The Republican Network For Unity, Óglaigh Na hÉireann And An Easter Message

As expected the Easter weekend witnessed the usual display of overweight men and women marching in ill-fitting, quasi-military uniforms while professing loyalty to the revolutionary republic declared 101 years ago and those armed guerrilla movements still claiming its legacy. The annual commemoration of the 1916 insurrection is of course important, both at a State and a community level. Republican activists and organisations should be marking this key event in our nation’s history by laying wreathes and making speeches. But do we have to have the ridiculous playacting soldiers stomping through the streets with the Starry Plough and An Gal Gréine fluttering, desperately trying to keep their booted feet in rhythm to the flute bands? Whether the marchers wear camouflage jackets or bomber jackets (no pun intended), black berets or mirror-shades the general impression is less than edifying.

Even the historical reenactors with their fake World War I era Mausers and Lee Enfields, many of them just teenagers, look badly out of place in the company of modern political parties like Sinn Féin or its contemporary off-shoots (Republican Sinn Féin, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Republican Network for Unity, Saoradh and so on). The Six Counties may be an Occupied Territory but West Belfast is not the Gaza Strip. Do these events actually draw in young men and women or do most world-weary millennials and hipsters just sneer and throw their eyes to heaven? Appearing as respectable and concerned members of society is more likely to get votes in this day and age than posing as would-be Che Guevaras. Or Kevin Barrys, even in the Fenian heartlands of Belfast, Derry and Armagh (let alone Dublin, Cork and Limerick). The white shirts, grey shirts and god-knows-what-colour shirts are uncomfortably close to Blueshirt apparel, circa 1933. We live in a consumerist age, an era of attractively packaged goods, including politics, and doing a Kim Jong-un up the Falls Road or through the Bogside is plain fucking stupid.

All that said, and putting Sinn Féin’s annual Easter Rising celebrations to one side, the weekend witnessed some interesting displays of support for the non-mainstream Republican tradition (I dislike the word “Dissident”, though it’s difficult to find another widely accepted term). Saoradh, the new party launched last September, staged a large gathering in County Derry, with over five thousand people in attendance from across the country and the United Kingdom. Of course, the drum-beating bands and the silly walks’ contest was on show but in fairness it was an impressive affair in terms of numbers and well-known faces. Coded messages were expressed to and from the Real/New IRA and so on but that was to be expected. Eamon McCann might be right when he suggests in the Irish Times that, “Anger still seethes on the streets of Derry“. The war may be over but the primary cause of the war – the reduced UK legacy colony in the north-east of this island nation – has yet to be fully removed.

Saoradh, bringing surplus-British Army haute couture to Derry. Green is the new black, y’know (Image: Seachranaidhe)

Republican Sinn Féin, the Scientologists of Irish Republicanism, were also out, though Christ knows why. They haven’t said anything fresh or innovative since 1986. Actually, they didn’t say that much new or original even back then. Readers sometimes complain that I’m too hard on the RSF folk but by god do they make it easy. Am I the only one to notice that Des Dalton is slowly morphing into Ruairí Ó Brádaigh? Not only do they speak the same but they are starting to look the same, right down to the standard brown and beige suits Des, give it up. You’re better than this. To the individuals in the handful of families who keep the Second Dáil torch lighting, who are indeed pretty much RSF in its entirety, move on and fight the good fight elsewhere. The “26 County State” is the only state of Ireland we have, however imperfect. The Civil War is over and sustaining it into the 21st century, which essentially is what you are doing, is a sign of madness not integrity. Speaking of which, pussyfooting with Putin’s Russia? For a movement so obsessed with history and “tradition” you obviously have yet to learn the lesson of poor Seán Russel, forever besmirched by unfair association with Hitler’s Germany.

Republican Sinn Féin, kicking it sean scoil outside the GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin. Notice the thronged crowds expressing rapturous agreement (Image: Seachranaidhe)

The Republican Network For Unity (RNU) held one of the more interesting gatherings at the weekend. The grouping seemed to be holding out the possibility that Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓnaÉ), the small ad hoc insurgent grouping established by former volunteers of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, will announce a ceasefire or full cessation in the coming weeks or months. It’s an interesting possibility though the press may be making rather more of it yet than is there. From a thoughtful speech by ex- POW Gary McNally at the RNU’s annual Fianna Éireann commemoration:

Republicans of this generation must take inspiration from the past. We must learn the lessons of history – looking back at mistakes and successes. But we must also carve our own identity and design our own contribution to the republican struggle. This must contain substance and be meaningful. Rhetoric and clichés will not sustain us. Longheld slogans will not drive political development in the face of a changing political arena. Previous generations of republican activists did not shirk their responsibility. They did not shirk the responsibility of bringing the republican struggle in line with their time. They did not shirk their responsibility to make their own print on Irish republicanism.

The centenary has passed – we commemorated it as best we could, with the little resources we have. A huge acknowledgement must be extended to all those who played a part. Easter is a time for reflection, and we must reflect on our gains and also on missed opportunities. The chance for unity of purpose among all republicans to commemorate the rising wasn’t taken and we must begin to rectify that glaring mistake. We must reflect on the latest happenings at Stormont and effectively communicate to the Irish people why the system continues to stumble from crisis to crisis.

The denial of rights – cultural rights, social rights and human rights remains the political hallmark of Stormont. 19 years since the Good Friday Agreement and 11 years since the St. Andrews agreement our people are still denied their rights, as the political administration in the 6 Counties attempts to reduce them to bargaining chips and shallow vote-grabbers. Irish language activists have fought long and hard for the recognition of our native tongue. They have maintained the promotion of the Irish language with distinction. In recent times, they lobbied for an Irish Language Act to ensure every person can access their language rights. This has been denied time and again by an administration that believes cultural suppression will kill the demand for national self-determination.

The LGBT movement has lobbied for marriage rights to ensure all citizens can access matrimony. This has been denied time and again by an administration that wishes to maintain archaic practices upheld by an undemocratic veto.

Republicans have lobbied for political and human rights to ensure that political activists can live free from police harassment, barbaric strip-searching, controlled movement and forced isolation. These have been denied time and again because the administration wants to marginalise and isolate any opposition to the status quo. Here we state clearly; Rights are not bargaining chips; they are not vote-grabbers to be wheeled out during elections and they are not tools for repression. They are real concepts and must be delivered post-haste, however, like all great political initiatives, they will be delivered from below.

There are various sections of our communities attempting to attain their rights and improve their lives through struggle. Republicans must be found amongst them. Remaining in an isolated bubble detached from the real world and everyday struggles serves no purpose and advances no cause. The Stormont project has been a failure from its inception. All it has to offer is a bulwark between the Irish people and Ireland’s reunification. While the turnout at recent elections may be higher than previous years, the result will inevitably be the same – Stormont cannot work. However, in the wake of these results Irish republicans must give serious thought to the future and begin to ask how we can really challenge the status quo.

We have few opportunities throughout the year to engage in reflection. To question where we have come from, where we are and where we are going in the struggle to end partition and bring about a United Ireland. Easter is one of those opportunities. The republican movement has been involved in a process of serious revaluation. We have looked at the struggle holistically and examined closely it’s trajectory over recent decades. We have deduced that a strategic rethink is required from both the individual republican activist and organisational republicanism.

For a protracted period, the republican movement has been engaged in a process of debate, discussion and deliberation about the future of the republican struggle, and in particular, the future of our movement. We have assessed our strengths and weaknesses, we have taken stock of our capabilities and our inabilities, we have looked at what we do well and what we do poorly, we have measured this against the current political climate, the will of the average person in our community and recent local and global changes in the political arena.

We recognise that we must move forward WITH our people, not without them and not ahead of them or eventually they will move forward without us. For too long Irish republicans have remained on their knees, constrained by an inability to modernise and accept the situation on the ground.

Not bartering our ideological principles, we must act in a mature and realistic manner and act in accordance with the will of the people, the base from which republicanism draws its support.

We need to take heed of the wants and desires of the Irish people. There is no merit in attempting to represent them while continuing to ignore them. This should be the antithesis of republicanism.

Republicanism historically has offered the people of this island a vision of self-determination, free from the benign influences of foreign power holders, a democratic ideology which seeks not only a constitutional change but offers ownership of the Ireland to the entire people of Ireland. The proponents of this vision have offered the only viable alternative to imperialism in the past three centuries, degrading that status to that of a political quagmire or a bit part attempt to remove the British connection would be a denigration of past struggles and regressive to the objectives of Irish separatism. This cannot happen, we will not allow it to happen – for both ourselves and for the future generations who deserve our efforts to be directed into building a credible, cohesive and capable vehicle. One that can deliver an end to partition and secure Irish sovereignty.

The integrity of the republican position must be maintained by those who espouse it. This can only be done through avant garde thinking, future orientated strategies and sincere attempts to advance that position. Sticking to handed down narratives and continuing to pursue failed or failing ventures in the hope of remaining relevant is accelerating irrelevancy. Wallowing in mediocrity created by this irrelevancy is sapping the integrity of the republican position. Irish republicans must make innovative, creative and bold decisions to uphold this integrity.

Republicans recognise that we not only need to get our house in order, but we must begin its construction. Therefore, the republican movement is moving forward with a 21st century agenda. We are refining our message and strategising our own unique way of articulating political dissent. We are reshaping our public outreach and appearance. This change will be too much for some people. Some people will lose their seat at the table, many already have. We are not republican elitists, but we won’t allow anybody to undermine the integrity or forward trajectory of a rejuvenated republican base. Republicans have demonstrated this in recent times.

Irish republicans must provide a coherent vision of the future, what a United Ireland will look like, how it will benefit the Irish people as a whole and how we can achieve this. The window of opportunity has been made smaller by the latest election results. Republicans must begin the change this and widen the window. An opportunity, albeit small, exists for republicans to forge together and ensure our vision of the future enters national debate.

I appeal to each of you here today, to go from here and think about our message. Think about the republican position in the local and global context. Think about how best to advance that position in line with current political realities.

Easter is a time for reflection and opportunities are for those who seize them.

Beir bua.

In the second decade of the 21st century there are better ways to resist the continued British Occupation of our island nation than through force of arms. An unarmed struggle is not just rhetoric and its is not just about politics. Language, culture, education, technology and so on are all platforms for the advancement of republican goals and objectives. Each is a distinct battlefield in its own right and victories on each one when taken collectively can win the whole damn war.

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29 comments

  1. I am slightly astonished at this post. West Belfast, as you say, is not the GAZA STRIP, but it can very easily turn into one, again, after the huge mess that has happened in the North, with what is essentially a return to direct rule, BREXIT, and abysmal standards of life. Clinging to tradition is all that the people up there have left. The Assembly is effectively dead, for all practical purposes. BREXIT is going to crash the standard of living in the North to the level of Belarus. The future looks utterly bleak now. This is where the peace process ends, and we are all about to go into the Whirlwind, now, absent some stunning politics and ideas from the Dublin Government. I might also mention the imminent collapse of the UK, due to the looming election, and the North being right at the bottom of the UK Government,s long list of present emergencies. God help Ireland. It’s 1910, all over again.

    1. Maybe so. We could be in another pre-conflict phase. I’ve certainly warned that. But have you watched the parades and marches? I attended one at the weekend. It was a Gaza Strip affair and that is no compliment. I mean, you could take some of the Hamas military wing parades and dump them at a “Dissident” gathering and who would notice the difference? By all means, get out the marchers and wreathes, but lose the surplus mismatching British Army uniforms, scarves and berets. There is no need for it. Even if they are running an underground resistance. PR-wise it rubs everyone up the wrong way. The Derry show by Saoradh was impressive, it seems to be swallowing up the alternatives, but I’d rather the sort of fresh thinking the RNU has just announced.

      1. Do you know who also is tied with the rebranded KGB network?

        Remember yer man that funded the NI Brexit Campaign Arron Banks met with an ex-kgb agent in the russian embassy and has appeared with George Galloway on Russian Propaganda network TV ‘RT’. Galloway is also a dissident republican opposes scottish independance.

        Funny how it links back to the kremlin.

    2. Clinging to tradition is all that the people up there (NI) have ever had to ‘preserve the spirit of the movement’.

      “we commemorated it (2016) as best we could, with the little resources we have”.RNU above

      Hold those thoughts in mind
      Remember what “catholic/republican/nationalist people of no property” in NI have undergone since partition.

  2. You went full Eilis O’Hanlon on this one. I remember Eilis a few years ago ridiculing republicans for being overweight. As foolish as I feel arguing this you do realise many of these people are up there in years? Sorry they don’t have beach bodies.

    1. Well, there’s no need to be nasty! 😉

      Listen, I have no problems with veterans of the conflict, Belfast’s 2nd Btn D Coy or whatever, marching in quasi-uniforms. But young and old turks stomping around in surplus British Army camouflage gear and black shirt get-up is just ridiculous. Soldiers spend months parade ground bashing to learn to march in unison. It ain’t easy. What’s more, in the age of ISIS and so on, the imagery is just terrible unless you can do it properly. Leave well enough alone.

    2. RNU need to remember that a lot of women were in that colour party and its an absolute disgrace to ridicule people in that fashion, when the hungerstrikers funerals took place they wore the exact same type of uniform so are they being branded in the same fashion??

      1. R N U .. ha ha . They have some neck to try to slander any movement they would want to clean their own house before trying to put others down. The IRA saoradh and the IRPWA must be doing something right for the likes of rnu to call the colour party fat and out of step . Well rnu would want to take a good hard look at their own party if there’s any of them left . Who’s agenda are rnu working to?? R.un N.ow U.nwanted.
        IRA ALL THE WAY

        1. I don’t think the RNU mentioned the colour party etc on above article. Their statement is within the article only, however the article was written by an sionnach I believe.

  3. “BREXIT is going to crash the standard of living in the North to the level of Belarus.”
    Have you ever been to Belarus? I wa there on biz – thankfully briefly – once. No one was as fat as the marchers pictured here, that’s for sure: they woulda liked the opportunity to get enuf calories to get that obese, I think. But then they didn’t have the British taxpayer giving em unemployment benefit, child benefit, invalidity benefit, housing benefit etc etc. God bless the English taxpayer.

  4. You openly spoke of members of the Saoradh colour party wearing British style uniforms, may I just reiterate that RNU colour party wore exactly the same style uniforms in a Dundalk easter commemoration a few years ago. As you are talking about those members being overweight you’d need to take a long hard look at yourself, for a so called republican to slate other republicans in that disgusting fashion especially when there were women in that colour party you should be truley ashamed of yourself. Sometimes envy kills people and eats away at them. (No pun intended).

    1. Ok, but the points stand. Why parade in surplus military uniforms, regardless of their origins? Even if it was Irish DPM (illegal to own, of course) it would still be counterproductive. Even more so when those marching are clearly civilians in military dress. It invites ridicule and satire. Or worse still, comparisons with those Islamist groups whose images fill our newspapers and news programmes.

      Republicans should be projecting an image of probity, even revolutionary ones.

      The colour parties and uniformed (and masked) marchers were of both genders and of all shapes and sizes, squeezed into mismatched and ill-fitting uniforms or with the trousers and jackets hanging off them. If people chose to look foolish you can hardly fault others for pointing out that foolishness.

      I actually attended a local gathering here in Dublin which was quiet and dignified, a few wreathes, one flag, a few short words to a handful of people. None of us felt the need to don bomber jackets and balaclavas.

      1. No one was wearing balaclavas for a start, now the uniforms looked perfect on each and everyone of those who were marching, this is a republican tradition and always has been, did anyone pass any rude remarks when the funeral of bobby sands was flanked by men in the exact same uniform and they were masked. Another thing RNU marched through a town 4 years ago dressed the exact same and they had women in the colour party and they’re uniforms were hanging of them. Is this all because Saoradh had thousands at THEY’RE parade and theres a bit of envy????

        1. I wasn’t focused on Saoradh. It was a more general observation. The images of Saoradh were the easiest to link to. Others were mentioned. Others wore ballies and scarves and so on in other places and with other organisations.

          Bobby Sands funeral was in 1981, in the middle of a war, and was the burial of a serving volunteer. I’ve never criticised color parties at funerals or volley parties nor would I. That is a separate matter.

          I just don’t think untrained people playing at square-bashing makes for an edifying sight in 2017. It turns people off. More particularly, off the republican cause at its most broadest.

          Try explaining to people, I’m a republican but not the same as those stomping through Derry in their camo-gear and boots.

          On Saoradh, I reported that they had a very strong showing at Easter and the party is undoubtedly gaining support. Good for them. Republican pluralism is to be welcomed. Though, preferably, without the public displays of militarism.

          1. sMilitary uniforms have been a long tradition of republicans for years in easter marches it didn’t deter the thousands that turned up to derry, and people afterwards had nothing but praise for those who were marching.

            1. But see my other Comments and that by Wolfe Tone. This is not the 1970s or ’80s. We live in a different era and different tactics are required. And messages. We are in Western Europe not the Middle East. We need to shape our “brand” messages to the circumstances we are in. It is basic PR.

              If armed messages are required by certain organisations there is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a dozen other platforms to release media on. Let the militarism exist in parallel – but separate – from the public face on the streets if people are really desirous of that.

              Again, step outside the republican bubble and look back. Imagine how masked or scarf-wearing men and women marching in camouflage gear and berets appears to ordinary men and women in this country, to those who must be won over to the cause. Think of our history. Then think of the conflict in Syria and beyond. Of ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah marching behind black flags in Beirut, Gaza City and so on. As politically aware people we might know what’s what but Seán and Síle Citizen does not. They are fed a diet of British and American media, from popular to news and current affairs.

              Propaganda rule one. If you have to explain your message you are losing.

  5. “I actually attended a local gathering here in Dublin which was quiet and dignified, a few wreathes, one flag, a few short words to a handful of people. None of us felt the need to don bomber jackets and balaclavas”.

    key words: IN DUBLIN – A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE
    Dublin is very different to NI. See what I said above –
    Remember what “catholic/republican/nationalist people of no property” in NI have undergone since partition.
    Republican Easter parades were banned for years in NI – so now let the people hold them as they wish,as they can afford, in their own way, in a way that best speaks to and for them.

    1. Yes, but again. Quasi-military parades? I like the flags and bunting, even the flute bands are ok, but the military stuff will actively deter not attract people.

      Yep, that was in Dublin, but I know Derry well, have attended many events across the Six, and the “army” stuff never looks right. I’m not saying these organisation are not entitled to their propaganda but there is a time and place.

      I should just add, again, that I have no problem with republican veterans parading, and identifiable as such. Just, perhaps, not in combat gear, berets and shades. They themselves deserve better.

      But as you say, their decision. I’m just commenting on the poor optics that accompanies it.

      1. Well the parade I attended in Derry with a uniformed colour party was extremely well attended by people from right across the 32 counties, and there was nothing but praise for the way they conducted themselves and the thousands that attended the commemoration in memory of irelands dead, there was nothing but praise for the colour party and the oration at the graveside.

      2. Seamas – you don’t like the military stuff and you don’t like the historical pageantry stuff “Even the historical reenactors with their fake World War I era Mausers and Lee Enfields, many of them just teenagers, look badly out of place”
        I won’t ask you what you do like
        I will just ask you to live and let live.

        1. There is a time and place for such things, though the historical reenactments I do enjoy in general. I know someone who does it, albeit in a Medieval context and I’ve been tempted myself (out of an interest in reconstructive archaeology. And because it looks fun!). Perhaps it is the staging of them in tandem with the modern paramilitarism which looks so incongruous?

          Whatever the case, face-obscuring scarves and balaclavas are the wrong message to send.

          I criticise unionists for similar displays of militarism. Why would I ignore it closer to my ideological home?

      3. Whats propaganda about it chara? Its been a tradition for over 40 years now so what is the problem you like the flute bands ok so when they play songs remembering fallen volunteers do you think this is propaganda as well???

        1. Are you telling me that men and women marching in military combat uniforms in a military formation, faces fully or partially obscured, is not propaganda? That might be the norm in the Lebanon but we are not in the Middle East. We all know the intended purpose.

  6. Personally I find all the military dressing up a bit cringeworthy especially so when there’s no bang with their buck, no pun intended. That doesn’t mean I would like to see any bangs but imho during the last major conflict I would’ve got it I.e all the dressing up. I would’ve got the message etc. Ironically during the last conflict you would’ve struggled to get dozens of folk to dress up for you as logistically the climate was somewhat more hostile from state forces and thus it was highly likely arrests would easily follow and violence from such parades.
    There’s as much pride and indeed respect to be gleaned if republicans simply wore the standard white shirt,black trousers etc. And the message will still be got I.e we are proud Irish republicans and we are not afraid or ashamed to show it.

    1. 100% Wolfe Tone. That was the point I was trying to make. Republicans need to appeal beyond the militant core. You can keep the core happy while still spreading the word to others. At the end of the day, we are an island nation in Europe with European values and standards. We think as Western Europeans. This is not the Middle East. We need to shape our visual messages – our propaganda, even – to the circumstances we are in. It is basic PR.

      If armed messages are required by certain organisations there is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a dozen other platforms to release media on. Let the militarism exist in parallel – but separate – from the public face on the streets if people are really desirous of that.

  7. I am absolutely disgusted that another organisation such as RNU would ridicule people by calling them fat and especially when women were present who ever wrote this statement from RNU want to be severely disciplined for their sexiest commentary, as for wearing military uniform what the hell is the problem??? After all didn’t thousands attend the parade in Derry is it because theres no one going to RNU’s wreath laying commemorations?? Or is it just envy.

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