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Understanding the raison d'être for the armed struggle


Mick Hall • 22 August 2004

During a debate in Belfast at this years Feile an Phobail, George Galloway, the ex member of the British Labour Party who these days sits as an MP at Westminster for Respect, the Unity Coalition, criticised Unionists and challenged their commitment to democracy by suggesting that a referendum be held within the United Kingdom, to decide whether the six counties should remain within the British State. He claimed he was confident that the British electorate would vote, overwhelmingly, for a military and political disengagement from the north of Ireland

In reply Danny Morrison wrote an article on the subject of a referendum, in which he described it as a “tantalising proposal”. He correctly pointed out that in countless opinion polls the British public had time and again voted against the UK’s continued Union with the six north-eastern counties of Ulster. Morrison in this article also touched on the strategy behind PIRA’s military campaign in England during the past thirty years.

Myself I cannot see how anyone who considers himself or herself an Irish Republican, or indeed a democrat of any kind could support such a referendum. For a start, win or lose, by doing so you would be legitimising the Union as it currently stands. As the Union is illegitimate in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Irish people, the people who live in the part of the UK beyond the six counties clearly have no right to vote in any referendum on the political future of the island of Ireland. The only situation in which one could possibly foresee such a referendum having any legitimacy is if the British government decided to withdraw from the six counties unilaterally and thus they decided to ask their electorate to endorse their decision by a non binding referenda.

However I do not feel this was the type of referendum George Galloway was proposing. What about the people who live in the 26 Counties and make up the balk of the Irish nation, are they to be expected to be disenfranchised and stand idle whilst this Referendum is taking place? To have no say in the future shape of their nation, are they expected to just grin and bear it whilst the British people alone decide, ridiculous? Furthermore, from a political point of view, no serious politician should ask a question of importance without knowing the answer, or at the very least having a good idea of what it will be. The outcome of any withdrawal referendum in the UK would be like playing a game of chance. Far too many imponderables will be injected into the equation, the media, business, the 26 County political establishment, the Catholic Church, the EU, etc, etc.

Danny Morrison then moves on to briefly explain some of the thinking behind PIRA's English campaign. Many years ago he once said, "the British have no understanding of what makes us tick", well on reading his comments about the IRA military campaign across the Irish sea, I am not sure Danny has much idea what makes the English tick. The fact is the campaign in Britain was more often than not ill-thought through and wrong headed. It was never going to help build an anti- war movement; indeed it almost made it a certainty that such a movement would fail. What it did do was bring retribution down upon the Irish communities living in England and made it almost impossible for those who supported Irish unity to get a fair hearing. When near the latter part of the armed struggle, IRA targeting became more exact and people could see a purpose behind some of the operations, there may have been more understanding, but by then it was far too late.

Outrages like the Birmingham pub bombs and sadly many others, simply played into the UK government's and media's hands and allowed them to portray the Republican Movement in the manner they did. Exploding bombs in England at times may have helped raise morale within some Republican communities, much as the bombing of cities like Dresden and Koln by the RAF did in Britain during WW2. However whilst the raising of morale on the Republican homefront, particularly in some of the darkest days is not something to be scoffed at, the basic truth of the matter was it was working class people killing and maiming working class people, nothing to write home about by anyone's standards. What always puzzled me during this period is why Republican strategists thought that a bomb here and there could demoralise the English people to such an extent that they would demand their government change course. The generation that was mainly on the receiving end of these IRA bombs had come to adulthood around the time of WW2 or soon after. Many of them had experienced the Blitz (most IRA targets were in London or other big cities). That is, tons of TNT rained down upon them courtesy of the Luftwaffe night after night; yet in the main this reinforced people's determination to endure and defeat the Nazis.

As to the belief that sending Tommy home in a box would change the English publics mind about the war as happened in the US during the Vietnam war, this is doubly wrong. Firstly, the majority of English people, as Danny has pointed out, were already opposed to partition and their troops' presence in the north and secondly, it was a totally different situation. The majority of the young US soldiers killed in Vietnam were conscripts; by the time the British army started sending large numbers of soldiers to the North of Ireland, it had become entirely an army of volunteers. People became regular soldiers by choice, thus there was not the emotional pull that was felt in the US towards youngsters who had been conscripted, the more so there as the system was so unfair, if you had money, power, or pull you ended up not going to Vietnam, as happened with the likes of Bush and Clinton.

Probably when this period is looked at in the cold light of day we will find that tradition played a large part in instigating the campaign in England. The old beards did it, so must we? Indeed is this not much the same reason that CIRA and the RIRA give to justify their armed struggle. Perhaps it would have been better to ask did it work? I feel that these days people often misinterpret the raison d'être for the armed struggle. Few realistic people down the years ever thought it could defeat the British State. It was necessary to send out the message that England's continuing occupation was not accepted by Irish men and women, i.e. each generation would prove their resistance by taking to arms. In other words it was in many ways armed propaganda. True this changed with the Adams theory of the long war, when many did for a time begin to believe that if they could maintain the military pressure and hold the line, then eventually the Brits could be driven into the sea. But that was on yesterday's menu, armed struggle is firmly off today's. As Anthony McIntyre wrote, “the long war has been turned into the long wait”. . .







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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.
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Index: Current Articles

24 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Loughall - A Truth to Remain Untold
Anthony McIntyre

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
Ned McGinley

The Harp New-strung: Music in Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

There's a Uniform that's Hanging...
Kathleen O Halloran

Understanding the raison d'être for the armed struggle
Mick Hall

More on Captain Kelly Campaign
Report sent in By Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

The North's Future Depends on Tony Blair's Bravery
Paul A. Fitzsimmons

Standing With RSF
Sean O Lubaigh

Genetic Contamination of Mexican Maize
Toni Solo

The Letters page has been updated.

19 August 2004

Rathenraw Threat
Anthony McIntyre

Troubled Waters
John Kennedy

International Conference Misled by Sinn Fein
Francie Mackey

Rearming the Provos with Picket Signs
Marty Egan

Richard Wallace

Fionnbarr Ó Dochartaigh and the Captain Kelly Campaign
Liam O Comain

Imperfect Peace: Terence O'Neill's Day Has Come
Anthony McIntyre



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