No Missing Link

Within the past fortnight political violence in the North of Ireland has raised its all too ugly head with a lethal ferocity many thought had petered out. In a venture that constituted a failure of explanation, the Belfast writer Mairtin O'Muilleoir (10 March) made a contribution to the Guardian’s 'Comment is Free', which did little to clarify for his readership the background to the ‘resurgence.’ His core contention was simple; those who killed two British soldiers at Massereene Barrack are as close to republicanism as he is to molecular physics.

The problem here is that in fact the opposite is demonstrably true. Their actions have everything to do with republicanism. Can Mairtin O'Muilleoir or anyone else with a background in the republican tradition point to a single incident since the killing of Gunner Robert Curtis in February 1971 – the first soldier to die at the hands of the Provisional IRA – where criminals armed with automatic rifles confronted and killed British troops at military installations? All such attacks were carried out by republicans.

The columnist Brian Feeney had a much more credible take when, without conceding the slightest justification, he stated in today’s Irish News:

Last week people thrashed around trying to find reasons for the killings of members of the security forces. The emphasis was on the political motivation of the republican splinter groups, their loathing for Sinn Fein and their attempts to wreck the arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement. While those objectives guided the people who planned the attacks …

I know a significant number of people who unfortunately still identify with the physical force republicanism that carried out the attack at Massereene. Some of them were on hunger strikes or the H-Block blanket protest. They were republicans in 1981 during the most intense republican ideological moment of the past 40 years. They retain today the very same belief system they held then. If on the other hand Sinn Fein’s position is examined it has slaughtered every sacred cow it grazed during the 1981 hunger strikes and now uses the old Tory blue language of Margaret Thatcher to label as ‘criminal’ those republicans who have refused to budge. Sinn Fein, not those it fulminates against, resembles republicanism as much as Mr O'Muilleoir does a molecular physicist. If the men who killed the soldiers were not republicans the reaction would be nowhere near as molten.

Because those who have drawn the ire of Mairtin O'Muilleoir are republicans they follow the republican, not criminal, logic that they were long fed by the current Sinn Fein leadership. Gerry Adams told them that if Sinn Fein were to ever disown the armed struggle it would not have him as a member, and that the presence of British soldiers in Ireland was the mandate for armed republican activity. Martin McGuinness reinforced the position when he insisted to them that ‘our position is clear and it will never never never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved.’ For those who wanted to stop the war he had only the words ‘shame, shame, shame.’

Perhaps Messrs Adams and McGuinness did not really believe what they were saying. But others did. And the armed struggle both men heavily endorsed involved killing British soldiers. Due to the way they framed their positions it was hardly unreasonable to interpret their pronouncements as kill, kill, kill, even should all others choose to abandon it. Consequently, it is time to drop the pretence that there is a ‘missing link’ between the discourse of Adams-McGuinness and the killings at Massereene.

There is nothing intrinsic to political violence that necessarily makes it more justified than violence that is criminal. People in Northern Irish society have as much right to be free from political violence as they have to be free from criminal violence. Yet to argue that a new phenomenon has simply and suddenly sprang into existence - criminals with automatic rifles attacking British soldiers - is a myth of creationist proportion. The recent killings are the detritus from republicanism, not a separate and distinct phenomenon, and the DNA of Sinn Fein can be found at the scene. No understanding of the problem ensures no grasp of the solution.


  1. I enjoyed the current blog (again), and appreciate that through your forum you do facilitate open debate, which is very welcome. Very valid points on the criminalisation issue.

    Are the younger generation of republicans the bastard sons & daughters of a failed political experiment? Are we detritus doomed to stand in the shadow of dinosaurs living on the back of a cult of personality rather than progressive republicanism?

    Looking back at McGuinness' 86 Ard Fheis speech on the removal of abstentionism.(bottom of this) The last section of what I have used is the most striking

    'It's sad and surprising that this could have been said by a Republican.'

    Those words stun and astound even more than I ever thought possible after his recent pro-brit diatribes.

    It's a sad reflection when we look at the price that has been paid in lives, in time away from family, in sacrifice & suffering. I just hope that the price paid for the tag that was stickered on the heads of the provo leadership was worth every penny to them.

    "Sadly, the inference that the removal of abstentionism would lead to the demise of military
    opposition to British rule has indeed called into question the committment of the IRA to pursue this struggle to a successful conclusion. I reject any such
    suggestion, and I reject the notion that entering Leinster House would mean an end to Sinn Féin's unapologetic support for the right of Irish people to
    oppose in arms the British forces of occupation. That, my friends, IS A PRINCIPLE which a minority in this hall might doubt, but which I believe all our opponents clearly understand. Or position is clear,
    and it will never, never, never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is
    ...we are told, among other things, that we are
    counter-revolutionaries, and that if we lose this vote, we will be discredited. It's sad and surprising that this could have been said by a Republican.

  2. i think o muilleoir should address the criminal issue of agents among his own editorial staff,and his endorsement of such, rather than ranting about people who are still locked into the physical force tradition, however misguided.

  3. About time other writers began questioning o muilleoir and his use of the media to portray his brand of republicanism as the right one. I for one cannot forget his words about the 'political naivety' of the hunger-strikers!

    The words spoken by McGuinness have deeply hurt republicans of all shades and for that he cannot be forgiven!

  4. Balor's direct lament: Are the younger generation of republicans the bastard sons & daughters of a failed political experiment? Are we detritus doomed to stand in the shadow of dinosaurs living on the back of a cult of personality rather than progressive republicanism? echoes what I've wondered the past two decades.

    For years, "The Blanket" provided a forum for us to share our wonders and laments and suggestions for progressive alternatives and Third Ways. Part of the problem is that with the folding a year ago of "The Blanket," media for such discussion appear fewer. Or, am I underinformed and misguided? Perhaps a future entry at PQ can direct us to progressive republican peers-- if they exist!

  5. Fionnchú, the Blanket served a useful purpose. I have never been entirely convinced that we made the right decision in bringing it to a close. I think we did but there is still that nagging doubt.

  6. Listen to your nagging doubt. Everyone wondered why you'd left? Was it due to the treatment you'd had, then I thought a guy who took all that the state had to throw at him, hardly left because of his treatment in WB. But you have a young family.....

    You could still run a good site. It's sadly needed.

  7. Balor, 'Are the younger generation of republicans the bastard sons & daughters of a failed political experiment?' In my view republicanism has failed although I wouldn't put it quite the way you did if for no other reason that I am still mulling over the point you raised.
    'Are we detritus doomed to stand in the shadow of dinosaurs living on the back of a cult of personality rather than progressive republicanism?'
    A very important question. Is there any 'progressive republicanism' associated with the physical force tradition?
    McGuinness has long since abandoned republicanism and merely keeps the label to stop people like yourself claiming it.

  8. Hodgie,have you ever broached the question with him?

  9. Anonymous, why everyone wondered why I left is beyond me. It was pretty clear that I did not leave because of hassle. By the time I had left I wasn't getting any. I have heard it was said on some internet sites that I had been driven out of West Belfast. Simply didn’t happen. There was no attempt made to drive me out. Some of those who had fallen out over the O'Connor killing had by then dropped their hostility. From the first act of decommissioning there was less of a view that I had been spitting on the holy grail. I sensed that people were beginning to think that maybe there was something in what I had been saying. Every now and then the hate would be stirred up over this or that. But it was hard for all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put Freddie Scap back together again. So the forays against me over things like that made those leading them look all the more ridiculous. If there was one reason more than any other why I left it was to give children a better opportunity. And since leaving I have come to ask why I ever stayed so long. As for the Blanket, I never ran it but merely wrote for it. My proficiency with computers is severely limited. The Blanket served its purpose but yet …

  10. Saoirse32 had a peace on Seamus TWomey Relation to Carrie?