In Thursday’s Irish Times Fionnuala O’Connor made an interesting observation.
Martin McGuinness called the dissidents traitors, won applause in the wider world, and has been careful not to use the word again. Is that because too many of his own colleagues are sensitive to the charge that participation in a Stormont gridlocked by the DUP is a betrayal of the republican dead? Last weekend McGuinness traded down to impostors who are impersonating the IRA, and inserted a deft reminder that his industrial wage is the same as that of his driver and of Sinn Féin staff at Stormont.
Meanwhile in the real world, 400,000 people are unemployed in the south. Where, in the inter-republican argument, is the case for a nationalised banking system? Where is the policy for state investment in the manufacturing industry? Whatever happened to the concept of cooperatives and mutual help in rural society? Instead we have competing claims on the quality and legitimacy of one organisations historical pedigree over anothers. It may not be best religious practice but it is time for Sinn Fein to concede the argument and walk away.
Otherwise the row will drift into a republican civil war with Britain on the side of Sinn Fein. Britain has never lost a war in Ireland. It will not lose this one. Dissidents will be imprisoned and probably killed, giving gainful employment to a new generation of ballad-writers and graveside orators. That will present Sinn Fein with a won war and a lost argument.
There are more demanding political responsibilities, such as addressing the crisis in capitalism.
Like all religions, these two sects of republicanism offer little in terms of material benefit in this life.
True happiness can be achieved only in the heaven of a united Ireland. In the meantime, we continue to suffer in their six-county purgatory where, for many, a significant part of that suffering is listening to inane arguments while the real world passes us by.
Cynicism about politics among nationalists in particular, and hopelessness in the teeth of recession, could threaten the votes Sinn Féin needs to pull out next month, North and South. Condemnation of the dissident micro-groups may be necessary.
But it is no substitute for policies and practice that make sense in Stormont and the Dáil.
If only they didn’t feel the need to perpetuate those myths..