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Lessons from the Ceasefire

Mick Hall • 9 August 2004

It appears there is increasing discontent with the GFA bubbling to the surface within the Nationalist and Republican communities of the North. Having said this it also needs to be emphasised that there is little demand for a return to war coming from within these communities, far from it in fact. Unfortunately much of this discontent has slowly festered away because SF has not only failed to provide any outlets for it to be expressed publicly, but in the past years has gone out of its way to tar all those who disagree with Mr Adams' political strategy as being hand-in-glove with reaction, in the guise of either the Unionists or the British State. Which is in itself an outrageous claim to make as the current SF strategy has placed that party far closer to the Unionist position than their Republican critics. As incredible as it may seem to those who are unfamiliar with the mindset of Mr Adams and co, SF has no political journal in which its members and supporters can debate the momentous changes party policy has gone through in recent years.

Thus perhaps understandably, of late much of this discontent has emerged into the light of day as criticism not of the wrong-headed political strategy of the SF leadership, but as personal criticism, real or imagined, that centres on the human frailties of certain individuals that comprise SF's leadership clique. If this personalising of political differences continues, it could have a detrimental effect, especially for those who wish to see SF pushed to the left. Before I go any further so that there is no confusion, I am not including here those who have used satire to burst the pomposity of certain SF leaders, nor those who have been on the receiving end of the SF smears I have mentioned above and have replied like with like.

However in my experience few people originally join a radical political organisation, whether it be a left wing political group or an Irish Nationalist/Republican Party such as SF, for personal advancement or financial gain, although of course there are always examples that disprove the rule. The simple fact is there are far easier paths one could choose within the political arena. This was in the past especially true in the north of Ireland and even these days in the brave new world of the GFA, being an elected representative of SF still means you are going to become a likely target of the loyalist para-militaries' steroid enhanced goons. As to earning large sums of money from being an elected SF representative, it has not been an option to date. The party to its credit operates a system of all of its elected TD’s, MP’s, MEP’s and MLA's, drawing only the average workers wage from their parliamentary salary, with the rest going into party coffers. This is not only practical politics designed to prevent an economic gap opening up between SF’s elected officials and those they represent. It also has the additional advantage of pouring a considerable amount of money into SF coffers, which can be and is used to build the party. It is true the homes of some SF Representatives may have nicer looking windows and doors than some of their neighbours, but can we really begrudge them the protection these avail? They are after all more likely than most to have something unpleasant thrown or fired through the said windows and doors. What would we think of a party that does nothing to protect its elected officials in a society where allowing the police to deal with such problems as the aforementioned is still not a viable option for most Nationalists let alone Republicans?

The problem that arises when Sinn Fein's left and Republican critics either make or endorse these claims made against the Sinn Fein's leadership is twofold. Firstly few people within the nationalist communities, who actually know the current Adams clique personally, seriously believe that they are lining their own pockets. Indeed, although again there may be exceptions that disprove prove the rule, most people are well aware that in most cases the opposite is true and many of those who form the current leadership have made as many sacrifices in support of their political beliefs as their Left and Republican critics. As for Adams himself, in my judgement he has in all probability put far more cash into the SF coffers than he has taken out. If he were to cease his political activities, he could make a small fortune from his rather turgid self-promoting propaganda tomes or on the US Lecture Tour circuit.

The second reason and of far more importance as to why these personal attacks on the SF leadership are counterproductive, is that they equate their political errors and mistakes with human weaknesses. i.e. The reason they signed the GFA, behaved as they did whilst in Ministerial Office, defended the British army up in Ardoyne on the 12th July and treat their 'dissident' critics within the Republican communities in the arrogant manner in which they do, is solely because they are over-ambitious for office and for the prestige and the perks plus the large salaries that go with it. Of late even harsher language is seeping in from some quarters; there has even been talk of the Adams clique being financially corrupt if not traitorous too. Thus implying that perhaps the Brits (the clever things) have been conducting SF political strategy all the time.

Of course by accepting the aforementioned as fact one is also accepting that the British State can buy, bribe or corrupt all Irish people who rise to a position where they can threaten the UK state's continued presence in Ireland. If this were indeed true then those that claim PIRA lost the war would have been proved correct. But of course these people are wrong, for if they were not the Brits would not have bothered, no matter how flimsy their intent, to offer a negotiated settlement. They would have simply dictated terms as to where and when volunteers would hand in their weapons to the RUC/PSNI and Republicans would have had to await her Majesty's pleasure before any prisoners were released from jail.

No, the Provisional Republican Movement did not lose the war, however nor, sadly, did the RA win it. Those members of the PRM who at the time of the ceasefires first being called, went around claiming the war had been won, did a great dis-service, because by so doing they were planting the seeds of future disillusionment within their communities. Whilst it is correct as I have already said to claim the RA did not lose the war, what they certainly have lost to date is the negotiations that followed the second ceasefire. We should not be too surprised about this as this also happened in 1975 during the ceasefire back then and further back in the negotiations that brought the Tan War to a close, out of which the Free State and its northern sibling emerged in all their imperfections.

One should try and not be too downcast about this latest setback, however difficult this may be for those who have invested the best part of their lives in this struggle. But never forget the British State has an enormous depth of experience in such negotiations going back hundreds of years. We should also not overlook the fact that in the post ceasefire negotiations of the late 1990s, they had a considerable advantage over SF, as from the British States point of view there was little of major importance that could come from these negotiations that they could not live with. They simply saw the talks as a further step in the Ulsterisation of ‘the troubles’ and all those party to the talks, including SF, seemed only to willing to assist them in achieving this. Whereas the SF negotiating position both during the talks and after the agreement was signed made it all too obvious that they not only wanted, but also needed, to show major gains from these negotiations and in the process they time and again made the British only too well aware of this fact. Trooping up to Stormont when they have been locked out demanding to be let back in (think about that one). Destroying weapons long after their prisoners were released and by so doing gaining little in return beyond the odd sympathetic leading article in the Times or Guardian. No, these negotiations have not been a great success for the SF.

The British State may wish to disengage from Ireland, but it is not a priority; they can leave it to the next generation or beyond without suffering too much torment. But even when they do go, which in the long run is almost inevitable, the more so if the EU moves forward to become some sort of political federation, the advantages to the British State of withdrawal will not be momentous. Although the economic and political burden of staying in the north indefinitely increasingly will become more tiresome and, on a more personal level, staying must be downright depressing to say the least. Imagine reaching the pinnacle of your profession, i.e. British Prime Minister or a senior Cabinet or Civil Service post, then having to spend endless hours listening to ‘the Ian Paisleys', David Trimbles or Jeffrey Donaldsons forever telling you that you are selling out their people, etc, etc. One could almost feel sorry for the Brits — but not quite.

So whilst withdrawal is in all probability the British States preferred option, what they do not want to happen is a rerun of what happened in Algeria when it gained independence from France. That is, the loyalist paramilitaries, silently backed by the Unionist political establishment, aping the OAS with bombings on the British mainland, along with mutinies amongst a section of the officer class within the British Armed Forces.

However I am getting ahead of the story. If we continue, as I have described, to claim that these negotiations have reached the current impasse due to the human weaknesses of the current SF leadership, then the logical conclusion to draw is all that is needed is a leadership that will not underestimate the Brits, sell out, be bribed or flattered. Sound familiar? Is this not where the Adams leadership came in post 1975? Whereas the real reason Irish Republicanism under the leadership of Gerry Adams has reached its current impasse is just like previous generations of Republican leaders: its negotiating strategy was inadequate, ill-thought through and, like his predecessors, Adams had no viable fall back position beyond rattling the RA sabres. With the passing of every month, as the current ceasefire has turned into years of PIRA inactivity as far as challenging the British military is concerned, sabre rattling became so much empty rhetoric. Today, if the majority of experienced PIRA volunteers were to return to war, they would be accompanied by walking frames, dodgy prostates, blood pressure tablets and reading glasses. Sure they could become an irritant, but we should never forget the British State withstood and financed twenty years plus of full scale war with the Provos and still did not run for the door marked exit.

The current period suits the British down to the ground. They have finally got near their aim of full Ulsterisation of the conflict, with the PRM forever at their door with a begging bowl. In reality I doubt whether they care two hoots whether the Assembly ever meets again. What options does SF have? Well, perhaps it should make clear to its constituency, let alone membership, that the Armed Struggle is no longer an option for them. In the current international climate, let alone that within Ireland itself, armed struggle cannot move the situation forward. Once this has been said by PIRA, it could take the next logical step from a ceasefire and stand the Army down. Off the record with the loyalist groups still active it would not be unreasonable to keep a headquarters staff active, in any case some such would be needed to administer the standing down of the army. Arms would be dumped and sealed to such a time when confidence was high enough in the north that they could be destroyed. In all likelihood what would happen is the Provos would not be the first armed Republican group to become known as the Rusty Riffles.

Once this was done the British could take it or leave it; SF would be able to concentrate on becoming the largest political party in Ireland or, even more optimistically, become the pivotal party in a coalition of Ireland's dispossessed. In the north they would continue to gain more seats from the SDLP and eventually in all probability the wretched Assembly would be reconstituted with once again SF being the largest nationalist party. If the Unionists continue to refuse to enter a coalition government with SF, then they should become the main opposition within the Assembly, exposing every mean spirited trick of both the British and the Unionists, which in reality is the only principled position Republicans could take in such a place and even this would be a step too far for many. Oh, and whilst the SF leadership is organising the above, Left Republicans can go about their business, exposing every one of Adams and company's mean spirited tricks and smears, opposing any further acquiescence by SF to Capital and its political gofers.

Finally what we should all remember is that unless the injustice is great, the Irish vote for bread and butter issues, just like the electorate in most other countries, not the bullet and the ballot box. Yes, the same voter may give a Republican volunteer a bed for the night if they are on the run, a meal and perhaps even a lift across the border. Such things are sympathy born of Irish history, but they cannot be automatically transferred into a political mandate at the polls. If ever there is a lesson to be learnt since the first ceasefire this is it.







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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.
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Index: Current Articles

14 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

At One with the West Belfast MP
Kathleen O Halloran

Disbanding the Provos
Tommy McKearney

Lessons from the Ceasefire
Mick Hall

Jobs for the Boys
George Young

Working Withing British 'Law' With A Vow NOT to Use Force Against the British
Sharon O'Sullibhan

Conditions for Irish POWs Today
Deirdre Fennessy

The Faithful...
Liam O Comain

Globalised Indifference
Anthony McIntyre

No Human Being is Illegal!
Sean Matthews

8 August 2004

An Ireland of Equals!
Kathleen O Halloran

A Socialist in West Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

A Living Tapestry of Tongues
Sean Fleming

Paranoia is Healthy: Michael O'Connell's Right Wing Ireland?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

'The Labor of Reading'
Liam O Ruairc

Seamus Costello, Joe McCann and myself. . .
Liam O Comain

Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?
Cecilie Surasky



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