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am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is
Never Happened - Again
What would never happen has happened again. The strategy of 'never but will' trundles on oblivious to the silent well of sensitivity and layers of sacrifice abandoned as mere backwash in its wake. The IRA leadership has opted for a further round of decommissioning and has effusively praised itself for having done so. According to the official version this is only the second time in the history of the republican tradition that such an action has occurred. But like many other 'truths' on republicanism a mythological virus has crept into the account. And it has nudged into the shade the evidence presented by County Inspector Gelston of the Clare RIC who, when giving his evidence to the Royal Commission of Inquiry investigating the events of Easter Week, 1916, informed it that 'in one case a parish priest addressed the Sinn Feiners and asked them to give up their rifles to us. That was the only case in which rifles were given up to any extent'.
There will be those in the republican leadership who will in the days ahead troop around the republican family meetings in West Belfast and elsewhere to perform a little pirouette of prevarication. They will tell anyone who will listen that nothing was decommissioned; that de Chastelain - who yesterday in a Freudian slip described how he wished to 'recapitulate' again - made it all up; London, Dublin and Washington went along with it to keep the peace process alive. There are even some who will swear to having been there when decommissioning didn't happen - again. 'Honest, that's the second time I saw it not being done'.
A common thread running through the queries of observers, somewhat perplexed at the incredible ease with which the bulk of republicans accept what would only recently have occurred over their 'dead bodies', is whether there really is anybody other than the 'terminally stupid' within the republican base who believe such nonsense. But this is to come at it in the wrong way. No one should be so arrogant as to presume that the entire republican grassroots are gullible fools. Yes, as elsewhere, there are those a la the Seán Ó'Faoláin character who labour without 'a spare sixpence of an idea to fumble for'. And their numbers are indeed reinforced by fawning acolytes who know better than to believe any of it but who, wanting to maintain what power they have by dint of being apparatchiks, seek to emulate Lord Copper's sycophantic gofer in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop who remained incurably anxious never to contradict his boss. Yet, there are others who are disgruntled but 'pragmatically acquiesce' out of a sense of impotence, concluding that the leadership have it all sewn up and that open opposition will only bring the green shirts to their door.
Even in the middle level bureaucracies - a comfortable home in every organisation for the flunkeys and sycophants who disproportionately populate the functionary niches - there are to be found some who steadfastly refuse to celebrate what only the week before they condemned; who are not to be seen tearing through the dictionary in search of new ways to say 'courageous and imaginative'; who make no pretence that patriotism is a synonym for surrender; and who will run a million miles from humiliating Mexican waves aimed at pleasing US presidents who have just signed the latest cheque for the child murdering Israeli government. But even if they never read him nor heard of his name they are instinctively alert to the perception of Alexis de Tocqueville that people are more afraid of being marginalised than of being wrong. Experience has left its mark. Those who wish to think differently learn quickly that critical questioning can lead to social suicide. Ostracism is a powerful tool carefully honed to exert maximum pressure upon those who decline to conform. For the place seeker with ambition, leading the mob of social banishers may help improve the political career CV. There is no shortage of would-be councillors to be found when it comes to waging campaigns of intimidation against those who speak out. And to add sinister muscle the 'Kray Twins', Mug & Thug - the leadership's thought police - are all too willing to visit homes and ominously wag the trigger finger.
So, at best the stupid thesis remains unproven, at worst demeaning. It is more credible to contend that the grassroots have been subjected to a prolonged campaign of attrition strategically designed to intellectually cauterise them by managing and filtering information. Advised not to listen to or, worse, speak with the 'enemy press' the bulk of their take was formed by what the leadership - who have no qualms about speaking to the 'anti-republican media' - tell them.
That leadership, inebriated on the arrogance of power, rarely managed to conceal a rabid hatred of anyone disagreeing with it. Committed to zero tolerance of alternative viewpoints it ensured the Republican Movement would be a cold house for other voices. Even in supposedly democratic Sinn Fein, the hidden centre of power in republicanism - the prosperous men of the Army Council - sought to rule the party with the ethos of the army. Under its domination, dissent - initially promoted by it for its own sectional ends against the O'Bradaigh/O'Conaill axis - was viewed as a contagious disease. Those who displayed the symptoms were quarantined by being either marginalised out of the movement entirely or banished to some remote corner within it. Heads raised above the parapet would immediately draw the attention and surveillance of thought traffic control and the fire of the verbal snipers, their weapons loaded with vitriol, eager to impose silence and prevent republicanism becoming more democratic.
For long enough most could be expected to acquiesce in this given that there was a war to be prosecuted which helped generate an imperative to protect the struggle from anything that could be presented as divisive. There was an acceptance that the civilian values of democratic rights and equality had no place in an army. Hierarchy was what was needed - and plenty of it. Those at the top sought to dangerously totalise intellectual life. And that fierce self-serving ambition of leaders to empower themselves while disempowering followers was best served by suppressing any sign of independent thinking which might lead to a rupturing of the banks of conformity and an irrigation of that barren terrain where previously little in the way of new ideas sprang to life.
Yet when the war wound down matters did not improve. With no obvious need to consent to leadership demands for quiet, the institutional imperative for self-preservation kicked in and leaders coerced silence. Consequently, dissenting views were ignored or explained away through the illogic articulated by the hounding hacks. Those who believed that the leadership would sign up to a partitionist arrangement no different from Sunningdale, describe strategic failures as new phases of struggle, invent idiotic phrases like 'a transition to a transition', sit in Stormont, join centre-right coalition governments North or South, administer British rule, accept the consent principle, settle for no abolition of the RUC, endorse a new status as an establishment party, criminalise the armed struggle of other physical force groups, murder members of alternative republican organisations and decommission weapons were dismissed as mentally ill, alcoholics, whores, self-publicists and egotists. If a party member opposed to the leadership strategy drank three nights a week they were automatically consigned to the doghouse. Strangely though, if on the other hand your tipple ran to thirty-one days a month, but you supported the strategy, you could cruise comfortably at leadership level, even arriving to speak at commemorative events blocked.
A regime of truth was being constructed. It didn't matter if it was all false - just that people believed it to be true, or at least said as much. And yet the pervasive culture of conformity has failed to subdue everyone. There are still republicans both inside the movement and without who reject and resist the repressive concept of Section 31 regardless of who wields it; who remain determined that a sanitised and revisionist account shall not monopolise the historical record; who feel they have every right to ask the difficult question. Why should we have to rely on the probing of Seamus McKee, Noel Thompson or Mike Nesbitt to elicit answers which make the leadership look foolish and fumbling, seeking the cover of the nearest stone from under which to complain 'but that is not helpful to the peace process'? We invested considerably more in this struggle than any media interviewer so why should we not be able to publicly confront these leadership figures in a bid to satisfy ourselves that we have not been defrauded of a rightful return on that investment?
The leadership of course would not agree. They want only Stalinist clones with an ability to reiterate someone else's cloned phrases. The type who when told, metaphorically, that everybody needs shoes, think size 7s all round is the solution - and off to the social gulag with anybody possessing the ungrateful temerity to complain that their feet hurt.
The republican struggle is over. The energies expended in it and the structures moulded through it are now being used for a different project entirely. Republicans without republicanism are little different from constitutional nationalists. The blood spilt was a costly fuel with which to power the ambitions of self-proclaimed establishment politicians. The ends have corrupted the means. Genuinely taking the gun out of Irish politics would be a step forward. Taking the dignity and defiance out of Irish republicanism is a step too far.
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