not a republican, but even if I were I have no doubt
I would consider the Good Friday Agreement to have
been primarily designed as an exit route from the
vicious, costly and counter-productive cycle that
physical force had become. Not a crushing defeat,
certainly not a victory (maybe not even an honourable
draw) but an escape hatch.
significantly, irrespective of where any particular
accident of birth may have placed me, I like to think
that I would still have recognised long before its
advent the absolute necessity for just such a device.
Only the wilfully myopic could have failed to realise
that the violence was leading us all nowhere. It had
become habitual, self-perpetuating and, to some extent
at least, self-indulgent.
and enduring misery may have a certain romantic appeal
to it when viewed through the prism of a pint glass
on a Saturday night, but the reality - as too many
people know - is something completely different altogether.
In terms of the oft-stated republican ideal (and to
point up the blindingly obvious) it definitely couldnt
be argued that it had in any way moved society towards
the ultimate goal of uniting Catholic, Protestant
and Dissenter. In fact, it played no small part in
ensuring that the very opposite became the case
as a people, we are now more divided than ever.
a tactic, (lets create the republic first
and then the Prods will surely see the error of their
ways), violence became for far too many (on
every side) an end in itself. It succeeded only in
driving people deeper into their respective bunkers
and some way out had to be found. The Good Friday
Agreement became both the route map and the vehicle
towards that end.
an organisational management point of view, its
hardly surprising the republican leadership over-sold
the agreement they had no option. How otherwise
could they hope to bring the critical mass of the
republican movement along with them? Certainly not
by telling a community that had suffered so much,
and had so often suspended its critical faculties
while others suffered, that in relation to achieving
its goal of a 32-county republic, most if not all
of the sacrifice had been in vain. If not quite back
to square one it was certainly back to square mid-1970s.
said that, the leadership was to some extent pushing
at an already open door. Many within their constituency
had themselves become so heartily sick of the conflict
they were only too eager to go along with almost any
thinly-disguised deceit on offer. Yet others, as in
any group of people, were more than happy to sit back
and let the leadership do their thinking and form
their opinions for them a perfect example of
the, if the boys say its all right, then
it must be, type of blind allegiance so beloved
of leaders everywhere. And lastly, but by no means
least, the totalitarian and dictatorial leadership
style of Provisional republicanism not to mention
their preferred methods of enforcement made
it an altogether healthier prospect to be deemed to
be inside the consensus rather than out.
not everyone has acquiesced so readily. A relatively
small number of former mainstream republican
activists of two very distinct types
has refused to blindly follow the script.
first, a diverse group of intellectuals, has baulked
at the very notion of allowing anyone to suppress
their opinions, much less dictate their thoughts,
irrespective of how important the leadership deem
a presentational exercise to be. (Intellectuals everywhere
have this annoying habit of refusing to accept pre-cooked
and pre-packaged evaluations: they invariably insist
on forming and delivering their own). While eschewing
the continuation of physical force as a viable republican
tactic, the intellectuals seem at the very least to
be saying, 'Tell the people how it actually is and
why it is, and then let them freely make up their
deceit, the continual insulting of the intelligence,
the demanding of blind allegiance and the use of Stalinist
tactics to enforce a particular worldview not
to mention the wholesale slaughtering of whole herds
of previously sacred cows have been more than
enough to ensure the intellectuals remained off-board.
other dissenting group couldnt, with the best
will in the world, even remotely be described as intellectual.
They point firstly to the enormous sacrifices that
republicanism has made during the conflict and then
to the agreement, and ask, Was it all for this?
A valid question of course, but hardly one that justifies
their then proceeding to add to our 30-year mountain
of misery in the forlorn hope that somehow, sometime
in the future, something better will be on offer.
This Micawber type approach would be bad enough if
it were all there was, but their continued campaign
of violence seems more and more to be driven by a
cocktail of emotion rather than by any discernible
with the direction taken by the mainstream
leadership and their own inability to come up with
a viable alternative; a desire to thwart and embarrass
Sinn Fein at every turn; and a refusal to accept
despite all of the evidence that the campaign
of violence was a disaster for all concerned, seems
to be all the motivation they possess - or require.
where should, or can, those outside of the republican
mainstream go from here? Frankly, those still pursuing
violence should just pack up their tents and go home.
The sooner they do that the better for all of us.
Their campaign is vindictive, without direction, without
support and doomed to inglorious failure. The question
isnt whether they will wither on the vine, but
when and how many innocent lives they will
destroy between now and then?
contrast to that, the non-conformist intellectuals
can, in my view, have an infinitely more positive
role to play - but only if they broaden their focus
of attention. If they continue to concentrate almost
exclusively on the shortfalls and shortcomings of
the mainstream republican leadership they will inevitably
come to be seen as embittered, anachronistic and irrelevant.
Sitting between the two positions within republicanism
is awkward but shouldnt become an excuse for
atrophying. Instead of forever reacting to the agendas
of others they should begin to set their own.
republican in my lifetime has ever publicly outlined,
in anything other than patronising, platitudinous
sound bites, what they imagine a 32-county republic
would look like. Surely they envisage something more
than a simple nailing-on of the six counties to the
republican intellectuals could begin a public discussion
and debate on the finer details of that and other
issues pertaining to their objective. Unhindered by
party straitjacket or the need to garner votes, and
with their undoubted abilities, none are better qualified.
The role they envisage the (now) unionist community
would play within a new republic; protective measures
for minorities; cultural and religious considerations
are just some of the issues they should debate and
develop. The list is endless.
short, this non-violent intellectual strain within
non-conformist republicanism should, through open
and honest discussion and debate, turn their attention
towards outlining to unionists why they believe their
best future interests lie within a unitary republic.
perfect platform, of course, to begin airing and developing
those ideas is already in place - The Blanket.
It seems to me to be a wholly natural progression
for them to make. Realising that violence isnt
a legitimate or remotely successful - means
of persuasion doesnt mean that the notion of
persuasion itself has to be abandoned. They may fail
in their efforts of course but when was the
chance, or even probability, of failure ever a legitimate
excuse for not trying?
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