The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Criminalising Republicanism


Anthony McIntyre • 14 January 2005

For a number of years one of the more noticeable inflections to emerge within the discourses on Provisional republicanism has been that of criminality. It is nothing new for republicans to be labelled as criminals. The H-Block blanket protest which lasted for five years and culminated in the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981 was an act of major resistance to British attempts to criminalise republican activity. The cost in terms of human endurance and loss was immense. The term criminal was obliterated in a sea of republican blood. With the British having exacted such a terrible price, we would expect nothing other than that republicans would remain on eternal watch to ensure that the sacrifices of their comrades were never besmirched; that their legacy would burn like an eternal flame. Yet the flame no longer burns as brightly and always seems to be on the verge of flickering out.

There are two essential differences that mark off the republican as criminal discourses of today and those from the period 1975-1981. Firstly, the discourses of the state and the bulk of the media now describe a certain type of republican activity. Whereas in the earlier era overtly and unmistakably violent political acts such as shooting British soldiers, attacking military installations, carrying out campaigns of economic sabotage, were the target of criminalisation, today it is cigarette, fuel and alcohol smuggling, thieving, extortion, counterfeit rackets and a host of other activities. The type of thing that easily elects itself as criminal in the societal mind. Secondly, a discourse internal to the communities of which republicans are a part now exists which was virtually unheard of during the H-Blocks protest. Then, those who had their differences with Provisional republicans nevertheless did not view them as criminals. Today much conversation in nationalist areas is replete with allegations that republicans are on the take, guilty of corruption, feathering their own nests, running rackets and organising scams.

Another factor in today's discourse of criminalisation is that unlike the first period there is now a total lack of political representatives willing to put their head forward and defend republican activity. IRA volunteers are defended in the abstract. Sinn Fein politicians have little difficulty mouthing platitudes that the IRA are not criminals as long as they are not asked to comment on a specific incident. When pinned down to something concrete Sinn Fein concede that the act is criminal but maintain that no IRA volunteer was involved in it. Martin McGuinness will argue, 'the IRA are not criminals, never were criminals, and in my opinion never will be criminals' as the same time as he contends, 'anything that sees innocent people held hostage in their house is a criminal act.' Which means if the IRA take innocent people hostage it is a criminal act.

Consequently, if Bobby Sands were alive today and was arrested in a van and charged with possession of weapons or holding the driver against his will, Sinn Fein would have to say the act was criminal but Sands was not a republican. Or alternatively that he was a republican who was not guilty of any act and had been set up by securocrats. Whatever way, the act itself would not be defended.

Because there is no effective counter-discourse which can challenge both state and media depictions of concrete acts, it becomes all that much easier to depict republicans as criminals. Less than a quarter of a century after the death of Bobby Sands and nine others, the party that soared to success fuelled by the massive surge of power the hunger strikes gave it, has totally ceded the ground won with the blood of the hunger strikers.

The current Provisional IRA is in real danger of becoming criminal by consequence rather than intent. There are very few IRA volunteers known to me who are motivated by a criminal urges. But the organisation to which they belong is heavily involved in the exact same activity that it accused the Official IRA of being caught up in three decades ago. One of the Provisional IRA's stated reasons for purging the Official IRA in 1975 was that it was involved in a widespread criminal activity. The Officials had recognised the legitimacy of the Northern state; they had ceased to fight a war; their leadership always mislead its membership. All of which allowed the Provisionals to assign to them a criminal status and subsequently kill and maim them.

Today's Provisional IRA leadership would find it difficult to tell its volunteers that what they were involved in was criminal activity. Like the Official IRA leadership it shot up for criminality, it has to describe fundraising and its other nefarious activities as being for the cause. The refusal to state that the war is over is a useful fall back position in the event of being faced by anybody suddenly having qualms and thinking that extorting a building contractor is far removed from the blazing guns of Frank Hughes as he took on the British SAS in a South Derry field.

What made the actions of the Provisional IRA political rather than criminal was that partition was held to be fundamentally wrong, anti-democratic and gave rise to massive repression in order to sustain itself. Now that the Provisional leadership has accepted the consent principle it legitimises partition and gives it a democratic basis. The British are merely here now because the consent principle, which is just, permits them to be.

Having signed up for this the Sinn Fein leadership has stripped away any claim the IRA might have had for violently resisting the state. It is not possible to legitimately fight by armed means the existence of the state you have just ordained legitimate. After that the IRA has no more legitimacy than an armed militia linked to the SDLP. The Provisional leadership by its current actions is well on the road to ensuring that the manner in which the IRA moved into its final years is the prism though which its entire existence will be viewed and interpreted. The hunger strikers whose own voices were silenced by death, are left with no one who can stand up and defend current IRA activity.

IRA volunteers should do the honourable thing and stand their own organisation down and allow it to be remembered as something worthy of the H-block hunger strikers. As it stands now, allowing the integrity of the IRA to be plundered, pillaged and sold off by the Sinn Fein leadership for its own ends, is hardly fitting of the H-Block struggle.

From the midst of her madness Margaret Thatcher must cackle with hate filled delight.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

14 January 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Criminalising Republicanism
Anthony McIntyre

Brian Mór

Leading Human Rights Solicitor "Shut Down" by Law Society
Sean Mc Aughey

A Little Known Republican Military Group: Saor Eire
Liam O Ruairc

Too Bad The North's Future Depends On Tony Blair's Bravery
Paul A. Fitzsimmons

Free Tali Fahima - an anti occupation activist in the Israeli prisons
Iris Bar

Marie Wright
Anthony McIntyre

10 January 2005

SF - Securocrat Fantasists
Anthony McIntyre

Mick Hall

Merge Ahead?
Dr John Coulter

DPP Cover-up RUC/PSNI Malpractice Yet Again
32 CSM Press Release

RSF Are The Sole Inheritors of the Sinn Fein Mantle
Des Dalton, RSF

Óglaigh na hÉireann New Year Statement 2005

The Caged Men
Ruairi O'Driscoll

Changing Fortunes
Anthony McIntyre



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