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Dialogue is better than holy huddles

(Roy Garland, Irish News)

Gerry Ruddy of the Irish Republican Socialist Party Ard Chomhairle (executive) gave an outline of the stance of his party during discussions with unionists and nationalists in Drogheda last month. Des Dalton vice-president of Republican Sinn Féin shared in the dialogue under the auspices of the Guild of Uriel.

Although the IRSP and other republicans like RSF stem from similar roots there are major differences. Gerry Ruddy sees the IRSP as a radical socialist wing of republicanism that is non-sectarian and that has Protestant supporters. They regard themselves as part of a progressive movement stretching back to the values of the French Revolution – liberty, equality and fraternity. The IRSP identifies with United Irish ideals of 1798, with James Connolly and with the radical Republican Congress of the 1930s.

Gerry recalled how in 1934 fundamentalist 'republicans' viciously attacked socialist working class Protestant republicans from Belfast who were celebrating Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown. Mr Ruddy said that the IRSP wished to unite people rather than territory and remains critical of mainline republicanism. For example many republicans adopted aspects of reactionary nationalism including the 'myth of the Irish nation' and 'armed struggle'. These features derive from non-republican sources and yet 'armed struggle' was elevated into a principle rather than a tactic. The IRSP rejects nationalism and has a broad international perspective. The split of 1969/70 created a right wing anti-left Provisional IRA whereas the IRSP evolved from the Official IRA and tried to follow a socialist route.

While the IRSP opposed the Good Friday Agreement they did not oppose peace. They respected the agreement because the people endorsed it but they see it as being flawed because it reinforced two sectarian blocks.

Partition was wrong but as we are surrounded by capitalist states the need is for a federal realignment of the British Isles in terms of socialism. It was impossible to be a republican without being internationalist but he agreed with James Connolly who said the fight was here in Ireland – "where you are is where you are involved".

The need for a closer relationship between these islands is not far from Wolfe Tone, who in 1793 said, "if the connection with Britain was one of perfect equality, equal law, equal liberty, equal justice then the link would be highly beneficial to both". It was only later that Tone spoke of his desire to break the link. Given today's context, Wolfe Tone might see significant advantages in retaining and developing links between our islands. In the eyes of IRSP thinkers republicanism is incompatible with nationalism. Thus it would seem that while, in one dispensation separation might be the norm, in another some form of federal relationship could make sense.

Closer links between our islands could transcend the debilitating aspects of our tiresome age-old unionist/nationalist quarrel and provide us with space to work out a better future for everyone.

Gerry Ruddy believes that working class solidarity and radical change is to be found in a wider context than this island alone but he remains unsure if this would entail a separate Northern Ireland state.

As an IRSP observer I find some of the 'in-your-face' revolutionary nature of IRSP rhetoric off-putting. Long before the fall of the Berlin Wall I came to the view that revolution does not necessarily mean change.

However, revolutionary rhetoric is probably meant primarily to galvanise supporters and draw attention to the massive problems facing Ireland and the modern world through developments that enrich the few while impoverishing the many. Increasingly we are consuming the earth's resources at an ever-faster rate with scant regard for present or future generations. As Gerry Ruddy suggests: "If you have a bank account you are among the top eight% of the world's people – over 92% are living in relative poverty."

Reflecting on the above encounter I remain convinced that dialogue is fundamental to meaningful and peaceful human life.

In contrast, fundamentalisms present major barriers. While fundamentalism might reflect psyche insecurity, it damages possibilities of meaningful relationships and perpetuates deadly divisions.

Some forms of fundamentalism inhibit dialogue ostensibly for moral reasons. In reality this reticence seems to reflect the pursuit of private or sectional advantage and cosy separated holy huddles. Too many of us speak only with our own and become easy prey to unreasonable ideas – captivated by distorted perceptions of reality.

January 27, 2004

This article appeared first in the January 26, 2004 edition of the Irish News.

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