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.
+1 Jim. Good critique Séamas.
What a clumsy attempt to try to draw a distinction between the “good” Provos and their “bad” successors : it’s well seen that Seamas didn’t live in N.Ireland between 1970 and 1998. So the “bad” dissidents should be ashamed of themselves for carrying out the Omagh bombing, while the “good” Provos should be proud of all the similar bombings they perpetrated : Claudy, Bloody Friday, the Abercorn, the list is almost endless, there was hardly a major town that didn’t have its commercial centre attacked, “mayhem and destruction” were very familiar.
My own home town was bombed by the “good” I.R.A. in both the 70s and the 90s, on the former occasion a young female shop owner was burned to death in her premises. When I worked at the University of Ulster’s Coleraine campus in the early 90s, that town’s centre was bombed and at least one of my colleagues had his flat destroyed, but I suppose we can console ourselves with the thought that because it was the Provos who carried out these attacks we were the beneficiaries of “revolutionary warfare”. The Provos also managed to kill more Irish men and women than the “occupation forces,” so the dissidents are following a familiar template.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the N.I. “conflict” would also be well aware that Republicans in the 70s, 80s and 90s were more than capable of inflicting “horrendous violence upon each other and upon the uninvolved,” the dissidents are mere half-hearted amateurs in comparison.
Ginger, you make a number of perfectly valid points and if I did not address directly the military campaign by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army it is because the focus of this post was specifically the manner in which the Irish Republicanism of many of those outside the (Provisional) Sinn Féin fold has been contaminated by the association with criminality and Ireland’s criminal underworld. That is not to say that (P)SF or (P)IRA did not have their associations in times past, though one can argue the limited nature of them or the effect they had on the broader movement.
I did link to the Shankhill atrocity in the post above in discussing war crimes, an action carried out by (P)IRA. And in the past I have condemned criminal actions like Teebane, etc. and have stated my view that those who carried out such actions were war criminals. There are numerous posts on An Sionnach Fionn dealing with those matters. That certainly does not absolve Adams or McGuinness for their responsibility as members of the Army Council or GHQ Staff in the ordering or permitting of such actions. I have long argued the need for a Truth Commission. Your point about the “good old IRA” and the “new bad IRA” is well-made. I do not disagree.
In relation to the conflict (which was not confined to the north-east of Ireland, however much some believe or would wish it so) these figures are instructive:
Percentage breakdown of fatalities caused by Irish Republican Forces/Insurgents: the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA), Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), Irish Peoples Liberation Organisation (IPLO), etc.
52% were members of the British Occupation Forces
35% were Civilians (incl. collateral casualties, etc.)
9% were members of the Irish Republican Forces/Insurgents (incl. “friendly fire” casualties, etc.)
2.7% were members of the British Terror Factions
0.4% were members of Óglaigh na hÉireann (Defence Forces Ireland) / An Garda Síochána (the Civic Guard or Irish police)
Percentage breakdown of fatalities caused by British Occupation Forces: British Armed Forces (BAF) incl. Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), etc.
51.5% were Civilians (incl. collateral casualties, etc.)
39.9% were members of the Irish Republican Forces/Insurgents
4.9% were members of the British Terror Factions (incl. “friendly fire” casualties, etc.)
3.5% were members of the British Occupation Forces (“friendly fire” casualties)
Percentage breakdown of fatalities caused by legal and illegal British Terror Factions: the Ulster Defence Association-Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA-UFF), the Ulster Volunteer Forces (UVF), Red Hand Commando (RHC), Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), etc.
85.4% were Civilians (incl. collateral casualties, etc.)
9% were members of the British Terror Factions (incl. “friendly fire” casualties, etc.)
4% were members of the Irish Republican Forces/Insurgents
1.3% were members of the British Occupation Forces (incl. “friendly fire” casualties, etc.)
I have added a note to the post directing readers to your Comment and the criticisms therein.
Political, cultural, social, linguistic resistance is not an option. How can you have cultural or Linguistic resistance when saying Irish culture or the Irish language is the culture of Ireland is regarded by mainstream southern republicans as rejecting multi culturalism and therefore equal to the national front.
It might shock non mainstream republicans to find out how such an approach would be regarded.
Surely multiculturalism must include Ireland’s indigenous culture and language? Pluralism need be no threat to any national culture since all cultures are in flux. Previous generations of “immigrants” brought their uniqueness to Ireland’s cultural traditions, be they Scandinavian or Norman-British. There is no need to expect any different in the future even with the unique challenges to integration presented by global communications. As an ultra-liberal, dyed-in-the-wool Leftie I will fight as much for the indigenous cultures of North America or Australasia as for my own here at home in Ireland. The best way to confront metropolitan conformists is on their own ground and with their own arguments 😉
Yes, in the long run its going to be no different this time around either. The role of Republicans is to promote Irish culture and Irish identity in the face of imperialist attempts to rub it and the project for a Socialist Republic out.
In the short run it will be different because there is a tough fight ahead to persuade fellow Republicans that its not evil to say the culture of Ireland is an Irish culture and thats where our focus can lie and thats okay.
As a confirmed Socialist Republican I feel the same as you.
I agree, the immediate future will be tough but it is something to focus on. I am a Gaelic Republican in that sense. An All-Ireland Gaelic Republic, in language and culture but with recognition and freedoms for ethnic and cultural minorities, is my objective. I believe in an open and welcoming Gaelic and Irish identity that can accommodate many diverse people and communities under its banner.
there is no final option of last resort, its fluid, britain is a g8 country before that they where an empire, one side allways has the advantage, the best the other side can hope for is force compromise after compromise. Now if enda kenny or any taoiseach in the last 40 years had nuclear weapons, or an air force or a navy or even a decent standing army that could challenge Britains monopoly of violence in this region of the world then this morality of violence as a last resort would not come in to it, it would be about asserting rights. We don’t have nuclear weapons, or an air force or a decent standing army so we can not challenge britains monopoly of violence in this region of the world, lets be honest about our prediciment and not drive ourselves into cul de sacs with false arguments, especially republicans, if constitutional methods provide a platform then use that platform to speak the truth, there is a British gun in Irish politics, it has been there so long it is almost unnoticeable but it is there and it has effects. Armed struggle is always legitimate but there is only a few windows of oportunity when it is practical.
Yes, I certainly agree it is about taking the British gun out of Irish politics. A point that must be repeated ad nauseam until it finally gets through. However military action at this time is simply unjustified and for many reasons, related and unrelated. The war should be for hearts and minds, for councils and institutions, for laws and regulations. The north-east needs to be administratively deBritishfied. SF is failing in that (to my mind at least). They have stalled. Others need to progress that struggle as well. It cannot belong to SF or any one grouping.
One thing I would stress, Republicans need to speak unto Republicans – and with respect. Words like “traitors to Ireland” or “Shame Fein” are unwarranted no matter the personal or political difference. Disunity breeds defeat. I am certainly willing to hear all Republican views, those I agree with or not. Again SF’s behaviour is exceedingly poor on this regard. We all know their record up to and including murder.
Thanks for taking the time to Comment, much appreciated.
i have mixed views on the institutions. i see no harm with some republicans being outside of them, things tend to germinate from there, eventually. On SF in them, yeah it appears to be classic gramsci, disapointing alright, in theory it should be possible to use them as a platform, danger is when you start believing in them.
One of the consequences of abstenionism and republicans being out side the system imo was that republicans where not pulled in by the gravity of Mrs Murphys gate type politics, win an election by any means nessecary and idea’s get relegated. While elctions are see as a viable route by a few of the republican groups now i think some sort of space needs to be created to the side of the electorial systems to have that dialogue you are talking about, not sure how though. Maybe a bar of election candidates at commemorations, points more important for concideration than ‘get the vote out’ can be raised where republicans assemble.
Some interesting points, Shea. I always thought that SF missed a chance of creating an electoral base 20 years early by not recognising Dáil Éireann in the 1970s/’80s. The failure to face up to reality and abandon Dáil legitimatism was a major stumbling block to recruitment and growth. The leadership should have recognised far earlier that the Irish people as a whole had accepted the legitimacy of the Dublin institutions even where individuals remained committed Republicans. Better to try and change from the inside than futilely try to overthrow from the outside. But then the 1960s and ’70s were heady days when people wanted to believe that anything was possible.