The Blanket

RIRA and CIRA: No Support and Going Nowhere?

Liam O Ruairc

The recent killing of a Protestant working for the security forces by the RIRA has been criticised by all quarters. Most interesting have been Martin McGuiness' criticisms reported by the media and Anthony McIntyre's recent analysis of the RIRA in the Blanket. Both have raised issues of crucial importance regarding physical force republicanism that need to be commented on.

First, present day physical force Republicanism -that is the campaign of the RIRA and the CIRA- is criticised for not having popular support and being representative of just a tiny minority of people. This is nothing new. One of the main criticisms of the various IRA campaigns is that they were not supported by the majority of the Irish people in general, and in electoral terms in particular. Only a minority -even if a relatively significant one- of the Irish people North, South and abroad supported the Provisional IRA campaign (1970 - 1994). This can be measured from opinion polls and Sinn Fein's electoral performance. So, when the Provisional condemn the RIRA's campaign on the basis that they do not have popular support, they are in fact ridiculously saying "our minority was bigger than your minority". For Irish Republicanism, the legitimacy of an armed campaign is not grounded on support by the majority of the people, but on the fact that if the British government maintains its presence in the North of Ireland through force, any Irish person -be they representative of the majority of the people or not- has the right to use physical force to resist British occupation. As an American political scientist wrote 20 years ago, the decisive criteria to judge physical force Republicanism are not opinion polls or electoral performance. "A paramilitary organisation does not set out to win at the ballot box. It sets out to win its political aims. The one does not necessarily have anything to do with the other. Power, according to Mao's famous axiom, does indeed come out of the barrel of a gun, and the hard truth is that politics ultimately has a lot more to do with the dictates of power than with the interests of the 'plain people'. In the scheme of things, 'winning the hearts and minds of the people' is more often the by-product than the cause of success." (Padraig O Malley, Uncivil Wars, 302) The RIRA and CIRA would answer the critique that they have no popular support by stating that popular support will be a by-product of their success. The present author agrees that it is quite spurious to judge physical force Republicanism in terms of "majority support". Did Connolly and Pearse represent a mathematical majority of the people in 1916, or the Fenians in 1867, or Young Ireland in 1848 and Robert Emmet in 1803 ? No, of course, they didn't. Neither did the Bolsheviks in 1917, or Che Guevara when he was with Castro in the Sierra Maestra in the late 1950s. The key question is not mathematical majority support, but whether the movements involved have a strategy that takes forward the struggle of the people, and the revolutionary direction in which those Republican organisations are taking
Ireland as a whole. If it is indeed the case, is far more problematical.

Secondly, present day physical force Republicanism is criticised for going nowhere and being counter-productive. The RIRA and CIRA would probably answer to that that to call off their campaign would be in fact retrogressive. To quote O Malley again: "If the IRA called a halt to its operations, there would, of course, no longer be an overt conflict, and therefore there would be a less pressing need for a 'solution'. Indeed, were the IRA simply to cease and desist, the impact could be retrogressive, since there would no longer be any reasons for Loyalists to make any concessions to nationalists when their 'unreasonableness' no longer carried with it the threat of greater instability. It is improbable to assume that they would make concessions in the future if the IRA put the gun away, in view of their demonstrated unwillingness to make concessions in the past, no matter how menacing the IRA gun." (p.308) Even if the Provisional movement has called off its operations, it only gets concessions from the British and the Unionists through the implicit latent threat that if their demands are not met, there will be growing support for the RIRA and CIRA. So even if the Provisional movement condemns the actions of present day physical force Republicanism, it nevertheless indirectly benefits from their campaign -or at least up to a point.

For the present author, the armed campaigns of the RIRA and CIRA are unlikely to decisively shift the balance of forces at the present stage, because they are not the organic expression of a mass movement. They have more in common with the IRA campaigns of 1939-1945 or 1956-1962 than the 1971-1972 or 1981 periods. They do not have a mass orientation. The priority should be the rebuilding of a radical mass movement that would challenge the status quo. The problem is that at the present moment, the "mass movement" remains an abstract slogan. We do not have the magic "five point plan" to build the mass movement. It is precisely because of the absence of a mass movement that physical force republicanism is able to present itself as being the only alternative to Stormont. The actions of the RIRA and the CIRA are to a large extent the product of our own impotency to create a viable alternative. Present day physical force Republicanism does not need any more condemnations -being more a question of political expediency than moral principle- but constructive political criticism. Instead of it being left out in the wilderness, those sympathetic to its aims should reach out and engage this enduring tradition of Irish politics.







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Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only a unanimity of the graveyard.
- Robert Jackso

Index: Current Articles

22 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Listen Rather Than Punish
Anthony McIntyre


To Hell With the True Believers
Newton Emerson


Merger Mania
Ciarán Irvine


Interface Workers Snubbed
Billy Mitchell


A Vibrant Feile
Sean Smyth


RIRA & CIRA: No Support and Going Nowhere?
Liam O Ruairc


18 August 2002


Unidentified Mob Rule
Aine Fox


The West Belfast Feile
Newton Emerson


The Most Useless, Most Spineless, Most Pointless of Them All
Ciarán Irvine


North Belfast: A Resident's View
Joan Totten


A Tawny Sinew
Anthony McIntyre


Deepest Sympathy


Ahmed Al Kouraini
Sam Bahour


A Personal Voyage of Taboo

Davy Carlin


Reading Connolly
Liam O Ruairc




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