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Ian Paisley – 1926 – 2014 September 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

As noted by CMK in comments… and as Gewerkschaftler notes as regards the Guardian piece by Gerry Adams about him:

Best comment on Gerry Adam’s piece on Ian Paisley.

“So what are you saying here Gerry? Hegel was right?”

A genuinely historic figure in the history of this island and the one next door. It will be educative to read the responses to his death.

Risks for peace? September 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

We missed the Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week, this week due to unforeseen circumstances. But perhaps this will make up in some small way. For Eoghan Harris this weekend in the Sunday Independent was criticising Albert Reynold’s ‘risks for peace’ in a curious article. Curious because of the myriad contradictions in what he was saying. And also, perhaps in the implicit condescension as regards the ability of Irish politicians and the Irish people to understand the nature of the situation that faced them and to withstand propaganda from whatever quarter.

So we learn that far from vilifying Reynolds for ‘talking to a terrorist murder gang’ or indeed just criticising Reynolds (for Justine McCarthy of the ST is charged with ‘repeat[ing] the old green refrain that the Sunday Independent criticised Albert Reynolds) Harris, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent were merely offering ‘searching criticism’. Moreover, Harris claims he ‘was one of the first commentators to give the Hume-Adams talks a cautious welcome. I said that if Adams and McGuinness were sincere they might find some kind of redemption’, but those Provo’s – eh, ‘as they procrastinated and prevaricated, I became more sceptical of their motives’. No doubt from a previous baseline of non-scepticism.

I’ve searched in vain for his pieces from that year, though the search continues, but if one goes here – to a useful document produced by Niall Meehan – one will find that ‘searching criticism’ of the events taking place might not be the most accurate way of characterising the pieces he wrote about those events and during that decade, just two or three years later. Meehan notes that Harris just before the 1994 ceasefire :

warned of war spreading down from the North. He wrote, ‘Northern Ireland is slowly stumbling backwards towards barbarism on the scale of Bosnia’. Harris asserted in February 1996, ‘So we must brace ourselves for bombs in Dublin’.

His ‘bottomless contempt for the goliath of the national bourgeoisie’ (the residue of a former political life) was vented at
southern political leaders, but in particular at one architect of the process, SDLP leader John Hume, more so than at the other, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. Harris observed in 1996 that a ‘successful policy of demonising [republicans] down [South] was disrupted at a critical point in 1993 [when] John Hume threw the thug [Adams] a lifeline’

And as regards the Peace Process consider this measured critique:
‘It was a fraud from start to finish. A fraud when President Robinson limply shook the hand of Gerry Adams. A fraud when [Gerry] Adams held [Taoiseach, Albert] Reynolds and [John] Hume’s hands in a vice outside government buildings. A fraud
when [RTE newsreader] Bryan Dobson leaned across an RTE news studio to sentimentally shake the hand of [Sinn Fein’s] Lucillita Breathnach to celebrate the ceasefire. Munich was what was on my mind as I watched all these actors in the Sinn
Fein play. Peace in our time, I thought, a lie then, a lie now. Those who think you can talk to Sinn Fein are as foolish as those who thought that you could talk to Hitler.

And this from the resumption of the PIRA ceasefire:

‘we have no more reason to be grateful for the second ceasefire than a Jew would have to be grateful to a Gestapo guard who stopped beating him so as to fix the noose with which he proposed to hang him.’

But it’s the history that also offers curiosities:

RTE peace processors gloss the realities of 1993. The Provos were under big pressure on two fronts. In the Irish Republic the Warrington bomb had produced massive peace marches. In Northern Ireland their command structure was penetrated by informers at every level.
From this position of weakness they put out probes they hoped would lead to a pan-nationalist front against northern Unionists. These probes led to the Hume-Adams talks.

This is an unusual chronology, to put it mildly. Pan-nationalism wasn’t simply an artefact of 1993, or 1992 – the term itself had been used by Unionists since the late 1980s. And 1993 was hardly the year that it blossomed into life – indeed in some ways it never quite did given Dublin’s intrinsic caution in being pushed into a single front with the SDLP and SF. Moreover the Hume-Adams talks had been in train since the late 1980s (of course unmentioned is the fact that the British government had also been in talks, these with the IRA).

Warrington was a crime, the murder of children particularly egregious. Yet it is important to note what happened subsequently as well, with some of those most closely affected moving to a position of support for the demilitarisation of the conflict. It’s also important not to overstate what occurred at the post-Warrington peace marches or their scale – the rally the Sunday after the bombing saw 20,000 people attend. 1,200 attended a rally in Cork. The Peace ’93 organisation which organised them had become a charity by the end of the year, having attempted to become a sort of ‘network’ in the early Autumn. This is not to deny in any sense the very real, sincere and right sense of outrage and anger at Warrington, but events political – which were already well in train – had a greater traction, as might be expected.

But then perhaps that confusion of history and chronology is useful because it then allows one to present the happenings of 1993 that he points to and any ‘critique’ of Reynolds as being isolated rather than being part of a continuum of ‘criticism’ particularly that emanating from the Sunday Independent (and Sunday Times) towards Hume in previous years for having the temerity to even speak to Adams. And also to paint those views as having a centrality, or at least currency, which they simply did not.

But there’s more contradiction, for while the Provo’s were under pressure (and he almost verbatim repeats the paragraph he writes earlier in the piece quoted above)…

…in 1993 there were good reasons for rejecting any dealings with the Provos. They were on the ropes, militarily and politically, north and south. In the North their command structure was riddled with informers. In the Republic they were held in hatred and contempt by most decent people.

And yet, and yet, nothing could be more dangerous, or so it would seem. For Harris argues:

At this point, Cosgrave and De Valera would have closed the IRA down on this side of the Border. They would have refused the IRA refuge and continued to keep them off the airwaves. Eventually the Provisonal IRA would have been eroded by arrests and convictions in Northern Ireland. They would have been worn down to where the Dissidents are now.

That last is a remarkable view, given the manner in which the history of maintaining the ceasefires and the ability of the IRA (and indeed the experience of other paramilitary organisations) to retain control and cohesion as it transitioned towards cessation and ultimate decommissioning as to be near risible. Even allowing for some considerable degree of calculation in how the threat of splintering of the IRA was presented by SF to those outside it, nonetheless it was in and of itself a significant task to retain essential structural cohesion throughout with relatively small numbers leaving and none of a size to present a significant challenge to the new dispensation.

And it’s nearly wilful on his part to ignore the small point that the British and the RoI in 1993 did not face a situation that paralleled that of Cosgrave or De Valera, not after a focused armed insurgency of three decades or so in length in Northern Ireland.

But more to the point, this is not what those involved in two national governments thought sensible as a way forward. This is not what the balance of opinion was in (most of) their security services. Clearly their analysis was that to do what he suggests would have been impossible politically – as even a moments consideration would reveal. That there was, in Harris’ approach, no context within which the broad majority of nationalists and Republicans (and a sufficient minority who were able to keep PIRA extant by tacit support) would feel it legitimate to offer their support in 1993 to the then extant political framework should at the very least pause his rush to ‘arrests and convictions’, a pathway that, again the history proves led to an exacerbation, in some instances a massive exacerbation of an already fraught situation and the replenishing of armed struggle and the appetite for armed struggle. In such a context his ‘security solution’ is no solution at all but merely rhetoric. Great for an odd Sunday afternoon in 2014, but of absolutely no relevance to the actual issue at hand.

By the way, a neat bit of hindsight vision there in relation to ‘riddle with informers’.

And here we take an even more curious turn:

Albert Reynolds took another road. He risked the safety of the Irish Republic for the sake of peace in Northern Ireland. He did so for the best of motives. But there were at least three bad results not raised on RTE.

Republic of Ireland, but let it pass. If PIRA was on the ropes, if it was indeed of little or no account, then what safety was risked in engaging with them? He argues:

In contrast, commentators in both the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times believed the Reynolds gamble demanded severe critical analysis. For the first time an Irish Government was proposing to do a deal with the IRA rather than defeat it – as Cosgrave and De Valera had done. They took a hard line because truckling to the IRA risked giving it political legitimacy.

This in itself is hard to credit. In 1993 SF and the IRA had minimal political support in the South. Indeed this is one aspect of the conflict that has often been underconsidered (though I know Brian Hanley has referenced it), the sheer lack of political purchase that SF had whether generally or at times of some mobilisation such as in the wake of Bloody Sunday or during the Hunger Strikes. Even at those times of rupture the political dividends were minimal (let’s dismiss entirely the idea of a PIRA coup in the RoI which was an utter nonsense).

And for SF to gain support there was only one way forward, and that was eschewing violence – as the subsequent history demonstrated. In other words SF would have to change to adapt to the political system in order to gain political legitimacy, not the other way around.

He concludes as follows:

Albert Reynolds took another road. He risked the safety of the Irish Republic for the sake of peace in Northern Ireland. He did so for the best of motives. But there were at least three bad results not raised on RTE.
Firstly, the Provos were allowed to appear as victors in Northern Ireland. Any fool could foresee this would mean Sinn Fein replacing the SDLP. And that is how it has turned out.
Secondly, the peace process retrospectively legitimised the Provo IRA’s sectarian campaign with a rising generation in the Irish Republic. It gave a naked tribal aggression the appearance of a civil rights struggle. It led to a huge historical lie.
This lie gives legitimacy to Sinn Fein. It may put them in power. Who really knows what that means for the Irish Republic? Who knows whether Albert Reynolds’s gamble will pay off until all the results are in?

Only a very partial focus on SF and the IRA could result in a view that ‘the Provo’s were allowed to appear as victors in Northern Ireland’ and as to their replacing the SDLP, well, that has many roots, and again it would have been unthinkable had armed struggle continued.

The retrospective legitimisation of the conflict? It would seem more likely that it SF as it is now, rather than as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, which has garnered support for it politically. That and the small matter of the partial collapse of the Irish party political system in the last seven or so years.

And if SF is put in power it won’t be because they supported an armed conflict so much as that the conflict ended and they supported and were eventually instrumental in ending it. That’s a crucial distinction. That it is so clearly lost on Harris is disappointing. One might think that from his own experience he would appreciate how organisations and formations change, evolve, transform, and yet none of that appears in this article.

But moreover, he leaves unstated what the negative effects of SF in power would be. Coups? More heated language on the north? Perhaps the prosaic truth is that it would amount to little more than additional private pressure on the British government in relation to matters Northern? A little bit more energy in regard to cross-border political bodies? Some more effort to extend the range and number of cross-border economic entities? But what beyond that? What is the danger? Can he even articulate it?

If Scotland opts for independence are we ready on this island? And are we ready if it doesn’t? September 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Scotland.

Reading Liam Clarke here I’ve got to admit to having to agree with his broad assessment, come what may, YES or NO, the status quo ante is about to be shot to pieces in relation to the nature of the United Kingdom. And the likelihood of a Yes vote goes up somewhat on foot of the latest YouGov poll which records the narrowest gap between the sides so far, a gap that is narrowing in favour of a Yes, albeit still one with a No majority.

As Clarke notes, part of this is because in order to save the Union the main UK parties have pledged jointly to offer something closer to Devo Max.

The joint commitment, signed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, says: “We support a strong Scottish parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the parliament’s powers.” They pledge to act quickly to grant Holyrood more autonomy, whoever wins the next general election.

This may well inadvertently give Alex Salmond sufficient cover if the vote does turn out to be a No, in that he can point to having pushed the parties and UK government towards a position closer to that of the SNP by the very process of going for a referendum. It may not of course, but that’s as may be.

And what of the other issues and aftereffects? This from the BBC is quite useful as an overview.

Clarke suggests that Scotland might be able to gain up to 60% control of its revenue including corporation tax. Reading the positions of the other UK parties that seems a little on the high side. But 40% might be there or thereabouts and corporation tax – perhaps.

Though as Clarke suggests, if Scotland did get control of that it could play havoc for the North:

Imagine, for example, that Scotland got control of corporation tax and reduced it, like the Republic. How would we attract inward investment with two neighbouring regions that have lower rates of business tax, a better industrial infrastructure and a more stable political system whose leaders can actually take hard decisions?

Note that last, by the way. Everyone in the orthodoxy loves hard decisions, often because they don’t fall on them. But the central point is well made. There’s little doubt that Salmond’s approach of lower taxes increased spending is something that would bring massive unease to any of us who lived through the last decade and a half in this state but if Scotland does go down a certain route, well, it won’t just be a problem for NI either.

And as Clarke also notes, while the North might get similar powers it’s not really in great shape to make the best use of them, not least due to its size. Now some of us might argue that that is a strong (and entertainingly paradoxical, given the argument on the island of Britain) argument for closer North/South integration on such matters, but… will that happen?

In any event, on a political level:

The whole image of the UK would be changed and weakened in a way that would challenge unionists and encourage republicans and nationalists.

And this holds true in both a Yes or a No. The United Kingdom as we have known it is fundamentally altered. As noted by Clarke, a No with a strong Yes vote means that it remains upon the table in perpetuity.

I still think No will shade it. But I’m a lot less certain of that than I once was. And having long been supportive of independence (even this rather curtailed independence on offer) I’m increasingly tending to the view that a Yes would perhaps be good for the rUK as for Scotland, shaking it out of a decades, perhaps century or more, long torpor as regards its constitutional situation – about what it is and what it is not.

And by the way, what of this from the BBC?

A recent poll, the Future of England Survey, suggested English voters want the UK government to take a much tougher stance on Scotland if if decides to remain part of the Union. More than half, 56%, felt public spending in Scotland should be reduced. Nearly two thirds (66%) think Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on English laws.

A tougher stance if it remains. Yeah, sure, that’ll work.

Interview with PBPA’s Gerry Carroll in the Belfast Telegraph August 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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Rebecca Black talks to Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit’s first elected councillor in Northern Ireland, about his objective to think global, act local, and to offer people an alternative to traditional politics.

Shocked… shocked I tell you! July 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

At the news here from the Examiner…

Former justice minister Michael McDowell privately appealed for “household name” IRA suspects to be granted royal pardons.

The arch-critic of Sinn Féin and the Provos – who once compared the republican movement to Nazis – was attorney general at the time.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded it.

On the Runs… July 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

The reporting on the On-the-runs in the Irish Times is curious. In this piece from today on the latest news that

In a keenly-anticipated report, Lady Justice Hallett found that the scheme used was “unprecedented and flawed”, but that it was not unlawful or improper.

There is the following:

The on-the-runs emerged into public view earlier this year after an Old Bailey judge ruled that John Downey could not be prosecuted for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing because he had been given one of the letters.

And then:

However, today’s report has found that Downey was not the only individual to have received letters of comfort — a fact that will be seized upon by Unionists.

How is that ‘a fact that will be seized upon by Unionists’ – at least in the sense that it was a fact that is new? In February there was this in the Guardian which detailed that potentially 190 odd former IRA members might be covered by it.

But to be honest the entire discussion around the O-T-R’s has been disingenuous at best and downright dishonest in reality. For example, the continued rhetoric that the scheme wasn’t known about by some politicians is bizarre.

Other political parties told the investigation they were unaware of the scheme.
But Hallett notes: “There were sufficient references to the overall scheme … to put an astute observer on the alert, notwithstanding the replies to the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, and Lady Hermon by Peter Hain MP [then Northern Ireland secretary]“.

There surely were, not least this:

The report has a lengthy annex detailing the scores of occasions when the on-the-runs scheme was publicly referred to in the media or during parliamentary debates. On May 7th, 2002, it notes that the Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP leader, told the Northern Ireland assembly: “The union flag is banned from government buildings for most of the year. Security installations have been removed, on-the-run terrorist have been pardoned and there has been discrimination against victims in funding.

I used to joke in the mid to late 2000s about the string of garages with On The Run shops in them. If I could make that joke, and I’m literally nobody, how it could pass Peter Robinson or David Ford by is remarkable…

A Britexit and Northern Ireland… July 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.

Thoughtful piece in the SBP the week before last (that Croke Park thing has pushed a lot aside this last week or so) by Jim Fitzpatrick on the dangers to the current dispensation on the island by the shape-throwing in Britain over the European Union and an exit by them from it. Fitzpatrick notes that in some respects the border hardly exists, but he worries that in the event of such an exit it might reappear. Let’s not get too starry eyed, the border remains, the island consists of different political entities – but it is true that in certain respects it is invisible. Fitzpatrick suggests that:

…as Britain heads for the door, is it really likely that Europe will suddenly put in place the kind of free trade deal with no strings that the eurosceptics dream of? Hardly.
So, prepare to see customs posts back on the border. Prepare to see north-south trade become a whole lot trickier. Prepare for restrictions on freedom of movement and working.

I’m not certain that any such exit would necessitate those sort of measures. One of the most obvious differences north and south is that different currencies circulate, but the prevalence of Euro, or rather the acceptance of it, in the North is striking (by the way John A Murphy, that self-appointed scourge of SF and most unlikely policeman of nomenclature had a strange article last week in the Irish Times, did he not?). And the institutions established under the GFA (such as they are, and note the messing around by Unionists in regard to them this last month or so) will continue to exist. So, while I suppose it is possible the EU might play a sort of cosmetic (and not entirely innocuous) hardball, more local interests in Dublin and Belfast, and indeed London, would prevail. And he acknowledges same:

At least the Anglo-Irish apparatus and warm relations between the two countries provides the basis for bilateral deals that may go some way towards mitigating the economic damage. But the culture shock that will accompany this greater wedge being driven between north and south will spell trouble for the wider political process.

That said, that last might be correct. A Britain on the outside of the EU would be in a distinctly different position and the knock-on effects within that polity might be problematic – and all this before we consider what Scottish independence might bring to the feast (and by the way, I don’t know, but has continued EU membership been linked in any way to that issue, perhaps as a means of assisting the NO camp?). Fitzpatrick, interestingly, argues that a YES vote would…

…probably [be] the one thing that would kill any move towards EU exit by the diminished UK. In the midst of its own existential crisis, the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be less inclined to walk a lonely road.

Hard to disagree.

I also wonder how Britain would adapt to being outside the EU. It’s one thing to rail against it, quite another to wind up in a sort of EFTA position, at best. And while we’re all aware of the problems of globalisation, they cut many ways, not least in locking nation-states together. Slicing through the EU links could be mightily injurious to certain British interests.

Just on the topic of the campaign for Scottish independence (of sorts), Fitzpatrick has a most interesting snippet in his most recent SBP article, a piece on the 12th in NI, when he notes that:

Ulster unionism appears strangely at odds with the very concept of Britishness, as understood and practised by most people in Britain. Despite unconvincing talk in the past of attracting Catholic voters, unionist leaders have now made it clear that achieving a Protestant march past a Catholic area is the zenith of their ambition, and that they are prepared to destroy all else in pursuit of this goal.

And most notably…

No wonder that Scottish unionists have begged the Orange Order to stay out of the debate on Scottish independence.

SF in government across the island soon – or not? July 1, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Jim Fitzpatrick in the SBP argues in relation to SF, supposedly the ‘most ideological’ of Irish parties – which is news to me, and perhaps you as well – with regard to the recent meeting between Martin McGuinness and the Queen, that:

But the voters like the Queen and seem to like McGuinness and Sinn Féin more when he meets her. So, having taken the plunge, the party has been keen to exploit every opportunity. And the voting audience it’s targeting is south of the border. Northern nationalists and republicans may be less comfortable with the public displays of affection with the monarch, but not enough to send their votes elsewhere.

Are such meetings genuinely so important in the South? I don’t know the answer to that and I’m curious what others think.

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick argues that ‘Stormont’s days are numbered’, that the sclerotic, at best, relations between SF and the DUP are now so bad that at some point SF will ‘pull the plug’ – as well as problems ‘delaying benefit cuts… that SF cannot hold off indefinitely’. He suggests that ultimately the institutions could be suspended for some time.

It doesn’t necessarily mean a return to a pre-Agreement crisis, but it could mean Stormont being put into deep freeze for a period of years – the last suspension lasted effectively for five years from 2002 to 2007 and this next one could be something similar.

But in the meantime the architecture of de-facto joint authority and all-party talks elevates Sinn Féin in the North from ineffective regional assembly members to international peace negotiators.

It’s an interesting argument (and he points to the irony that SF and the DUP would continue to share power on local authorities in the North). Not least because it cuts across a lot of preconceptions amongst some in the south that SF is desperate to be in ‘power’ in both parts of the island come 2016.

And there’s something about the de facto joint authority point is oddly persuasive. Though it’s all a bit conspiracy du jour and it surely would be quite a risk. For example, one wonders how a ‘pulling of the plug’ by SF (or seen to be by SF) would play and how opponents and the media would use it?

But, while Fitzpatrick doesn’t suggest a particular time for SF to walk, he does suggest that it would be at a point that would be of benefit electorally both North and South. That would have to suggest the 2015/16 period to encompass both Westminster and RoI elections. And that would suggest that SF might not be that pushed re the power in 2016 trope.

Again, I wonder what people think of that.

A sensible suggestion… June 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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…from outgoing PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott…

…[that] his force should no longer investigate killings carried out during The Troubles.

Constable Baggott, who is stepping down today after five years in the job, said a different authority should deal with the legacy of the conflict.

He said: “We need to be a police service of today and not dealing with issues of a different time in a different place.”

As ever a truth and reconciliation process should be part and parcel of the broader process. Though Baggott himself seems to underline in his thoughts why progress forward is unlikely in the short to medium term…

Constable Baggott also urged the region’s politicians to step up and deal with outstanding peace process issues, claiming the disputes are a drag anchor holding back progress.

The PSNI is itself a factor in all this, whether by commission or omission, but as ever it is the political will to push towards some form of resolution across a range of areas that appears to be lacking.

SF voters… and ‘violent nationalism’. June 11, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.

Well now, there’s a most curious piece in the Irish Times written by Colm Keena on Gerry Adams. In it Keena – who wrote a biography of Gerry Adams. In the piece he has to admit that Adams and the leadership of the RM brought it away from armed conflict towards constitutional politics…. but… but…

What struck me while working on the book, and still seems to me to be a key observation, is the way the movement for civil rights in Northern Ireland, encouraged as it was by other such movements around the world targeting oppression, became so particularly violent.

Does he really find this such a mystery? The struggle – and it’s an appropriate word, struggle – for civil rights didn’t appear in a vacuum, was the result of a repressive state, a more broadly repressive society and political, social and economic marginalisation. Nor was it a case of that state or society passively standing back in the face of the civil rights struggle. Quite the opposite. As it gained force and influence we know the history of 1968 onwards.

Not that there’s not some truth to the following:

The reason for this, I decided, lay in the fact that Adams, and others like him steeped in the culture of Irish republicanism, were of the view from the start that the civil rights question in Northern Ireland would quickly become the national question. And he and other republican true believers were convinced that the national question could be resolved only through violence: the Brits would have to be driven out. Because they held this view, republicans saw the eruption of violence in the North (which they encouraged) as an opportunity. If the scale of the violence and killing could be increased and maintained, the British would tire and leave.

Of course Keena doesn’t mention Official Republicanism in this, or the nature of the RM pre-split, for to do so is to bring particularly dynamics front and centre – firstly that, yes, Republicanism saw an opportunity – though I think it can be argued that many Republicans, perhaps a majority, saw that opportunity as being a rupture with the then extant polity towards a leftist approach. However, that was, to a considerable degree, washed away as those Republicans underestimated both the nature of the response of the state (and that broader society) and the manner in which Nationalists responded to both the long term history of the socio-political entity they were in and the short term responses of that state.
Nor does Keena reference at all the broader international political context, and in particular the influence of student and other protests and the increasing militancy of those involved in same. That was an obvious dynamic feeding into the evolution of the civil rights movement. Again, none of this happened in a vacuum. Perhaps, given the inability of the Stormont state to reform itself, and the hesitancy and inability of the British to oversee such reform successfully, it is unfortunate that the conflict in the North appeared when it did, but it is unlikely that there would have been no conflict, no stand-off or more with the state.

And it’s worth noting that peaceful protest, of a sort one presumes Keena champions met a very strong and violent response from the state and state supported actors – which response itself ratcheted up more confrontational and increasingly combative protests, though well short of paramilitary or insurgent approaches.

Moreover, and this is another failing of Keena’s, both wings of Republicanism, as it were, whether those who remained wedded to armed struggle or those who subsequently (though notably not until three/four years later, and only in part) renounced it, saw as the outcome the replacement of the state as was in NI with an all-island unitary republic – albeit of differing types (though this modified for Official Republicanism in some respects subsequently). So the issue of violence is not necessarily the most important one at play in all this.

Nor was violence the preserve of one side in this. In the history of the conflict it was loyalism, perhaps – though the record is cloudy, though suggestive, in this regard – egged on by elements within broader political unionism, who (re)introduced political violence in the latter part of the 1960s.

And it’s also worth continuing. Violence and armed struggle continued in a pernicious cycle in no small part due to the response subsequently of the British state which was unable and unwilling to position itself as a guarantor of all rights – and instead made the arguably strategically sensible if morally bankrupt decision to pick a side (albeit unwillingly and incompletely).
But all this is lost in Keena’s analysis. All violence devolves to the responsibility of (Provisional) Republicanism.
Which is not to say that some of the attitudes that Keena attributes to that wing of Republicanism did not exist. But it is to rob agency of many other forces in this history.

He continues:

One of the real terrors in the room was this tradition that gave such a central role to, and so embraced, violence. Militant nationalism could be imagined as a virus that was passed from generation to generation, ready whenever the conditions were favourable to emerge from its slumbers and wreak more havoc.

I’ve always felt that this is such a parochial line, and an expedient one. Militant nationalism exists in all societies at one time or another and it can be both reactive and active.

It may well be that Adams came to the view that violent nationalism was a virus that needed to be isolated and killed before it infected coming generations, and that this in part explains his role in guiding the republican movement towards peaceful means while striving to prevent a catastrophic split.

Perhaps he did, though it would be an odd way of looking at it. It seems to me more likely that Keena’s following analysis is closer to the truth:

It may also be that he decided, long before the ceasefires, the IRA’s campaign should end because it was a hindrance, rather than a contribution, to its stated purpose.

But in a way it doesn’t matter, because eventually the broader political context, East West, North South and within the North changed to a degree that it was possible to reconsider and reshape a dispensation in which – however imperfectly, there appeared to be an alternative to the use of political violence.

But Adams’s principle political motivation remains his dream of a united Ireland. Personally I think that his stated allegiance to democratic politics is subservient to this dream, and that even if this view is wrong, to act on a belief to the contrary is to take a great risk.

What precisely is the risk? That SF will institute a coup d’etat? Does he think them that stupid, that detached from reality? Does he believe that this state is so fragile that citizens would accept or tolerate such an eventuality?

It seems, actually, that his fears are somewhat more prosaic:

Adams is a member of the Dáil, Sinn Féin is in power in Northern Ireland, the party is on the rise in the Republic, and it seems it will hold the position of Dublin Lord Mayor in Easter 2016. Indeed it is possible it will be in power, north and south of the Border, come the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, the event that did so much to feed the romantic view of political violence which has so blighted this island. It is not difficult to imagine Sinn Féin wanting to use the anniversary to influence popular views on the legitimacy of the Provisional IRA’s campaign, thereby justifying Adams’s career, and providing a boost to the republican tradition.

So what? Given the engagement by SF – and some will view that engagement in very jaundiced terms from a variety of viewpoints, with the British, the Royal Family, etc, etc, it is hard to believe that any particular boost would be a boost to – say – what most of us would understand Republican views in 1978, to pick a year at random, would be – at least in the context of support unequivocally armed struggle, the necessity for military means to deal with partition and so forth. The contexts are now utterly different, not least in the steadfast antagonism to dissident violence in the North (though there’s no question of SF or Adams throwing the IRA under the bus as it were in relation to its history all the while being critical of aspects of the struggle).

But if that’s not what we can expect to hear from SF – and simply providing a boost to the ‘republican tradition’ is pretty vague in any case, then what functional negative impact can it have. Does Keena align with the Conor Cruise O’Brien line that simply to talk about 1916 would in and of itself inflame the impressionable sensibilities of another generation of Irish youth? Would kick off a Troubles redux? I find it highly unlikely that he – or any sensible person – does.

If that is the case then what particular ‘dangers’ are there?

But to be honest it would appear that he will countenance near enough no expression at all of Republicanism, for how else to interpret his closing thoughts?

People who voted Sinn Féin need to pay serious heed to these dangers. At least part of the energy within Sinn Fйin comes from its militant nationalist tradition. That tradition is a menace. We should eradicate it.

Perhaps so, but another thought. If, as the heading on the piece suggests, ‘SF voters must pay heed to dangers of violent nationalism’ is correct then logically that heed might be such that they would come to the conclusion that increased political support for SF would be precisely the thing to keep pushing it away from ‘violent nationalism’ – after all, as it increased support this was seen as part legitimation for its moving away from armed struggle. And therein lies yet another contradiction at the heart of Keena’s approach, because what he seems unable to accept is that political formations can change in regard to their attitude to political violence and that SF (like other nationalist and Republican formations before them) has too.
Strange stuff.


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