The Blanket

New Phase of the Struggle or Strategic Failure?

by Liam O'Ruairc

Irish Republicanism is in crisis. The British presence is still there, the Unionists are still ruling the place, all this for the foreseeable future. The fact that Irish Republicanism has not been able to realise its aims and has suffered a massive defeat is at the root of this present crisis.

What has greatly aggravated it is the fact that Provisional Irish Republicanism has effectively integrated the institutions that it once tried to destroy. In the North, Sinn Féin ministers are sitting in Stormont, and it is a matter of time before the party enters into coalition government in the South. Far from subverting those institutions, the participation of the Provisional Movement makes them effectively administer British rule and implement neoliberal policies such as closing hospitals, promoting PFI in the field of education, etc. Had the Provisional Movement retained any sense of Republican principles, it would have gone into opposition instead of taking up ministerial posts. Rhetoric of the Provisional movement set aside, Republicanism has de facto transformed itself into its opposite.

The fact that people that once led dissent and resistance are now being part of the problem and the status quo against which they protested is traumatic and difficult to get over for many. Contemporary Irish Republicanism is at present deeply divided; there are no fewer than four IRAs and two Sinn Feins. Those divisions show a clear crisis as to what the way ahead is. There is a crisis of leadership and a strategic uncertainty. A current able to regenerate Irish Republicanism is not yet hegemonic and is not presently capable of transforming itself into a significant political force.

The relevance and future of Irish Republicanism is also threatened by objective factors. The 26-County state is the legitimate Irish Republic in the eyes of the vast majority of its citizens, and in the North an agreement far short of a United Ireland free of British control has the support of the greater number of the Nationalist population. Both the "Free State" and British Rule have relatively succeeded in making themselves acceptable. The worst effects of the national question have been deflected. Combined with the ability of the British and Southern states to address people's discontent through economic and social reforms, this has severely undercut Irish Republicanism's potential to develop. However, this presupposes that it is always possible for reforms to succeed, which is highly unlikely. Also, the level of integration of the people by the State is never absolute, but relative and situations are not static but dynamic. Those two factors indicate that this situation might not remain identical in the future.

The youth of Ardoyne and those protesting against racism and exclusion in the South are there to prove it. But the fact that at present no significant section of the people North and South are mobilized and the majority of the population demobilized make the emergence of a credible radical opposition difficult. People are tired of politics in general, they have been betrayed by the politicians so many times.

Increasing EU integration and globalisation are also challenges to the traditional Republican project of establishing a sovereign nationstate. Those are objective factors that threaten Irish Republicanism with becoming an anachronism and an irrelevancy if it is not able to develop. But time and again, Irish Republicanism has shown great ability to adapt itself to changing circumstances. Even if it operates in difficult circumstances, its strength and ability to regenerate are not to be underestimated.

The fundamental question is whether this present conjuncture is just a crisis of Irish Republicanism - albeit a serious one - or its death agony. During its two hundred years existence, Irish Republicanism has gone through a number of crisis; but has always managed to recover from them and go forward. The present crisis is no different. It can be asserted with relative confidence that in due time, Irish Republicanism will once again arise from its ashes. Those who assert that this period of history sees the death agony of Irish Republicanism, as it was argued above, overestimate the ability of the British and 26-County states to create and implement reforms and underestimate Irish Republicanism's ability to sustain and develop itself. However, what remains to be seen is under what form Republicanism will re-emerge, under a fundamentalist or a progressive one.

The crisis of Irish Republicanism is perhaps less related to objective problems than subjective ones. The fundamental problem is that an alternative strategy and political vision that would regenerate Irish Republicanism is very slow to emerge. Where we can be confident is that Irish Republicanism has proved itself to have a progressive potential and be able to evolve. On that basis, let us develop that vision and strategy.




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Winter 2002
Vol. 1 No. 1

Free Speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game.
Free speech is life itself.
- Salman Rushdie

Republicanism in Crisis

The Cracks in the "PNF"

A Journal of Dissent

Under the Foot of the Mountain: Brendan Hughes

Author's Choice: Rogelio Alonso, A Just War?

Interview: Marian Price

Books: Soul Wars

Books: Anthologies Package our Literary Past

Unionism and Decommissioning

Turkish Hunger Strike Report

Taking Sides in the War on Modernity

Writing This Issue



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices