For decades, or indeed centuries, the British sought to criminalise the Irish Republican cause, to portray Ireland’s revolutionary movements as little more than criminal collectives, self-serving organisations driven by greed, avarice and violence. In recent years, during the latter half of the conflict in the north-east of our island nation, the British and their allies took the old acronym “the RA” (Republican Army) and transformed it into “the RAfia” a spin on the term “Mafia”. It was of course untrue, just another weapon in an ongoing propaganda war but it seems that contemporary Republicans, in the ironies of ironies, are now determined for it to come true.
How else would one describe the events of the last five years and the obvious convergence of Irish revolutionary politics with the country’s illicit underworld? Minor organisations like the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) have been assimilated almost entirely into Ireland’s crime-networks; indeed they have become a network of their own. That is not to deny that genuine and committed Republicans exist amongst its membership or supporters but the grouping is hopelessly compromised, beyond any reform or saving (if that was even desirable). Those who remain committed to the CIRA remain committed to murder and criminality not freedom and unity. They are simply narco-terrorists with all that the term implies. Much the same can be said of the so-called New Irish Republican Army (NIRA), the organisation which arose from the merger of the Real IRA, RAAD and various independent Republican activists. Despite the much-publicised attempts to carry out what is euphemistically termed “house-cleaning” it remains riddled with criminals and their associates. If ever a case was required to illustrate the dangers of mixing politics and crime – even at the level of so called “taxation” – the Real IRA and its successor organisation are it (though frankly how any Republican worthy of the name could be part of the faction which brought mayhem and destruction to the Irish town of Omagh is beyond me. Are war criminals now passing as revolutionaries?). Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓnaÉ) which professed to above such criminality is itself now at the centre of numerous accusations of malfeasance, though many as yet remain unproved.
The simple facts are these. Since 1998 the various groupings under the umbrella of the Republican Resistance (the so-called Dissidents) have killed – murdered – more Irish men, women and children than the very Occupation Forces they are supposedly fighting against. They have inflicted horrendous violence upon each other and upon the uninvolved. They have – and this most reprehensibly of all – provided a mechanism by which Ireland’s criminal underworld has become ever more violent, ever more technically assured of itself when it comes to everything from bomb-making to eluding forensic detection. When Republicans of any organisation or allegiance are demonstrably worse than that which they oppose then they are no longer worthy of the name of Republican. They have stripped themselves of that right.
All of which leads me to an article in the Irish Times featuring an interview with Dominic Óg McGlinchey, the son of the late leader of the INLA, Dominic McGlinchey (who’s own assassination – and internecine conflict within the INLA and between it and the IPLO – foreshadowed what was to happen when Republicans and criminals became uneasy bedfellows. But was anyone willing to learn the lesson?). I strongly recommend a read as it spells out many of the criticisms coming from within the broad Republican community, from those not aligned to Sinn Féin or any other organisation.
No one is arguing that Irish Republicans need cease to be Irish Republicans. SF has taken its path under Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and arguably used the allied military and political successes of the 1969-2005 armed struggle to make considerable progress towards the reunification of our island nation. However an honourable compromise is not the end point, it is merely a staging point in that ongoing journey, one that Republicans of all hues need to play a constructive part in. If Sinn Féin is now seen as being reluctant to force the pace of progress then others need step forward. That does not necessitate a renewed armed struggle, nor does it require a rejection of armed struggle. Revolutionary warfare is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. The British Occupation of the north-eastern part of our country can be resisted, opposed, by other means: political, social, cultural and linguistic. The final destruction of the last administrative remnant of the British colony on our island nation can be accomplished – must be accomplished – by means other than simply military ones. It is only when such mechanisms of resistance and liberation have been exhausted, when they have proved themselves to be futile, that one may legitimately resort to armed struggle as the final option of last resort. Not first.
Are the appeals to the Republican traditions and rhetoric of times long past still valid? Are 19th or 20th century solutions workable for 21st century challenges? Or does a 21st century Ireland require a 21st century republicanism, a revolutionary vision re-imagined? As Ó Conghaile predicted, what use freedom if nothing changes but the flag upon the mast? And as An Piarsach urged, not merely free but Gaelic too. No one person or organisation is the holder of the true faith. Ideological interpretations are many, none more or less valid than any other. The Fenian flame burns bright in the minds of all true Republicans. It does not require martyrs or sacrifices. It requires nothing more than committed and determined men and women. And it belongs to us all.
Beir bua indeed…
Update: Please note the critical Comment from Ginger below who makes some reasonable points in relation to the post above.