Bold Initiative Would Help Heal Republican Divisions

Tonight The Pensive Quill carries a letter from guest writer Richard O’Rawe that appeared in yesterday’s Irish News.

A chara,

During the prison protests and hunger strikes of the late 1970s and early 80s, we protesting prisoners, and our republican leaders on the outside, constantly appealed to the SDLP to pull out of the local council chambers in support of our five demands. The SDLP refused to countenance such a move and consequently, the party were pilloried and criticised at every opportunity. 

It is now generally accepted that the prison protests and the hunger strikes were the catalysts for Sinn Fein’s incursion into constitutional politics.  It could also be argued that the SDLP’s inertia during this period of protest and mass-mobilization seriously damaged the standing of the party among many nationalists who may not have been natural Sinn Fein supporters.

Today, in the twenty-first century, in a supposedly liberal democracy, Marian Price, a Republican, a mother, and a former prisoner, is being held infinitum in a British goal - effectively interned without trial.  Tellingly, the British government, through their Secretary of State, make no attempt to offer a rationale for Marian’s continued detention, and if they have a strategic position on the matter, it is to simply ignore the issue and hope it will go away.  

If history tells us anything about the British it is that they don’t move unless they are forced to do so. That being the case, perhaps the time has come for the nationalist political parties to pull out of the council chambers; perhaps even the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will the SDLP be found wanting again? Will those Sinn Fein leaders who called for the SDLP to pull out of the local councils back in 1980/81 practise now what they preached then?  Will Sinn Fein lead the way and pull out of the local government councils in protest at the disgraceful internment of Marian Price?  Such a bold initiative, I suggest, would do much to heal the divisions within republicanism.


  1. Read Richards letter yesterday and yes while I agree with the content, I could,nt help thinking about the Sean Kelly affair, remember when Sean,s licence was revoked by the sos and qsf threw a "wobbler" they huffed and puffed and stamped their feet but in the end I think when they threatened a rethink of their participation in the brit assembly they got Sean released, my point is that qsf are now key players in that assembly and I firmly believe like Richard that if they threatened to walk away from this assembly if Marian, was not released and all previously agreed changes to the prison regime implemented immediately, I,d take odds that the brits would sit up ,and take notice and act ,qsf may be brit puppets but they have a function at the moment so that inturn gives them some leverage against their masters, they should use it immediately...

  2. Richard

    While it is wrong to intern only one person (or even a handful), SF could not destabilize the very Institutions in which they are key stakeholders in. So I do not see a call for them to walk away from Stormont on the prison issue alone --even if they wanted to.

    On the flip side many seasoned Republicans have no truck or respect for any of the fragmented splinter groups advocating for full out war. These groups are not fragmented on ideological differences but on ego and personality differences --simply they all want to be chiefs and not indians.

    Stuck in the middle are many Republicans who feel betrayed by SF and hijacked by dissidents.


  3. Tiarna internment is wrong full stop.I think qsf most certainly do hold the key to having Marian released,the brits may have so much dirt on individual members,that they are shit scared to annoy their masters,hence the pathetic lip service from just a few in that party.if they were to show some balls and stand up to this injustice, we would I believe see some real changes.

  4. Tiarna you bring up the most important point: one should be able to both condemn the dissident adherence to violence but also champion their civil rights.

    I find the Taliban absolutely abhorrent in ideology as well as violence against the U.S., but as a civil libertarian and a lover of democracy I find their internment without trial or else secret closed hearings in military court martials at Guantanamo Bay a travesty of justice, and I write and urge my Congressional representatives to uphold the letter of U.S. law and adhere to the principles of the U.S. Constitution in this matter.

    Defending somebody whose basic human rights are being trampled on in spite of the fact that you disagree with their politics is the essential halmark of being a civil libertarian, going all the way back to Voltaire.

    Especially in hindsight of the fact that the erosion of human rights in a democracy begins with those people with the most anti-social political views. But this is one the beginning. Because once civil rights are taken from one person ...

    You don't have to want to have a beer with somebody to defend their civil rights.

  5. Tiarna,

    I think you clearly point out some of the salient obstacles in the way of prisoner support which if ignored will lead to a ceiling on the level of support attained.


    It would certainly shake things up but is not going to happen. Power before people won’t allow it.

  6. Christopher,

    Not much there to disagree with. The paradox is that human rights are central to human progress and any struggle that seeks to disregard them is at best inherently suspect – yet because we are human we find it hard to live up to what a human rights culture requires of us. We grimace when confronted with the fact that people have rights against us!