FRUSTRATIONS OF THE GRASSROOT REPUBLICAN
Parliamentary Brief October 1995
The IRA ceasefire is now just past its first anniversary. That landmark was deemed by many this time last year to be a potential non-event. Those who thought otherwise, were inclined toward the view that if the anniversary was reached then the basis for a permanent peace would have been long since established. Neither school of thought were correct. We have the first anniversary but no sign of permanent peace.
British involvement of itself in Ireland has less been the primary factor in determining political violence over the past twenty five years than has the pro-union stance it has taken. The military and political actions the British state has been compelled to take and the nature of the alliances it has felt obliged to construct by the very logic of that stance, has led to a politically violent situation of extreme polarization in the North of Ireland.
Consequently, it is insufficient to define this polarization in terms of two communities apart. It is more accurate and politically honest to view the polarization in terms of one community alienated from the British state and those who support it.
The republican position amounts to one of demanding that the British state cease to maintain the pro-union stance, become genuinely neutral and act as persuaders for unity. At present it is inconceivable that the British state will bend to the last of these demands. If it were to, there exists the possibility that it would be accused of 'coercive persuasion'. And it has with massive military force nailed its colours to the mast that it will not coerce the unionists.
Yet the British state could cede the first two republican demands without in any way coercively persuading the unionists. By pursuing such a course of action it would open up the space for a process of what the nationalist columnist Desmond Fennell twenty years ago termed 'imaginative persuasion'. Nationalists, without the structural blockage of the unionist veto, would have the political space to engage in a process of imaginative and non-coercive persuasion. The very minimum that is required for this is inclusive all-party talks.
It is becoming apparent to many in wider 'nationalist Ireland' that the primary aim of present British strategy is to secure the eradication of militant Irish republicanism, rather than create a peace which would obviate the raison d'etre of the latter. With every twist and turn of British political maneuvering this dangerous but accurate interpretation of their intentions has taken firmer hold. It is manifesting itself in increasing disenchantment on the ground. During the 1981 hunger strike, the leader of the republican prisoners in the Maze prison camp, Brendan McFarlene, commented that 'it appears that they are not interested in simply undermining us but completely annihilating us'. The proceeding years were a consequence of that as much as anything else. That phrase of McFarlene's captures the essence of republican feeling on the ground today.
The longer the present impasse is allowed to linger, the more apparent it is that it is to the detriment of republicans and to the advantage of those who have been responsible for the state of oppression experienced by nationalists throughout the history of the Northern Ireland state. Furthermore, republicans are understandably apprehensive as a consequence of the 1975 truce. The Guardian on the 15th of July 1975, reported that:
Constitutionally, politically and militarily, the situation in Northern Ireland has never been so fluid or open to speculation. So called solutions like independence, restored majority rule and British withdrawal are openly canvassed and debated in the best informed circles, and with every day that passes the wilder predictions are growing more credible.
By the 10th of October 1975 the Times was reporting that British officials 'are privately anxious that the so-called ceasefire should continue ... they acknowledge that much of government policy is based on its longevity'. And in spite of the movement, fluidity and British professions of good faith, the aim of British government policy in that era became evident in the criminalisation strategy, resulting in the hunger strikes which prompted the very comment of Brendan McFarlene.
Republicans are now faced with a British government intent on dividing the nationalist consensus that all party talks should proceed as a matter of urgency. Little has seemingly changed in Tory strategy over the years. In 1972 the Conservative MP, Julian Critchley, revealed British state thinking in relation to the Dublin government when he claimed that the taoiseach Jack Lynch's 'attitude to the IRA in the South ... is the key to the eventual military victory for which the security forces are working in the North'.
This type of unchanged thinking can only serve to create the very combustible mix with which to hurl the people of these islands back into the cul de sac of violent political conflict.
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