The Blanket

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In any great organization
it is far, far safer
to be wrong with the majority
than to be right alone.
- John Kenneth Galbraith



The status quo is always an option
in political history
when its opponents urge
no alternative course


Paul Fitzsimmons


A sincere compliment to begin with: when political criticisms are raised in the public arena, often the reaction by those at "the receiving end" is to ignore those criticisms entirely. Mr. Tommy Gorman breaks from that pattern by answering my earlier article "What do Republicans want?" with his "The Status Quo Is Never An Option."

Moreover, I appreciate Mr. Gorman's implicit recognition in his article that he and I share, along with all of our fellow citizens of Ireland, the right to speak out on such matters.

When I learned that Mr. Gorman would be responding to my small writing, I contacted an editor of THE BLANKET and said: "On television once or twice, I've seen Mr. Gorman speak, and he seems like a quite intelligent person. If he takes on my points honesty and fairly, I'm confident you'll have another fine article for your publication." Whether Mr. Gorman's response constitutes "a fine article" is probably best left for others to judge, but, frankly and unhappily, I feel Mr. Gorman didn't take on my article's largest points at all.

His short piece does hit a few tangential areas. Mr. Gorman claims that I overuse emphases, quotation marks, and parentheses in my writing; he is correct. He says I didn't "exactly set the right tone when establishing [my] historical bona fides"; this point is, though, unclear to me.

Also asserted in that piece is that I myself am "going to have to accept that there are a few of us who have lived the situation in Ireland for a bit longer than his 'mere two decades of formal and informal study.'" Mr. Gorman should rest entirely assured that I accept that point fully and completely. In fact, well before reaching ripe middle age, I had first-hand knowledge - not at all to my surprise - of people older than me who were living in Ireland, even people with vastly more first-hand experience regarding "the Troubles"; indeed, the converse was always unimaginable. (A related question I've long had in the back of my mind is, however, "Are those old hands in the North of Ireland capable of learning any new tricks?")

Mr. Gorman's piece is wrong, however, in a couple of important ways.

Perhaps most importantly, he asserts that my own "attitude is strikingly similar to that of Sinn Fein spokespeople when dealing with criticism." Mr. Gorman argues that "Gerry Adams on the one hand emphasises the need for analysis and criticism and when someone actually offers an analysis that is at variance with that of the Provisional leadership they are branded 'nay-sayers, cynics and armchair generals'." My inference, and I think a fair one, is that Mr. Gorman feels Sinn Féin takes this rather contradictory position in order to support the status quo of the Good Friday Agreement scheme.

However, Mr. Gorman already knows that I think the GFA is execrable but that it will -and perhaps even should - be "rejected" only if a better approach can be found. Thus, Mr. Gorman knows that, unlike Sinn Féin, I am no great supporter of the Good Friday Agreement. "Does [Fitzsimmons] allow for any opposition at all to the status quo?" Honestly, I doubt that Mr. Gorman posed that question with any seriousness whatever.

But, as Mr. Gorman is also aware, I would indeed have little sympathy for any position, made after mature reflection, that boiled down to little or nothing more than: "We hate the GFA, which should be abandoned; Sinn Féin is wrong to take part in it; but we have no other viable political/constitutional course to offer or commend or even aspire to." As noted above, my opening salvo on this topic was straightforwardly entitled "What do Republicans want?" It was not entitled "What do Republicans dislike?" With my "mere two decades of formal and informal study" of Ireland, I think I've got an adequate handle on the answer to that latter question.

Unarguably, "dissenting Republicans" have challenged Sinn Féin, particularly in recent months, to spell out how its pro-GFA approach will yield a "republican" victory. I think it entirely appropriate that "dissenting Republicans" take on that same challenge concerning any alternative course of action by them, if indeed they have any alternative course to recommend.

If Republicans in the North of Ireland are still interested - as I assume they are - in achieving a genuine republic for themselves, they have, at least in theory, three main options: (i) they could keep trying, in some way or ways, for the 32-county state; (ii) they could aim to establish a 6-county republic (perhaps along the lines discussed in my first THE BLANKET contribution); and (iii) they could somehow attempt to disestablish the English monarchy. It may well be that, while the GFA lives, none of those options is even remotely possible, absent an "outbreeding" success by Northern Republicans/Nationalists. However, if the GFA failed in the relatively near future, I still think that, within the course of years, independence would be the most likely of these three approaches (otherwise, within the course of a generation or two or more, reunion would be the most likely of the three).

Several related questions occur to me. First, would Republicans contemplate - or even merely investigate the possibility of - a genuine republic, in a fair and workable 6-county form, which might be achievable within a couple of years? Second, will Republicans truly be satisfied with waiting 20 or 40 or 60 years for a 32-county state that demographics may (or may not) bring about? Third, will Republicans in fact accept nothing less than a 32-county socialist republic?

As to those first and second questions, and as someone with no overwhelming affection for British sovereignty over Northern Ireland, I tend to view reunion as "pie in the sky," at least in terms of the lives of the living. I yet wonder whether local Republicans, if actually offered the opportunity for a fair and workable 6-county independence, would broadly say: "Rather than having TODAY a fair and workable 6-county republic free of British political control, I'd pick 32-county reunion that various geniuses assure me will happen in ten or twenty or thirty years, with continued British rule until that point." Maybe they would so decide; but, without an independence plebiscite, they'd never have an actual opportunity to make that decision, and no one would otherwise know for sure what their decision would be. (Moreover, if they did choose to wait for reunion, one might ask, "Well, then, how bad really is British rule?")

However, if Republicans, particularly dissident Republicans, would be satisfied with nothing short of a 32-county socialist republic, I'd say they're never going to be satisfied, although they'd certainly not be obliged to take that speculation as gospel. But what they ought to do, if that is indeed their goal, is to spell out - to themselves, their supporters, and their potential supporters - how they intend to achieve that end.

A man who shakes his clenched fist against a cloudy sky and bemoans the impending rain may be venting his spleen a bit - and, in a legalistic sense, he may be exercising a right to speak out - but, in the end, he may just wind up just all wet. Query whether his time wouldn't be better spent trying to find, or trying to construct, an adequate shelter or even merely a workable umbrella.

Actions still speak louder than words, and concerted action following a plan towards a just and desired goal has to be preferable to unfocused, aimless kvetching. Which course are dissident Republicans urging?

Again, what do these Republicans want?



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