Anthony McIntyre
Sunday Tribune 25/01/1998

Had the philosopher Albert Camus have lived, and were he inclined to show an interest, his observation on politics here may well have been: ‘every thing republican which exalts the peace process adds at the same time to its absurdity’. This is all the more likely given the events of recent days. The peace process has acted as midwife to both the Heads of Agreement document which reinforces partition, and a situation on the ground where many nationalists increasingly express the view that they are now as defenseless from the unionist onslaught as they were in August 1969.

From an unreconstructed republican perspective the central flaw of the peace process lies in its logic, dynamic and parameters, all of which have combined for some time now to mould a partitionist framework which has served to predetermine the type of outcome republicanism had for long stood rock solid against. The process in unprecedented fashion produced what no other strategy, republican or otherwise managed in such a concentrated period of time. In a four year time span three major British-Irish initiatives - The Downing Street declaration, the Framework document and the Heads of Agreement document - all reaffirmed the unionist veto, a veto which means nothing other than a declaration of intent by the British state to remain in Ireland until the unionists say otherwise.

The republican leadership’s fudging of this central point particularly in relation to the Framework document when it proclaimed that the latter was an acknowledgment that partition had failed rather than a statement of intent by both governments to work partition in a new form, in many ways set the parameters of any future negotiations and created the context in which the Heads of Agreement document emerged. That the document was not even dressed up with what Professor Henry Patterson once termed the ‘necessary nonsenses’ to keep republicans on board is a result of London and Dublin’s attitude toward not in the main Sinn Fein but the IRA.

That the pattern of increases in the overall Sinn Fein vote in the intervening period could not produce a London/Dublin paper more nationalistic than the Framework document indicates that the party is largely irrelevant to the overall strategic considerations of the two governments.

Following the breakdown of the last cease-fire the IRA resumed its Northern Irish campaign only to have it ridiculed by one senior RUC member as a ‘pathetic grubby little war’. Significantly, for the first time since the Mason era British state security personnel were briefing journalists that the IRA had been militarily defeated. While the British have made a habit out of both misreading and underestimating the IRA, the inevitable impairment caused to the organisation by prolonged cease-fire gave London and Dublin grounds to believe that they could present nationalists with just about any proposals. If the IRA were unable to resist then happy days for both governments. Sinn Fein can huff and it can puff but unlike the IRA cannot blow the house down.

It is inconceivable that Northern nationalists would have gained any less had republicans viewed the talks process as a dog does a lamp post. Just like selling a horse to buy a saddle, the price to be paid for the inclusion of republicans in the talks was the exclusion of republicanism. Furthermore, the Sinn Fein leadership’s strategic orientation to the right - until recently not as pronounced since the days of Sean Russell’s leadership - which has led it into association with what is effectively an anti-IRA alliance comprised of the Dublin government, the SDLP and corporate Irish America could only but seriously weaken republicanism’s anti-partitionist thrust. Those elements have always been much more hostile to the IRA than to British involvement in Ireland. Was the republican tail ever seriously going to wag that dog?

Admittedly, while consistent enough in stating that an internal solution would not work that alliance has equally consistently been prepared to accept a non-internal solution which would leave partition intact. And this is crucial to understanding that a very real cleavage does and should exist between republicans and partitionist nationalism (that strain of nationalism which accepts unity only with consent). A non-internal solution which leaves the British proclaiming that they will remain in Ireland until the unionists ask them to go is every bit as partitionist as what exists at present. What changes is that in the management of partition Dublin has a greater role. And when a similar idea was mooted through the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985, the Sinn Fein leadership credited the British state with success insofar as it tied Dublin into its own strategy as a junior partner.

Things sometimes change in order to stay the same. Indeed.



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