Of Micro Ministers and Mimic Men

Eirigi member Colm Duffy’s recent comments on gun and bomb attacks on the North’s British police force, while erroneously interpreted by the Irish News as support for an ongoing armed campaign, have nevertheless served to profile yet another fairly senior figure who has felt compelled to wander away from the Provisional movement in search of republicanism elsewhere.

Since the ceasefire of 1994 there have been many departures but, the formation of the Real IRA apart, they have always occurred in such a way as not to rupture the system Sinn Fein has in place for dealing with defections. In general Sinn Fein has managed its abandonment of all republican credentials sufficiently slowly to ensure that those who in turn have abandoned it did so slowly as well. It was more akin to the shedding of leaves than the breaking of branches. People, who drifted as individuals, would bob about like corks in the sea, but never gel as a serious alternative force. For the most part they were effectively marginalised, Sinn Fein always managing to maintain some republican fig leaf big enough to conceal its emasculation.

There are now many people who, like Duffy, held a high local profile within the Provisionals and who have now left the increasingly right wing establishment body. All who leave offer some republican rationale to justify their action and increasingly join a republican body. With each defection the Provisionals look less republican. If a republican image is gauged by the faces that populate an organisation then the defections amount to death by a thousand cuts for the republican image of the Provisionals.

This does not mean that the Provisionals face political or organisational meltdown. They are too firmly entrenched in the apparatuses and coffers of the British state to make that a serious likelihood. But they can do absolutely nothing to advance the cause of republicanism one iota. And with the departure of so many republicans, leaving the Provisionals to exude the appearance and tone of a right wing Catholic phalange, it is improbable that they will even bamboozle anybody outside their own unthinking ranks into believing that their current and future politics are republican in orientation. For sure there will be the annual Easter parades to cemeteries and the clench fist salutes, but only for the optics. A fist clenched around a wad of bank notes does little to conjure up imagery of revolution and insurrection. When the Provisional project has been steered by the Brits to a point where it can demand that unionists like Ian Paisley be in government and republicans like Michael McKevitt be in jail, even the fig leaf has been wrenched away. There is nothing left but micro ministers and mimic men giving out the same old same old as their predecessors.

Some sense of how the Brits have played the Provisionals can be found in the recollections of Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff throughout his ten years as British prime minister. Although Powell affected considerable affinity with the Sinn Fein leadership, it was just that – affectation. He never quite managed to conceal his contempt for Sinn Fein celebrities, in particular Gerry Adams. And there is a sense that when he verbally dictated the British policy statement that he wanted read out by the Sinn Fein president at an ard fheis, he was squeezing Adams’ goolies just for the sheer hell of having the statement delivered in falsetto tones. We may be excused for suspecting that Powell might just have turned to Blair and said, ‘let’s see how many idiots applaud the bollix we are having this gofer read out for us.’ Even he must have been amazed when he found them all applauding. Fools and their politics are easily parted.

Sinn Fein will survive in the North because it abandoned what threatened that survival – republicanism. Those like Colm Duffy who want to resurrect it will readily discover that the grassroots applauders of every U turn were joint, albeit junior, partners with the leadership in the venture that produced the catastrophic failure of the republican side of the Provisional equation. An immutable law of republicanism in the North is that people are quicker to abandon rather than embrace it. The opposition now sprouting will a la Sisyphus labour only to discover the Yeats view that too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart. Sisyphus, forced back by the weight of that stone, is perpetually condemned to push it up the road to nowhere and see it roll back down over the graves of those that mark the Via Dolorosa.

First published in Fourthwrite, Summer 2008


  1. Anthony

    I enjoy reading your blogs and they offer a healthy and intuitive input into the 'Irish Republican' debate at present.

    The one slant that I find quite demeaning is the certainty with which you portray that anyone who lends their support and allegience to the Provisional movement is nothing but a dim witted fool who is incapable of demonstrating any intelligence or formimg their own opinion based on personal experiences, observations and future projection.

    I think that you would agree more than most that people are entitled to their own viewpoint of republicanism / nationalism, be it past, pesent or future and only history will dictate who contributed to the achievement of a 32 county Ireland if we ever achieve this righteous objective.

    Comments about saluted fists at Easter or other significant times in our calendar are unnecessary and belittle the many thousands of Irish Republicans who honour our dead with dignity and pride at all times.

    Imo, there is many a good man and woman who are aligned with the Republican movement, and whilst they may not have sacraficed as much as you have, or be as well read as you are, I don't believe that your argument is strengthened any by dismissing such people and ther own honest opinions.



  2. Westie,
    Thanks for this. It seems to have been said more in hurt than anger. Regrettable as that may be it hardly obviates the need to say what has to be said. I don’t believe it is a question of stupid people although there have been a lot of stupid positions adhered to. I think it is more a matter of unthinking people; people who use faith rather than reason. How else can we explain virtually overnight changes?

    I don’t believe that ‘anyone who lends their support and allegiance to the Provisional movement is nothing but a dim witted fool who is incapable of demonstrating any intelligence or forming their own opinion based on personal experiences, observations and future projection.’ What I do believe is that lending support to the Provisional movement is done for a variety of reasons. There are many intelligent people in it but I do not think they believe the guff. And those that do … you know my view.

    For example, when Raymond McCartney, an intelligent man, claims that Ian Paisley becoming First Minister was a gigantic step towards a united Ireland do you really think he believed it? A foolish person might believe it but hardly Raymond.

    The comments about the clenched fist salute I stand over in full. People who endorse informing so that there may be more republican graves have a brass neck standing at any republican grave.

    An honestly held opinion need not be an intelligent one. Otherwise we would have to describe creationists as holding intelligent views on the basis that they are sincerely held.
    Good luck

  3. Anthony

    Thanks for the response.

    And you are right, it was certainly not posted in anger, and I would replace hurt with thoughtful regret, but nohing worse than this.

    From a positve perspective, like you, I have young children, my oldest having just become a teenager, and I live happy in the knowledge that he is oblivious to British Army and RUC harassment, and that he isn't likely to be faced with the decision in a few years time about whether to 'get involved' or not. He has also been educated in Irish and is very patriotic in his views, which thankfully, is also unlikely to diminish his career prospects in a way that it might have done in 'our' day. Funny. I always thought that the day when there was no more 'foot patrols', 'open-airs' or 'pigs' would mean that we had achieved a United Ireland!

    So, I do think that we are in a better position today, and I think that a lot of this progress is attributable to the work and sacrafices of the men and women of the Republican Movement over past decades.

    I also look to many community groups who are currently doing sterling work on the ground, be it for young people, old people, single parents, safer districts etc. and I see SF members or activists permeatted throughout, and I give credit to these individuals and to those who are positioning them in order to drive social, educational and econmic programmes in our areas.

    As for the bigger picture, whilst fully taking on board your point about the 'guff' - I still think that the long war can continue successfully via a strategic and political path; and so long as the Republican Movement is prepared to
    regularly and objectively review it's strategies and policies, then I a confident that it is capable of progress and ultmate achievement.

    Perhaps part of my optimism is driven by a reluctance to think of the alternatives, one being that the RM will lose sight of this ultimate raison d'etre; the other being that I do not see any other organisation who can do justice to such a just cause! Certainly some of the actions and personnel involved with so-called dissident groups fill me more with anger and distain than even thinking about them as an Irish Republican Movement.

    The debate is healthy so keep writing and I will keep reading.



  4. Westie,
    You are correct to point to the type of reforms your son will benefit from. And if he does not feel obliged to join an IRA because of political circumstances, all the better. We are indeed in a better place than we were. It is the type of place the SDLP long advocated. All of which should make us think that a reformist strategy from the outset might have been a better way to go.
    It is true that republican activists provided the dynamic for such reforms. It is equally true that from their republican perspective they considered a reformist outcome a failure of their project. Now that it has failed a virtue is being fashioned from necessity.
    We have not achieved a united Ireland and no one has shown how the partition principle can be overcome. So the chances of achieving one are about zilch. And those unsophisticated enough to try to pursue the pursuit of one through use of arms will find the same panoply of draconian British laws employed against them as their forbearers.
    There are as you say Sinn Fein activists involved in doing sterling work. That they do it within an exclusively partitionist framework highlights the failure of their republicanism not their commitment to improving life within their communities.
    The long war has turned into a long wait. The current policy is a departure from the long war rather than the continuation of it by other means. An objective review of strategies and policies is impossible while control is top heavy, leaders are in positions for decades, censorship is pervasive and the instinct is to suppress critique rather than encourage it.
    Other republican groups will achieve nothing. This is not a mere failure of strategy but the systemic failure of republicanism. Their membership is subject to the same criticism as the early Provos took from the Sticks. It comes with the turf. There are no doubt dubious characters involved with them but the Provisionals are not exactly squeaky clean here either. The Robert McCartney murder underscored that point.

    Good luck to you and your children. Their economic future might become a greater concern for you than their political future. And in that I suppose as parents we will, unfortunately, all sing from the same hymn sheet.


  5. Thanks again a chara

    Will leave this one for now but will probably feel compelled to post the odd comment to future blogs!

    On your last paragraph, I will do my best to teach both of them as much about Irish politics as I think is necessary - and as for the economics - well, I might well be economical with the truth, for I have seen it through the rose-tinted glasses of a Beechmount man who still believes in Republican heroes, and I can't help but live in the faith that the quest for a United Ireland must and will continue. Perhaps one or both of my sons will take up the reigns, and they will be heroes regardless!



  6. Weatie, a beneficial exchange. All the best