(by Anthony McIntyre, The Politician)
August 1, 2000
Recent events, which occasioned both the inspection and securing of IRA arms dumps, has led to much speculation about the future of republicanism. Too many commentators have hung their colours on the mast of technicalities and as such have denied their readership access to more analytical considerations. The decommissioning of IRA weaponry was never the republican baby but merely the bath water - to be cast off long after the baby had deserted the bath. Republicanism may have conditionally surrendered but that was not as a result of arms inspections. Rather it was enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. That agreement specified the conditions of the republican surrender - after that it was a case of those conditions being met.
There are of course those who have told us that a former republican prisoner plus a colleague in government cannot be construed as surrender. It is all too easily forgotten that former republican prisoners in government was an objective secured by the SDLP, when in the person of the late Paddy Devlin, a one time IRA member served in the Stormont government of 1974. Republicans termed him a member of the British war machine for having done so - yet he managed to remain far to the left of anyone in the present Stormont regime.
What republicanism accepted with the Good Friday Agreement was, as Tony Blair stated, an outcome that gives:
'unionists every key demand they have made since partition 80 years ago … The principle of consent, no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of people, is enshrined. The Irish constitution has been changed…A devolved assembly and government for Northern Ireland is now there for the taking.'
All of these were the terms of 'the enemy'. Reginald Maudling, as far back as 1972 was suggesting such. This, coupled to a weak Irish dimension grafted on, has formed the core of British state intentions since.
The Sinn Fein leadership is attempting to render republicanism obsolete while holding on to the vocabulary as it ditches the policies. In a recent RTE interview Danny Morrison's one revealing note of concern pertaining to those he described as republican dissidents was that they could be proved right in their assertion that the Northern state was beyond reform. But that was always at the core of the republican belief system. One hardly qualified as a republican dissident by holding that position. Republicanism is by its essence irrevocably opposed to the existence of the NI State regime. State republicanism is merely a different and slightly more radical sounding name for constitutional nationalism - the philosophy of the SDLP. Non-state republicanism will continue to survive in one form or another. It will do so because parties such as Sinn Fein which seek party growth through electoralism rather than ideas invariably move to straddle the middle ground. Sinn Fein will strive to usurp the SDLP in the North not by establishing the hegemony of ideas which are traditionally associated with what the loyalist Billy Mitchell describes as 'the working class, the workless class and the under class' but by becoming the hegemonic site of middle class ideas. In the South, Sinn Fein will enter a right wing coalition with Fianna Fail. This leaves those who are marginalised remaining on the margins. Non-state republicanism will emerge to articulate their discontent.
The question being pondered in many minds is in what way shall republicanism seek to achieve this. Up until now the signs are not good. Much of the intellectual opposition to the NI state is being articulated by individuals like Tommy McKearney, Tommy Gorman and Carrie Twomey of the Irish Republican Writers Group. None of these people advocate a return to armed struggle. Indeed, a recent Sunday Times piece stated that the group generally regarded armed struggle 'even if they don't say it straight out, as a waste of time and of life'. But the group is small in number and despite extensive media coverage does not seem to be expanding in the manner that groups associated with the physical force tradition are.
The stark reality facing Tommy McKearney and his colleagues is that politics per se now looks anathema to a gradually increasing body of grassroots republican opinion. The abandonment of resistance politics and its replacement with administration politics means that those who feel republicanism should have a future are now reduced to watching 'right honourable friends' in suits calling each other 'rotter'. In such a sickly environment the lesson is easily forgotten that it was the sterility of military politics that produced such a scenario. We can only hope that some do not insist on reinforcing failure.
This article appeared in the July 2000 edition of The Politician.