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Some more thoughts on Section 31 and dissident Republicanism. April 28, 2011

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

There’s more to think about in relation to Eoghan Harris’s piece a weekend or two ago which referenced Section 31.

And perhaps the events of the last weekend might throw it into sharper contrast.

One could start with the small point that he articulates a position he held through the 1980s which was at odds with the policy position of the Workers’ Party of which he was a member – and yes, few would argue that the WP were the staunchest critics of Section 31, but look at their policy platforms and one will see that they formally resiled from support for that measure.

There’s the now hardly that innovative thought that Irish history is complex and paradoxical – but show me an history of any place that isn’t, so:

But they are not the only ones with amnesia. As soon as the armed struggle ended, the “leaky consensus” turned into a huge hole. Within months we were producing hard-men history books and a glut of gory television programmes celebrating the cult of the gunman that stretches from Dan Breen to the cult of Michael Collins to the Men Behind the Tripwires. The Real IRA lives in the leaky consensus.

Which seems bizarre given his own efforts to add to that ‘cult’ of Collins.

Many, and not merely – and particularly – those like myself who were members of the WP, will find the following to be somewhat replete with paradox:

Some RTE pontificators seem to have no memory of violence either. They seem to forget the so-called ‘peace process’ was actually a long war of attrition waged by tough Ministers for Justice like Paddy Cooney, the courage of the “rough men” of the so-called Heavy Gang, and the powerful polemics of Conor Cruise O’Brien. Above all, because they were against it, they play down the crucial role played by Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. This kept the Provo apologists off the airwaves for most of the 30 years of the armed struggle. And saved many young men of 20 in the Republic from the seductions of terrorism.

But most characteristic to me is the central anomaly at the heart of his argument, which is expressed as follows:

Would you like to see a spokesperson for the Real IRA on RTE, back to camera, telling us why they murdered Constables Carroll and Kerr, why they are going to go on killing members of the PSNI, and why, by singling out Catholic police officers, they are not merely trying to stop them joining the PSNI but also showing that the Real IRA is not sectarian?

Me neither. Heard it all before. Groundhog day reporting. Never yet heard an RTE reporter who could put an IRA spokesperson on the spot. That’s because a television interview format, as distinct from a newspaper column, cannot handle a trained IRA propagandist because of what I call (in my 1987 document, Television and Terrorism) a “leaky consensus” on the national question.

It’s not the solipsistic stuff with which as ever seeks to position himself dead centre at the heart of the narrative that is most odd. Nor is it the implicit idea that permeates his argument that somehow the masses have to be protected from dissident Republicans because the latter won’t be able to be ‘put on the spot’ – though one wonders when the enormous condescension in that notion will ever be challenged.

Nope, it’s the idea that RIRA is that fussed about being on RTÉ or the media in general. This betrays another weird twist on the self-referential aspect to his character. It may be that Donnybrook remains the conceptual centre of his world, but he’s sorely mistaken if he thinks that the groups that constitute dissident Republicanism are in the slightest bit concerned about making Six:One news or somesuch.

In truth their ambitions are much much less rarified. They want to engage with the communities within which they exist, albeit entirely on their own terms.

But as if to further point up the oddity of the analysis Harris presents consider the delay in the issue of a statement accepting responsibility. Now that might be a function of the knowledge that the murder of Ronan Kerr has probably done them no good at all, but it more likely is a function of a mindset that sees the murder in and of itself as statement enough.

They don’t, and Harris doesn’t seem to understand or grasp this, do politics or media in the way that PSF do. That’s the very point. Anyone who has had any communication with dissident Republicanism will know that broadly speaking [and there are exceptions, though functionally due to the size of the exceptions it arrives at much the same point as those who eschew politics] they’re intensely wary of the ‘political’.

That’s one of the traps they believe Sinn Féin and PIRA got caught in. They don’t intend to replicate it.

What that leaves is a question worth considering as regards the mix that the dissidents appear to propose.

A Republicanism that is based primarily around a militarist pole seems almost a complete inversion of the tactics and strategies adopted hitherto.

What else – other than politics – links directly into peoples struggles on an hourly, daily, monthly or other basis? And as importantly generates the pools of support that are necessary to sustain it. I can’t think of physical force Republicanism, in and of itself – and presumably manifested in acts like those seen last week – as being sufficient to mobilise communities in the way that other strands of Republicanism were able to over the years, not least because it must of necessity remain in the background. There can’t be any spokespeople, at least not in the sense we know them from previously, because they won’t take direct responsibility for the actions of whatever groupings carry out such acts.

There simply aren’t the structures extant to represent dissident Republicanism in the way that there were with Sinn Féin during the conflict – and that remain with it to this day.

Now, to some degree that may be making a virtue of necessity. There isn’t the support, they are fragmented, and so on. But there is a genuine aversion to the political and I wonder if that will in the longer term merely underline their effective isolation.

And while some might complain that Sinn Féin took more or less the entirety of its base with it when it shifted decisively away from armed conflict, the point is that it did largely take that base.

Anyhow, in light of that, doesn’t Harris’s analysis seem remarkably tangential in terms of any real engagement with this particular issue?


1. Pidge - April 28, 2011

Out of interest, is there a copy of the “Television and Terrorism” document anywhere online?


2. WorldbyStorm - April 28, 2011

An excellent question. I’ve never heard of one but I’d sorely like to see one.


3. RepublicanSocialist1798 - April 29, 2011

I’m beginning to wonder whether this site should adopt a “no platform” policy towards messers Harris and Myarse.

Then again it’s good to get a laugh from the diatribes of those two liars between studying and it reassures my faith in humanity that people have the rhetorical skills necessary to savage such crap.

T&T would be an interesting document to get. Thought it got a mention in TLR.


4. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh - April 29, 2011

EOGHAN HARRIS: Revolutionary Irish Republican ideology is so repugnant to the people of Ireland that the Irish people do not wish to see or hear it on their TVs or radios.

EOGHAN HARRIS: Revolutionary Irish Republican ideology is so potentially attractive to the people of Ireland that the Irish people should not be permitted to see or hear it on their TVs or radios.

Hmmmm, so which is it?

Seems Harris has still not got his head around this whole democracy thing. Ex-Commies often get confused, Lor’ bless ’em.

While I can understand, if strongly disagree with, the arguments of those who would ban representatives of revolutionary/guerilla/paramilitary/subversive/terrorist movements from TV or radio (Section 31, the British ban, the bans in the Basque Country and Spain, etc. etc.), there is NO argument for banning democratically elected representatives of political organisations appearing on TV or radio (Ireland, Britain, Spain, etc.).

That is the hallmark of anti-democratic, anti-civil libertarian and despotic societies: the likes of North Korea. Oooops, back to Eoghan Harris again!


Earl Williams - May 1, 2011

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it was a very good thing for Ireland that E. Harris never came within an asses’ roar of real power.


5. Mick Hall - May 1, 2011

Ah poor fellow, if only he had been born English he could be safely in the House of Lords, an honoured guest of the great and good, admired by all for his TV punditry and portrayal of the British army at its finest 😉 hell he might have even been at the wedding. Instead he is doomed to an old age of groundhog day.


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