Engaging with Dissident Republicanism

Today The Pensive Quill carries an article by guest writer Damian O'Loan

Engaging with Dissident Republicanism
by Damian O'Loan

I: The Imperative of Understanding

Against the background of a concerted disagreement over dialogue with dissident Irish Republicans, one question has been asked time and again: what could these barbarians possibly have to say that is worth listening to? What is the point?

One suggested answer is that no conflict has been resolved by a security response alone. This is manifestly false, but that doesn’t make pure repression correct.

Another is that what ‘worked’ with Sinn Féin and the Provisional movement will inevitably work again, particularly given the relatively low levels of support enjoyed by the dissident movement. This may be true, but it doesn’t in and of itself justify dialogue.

Understanding dissident Irish Republicanism is important for anyone with a stake in the future of the peace obtained through the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and associated events. That could mean anywhere from Belfast to Basra. It is essential for those who consider politics the only solution to conflict; for those who consider armed revolt the only answer to imperial oppression.

My personal motives are to better understand my own thinking, in the hope of correction where mistaken.

Firstly, what are these groups and individuals dissenting from? I will take it to be the GFA and/or a solely political approach to reunifying Ireland through the institutions created thereby.

Secondly, why are they dissenting and what motivates their action? For the purposes of this analysis, only the rationale behind the differing strands of dissention will be examined. What motivates any human action goes beyond reason alone into the more opaque waters of emotion and psychology. But let’s begin with the arguments proposed.

II: The Political Identities of Dissident Irish Republicanism

In a recent discussion, some of those who oppose the settlement approved by referendum were kind enough to share their objections and their objectives. Others are more reticent, perhaps through disinterest, perhaps due to a wish to keep their hand hidden for any future or ongoing negotiations.

Through this and other research, some common themes emerged. Alongside devotion to Pearse, a thread of Connolly-inspired socialism, or what would now be called communism, lies at the heart of most of the strands. This is more and less informed. Eirígí supports Vietnamese communism, seemingly unaware of that nation’s joint military exercises with its avowed imperial enemy, the USA, and the latter’s supply of nuclear weapons technology to the ‘ally’. The RNU, represented by the very sincere Ard Eoin Republican, seeks a 32-County Democratic Socialist Republic, but confesses not to have developed its position greatly in its young life.

Eirígí has existed for just over four years. It is registered at Leinster House as a political party, though it doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of that institution. Its position on armed struggle is not clear. It offers no support openly, while celebrating the tradition and not respecting anything to distinguish the current dispensation from the contexts of previous campaigns.

Its position and campaign against the use of Section 44, found to be in contradiction with European human rights standards legislated for in the UK and Ireland, subsequently dropped in Britain but maintained in Northern Ireland, shames some of the parties in Stormont and exposes their occasional ambivalence towards the concept. Whether the “various other powers that can be used” mentioned by Tessa Jowell will also be challenged by the group remains to be seen.

The group has no real policy to speak of, but outlines its rejection of that dispensation and has reached a position on participation in elections. This rejects Westminster and Stormont, but accepts local government elections in the North, all elections in the South as well as EU elections. It does not overstate its chances. But is this position consistent?

Firstly, the compromise on local government elections in the North can only be explained by prospects of success, despite the STV system at Stormont. All these elections operate under the principle of British sovereignty over the affairs of the North. The local government boundaries end at the border. Any disputes are heard under the British judicial system.

Similarly, if one accepts one side of the border, one has to accept the other. The contradiction between accepting seats in the Dáil, while rejecting those in Stormont, is only justifiable in light of a need for visibility and to be taken seriously as a potential government. It amounts to an undeniable compromise, albeit one painstakingly reached.

Any EU participation would be used to create an alternative to SI, a movement as prone to schism as the Irish left and now virtually ineffective. How an alternative based on principles not a single force in European politics is prepared to defend would be structured and would attract support is not elucidated. Why cooperation with, for example, the Parti Socialiste’s ambition - to reform SI into a potent force in the face of global corporatism - is not acceptable remains unanswered, though one can infer a position too far to the left to compromise. If Eirígí has counterparts in other countries in some regards, none have the support to take a seat among the 632 offered by Strasbourg. The EU recognises Northern Ireland.

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement offers more complex presentation of an argument based on similar principles. At the heart of its ideology are two: nothing can justify partition of Ireland; that the solution is not harmonization, but addressing what it judges to be the conflict’s root cause. Rejection of British involvement on the island of Ireland is the nexus dictating every other 32CSM policy. Is it a more sophisticated ideology than simply ‘Brits Out’?

Yes. It takes that refrain to conclusions of differing logical consistency. Its policy platform is not well developed, but takes a consistent starting point of complete British withdrawal. It sees justification for this not only in the familiar uncritical historical obsession, but more interestingly in the British approach to the GFA negotiations which “pre-presumed”, or assumed, a British presence. It has, unsuccessfully, challenged the legality of British presence through the UN, a body it also suggests as capable of providing an international policing service to replace the PSNI.

This trust in the UN is not naïve; there is an increasing number of countries that oppose Britain and, regardless of the merits of the case, would seek to undermine its credibility. Yet it offers an inherent contradiction, which is acceptance of any international voice regarding Ireland’s internal affairs as long as it agrees with the basic rejection of partition. The UN, based on the compromise of diplomacy, is a singularly unsuitable medium for the 32CSM to progress its politics. What is, perhaps, naïve is the belief that the UN acts to oppose the march of globalisation, to which the movement states blanket opposition. You can see this in these two maps.

The strength of the 32CSM is its assessment of the contradictions of others. The sovereignty and neutrality that were at once professed by Westminster are ridiculed; Sinn Féin’s position that MI5 is not involved in policing; Ulster nationalism and unionism; the inherent moral contradiction of colonialisation. Taken in turn, if there ever was neutrality – which the movement appears to tacitly accept as preferable - its only vestige is the possibility of self-determination offered by the GFA. In rejecting it in favour of the rule of force and a dubious and impotent legal argument, it adopts a weaker, in terms of its favoured realpolitik, and less legitimate position than those precious few who recognise the GFA referenda and use it to their advantage.

Sinn Féin’s position on MI5 is indeed absurd, reinforced by its refusal to demand effective oversight. Its only virtue is perhaps greater clarity than the SDLP’s. Whether support for that organisation’s oversight by Stormont or others is likely to increase in the face of ambivalence regarding anti-GFA violence is less clear, or highly doubtful. Attempts to justify even torture in the name of the fight against terrorism have been disappointingly successful. A surprising number of people are willing to sanction anything in the face of a risk to prosperity. The modus operandi of the 32CSM is what justifies ineffective diversion of public money towards the military-industrial lobby and the unconstrained presence of MI5 in the eyes of those who accept it and those who don’t.

The error in its perception of moral hypocrisy regarding colonialism will be examined later, but for now it is perhaps revealing to note that the global vision of the 32CSM is entirely Hobbesian and depends on the rule of force. Contradiction, it seems, is difficult to avoid when adopting a political stance.

On evacuation of the British presence, by unclear means, the movement offers a loose framework upon which to build a framework for society. The draft of potential government departments suggest a complete disconnect from the Ireland of 2010, with priority given to the distribution of wealth over its production. Its sincerity in proposing a Bill of Rights raises the same questions the concept does in the hands of Sinn Féin or the DUP: these are not people who display a concern for human rights by their actions, less so for an attentive equilibrium of conflicting rights.

Unionism would be justified in fearing the consequences of this movement’s ascendancy. Republicans who accept the legitimacy of the unionist aspiration would be equally concerned. Unionists are advised that, again due to the perceived unchangeable wrong of partition and because “the probability of change to the sovereign status of the six county region is not an idle reference”, they should prepare for unity. The loosest of frameworks is provided, but no suggestions made as to how the 32CSM would protect individual security following reunification. Attention is drawn instead to historical injustices. At best, this indicates the ‘separate but equal’ approach of Sinn Féin, but implanted in a negation of harmonisation of communities.

III: Globalisation and Economics without Dissident Republicanism

The impact of the path globalisation has followed is not examined by any of the groups – all oppose it as an evil in itself. This is an odd position for broadly socialist groups, as globalisation was central to that movement, albeit in a very different form. Regardless, capitalism is rejected in favour of two primary economic positions: Marxism and Distributionism.

There exist better critiques of Marxism than I could provide, but we can examine the difficulties with the doctrine without reference to the USSR and only to Irish republicanism. This is a totalitarian doctrine, regardless of its political face. Its unapologetic deference to the totality of the implications of history’s significance, as well as its inflexibility regarding the evolving nature of human capacity and need are intrinsic to its application. There can be no permanent revolution under a Marxist state, only elite reform; it reaches a truth paralleled by Catholicism but rejected by 21st Century democratic compromise. It is not the politics of Chavez, Lula or Morales, all of whom have adopted, whatever their rhetoric, the social democratic compromise that lay at the heart of the dispute between Camus and Sartre. Assessing again Marxism’s suitability for humanity complements an assessment of Yeats as a symbol of Irish republicanism.

Distributionism differs in the status conferred to the state, which should be small. It is the economics of Catholicism, the BNP and NF. It is an economic system reminiscent of the democratic political system discovered by de Tocqueville in America. Yet the tendency of the cooperative approach in time leads exactly to the corporatism found in present day America. Maintaining this system in the modern world would require closing a nation’s borders and almost complete isolation; otherwise every part of every cooperative is prone to becoming part of a centralised group. Corporatism is the logical conclusion to the distributionist base. The only way to prevent this instinct is through the repressive micro-management found in communist systems. Not to mention the risk of external military attack, abject poverty and internal instability such a platform ensures.

Adopting such totalitarian economic doctrines negates the possibility of dissident republicanism engaging with and contributing to the increasingly necessary debates around financial regulation and fiscal justice.

Aside from alliances with nations who may or may not wish to ally with such movements, we have little else to understand. No monetary policy outside of some rejection of the Euro and the ‘capitalist EU superstate’. No energy policy sufficiently developed to ensure its delivery. No ideas on jurisprudence. No positions on the exploitation and trade of raw materials beyond some ‘green’ adhesion.

None of the groups or individuals place Catholicism at the heart of their ideology. Their struggle is not for Rome, it is unapologetically nationalistic. It is Behan and not Benedict driving these movements.

IV: Dissenting from the Good Friday Agreement

Broadly speaking, we can distinguish various degrees of far left politics under an umbrella of rejection of the Northern Irish state as a platform for their pursuit.

What of the justifications for that rejection? Generally, they are marked by a shared acknowledgement of a perceived or intolerable loss of sovereignty incurred by accepting the legitimacy of the Northern Irish state. One dissident pointed to Parnell’s words adorning his monument: “No one man shall have the right to fix the boundary to the march of a Nation.”

There are three degrees of refusal, which can be distinguished to some extent.

The first acknowledges that perceived loss and finds it ridiculous. You may find this position held by unionists, loyalists or dissident republicans. It states that for a nation to vote in favour of its dissolution is absurd to the point at which it needn’t be taken seriously. The contract of Good Friday could be compared to the contract of slavery viewed through this prism. Tragic, pitiful, but nevertheless absurd and thus not to be given weight.

The consequences of this differ when the eyes are those of a unionist or a dissident republican. The former can use it to justify the permanency of the union and reject the transitory nature of the GFA, allowing a sense of comfort at the price of honesty. The dissident accepting this narrative can be nihilistic, need believe in nothing and justify no conception of legitimacy of one state or the other. He or she can resign from political engagement, deny empathy with victims and successes, and dream of the bygone days when Irishmen and Irishwomen knew their origins and destiny, or get rich quick with disregard for the law.

The first is the meeting point of the nihilistic dissident and the dishonestly complacent unionist.

The second goes further and engages. It claims that there is simply no possibility of a democratic 6-county statelet founded on the basis of the ill-fated British gerrymander of 1921. That to attempt to do so is to give false legitimacy to a wrong recognized in legal systems the world over – you have no right to ownership of stolen goods. This principle of natural justice can be invoked to refute the referendum’s validity. The question, it says, should never have been asked and is only tolerated by corrupt and complicit international law. It finds a justification therein for ensuring the North becomes a “failed state”, thereby displaying its approach to the empirical approach it claims.

What are legitimate, it declares, are Pearse’s declaration in 1916, the Sinn Féin rule of 1919 and the traditions of Irish nationalist rebellion since centuries before Wolfe Tone. They are legitimate because they respect the natural order of Irish property of Ireland and sovereignty of state. The Catholic Church depicts the right to property as a consequence of divine order. Some dissidents take God to be the source of their stance’s legitimacy, and are in the company of most of the ‘martyrs’ and ‘heroes’ of generations now passed. Some take an unelaborated vision of a justice transcendent to any human decision, with no need to reference God to be Truth.

How can an Irish citizen vote to have no say in the future of a part of his livelihood while remaining faithful to Ireland? Worse, how can he or she give up a voice only to give it to a British imperial thief or their descendants? How can that be right? Democratic?

V: Answering Dissent with Respect

Herein lies the most subtle amalgam. That same dissident will vote for elected representatives in the reunified Ireland. Or, if he or she is an anarchist, will wish to appoint temporary spokespeople. Catholic Queens, philosopher kings, fascist dictators - every single political system involves giving a voice to another to represent you. Fascists say it makes them stronger; democrats say it improves their democracy. There remains only Athenian direct democracy. But it was by direct democracy that this bizarre settlement was reached and approved. Not by the English, but by the unionists and republicans who share the island. Not by the one man Parnell feared, by all Irishmen and women. To reject the result of that expression of Irish Republican will is to fall into that absurd contradiction called totalitarianism, which says you can give your voice to anything except what I predetermine to be forbidden, revolution against my “pre-presumed” order.

How this remarkable result was achieved, the manipulation and ‘acceptable’ violence, hypocrisy and lies, grooming and dismissal, can only be considered in light of the legitimacy that the referendum provides. The rewards for violence that tarnish the outcome are only challenges left by Washington, Dublin and London. No election provides the clear expression of every citizen’s short and long-term interests; it is the absolutist response of the dissident movement that is the seed of its own inevitable failure.

What makes democracy worth tending is its capacity to vote for its own degradation or growth. It need not respect the commitment to free trade and stability that made the Agreement acceptable in Washington, London & Dublin. It can vote itself free of any or all of them, just as it voted itself free of Connolly and Carson. The distinction between reserved and excepted matters, while part of the Agreement, becomes meaningless by its implication. Constructive ambiguity.

The 32CSM position on democracy is uninformed by progresses in the age of Enlightenment, even ignoring its Ancient Greek philosophical basis. It defines democracy as what happens in a sovereign 32 county Ireland, and defines as democratic any action it considers in harmony with that goal. No limit is placed on these actions. To call its adhesion to democracy superficial would be generous; it abuses the word in a manner as striking as any speech of G.W Bush, betraying the same disregard for the reasons the democratic compromise was favoured over the short-term gains offered under imperial or monarchic rule. Any comparison with the French revolution of 1789, even the Russian revolution of 1917 or the Bolivarian uprising would be wildly inappropriate. The concern is pure nationalism, not citizens’ security or self-expression.

The GFA has some remarkable consequences. All the 1916 commemorations and Milltown salutes have to be considered as remembrance and nothing more. They play no part in the future, except that which survives the criticism we subject them to. Whether the deaths were worth it, could have been avoided, is a pressing matter for reflection. Not a matter of inspiration for the next generation of Irish Republicans to shoot and kill, but what came before the vote for peace. Just as British military parades should be.

The GFA is, among other things, an act of bloodless revolution by Irish Republicans who just didn’t care what happened in the North, as long as they stopped killing each other. The affirmation that a woman from Dublin who cares only about her career has a vote whose value equals that of a Provisional volunteer and a resolute Orangeman. It is not the Death of Irish Republicanism; it is its vindication and renaissance. And its renaissance accepted the legitimacy of the unionist aspiration, of two states inextricably bound.

Giving birth to a dysfunctional child whose Siamese twin was unionism, some of those who saw comrades die and who sacrificed in ways beyond my comprehension recoiled in horror. That more didn’t is a sign of the autocracy of their movement and its leaders and an indication of the fragility of peace. The dangers of a nihilistic revolution under autocratic rule were elucidated by Camus regarding the FLN and his analysis has since been tragically vindicated.

So to the third group, who feel that the only thing to do with ‘illegitimate bastard Siamese twins’ is to kill them. Their logic in justifying their actions differs little, or not at all, from those resigned to the hopelessness of armed struggle against an infinitely superior military opponent. But we can pass judgement on their actions now on the basis of the democratic laws we have, be they from Dublin, by way of Strasbourg, from Westminster or from Stormont.

None of this defends the St Andrew’s carve-up, government by segregation and appeals to its endurance, incompetence or corruption. It simply orders a path to solve problems, orders but allows that order to evolve.

Irish republicanism does need to be invigorated and updated, to question all of its assumptions. Few individuals or parties represent and lead Irish people. The limitations dissident republicans place on themselves by adopting a retrospective, introspective and undeveloped platform mean that, as with other issues, they have little contribution to make to that challenge.

For wider society, the GFA gives us obligations we have agreed to. It gives us no right to torture dissidents, to hold them without trial, to punish their thoughts. At the price of justice and recognition of the basic dignity of humanity we can do all those things. In just the same way as the Provisional IRA said anything was justified in the face of certain British crimes, there are those who say anything is justified in the face of those who don’t respect the democratic voice of the Irish people or the unionist aspiration it embraced. But if the dysfunctional child is to grow into something like a healthy adult, it will need boundaries, respect and space to dissent without harming others.


  1. Damian,

    thanks for a thought out, lucid and well presented piece. TPQ is the richer because of it

  2. damian o'loan seems to be under the impression that the dissidents
    are fighting in some war because of the good friday agreement-
    the continuity started in 1986, 12
    years before the agreement,
    the real started in 1997, about 7
    months before the agreement,
    parden the pun but the only real anti agreement group are o.n.h, but
    this group only started up 10 years after the agreement, makes you think,
    is damian calling the dissidents
    eirigi is going to stand in next years local goverment elections in
    the 6 counties, and if elected will take there seats,
    eirigi is opposed to stormont, thats a good one, take a gander at
    its membership.

  3. Lots to unpack here in your pithy contrasts such as Behan to Benedict and Yeats to Marx. How does the Éire Nua policy of RSF align with your critique of distributism and corporatism? Thanks for a calm, lucid, and articulate summation of this combative topic; we look forward to hearing more, Damian.

  4. Damian, I have read your article several times and I still find the part in relation to globalisation very confusing.

    You acknowledge that, the form of globalisation, which you credit with spreading the Marxist doctrine and the one these 'dissident' groups find problematic are very different!
    Why then, did you bring it up?

    I do not see the contradiction in the belief that globalisation can be both a positive and negative force.
    Many people, would argue that globalisation aided the spread of socialism. I'm sure, they would all so agree it helped spread the neo-liberal capitalist agenda, however, that does not mean their thinking is contradictory.

    What, I did think was an oxymoron however, was your statement, that, 'there can be no permanent revolution under a Marxist state,
    Marxism by its very definition, defies the existence of a state!

    Again in relation to your comparrison between Marxism and Catholicism.
    'It reaches a truth paralleled by Catholicism but rejected by 21st Century democratic compromise'
    What does this mean? Are you saying within the context of republicanism, Marxism is the new Catholicism? Or are you just making this observation in general?

    Lastly in reference again to Marxism, 'it is not the politics of Chavez, Lula or Morales'
    I can never ever, remember any of these people claiming it was!

  5. Thanks Anthony, thanks Fionnchù,

    I think much of what I said about 32CSM would apply equally to RSF. They share a starting point of anything for or from a united Ireland is democratic and therefore good. It doesn't show much engagement.

    They have the same contradiction of wanting to appeal to supranational organisations like the UN but not respecting any interference in Irish life. They favour closing the trade borders and don't seem to think Ireland's position in the EU would have to change much as a result. They seem to want to provide everything on social security, nationalise banking and whatever else suits, without much explanation of how and how much. Their criticisms, as with 32CSM, can be quite good but that's not really enough.

    They haven't reconciled the modern world and their pure nationalism either. Some lines could have been in a BNP manifesto:

    "There is an Irish nation which is based on an organised society and distinctive culture, with roots stretching back more than 1,500 years. This Irish nation has long endured invasion and colonisation by a more powerful neighbour."

    introduces an apparent racial hierarchy accompanied by promises of equality.

    They share the same quasi-totalitarian, but totally unrealistic, worldview and don't justify why they won't cooperate with others bodies who effectively engage critically with globalisation trends.

  6. Fionnuala,

    My issue on globalisation is that it is raised as a bad thing per se, but made to sit with a Marxist economic doctrine. That's where the big state element mentioned by Fionnchù is relevant, because it's not Marxism in its entirety that has been adopted. All of the dissident groups are more nationalistic than anything else though.

    The comparison between Marxism and Catholicism has been made by many others, there are still Catholic-Marxist philosophers publishing. What seems to connect almost all of the positions taken by the various groups is that everything has to be controlled, and that's perhaps the best connection with the two doctrines of Catholicism and Marxism. It's not very reflective of Ireland or anywhere.

    The various socialist leaders are mentioned more by éirigi than any other group. RSF are probably the most introverted, but my point was essentially the difference between rhetoric and reality.

    I do agree with what you said about globalisation being a double-edged sword, my criticism was there's not much engagement with what works and what could be improved and how. And again it sits uncomfortably with the closed nationalism.

  7. Damian, appreciate your response, the problem I had was, I never quite knew when you were saying something or you were saying something on behalf of someone else.

    Fioncchu and Anthony would have had no problem reading through the article, however,with all due respect both are academics.

    Can I just ask something else, when you say, 'The GFA has some remarkable consequences. All of the 1916 commemorations and milltown salutes had to be considered as rememberance and nothing more'

    Is this your opinion, or is there something in the actual agreement that specifies this?
    I know there has been a deliberate policy of winding up these types of commemorations, I was just wondering where it came from.

    Read in the paper this morning. Mr Blair was quite taken with Gerry and Marty! Rhetoric or reality?

  8. Fionnuala,

    Sorry it's not clear what views are mine and which are drawn from elsewhere. The section you mentioned on memorials was me stating what follows logically from the GFA. That's not to say it's what's to be expected.

    The Agreements' only relevant provisions are to ensure expressions of cultural identity. So a dissident Easter 1916 memorial is in some sense protected by the GFA.

    The big qualifier that I should add to the quote you included is "except that which survives the criticism we subject them to". I'm not suggesting any historical events would have to stop, just that a properly Republican narrative has to challenge its history in light of events, notably that the GFA is not what was called for by Pearse but it was by most Irish people. That means a lesson for democratic republicanism.

    I'd think the average RSF supporter would have different reasons than I for finding Gerry Adams mark 1916 uncomfortable, but something needs to be agreed that encompasses a little self-criticism from the very distant past to more recent events. The status quo reading of things is too full of contradictions not to have fragmentation afterwards.

    But no, apart from the Parades & Assemblies Bill, I don't see any threat to memorials arising from the Agreements.

    As for Blair and SF, I'd have thought he found them a lot easier than Hamas in any case. The NI section, which is all I've read, definitely reads as though he felt they were on his side against the IRA. And he's profiting from their compliance as we speak so I'd guess it's all very civil.

  9. Damian, thanks so much for this.

    Like yourself, I would also like to understand what alternative republican factions have to say.

    I think there is a deliberate policy of wind down in relation to the commemerations, I believe Sinn Fein will still wave their flags and read the odd roll of honour, however, it all seems very superficial now lacking any real

    In relation to Blair, Mc Guinness and Adams I think the profiting was as mutual, as the admiration.
    How could one tiny room hold all that charisma?

    Once again Damian, thanks for an extremely thought provoking piece.

  10. Damien
    A very insightful piece well worth reading I agree with Fionnchú and hope to hear more.

  11. Fionnuala, Tain Bo,

    Thanks very much again.

    I do think it's interesting for everybody for there to be a dissident republican movement, in the sense that a single point of view is likely to miss out on things or do things wrong. The trouble was the impression I got was mainly of undeveloped ideas.

  12. Michaelhenry, you stated that "eirigi is going to stand in next years local goverment elections in the 6 counties"

    Your lack of knowledge is outstanding, éirígí have never said they will stand in next years elections, in fact they have never stated when exactly they will stand.

    I think they'll contest elections when they are ready to do so

    You also said that "eirigi is opposed to stormont, thats a good one, take a gander at its membership."

    Yes its true they are opposed to Stormont and so are all their members, i fail to see the point you are making

  13. Daminian, many thanks for a thought provoking piece.

    I couldn’t help but think that your statement was a little erroneous.
    “No conflict has been resolved by a security response alone..... This is manifestly false.”

    Whilst one can identify security responses such as ‘Operation Motorman’ or ‘Operation Alljah’ in Iraq that have indeed played a significant role in reducing the extent of a conflict they have not alone resolved them. I would concede that security responses are necessary for resolving conflict but only in the limited sense that they provide stable conditions essential to allow, facilitate or oblige negotiations amongst belligerent groups and the authorities.

    On the question of engaging with dissidents and getting them to forsake violence, I believe something would have to be done to address grievances. Needless to say this is beyond problematic as the sticking point is the Union.
    Your concluding comment on ‘boundaries’ echoes the use of the British policy ‘Ulsterisation.’

    Are you essentially arguing that if dissident groups and their violence are contained and left to mature their paramilitarism will eventually fizzle out?

  14. Damian, I think what makes the so called 'dissidents' interesting,is the fact, that they are a constant reminder that we are not floating about in the airy fairy utopia Sinn Fein would have us believe we are.

    Sinn Fein has built an illusion on the back of a deal, the GFA, which was seemingly never more than a papering over the cracks exercise.
    and I honestly believe that is why the military campaign continues.

    The fact that many of these groups have undeveloped strategies, does not make them any the less viable in a future political arena.
    Sinn Fein developed their strategies for years and then deviated from many of them at the first hurdle.
    More importantly, many of those who vote for Sinn Fein, could not name a strategy or policy under intense torture.
    A theory which we may be able to test on michaelhenry!

    Few political strategies would hold up to acute academic scrutiny and I dare say a lot of the groups who have read your findings will take them on board and hopefully act on thme accordingly.

  15. Damian, again thanks for giving this to TPQ. I hope the reading of it generates thought commensurate to what you put into writing it. Nothing short of a piece of equal length would do it justice so comments are limited dealing with a snap shot here or there rather than the piece in its totality. There are a couple of points I would make.

    In general terms I think many dissidents would not recognise themselves in this piece. It works at levels of abstraction which does not address the ‘facts on the ground’ which act as a prism through which many of them would read off their actions.

    It is an endorsement of the GFA and in this context raises the question: ‘Firstly, what are these groups and individuals dissenting from? I will take it to be the GFA and/or a solely political approach to reunifying Ireland through the institutions created thereby’

    It is not dissension from unification through these institutions. There is a belief that these institutions are an impediment to unity, something which you touch on well toward the end of the piece.

    ‘Similarly, if one accepts one side of the border, one has to accept the other.’

    In terms of taking seats there would be a republican view that the Dail or Leinster House is the only one of the three parliaments involved in Ireland (exclude the European) that has the support of the majority of the Irish people. It could of course be argued that the referendums of 1998 render such an argument redundant but Eirigi presumably do not see it that way. It allows them a tactical flexibility which you do not seem to consider in the comment ‘one has to accept the other.’

    The inclusion of Camus in the discussion (the reference to the FLN apart) about Marxism seems strange given that he was not a Marxist nor, unlike Sartre who was - although of a different order from what we tend to associate with Marxism - held in high regard by the French Left.

    Much of the piece informs us of what the dissidents are not without discussing what they are. I think in this regard not enough attention is paid to the be all end all ideology of physical force tradition. Therein lies absolutism and the foundation of a totalitarian instinct; the abandonment of reason, the celebration of irrationalism.

    ‘The GFA is, among other things, an act of bloodless revolution by Irish Republicans who just didn’t care what happened in the North, as long as they stopped killing each other. The affirmation that a woman from Dublin who cares only about her career has a vote whose value equals that of a Provisional volunteer and a resolute Orangeman. It is not the Death of Irish Republicanism; it is its vindication and renaissance. And its renaissance accepted the legitimacy of the unionist aspiration, of two states inextricably bound.’

    This is where all shades of republicanism will take umbrage (not in any nasty sense) because they will see in it a reaffirmation of an SDLP perspective that long predated SF’s endorsement of the GFA. Anything which promotes partition will never be seen as republican renaissance but rather its dissolution. It is less a statement of how republicanism has ended up where it is but shifts republicanism away from those who waged the republican struggle from 1970 and places it in the camp of the SDLP.

  16. Newry Republican,

    Michaelhenry has not yet responded but I was interested in what point he might have made.

    It may be that he shares the view of many other republicans that a few of those in Eirigi were stalwart defenders of the Stormont situation while still in SF while at the same time reinforcing prejudice against those critical of Stormont. Some Eirigi people were central to the suppression of republican dissent.

    For people like me it is all water under the bridge but others may feel a greater explanation is required.

  17. AM,

    Yes its a shame he hasn't responded as i would have liked to hear where he got his info from about éirígí contesting next years election.

    In regards to your point, yes that is true that some éirígí members were at one time supportive of PSF and their participation in Stormont. Indeed the same can be said for RSF, 32csm and various other groups.

    But éirígí and their members are opposed to it

    If he is hinting at individuals changing their stance then he would need to look closer to home as PSF once opposed Stormont and pledged to smash it. Now they support and participate in it.

    pot,kettle, black me thinks

  18. Newry Republican,

    people can change their positions It would be a dire world if they could not. I am sure you are right tht it applies to RSF and 32CSM also.

    One of the puzzling things is that some of the Eirigi people backed Stormont enthusiastically and then got a rude awakening over the policing question. It makes me wonder how flexible their position is. I don't see how Eirigi can grow outside of taking seats in these parliaments. If they are to become the voice of opposition then they will need to consider all forms and sites of opposition no matter how anathema it might seem to their tastes. How they find the the point where they can do this but are not incorporated into the institutions of the state would seem to be the strategic challenge ahead for Eirigi.

    What is it in Stormont that Eirigi are opposed to? They don't stike me as the type that would be paralysed by republican tradition. Certainly those members of it who at one time did back Stormont participation would not claim republican tradition or principle as obstacles and they would be attuned to the nuances of politics and the need for flexibility.

  19. Anthony,

    Good points each one. I concentrated on the policies more than the 'republican mindset' for a couple of reasons. One is that I don't think you can ignore the Good Friday referendums in terms of legitimacy. The lack of a response to that, or even serious engagement with the question, from most dissident groups is symptomatic of exactly the kind of absolutism you mention.

    Which is what runs across almost all of the areas I found to look at. The Marxism is absolutism applied to economics and the fervent nationalism the same applied to sovereignty. None of the positions having moved is indicative of the same.

    And touching on what Fionnuala raised, the positions within Stormont really haven't evolved much either. Where SF has swung massively to the right, it seems to just deny the fact outright. The SDLP and SF don't offer a single policy between them that overtly contradicts the wishes of the Catholic Church.

    The mention of Camus was to highlight just that. Perhaps I could have been clearer, but I meant to use him as an example of a warning over these kinds of absolutism - as developed in l'Homme révolté, hence the split with Sartre and the communists - having been proved more prescient, with the FLN a case in point. The joint axis of SF-DUP's response to parading equally indicates this tendency.

    On the definition of republicanism being other than the traditional SDLP/current SF position, what I was pushing is more that there is only an undeveloped alternative. There is a lot further to go, I would have thought, in criticising Stormont on the grounds of competency rather than ideology, but to do so effectively assumes a defendable alternative. As long as that is found wanting the consequence of these groups' actions is unlikely to be productive even to their own ends.

    I would say an undeveloped alternative is a bigger impediment to Irish unity than Stormont. I'm writing less in defense of the arrangements as in favour of a more considered alternative, given the focus of the article. An alternative, for example, that featured a left and right. Or real separation of Church & State in the South.

    And, again related to Fionnuala's point, the size of political parties, which are tiny compared with the civil service and NIO, means even in Stormont the policies are usually initiated elsewhere allowing for a lazy or self-interested approach.


    On a pure security response, I was thinking of more extreme examples, such as Tasmania. Possible, but not really relevant to a NI context.

    I'm not suggesting that paramilitarism will fizzle out, though I do think that it's use is likely to fall in the context of a more developed political strategy. Since the vast majority of new recruits are, as ever, young and in deprived areas, I would think that the high youth unemployment levels, sometimes equal to nationalist Derry in the late 60's, suggest quite the opposite is possible.

  20. newry republican- have we had words

    police and SINN FEIN, stormont and
    SINN FEIN, i am happy with both, others are not,
    eirigi has two councillors, maybe more, who were voted in as SINN FEIN, 1 in dublin 1 in tyrone, both were still in SINN FEIN a year after the police vote and 11
    years after the stormont accaptance
    the one in tyrone has said that he is going to stand in next years local elections,
    there is 1 x SINN FEIN m.l.a in eirigi from south derry, again maybe more, so much for the anti- stormont stance.

    has more of the barracks come down
    there will be more dissidents,
    the brits have left us something to
    play with, but there will be no civil war this time,
    SINN FEIN did smash the crowns stormont, there is now a new IRELAND stormont.

  21. Mark,

    You're not the first to comment on the use of the GFA as the focus of what the groups dissent from. One one hand, it's significant because it's the point at which the Process, no matter the concerns that can and perhaps should be held about it, gained legitimacy through referanda. If certain groups were formed in the years before it, it was because they had rejected either the premisses or the development of those negotiations.

    Until that point, they were dissenting from the SF leadership and opposing the British & Irish governments. Afterwards, I'm suggesting they have a singularly tricky challenge to reconcile the concepts of democracy, republicanism and complete rejection of institutions like Stormont.

    But they do so with varying degrees of success and methods. I do hope that it was clear from my piece that I hold the place of dissidence to be democratically essential. Without preconceptions though, what I found was insufficiently developed answers to pressing questions for an alternative republicanism.

    So when you say:

    "The term ‘dissident’ for those that developed it is synonymous with irrational, illegitimate, anti-peace, violent and anti-democratic."

    I do agree, but hope it's clear that I had intended to unwind somewhat the varying strands and consider the movements with fewer assumptions.

    I don't think I'm best placed to do so, but most of the media completely ignores these aspects. Even recent articles like that by Eamonn McCann in the Observer weren't really open to the idea that the dissidents may not be wrong on every point. So I wanted to recognise what they do well, but in the event, I don't think they take political engagement seriously enough. Perhaps for the reasons best outlined by Anthony above when he spoke about absolutism.

    This may explain what I would also agree with from your comment:

    "They all share one common factor – working to undermine the British state in the north. That is what ‘dissident’ republicanism is – though it sounds more like just plain old republicanism to me."

    Aside from my disagreement with the methods sometimes employed, I really don't think it's enough to have this as an ambition. Particularly when in such a minority position, it's essential to outline a more complete vision of what you stand for and plan to implement. For some, the 'right to bear arms' in the name of republicanism seems so self-evident that the whole project is defined and limited by it. For others, it still seems to be more criticism than constructive, engaged republicanism that is produced.

    Thanks for your comment though, you'd probably be better placed than I to do this kind of article.

  22. Sorry, but who is Damian O'Loan and why should any consideration be given to his opinion above anyone else's? When he comes off with comments like this - "Eirígí supports Vietnamese communism, seemingly unaware of that nation’s joint military exercises with its avowed imperial enemy" - well, considering éirígí have never commented on Vietnam, it does seem like he's pulling quite a bit of it out of his arse.

  23. Cracroi,

    people engage with opinions they find engaging. Nobody that I am aware of is considering his opinion above anybody else's. It is considered alongside rather than above other opinions. I think there were quite a few dissenting opinions on his article. I suppose if somebody makes the effort to put together such a lengthy piece it will attract a degree of interest. It does not make the content right but we will wait and see if he comes back on your comment about Vietnam.

  24. "On behalf of éirígí we salute the people of Palestine and the democratically elected government of Hamas. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the Basque Country, of Cuba, of Venezuela, of Vietnam and others throughout the world defending democracy and Socialism."


  25. Damian

    "On behalf of éirígí we salute the people of Palestine and the
    democratically elected government of Hamas. We stand shoulder to
    shoulder with the people of the Basque Country, of Cuba, of Venezuela,
    of Vietnam and others throughout the world defending democracy and

    Not much to argue against there