Breaking up is hard to do…and it’s also arguably the wrong thing to do: the PSNI, Sinn Féin and Republicanism January 26, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The Left, Ulster, Uncategorized.
I’ve been reading the reports from the policing meetings in the North in the Irish Times and elsewhere, and so far it seems that there is a broad groundswell of opinion in Republican quarters that is willing to countenance recognition of the PSNI by Republicans. Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times give a pretty vivid picture of a meeting in Galbally where Gerry Adams went head to head with the dissidents new poster-boy, Gerry McGeough. McGeough is a fascinating character being arguably ultra-traditionalist in his religious and some of of his social beliefs. However the arguments used by him were very telling.
They were distilled by Moriarty down to two quotes,
“Come clean, Gerry, tell the truth,” he said to Adams. “Do you sincerely believe that by recognising the British crown forces – the English crown forces who have brutalised and murdered our people, who have smashed in our doors, who have hassled, drove people into exile, who have beaten us in their interrogation rooms, who have put our people in prisons – that by recognising them now, and without a declaration of intent to withdraw, that we are seriously going to get the Irish republic that so many of us here have struggled for?”
“The real reason that you are railroading this issue through right now is simply so that you can look good for the cameras before the elections in the 26 counties in May or June,” he added.
So, in other words, firstly Adams and PSF are making a catastrophic error (or betrayal) regarding the previous actions and principles of Republicans, and secondly that the error is due at least in part due to electoral or political considerations rather than principle.
And these are thoughts that weigh heavily, I know, on people within PSF. That the electoral and political have trumped principle. That the party and movement are moving too fast and for too little return.
Their objections circle around the issue at hand, the PSNI and also other issues such as the nature of PSF as an organisation, party democracy and suchlike. Their response, and it’s an understandable one, is that they may leave PSF.
I’d judge that as a mistake, although I’m hugely aware that such judgement may sound presumptious as it’s made by one who belonged to a rival organisation and that I’m not a member of PSF. But even so, I still think it’s a mistake and it’s worth working through my reasoning.
Why so? Personal experience. Because it is easy to leave a party, I’ve done it myself twice. But very difficult to find an alternative vehicle for political activity, as I also know myself. I’d suggest that for those of us who consider ourselves Republicans, or influenced by Republican thinking, the field is very limited in terms of serious organisations out there. After all, what’s the choice? Joining the intransigents within the 32CSM or RSF? Any serious analysis, particularly in light of how relatively poorly they are playing the policing issue and how marginal their support even over this issue, demonstrates that they are a political and philosophical dead end. All other groupings are either too small or quite honestly (and entirely sincerely by their lights) not concerned about the issue of unity. And I see little to be gained in trying to reinvent this particular wheel yet again.
Actually on a slight tangent one of the amusing things about dissidents is how they have no real understanding of how irrelevant they are to the broader political discourse on this island. Indeed, because they have the larger and more successful PSF to shelter behind it has, to some degree, insulated them to the reality. Because PSF has to a considerable extent within Irish society re-legitimised ‘Republicanism’ as a philosophy (and it has, it’s not for nothing that we have Michael McDowell and the PDs promoting their brand of Republicanism – sincerely too I might add), they assume that their own brand of irredentism is re-legitimised. It isn’t. PSF have credibility (although clearly, there is a hard core in Ireland who retain their loathing and detestation of it and all it’s works and ‘Republicanism’, spread throughout all the major parties) because they have expanded the range of the concept, turning what was an inflexible and rather antiquated idea into one which is more flexible and adaptable, one which actually is willing to work with Unionism and engage with shared institutions.
And herein lies the problem. Because McGeough’s argument, like many a seemingly compelling argument, contains a grain of truth. And equally cleverly Adams didn’t deny it. There are electoral considerations, political considerations. As Moriarty records:
“Republicans must “think big”, he [Adams] said, and they must think strategically. “We are trying to prepare ourselves for political power in this state and in the southern State. It is only with political power that you can actually bring about political change,” he told the crowd.”
And that’s the reality, one which it’s essential that anyone involved in that project should consider. PSF has a degree of influence undreamt of by previous generations of Republicans since, arguably, the Civil War. As a vehicle for change it has the capacity to go much further than the WP (let alone DL), if only because it has genuine roots in both the urban and rural and all-island roots at that. But for that to happen it needs to retain progressive voices within it to ensure that flexibility doesn’t allow all principle to wither on the vine, for electoralism to become the only dynamic, for petty nationalism to overtake left Republicanism and for what has the long-term opportunity to be a serious party of the progressive left to disintegrate. And lest this sound like a paean of unalloyed praise of PSF it’s worth noting that I would have serious criticisms about many elements of that party’s position on a range of issues. But as a force that acts relatively well with the Greens and other left progressives I think it’s an important component of the contemporary political dynamic and one which it would be dismal to see founder.
I’ve argued here before, and recently, that I think PSF should sign up to policing. I think the prize is great, with Republicans (and not just Republicans) working shared institutions, establishing all-island/cross-border bodies. And, in the final analysis, what is the alternative? I can’t for the life of me see one, other than delaying the inevitable, or bar some sort of joint sovereignty, that will of it’s essence, and despite it’s best intentions deny any shred of democratic representation to those it oversees, whether Unionist, Nationalist or Republican. Sure Dublin/London direct rule isn’t the worst option, but there is a better one which would see institutions grounded on this island determining the development of the people of this island.
But the greater prize is as important for this island. And that’s why policing seems such an odd issue around which to see the current divisions within SF. I’ve no illusions as to the nature of the RUC, and never had (and indeed anyone who was in the WP should, more than most, having sat through Ard Fheis after Ard Fheis at which speakers from the North spoke have a clearer view of this than most – strangely it fell on mostly deaf ears) . It was a force with an explicitly sectarian outlook and character, despite containing honourable individuals. As such it is profoundly disgraceful that it was allowed to continue without radical reform throughout most of the period following the fall of Stormont. The O’Loan report should only be an addition to the knowledge about that particular organisation. However, the PSNI is a step forward, and the appendix to the O’Loan report which deals with reforms made at her offices request is important to note. Moreover here is a point where an engaged PSF could step in a working with others push for further reform.
Anyhow it’s all moot at this point. Delegates have been given their mandates. In some respects the vote is already determined one way or another. So, to reiterate, I’d strongly caution against people who may be thinking of leaving. There are bigger fish to fry in the near future, more important battles to be fought. éirigí left, in part so it appears, because PSF was shifting too far towards the electoral, too far from the traditional certainties. But, isolation brings it’s own certainties too.
I’ll be honest, I can’t read exactly what’s happening within PSF (and having been within WP when it split I know how difficult it is to tell even, perhaps particularly, from the inside how things really stand). Is this a North/South divide, is it a nascent split, is it simply the teething pains of a new dispensation as the GFA finally (finally) is implemented in full? So I’d hope and invite some voices within PSF to respond if only in general terms with their analyses. Because this has the potential to be a crucial period both in terms of that party and of the political processes on the island and it’s worth hearing what has to be said.