is the permanent state of self-induced angst that
the authoritarian mindset is forced to carry around
like a hump on its back. There is no need for
it. Sinn Fein's hegemony faces not the remotest
hint of erosion within the nationalist community.
The republican position has no appeal.
thoughts were harboured that Sinn Fein seriously
feared a republican electoral challenge should
have dissipated at a February debate in Derry
where at the same venue only a week previously
500 republicans critical of the party's acceptance
of the British PSNI gathered to vent their opposition.
If Sinn Fein strategists were perturbed by that
turnout they showed little sign of it by the time
they filed into the same hall in the Tower Hotel
to listen to a discussion organised as part of
the Bloody Sunday Weekend Programme, 2007.
had been roused out of an afternoon Belfast slumber
and asked to take part. Wearily, I acquiesced
rather than agreed. Once there, I shared the platform
with Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney, Alex Atwood of
the SDLP and SEA's Eamonn McCann. Although a letter
writer in the Derry Journal graciously said that
my contribution on the evening made uncomfortable
listening for many in the audience, that was not
my reading of the night. The same writer's notion
that the main debate was between myself and Declan
Kearney was far removed from my view of proceedings.
My input for the most part consisted of passing
the microphone back and forth between Declan Kearney
and Alex Atwood who respectively had to field
the bulk of the compliments and questions coming
from the floor.
anticipating a hostile audience I was surprised
to find that there was no rancour apart from a
member of the audience who asked what for me was
an inaudible and stupid question, until asked
to repeat it. Inaudible because it was grunted
rather than asked; stupid because it provoked
an angry put down for its author from Sinn members
who more or less told him to go back to amusing
himself with his play dough. After the event Sinn
Fein people were friendly. Even the handshakes
were not limp-wristed.
on its own was instructive. But there was more.
The strategically crafted questions came from
Martina Anderson, now a Sinn Fein MLA, and were
directed at Alex Atwood. The acrimony on the panel
was between Eamonn McCann and Declan Kearney.
On our way back to Belfast I suggested to my companions
that the entire Sinn Fein demeanour indicated
that the party was not in any way concerned about
the critique made of it by myself or anybody else
from the republican camp. Its members concentrated
their energy on challenging Alex Atwood. In Derry
at any rate, for Sinn Fein the SDLP was the party
to watch. The concern was hardly without merit.
Mark Durkan had surprisingly but comfortably defeated
Mitchel McLaughlin in the last Westminster election.
Sinn Fein had ground to make up and was not prepared
to have its eye taken from the ball by a perceived
irritant on its flank.
from Peggy O'Hara in Derry and Davy Hyland in
Newry/Armagh the republican challenge proved a
damp squib. In West Belfast Geraldine Taylor limped
in behind the traditionally miniscule Workers
Party vote with a derisory showing of her own.
Even the poor return for the most radical candidate
in the constituency, Sean Mitchell, who fought
on a platform of opposition to water taxes, was
twice what Taylor achieved. RSF candidates throughout
the North were more or less laughed at by the
electorate. Former blanket man Paul McGlinchey
fared no better. Gerry McGeough, tipped by many
as a potential vote getter, polled poorly despite
having a much more robust election campaign than
many of his fellow republican contenders.
Sinn Fein's republican challengers failed to grasp
is that the imagery of the hunger strike and blanket
men which featured prominently in much of their
campaigning is not a vote winner. As an astute
republican observer of the political scene commented,
the voter will respect the enormity of the sacrifice
made by the hunger strikers and protesting prisoners
but most certainly does not wish to return to
the era of death that so enveloped the times in
which the hunger strikers lived and died. The
argument can be made that the rise of Sinn Fein
has been proportional to its readiness to abandon
everything that was associated with the republicanism
that produced both the IRA and the hunger strikers
to the point where the party is now a Northern
version of Fianna Fail.
poses enormous challenges to republicans. Since
the onset of partition Fianna Fail has been the
most popular party in the island. Politically,
republicanism never mounted any serious challenge
to Fianna Fail hegemony. It is even less likely
to so do so against 'Provisional Fianna Fail'
in the North whose adroit nurturing of sectarian
nationalism secures for it a following that republicanism
at its most popular failed to attain.
republicans were quickly disabused of their illusions
if they were tempted to militarily challenge a
Fianna Fail government. It will be no different
for any republican who may in their finite wisdom
opt to wage armed struggle against a government
which contains Sinn Fein. Critics can debate all
they wish the extent to which they feel Sinn Fein
has sold out and been responsible for a divagation
of the republican project. Even with Sinn Fein
proclaiming, a la General Douglas MacArthur, 'we
are not retreating - we are advancing in another
direction', that very direction is immensely
popular as confirmed by the electorate two weeks
militarist republicans a productive exercise would
lie in teasing out the lessons to be learned from
the absolute failure of armed struggle as a strategy
to remove partition rather than labouring under
the damnosa hereditas of physical force
which republican tradition has unkindly bequeathed
to them. As the French revolutionary Robespierre
discovered far too late, "no one likes armed
politicist republicans, it should be recognised
that republicanism rather than the Northern state
is the failed entity of six county politics. Since
partition there has been no effective republican
challenge, as traditionally understood, to the
existence of the Northern State. The Provisional
campaign was based less on widespread republican
sentiment against the British presence, than it
was based on popular nationalist resentment towards
the British reinforcing of unionist created inequality.
The energy that sustained the Provisional IRA
was not primarily a response to the British being
here, but to the manner in which the British behaved
while here. The difference did not go unnoticed
by the British, who realised that they did not
have to leave Ireland, but to merely change their
behaviour while in Ireland and the wind would
be taken out of Provisional sails.
is no republican strategy, either political or
military, for ending partition; only the terms
dictated by the British consent of a majority
in the North, which Sinn Fein long ago dismissed
as a partitionist fudge. Republicans facing the
cold blast of a post-republican world need to
consider what micro contributions they can make
to the smatterings of radical politics that battle
to survive in a conservative political environment.
Expending effort in rebuilding the grand macro
republican project will only take radical energy
down a cul de sac called futility. To kiss the
corpse is not to breathe life into it.