Dissidents on a Hiding to Nothing

Today The Pensive Quill reproduces an article carried on Eamonn Mallie's blog. The author of the piece is journalist and author Brian Rowan and it was penned in the run up to the Easter Rising Commemorations. While the analysis is not without shortcomings and could have been better pitched it invites serious reflection on the part of those still committed to armed campaigning. Rowan in some of his commentary vents views already held by republicans who do not support Sinn Fein but remain opposed to any armed struggle.

In the coming days the different dissident republican groups will have something to say about their wars. They will use Easter to present themselves as more right than those republicans who have now chosen peace and politics after many decades of “armed struggle”.

And, in a few days’ time, when the words of the dissidents are spoken they then need to be dissected and challenged. Their actions may be deadly, but these are phoney and pointless wars – wars without purpose, and wars that are very personal.

In between the dissident and mainstream blocks there is another group of sit-on-the-fence republicans, those who say they do not condone armed actions, but who refuse to condemn them. They are cowards of the very worst kind. Armed struggle is about taking life. You either support it or you don’t. And it is too serious to be part of some contradictory word play or puzzle.

Beyond the tragedy and the pointlessness of the killing of police constable Stephen Carroll, there is another tragedy. That one of those jailed for that killing was just seventeen when it happened, and only two years old at the time of the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Who recruited John Paul Wootton into that dissident world, and why? For what was he told he was fighting, and who told him? And as Wootton now faces long years of his young life in jail, where is that person who lured him into this world and these pathetic wars? To whom is that person accountable or answerable?

Over Easter there will be much erased or omitted from the various dissident scripts – whether Real IRA, Continuity IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann, 32-County Sovereignty Movement, Republican Sinn Fein, Republican Network for Unity and those who have others labels or titles in this scattered world.

 We will not be told:

  •  That they cannot sustain a campaign;
  •  That they have not the weapons or wherewithal to do so;
  •  That they have not the necessary expertise, finance or support;
  •  That these are wars they know cannot be won;
  •  That they have no strategy;
  •  That they are taking lives and wasting lives in actions that look like killing for killings sake.

Nor will they identify their real enemy, not the ‘Brits’ but other republicans – the vast bulk of republicans – who having fought a war and recognised a military stalemate have travelled another path.

How serious is the dissident war when, at the turn of this year, the faction Oglaigh na hEireann played cat-and-mouse with visiting soldiers over several days before placing a device inside one of their cars – a bomb that was later discovered. During the IRA war, those soldiers would have been shot on the spot, they would not have survived.

The pattern of dissident activity remains the odd “successful” attack, but much more often devices fail to detonate, are not detonated, are abandoned or only partially explode. Is it technical incompetence or something else?

They may speak big over the Easter period, but there will be no winners in any of these dissident wars – only losers.

PSNI officers Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr have lost their lives, but the targeting of police is to distract from the real enemy – Adams-McGuinness and the Sinn Fein peace strategy. The dissidents would be much more honest with themselves if they told that truth this Easter.

Their wars are about personal grudges, a hatred of the Sinn Fein leadership and killing to try to stay relevant.

MI5 with all its “spookery” and intelligence gadgetry is not best placed to push the armed dissidents off the stage. It is a piece of work for the republican/nationalist/Catholic community – to demonstrate not just a condemnation of these occasional armed actions but an intolerance of them.

Dissidents are entitled to have a different opinion. And there should be a place for that second voice in the republican community, and it should be heard. But it is being drowned out by those who want to play and practice in these pathetic, pointless and personal wars; being drowned out by those who no doubt will try to kill again.

Inside Maghaberry Jail, John Paul Wootton will have many years to consider how much closer Ireland is to being united, and to ask himself, has he done anything to force the ‘Brits’ out?

His is a story of a young man used in a phoney war.


  1. Christ what crap: in otherwords you're only right if you can kill efficently.

  2. I was talking to a woman from a well known "mainstream "republican family on Saturday,I was talking about the Derry protest in support of Marian Price,her comment really threw me she said"she(Marian) should have kept her mouth shut,my reply was "who dares speak of 98" is Barney missing the old days of secret meetings on the Anytout rd,those questions could well have been directed to those in PRM. had Adams and his cronies been open and honest with the republican community,and through engagement and debate we may have brought all armed conflict to an end and still have remained united,but as we have seen in the way the hunger strikes were dealt with, perfidious albion is not the only ones who are masters of treachery,they threw away almost 40 years of struggle for a few privileges and power and fuck the rest of you,their legacy of lies and deceit has indeed left people angry and vengeful,misguided as they might be ,and its only through wiser council and dialogue within the republican community that a better way forward can be found,in the meantime vindictive actions such as the internment of Marian Price ,Martin Corey, and Gerry Mc Geough by the brits will do nothing but add fuel to the fire to those who believe that the only thing the brits listen to is indeed violence.

  3. Good piece..hard to disagree with the bulk of what has been said..but are we not on the precipice of creating a political vacuum within Republicanism? James Connolly said: 'We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times.'But how we define which is which in 2012. Traditional republican values and the very essence of the struggle is being slowly eroded away. We are entering the final chapter of Paisley's plan to making Sinn Fein/IRA wear sackcloth and ashes. The McGuinness- Adams SELL OUT strategy is akin to a run away train. They must have had reservations when they signed GFA and watered down later versions. But once they got on the train they haven't been able to get off having made so many empty promises! I remember watching Tony Blair's speech in the Waterfront on TV and catching a glimpse of Adam's reaction to parts of it..to me the writing was on the wall.. We were doomed to remain part of the Union! Ever since then, the principles of the 40 Struggle have been continuously whittled away...when the 5th columnists are finished revising our history what will future generations be reading about?

  4. An Coiste Cuimhneacháin Náisiúinta 1916

    I agree with you 100%, this piece is beating both sides of the drum, ie, reference the bombs planted in soldiers cars, if this had have been before the ceasfire, those soldiers would have been shot on the spot, to me the writer is saying, just shoot them, I agree the war is over, of those remaining Republican Dissidents, they do not have the fire power, bombing making experience, a proper structure as the P.I.R.A. had, and i do not think they ever will.


    we cant define which is which in 2012 because those who are still active do not know what to do themselves in 2012, its killing for killings sake, not one iota of command structure in any of the active republican movements who wish to carry on the struggle.
    Yes SF sold everyone out, through the back door, so i would advise all ex POW's, vote them out, alls the need now is a sash.

  5. @ The Rebels Yell..you said "We were doomed to remain part of the Union! Ever since then,

    I think you meant are <--correct me if I'm wrong...

    Demographically the odds are in the nationalist camp in the long run. All depends on how they vote and what will both the Irish & British Gov's do about it..


    @ marty..I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "its only through wiser council and dialogue within the republican community that a better way forward can be found"

    But last weekends finds both in Newry & North Belfast doesn't bode well in the short-medium term. Reminds me of something the PIRA once said to Thatcher.." We only have to be lucky once.....

  6. Frankie,

    In Quebec after the second referendum on independence, with a result of 49 % for and 51% against, the gouvernement of Canada change the rule. Now with the clarity Law, we must have 66% of the vote in favour of independence for the Canada gouvernement to acknowledge the results. When it will be time to vote in Northern Ireland, I predict the rule of the referendum will be : double majority of 66 %.

  7. @ André, as things stand today according to the GFA & other agreements, if the majority of the people in the North want to join the Irish Republic then so be it. Means all that is needed in a referendum is 50+1%.

    You could be right and somewhere along the line the law changes to make it 2/3rd majority. But today all is needed is a majority.

  8. Frankie
    One of the "architects" of the Stormont deal Bertie Ahern stated the following in relation to Irish Unity in an interview carried in the Belfast Telegraph in 2008 "Fifty per cent plus one is not the way to do it" he further said " a seizeable amount of people on the island of Ireland, North and South would be
    required to move to a united Ireland"

    Does that not set things up for the scenario Andre has drawn attention to in Quebec?

  9. David Bertie said a lot of things and forgot more, even monies he forgot he was loaned.

    On the GFA...

    Constitutional issues
    The Agreement acknowledged and recognised: that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland at the time wished to remain as part of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland's present and continuing status as part of the United Kingdom was a reflection of that wish;
    that a "substantial section" of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority "of the people of the island of Ireland", wished to bring about a united Ireland;
    that both views were legitimate;
    that it was only for the people of Ireland as a whole, by agreement between North and South, "to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given", to bring about a united Ireland;
    that any future change in the status of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom is only to be brought about by the freely exercised choice of "a majority of the people of Northern Ireland";
    and that the British and Irish governments are under "a binding obligation" to implement that choice.

    What it say's is a substantial number of people in the North and the majority of Ireland as a whole...50+1% in the North. All is needed is the majority in south...And you've got 66% of the country in favour.

  10. "where is that person who lured him into this world and these pathetic wars? To whom is that person accountable or answerable?"

    Now where is Rowan heading with this, one does not have to be the quickest to see where this is leading, could Marian and Gerry be the first of many?

  11. @ Frankie,
    I meant 'were' retrospectively as in the context of the sentence, but as you rightly pointed out, YES we ARE doomed to remain within the union...anyways pedantics bore me..lol

    More importantly, I found it very interesting that you finished that particular comment with the now famous IRA quote 'We only have to be lucky once.....'.

    Retrospectively, this phrase was issued during the heady days of the IRA armed campaign both 'home and away' and was a signal of pure defiance to Whitehall. However, in modern day context, if this phrase was to be issued in a dissident group statement, it would be construed as having a a very different meaning! All thanks to the pivotal role that 'informers' had either directly or indirectly in bringing about the 1994 PIRA ceasefires.

    I think Ronan has hit the proverbial nail on the head on this topic, and for me the most saliant argument of his entire article regarding the potential impact of diisident activity is:

    'The pattern of dissident activity remains the odd “successful” attack, but much more often devices fail to detonate, are not detonated, are abandoned or only partially explode. Is it technical incompetence or something else?'

    Let's take for example the J118 allegations against Marty (aka StormontX). Irrespective of their legitimacy or validity, the very fact that such allegations were even uttered speaks volumes for a movement that was supposed to have built it's founding principles both upon the methodology and ideology of Michael Collins. A man who recognised the danger of informants and prioritised dealing with 'them'!!

    Despite PSF's clever marketing strategy of the 'Undefeated Army', MI5/6 informants played a vital role in turing the morally above board 'Freedom Fight' into the 'Dirty War'(a fact that leaves a lump in the throat with grass root Republican's). In the late 80's/early 90's of PIRA's campaign, MI5/6's role arm ceisures, aborted attacks and volunteer arrests etc paid a heavy tole. So much so that towards the end of the campaign, the PIRA was limited to long range sniper attacks in Sth Armagh and the odd 'lucky'(for the want of a better word) bomb attack. Their infiltration of the political wing (PSF) and the undoubted knock on effect at the negotiating table may never be known, and if so definitely not in our life time!

    Having re-read this article I think the author is playing very much devil's advocate with dissident Republican ideology and methodology. The dissidents justify their actions and tactics by pointing out that the same conditions exist in the Occupied 6 counties that warranted the PIRA 40 year campaign!

    But they are missing one vital point, the Proxy war tactics deployed by our colonial oppressors during the previous campaign are probably still being used today! Beir Bua!

  12. Some food for thought on the possibility of Irish unity in the future...


  13. @ Frankie,

    Not to be seen as defeatist, the possibilty of a united Ireland under the despot Robbo & Marty teetotalitarian regime is next too nil! Partition has been triple locked via the watered down St Andrew's. Given the economic crisis in the South and the level of loans from from Mother England, the 26 counties will be lucky if they are going cap in hand to re-join the Common Wealth... What is required is a new set of prgressive principles and ideologies based on a 32 county strategy...

  14. Rebel I'm with you 100% and you comment "What is required is a new set of prgressive principles and ideologies based on a 32 county strategy is very similar to what Brendan Hughes said in this interview


    Especially the reply to the last question.

    Unless the very fractured republican base come toghter in a united front, the status quo as you said will continue for a long time...

  15. Organised Rage/Mick,

    I am not sure that is the way to interpret what Barney is saying. I think he would prefer to see people out of jail rather than in it. While there is much to be critiqued about this piece I am of a view that it merits a wider airing. Physical force republicans will not be happy with it but their ideas are no more to be protected than religious ones and need to be subjected to scrutiny.

  16. People seem to forget one thing when we talk about the 50 plus 1% thingy and that is the closet catholic unionists of whom there are many.

    Since Marty led Derry's bid to be crowned a 'UK' city of culture Londonderry seems to be affixed to the end of Derry every time you open a paper or see a local business ad.

    Give the shinners few more years in the company of Peter and the DUP and they'll become more British than the British themselves.

  17. Marty,

    I always think that is a key point – the struggle could have been ended on much better terms had these people not been intent on lying and shafting their way to enhanced political careers. Once they decided to kill off the hunger strikers there was nothing they were prepared to stop at.

    Saying Marian should have kept her mouth shut merely means croppies lie down, keep your mouths shut and your heads low. It is a poor attempt to deflect attention away from the awkward question of how the British are in a position to arrest republicans for armed political actions prior to the GFA and the British remain immune. Who won the war?

  18. AM,

    I think the war was there to be won at a certain stage during the campaign but momentum was lost towards the end etc The objectives changed, and the focus turned to using the PIRA as a strong arm tactic against the British during negotitions. But the British government are master tacticians which they have repeatedly prooved down through the centuries, .e.g. handing over former colonies and most notably the Raj. We may have coined the term 'long war' but they have made an art form out of long protracted negotiations... even Collins himself fell foul of this during his time negotiating in London! I think to a certain degree the question is not about who won the war, but more about how our bargaining chips were squandered!!

  19. Rebels Yell,

    I doubt if it was winnable. I think this is one of the fallacies of the republican critique of the Provos.