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Saoradh: Are The Politics Of Republican Dissent Back In Vogue?

Belfast republican Nuala Perry writes on the reassertion of  republican dissent. Nuala Perry is a former political prisoner and is current activist with Saoradh.

When Saoradh stepped onto the political stage for the first time on the 24th of September last year, few of us party members were dissuaded by the political and media reaction which, appeared in most instances to come from a script in keeping with the new dispensation.

At the time of the Saoradh launch, one journalist penned that, the choice of venue which was the Canal Court in Newry, appeared to say, ‘We won’t be restricting ourselves to the margins anymore.’

Other political narratives were based on the notion, albeit varied that ‘dissidents’ had abandoned the cold and now sought the warmth and democratic feel good factor that can only be found in constitutional politics.

Spontaneous attributes is a psychological term. A term which usually describes those who have difficulty accessing a situation, basically they lack the cognitive skills that prevent them making random summaries and despite evidence to the contrary, they ‘jump in.’

The idea that the voice of Republican dissent could move from the margins and bring with it an ideology capable of challenging ‘the only show in town’ narrative; appeared so implausible that, those initial reactions couldn’t help but score quite low on any cognitive scale for failing to grasp the very basics of Saoradh’s core message.

Saoradh and the ideals central to its formation had been in the formalising process for quite some time.

Consultation both within and outside the confines of those prisons which housed Republican prisoners had provided a remit for dialogue; this dialogue would subsequently take place between various independents and those from other Republican groupings.

Individuals with likeminded ideals would provide a platform on which Republicanism could step away from the confines of sackcloth and perpetual apologies that are seemingly being weaved in to the overall political tapestry.

Central to the party’s formation was the knowledge that, British misrule and its offshoots in the North of Ireland have not been nullified or even diluted. The contentious hand that pulls the strings in relation to clandestine policing, secret deals on Orange marches, the ever growing monopoly on privatisation and legacy issues, hasn’t withered it has in fact been strengthened.

The theory that Republicanism taking centre stage in a ‘lavish’ hotel might be interpreted as political dissent on the move is a very perceptive one.

However, the reality of radical Republican politics re-emerging within the confines of the Northern Irish statelet and advancing without serious levels of state resistance is highly questionable.

‘Northern Ireland’s response to radical politics and those of dissent has always come in the form of emergency legislation, this legislation had been described by International agencies as ‘exceptional’, ‘draconian’ and ‘alien.’

The territory known as ‘Northern Ireland’ was the subject of emergency powers even before the state came into existence in 1921.

The ‘Defence of the Realm’ Act authorised the UK government to issue regulations to secure public safety.

These regulations supplemented ordinary criminal law with exceptional wartime powers. These regulations granted massive stop and seizure appendages to the police and armed forces, and they had the capability to alter the criminal trial process by authorising internment without trial and trial by court martial.

While the ‘Defence of the Realm’ Act, ended allegedly after the First World War the Emergency Powers visited on the North did not.

A series of legislative re-enactments including the capital offence ‘Treachery Act’ 1940 would pave the road to exceptional policing powers that remain in existence to this very day.

Normalisation which is the new black now appears to present Sinn Fein and other facets of constitutional Nationalism with a political quagmire.

Sinn Fein’s response to Saoradh’s launch didn’t differ entirely from that of the SDLP, the former claimed its party welcome genuine political debate amongst Republicans, whilst the latter claimed Saoradh had taken the first step on a well trodden path and should partake of debate within the existing ‘democratic’ framework.

The theory that Sinn Fein welcomes genuine political debate amongst Republicans remains dubious and seriously debatable given that facts point to the contrary.

Recent remarks by the Sinn Fein leadership highlight that the party now use the same British terminology of criminality that the Gardiner Report used in relation to Republicans.

The process of criminalisation was and is to go hand and hand with the policies of Ulsterisation and Normalisation.

The success of Ulsterisation and Normalisation depend on the wider society being condition into the acceptance of criminalisation; in order to do this Nationalist agitation must be viewed through a devious lens and dealt with as such.

Those former political insurgents that have now signed up as fully fledged guardians of the ‘New Strategy’, have in many cases become so absorbed into the states apparatus that, it remains practically impossible to separate them from the bona fide state militia.

Evidence shows that, rather than putting manners on the police many of the former Provos have been complicit in aiding and abetting the multifaceted state forces in subduing anyone at odds with new political dispensation.

The system of democracy which the SDLP encouraged Saoradh to embrace now appears to have come loose from its political bedrock.

The Detail recorded that our ‘democratic’ institutions have cost £74 million in the last five years.

In return for that an apathetic and detached electorate (except when it comes to a sectarian headcount) have witnessed the Red Sky scandal; the unsolved Nama; 2 million into the coffers of Charter NI; endless enquires into MLA’s expenses; £70,000 for Sinn Fein’s consultancy services; £60 million for Casement Park, another venture dogged with controversy; and last but not least the one that eventually brought the house down, the RHI.

Recently an article in the New Statesman proclaimed, ‘Northern Ireland’s Peace Process wasn’t too big to fall.’

The article which was written in relation to latest Stormont scandal, the RHI cites that, while the ongoing political fallout will bring on new elections, something a lot deeper might be looming on the political landscape.

The something ‘deeper’ the author predicts might come from the changing of the guard in Sinn Fein.

At the root it is argued, is an old age political truism. ‘As with each political generation there is a temptation to revisit the certainties of the past by those who see themselves as remaining true to the faith their predecessors drifted away from.’

The old age truism is offered as an explanation to describe what has taken place within the ranks of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn; this scenario which has seen the old radical principles of Labour overshadow the ‘New Labour’ advocated by Blair, is a pattern that the paper argues could be replicated within the ranks of the Sinn Fein movement.

The departure of Adams after 34 years at the helm of Sinn Fein may be perceived by some within the party as an opportunity to drop all former baggage and seize the opportunity for fully constitutional party.

Mary Lou Mc Donald who is believed to be the President’s favoured successor has apparently the potential to ‘cauterize’ the more troubling aspects of the party’s past.

However would such a cauterizing process rest easily with the party doubters who will allegedly look back at armed struggle with a degree of certainty?

While this does pose serious question for mainstream Republicans, the article goes onto claim that, whilst the constitutional option starts to fray around its haggard edges; it gives credence to the belief that all this political uncertainty opens the doors for the militant and radical group such as Saoradh.

There is little dispute that the constitutional process did bring a quasi peace and a changing to the overall political landscape.

However if you were poor and on the margins of society pre Belfast Agreement, then in all likelihood that’s where you remain; because in spite of all the prosperity rhetoric of ‘peace dividends’ (provided the British exchequer didn’t have to squander money on security), neo liberal ethics appear to be turned on their head with all monies trickling up in to the coffers of the rich instead of down.

For those engaging in the ‘democratic’ process the recognition that the North of Ireland remains one of the most unequal societies was a step too far.

Rather than depart from the bastion of colonial rule in protest, the two main parties dressed the post conflict economic disaster as a ‘Fresh Start’ and posted a joint statement hailing it to be ‘a sea of change.’

Bankrupt politics in an equally bankrupt artificial state looks set to continue, the architects of the conflict transformation model in London and Washington want a return on their deal.

These days however it is groups such as Saoradh that emulates the kind of Marxist anti-imperialist slogans that Sinn Fein abandoned a generation ago. Saoradh’s stance mirrors the same anti imperialist stance that we are witnessing spreading across Europe.

The ‘democratic’ system which is a relatively modern construct is now perceived to be in deep crisis in established representative democracies; the trust in political elites is crumbling.

Participation in elections is shrinking, and political parties are losing their members. In the old fashioned ‘well developed’ democracies in Europe millions have taken to the streets to protest against anti-austerity.

More and more people are realising that their elected representatives do not represent them.

Rather, governments that made up from the right and sometimes left are more likely to bow to the dictates of big banks, the financial institutions, the multinationals and other powerful lobbies.

Closer to home we have seen Tory cuts repackaged under a ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement. The Fresh Start Agreement did not provide the catalyst for austerity, but rather, provided another piece designed to complete the neo liberal jigsaw.

In the wake of the so called ‘economic crisis’ the British prosperity that was to come with ‘Peace’ promise has been put on hold. The stark inequalities that fuelled the ‘Troubles’ are as pronounced as ever, the very same districts that bore the brunt of the war since 1969 remain at the bottom in poverty, employment , and serious social deprivation statistics.

Public funding is cut to the bone, hospitals and schools face mass cuts and mass closures, low paid public sector workers whose wages make up a large portion of the incomes in working class communities across the North are threatened with redundancies by the thousands.

All this is being carried out by an Assembly at Stormont that seemingly can’t agree on issues in relation to culture and identity but which is ‘ecumenical enough in its worship of the free market.’

Just this week it has been claimed that, the main parties in the stalled Executive:

don’t have a Plan B the smaller parties have not been allowed to put forward a Plan A, and the British and Irish governments seem happy to have no plan at all; therefore, it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to assume they are making it up as it goes along.

The ‘Only Show in Town’ now seems seriously devoid of anything other than the same old script being delivered by the same hapless cast.

With the ‘New Phase’ now seemingly being phased out, is the stage now set for the politics that once informed an entire movement in the North to re-emerge?

The dynamics that propel anti-imperialism, anti globalisation and post conflict structured austerity are visibly on the move. What will this move mean, could it be translated that the radical Republican politics of dissent that underpin Saoradh are now back in vogue?

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

21 comments to ''Saoradh: Are The Politics Of Republican Dissent Back In Vogue?"

  1. A new party and already walkouts and splits Nula. Same old story of the past repeating itself under a new guise. I predict a collapse of the party within a few short years. To many chiefs and not enough Indians.

  2. Emmet the world over parties have walkouts and splits. Saoradh doesn't have control over who stays or indeed who goes.
    The ideologies that underpinned the party remain, outside of that what individuals do is very much their choice.

    I'm interested though in your comment that there are 'too many chiefs'. The Party formation isn't entirely different from any other party set up, except there won't be any leader for life.

    I'm sure your prediction will be welcomed by those who did everything in their power to keep Republicanism on the margins and stifle their voice, as well as those who daily persecute Saoradh activitists North and South of the border.

  3. ‘’The Irishman Frees Himself From Slavery When He Realizes The Truth That The Capitalist System Is The Most Foreign Thing In Ireland. The Irish Question Is A Social Question. The Whole Age-Long Fight Of The Irish People Against Their Oppressors Resolves Itself In The Last Analysis Into A Fight For The Mastery Of The Means Of Life, The Sources Of Production In Ireland. Who Would Own And Control The Land? The People, Or The Invaders; And If The Invaders, Which Set Of Them - The Most Recent Swarm Of Land Thieves, Or The Sons Of The Thieves Of A Former Generation?’’ - James Connolly

    Lough Neagh 'owned' by the Earl of Shaftsbury, half of Fir Mannach by the Duke of Westminster, South and East Belfast?North Down by The Maquis of Devonshire, the Church of Ireland 'owns'
    ?? - Rents and Tithes, Tenant Farmers - There is no 'Freehold' in the Earldoms of Ulster

  4. Not Chiefs and Indians...simply too many egos and not enough mirrors to ask who is the greatest Republican of them all.....oh, the breakaway crowd, will they be known as the Real Saoradh now or 32 county Saoradh?

  5. Nula if leaders are gonna ask people to follow them then they must know where their final destination is and how to get to it the smoothest possible way. It would seem currently that saoradh don't quite know where they are going never mind getting there smoothly. What was the split about if not a power struggle? How many splits do republicans want to engage in before they actually realise that their very ideals don't work and a new philosophy is needed to better unify the downtrodden and needy in society. lets put it like this: if this was a sporting club and half the leadership of the club quit, id think twice about investing support in that club for fear of it going tits up.

  6. Its not just the state that uses the criminal label. I think it was an error when the Portlaoise faction split with RIRA and called the leadership on the outside criminals.This was also used after the re-organisation around the time of the Ryan assasination, republicans said they had been infiltrated by criminals.Nearly every other republican group smears the rest as criminals too. The term 'financial irregularities' was euphemistically applied used in the Saoradh split recently, maybe this is an improvement at least.

  7. The politics of republican dissent are not back in vogue. Despite the fact that the British and unionist government enjoy humiliating SF, the one thing you could say the shinners have over the British state is the consequences and uncertainty if the largest nationalist party was to break down and collapse. It's unlikely we'd ever see a return to any kind of war, but I doubt the British would want to risk the social unrest that would follow if they suddenly pulled the plug on the SF pet project. This is why whenever there is a major crisis within the PSF leadership (as recently as Adams being arrested in 2014), they wrap themselves around the peace process and claim the monopoly on what constitutes ''peace'' in this society. It is from this basis that they claim the legitimacy they have today. If that basis was ever to be threatened (unlikely after 20 odd years?) then yes, perhaps republican dissent could be back in vogue in a big way. But would the Brits ever want that? No, no they wouldn't. So you can see the predicament they face today in 2017.

  8. Niall,
    I haven't broken away from anything. As for egos, I've met them in every walk of life and not just within Republicaniism.
    You would have to contact the 'breakaway crowd' and ask them under what title they will resume , if any?

  9. Emmet,
    You clearly didn't read the piece. Saoradh have a bottom up ( grassroots ) approach to community politics . This approach is at odds with the race to the bottom politics that is being delved out under a neo liberal Stormont House Agenda.
    Its at odds with back door deals, at odds with the corrupt practices that have seen phantom community after phantom community group flourish merely for its own gain. At odds with a corrupt Police force and it's Pseudo Republican appendage,
    It's a Republican Party and that Republicanism is a Republicanism that was kicked to the kerb and shrouded in disdain in keeping with the new dispensation.
    The politics that under pin Saoradh are people politics , the politics that highlight injustice not cover them up.

    On an end note, the leadership remain intact?

  10. Daithi D

    I know absolutely nothing about the RIRA. Furthermore, nothing about the Portlaoise split. And as for 'financial irregularities' I would be really interested if you or anyone could shed light on that one?

  11. PSI,
    Republican dissent has never went away. If it had, really had, then what would it be like for us here on this island of Ireland, and what would a lifetime of struggle have been about?
    You are right of course any time the 'big ship' hits a rock, the British move with great gusto to provide any quick fix panacea.
    Not just the British however, other big hitters have invested a lot of time and money to ensure that the model of 'peace and reconciliation' continues to float on a world stage.
    They restructuring and payback which is reducing the North to poverty valley is of no real consequence. The huge interest on loans which will result in seriously high interest, privatisation and the serious reduction of public services is of no consequence either, what is of consequence is the status quo remains intact, the force within a force mantra that dominated the state from its inception remains intact and of course all that was to be exposed has now been neatly swept.
    Of course alternative voices are to be crushed, or criminalised or tainted but that doesn't mean they won' t come through and amongst Republicans, welcomed!!

  12. Emmet Grogan.
    There wasn't a 'split' people resigned from the party, their call.
    Republicanism has served for a very long time. However I'd been interested to hear your philosophy that could encompass all that Saoradh endeavours to cover?

  13. John Morgan,

    Would you believe those very arguments were pushed in the prisons by those who adopted the very life styles the fought against.
    They are still pushed to a degree by those who put a 7 million virtual reality historical tour centre on the Falls Road a few hundred yards beside one of our many foodbanks.

    That's not to detract from or even attempt to dilute the truth of everything you have written. Saoradh for their part are going back to the very basics of community politics, the politics which are the very essence of society.

    They have involved themselves in campaigns of anti exploitation, anti eviction, anti internment, anti poverty, as well anti imperialism.
    They campaign on behalf of prisoners, speak out against internment by remand, secrets courts, secret policing and issues which you would imagine those who would be concerned with rights would support.

  14. Sorry John could have done your response a wee bit more justice. Suffering from that old proletariat curse of long hours and tiredness.
    Totally respect all you have said, however the reality of trying to bring Republicanism out of the shadows and rebuild the movement through the voice of Saoradh is in it's infancy.
    However, if you read any of the policies advocated thus far they are very much in agreement and in tune with everything you have said.

  15. Long hours and tiredness ... why does that sound so familiar?!!

  16. Fionnuala, my general point is the use of the term as much within republican spheres as without.The financial irregularities comment appeared within this article :

  17. DaithiD

    Daithi I understood totally what you were referring to. However , I can only speak about what I know?
    I too read the financial irregularity claim in the Telegraph up until that point I'd never heard tell of it, but then I also read the claim split rocks Saoradh even though there wasn't any split and the Party must certainly wasn't rocked?

  18. Mackers,
    If we'd any sense it would be hot chocolate and slippers by 10 o clock :)

  19. Thanks Fionnuala,I personally have seen no rebuttals of the Telegraphs until your comment just now. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from PSF in the news management arena. Its funny to read the pompous missives they used to send daily pre-94, but they understood the importance of shaping the news, and making their (counter) narrative as visible as possible. (Of course this apparatus was ultimately used to devastate republicanism but thats a separate point)

  20. DaithiD

    I think the papers revelled in a story like that being handed to them.
    I remember a few years ago writing a piece that asked, why some informers were viewed different to others. I had also questioned why some went to government while others of much less importance were found face down in the gutter?
    I thought it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask, given that one informers family had Sinn Fein demanding answers around 'withholding information' while others had been ostracised, to the extent many never knew why their family members were accused or executed?
    I sent an extract from the piece into the Irish News as a letter, but no Joy!
    It taught me a lesson as in, it doesn't matter how truthful or factual you are if you are challenging or questioning what is being passed of as the new norm then you'll always be on the back foot.
    In saying that, you are totally right.....lessons to be learned.

  21. Nial, I am one of "The breakaway crowd" as you put it, Just for your information, there is and was no breakaway, I left over a mater of principle and that I wanted, and continue to hope that the party grows and brings about a fresh new dawn for Irish Republican politics.
    The party is new, it has been brought together by collective foresight and the desire to see that we never make the same mistakes again, My resignation, I hope will help to refocus minds on what we set out to do, that the leadership will take notice of mistakes and be big enough to admit to them.
    I joined the Party because I wanted to get back to the core principles of Irish Republicanism, and I do believe that Saoradh will learn, it will also make mistakes in the future, but it will grow.
    Good piece Nualla.


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