Dissident republicans are undoubtedly correct when
they accuse their mainstream rivals of settling
far short of a united Ireland.
the Belfast Agreement does not amount to a 32-county
unitary state nor provide any guarantee there will
ever be one. Beyond these basic points, however,
many dissidents part company with rational analysis.
their unwillingness or inability to recognise the
circumstances that made such an agreement inevitable,
they seem to exist in a parallel universe. Those
advocating a return to conflict, for example, claim
that the republican movement betrayed the past sacrifices
of IRA volunteers and their families by ending its
armed campaign before a united Ireland had been
achieved. (I do not mention the suffering of many
thousands of others in the conflict because it appears
not to be a factor in their deliberations.)
is an emotionally loaded argument that does not
address fundamental realities and is, in fact, dangerously
circular. It infers, erroneously, that the IRA could
eventually have achieved its aims by violent means.
The truth is, it had been apparent for at least
a decade before the 1994 ceasefire the IRA campaign
was going nowhere.
35 years of sustained conflict and almost 4,000
deaths, republicans were no closer to a united Ireland
than they had been in 1969.
people to argue for a resurrection of that campaign
in the full knowledge that it now has even less
chance of success than before, is outrageous. For
them to use past sacrifice as an excuse for the
re-creation of more needless suffering, is nothing
short of obscene.
than questioning whether the conflict should have
been brought to an end, republicans along with the
rest of us should be asking why it took so long.
The choice facing mainstream republicanism was clear,
either continue with a self-destructive, self-perpetuating
unwinnable campaign or sue for peace and a settlement.
a sizeable electoral mandate that held untold potential
for further growth in a post-conflict environment,
it was a choice that hardly needed making. Other
dissidents have reluctantly accepted that an end
to armed struggle was inevitable, but seem convinced
that Sinn Féin could have got a better deal.
is self-delusion of the highest order.
Sinn Féin's negotiating position was bolstered
by its close association with the IRA, the influence
this gave has been exaggerated.
the time of the negotiations, the IRA's best days
were long gone. Though having weaponry and still
capable of the odd "spectacular", it could
no longer mount a sustained campaign of the breadth
and intensity of former times.
1994, the IRA was heavily infiltrated by informers
and operating in circumstances that had changed
dramatically, politically and socially, over the
previous 10 years. The Anglo-Irish agreement of
1985 marked the beginning of an ever-improving relationship
between the British and Irish governments and this,
in turn, led to increased co-operation between police
and security services on either side of the Border.
the early 1990s, no longer could the Republic be
considered a "safe haven" for republican
activists. Closer to home and from a republican
perspective of equal importance, was the changed
attitude of nationalist communities that for decades
had provided a support base (and cannon fodder)
for republican groups.
were heartily sick and tired of the conflict: they
wanted an end to violence and a political settlement.
It was, therefore, with the imprimatur of an IRA
that had virtually run its course that Sinn Féin
came to the negotiating table at Castle Buildings,
was not entirely accurate for Sinn Féin to
insist they were negotiating solely on the basis
of their political mandate, but it was far from
a totally dishonest claim either. On political and
constitutional matters, they had no more clout than
their electoral mandate allowed.
for Sinn Féin (or, considering the compromises
that had to be made, perhaps fortunately), such
was the SDLP's electoral strength at that time it
was they who held pole position within nationalism
and led all negotiations on their community's behalf.
has been in the attempted implementation rather
than the negotiation of the agreement, that the
IRA - its activities, weaponry and continued existence
- has given extra leverage to republicans. Thankfully,
not all dissenting republicans fall neatly into
one or other of the above categories.
are highly intelligent, anti-sectarian republicans
who oppose a return to violence and recognise that
political compromises had to be made, but disagree
fundamentally with Sinn Féin on a range of
social and political issues.
least, they baulk at the continued dictatorial and
totalitarian tendencies of the mainstream republican
as some spokespeople have recently claimed, dissident
groups are genuinely interested in providing a viable
and realistic political alternative to Sinn Féin,
it is from these people they must take their lead.