Laurence White interviews Anthony McIntyre for the Belfast Telegraph

Anthony McIntyre (61) is a former IRA man who served 18 years in jail for the murder of a UVF man in 1976. But he left Sinn Fein after it signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and has been a vocal critic of the party. He is a co-founder of The Blanket website and The Pensive Quill blog, which carry a wide range of views on political developments in Northern Ireland.

McIntyre gained a PhD after leaving prison and is regarded as an important voice in questioning republican circles. He describes himself as anti-violence, but not a pacifist.

Q. You were a friend of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. How did that come about?

A. I was introduced to her by a contributor to my website The Pensive Quill. That was about six years ago and we used to meet occasionally to go for a pint in places like Drogheda, Belfast and Dublin.
She told me in February that she planned to move to Derry as there was a special woman in her life and that we would have to get out for a drink to celebrate.
Then I saw a post about her engagement and I wrote wishing her well. That was a week before she died and was the last contact I had with her.

Q. Would you ask people to give information on the killing of Lyra McKee to the PSNI?

A. I have never asked people to give information to the PSNI. I oppose them politically and I wouldn't give them information.
If I asked people to go forward with information there would be a risk to life, as this is a force which cannot be trusted with information.
If I had information I would make it available to the National Union of Journalists. If the PSNI want information from the public, then they should give information to the public on the agents they are running in Derry. Then we would have a much better understanding of Lyra McKee's killing.
I would be a conscientious objector in giving information to the PSNI.
However, if people go to the police with information, I would not be calling them informers. I would have no feeling about them.
I have no sympathy for Lyra McKee's killer. The public have the right to demand that they should be protected from those who would kill them.

Q. She had written a very powerful piece, 'A letter to myself at 14'. What would you have written in such a letter?

A. I only saw this for the first time the day after her murder and we carried it on our website. It was a very powerful article and by the end of that day we had 50,000 page views of our blog.
I have never thought of what I would include in a similar letter to my teenage self. The first thing I would say is: be glad that you are not young enough to know everything.
I look at my children - one is 13, one 18 - and I think back to when I was a teenager. I had gone into prison for the first time at 16 and came out again at 18. The thought of my children doing anything like I was doing drives me to distraction.

Q. Do you regard those years you spent in prison - 18 years for murder - as a wasted youth?

A. I was in the IRA and I didn't join to read books or play tiddlywinks. I accepted I was in an organisation that took life, that was involved in a guerrilla war against the British state. It was a very violent period.
I don't regard myself as a different Anthony McIntyre then. I lived a life differently and I developed in ways I might not have if I had not been in prison. Sometimes you have to make a virtue out of necessity and I met some of my best friends in prison and on the blanket.
I don't look back aghast at myself. I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't make any political apology for being part of the IRA campaign.

Q. Yet you are very critical of that campaign.

A. Yes, I have reflected on it. Republicans have reflected more than many on the British side. The winners of any conflict don't have to reflect. It is the losers who have to think how could they have done things differently.
Given the minimum amount we settled for and the number of lives lost, I would like to have done things differently.
The difference between what was on offer in 1974 and what was accepted in 1998 did not justify the loss of one life. Had the IRA conveyed to the British state how little it was prepared to settle for, the British state would have moved heaven and earth to give it to us.
If the IRA had said it was prepared to drop its campaign of coercion for the unionist demand of consent could the British have moved the unionists more towards the 1974 power-sharing proposals?
I believe the unionist reaction was less against power-sharing and more against the notion of an Irish dimension.
The IRA was a manifestation of insurrectional energy within the nationalist community at that time, a reaction to how the British behaved here.
To bring the IRA campaign to an end, the British only had to modify their behaviour a little.

Q. In a recent article you argued that the Provisional IRA had handed on the intellectual and ideological template which has been taken up by the New IRA.

A. The problem with the IRA campaign was that, once it was started, you were never sure where it would go. In spite of the fact that many people in the IRA were interested in idealism and social justice, it violated more rights than it could ever assert. For that reason the IRA was wrong.
The New IRA's physical force republicanism, when everything else is shaken down, says: "We have the right to kill you and you have no right not to be killed by us." That is a serious mental aberration and should have no standing.
In the current situation the PSNI, for example, are political opponents of republicans but not enemies to be killed. Police officers and military people have ceased to be combatants.
The use of violence has to be strategic. I don't believe the current violence has anything to do with strategy, but is just following a tradition.
I am not a militarist. I don't believe in a military solution to complex political problems. Time causes people to think about problems and solve them in a different way.

Q. Yet you are also critical of Sinn Fein's adoption of the Good Friday Agreement?

A. The Good Friday Agreement is much better than the Bad Friday killing of Lyra McKee and preferable to physical force. But the GFA was never a republican strategy, or principle, and is based on a principle against which the IRA fought.
It mocks the very logic of the IRA campaign, which was a coercive campaign aimed at forcing Britain out of Northern Ireland irrespective of what the people of NI felt about it.
Now, the IRA, or Sinn Fein, says a united Ireland can only come about through those people's consent. What were the soldiers and policemen who died killed for?
Sinn Fein has just taken the clothing of the SDLP. We are not going to get a united Ireland as a result of the GFA.
I can understand anyone celebrating the GFA, but republicans celebrating the GFA is like turkeys celebrating Christmas.

Q. Are you opposed to the peace process?

A. My opposition to the peace process is not opposition to peace, but to the process. It is a political project meant to give something to one party - the unionists - to the detriment of all others. The unionists have secured the room, but have overreacted to the colour of the wallpaper; it is too green for them.
Nationalists have proven that they are more willing to go into a relationship with London than unionists are willing to go into a relationship with Dublin.

Q. Does Sinn Fein's continual commemoration of dead IRA volunteers, who may have committed horrible crimes, only continue friction between them and unionists?

A. Sinn Fein are merely trying to ensure that no one else can wear their clothing. I don't see anything wrong with commemorations for dead volunteers. I am not for suppressing the past. I don't think we should forget the past.
I believe people should be allowed to remember their dead.
I hold no truck for the Parachute Regiment, but I find it obnoxious that their loved ones are not able to plant wreaths at Narrow Water where 18 of them were killed without someone coming along and destroying them.
In the same way, I would never think of destroying Lenny Murphy's (leader of the Shankill Butchers) grave. His family and loved ones deserve somewhere to go and remember him.
I am not asking the state to celebrate dead IRA members, but I would ask them to tolerate such commemorations.

Q. What are your feelings about the Boston Tapes fiasco, where some tape-recorded oral histories from republicans and loyalists were handed over to the PSNI, even though they were meant to be kept secret until after the subjects' deaths?

A. The journalist Ed Moloney and myself were absolutely shafted. It was a great project conceptually, but went wrong procedurally. The handing over of the tapes caused me immense concern and grief and disappointment. It was an attempt at truth recovery.

Q. How do you think we should deal with the past?

A. I think we should forego the quest for truth recovery through prosecutions, so that we can get simple truth recovery. It should be about revelation, not retribution.
Very few people will be prosecuted and to pretend otherwise is to lead people up the garden path.
You could get some information through prosecutions, but it would not set the context - why something was done and who decided it should be done, for example.
The truth is going to come out in spite of people, not because of them.

Q. Have you ever been threatened because of your views and have you been afraid?

A. I certainly have felt fear. My wife Carrie and I and our two children have had Sinn Fein mobs picketing our homes - our previous one in Belfast and our current one in Drogheda - and members of the IRA leadership came to our home to intimidate us.
I have been accused of being involved in compiling the Boston Tapes in an attempt to get Gerry Adams (inset below) arrested and that created a certain environment.
There was always the possibility that we would be attacked. We worried about the children and I would go out of the house first in case someone decided to do something.
I don't put it about that we are brave and that we lived like Salman Rushdie. He renewed his Muslim faith in an effort to get a fatwa against him withdrawn. There is no chance of me becoming a Shinner, or a dissident, or a Catholic, or a Muslim.

Q. Do you ever think of the man you killed - a UVF member - or have regrets about that killing?

A. It is part of my past. I don't disassociate myself from it. I regarded him as a combatant. Loyalists tried to kill me in 1976 and my brother in 1994. Would I ever ask them to apologise for trying to kill me? No. I was a combatant.
For the same reason, I would not apologise for the killing I carried out. But I would ask them to apologise for trying to kill my brother. He was not a combatant.
I was in the IRA and don't have any political regrets from that period.
Would I rather not have killed anyone? Absolutely. I wish no one had been killed.

Q. So what do you do nowadays?

A. I write extensively, but I also edit a local community magazine, do voluntary work with the St Vincent de Paul Society, even though I am an atheist, and I work for a trade union in Dublin.
And after all these years and having read thousands of books, thanks to HM Prison Service, I recently have discovered the greatest book I have ever read - Hillsborough: The Truth by Professor Phil Scraton - about the death of 96 Liverpool football team supporters at an FA Cup match at Hillsborough stadium.

Shadow Of A Gunman: Interview with Anthony McIntyre



Laurence White interviews Anthony McIntyre for the Belfast Telegraph

Anthony McIntyre (61) is a former IRA man who served 18 years in jail for the murder of a UVF man in 1976. But he left Sinn Fein after it signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and has been a vocal critic of the party. He is a co-founder of The Blanket website and The Pensive Quill blog, which carry a wide range of views on political developments in Northern Ireland.

McIntyre gained a PhD after leaving prison and is regarded as an important voice in questioning republican circles. He describes himself as anti-violence, but not a pacifist.

Q. You were a friend of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. How did that come about?

A. I was introduced to her by a contributor to my website The Pensive Quill. That was about six years ago and we used to meet occasionally to go for a pint in places like Drogheda, Belfast and Dublin.
She told me in February that she planned to move to Derry as there was a special woman in her life and that we would have to get out for a drink to celebrate.
Then I saw a post about her engagement and I wrote wishing her well. That was a week before she died and was the last contact I had with her.

Q. Would you ask people to give information on the killing of Lyra McKee to the PSNI?

A. I have never asked people to give information to the PSNI. I oppose them politically and I wouldn't give them information.
If I asked people to go forward with information there would be a risk to life, as this is a force which cannot be trusted with information.
If I had information I would make it available to the National Union of Journalists. If the PSNI want information from the public, then they should give information to the public on the agents they are running in Derry. Then we would have a much better understanding of Lyra McKee's killing.
I would be a conscientious objector in giving information to the PSNI.
However, if people go to the police with information, I would not be calling them informers. I would have no feeling about them.
I have no sympathy for Lyra McKee's killer. The public have the right to demand that they should be protected from those who would kill them.

Q. She had written a very powerful piece, 'A letter to myself at 14'. What would you have written in such a letter?

A. I only saw this for the first time the day after her murder and we carried it on our website. It was a very powerful article and by the end of that day we had 50,000 page views of our blog.
I have never thought of what I would include in a similar letter to my teenage self. The first thing I would say is: be glad that you are not young enough to know everything.
I look at my children - one is 13, one 18 - and I think back to when I was a teenager. I had gone into prison for the first time at 16 and came out again at 18. The thought of my children doing anything like I was doing drives me to distraction.

Q. Do you regard those years you spent in prison - 18 years for murder - as a wasted youth?

A. I was in the IRA and I didn't join to read books or play tiddlywinks. I accepted I was in an organisation that took life, that was involved in a guerrilla war against the British state. It was a very violent period.
I don't regard myself as a different Anthony McIntyre then. I lived a life differently and I developed in ways I might not have if I had not been in prison. Sometimes you have to make a virtue out of necessity and I met some of my best friends in prison and on the blanket.
I don't look back aghast at myself. I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't make any political apology for being part of the IRA campaign.

Q. Yet you are very critical of that campaign.

A. Yes, I have reflected on it. Republicans have reflected more than many on the British side. The winners of any conflict don't have to reflect. It is the losers who have to think how could they have done things differently.
Given the minimum amount we settled for and the number of lives lost, I would like to have done things differently.
The difference between what was on offer in 1974 and what was accepted in 1998 did not justify the loss of one life. Had the IRA conveyed to the British state how little it was prepared to settle for, the British state would have moved heaven and earth to give it to us.
If the IRA had said it was prepared to drop its campaign of coercion for the unionist demand of consent could the British have moved the unionists more towards the 1974 power-sharing proposals?
I believe the unionist reaction was less against power-sharing and more against the notion of an Irish dimension.
The IRA was a manifestation of insurrectional energy within the nationalist community at that time, a reaction to how the British behaved here.
To bring the IRA campaign to an end, the British only had to modify their behaviour a little.

Q. In a recent article you argued that the Provisional IRA had handed on the intellectual and ideological template which has been taken up by the New IRA.

A. The problem with the IRA campaign was that, once it was started, you were never sure where it would go. In spite of the fact that many people in the IRA were interested in idealism and social justice, it violated more rights than it could ever assert. For that reason the IRA was wrong.
The New IRA's physical force republicanism, when everything else is shaken down, says: "We have the right to kill you and you have no right not to be killed by us." That is a serious mental aberration and should have no standing.
In the current situation the PSNI, for example, are political opponents of republicans but not enemies to be killed. Police officers and military people have ceased to be combatants.
The use of violence has to be strategic. I don't believe the current violence has anything to do with strategy, but is just following a tradition.
I am not a militarist. I don't believe in a military solution to complex political problems. Time causes people to think about problems and solve them in a different way.

Q. Yet you are also critical of Sinn Fein's adoption of the Good Friday Agreement?

A. The Good Friday Agreement is much better than the Bad Friday killing of Lyra McKee and preferable to physical force. But the GFA was never a republican strategy, or principle, and is based on a principle against which the IRA fought.
It mocks the very logic of the IRA campaign, which was a coercive campaign aimed at forcing Britain out of Northern Ireland irrespective of what the people of NI felt about it.
Now, the IRA, or Sinn Fein, says a united Ireland can only come about through those people's consent. What were the soldiers and policemen who died killed for?
Sinn Fein has just taken the clothing of the SDLP. We are not going to get a united Ireland as a result of the GFA.
I can understand anyone celebrating the GFA, but republicans celebrating the GFA is like turkeys celebrating Christmas.

Q. Are you opposed to the peace process?

A. My opposition to the peace process is not opposition to peace, but to the process. It is a political project meant to give something to one party - the unionists - to the detriment of all others. The unionists have secured the room, but have overreacted to the colour of the wallpaper; it is too green for them.
Nationalists have proven that they are more willing to go into a relationship with London than unionists are willing to go into a relationship with Dublin.

Q. Does Sinn Fein's continual commemoration of dead IRA volunteers, who may have committed horrible crimes, only continue friction between them and unionists?

A. Sinn Fein are merely trying to ensure that no one else can wear their clothing. I don't see anything wrong with commemorations for dead volunteers. I am not for suppressing the past. I don't think we should forget the past.
I believe people should be allowed to remember their dead.
I hold no truck for the Parachute Regiment, but I find it obnoxious that their loved ones are not able to plant wreaths at Narrow Water where 18 of them were killed without someone coming along and destroying them.
In the same way, I would never think of destroying Lenny Murphy's (leader of the Shankill Butchers) grave. His family and loved ones deserve somewhere to go and remember him.
I am not asking the state to celebrate dead IRA members, but I would ask them to tolerate such commemorations.

Q. What are your feelings about the Boston Tapes fiasco, where some tape-recorded oral histories from republicans and loyalists were handed over to the PSNI, even though they were meant to be kept secret until after the subjects' deaths?

A. The journalist Ed Moloney and myself were absolutely shafted. It was a great project conceptually, but went wrong procedurally. The handing over of the tapes caused me immense concern and grief and disappointment. It was an attempt at truth recovery.

Q. How do you think we should deal with the past?

A. I think we should forego the quest for truth recovery through prosecutions, so that we can get simple truth recovery. It should be about revelation, not retribution.
Very few people will be prosecuted and to pretend otherwise is to lead people up the garden path.
You could get some information through prosecutions, but it would not set the context - why something was done and who decided it should be done, for example.
The truth is going to come out in spite of people, not because of them.

Q. Have you ever been threatened because of your views and have you been afraid?

A. I certainly have felt fear. My wife Carrie and I and our two children have had Sinn Fein mobs picketing our homes - our previous one in Belfast and our current one in Drogheda - and members of the IRA leadership came to our home to intimidate us.
I have been accused of being involved in compiling the Boston Tapes in an attempt to get Gerry Adams (inset below) arrested and that created a certain environment.
There was always the possibility that we would be attacked. We worried about the children and I would go out of the house first in case someone decided to do something.
I don't put it about that we are brave and that we lived like Salman Rushdie. He renewed his Muslim faith in an effort to get a fatwa against him withdrawn. There is no chance of me becoming a Shinner, or a dissident, or a Catholic, or a Muslim.

Q. Do you ever think of the man you killed - a UVF member - or have regrets about that killing?

A. It is part of my past. I don't disassociate myself from it. I regarded him as a combatant. Loyalists tried to kill me in 1976 and my brother in 1994. Would I ever ask them to apologise for trying to kill me? No. I was a combatant.
For the same reason, I would not apologise for the killing I carried out. But I would ask them to apologise for trying to kill my brother. He was not a combatant.
I was in the IRA and don't have any political regrets from that period.
Would I rather not have killed anyone? Absolutely. I wish no one had been killed.

Q. So what do you do nowadays?

A. I write extensively, but I also edit a local community magazine, do voluntary work with the St Vincent de Paul Society, even though I am an atheist, and I work for a trade union in Dublin.
And after all these years and having read thousands of books, thanks to HM Prison Service, I recently have discovered the greatest book I have ever read - Hillsborough: The Truth by Professor Phil Scraton - about the death of 96 Liverpool football team supporters at an FA Cup match at Hillsborough stadium.

29 comments:

  1. Anthony. The IRA’s position was not, or is not, that ‘a United Ireland can only come about through those people’s consent’ (‘those people’ being those born in the Six Counties of voting age). There is a nuance to the then Republican position which you haven’t allowed for and have never allowed for, best reflected in the argument put to me by Jim Gibney 20 years ago when these matters where all in the vortex and being tried, as in judged, by the Republican base.

    As Jim argued when I put logic as yours to him, it was not, and is not now, that a United Ireland should only come about by and through that mechanism. It was that this same mechanism, in the context of predicted future demographics in the relevant territory, would at some point prove amenable to a United Ireland and that, therefore, it was only proper that Republicans should engage different means and mechanisms — that being peaceful political strategies — towards realising their goals and objects. We are political and not military creatures are we not? There was no longer enough reason to mount further armed struggle, given especially all that had already been suffered — not least by Republicans but also, and of course, by all sections of the community.

    Among those mechanisms is a majority vote in the Six Counties but it was never the case there should NOT be a United Ireland absent one — just an understanding that the means crafted by the occupier to garner perceived democratic legitimacy for her position (the contriving of an electoral column with an inbuilt sectarian veto over our sovereignty and right to self-determine) no longer presented an insurmountable barrier to the achieving of Irish Unity.

    There’s a fundamental difference — one that was and remains significant enough to keep the majority of Republicanism onboard with the direction. It’s not, then, that a United Ireland can ONLY come about by consent but that it CAN come about by consent — that consent may be a means to realise a United Ireland, given ongoing change to the demographic composition of northern society and which is now even clearer than it was at the time in question.

    We might note, in the here and now, that the IRSP have since adopted this same line and nuance entire, which to me suggests Gibney may have been right and ourselves wrong. Just to be clear, that does not mean his ilk were right to engage in all we have witnessed across the time since — a long series of embarrassments and humiliations which effectively amount to the internalising of defeat, not the confident and vibrant ‘imaginative’ new approach we were sold as the way forward.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sean - the IRA gave its approval to the GFA. The GFA does not allow for anything else other than consent. The IRA as an entity that existed to fight to get Britain to withdraw from Ireland left the scene. Where it continued to exist it was for other reasons. There is no principle of coercion that overrides the principle of consent enshrined in the GFA. The GFA allows for no consent as the determining factor other than with the people in the North. Gibney didn't know what was happening then. His Irish News columns in later years showed he still didn't know what was happening. The army leadership fed that line to those who were willing to believe anything as long as it was whispered to them. There was no nuance in the IRA's position. There was a manufactured nuance for the purpose of duping volunteers. The future shift in demographics was not going to be expedited by the GFA and has not: the same prediction was as easy to make in 74 as it was in 98. The IRA's position was always to short circuit and bypass consent. The IRA did not stop its war to allow a process to a united Ireland to take place peacefully. It stopped its war because it was unwinnable and because stopping it could be finetuned to dovetail with the mushrooming of some of its leaders' political careers. The IRA lied to its volunteers throughout - why believe it any more on the question of unity only by consent than on the only thing to be decommissioned is British rule? Cite one example or one statement to show that the IRA is not impaled on the consent principle.

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  2. Anthony. By your own standard, confirmed in your article, while Good Friday was far from what we would construct ourselves, had we the ability to undertake such a task, it was still better than more ‘Bad Friday’s’ as last month’s in Derry. That same consideration was to the fore among most concerned at the time of engaging with the Agreement, be they Volunteers or the broader support system.

    It was time to park the armed struggle and for correct strategic reasoning — i.e. while it could be continued on with indefinitely, without a credible prospect of shifting the fundamental position of the British state there was an onus to consider alternatives.

    That it took as long as it did to come to this realisation is a tragedy beyond compare in the history of modern Ireland. That people were sent out to kill and die when that point had already been reached in the minds of the Think Tank angers more than you. But, while angering, ultimately it was not a sufficient reason to continue. IRA Volunteers understood that, regardless the lies of the leadership.

    In that context, and in the added context that is the contrived gerrymander that is the six-county statelet and the visible shift in its demography impacting that gerrymander, it was held as a moral imperative not to continue further with the armed campaign. There is a logic to that, whether it pains to acknowledge it or not.

    That doesn’t preclude the lying and the scheming and the treachery, indeed, of the Adams faction and his sycophants. But it does exhibit that there was more to the ordinary Volunteer and supporter’s tactical embrace of what was unfolding politically, at a level in the first instance beyond our control, than our simply being deceived.

    Engaging political surrounds not of our making or liking was the alternative elected towards by the mass of the movement — not because its detail was supported or favoured but because taking that path, rightly, was seen as a moral imperative. The lives that have been saved in the time passed since, alone, reveals that this was the right direction.

    That Jim and his ilk have since been absorbed by the British into their system, beyond the level of tactical embrace and to the point of their internalising its legitimacy, for me does not translate into our aiming towards a new way forward as amounting to the wrong direction. To the contrary, it remains the right path for Republicanism to take. We must, though, find that path as we’ve since been sidetracked.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sean,

    of course "it was still better than more ‘Bad Friday’s’ as last month’s in Derry."

    That is of no value to your point which is not abut better or worse but whether the IRA signed up to "unity only by consent".

    I think you have slipped into serious revisionism here. Stopping the war in the interest of less suffering was the least of the considerations. My experience is that most bought the bollix about a return to war, believed all the guff they were told, swallowed the bull by the skip load, swore no decommissioning, no support for a British police force ad infinitum.

    Volunteers defied a core tenet of the hunger strike. They demonstrated how political they were not. They abandoned political position after position to the point where it is now. Armed struggle was not parked: it was consigned to - use the words of Bobby Sands - to the Knackers Yard.

    Nothing essentially wrong with that - it is in describing it as something else which is the problem.

    There was an onus to consider alternatives - but republican ones. I think you have cited my own observation on occasion - they settled for republicans being brought in minus republicanism.

    The problem with many IRA volunteers in my view is this: people easily led are people who will easily commit atrocity. They were prepared to kill people simply on the say so of leaders whose loyalties lie elsewhere. I guess if people are to be killed then those who kill them should have the firmest of reasons, ones that are thought about at length and in depth, not to be jettisoned overnight because some leader thinks it might be useful to his political career. IRA volunteers, contrary to what you say, understood very little. If they did they were even worse because they were complicit in everything that happened. Moral imperative a post hoc rationalisation.

    Unarmed struggle was the right path to take - from a republican perspective, this particular unarmed struggle was an abysmal failure.

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  4. I’d say that’s fair comment, save to add that’s it’s probably fair to go further, in that Republicanism itself — not just the armed struggle — has been consigned to the knackers’ yard.

    I’ve long made the point that the problem was not the moving to a political strategy but rather the failure to ensure it was forward bound by Republican principle. The line and approach promoted by the leadership, at the time in question, could have worked had that been so — as it ought to have, given this is what was argued would be the outworking of the ‘new phase’.

    It is in that failure where our defeat and descent into outright constitutionalism lies — not in the abilities, or lack of, of IRA Volunteers. That IRA Volunteers understood the argument advanced to secure their support does not make them complicit in that failure, other than in terms of how that applies to Republicanism entire, which it does. Those who went along with the strategy at local level should have been more cautious of the Think Tank, yes, and ensured against its being able to veer so far off course. But c’est la vie.

    All I’ll say is that it’s not easy to resist the approach utilised — i.e. ‘it’ll all come good at the end, hang in there, we’re still on course despite appearances, trust us, we know what we’re doing, this is the nature of how things have to be’. That was the brief and run-down we were given time after time. As crazy as it might sound, not only did it work then — it still works.

    Where to from here? It’s either the house and to call it a day or to attempt to re-set compass. The new phase promised but not delivered is still something we could look to and build towards. As Crawley said in the graveyard Easter Sunday, we will see.

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  5. IRA volunteers were often privy to heated debates and discussions concerning the GFA etc. Unfortunately the people who were on the money(where the RM was going to end up) were often mocked and ridiculed by the Chiefs and their ball bags. If the mocked didn't back down then they were demonised and isolated so as not to allow their opinions to gather traction. In amongst all this the Chiefs appointed yes men and people who were told they were smart, etc etc when the reality was very much the opposite I.e played their ego's. This recipe paved the way for the leadership to disempower the IRA and lead 'republican movement' where it is today.
    Personally I believe some prominent republicans believed what the 'mocked' were saying at the time, but let on they didn't, for their own various reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sean - I think it has been consigned although not everyone agrees. I don't think the leadership line was ever right. It was never designed to produce a political outcome advantageous to republicanism. It was the optimum outcome for political careers. I think the vols were very complicit in the failure - they endorsed it at every turn and failed to challenge it. They endlessly canvassed for SF when it was clear that SF was not working towards a republican goal. Coercion per se was less the problem than republican armed coercion. But the GFA ruled that out. Imagine a situation where the people of the UK decided to expel NI from the union. That would be coercion but we can hardly deny them the right to do so. The GFA ruled that out also.

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  7. Tone. I suppose we have to consider that not just the chiefs and their ball bags are to be blamed. In the instances where those content to go along with their direction upon having their egos stroked — knowing that Mackers, the Dark, McKearney and their like were actually right but ignoring it due to their being given stripes — then they have to carry their own can, for it was they, even more so than the chiefs, who lead the rest of us astray (being those with influence at ground level in our communities).

    Further to internal discussions and conversations on the street, I find it difficult to imagine such people didn’t know or contemplate what the leadership was really engaged in and where they were in fact intended towards. The sterling work of critics as those mentioned above, in the like of the ‘Fourthwrite’ journal (which I helped distribute here in Tyrone) surely should have made it obvious.

    With that said, I still think there’s merit to the notion that the time had come to seek alternative strategies and that most people at the time understood that at heart. They did around here anyway, which is why the leadership was able to count on our support, despite the many reservations. It was only after their intimidation of Anthony and his wife, with the smearing of the deceased Joe O’Connor, that reservation gave way to removing myself from the movement and its strategy on my part.

    I suppose what that effectively means for me, is that Republicans were right to seek out unarmed struggle as the final phase towards realising our object but that the direction it went in, and the methods employed to uphold that direction, were not as they could or ought to have been. In that sense, for me, there is a still a way back, which lies in the building of that broad based unarmed struggle.

    In the context of emerging demographic realities, anticipated at the time to my clear recollection, Irish Unity under a 32-county republic need no longer be a mere aspiration, as the Good Friday Agreement intended it to be. In spite of that agreement and its primary design, which was to copper fasten Partition rule, it is quickly emerging as an achievable political option. This is so because, increasingly, it is seen by the people of Ireland as the best future option for Ireland, both north and south, at the expense of the current order.

    I can’t be the only one who sees here an opening and opportunity. If that means that the aspects of the leadership’s long term argument were in fact correct then that’s fine with me. It certainly doesn’t excuse everything else they’ve engaged in, by any means, and simply means, at the finish, that we — that being me, you and the rest who went along with it only to be let down — still have important work to do.

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  8. Anthony. I see what you’re saying about the careers — the new direction was the optimum path for those who wanted to attach their carriage to the gravy train, for sure. As Moloney mused in his book, they had gotten the taste for it and liked it — they weren’t for going back to cold sandwiches in decaying offices and back rooms.

    But while that was THEIR motive it was not that of the base. We were doing what we thought was right and in part it was just that — the right thing.

    In the absence of an ability to secure outright military victory and in the context of the trauma endured by the community, with the added context that demographics would make the achieving of our goal a real possibility within a generation, it was an imperative to consider alternative strategies. I don’t think that’s revisionist. I think it’s what happened on the part of the ordinary 5’ 8”.

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  9. Sean - I saw few signs of it. T 5/8s revealed their hand - as to why they were really there - just to be part of something big. What direction the big went in they didn't really care. I never bought the demographics argument - there was no more basis to it in 98 than there was in 74. It was an option we could have pursued in 74 and avoided the long war. From Long War to Long Wait - didn't work out too well. But things are what they are and the world is not as we wish it to be. And it is always easy to be wise after the fact - untangling the then from the now is not always easy. I think there is so much republicans can do but it might not necessarily be part of a republican project.

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  10. As ever, a chara, there’s much to be considered and learned from discussion with heads as your good self. Given my age at the time we’re discussing, it’s of course the case that you’re much better informed than me. No matter, I can only present it as it came at us, whose time in the Republican Movement began only as TUAS was being bedded in, meaning we were only skitters and were far more obliged to our superiors and to their take on how best to proceed.

    We’ll maybe leave it there on this one but thanks, as ever, for chewing the fat. I appreciate the effort it takes. While I understand you’re point about what we, as Republicans, can do or offer, I think the circumstances before us allow us to be more imaginative and to build beyond that towards Irish Unity — not as a forlorn hope or wish but as an achievable goal in the here and now (or at least in the medium term). Oiche mhaith.

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  11. Sean - when we exist in our own box we tend to be conditioned to see things from inside the box. Much of how we change depends on who or what we meet along the way. And often we are in a position before we realise it and end up making a virtue out of necessity. I have felt that the choice to stay within and challenge was maybe harder than doing it from without. I often said that to TC. Had I been in your position I might not have gone down the path I did. But we are where we are and wishing it were something else is futile. Voltaire wrote "It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature" !!

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  12. How might Angels have danced better on a pin-head, or maybe even dance again in the future?

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  13. Henry Joy. The Republican Movement was able to keep its adherents and supporters onboard because, while embracing instruments alien to its politics and purpose, it held to its core object in the process. To reflect on or acknowledge this — the retention of the core prescription — is not to dance on the head of a pin.

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  14. Sean B. cast your mind back;

    Éamon De Valera and others were able to keep their adherents and supporters on board too. They also claimed that, although embracing instruments alien to its politics and purpose, they were holding on to the core Republican objective.

    The truth is Sean, an acceptance of partition is a pattern which has repeated and repeated. Repeating for over a hundred years.
    Save but for the ideologically enmeshed, those who are blind drunk with their dogma, most reasonable people albeit with one eye shut and fingers crossed, accept the cold reality of partition. The vast, vast majority are de facto, even if reluctant, partitionists.

    Broad and objective reflection is useful. Fixation focused rationalisations and justifications are not. Either way though, any conclusions arrived at, following on to reflection, then needs to be tested with new action. And so, the experiential learning cycle continues until a viable template is established.

    The 1916 aspirational tradition alas has been found wanting and found wanting time after time in this regard. At best, your ruminations on these matters will be sympathetically viewed as a vain and heart-broken attempt to prop up a flawed interpretation of a largely outdated creed. Many people call themselves Catholics but let's be honest Sean, there's not much real 'faith' out there. Similarly, it's the same with Republicanism. We have cultural Catholics and we have cultural Republicans. As AM says, it still exists but only as tradition.

    I'm sure I'm not alone in having heard your exchanges with AM as akin to a theological discourse between two old archdeacons.

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  15. Henry Joy - sort of enamoured to the punch line. I think Sean should put his boundless energy into something different; something that he also believes in but which will produce tangible results. Partition changed everything. It created a situation whereby the energy for unity was going to be restricted to the North as over time and with the evolution of society people in the 26 were going to come to see their state as a nation state, while people in the North were going to look to the British state to behave as it said it would. The push for unity would come from the North and even there it was going to be tempered by the natural constraints of political life and possibilities. A situation was eventually going to emerge where the forces in defence of partition were going to be much stronger than the forces against it. In such a situation anti-partitionism cannot prevail. This is what in my view made the IRA campaign for unity futile. The armed response to the state was not morally wrong per se: state violence does produce street violence. It was trying to link that response to an imposssibilist demand which kept the campaign going on much longer than it ever should have.

    Sean's argument invariably falls on the mechanism for delivery. I have seen nothing yet from his argument that would do either one of two things: 1/ shift the goalposts and remove the guarantee/veto the North holds over unity. 2/ Cause the existing goalposts to sway sufficiently enough to allow unity to score. Constituent assemblies and meetings up and down Ireland do nothing in terms of tackling those things. They are strategically redundant.

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  16. Food for thought HJ but I return to what I said the other day on a different thread, where some of the same themes were explored. While a large section of the Irish people either do not share, have insufficient knowledge of or are otherwise uncommitted to the intricacies and virtues of Republican political theory, they nevertheless share the Republican vision and aspiration for a united all-Ireland republic — this to be premised on the values, if not the explicit constitutional line, of the 1916 Proclamation.

    In the context of that shared aspiration, through a common endeavour towards an independent 32-county republic, the respective lines of political theory in Ireland can be reconciled, this without infringing upon the perceived integrity of either, with both, in turn, finding form and expression in a ‘new republic’ that meets the requirements of all.

    That’s the approach I advocate, rather than a rigid adherence to dogma. I’ve always done so but I understand why you mistake me otherwise, due to the nature and dynamic these conversations can take on — i.e. they inevitably take the form of dissecting ideological matters and the employ of ideology to better explain positions.

    My take has always been that, while it’s important to have a core ideological grounding to our position, we must also have a flexibility that allows us to reach those who we must reach to have any possibility of realising our goals — the ordinary Irish man and woman. That’s why, while my father and his ilk went in support of Ó Brádaigh and while I’ve always respected Ó Brádaigh and the position he took up, I did not follow and took the part of the main body when my own time came.

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  17. Anthony. If a ‘Yes’ vote border poll were to give onto a 32-county constituent assembly / constitutional convention, under which the Irish people would determine together the form and structure of a ‘New Ireland’, then Republicanism would have ‘scored’. This is why I’ve argued across time that Republicans must focus on impacting outcomes, rather than on the ‘rightness’ of any particular political mechanism. I don’t care how we get there — just that we do.

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  18. Sean - a big if and unlikely. Even just as unlikely is that any assembly will opt for anything other than what is in the GFA which it the agreed Ireland you don't favour. The GFA was never a mechanism for getting the British to leave but one to keep them in. SF were furious when I told Paxman on the night of the GFA that it was a British declaration of intent to stay. No Assembly is likely to overturn the GFA.

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  19. We’re now getting into the conversation that I feel Republicans should be having — which explores the likely outcome of a ‘Yes’ vote border poll and how we must position ourselves in that context.

    As myself and Gary discussed on here previously, we need to be ‘on the bus’ impacting best we can the direction of constitutional movement — even if at first we are duked down at the back with little to offer, beyond whispering among ourselves (I’m already anticipating your retort to how that reflects on our hopeless inabilities). Better that than to be as your cow in the field, watching the bus beat past as it lets out a groan.

    We are now entering a period of constitutional flux which the establishment hopes to ring fence, with it to a larger extent than most realise having already managed to do just that. Going forward, we must be cognisant of emerging and changing political realities while also accounting for the limits already imposed on the opportunities they present.

    Seeking to maximise how change plays out must be where our energies are directed. From where I sit, that is the nature of the political campaign Republicanism now must gear towards (which to an extent has begun but which still needs nuance in certain quarters). It is there where lies the ‘new phase’ which together we now must build.

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    1. Sean - are you pushing for a yes vote in order to firm the post poll scenario you refer to? It would amount to a logical sequencing if you are and no sense not to.

      Maybe it is best not to be a cow in a field if for no reason other than to avoid being a spectator to the train wreck of republicanism. We can always go and do something else: watch neither trains passing or crashing.

      It is a moot point that we are about to enter a period of constitutional flux. I don't believe we are. I see no change in the status of the North with or without a border poll. Wish being parent to the thought tends to produce slogans rather than strategies. How often have we been there?

      What you say is rhetoric - not in any pejorative sense - but it is all hope, the product of the hopelessness that preceded it. Henry Joy sort of touched on that strain in your perspective. I get your frustration and sense of let down. But there are things we can do something about and things we cannot.

      There will be no success for coercive republicanism. The path you have chosen of persuasion is up against it because there simply is not a big enough vacuum that needs filled. There are so many alternatives to the type of outcome you suggest and they all lie within the paradigm that produced the GFA.

      Once the GFA prevailed it was game over.

      Not one second more am I going to expend on it, given the waste it would amount to. When in Belfast I resolved never again to do two things : go to mass; attend a republican meeting. I failed on both counts but only for the optics or courtesy. The rituals did not seduce and I believed nothing from the pulpit. I am not going to begrudge you for trying but there is so much else you can do with your political time and energy. That is the personal loss of it all. Throwing good time after bad.

      I suppose my analogy is an apt one for me given that I see little difference between the republican clerics and the religious ones: I just hope people looking at events in Derry will not read history backwards and think Bobby Sands et al were of that ilk.

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  20. On a border poll, Anthony. In the first instance we must ensure not to absorb its legitimacy, chiefly because our doing so would internalise, likewise, the legitimacy of its outcome — not in terms of whether it be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ but in terms of the political configuration a ‘Yes’ then gives onto.

    In this sense, while cognisant of emerging realities born of Brexit and demographic change, and the opportunities there presented to advance political change, we must not partake in doing further damage to the right of the Irish people to self-determination.

    The position we assume, then, and the argument we present need not revolve around a border poll of itself or on our advocating towards one being held. Instead, while aware of our political surrounds and of likely political developments — among these the possibility of a future border poll being held and won — we should focus on influencing the process that then comes into play.

    To do this need not be complex. To do this involves no more than popularising the idea of the Republic — that the Republic is what should then proceed. That our abilities in this regard are currently limited does not mean we walk away — especially when there is no way to quantify the revision that would ensue in the absence of our presence as a bulwark.

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  21. Sean - is that a yes or a no?

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  22. The Shinners just called canvassing. I went out rather than Carrie so there were no rows LOL. The canvasser is invariably courteous so she and I just laughed and I took the leaflet. If only they would call to your door like that in Belfast.

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  23. Indeed. Did you say their response to yer woman Ferguson’s election in North Belfast? Their contempt for everyone but their own is a thing to behold. Was that a yes or a no? It’s an effort to arrive at the nuance whose necessity we first discussed on here two years ago.

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  24. Missed that on Ferguson but I guess it is rough. You either back the poll or not Sean. There is no nuance in the choice, only in the strategies

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  25. Well as I’ve argued all along, we don’t need to back the poll. Those who are giving it their backing, however, should surely reflect on to where a ‘Yes’ appears destined. Absent a coherent position that sets toward impacting that destination, by mobilising support for an alternative outcome, then they essentially have been absorbed wholesale, as the Shinners. No? Unless you’re telling me that it’s not, as things stand, that a ‘Yes’ vote border poll sets toward a revision of standing institutional realities? Impacting that direction, that an alternative outcome be empowered, is what should concern us and where we must focus from where I stand. Whether one ‘backs the poll or not’ need not come into the equation.

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  26. Sean - if you don't back the poll you lessen the chances of constitutional flux occurring which seems necessary to bring about the constituent assembly. Talk of mobilising support really means that when all is said and done more will have been said than done. They used to talk in the jail of mobilising the masses. The wiser amongst us would just roll our eyes. To back the referendum is a merely a part of the "war of position". It is about trying to gain a vantage point from where more pressure can be applied. Will a poll succeed? I doubt it. Will you be sucked in by backing it? Only if you want to be? It is a futile exercise to set up two dots with absolutely no means of joining them. The objective is never substantive just discursive.

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