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Legitimacy February 27, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I find this piece by Fintan O’Toole remarkably limited. He takes to task Sinn Féin for supporting the PIRA armed struggle and argues that there is no difference between that struggle and that of dissident republicans now. And yet I can’t help but feel that his analysis rests on a basic misunderstanding, that he doesn’t even touch on:

It is a very good thing that Sinn Féin has reversed itself and now rests its claim to political authority solely on the votes it has received in democratic elections in jurisdictions it previously refused to recognise. 

Why did SF ‘reverse’ itself? That’s the key question – because that represents a change. And the obvious answer is that a political dispensation was shaped which was distinct from the status quo ante and allowed for PIRA to go on cessation, eventually decommission and then as a functional paramilitary force to effectively wither away.

Whereas others have not accepted that dispensation and continue to rail against it.

It is this distinction, I think, which makes his analysis incomplete. One can entirely legitimately find commemorations and support for the armed struggle problematic in the extreme, while accepting that we are not comparing like and like. Whether an armed response to Stormont and direct rule was the correct response is open to question and dispute. What isn’t is that fact that once an overwhelmingly agreed context was put to the people of the island, North and South, one which was bought into by Sinn Féin and all significant others, then there was a support for that new agreed context from Sinn Féin with all subsequent changes in PIRA.

And I’d add that perhaps there is a blunt necessity for SF to support those in that period of conflict – politically, and for other reasons, and knowing many in SF I believe it to be completely sincere. But pragmatically, the demands that they change are pointless, irrelevant and likely were they to do so to be utterly counterproductive. Yet O’Toole, who is no fool and presumably is aware of all these facts, argues at the end:

Even if there were no living heirs to this toxic tradition, this double act would not be sustainable for Sinn Féin. But those heirs are out there, doing the same old things for the same old reasons. So long as Sinn Féin upholds the legitimacy of the “armed struggle”, it has no answer to the dissidents’ claims of continuity.

But no one has an answer to that claim of continuity, because it’s a semi-religious position. And in that sense SF’s upholding or not of armed struggle at a certain point is irrelevant.


1. benmadigan - February 27, 2020

any chance of a cut-and-paste of O’Toole’s article? As it’s available only to IT subscribers

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 27, 2020

I’ll get some choice quotes for you! 🙂


2. EWI - February 27, 2020

Even if there were no living heirs to this toxic tradition

A tradition fully and publicly embraced in turn not just by FF and then FG, but also in earlier decades by Irish party leaders such as Parnell and Redmond, who wrapped the glamour of the ‘men in the hills’ fully around themselves in order to win broad appeal.

Liked by 1 person

Phil - February 28, 2020

Yes. And, if we’re talking about persuading the dissidents to pack it in, ISTM that it’s precisely those who have themselves embraced the armed struggle, for specific reasons, for stated objectives and in particular circumstances, who are best positioned to advocate cessation – when those circumstances have changed, those reasons don’t apply and those objectives have, in however qualified a form, been achieved.

Of course, if you go down that road you end up treating the dissidents like adults, and perhaps even having a conversation where they get to talk back, so I can see how the idea might be unwelcome to people who just want Republicanism to go away. But that is how you get people to put the gun down.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - February 28, 2020

Sometimes, actually often, it strikes me this isn’t about people putting down the gun or the wish for same – it is about being able to feel legitimate in attacking others however much they have moved from their original positions to new ones. To me there’s a weird hypocrisy about that because one murder to me is as bad as fifty or five hundred and if we are about preventing one or fifty or five hundred more then your other point about how those who have effected change might be well placed as an example really is crucial.


sonofstan - February 28, 2020

Exactly. And for a country that’s supposed to be obsessed with history, there’s a weird selective amnesia available when required: no one seems to remember that FF were in power a mere 9 years after the civil – or to spot the sheer bad taste in the leader of a party with roots in fascism denouncing meetings of another party as being ‘like Nuremberg rallies’

Liked by 1 person

sonofstan - February 28, 2020

“civil war” obv.


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