Dealing with dissidents: we’re all in it together

“What Was the Message Behind the Real IRA Bomb?” asks Finola Meredith for the benefit of Time magazine’s readers worldwide. No clear answer comes from her sources. But is the question really so hard to answer? The aim surely, was first to provoke precisely this sort of speculation in the news agenda. The accompanying belittling comment obliges the dissidents with  continuing challenge to feed off.

Perhaps that can’t be helped. But three other approaches should be tried.  First,the precedent of the IRA cannot be evaded and should be argued through. Eamonn McCann’s case the Derry Journal after the Da Vinci’s bomb is worth quoting at some length.

“It was “totally inappropriate” that there should be a bombing in Derry on October 5th.

“This was the date when the civil rights movement first brought masses out onto the streets to oppose injustice. That’s a valuable legacy to look back to. Planting a bomb at Da Vincis under cover of darkness is the exact opposite.

“The Real IRA give the same justification for their campaign as the Provisional IRA did for 30 years. But a strategy based on shooting and bombing was a distortion of the legacy of October 5th when it was the Provos who were carrying it out, and it’s still totally wrong.

And Eamonn turns to Sin Fein with his clinching point.

“Those who try to argue that paramilitary violence was justified up to the moment when they themselves ceased doing it are confusing the issue. Condemnation of the Real IRA on that basis has been unhelpful and unconvincing.

 A weakness of Eamonn’s case is that his vision of workers’ solidarity is even less likely to be realised than a united Ireland. Solidarity among democrats is a better substitute,  our second option.

 The need to tackle dissidents is everybody’s business. We can all see that SF are on weak polemical ground. It’s perfectly apparent that although they have the special access to the dissidents that intimacy and tradition gives them, they cannot deal with them on their own, now that summary justice is being replaced by the conventional variety . The very term ” dissident” implies an orthodoxy of which SF is the guardian. The different label of “rejectionist” (of the Agreements) would recognise that responsibility is collective and involves us all.

It would  also help  if other Assembly parties would fully recognise  the new beginning SF has made and go easy on casting up about the past. Without overblowing it,  the dissidents phenomenon presents a basic challenge to the whole system.  

Third, law enforcement  needs public support  which should not be withdrawn at the first mistake.  Remedy is now available.   

Building  solidarity  is not the other guy’s business.  Stretching hands across the divide with tiny gestures like going to a GAA match  is easy to  underrate  but they emphasise civility and solidarity and help create a shared idea of citizenship. It would  be a great pity if  solidaritywere neglected by quick polemical minds eager to score points in an increasingly irrelevant game.  

Powersharing and the rest of the deals struck in 1998 and 2006 marks the fundamental difference with all other dates from 1916  onward. Only when rejectionists see that sectarian divisions are being consistently managed in the wider interest of the whole community and political behaviour responds will they finally lose whatever credibility they hold today. The vision of Yeats’ great poem The Second Coming” written in 1919 is there to haunt us still.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London