Dissident Republicanism Needs An Iconic Leader

Dump Scotland and bring the Southern Ireland back into a reformed Irish Union. That’s the advice given by controversial commentator, Dr John Coulter, in his Fearless Flying Column today. Dr Coulter also reflects on who within the ranks of the dissident republican community could become the political ambassador who brings all the factions in from the cold.

Scottish Nationalist First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has Britain’s so-called pro-Union stalwarts on the run with her campaign for a second Indy referendum, especially in a post Brexit society.

It’s a win-win strategy for Wee Nicola. Win the independence referendum and Hollywood heart throb Mel Gibson’s Braveheart battle cry ‘Freedom!’ becomes a reality. Win Indy 2 and Scotland will be well placed to re-enter the EU given that it voted Remain in the membership referendum. 

The bargaining chip which Wee Nichola can play is to beat the Brexit drum that winning Indy 2 will strengthen Scotland’s hand for an even stronger membership deal with the EU than existed when the Scots were part of the UK in the EU.

If she loses the second vote on full independence, a narrow defeat will put her in a strong position to negotiate even more powers for her Nationalist-controlled Scottish Parliament - could such a scenario with an even more devolved parliament (especially with an SNP majority) allow the Nationalists to have their own private negotiations with the EU in a post Brexit UK?

The North’s Unionist community is gushing with doomsday warnings about the break-up of the UK if Wee Nichola wins an Indy 2 when in reality what they should be talking about is the break-up of Britain.

A sizeable Indy 2 vote means the Welsh demanding more rights for their Assembly, and Londoners urging Westminster to give more cash controls to the capital’s Assembly, too.

Would the North East of England want its own Assembly, along with a devolved structure for Cornwall and Devon? Obviously, Northern Ireland would actually need a working Assembly before if could gain even more devolved powers.

An independent Scotland will not automatically mean a united Ireland, or would it, especially if Scotland could team up with the Republic to form a Celtic Front in the EU? Then again, could a financially strained South afford to take on the running of the North? Not a chance!

For once, Northern Unionists should act with their heads and not their feet. They should quietly tell all Orange Order, loyalist band members, and Rangers supporters in Scotland to support Wee Nicola.

Sounds crazy, but as soon as the vote is announced, Northern Unionists should slap a list of demands for Stormont on Theresa May’s Downing Street desk before she has time to digest the extent of the Indy 2 vote.

The Dail should also stick its oar in, too, with more powers for all the British-Irish and cross-border bodies. For Irish nationalists, a significant Indy 2 showing could mean more powers given the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, regarded by many as merely a glorified talking shop.

We also need a new Anglo-Irish Treaty to mark the centenary of the original 1920s version negotiated by Michael Collins to bring the South back into the Commonwealth and under the control of the Crown.

King Billy’s Glorious Revolution in the 1690s set up the Protestant Ascendancy which built the Emerald Isle politically and economically.

The collapse of the Celtic Tiger has proven partition hasn’t worked. Do the millions of people in the South want to live in economic squalor and poverty simply to call themselves a Republic?

Political parties on both sides of the border need to use their loaf. Republicans brand the North as the Occupied Six Counties. But Unionists need to view the South as the Occupied Twenty-Six Counties.

The South needs to be encouraged that its future lies in Home Rule within the Commonwealth.

If Paisley senior can compromise his ‘Never, Never, Never’ politics for a power-sharing Executive with the Shinners, then republicans can put the greater good of the Irish people first and rejoin a new Union.

Unionists need to realise that Home Rule no longer means Rome Rule. The pervert priest scandals have obliterated the influence of the Catholic Church.

The island’s largest Protestant denomination, the Church of Ireland, is also fatally split over the issues of gay clerics and civil partnerships, sparking a revival for the rapidly emerging Pentecostal Christian faiths. The same fate could face Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant denomination, the Presbyterians.

Many of these new evangelical churches see this spiritual revival on an all-island basis.

Moves are also afoot to form a new Centre Left movement comprising Fianna Fail and the Ulster Unionists as a radical alternative to the current Sinn Fein/DUP dominated Stormont Executive.

But would a FF/UUP partnership have any more success than the totally disastrous ‘Vote Mike, get Colum’ strategy which virtually knocked the UUP into electoral oblivion?

Alliance, now that it has finally decided it is a genuine Liberal Party, has clearly decided to ‘paddle its own canoe’ politically rather than indulge in make-believe pacts and partnerships with other parties.

Of course, all of this could count for nothing if the dissident republican challenge is not sorted. The trouble is, dissident republicanism needs an iconic leader - it needs its own version of Adams or McGuinness.

In practical terms, Lurgan republican Colin Duffy must use his profile to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and decommissioning from the various dissident terror gangs.

When the history of this era of republicanism is penned, Duffy will either be portrayed as the unluckiest nationalist on the island, or the biggest icon on a par with Michael Collins and Bobby Sands.

Three times inside a decade, Duffy has been cleared of being involved in some of the most heinous terrorist crimes the Troubles have witnessed.

It must always be remembered that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Duffy has now replaced the late INLA boss Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey as the most hated republican in Ireland among loyalists, Unionists and many Protestants – even in some sections of moderate nationalism.

But those who profess to hate Duffy must swallow the bitter medicine that phrases such as ‘even the dogs in the street know …’ are legally worthless and insulting.

If Duffy is Lurgan’s luckless nationalist, his time in prison proves he is merely a convenient scapegoat for a string of atrocities for which he has been acquitted.

But the question could also be posed – is he the great unsung hero of republicanism who is so professional in his legal skills and knowledge, he defeated the British judicial war machine on three occasions to emphasise his innocence in court?

Fuelling this perception is the large dose of luck which runs alongside Duffy. He was beside his long-time republican chum Sam Marshall when he was gunned down in 1990 in Lurgan amid allegations of collusion by the RUC Inner Circle.

Dissident loyalist terror boss Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright once boasted of jogging into Duffy’s republican bolthole to taunt him outside his home.

Although linked to the deaths of some 40 Catholics, nationalists and republicans, King Rat was killed inside the Maze jail before he could organise a murder bid on Duffy.

But Duffy is certainly not the toast of the Shinners. If Duffy is clever, he will milk media frenzy and become the dissidents’ equivalent of Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness.

It was McGuinness, who later formed the Chuckle Brothers routine with firebrand Paisley senior, who brought Sinn Fein in from the political cold and had a major role in Provo decommissioning.

To the dissident republican fraternity, McGuinness was a British agent, a blunt allegation the former Mid Ulster MP and ex-deputy First Minister always persistently denied.

Duffy must set himself up as the unofficial republican ambassador who brings dissident terror gangs to the talks table, into the peace process, and ultimately to disbanding and decommissioning.

If one man now has the personal standing to persuade the Continuity, New and Real IRAs, and Oglaigh na hEireann’s death squads to call a ceasefire, it is Duffy. It is not impossible.

For generations, McGuinness was a hate figure among the DUP.

Yet Paisley ‘trusted’ him enough to form a power-sharing Executive at Stormont with the former Derry IRA boss as his deputy First Minister.

Even the combined dissident gangs do not have the fire or manpower to mount a sustained Provo-style terror war. Duffy should never become another Jim Lynagh, the psychotic, Prod-hating boss of the East Tyrone IRA Brigade shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall.

Nor should Duffy emerge as Dr Death, the veteran terrorist killer Gerard Steenson, killed in an INLA feud.

Duffy must model himself as a Martin Luther King-style diplomat. Collins was murdered in the Irish Civil War; Sands died on hunger strike; McGlinchey senior died in a feud, and global revolutionary hero Che Guevara was executed.

The social network sites may be cluttered with legally inaccurate rantings about Duffy’s court-proven innocence.

Where does Duffy go from here? He has the terrific opportunity for history to rebrand him as the one true republican who brought lasting peace to this island by persuading dissidents that ‘enough is enough’ and politics is the only path to follow.

Surely he will show common sense and not tempt the bad luck of coming before the British courts again?

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter. @JohnAHCoulter

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Anthony McIntyre

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

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