The Blanket

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The people who oppose your ideas are inevitably those who represent the established order that your ideas will upset.
- Anthony D'Angelo



Dissident Republicans:
Rebels Without A Plan

Paul A. Fitzsimmons
17 April 2002


Three times over the past several weeks, I’ve asked, publicly and rather pointedly, what goals dissident Republicans in Ireland seek to achieve and what means they propose to achieve them.

Three times, the public responses have strongly demonstrated that vocal dissident Republicans are quite unhappy with the status quo but also, importantly, that they don’t really have substantive proposals to make to grassroots Republicans who might feel likewise.

Recently, Brendan Hughes openly asked Sinn Féin: “Why not be honest and admit defeat? No, why not be honest and admit surrender?” However, Mr. Hughes had the advantage at least of being able to direct his critical inquiries to known leaders who have, rightly or wrongly, chosen a particular constitutional path. Inquiries of a disgruntled but amorphous group are tougher to make. Nonetheless, dissenters do sometimes speak out publicly regarding their thoughts, views, and desires.

For example, answering my skeptical query on whether a new economic order is needed in Northern Ireland, Karen Lyden Cox opens her recent article - “My reply in my own words” - with the following revelation:

Could drastic economic changes improve the social condition? If you recognize that the economic system in place (worldwide) affects people’s lives negatively, changing it in the right ways could resolve a lot of social ills, in Northern Ireland just as elsewhere.

No less helpfully, I’d take this opportunity to contribute to the field of medicine:

Could drastic medical changes improve people’s physical condition? If you recognize that the health systems in place (worldwide) often affect people’s lives negatively, changing them in the right ways could resolve a lot of physical ills, in Northern Ireland just as elsewhere.

Is mine, though, simply “the reaction some people have to unfamiliar information which makes them feel insecure and which conflicts with their occupations or special interests, and when they are in too much of a hurry to let someone else talk”? Actually no, my reaction is to the writings of a person who has had a virtually unlimited amount of space, through the generosity of The Blanket, and who twice has said virtually nothing of substance on the points she is ostensibly trying to advocate.

Ms. Cox’s writing also informs us, contrary to an inference I drew from her earlier piece, that she is indeed interested in changes in the political/constitutional structures in Ireland as well as in economic changes: she wants both a 32-county republic and a new “democratic economy.” Unfortunately for her readers, however, any insight she may have on how she would seek to achieve that republic - in the wake of an unsuccessful three-decade-long war towards that same end - is left entirely unspoken.

To her credit, she does at least quote a key question I posed: “What actual and specific elements does Ms. Cox endorse for ‘ethical’ and ‘democratic’ economies?” She then states what she meant to say in this regard in her earlier article: “When I said ‘establishment of ethical economies which are democratic and answerable to their local communities’, I was referring to the fact that in the corporate economy, instructions come from the top down through managers. Control does not come from workers having a say in what they are doing and a say in how the results of their efforts are distributed. In that way, corporations are not democratic, they are tyrannical.” (She might, though, have directed her readers to the marginally more informative “N3O: Journal of the Uninvited,” by Paul Hawken.)

Such are the modest social desires of Ms. Cox: both a 32-county republic and, as a centerpiece of a new “democratic economy,” a root-and-branch restructuring of the law and practices of corporations.

Ms. Cox asserts: “So, Mr. Fitzsimmons, you have concluded I am nebulous, possibly Neptunian. I’m not surprised that you chose to do that.” To the contrary, I am willing to concede - sight unseen - that Ms. Cox is not Neptunian; moreover, I have not concluded that she herself is nebulous, but I do think her writings are exceedingly vague and I’d be surprised if anyone could honestly reach a contrary conclusion.

Perhaps, though, her views could have a genuinely important impact. From time to time, reports are still heard of dissident Republicans trying to blow up somebody or other “to further the cause.” If Ms. Cox could convince any of those dissidents to abandon such activity in favor of, for example, picketing some tyrannical techno-industrial corporation - “Workers of the world unite and decide how many computers should be built!” - she will have accomplished more regarding “the Irish question” than I ever have, and I wouldn’t doubt that she’d thereby earn herself a special place in heaven. However, at the risk of incurring her anti-capitalist ire (but trusting that she’d “not be deterred by skepticism or scorn”), I think she’ll have to be pretty darn good at selling pretty thin gruel.

The least important aspect of Ms. Cox’s recent reply - her comments on possible six-county independence - I have left for this concluding portion of this article.

As discussed in an earlier The Blanket writing, I think it more likely than not that the powers that be will, by hook or crook, keep the Good Friday Agreement scheme limping along into the indefinite future. In that setting, discussions of Northern Ireland’s possible independence will naturally be comparatively rare. Nonetheless, it might be useful to clarify a few points on that subject.

Ms. Cox writes: “Irish republicans like myself desire a 32-county re-unified Ireland. You[ Fitzsimmons] support a 6-county Ulster.” The error there is somewhat subtle.

Politically, I believe in representative forms of democratic government. Like Thomas Jefferson, I believe that societies tend to start out wearing short pants but, as they mature, those clothes simply no longer fit; at least as far as Western civilization is concerned, I think monarchies are quaint anachronisms at very best and, at worst, are divisive and improper burdens on otherwise democratic societies. Thus, I am a republican. (If anyone is interested in details of my personal background, I am a Catholic and a dual citizen of the United States and the Republic of Ireland.)

Therefore, should any fairy godmother ever grant me the choice of having Northern Ireland in blissful peace as part of a 32-county republic or of having Northern Ireland in blissful peace as part of the United Kingdom, I would choose the former. However, if granted a similar choice between having Northern Ireland at war, for a fourth consecutive decade, in search of a 32-county republic or having Northern Ireland in blissful peace as part of the United Kingdom, I would choose the latter.

In that neither magical choice has ever been offered me, and as I’ve long thought it better not to wait for fairy godmothers to appear, I’ve wondered since the time of the hunger strikes: would or might a fair and workable six-county independence improve the social landscape in Northern Ireland? Quite obviously, the overall thought underlying possible independence would be that - if otherwise logistically workable - immediate “freedom” from London at the cost of permanent “freedom” from Dublin might be an acceptable exchange for Northern Catholics generally, as might be the exact converse for Northern Protestants generally.

To my suggestion that political independence would require “long-term continuation of economic subventions such as the North has received for many decades as a part of the UK,” Ms. Cox objects: “‘Economic subventions’, or the state welfare system, or the dole queue is part of the reason for the ever-widening disparity between classes. State welfare is not a financially viable system.” But no, Ms. Cox, my phrase “economic subventions” did not refer to “the dole queue.” Instead, it referred to the fact that the general standard of living currently enjoyed in Northern Ireland would drop substantially - because of the high per capita “overhead” costs of administering a government for a 1.7 million population - were Britain’s subventions suddenly to end (a situation which might itself effectively preclude implementation of an otherwise workable and acceptable independence). Even if every able-bodied person in Northern Ireland were gainfully - and even “democratically” - employed, the fiscal shortfall caused by a six-county independence would probably be unacceptably large, thus requiring some long-term continuation of those governmental subventions.

Finally, as Ms. Cox correctly points out, my small book on independence was reviewed, more than a half-dozen years ago, in a publication called Ulster Nation. Notwithstanding the quite meager headway I’ve since made on this project, I take minor pride in seeing that the subject of fair and workable independence has gotten cross-community consideration, including in pages as diverse as those in the above-referenced Ulster Nation magazine, Belfast’s Irish News, London’s Irish Post, the Belfast Telegraph’s affiliate Sunday Life, The Andersonstown News, and, not least, The Blanket. Perhaps, if the Good Friday Agreement scheme ever does fall entirely off its tracks, big thinkers still interested in the fundamentals of Irish Republicanism might consider whether the prospect of a six-county republic is worthy of further examination, whether a tolerable six-county republic in the hand could be worth more than a 32-county Republic in the bush and a generation or two down the line. Others would join in such an examination.



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