The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Cul de Sac called 'Futility'

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman's rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?


Anthony McIntyre • 27 March 2007

The republican performance in the recent Stormont elections was nothing short of abysmal. Nationalist Sinn Fein humiliated Republican Sinn Fein and the accompanying fissile gathering that had decided to throw its patchwork hat into the ring.

Some may seek comfort in claims that Sinn Fein was intimidating its republican opponents. A number of people were indeed visited by Sinn Fein. In at least one case a prominent leader of the nationalist party made a thinly veiled death threat. But this comes no way near explaining the embarrassing trouncing republican candidates sustained.

It is a veritable truth that despite massive resources and an ability to dwarf any contender to its throne Sinn Fein finds it excruciating to have to co-exist with a different idea. Slavoj Zizek may as well have been writing about it rather than the totalitarian regimes of the former Eastern Bloc when he said:

… the ruling party acted with the utmost nervousness and panic at the slightest public criticism, as if some vague critical hints in an obscure poem published in a low-circulation literary journal, or an essay in an academic philosophical journal, possessed the potential capacity to trigger the explosion of the entire socialist system.

It is the permanent state of self-induced angst that the authoritarian mindset is forced to carry around like a hump on its back. There is no need for it. Sinn Fein's hegemony faces not the remotest hint of erosion within the nationalist community. The republican position has no appeal.

Whatever thoughts were harboured that Sinn Fein seriously feared a republican electoral challenge should have dissipated at a February debate in Derry where at the same venue only a week previously 500 republicans critical of the party's acceptance of the British PSNI gathered to vent their opposition. If Sinn Fein strategists were perturbed by that turnout they showed little sign of it by the time they filed into the same hall in the Tower Hotel to listen to a discussion organised as part of the Bloody Sunday Weekend Programme, 2007.

I had been roused out of an afternoon Belfast slumber and asked to take part. Wearily, I acquiesced rather than agreed. Once there, I shared the platform with Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney, Alex Atwood of the SDLP and SEA's Eamonn McCann. Although a letter writer in the Derry Journal graciously said that my contribution on the evening made uncomfortable listening for many in the audience, that was not my reading of the night. The same writer's notion that the main debate was between myself and Declan Kearney was far removed from my view of proceedings. My input for the most part consisted of passing the microphone back and forth between Declan Kearney and Alex Atwood who respectively had to field the bulk of the compliments and questions coming from the floor.

Indifferently anticipating a hostile audience I was surprised to find that there was no rancour apart from a member of the audience who asked what for me was an inaudible and stupid question, until asked to repeat it. Inaudible because it was grunted rather than asked; stupid because it provoked an angry put down for its author from Sinn members who more or less told him to go back to amusing himself with his play dough. After the event Sinn Fein people were friendly. Even the handshakes were not limp-wristed.

This on its own was instructive. But there was more. The strategically crafted questions came from Martina Anderson, now a Sinn Fein MLA, and were directed at Alex Atwood. The acrimony on the panel was between Eamonn McCann and Declan Kearney. On our way back to Belfast I suggested to my companions that the entire Sinn Fein demeanour indicated that the party was not in any way concerned about the critique made of it by myself or anybody else from the republican camp. Its members concentrated their energy on challenging Alex Atwood. In Derry at any rate, for Sinn Fein the SDLP was the party to watch. The concern was hardly without merit. Mark Durkan had surprisingly but comfortably defeated Mitchel McLaughlin in the last Westminster election. Sinn Fein had ground to make up and was not prepared to have its eye taken from the ball by a perceived irritant on its flank.

Apart from Peggy O'Hara in Derry and Davy Hyland in Newry/Armagh the republican challenge proved a damp squib. In West Belfast Geraldine Taylor limped in behind the traditionally miniscule Workers Party vote with a derisory showing of her own. Even the poor return for the most radical candidate in the constituency, Sean Mitchell, who fought on a platform of opposition to water taxes, was twice what Taylor achieved. RSF candidates throughout the North were more or less laughed at by the electorate. Former blanket man Paul McGlinchey fared no better. Gerry McGeough, tipped by many as a potential vote getter, polled poorly despite having a much more robust election campaign than many of his fellow republican contenders.

What Sinn Fein's republican challengers failed to grasp is that the imagery of the hunger strike and blanket men which featured prominently in much of their campaigning is not a vote winner. As an astute republican observer of the political scene commented, the voter will respect the enormity of the sacrifice made by the hunger strikers and protesting prisoners but most certainly does not wish to return to the era of death that so enveloped the times in which the hunger strikers lived and died. The argument can be made that the rise of Sinn Fein has been proportional to its readiness to abandon everything that was associated with the republicanism that produced both the IRA and the hunger strikers to the point where the party is now a Northern version of Fianna Fail.

That poses enormous challenges to republicans. Since the onset of partition Fianna Fail has been the most popular party in the island. Politically, republicanism never mounted any serious challenge to Fianna Fail hegemony. It is even less likely to so do so against 'Provisional Fianna Fail' in the North whose adroit nurturing of sectarian nationalism secures for it a following that republicanism at its most popular failed to attain.

Moreover, republicans were quickly disabused of their illusions if they were tempted to militarily challenge a Fianna Fail government. It will be no different for any republican who may in their finite wisdom opt to wage armed struggle against a government which contains Sinn Fein. Critics can debate all they wish the extent to which they feel Sinn Fein has sold out and been responsible for a divagation of the republican project. Even with Sinn Fein proclaiming, a la General Douglas MacArthur, 'we are not retreating - we are advancing in another direction', that very direction is immensely popular as confirmed by the electorate two weeks ago.

For militarist republicans a productive exercise would lie in teasing out the lessons to be learned from the absolute failure of armed struggle as a strategy to remove partition rather than labouring under the damnosa hereditas of physical force which republican tradition has unkindly bequeathed to them. As the French revolutionary Robespierre discovered far too late, "no one likes armed missionaries."

For politicist republicans, it should be recognised that republicanism rather than the Northern state is the failed entity of six county politics. Since partition there has been no effective republican challenge, as traditionally understood, to the existence of the Northern State. The Provisional campaign was based less on widespread republican sentiment against the British presence, than it was based on popular nationalist resentment towards the British reinforcing of unionist created inequality. The energy that sustained the Provisional IRA was not primarily a response to the British being here, but to the manner in which the British behaved while here. The difference did not go unnoticed by the British, who realised that they did not have to leave Ireland, but to merely change their behaviour while in Ireland and the wind would be taken out of Provisional sails.

There is no republican strategy, either political or military, for ending partition; only the terms dictated by the British — consent of a majority in the North, which Sinn Fein long ago dismissed as a partitionist fudge. Republicans facing the cold blast of a post-republican world need to consider what micro contributions they can make to the smatterings of radical politics that battle to survive in a conservative political environment. Expending effort in rebuilding the grand macro republican project will only take radical energy down a cul de sac called futility. To kiss the corpse is not to breathe life into it.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

27 March 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

Paisley and Adams: The Ghosts of Politics Past
Brendan O'Neill

Democractically Elected Musical Chairs
Mick Hall

John Kennedy

Bun Fights & Good Salaries
Dolours Price

No New Era Yet
Republican Sinn Fein

The Cul de Sac called 'Futility'
Anthony McIntyre

Pathetic Claims
Joe McDaid

Gerry McGeough
Martin Galvin

Gerry McGeough & Political Policing
Anthony McIntyre

Miscarriage of Justice
Helen McClafferty

Racism Bridging the Sectarian Divide
Dr John Coulter

The Prince of Darkness
Anthony McIntyre

What's All the Fuss About the Veil?
Maryam Namazie

18 March 2007

How I Almost Got My Ass Kicked at the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Lived to Tell About It
David Kruidenier

The Protestant 'Pat Finucane'
Father Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus

Green Party Declines White House Invitation
Green Party Press Release

Assembly Needs an Opposition
David Adams

Belfast Hot Air
Anthony McIntyre

Citizen Tom
Dr John Coulter

A History of Nationalism in Ireland
Liam O Ruairc

Review of Challenging the New Orientalism
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

Two Sides of a Coin
Dr John Coulter

Anthony McIntyre

Sinn Fein Batmen
Brian Mór

Launch of
Colm Mistéil

Reject the 'New' RUC
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

32 County Sovereignty Movement: Water Charges Are Illegal
Kevin Murphy

The National Irish Freedom Committee on Gerry McGeough
National Irish Freedom Committee

NIFC Free Form Video Discusses Elections, Abstentionism
Saerbhreathach Mac Toirdealbhaigh

America's 'Global War On Terrorism'
M. Shahid Alam

Iñaki de Juana Chaos
Anthony McIntyre



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