TOMMY MCKEARNEY writing in Socialist Voice advises physical force republicanism to leave the stage. 

The death of Lyra McKee was a needless tragedy inflicted on a young woman by thoughtless stooges. It was an act that devastated her life partner, her family, and her friends and colleagues in the world of journalism.

There is no room for equivocation when commenting on this event. Yet this killing was not wrong only because a young, talented and engaging 29-year-old lost her life—though it was certainly all of that. It was not wrong only because of the undisciplined firing of live ammunition in a built-up area, reckless as that undoubtedly was. It was also wrong because it involved the aimless, ill-conceived and counter-productive use of physical force.

And before some wiseacre challenges this writer by saying that the same may have been said about the Provisional IRA, let me make two basic points. In the first instance, there is no comparison between the situation today and the scale and circumstances that gave rise to the Provisionals. More important, though, is the fact that events must be considered strictly on their merits, albeit in context. It is in the light of contemporary situations and circumstances that events in Derry must be considered.

Claiming that those who opened fire were defending the Creggan is simply being disingenuous. To credibly protect a community, it goes without saying that there must exist a genuine and serious threat to the people of the area. In contrast to events during 1969, when the RUC used lethal force to kill and injure people in the Bogside, Belfast and elsewhere in the Six Counties, no such threat was evident on that April evening in 2019. Responding to house searches is not defending, and firing wildly with a pistol in the direction of an armoured vehicle was at best bravado and in this case inexcusable.

It must be pointed out, however, that the PSNI also have questions to answer. What on earth did they think they were doing by aggressively carrying out house searches at 9 p.m. on the Thursday before Easter? While no-one could have predicted the actual outcome, surely they must have known that there was the real risk of a violent confrontation when so many people were out and about on a mild spring evening, and in a republican area.

Let’s be clear: this is not to imply that the PSNI were responsible for Lyra McKee’s death. Nevertheless their decision to carry out searches at that time and place must be carefully scrutinised and weighed in the light of the subsequent tragedy.

However, when analysing existing material conditions, one overriding consideration is crystal-clear. To paraphrase an expert in the subject, the Derry shooters have no water in which to swim. Whatever wider assessments may be made of the Provisionals, it is undeniable that they received very considerable support from within the North’s nationalist community. By no stretch of the imagination can any similar claim be made today for the tiny, isolated groups promoting armed conflict in the Six Counties. That fact alone condemns them to certain and total failure. In the process, however, they serve only to damage the efforts of those working to build a workers’ republic in Ireland.

By any reckoning, the political entity that is Northern Ireland is in disarray. Political institutions have not functioned for more than two years. The leading pro-union party, the DUP, has not only lost the confidence of powerful elements within unionism but has also overplayed its hand with the Conservatives in London. All the while, the very existence of the six-county state is in doubt.

Meanwhile the southern 26-county state is disguising its failure to address the needs of its working-class majority by promoting its relationship with the neo-liberal EU while loudly lamenting the Brexit process. This is the state with 10,000 homeless people and a two-tier health service, where money buys access to life-saving treatment. Yet at the same time its government sees fit to award private companies a lucrative contract worth €373 million over fifteen years to operate toll systems on the country’s busiest motorway.*

Overcoming the two failed Irish states requires the building of a broadly based progressive mass movement of working people. Signs that such a development is possible have been evident in several well-supported campaigns over recent years in the 26 Counties. Encouragingly, many disparate republican groups and individuals have overcome their reluctance to change old and redundant tactics and have engaged in this process.

Unfortunately, all too often these initiatives to unite on a working-class agenda have been ridiculed and obstructed by those responsible for the death of Lyra McKee. Ironically, while they have sought to cause division and dissension within the ranks of left republicanism, they have now succeeded in uniting the forces of the establishment on a sterile security programme. Hardly a surprise, therefore, that so many suspect the presence of a sinister hand monitoring and manipulating these organisations.

But irrespective of the presence of provocateurs, these groups are objectively counter-revolutionary. Their presence and their actions are more than a mere distraction: they cause confusion by peddling a false promise that they can deliver on a republican objective. Their actions give comfort to the enemies of a workers’ republic as they distort and mangle the socialist message. Their reckless incompetence allows for the demonising of genuine revolutionaries. Common sense, not to mention common decency, dictates that they should vacate the stage.

Regrettably, it is doubtful if any of these arguments will have any positive effect on the organisations involved. If logic or political understanding were their strong point they wouldn’t be in the cul de sac they now occupy.

It is important, however, that the counter-productive actions of these groups are not allowed to facilitate a reactionary agenda. The demand for an all-Ireland workers’ republic is as valid as it ever was. The building of a mass movement among the working class to do this remains not only legitimate but also essential. Only through a mass movement of the Irish working class will we definitively sideline what Connolly derisively described as the “physical force party.” Only through such a movement can we transform society in the two failed states into a republic that serves the needs of working people.

We must continue, therefore, to speak the facts objectively, overlook the hyperbole, and continue to build for the future.

*Barry O’Halloran, “Abtran and Vinci win €373m contract to operate M50 tolls,” Irish Times, 18 April 2019.

Reckless Isolated Groups Should Vacate The Stage

 
TOMMY MCKEARNEY writing in Socialist Voice advises physical force republicanism to leave the stage. 

The death of Lyra McKee was a needless tragedy inflicted on a young woman by thoughtless stooges. It was an act that devastated her life partner, her family, and her friends and colleagues in the world of journalism.

There is no room for equivocation when commenting on this event. Yet this killing was not wrong only because a young, talented and engaging 29-year-old lost her life—though it was certainly all of that. It was not wrong only because of the undisciplined firing of live ammunition in a built-up area, reckless as that undoubtedly was. It was also wrong because it involved the aimless, ill-conceived and counter-productive use of physical force.

And before some wiseacre challenges this writer by saying that the same may have been said about the Provisional IRA, let me make two basic points. In the first instance, there is no comparison between the situation today and the scale and circumstances that gave rise to the Provisionals. More important, though, is the fact that events must be considered strictly on their merits, albeit in context. It is in the light of contemporary situations and circumstances that events in Derry must be considered.

Claiming that those who opened fire were defending the Creggan is simply being disingenuous. To credibly protect a community, it goes without saying that there must exist a genuine and serious threat to the people of the area. In contrast to events during 1969, when the RUC used lethal force to kill and injure people in the Bogside, Belfast and elsewhere in the Six Counties, no such threat was evident on that April evening in 2019. Responding to house searches is not defending, and firing wildly with a pistol in the direction of an armoured vehicle was at best bravado and in this case inexcusable.

It must be pointed out, however, that the PSNI also have questions to answer. What on earth did they think they were doing by aggressively carrying out house searches at 9 p.m. on the Thursday before Easter? While no-one could have predicted the actual outcome, surely they must have known that there was the real risk of a violent confrontation when so many people were out and about on a mild spring evening, and in a republican area.

Let’s be clear: this is not to imply that the PSNI were responsible for Lyra McKee’s death. Nevertheless their decision to carry out searches at that time and place must be carefully scrutinised and weighed in the light of the subsequent tragedy.

However, when analysing existing material conditions, one overriding consideration is crystal-clear. To paraphrase an expert in the subject, the Derry shooters have no water in which to swim. Whatever wider assessments may be made of the Provisionals, it is undeniable that they received very considerable support from within the North’s nationalist community. By no stretch of the imagination can any similar claim be made today for the tiny, isolated groups promoting armed conflict in the Six Counties. That fact alone condemns them to certain and total failure. In the process, however, they serve only to damage the efforts of those working to build a workers’ republic in Ireland.

By any reckoning, the political entity that is Northern Ireland is in disarray. Political institutions have not functioned for more than two years. The leading pro-union party, the DUP, has not only lost the confidence of powerful elements within unionism but has also overplayed its hand with the Conservatives in London. All the while, the very existence of the six-county state is in doubt.

Meanwhile the southern 26-county state is disguising its failure to address the needs of its working-class majority by promoting its relationship with the neo-liberal EU while loudly lamenting the Brexit process. This is the state with 10,000 homeless people and a two-tier health service, where money buys access to life-saving treatment. Yet at the same time its government sees fit to award private companies a lucrative contract worth €373 million over fifteen years to operate toll systems on the country’s busiest motorway.*

Overcoming the two failed Irish states requires the building of a broadly based progressive mass movement of working people. Signs that such a development is possible have been evident in several well-supported campaigns over recent years in the 26 Counties. Encouragingly, many disparate republican groups and individuals have overcome their reluctance to change old and redundant tactics and have engaged in this process.

Unfortunately, all too often these initiatives to unite on a working-class agenda have been ridiculed and obstructed by those responsible for the death of Lyra McKee. Ironically, while they have sought to cause division and dissension within the ranks of left republicanism, they have now succeeded in uniting the forces of the establishment on a sterile security programme. Hardly a surprise, therefore, that so many suspect the presence of a sinister hand monitoring and manipulating these organisations.

But irrespective of the presence of provocateurs, these groups are objectively counter-revolutionary. Their presence and their actions are more than a mere distraction: they cause confusion by peddling a false promise that they can deliver on a republican objective. Their actions give comfort to the enemies of a workers’ republic as they distort and mangle the socialist message. Their reckless incompetence allows for the demonising of genuine revolutionaries. Common sense, not to mention common decency, dictates that they should vacate the stage.

Regrettably, it is doubtful if any of these arguments will have any positive effect on the organisations involved. If logic or political understanding were their strong point they wouldn’t be in the cul de sac they now occupy.

It is important, however, that the counter-productive actions of these groups are not allowed to facilitate a reactionary agenda. The demand for an all-Ireland workers’ republic is as valid as it ever was. The building of a mass movement among the working class to do this remains not only legitimate but also essential. Only through a mass movement of the Irish working class will we definitively sideline what Connolly derisively described as the “physical force party.” Only through such a movement can we transform society in the two failed states into a republic that serves the needs of working people.

We must continue, therefore, to speak the facts objectively, overlook the hyperbole, and continue to build for the future.

*Barry O’Halloran, “Abtran and Vinci win €373m contract to operate M50 tolls,” Irish Times, 18 April 2019.

5 comments:

  1. Tommy,
    a well written piece as per expected. A lot of criticisms about the emerging new groups seem only to look at the Provisionals as a comparison, of course people like yourself who served that movement honestly and honourably have every right to do so. I think in the coming months and years we need to widen that scope. Physical force movements did not begin in 1969, indeed much needed advice, knowledge let alone raison d’etre for the early Provisionals came from those previous generations and our history shows that this repeats itself.
    Armed rebellion has of course had more failure than success but that said that is how political mobilisation has developed on this island at various times. Furthermore it has always proven to have spurred on generations that came after it. Many of us would love to have mass mobilisations for change in this country and have worked in many campaigns to do that. In the 20 years since the GFA we have failed for example to develop a Catalan style of independence movement and rally We have had small but significant success in the 26 counties on issues like the water charges movement yet we are no Gillet Jaunes. I do not think having a non condemnation view of physical resistance rules one out of engaging in any of the grassroots struggles around the country. I have to state that from looking at their Dublin outfit anyway, Saoradh who lets face it, most people are referring to lately have a fair smattering of seasoned activists who have been involved in various issues and I presume will continue to do so.
    After 20 years waiting for our Republic to be delivered through the GFA, who is to say that some of the forums and alliances that people like you are rightfully looking at for alternatives may also come to a dead end in 20 years times. I am in no position to say that after those endeavours are tried and may fall short, that in another 20 years we may need an ‘isolated, reckless group’, probably like those IRA men of the 40s, 50s and 60s who would be invaluable to the emerging Provisionals to pass on experience to the next generation.
    I am hoping that as time passes after the tragic death of Lyra Mc Kee, those who preach republican unity and yet who have tried to gain cred for their particular groups from her death can recognise some of the uncomradely at the least and at the worst dangerous felon setting that they engaged in. I cannot but agree with most of your analysis on that awful day but I believe there is still a right of non condemnation of physical force until we reach the Republic. Do I think there will be a massive armed campaign that will outright achieve a Workers Republic,, no I don't, but I cannot speak for the next generation. The Critical analysis you engage in is needed, what’s not needed is chest thumping and ego building by groups that lets face it are probably even smaller than groups like Saoradh. Onward to the Republic.

    Bartholomew Deasmhumhna
    Dublin

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  2. Odd, when the cops in the North find as much as a firework on someone’s front lawn, they claim health and safety considerations necessitate evacuating both sides of the entire street for upto a day, before attempting an operation that includes its removal. Yet they have allowed civilians to congregate around their vehicles in this instance.

    AM noted in his Bleakness Descends piece ( http://www.thepensivequill.com/2013/03/bleakness-descends.html) there would be no ballads written about the Peter Butterly shooting at Gormanstown, and similarly there will be no ballads written for this shooting either.

    One reflection I make is how fortunate to have a been selected for the universally lauded operation(within Republicanism at least) e.g Narrow Water and not a disaster like Frizzels.

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  3. good to see you back DaithiD

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  4. Sorry for the loss of your friend AM. Bleakness Descends has been a favourite of mine for ages, it’s the Smiths fan in me.

    In terms of Tommy’s piece, I feel the traditions he would be sympathetic to have already lost the battle in terms of agitating based on class. Identity politics has won out as the unit of organising principle , hence why an LGBTQ group can deface a Irish Political Prisoners banner with bloodied hand prints because their “struggles” are seen as distinct, perhaps opposing. What a bloody mess, I don’t know how you stomach it. Bleakness remains.

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  5. DaithiD - thank you. I recall that piece.

    Tommy's is a good piece but I think it would have been more impactful without the Worker's Republic language. There is no need for him to give up the concept but at particular times I think language has to be pitched where it will be understood most. Tommy, however, is not trying to persuade physical force nationalists as he has long since given up on them. He is setting out his own stall about where his is at and where he wants to go. He thinks a tradition of physical force as distinct from a strategy of physical force is irrational and we can hardly doubt him.

    I think the group who defaced the wall were exercising their solidarity with a loved friend and they saw it as an act of protest against people who they believe are repressing the community, not necessarily repressing the LGBTQ community.

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