The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Irish republicanism as I see it, from outside the tent looking in
Thomas Gore • 3.10.03

I’m not a republican, but even if I were I have no doubt I would consider the Good Friday Agreement to have been primarily designed as an exit route from the vicious, costly and counter-productive cycle that physical force had become. Not a crushing defeat, certainly not a victory (maybe not even an honourable draw) – but an escape hatch.

But significantly, irrespective of where any particular accident of birth may have placed me, I like to think that I would still have recognised long before its advent the absolute necessity for just such a device. Only the wilfully myopic could have failed to realise that the violence was leading us all nowhere. It had become habitual, self-perpetuating and, to some extent at least, self-indulgent.

Inflicting and enduring misery may have a certain romantic appeal to it when viewed through the prism of a pint glass on a Saturday night, but the reality - as too many people know - is something completely different altogether. In terms of the oft-stated republican ideal (and to point up the blindingly obvious) it definitely couldn’t be argued that it had in any way moved society towards the ultimate goal of uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. In fact, it played no small part in ensuring that the very opposite became the case – as a people, we are now more divided than ever.

Supposedly a tactic, (“let’s create the republic first and then the Prods will surely see the error of their ways”), violence became for far too many (on every side) an end in itself. It succeeded only in driving people deeper into their respective bunkers and some way out had to be found. The Good Friday Agreement became both the route map and the vehicle towards that end.

From an organisational management point of view, it’s hardly surprising the republican leadership over-sold the agreement – they had no option. How otherwise could they hope to bring the critical mass of the republican movement along with them? Certainly not by telling a community that had suffered so much, and had so often suspended its critical faculties while others suffered, that in relation to achieving its goal of a 32-county republic, most if not all of the sacrifice had been in vain. If not quite back to square one it was certainly back to square mid-1970’s.

Having said that, the leadership was to some extent pushing at an already open door. Many within their constituency had themselves become so heartily sick of the conflict they were only too eager to go along with almost any thinly-disguised deceit on offer. Yet others, as in any group of people, were more than happy to sit back and let the leadership do their thinking and form their opinions for them – a perfect example of the, “if the boys say it’s all right, then it must be,” type of blind allegiance so beloved of leaders everywhere. And lastly, but by no means least, the totalitarian and dictatorial leadership style of Provisional republicanism – not to mention their preferred methods of enforcement – made it an altogether healthier prospect to be deemed to be inside the consensus rather than out.

But not everyone has acquiesced so readily. A relatively small number of former “mainstream” republican activists – of two very distinct types – has refused to blindly follow the script.

The first, a diverse group of intellectuals, has baulked at the very notion of allowing anyone to suppress their opinions, much less dictate their thoughts, irrespective of how important the leadership deem a presentational exercise to be. (Intellectuals everywhere have this annoying habit of refusing to accept pre-cooked and pre-packaged evaluations: they invariably insist on forming and delivering their own). While eschewing the continuation of physical force as a viable republican tactic, the intellectuals seem at the very least to be saying, 'Tell the people how it actually is and why it is, and then let them freely make up their own minds.'

Obvious deceit, the continual insulting of the intelligence, the demanding of blind allegiance and the use of Stalinist tactics to enforce a particular worldview – not to mention the wholesale slaughtering of whole herds of previously sacred cows – have been more than enough to ensure the intellectuals remained off-board.

The other dissenting group couldn’t, with the best will in the world, even remotely be described as intellectual. They point firstly to the enormous sacrifices that republicanism has made during the conflict and then to the agreement, and ask, “Was it all for this?” A valid question of course, but hardly one that justifies their then proceeding to add to our 30-year mountain of misery in the forlorn hope that somehow, sometime in the future, something better will be on offer. This Micawber type approach would be bad enough if it were all there was, but their continued campaign of violence seems more and more to be driven by a cocktail of emotion rather than by any discernible rationality.

Frustration with the direction taken by the “mainstream” leadership and their own inability to come up with a viable alternative; a desire to thwart and embarrass Sinn Fein at every turn; and a refusal to accept – despite all of the evidence – that the campaign of violence was a disaster for all concerned, seems to be all the motivation they possess - or require.

So where should, or can, those outside of the republican mainstream go from here? Frankly, those still pursuing violence should just pack up their tents and go home. The sooner they do that the better for all of us. Their campaign is vindictive, without direction, without support and doomed to inglorious failure. The question isn’t whether they will wither on the vine, but when – and how many innocent lives they will destroy between now and then?

In contrast to that, the non-conformist intellectuals can, in my view, have an infinitely more positive role to play - but only if they broaden their focus of attention. If they continue to concentrate almost exclusively on the shortfalls and shortcomings of the mainstream republican leadership they will inevitably come to be seen as embittered, anachronistic and irrelevant. Sitting between the two positions within republicanism is awkward but shouldn’t become an excuse for atrophying. Instead of forever reacting to the agendas of others they should begin to set their own.

No republican in my lifetime has ever publicly outlined, in anything other than patronising, platitudinous sound bites, what they imagine a 32-county republic would look like. Surely they envisage something more than a simple nailing-on of the six counties to the twenty-six?

The republican intellectuals could begin a public discussion and debate on the finer details of that and other issues pertaining to their objective. Unhindered by party straitjacket or the need to garner votes, and with their undoubted abilities, none are better qualified. The role they envisage the (now) unionist community would play within a new republic; protective measures for minorities; cultural and religious considerations are just some of the issues they should debate and develop. The list is endless.

In short, this non-violent intellectual strain within non-conformist republicanism should, through open and honest discussion and debate, turn their attention towards outlining to unionists why they believe their best future interests lie within a unitary republic.

The perfect platform, of course, to begin airing and developing those ideas is already in place - The Blanket. It seems to me to be a wholly natural progression for them to make. Realising that violence isn’t a legitimate – or remotely successful - means of persuasion doesn’t mean that the notion of persuasion itself has to be abandoned. They may fail in their efforts of course – but when was the chance, or even probability, of failure ever a legitimate excuse for not trying?





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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

3 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Rite of Passage
Anthony McIntyre


32 CSM Condemn Abduction of its members
Andy Martin


Irish Republicanism As I See It
Thomas Gore


A Question of Class
Davy Carlin


It All Leads Back to This
Mick Hall


I Dreamt I Saw Joe H Last Night
Anthony McIntyre


Tail Biting Prohibited
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


28 September 2003


Edward Said, 1935-2003
Liam O Ruairc


Civil Rights Anniversary
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Nothing But Contempt for the Court of the Rich
Anthony McIntyre


Ireland and Post Colonial Theory
Liam O Ruairc


2 Statements on the death of Edward Said


The Letters Page has been updated.




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