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Shadow of the gunmen… The 17th Independent Monitoring Commission Report and the Southern media narrative on Republicanism. November 8, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Loyalism, Media and Journalism, Republicanism, Unionism.


What a difference a year makes. The IMC issued its 17th Report yesterday. And it makes for interesting reading.

Still, before we come to that, on the Irish Times website yesterday I couldn’t help noticing the following:

Its [the IMC] report on paramilitary activity is also expected to give another positive review of the Provisional IRA’s efforts to keep itself on a peaceful footing.

However the period covered by the report does not include the murder in the Irish Republic two weeks ago of south Armagh man Paul Quinn whose family blamed Provisional IRA members.

“efforts”? In a context where SF Ministers sit in government in the North? Since neither the Gardaí or the PSNI have suggested that PIRA was responsible it seems churlish for the Irish Times to engage in building a narrative beloved of so many elements of the Southern media whereby PIRA is behind every contentious event. This guilt by association angle is enormously effective since it is so difficult to prove otherwise. The interface between criminality, political and paramilitary activity is notoriously opaque. That the media largely unquestioningly follows the most negative line strikes me as self-serving on their part in the extreme. That they latch onto this and yet quite happily ignored a similar nexus between another Republican paramilitary group and a political party in the past is remarkable. And can I reiterate that I write this as someone who would have been harshly critical of the armed campaign at the time. The point is that unlike many many other groups PIRA has moved from armed struggle to political engagement. That doesn’t wipe away the past, but it does suggest that a mixture of pragmatism, understanding and critical engagement is necessary.

Nor does it tally with what the IMC says. Consider the “PARAMILITARY GROUPS: ASSESSMENT OF CURRENT ACTIVITIES”

2.2 Developments over the past year have led us to set out the material on paramilitary organisations in a slightly different way from hitherto, in two respects:
– In our Seventh Report two years ago we noted the then very recent act of decommissioning by PIRA6. Since then we have reported the
progressive and unequivocal implementation of the organisation’s
decision to follow a political path. A year ago we referred to what we described as the organisation’s “transformation”7. Since then there has been other firm evidence, such as the backing for Sinn Féin’s decision in January 2007 to support policing and the criminal justice system8. Sinn FÑOin’s subsequent entry into the Northern Ireland Executive has meant that the provisional movement as a whole has been more
closely engaged in the democratic process. We strongly believe that
this position is now stable. We have therefore decided that we need no longer give an analysis of the organisation’s activities at the same length as we have in the past, and that instead we can properly confine ourselves to a brief summary and to reporting any significant developments. The material on PIRA in paragraphs 2.15-2.16 below is therefore considerably shorter than in our recent reports. We will however continue to monitor PIRA and we will report anything
– In recent reports we have noted the encouraging remarks made by the UDA and UVF and those associated with the organisations. We have also said that the impact on the ground had been limited and that much more needed to be done to end criminality. We refer below to important and encouraging developments on the part of the UVF in the six months under review. Nevertheless, we think that there are some issues which affect both organisations and those associated with them; we address them in paragraphs 4.5-4.8 below.

So we are then to take it that PIRA has essentially shut up shop. The IMC can’t quite say that, hence their point about ‘no longer need give an analysis of the organisation’s activities at the same length’. But the implication is clear. Indeed consider the media narrative and compare and contrast with the threats that the IMC identifies.

These threats come from a number of sources. Under “Dissident Republicans Generally” we are told that a hitherto unknown group Óglaigh na hÉireann (which appears to be a split from the Real IRA) rightly provides a source of concern.

ONH remained active in the six months under review. In July it threw a pipe bomb at Strabane PSNI station which exploded on the roof of adjacent premises. We believe it was responsible for the three explosive devices which were discovered at the houses of District Policing Partnership
members and a PSNI officer in the Strabane area over four days in April 2007; none caused any damage. Members remained engaged in a variety of criminal activities, including drug dealing; we think the proceeds go largely to the perpetrators rather than the organisation. ONH sought to enhance its capability by continuing efforts to recruit members. There are indications that the leadership may seek to address the question of whether they could sustain a continuing and more effective terrorist campaign.

Nor is ONH alone:

We believe that dissidents have sought to target the homes of police officers or others thought to possess weapons, with a view to stealing them. Members of a grouping calling itself the Republic Defence Army, based in the Strabane area, may have been responsible for an assault in May. There was an attempt to achieve greater unity among dissident republicans but in practice the evidence is of more fragmentation.

That this inchoate mixed bag of dissidents are so ineffective is of some comfort to both the (or perhaps the many) communities on this island, and a testament to their marginalisation. But they are proliferating albeit at a low level and they remain extant.

Still, the report also points to some interesting processes amongst the dissidents…

Finally, we are aware of speculation in the media about the possibility of dissident groups calling a ceasefire because of disillusion over their lack of ability to sustain an effective campaign. We do not think that dissident republicans are seriously addressing this as a future strategy, even if some members might be prompted to murmur about a ceasefire because they would be aware of its potential implications for the release of prisoners. We
have no reason at present to expect a broad ranging move or one which would have any very significant impact on the threat that dissidents continue to pose.

So. What of the bigger groups. The CIRA has been involved in the following:

CIRA has been active over the six months under review. It was responsible for two of the three paramilitary murders committed in the period; the victims were both former Belfast members who had established a rival group in the same area. A third person was injured in the same attack. We believe that in Lurgan it was responsible for the construction of a mortar which could have been used against members of the security forces. The device was found in March 2007 before it could be used. CIRA claimed that it was responsible in the Armagh area for throwing a pipe bomb at a police vehicle and petrol bombs at a police building. We do however believe that members monitored police patrols, and the organisation has undertaken targeting, including of PSNI officers and premises. In our view CIRA hoped to carry out attacks in order to disrupt the political process in Northern Ireland but did not bring them to fruition. Members threw petrol bombs and missiles at police officers in the Lurgan area in August. Throughout the six months members have engaged in a wide variety of serious criminal activity North and South, including extortion, drug dealing, robbery, brothel keeping, smuggling and fuel laundering. We believe that although most of the proceeds go to individual members some pass to the organisation.

First up it is only reasonable to suggest that internecine armed actions indicate the worst for any group. That this was due apparently to attempts to establish a ‘rival group’ is cause for even greater concern. The history of the INLA during the 1980s was an almost unbelievable spiral into extreme violence between factions. The effective cul-de-sac that dissident Republicanism appears to be in is exemplified by this sort of activity (and as an aside, is it possible that the effective trouncing that was delivered to dissident political candidates this year has contributed – albeit indirectly – to this). Ally to that the purported range of activities which generate funds and one can only marvel at the pronouncements of some allied to the supposed ‘legitimate’ Republic.

The upshot of this is that:

CIRA has continued its efforts to enhance the organisation’s capability. It sought to recruit members (though with limited success and so far as we are able to establish it has not attracted disillusioned former members of PIRA) and to develop a youth wing; it has attempted to acquire weapons, and it may have tested home made explosives; … We also believe that the 400lb of home made explosive discovered by the PSNI in Craigavon in August 2007 belonged to CIRA.
2.10 CIRA thus remains active, dangerous and committed. It has sought to enhance its long term capability and we believe that it would have undertaken other serious incidents had it been able to do so. As we have said in the past, it is capable of a greater level of violent and other crime.

Now hold on a second. Here we have an organisation that is ‘active, dangerous and committed’. Yet what whisper do we have of this in the Irish media? What sense that this impinges event tangentially upon their musings?

The INLA can reflect upon the suggestion that:

2.12 We believe that INLA was responsible for one of the three paramilitary murders committed during the period under review10. In Belfast, Derry and Strabane members have undertaken patrols to prevent anti-social behaviour, and have acted against a number of alleged drug dealers and others. Members have been heavily involved in a range of serious criminal activity North and South, in the case of the latter apparently with greater energy than in the recent past, albeit for personal gain. This activity has included providing protection and undertaking paid services for organized crime gangs, from which it secures a considerable income. This is particularly the case in the Dublin area. Overall therefore our view remains essentially unchanged: INLA retains a capacity for extreme violence; we cannot rule out its becoming more dangerous in future; and in the meantime it is largely a criminal enterprise.

A sorry situation. But note that it has a ‘capacity for extreme violence’.
The Real IRA is hardly any better. Although not involved in murder they have been:

2.18 …responsible for an unreported shooting in April 2007. In
common with other dissident republican groups, it has targeted PSNI officers and premises. In March 2007 units monitored and targeted PSNI officers and vehicles in the North West and in South Armagh. It planned but was unable to carry out a number of operations, especially in the Lurgan and Craigavon area. In the summer it was probably responsible for threatening alleged criminals in west Belfast. The police have continued to have some success against RIRA.

2.20 The picture for RIRA is therefore of an organisation which has achieved little operationally in the six months under review, which maintains a strong determination to be able to do much more in future, and which has made efforts to enhance its capability to that end. The threat thus remains.

Meanwhile on the Loyalist side there is at least some change in the seemingly glacial pace of development. The Report is actually quite positive about the UVF.

2.27 Shortly after we said this in our Fifteenth Report the UVF leadership did substantially grasp the nettle. On 3 May 2007 it issued a statement in which it said that it would renounce violence and transform itself from a military to a civilian organisation. Paramilitary activity such as recruitment, training and targeting would stop and so-called active service units would be stood down. The organisation as a whole would be downsized. Any involvement by members in crime would be in contravention of the “command” of the leadership. As to weapons, they were not decommissioned. Instead they were to be put “beyond reach”; the statement referred to their being in dumps under the control of the leadership but not accessible to members. This statement and its implementation appear to embrace the Red Hand Commando as well.

2.28 We have looked closely at the UVF to determine whether the statement has been given practical effect; four of the six months under review follow the statement. Broadly speaking, we think that implementation is under way.
The leadership is clear on the direction in which it is taking the organisation, has briefed the message in the statement down to the grass roots and has started to take steps to reduce the organisation’s size. Some members have been allowed to leave; some have been expelled on disciplinary grounds. We have no indication that there has been any recruitment since early May.
Such intelligence gathering as appears to have taken place has been directed against potential informers or suspected dissident republicans12.
That aside, we have no evidence of any terrorist-type activity, whether overt, such as targeting, or preparatory, such as acquiring weapons although we cannot rule out local and unsanctioned acquisition on an opportunistic basis.

Their summation?

2.29 It is therefore clear that the 3 May statement represents a major turning point for the UVF. The leadership has set a strategy to which it is committed and has started to implement it. But the position is not yet entirely transformed and there are some pockets of resistance. Although we are not aware of any overall challenge to the leadership it is not at all surprising that there should be some opposition despite the long period of careful preparation and internal consultation which preceded the statement. It is understandable that the leadership should want to manage this carefully.

So much done, but more to do. Mind you, there is the eyewatering statement that…

We have mentioned before that the organisation might seek to maintain a small residual capability to respond if necessary to future attacks from republicans13.

They mention it, but they don’t indicate what their position is on it. Is it a good or a bad thing? I assume leading lights are issued permits for personal protection weapons, or perhaps I’m completely wrong there.

Finally to the Ulster Defence Association. There the situation is considerably less positive.

Some care therefore needs to be taken in making an overall assessment of the UDA over the six months under review. The period has been dominated by the results of the internal tensions. Those same tensions also prompted some other less public activity. The leadership has sought to reduce violence by members and the level of criminality, and has continued to take steps to that end though its success has been limited. We do not doubt, as we have said before, that there are senior figures who are convinced of the need for the organisation to move in an entirely new direction. But the organisation is not centrally structured and, as has been demonstrated in the six months under review this limits its capacity to deliver change quickly.
There has been some very recent progress by way of contacts between the UDA and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning but there is no sign that the decommissioning of weapons is an early prospect. The pace of real change remains far too slow. We will continue to judge the organisation by what it does, not what it says. We deal in paragraphs 4.5 – 4.8 below with some issues to do with both the main loyalist organisations.

One wonders whether it is within the capacity of the UDA to change significantly in the near to medium term. The word ‘Association’ in the title barely hints at the reality of that ‘organisation’ in terms of the loose bonds between the various constituent elements.

And the figures for violence in the North are indicative of the problems ahead. Worth noting that the three murders during the time period (1st March to 31st August 2007) were committed by Republican paramilitaries and constitute “the worst six month period for two years”. On the other hand casualties from loyalist attacks were “about one third what it was in the same period in 2005-2006″ while casualties from Republican attacks fell to two-thirds the total during the same period in the previous 12 months”. The number of areas in Northern Ireland experiencing such attacks also decreased.

The conclusions from the report are striking.

– The combined figure of shooting and assault casualties of
loyalist attacks – 14 – was 2 less than in the preceding six month
period, which had been the lowest for any such period on which
we had reported; this is a decrease of 13%. This time it resulted
entirely from 1 shooting and 13 assaults, as compared with 2
from shootings and 14 from assaults in the preceding 6 month
period. It compares with 33 in the same period in 2006 (made up
of 14 shooting casualties and 19 assault casualties) – a reduction
– The combined total of shooting and assault casualties of
republican attacks was 2, both of assault. It is by far the lowest
such figure we have reported and it compares with 13 in the
preceding six month period (8 from shootings and 5 from
assaults) – a reduction of 85%. In the same period in 2006 the
total was also 13, though it was differently made up (4 from
shootings and 9 from assaults);

It’s early days to be making any sweeping statements, but let’s be optimistic for a moment. Overall we see a society where paramilitary violence is ebbing. Loyalist violence (excluding murder) remains at a higher level than Republican. But in both there are significant decreases.

But back to PIRA. The Report notes that:

We do not think that the organisation is involved in terrorist or other illegal activity and believe it has continued to instruct members to refrain from committing crime. Some members remained involved in criminality but such incidents as there have been were in contravention of these instructions. During the parades season it urged cooperation with the police. Some people whom PIRA had previously exiled have been able to return to Northern Ireland. Some members in some areas have not entirely moved on from the view that dealing with anti-social behaviour is appropriately mediated by threats and social exclusion, as a form of community control, rather than by proper human rights-compliant community policing. That said, we remain of the firm view that the organisation is fully committed to pursuing the political path and that it will not be diverted from it.

The Report is clear that a distinction can be made between criminality by ‘some members’ and how any such activities are in contravention of the direction of the Republican Movement.

A shame then that the media cannot make a similar distinction. Because when it comes down to it PIRA and Sinn Féin have taken a path of great risk across two, perhaps three, decades. There is an argument that they deserve no praise for doing ‘what they should have done originally’ but that, I’d suggest, is to ignore the way in which people are caught up in specific socio-political dynamics. Perhaps they don’t deserve praise, but certainly they deserve recognition. And beyond that they deserve better than a media narrative that appeals to the worst by exaggeration or fabrication and completely ignores the threat from existing groups which have the ability, capacity or propensity towards ‘a greater level of violence and crime’, or ‘extreme violence’.


1. ‘Slab’ Murphy has Assets Seized | Irish Election - November 8, 2007

[…] systems. There will be some relief that the Provisionals were given a pretty good report in the Monitoring Commission report yesterday and the sense that a few individuals are committing crimes rather than an organisational […]


2. Wednesday - November 8, 2007

I take the IMC no more seriously than I ever did. And I’m amused to see how many other bloggers are now coming around to the same position on it that republicans have held from the start.


3. Wednesday - November 8, 2007

Should add, that wasn’t a reference to you WBS, more to the folks on Slugger et al who took the first couple IMC reports as gospel …


4. WorldbyStorm - November 8, 2007

And not taken as such Wednesday.

But… if a narrative has evolved in the media whereby all evil is automatically routed back to Republicans, then it seems only appropriate to look at the single entity which has a public oversight role on these matters and see what it has to say. How much information the IMC actually has, the quality of that information, and so on is a different issue again. But… the governments tell us they take it seriously. If so, then the media should take it seriously as well.

But curiously they don’t… hence my points about self-serving…


5. John O'Neill - November 19, 2007

Eamon McCann ‘hits the nail on the head’ in this article in Republicanism. To ‘Dissidents’ public opinion etc are irrelevant they will soldier on until the ‘job is done’. Any organisation that believes they are the real government of Ireland is hardly going to be concerned about people’s opinion or lack of support. This is endemic within all strands of the republican movement. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/opinion/article3164196.ece


6. Ed Hayes - November 19, 2007

McCann’s point is one I heard many times while in the SWM; republicanism is simply militant nationalism, its progressive potential is always going to be limited, it will always sell-out, even in its most bellegerent forms. But why is it still attractive? and from other posts would not the WP people also see themselves as republicans?


7. Garibaldy - November 19, 2007


As Tomás mac Giolla likes to say, republicans fought nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This sums up the differing interpretation of what republicanism means for The WP and other groups. Mac Giolla sees republicanism as an internationalist egalitarian force while nationalism is a narrow and often nasty and communal and sectarian one.

PSF has at times adopted a great deal of the rhetoric of republicanism as separatist, secular, socialist and internationalist, but fundamentally for the vast majority of PSF members republicanism means simply an independent Irish republic, as you say a militant brand of nationalism. Hence the interchangeability in a great deal of northern PSF statements of Catholic, nationalist and republican. For The WP, republicanism is a revolutionary political philosophy for which an independent Irish state is the minimum demand. It is and has been the voice of progress, of the politically and socially democratic forces in each epoch.

As to why nationalism is so popular. From a northern point of view, firstly is sectarianism, in the sense of belonging to a separate group from unionists, with a commitment to a united Ireland representing that sense of difference. The fact that Ireland remains divided means that it will always have a strong claim on the minds, and more especially the hearts, of those in the north who seek change. Then you have the more positive aspects that apply everywhere. The balance will be different in each individual.


8. Redking - November 19, 2007

Nothing to add to what Garibaldy has said except – for the WP’s view on republicanism you might want to check out Dessie O’ Hagan’s pamphlet “The Concept of Republicanism”.

It was also published in a bookof essays by Norman Porter in 1998, I think.


9. Ed Hayes - November 19, 2007

Will do, I’m genuinly interested. Some PSF would say that they are not nationalists and I think the IRPs would also say that. Of course Fianna Fail call themselves the Republican party…


10. Garibaldy - November 19, 2007

Exactly the point Ed. Let’s forget our old friend Michael McDowell too. I took out a bit in the earlier comment about how whatever about ex-members you would never hear a current WP member refer to FF and its offshoots and PSF and its offshoots [which some of course may well consider to be the same thing :)] as republicans. There is a gap between what it means in common parlance and the wholistic politic philosophy meant by people like Mac Giolla and O’Hagan.

On your point about PSF and IRPs. There might be a few who say this. I also heard Martin Morgan formerly of the SDLP and who hopes to be of FF in the north described himself as a socialist in a nationalist party. My personal belief is that they are kidding themselves. Membership of either of those organisations means a commitment to nationalism first. Just look at PSF’s desire to represent “the nationalist people” (whatever that is – I’m only aware of the Irish people, divided though it may be) or the IRPs’ consistent rhetoric about the nationalist working class. The most recent example being in the letters pages of the delightful Weekly Worker a couple of weeks ago.


11. WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2007

Just on this topic, Tom Griffin has some thoughts that I tend to agree with as regards the specific rather than the philosophical.


To be honest I’m not sure it’s possible to see concepts such as nationalism and Republicanism as being seamless contiguous wholes. They’re spectrums, like any other aspect of political philosophy. That explains why McDowell can indeed be a Republican, Ahern can be a Republican, Adams can be one, I can be a Republican, you can be a Republican and George Bush can be a Republican… Therefore while I understand the point you make Garibaldy I think it’s too rarified for application when mapped onto say SF or indeed the WP. There were many I knew in WP who were sure they weren’t Republican, were indeed not pleased by the term one little bit etc, etc. There are many in SF who are staunch socialists who see themselves as Republican, indeed would say, much as you do that Republicanism is an egalitarian, etc, etc, etc… philosophy. To be honest, I think there’s a danger of starting to use these as clubs to beat each other with…

There’s also another point I’d want to make. OSF evolved very much from a sort of quasi populist nationalist/Republican movement to a sort of Republican Socialism and then onwards to a sort of modified Republicanism. Why is it impossible for PSF to develop similarly? I’m not saying that it will. And to extend that point, I was always struck by how the UI rhetoric came more into play post split than it had prior to the split in the WP. Nor do I see a contradiction between yours (and mine to an extent) brand of Republicanism and an independent Irish Republic or strictly speaking a contradiction between what PSF profess today and that, although let me enter the usual caveats that PSF is much more likely to be swayed to the right simply because its bigger, different social base, etc, etc than the WP was…


12. Garibaldy - November 19, 2007


If there were people in The WP who didn’t like the term republican, then they can’t have read the party’s constitution. Again, it’s possible a bit of a north/south difference here in emphasis, where it mattered somewhat less to the population of the south. I agree that it seems somewhat rareified, and may well be so. And the gap between The WP view and the popular view was the reason for the name changes – to avoid confusion. But the philosophy remained, at least in the constitution if not in many of the members in the run up to 1992. If it has been more prominent, it’s surely because the organs of publicity no longer reside in the hands of people who had become neither republican nor socialist in the sense meant by the party. The independent republic is not at all contradictory. Just a minimum.

I had a debate with a PSF blogger about the meaning of republicanism, on Slugger, who had said something along the lines that republicanism was an expression of culture. When I outlined how I saw it, he said he agreed. But added that he would not ignore the reality of the situation. I took that to mean that he regarded the people as hopelessly divided, and his aim was to secure better rights for nationalists within NI, before demographics and the increasing economic power of nationalists produced re-unification. Which is roughly the argument put forward by Mitchell McLauglin in the book edited by Norman Porter referred to above (The Republican Ideal Blackstaff Press 1998).

So the point I would make in response to the socialist in a nationalist party argument is that labour can’t wait. And that the core principle of socialism is workers’ unity. Nationalist and unionist politics both violate that. Which leads us to the point about how to judge people. Bertie can say he’s a socialist. His actions suggest otherwise. People can say they are socialists or whatever. I’ll judge them by what I see with my own eyes, whether it’s Paisley, Brown, Adams, Mc Dowell, Empey, Mac Giolla or whoever. Proffessing is one thing. Acting is another.

In response to why the old joke that the difference between the sticks and the provos is 20 years is wrong, I’ll simply say that the type of politics practised were and are fundamentally different, especially in the north, but not only there.


13. WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2007

Oddly enough, or not, I actually agree with your first para entirely. There were people for who the word was something to be shunned, even in the formulation you present. I always believed the term was and is entirely valid, and I use both in the meaning you use and in a slightly different sense.

I also agree with you that the WP and PSF are not indistinguishable in terms of politics or practise. But I think there are people within it who are much closer to your position than you might think.

I’m not as convinced as you as to ‘ownership’ of terms. RSF for example have something of a cottage industry dedicated to proving why they are ‘Republican’ and everyone else isn’t. Nor am I entirely sure that Republicanism in the broadest sense has to be socialist, although I think it’s a bonus when it is!


14. Garibaldy - November 19, 2007

I think that there is a place for a non-socialist progressive republicanism, especially in a country like France or Nepal. However, in Ireland republicanism comes with its own special organisational as well as philosophical history, so I can understand the desire to limit it to certain groups in history. After all, no-one would ever had said O’Connellites or Parnellites represented the same politics as the YI or the IRB. Why then are we so lax today? Civic politics is a term that might be useful to describe in Ireland what we might call progressive republicanism elsewhere.

As for similarities. I’ve no problem working with like-minded people fronm various backgrounds on areas of agreement. But, and again this may be a northern thing that seems less important in the south, the issue of sectarian or communalist politics is a fundamental cleavage. Put simply, anyone who is a member of the major parties in the north associates themselves with this brand of politics. I cannot, and never will be able to, reconcile that with socialism, nor with Tone. Therefore there remains a world of difference. I know that others can – such as the several people in PSF who started out in the CP, but I don’t understand how.


15. WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2007

Of course, but then … consider again the concept of a spectrum. On one end we have the revanchist Republicanism of RSF. Somewhere towards the centre we have PSF, torn either way, and then at the other end we have WP. There are commonalities, shared roots in all three cases (and where would we fit the IRPs?). And yet all would term themselves socialist in some sense (O’Bradaighs socialism is to my mind a sort of rural populist thing, but others such as splintered seem to think it was more deeply embedded).

Doesn’t that shows us the limitations of the term. I think that’s why people can – and this isn’t necessarily a compliment to them – transcend those sort of categorisations.


16. Garibaldy - November 19, 2007

I understand what you’re saying, I just don’t agree with it. For me the correct phrase is Ó Bradaigh’s revanchist nationalism. I agree there are limitations to terms like socialist, republican or whatever due to popular perceptions. I think the name change was the right thing to do, but they did not involve giving up proclaiming a distinctive interpretation of republicanism, any more than the presence of other socialist groups involves giving up a distinctive perspective on it.

I’m happy with a spectrum where it’s useful. Such as the spectrum of non-sectarianism through to anti-sectarian. Or centre left through to ultra left. But in the case of groups that have called themselves republican, the question of sectarianism means not a spectrum but a dividing line. You are or you aren’t engaged in the politics of sectarianism, especially after nearly 40 years of fighting the bit out on these issues. There are progressive people within sectarian parties – Ervine might be an example here – who can be worked with, but they remain locked on the other side of a fundamental dispute about what republicanism and socialism are about. Not on a spectrum of say what represent the commanding heights of industry that should be nationalised and when.


17. WorldbyStorm - November 19, 2007

That’s true to a huge degree. But, the thing in my mind is that people will tend to elevate the national over the class which leads to a very specific problem in the North for those of us who think class based politics is a good thing (actually it’s a problem everywhere on this island and next door). And that’s where the sectarian thing troubles me. It’s not sectarian, per se, to be Unionist, any more than it’s sectarian, per se, to be Nationalist. These are simply political self-identifications albeit national political self-identifications. That the political forms have taken on sectarian aspects seems to me to be in a sense a microcosm of the problem. And I’m presuming you’re using sectarian in the sense of being closer to the political meaning than the religious. And there is also the problem that hitherto, although hopefully not forever after, the way the national and the political has emerged has been in a very black and white fashion, i.e. one is either British or Irish with no allowance (or so little as makes no difference) for overlap. Which means that people have identified with communalist parties sooner than with class. So frankly I don’t blame parties or people which haven’t made the jump to what I hope is going to be a situation of overlapping or shared identities which may or may not end in a traditional UI. And after all, what parties did? Perhaps the WP, although that hardly had much reach into traditional or former Unionism. The Alliance, to a degree although that was de facto Unionist if not de jure. Small socialist parties, although not always, look at the way communalism, or better still, national identification has torn Labour apart in its various manifestations – actually look at how a curious rhetorical post-nationalism but effectively 26 county nationalism was a motor in the WP split with those behind that nationalism discarding the North almost immediately.


18. Garibaldy - November 19, 2007


I blame people and parties who foster divisions among the Irish people and especially among the working class. I also blame their voters. Particularly where fostering that division has taken the form of sectarian murder. A non-violent form of politics that is based on the same communal hostility is better than a violent one, but the question of agency and responsibility remains important.

On the political or religious thing – we now see it as more political, but it seems to me equally valid to suggest that the political overlaid itself on religious identities, and that people still think of themselves primarily as Catholics and Protestants, regardless of whether they believe or not. Actually, it might be better to say they think of the other side as Catholic or Protestant and are more likely to think of themselves as political. So we are unionists/nationalists (and therefore political) while they are taigs/orangies (and therefore sectarian). I agree it’s possible to be a civic unionist or civic nationalist (with royalties paid to Norman Porter), but the huge majority of people in NI aren’t.

26 county nationalism is indeed an interesting phenomenon. Roy Foster talks about it in his latest book. The DLs let themselves down badly on that front. Although I think that it was a consequence of their opportunism rather than anything else. Quite ironic to maybe see them being forced back into the north. And potentially very bad for progressive politics there. The mid-1990s saw two opportunistic progressive coalitions elected to the agreement talks. And they were a disaster, that set progressive politics back years. No influence on the outcome, and robbing the chance of a principled socialist voice. The same could happen again, except that serious socialism is in a much weaker state.

This relates to the point about making the breakthrough across the divide. The WP lost several hundred votes in the Shankill when the PUP emerged. I suspect quite a lot of those people are now either dead or became depressed and apolitical. There is no sign of them being replaced with more sectarian attitudes among the young than the old, according to at least one study (the details of which I’ll never find now, though I suspect Peter Shirlow was involved). I respect Mark Langhammer and some of the other people likely to be involved in any Labour candidacies but I can’t help thinking that they’ll only split and further demoralise the left vote. A left or progressive alliance would perhaps be of use, but the potential parties are all basically strongest in the same areas, and standing aside for each other would be a major problem I suspect. Oh well. Hasta la victoria siempre.


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