A lot has been written on the claimed apolitical nature of rioting in Ardoyne and allegations many/most of those involved were motivated by thuggery, anti-social behaviour and sectarianism.
Like a lot of those commenting, I wasn’t there and am in no position to fully judge who was doing what, why or through whatever motivation.
However, as former IRA members joined the queues to lambast the young people at the forefront of the violence I picked up ‘Voices from the Grave’ and reread pages 19 & 20.
Over a few brief lines Brendan Hughes describes a journey from raw sectarian anger in 1969;
People’s blood was up; they were angry and it was decided that Protestant homes should be attacked. Around a hundred to a hundred and fifty men were heading towards Malt Street…
That quickly lead to him and a small group of others involved in riots being head-hunted to join the IRA;
…by this stage I had a bit of a reputation of being a hard nut; I was able to fight…..and I was then approached by [an IRA member]..
…I think there was twelve of us at the time
From then on the book detailed a life dedicated to increasing involvement in the IRA and politicisation. A large group of people initially involved in outpourings of sectarian anger were whittled down to a core from which a small number of IRA volunteers emerged (with at least one having a long lasting and highly effective commitment to military action he passed on to others).
As we look at the youth and numbers involved in the Ardoyne riots it is worth considering Hughes IRA path started from a similar situation with similar numbers. It resulted in him and that handful of others being recruited to the IRA and embarking on an increasingly dedicated and violent path with all that later entailed.
Of course the conditions in the north are nowhere near as conflicted as those in 1969 and the potential to recruit from conflicts with the state/Unionism are limited in frequencey and geographical spread but history points towards such opportunities, when they occur, being fully utilised by armed force republicanism. With every recruit comes the option to extend, expand and fuel a campaign. Riot situations can and will be used to identify those that will go that bit further, take the risks and put their and others lives beneath the needs of a ’cause’.
Many across the media and constitutional life in the north seek to address what happened in Ardoyne, Lurgan and elsewhere as purely criminal problems demanding a policing/judicial response but maybe a glance at the books on shelves might indicate something more is needed.
For constitutional republicanism (or nationalism) and non-armed struggle republicanism surely it demands a focus on interacting with and guiding these young people willing to fight before others test if they are open to direction into armed struggle? If they are open to radicalisation and politicisation mustn’t that be pursued before those with guns?
Unless, along with abandoning those who may riot for recreational reasons those with a possibility of being politicised are left solely to the influences of the recruiting sergeants in armed organisations?
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