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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Strange Logic



Anthony McIntyre • 11 August 2006

The recent bombings in Newry have once again raised the profile of the physical force tradition as its adherents seek to emulate the Provisional militancy of yesteryear in a world that has vastly changed since the hunger strikes of 1981. Then armed struggle perched loftily as the sole strategic imperative of modern republicanism.

1981 saw Provisional republicanism undergo the most intense ideological moment of its existence. It worshipped the god of physical force which in turn allowed no false god of constitutionalism before it. Sinn Fein, quintessentially 'ourselves alone', claimed exclusive ownership of the republican Holy Grail. 25 years on the party bears little resemblance to what it was in that heady era. Summersault by summersault, Provisional republicanism has steadily abandoned any notion of a Republic. And like all failed revolutionaries, no shortage of transitional phases of struggle have been found to pack the distance between what was promised and what was actually achieved.

The journey has been from Brits out at the point of a gun to pleading for Paisley to be head honcho at Stormont and republicans to hand themselves over to British courts where they are certain to be jailed for their part in the Bobby Tohill abduction in Belfast two years ago. Sinn Fein would seem to have more in common with the Workers Party of the hunger strike era, than it would with its erstwhile self.

Those involved in what they term 'revolutions' often - not always without good reason - find the gravitational pull of pragmatism, reformism and gradualism too strong to resist. But having stoked the fires of revolutionary fervour, the compromises and U-turns that go hand in hand with charting a less ambitious course can be difficult pills to swallow. Making the retreat is not enough; it must also be disguised.

And so it is that some Sinn Fein councillors have, in the pages of the Irish News, taken to criticising dissident republicans who wish to persist with futile armed activity against the British state. Councillor Oliver Hughes, forgetting what the hunger strikers were in prison for, cannot understand why republicans would want to plant bombs, finds their actions 'absolutely disgraceful' and wants them brought to justice; presumably British, there is no other. Councillor Michael McIvor in his pop claimed that the campaign waged by the Provisional IRA was radically different from that being fought by both the 'Brit loving' Continuity and Real IRAs.

Such critique holds true only for the largely ineffectual physical form of dissident activity. It cannot be sustained when it seeks to section off the ideological content behind such activity. Like the Provisional republicanism that preceded it, the dissident variety must rely on popular support if it is to make even minimal headway, but in its own eyes requires no popular support to make it legitimate. It simply draws from the same ideological well long frequented by the Provisionals, the waters of which drowned all reference to wider democratic nationalist sentiment.

There was certainly more support for the Provisional IRA campaign but it was never anything other than minority support. The primary demarcation line between it and the dissident IRAs is little other than the size of either's minority. From this perspective the jutting difference between the dissident Omagh bomb and the Provisional Enniskillen one is a matter of dates. Otherwise, the people of Fermanagh are to be denied the same right not to be killed by republican bombs as the people of Tyrone.

Such complications would seem to confound the narrative of the two Sinn Fein councillors. They want to defend the militant republican tradition against those who continue to abide by it. There is no acknowledgement on their part that because of the terms it settled for, the Provisional IRA campaign has arguably been stripped of any authenticity it lays claim to as a war against British rule. Justification for having waged it can now only be found through revisionist recourse to fictional constructs that it was all about equality for nationalists within a reformed northern state. But we know that was never the reason it was fought.

The Provisional IRA was the distillation of a wider nationalist insurrection. The Provisionals framed that insurrection in terms of it being against the British presence. It was a rebellion, okay, but less against the British being here and more against the manner in which they behaved while here. Which meant the British did not have to leave in order to placate the constituency behind Provisional republicanism. They had merely to modify their behaviour.

If dissident armed activity is to be nullified - as it must be given the potential for another Omagh-type massacre - rather than disingenuously parried, Councillors Hughes and McIvor would make a better case were they to state that militant republicanism was abandoned because it rather than the Northern state proved to be a failed political entity. The physical force tradition needs to be deconstructed in its entirety, not cherry picked over for short-term political advantage. Dissident physical force republicanism is a wholly inadequate response to the British presence, but only as inadequate as its Provisional predecessor.










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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Strange Logic
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