The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Seize the Opportunity, Seize the Moment
Liam O Ruairc • (First published in Forum Magazine, December 2003,

There is general consensus on what the ultimate aim of Irish Republicanism is: the establishment of a sovereign 32 county socialist Republic based on the 1916 Proclamation. However, where there is little agreement as to how this aim is going to be achieved. The 'Provisional' movement argues that the 1998 'Good Friday Agreement' is the way forward, that it represents the best opportunity to achieve the goals of Irish Republicanism. Republicans of the so-called 'dissident' variety are opposed to this view. They argue that the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement like power sharing and cross border bodies, far from being some 'stepping stone' towards the achievement of the Republic are in fact nothing other than part of the British state's alternative to Republicanism since 1973. If the Good Friday Agreement is to be rejected, what are the alternatives? When thinking of an “alternative”, I have in mind the kind of strategy which would facilitate the apparition of conditions most opportune to the realisation of the Republican objectives.

Republicans have to build an alternative based on a realistic assessment. The existing balance of forces is heavily weighted against Republicans. They have to face the British state, the Irish state, the SDLP, pro and anti GFA faction of Unionism, Sinn Fein, social democracy, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. All have vested interests in the preservation of the status quo. At the present moment they face tolerable discontent. The people still have the benefits of the Celtic Tiger and the Good Friday Agreement in mind. The conclusions that can be drawn from this is that if Republicans want to challenge all those adversaries, change the balance of forces they will have to identify their weakest point, where they are most vulnerable. One does not attack an adversary where or when they are in a position of strength, but where the adversary is most vulnerable. For example, until a decade ago, the weakest point of the 26 counties was probably emigration and mass unemployment. Those two factors clearly pointed how much a failed entity the Free state was, they called for radical change. The North's weakest point was that it was irreformable, that after decades of failed reforms and political initiatives, Catholics were still treated as second class citizens and Protestant communities were still in the grips of biggots.

Apart from the unfavorable balance of forces, late 2003 is not the best moment for Republican politics to grow. The success of the Celtic Tiger and enthousiasm for the Good Friday Agreement are withering away, but have not yet matured to the point that both the 26 counties and the 6 counties are in a state of structural crisis or facing significant legitimacy crisis. Effective Republican politics have to challenge adversaries not just where they are at their weakest point, but when the moment is most opportune. The point is to wait for the right moment, and to prepare for this moment. Periods of crisis provide the best conjuncture for a political intervention. For example, 1972 or 1981 provided more political opportunities than let's say 1963 or 1991. The hard fact is that the achievement of Republican objectives is not always and everywhere possible. Socialism or Free Ireland are not just round the corner. Republicans have to patiently prepare themselves politically and organisationally so that they will be ready to seize the opportunity, seize the moment. They need to know not just what weakens the enemy, but what can strengthen the forces of Republicanism and their project. Republicans need to cultivate political virtues, such as the ability to give political leadership and strategic initiative. The aim of all Republican actions and interventions should be to have maximum political impact and effect.

To be successful, Republicans will need to mobilise a vast amount of people, tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of them. Where are they going to find them? They should look to all those potentially or actually involved in struggles, be they economic (conditions of work, wages...), social (the rights of women, youth, racism...), political (national question, corruption, neutrality...) or ideological (influence of religion, revisionism...). From Bin Tax protestors in Dublin to the prisoners in Maghaberry, from protestors outside Shannon air base to the youth of Ardoyne, there are a vast amount of social forces involved in struggles that could be mobilised. The task of Republicans is to push those struggles to the limit, that their combined effect aggravates the crisis of the status quo. To enable this, Republicans should develop a programme around which the people can be mobilised.

These are general strategic considerations, but what about some practical suggestions? A starting point could be that in the North, the weakest point is sectarianism and neo-liberalism. The Good Friday Agreement was supposed to diminish sectarianism, but it has in fact contributed to its dramatic increase. Arguing for 'parity of esteem' or 'equality' can sometimes end up being just a reversed version of sectarianism. Politics in the North are often limited to competition between two sectarian blocks over scarce resources. The Republican alternative is to displace this into a confrontation between the Irish people and the British state. For example, Republicans should seek to displace the struggle over policing from one of being 'representative of nationalists' ("Implement Patten!") to one about the colonial and capitalist nature of the police force ("Disband the RUC!"). The other weakness is that from Sinn Fein to the DUP, there is consensus that cuts have to be made in public, health and education sectors, and private finance initiatives have to be introduced. This is going to affect people badly, particularly the most socially and economically disadvantaged. The Republican alternative is to confront the pro-business agenda of Orange and Green parties and organise resistance to its implementation. In the South, as the Celtic Tiger is slowly entering crisis, Republicans could capitalise on social discontent (issues ranging from crime to unemployment), and on the current crisis of confidence in the establishment (corruption, tribunals, etc). The concrete effects of the national question (i. e. emergency laws, supergrasses, etc) constitute the other main area for intervention. For the Republican struggle to succeed, North and South, the cause of Ireland and the cause of labour have to be organically united.



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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

17 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


An Autopsy on the Provos
Sandy Boyer


The PSNI Threat

Anthony McIntyre


Seize the Opportunity, Seize the Moment
Liam O Ruairc


Happy Xmas from Little England
Eamon Sweeney


Dublin Cover-up Was Government Policy
Father Sean Mc Manus


Warm (Flat) Earth
Michael Youlton


13 December 2003


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association




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