Stormont Is The British Rule: Lessons From History Unheeded

Sean Bresnahan is a republican from Tyrone and a member of the 1916 Societies. As a longtime contributor to The Pensive Quill, he writes here in a personal capacity.

With the Free State election been and gone (notably with still no government agreed or formed) and the May election north of the border closing in, an emerging narrative that republicans should go to Stormont through the backdoor of ‘Independents’ appears to be growing legs.

As such, there are important matters to be considered, key among them that the political process in its entirety offers only the illusion of power – likewise that a representative electoral strategy to Stormont will bolster the Good Friday Agreement.

Liberal democratic systems serve to present a facade of democratic accountability, providing cover for transnational corporations while they shape the policy agenda of nation-states from behind. The nation-state has been stripped of sovereignty through the process of globalisation. As such, if we are to challenge power and have it serve people over profit then we must first-off determine where power lies, in turn devising means to confront it. Has the backdoor route into Stormont a role to play in that?

Let us be clear that we cannot confront or influence power by entering the vassal institutions of so-called liberal democracy – because power and thus the ability to create change do not in truth reside there. Indeed the continuing failure to form a government in the South makes that clear (the system has hardly ground to a halt in its absence). If we are truly intent on challenging the state and its power, the purpose being to shape society for the betterment of ordinary people, not powerful oligarchs, we must look instead then to alternative strategies.

'One Ireland One Vote' is one such alternative. Predicated on the right of the Irish people to self-determination in a New and All-Ireland Republic, it demands an end to Stormont and the building of a National Democracy on its ruin. It considers Stormont the embodiment of British rule in Ireland, as a violation of Irish national sovereignty. Thus, elections to that institution have no part nor role in its strategic understanding. Instead it aims at struggle from below with the goal of empowering the people – not the institutions of occupation.

Our allegiance as republicans is to the Irish Republic and the Revolutionary Dáil established by the Declaration of Independence. The same must hold true as our object, that the All-Ireland Republic be reconstituted and a Third Dáil proceed from the people. Our efforts must advance that end and with no in between. Anything less can rightly be held an anathema to the republican position, as a breach of the Republican Constitution.

And yet republicans who campaign for taking seats in Stormont – in an effort to better represent the people – no doubt see worth in their action. And indeed there well may be. It does not though relate to republican strategy. Indeed, unwittingly, it bolsters the British strategy, which intends that the Irish administer their own occupation in a framework dictated by Britain, all with the design of perpetuating British interests in our country. Britain doesn't care if we oppose her, only that we do it through means and vehicles permitted by her. Such is the strategic intent – the cold logic – of the Good Friday Agreement.

The view of those arguing for Stormont is that we need republicans there to raise the issues that count. Rather than lobby or otherwise pressure politicians to raise such matters the argument instead, bizarrely, is that we need 'our own' people in so we can lobby them (if that makes sense). The argument is that for republican initiatives to succeed they will need political support, and that's not without merit. It should not though translate into supporting candidates for Stormont who intend to take their seats – just so they can be lobbied to support our initiatives and prove more amenable to our agenda. At best, they should get there off their own steam.

Jim Gibney and others produced similar logic at the time of the Agreement and we don't need reminded how that ended: with republicanism tamed and in bed with the Brits. When I challenged his assumptions, with the conviction of a zealot he looked into my eyes and told me this was the right thing to do. Given what we know now today can we say he was right? Surely a resounding no is the answer. Given that some understood how it would end and forewarned accordingly, should he have known better? It's arguable that he should have. Knowing where it ended and hearing now the same arguments being made today, should we follow that course is there any excuse? Absolutely none.

Those who say we should go to Stormont, better represent the people and in turn advance a republican agenda must realise it has been tried and has failed. Not only has it failed to advance Irish Unity it has not even remotely done so – indeed it has undermined its prospect more severely than seems understood. Our efforts should focus on dismantling the Agreement, not offering it a new lease with ourselves as stakeholders in the rule. Our objectives cannot be realised at Stormont or while that Agreement remains in place – their design is to absorb and defeat the republican struggle. Both then must go.

We would be better to examine recent history. Stormont serves British rule alone and that is the clear lesson of the last eighteen years. It is the bridge between the people and the rule, a colonial assembly fostered by imperialism to legitimate and further entrench the British occupation of the North. There is no place in Stormont for the republican analysis. It is a bulwark to exclude the republican narrative while presenting the rule as an outworking of democracy – in effect the first line of defence of the occupation. As such, we might note that campaigning for taking seats in Stormont in no way relates to the republican project.

That we now have republicans not affiliated to the Sinn Fein strategy encouraging just that – the sitting in Stormont as 'Independents' but who will secretly advance a republican agenda – is a worrying development devoid of strategic analysis. It has even been suggested we can use Stormont as a transitional vehicle to rebuild the Irish Republic. How anyone determines on that is beyond me but I am not so presumptuous to think I know best. What is required – on their part – and what should be forthcoming is a credible analysis of how this will happen, something thus far not seen. In its absence our duty is to speak out.

It should also be said that the strict ideology of abstentionism, and whether those who don’t adhere to it can be held as ‘republican’ or not, should be of little concern. What is important is not how we might term such individuals but to recognise the futility in their action. And not only its futility but how it in fact serves British interests in Ireland, even though they might not realise this. Thus we must ensure their argument does not prevail, that it does not roll into a new political strategy that sucks the life out of existing campaigns.

Ultimately for republicans, Stormont must be seen for what it is: a bulwark to thwart the republican project and not to empower it, to seal our demise and cement our defeat. It was ever thus. What we need at this time is not ‘Stormont by the back door’ but a republican strategy that proceeds from a republican analysis born of the republican position – the three pillars on which we move forward, secure we are creating something viable for future generations, those who will finish the task: the restoring of the All-Ireland Republic.

That an emerging coalition of republicans seem to have sped past the ramifications of their strategy is something for us all to consider. Their notion is that a cross-border 'Independent Bloc' can in time be established, forwarding a republican analysis at Stormont and Leinster House. They miss that both are reactionary by nature and exist to usurp the Republic. They miss that Sinn Fein are already attempting the same. Liam Mellows once told us, ‘it is a fallacy to believe that a Republic of any kind can be won through the shackled Free State’. God only knows what he'd make of the craic today.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

14 comments to ''Stormont Is The British Rule: Lessons From History Unheeded"

  1. Great post Sean. I agree with everything you outlined and will only add that I am sick and tired of watching Republicans clearly intent on following the Shinners into constitutional nationalist politics while using their same excuses for doing so.

    How can something long ago exposed as doing nothing other than being swallowed up by the system and spat back out again as 'systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots - to quote Bobby Sands - advance anything other than political careers and most definitely not the cause so many gave their lives for?

  2. I'm all for principals but not if a principal is going to be the death of me.

    A take on the oft quoted election comment "Its the economy stupid", (and whether we like or agree with it or not), might be "its an electoral struggle now folks"

    I think it was Dan Breen who said, if I may paraphrase, 'if the enemy goes down into the gutter we have to go down into the gutter after them.

    It is my understanding too, although I wasn't in the wing when it was supposed to have been said, that on arriving in the Blocks from the Cages, the Dark proposed that the blanket protest be ended and the blanket men move into the system, and with the view that the system couldn't handle such an scenario, and that aims could be achieved fairly easily and without a fraction of the hardship that prisoners up until then had endured.

    Apparently the Dark's idea was rebuffed if not rebuked because it was against the 'written in stone' principal of Republicans not wearing the prison gear.

    We all know now that the prison authorities and system folded in 1982 when prisoners came off protest on mass as the tactic of so entering the system played out. Whose to know what we might have been spared had the Dark's proposal been accepted and acted on earlier.

    Lad's, I don't think you do your case any good by insisting your way or views are the only right way and that others are somehow less Republican if they don't agree 100% with your views or what you say.

    I'm not far off being nearly twice the age of Sean and I would expect others to tell me to 'batter on' if I was suggest withdrawing from the scene if those others did not give me unequivocal support for my belief.

    I say all of the above as someone who has agreed with Dixie and Sean in nearly all that they have said in the past if not indeed all that they have said to date.

  3. Sean,

    What is your alternative?

    By and large the people want to be governed and seem happy with the status quo at present. There seems to be no widespread civil unrest, major breakdown of basic services or even an appetite for confrontation by 'the Brits' with an armed militia?

    People don't seem to be forced to do anything against their will? Don't get me wrong, I salute the Socialist thread I can see weaving it's way through your analysis, I am just curious as to what the option to the Assembly is your offering?

    Dixie, you were on the blanket yes? Can I ask with utmost respect, given all that has happened would you say that it was worth it? I know that may be a very sensitive question and hope not to offend.

  4. First-off, thanks as ever Tony for carrying the piece.

    Eddie, for me it's not a matter of principle but of strategy. When you go forward with your own you must be conscious of your opponent's, of whether what we do will embed or corrode their strategy. British strategy is for republicans to oppose them through means and vehicles established by Britain, in turn creating 'normalisation' and entrenching the status quo. We can see from what Steve has alluded to that they have been very successful with this already.

    The big difference in what the prisoners were doing and what we are talking about here is that one instance aimed consciously at undermining the system from within, by making it unworkable, whereas that's not the goal of the latter. It intends that we better represent the community, not to make Stormont fail but that it work better. If our goal is to bring down the Good Friday Agreement then we will not do that by making the institutions which proceed from it work better. The long and short is you cannot have it both ways and we've seen that already from the efforts of former comrades.

    The alternative? The alternative is to create our own vehicles of struggle, non-violent and on the ground where they matter. While I get that people as Steve fear this will resort to armed struggle let me be clear that I see no logic in returning to that tactic - and here, we might note, is the perfect example of a tactic and strategy morphing into a principle. That's probably a conversation for another thread on another day.

    Beyond that, do any here really believe Stormont decides anything? That's not its role, its role is to forward the illusion of local accountability. It's all a facade and a very well paid one at that. So we don't need to be there to effect change or to impact on power. We need to be on the streets, building the much-talked about horizontal, grassroots movement now threatened by further foolish attempts to play the enemy at her own game. The lessons of Gibney, Kelly et al must be heeded.

  5. Sean
    I concur with Steve: what is your alternative? I have asked several times what the 1916 Societies propose but you never spell that out. We all know that the capitalist system is cruel and that it only serves the 1% so what are you proposing? That we live alone in our bee-loud glade? Withdraw from the EU and World Bank and do a North Korea? As Littlejohn would say, it is all about skools'n'ospitals. How will public services be affected by your revolution? Most people are generally happy, have jobs, good schools etc, what you propose puts all that at risk. You can't call for change without guarranteeing that things will actually improve. So far leftists don't have a great track record on that. I fail to see how calling for republican purity, abstentionism and the overthrow of the 26 and 6 county administration will gain any traction with the general public. I fear it is you Sean who is failing to heed the lessons of history. The Irish people don't want a revolution.

    Lets have less ranting and spell out exactly what you and your organisation want. Bashing the bad Brits and Neo-liberal elites is easy, the hard part is offering a viable and fairer alternative. How can you guarantee that this new republic will not mean everything we have worked for and cherish will be lost in some quasi-socialist experiment?

  6. There's no doubt that republicanism is void of
    a political strategy at present, sean's analysis
    reflects that but also suggests to go an make
    the same mistakes as our former comrades
    is madness, I agree, it would also split an
    already fractured republican movement. What
    I do suggest is those genuine republicans who
    disagree with sean sit down in a comradly fashion
    an trash out a unified strategy. This needs to happen
    if republicanism is to have a future. At the coililsand
    comemeration a "political vehicle" was called for its
    my view that this is something worth talking about
    with all anti treaty groups, will we have agreement on
    everything ? probably not but it if some from of unity
    was to come out of any discussions surely it be worth

  7. Sean a very good article. I agree with most of your points.

    It is a pity that after so much time that the question of abstentionism is still cropping up, that it has not been dissected by now and put to bed. But clearly there is still aneed for the discussion and you have to be commended for keeping the focus on it.

    I am open minded about it. On the principle of abstention I fully agree but in a practical sense has it ever worked. My idea of practical is not capitulation and corruption like Sinn Fein, who have indeed gone into the 'murky debths' and sold out principles, but more like a united republican socialist group using everything to oppose and expose the shenanigans of said Sinn Fein, the futility of Stormont and the failure of Dail Eireann. It can be used to publicise and build a socialist republican movement. The public have to be aware of issues and they have to see and hear alternatives. At present all they see is Sinn Fein.

    Incidentally has Sinn Fein fully explained their strategy, are they going to love the Unionists into a republic? We have to learn from the failure and the treachery of Sinn Fein's Machiavellian operation.

    Granted that both Stormont and Leinster House fallacies to deceive us into believing that we have democracies. Most members of these institutions including Sinn Fein have joined up hook, line and sinker loving the trappings and power not to mention money.

    However I must mention the AAA/PBP. I know there are misgivings re republicanism but that's for another time. I see these as principled parties who use the system but they do it to highlight the inadequacies and corruptions of the system etc. They use it further the cause of the working class and to build a movement on socialist principles. I believe they do it very well.

    What Socialist/Republican groups need to do is to come together to discuss, to form policies and develop a way ahead. It has to be dynamic.

  8. Its a contradiction to pursue the Republican agenda of the destruction of the Northern Statelet, but also seek serve constituents needs for jobs, investment etc which neccesarily needs a stable State.Abstentionism is then then logical position to hold, not just the principled position.

  9. The story on this evening's newscast about Sharon McKenna and her brutal murder on the Shore Road in 1993 is a chilling reminder and tells us all we need to know about the institutions of the six-county state; thoroughly corrupt and beyond the pale. I had a lump in my throat watching the historical footage of her poor daddy breaking down as her mother told how she asked her to be careful but that she was so good, just so good, that she never entertained the dangers, wanting only to help people. Get rid of them all and start again. Those institutions are steeped in blood and built on the blood of innocents like Sharon McKenna. What do we propose as the alternative and for such a new beginning? That a New All-Ireland Republic, freely and democratically agreed by all her people without external impediment, go forward in its stead. That is achievable and should be readily understood - where anyone sees North Korea I just don't know. I can only assume they see what they want to see or what suits.

  10. Steve Ricardos I now believe that all the sacrifices of the past, including the Blanket Protest were not worth seeing those who led us - mostly from a safe distance - become an integral part of the very system we fought against.

    Adams and McGuinness were part of the IRA delegation which rejected an offer from the British in July 1972, at Cheyne Walk in London, which later formed the basis of the Sunningdale Agreement and the GFA. What therefore was it all about?

    The idea that Republicans, Independents or otherwise, could enter Stormont and challenge it from within seems to ignore one vital point. The Sinn Fein machine which went down that road was well oiled and efficient beyond anything other parties across the 32 counties could dream of. Yet look at the Sinn Fein machine now, it might as well have been put together in Ford Dagenham. How therefore could any other group hope to move beyond their failure and achieve anything other than to suffer the same fate?

    I don't advocate the continuation of armed struggle, in fact I've often pointed out that it is a hindrance to the possible advancement of Republicanism. It gives credence to the lie of the peace process for a start and acts as a smokescreen behind which the Shinners can hide their failures.

    An alternative is to rebuild from the beginning, to move forward by creating the unity of Republicans who must come to realise that something which is fragmented cannot possibly hope to unify a people behind the desire for a unified Ireland. We must however also realise that foremost in people's minds are the everyday things which means survival and not the unification of our country. We must build a movement capable of leading them against the system to challenge those within and to undermine them.

    We are capable of bringing together thousands of Republicans, as happened in Coalisland and elsewhere over Easter and each year during the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Why not bring these numbers onto the streets in protest against Stormont cuts? To do so would send shock waves through the system and would inspire the ordinary man and woman in the street. Their support would be the only mandate we need.

  11. And that Dixie is exactly what the system fears, thus why it suits it better if we channel that energy into its representational structures instead. That is the purpose of the Stormont Assembly, to channel opposition into a safe cul-de-sac. It's why I'm dead against this move - for reasons of strategy as opposed to anything else. We can't grow the vehicles of transition at Stormont as some are suggesting. That can only be done on the streets - the last place the system wants to see its opponents, so much so that they wilfully murdered fourteen innocent civilians in the Derry Bogside to direct opposition where it better-preferred to deal with it, which at that point was armed struggle. Today it prefers to contain us in Stormont, it wants to corral us there to avoid facing resistance in the community. We won't need to take to the streets when instead we can have someone go into the halls of power to represent us and that'sthe real illusion. We have to stop playing Britain's game and change the entire playing field. Standing behind the democratic right of the Irish to national self-determination is the way ahead, using non-violent pressure to advance our case. Going into Stormont is a bad move, a bad, bad move, and will only set the struggle back even further. Let's stop, or at least think, before it's too late.

  12. Thanks Dixie.

    Just a thought for Sean as well, make sure your message is crystal clear or it will be twisted and used against you. It seems the shinners are well in-bedded with the BBC, they are masters of spin as we all know.

    Be well.

  13. The Irish/British Agreement - The Legal term for the Belfast Treaty registered at the United nations is(or was) the De-Facto Constitution of N.Ireland. This states that elections MUST be held every 5 years. No election in 2015, therefore under Irish and International Law this 'Constitution' is now null and void.
    Nineteenth Amendment Of The Constitution Act 1998; Allowed The State To Consent To Be Bound By The British/Irish Agreement Done At Belfast On 10 April 1998 And Provided That Certain Further Amendments To The Constitution, Notably To Articles 2 And 3, Would Come Into Effect When That Agreement Entered Into Force.]
    ‘’ The British Government Are Effectively Out Of The Equation And Neither The British Parliament Nor People Have Any Legal Right Under This Agreement To Impede The Achievement Of Irish Unity If It Had The Consent Of The People North And South... Our Nation Is And Always Will Be A 32-County Nation. Antrim And Down Are, And Will Remain, As Much A Part Of Ireland As Any Southern County.’’
    The Current Legal Status is 'Status Quo Bellum Ante.' That is the Internationally recognised 1937 Irish Constitution - Articles 2 and 3 retain Legal Status.Any Legislation passed by Stormont's present incarnation in the past 11 months is Unlawful.

  14. John Morgan

    Meaningless waffle in practical terms however. Without consent of the people in Northern Ireland, nothing will change.

    There is nothing to compel otherwise.


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