • zzz


  • Ingram

    Ding Dong

  • No Such Thing As An Ulster Scot

    “their wholesale butchering of Protestants”

    Yawn….are you still on that kick?

  • Joe

    Catholic majority is a virtual certainty within 20 years. I’ll take any odds you like Newton.

  • Grassy Noel

    As per Scaramoosh, McIntyre’s suggestion is akin to asking an adult to sit a child down and explain to them there is no Santa Claus.

    However, the kid in this case is not a kid, but a fully grown adult who knows as much as the adult.