Way Forward for Dissident Republicans
Benefits or bombs? That’s the key question republican dissidents have to ask themselves as to what they really offer the people of Ireland. Do they truly have the interests of the Catholic nationalist working class as their main ethos, or are they so stuck in the fantasies of the failed 1916 Dublin Easter Rising that all they can offer Ireland’s entire hard-pressed working class is more Padraig Pearse-style blood sacrifices?
What many in the Unionist and loyalist communities are also asking themselves - would the real dissident republicans please stand up?
Modern dissident republicans now have a perfect opportunity to show the world how they can be peace makers in a post conflict society. They can pull a fast one over the Provos by adhering to a purely democratic path within a decade. It took the Provisionals almost three decades of violence to reach a ceasefire.
At first reading, is the formation of the New IRA merely a resources and manpower issue where they need to pool their weaponry and members for a massive disruption of Londonderry’s City of Culture festivities?
We now have one set of dissidents copying the old Provos and going in one direction, while other groups appear to be travelling in a totally different direction.
Ironically, it could also be suggested the developments within dissident republicanism with the formation of New IRA is almost a mirror image of what happened in the loyalist paramilitary fraternity in the 1990s.
The Combined Loyalist Military Command represented mainstream loyalists in the UVF, Red Hand Commando, UDA and UFF bringing about the loyalist ceasefire, maintaining some form of discipline and encouraging decommissioning, while dissident loyalists in the Loyalist Volunteer Force, Orange Volunteers and Red Hand Defenders remained outside the CLMC control.
Initially, the dissidents I interviewed emphasised they wanted to be in separate organisations rather than one big group because they feared being infiltrated by MI5 and the PSNI.
Strategically, that made sense as MI5 and MI6 has come on in leaps and bounds since the 7/7 London suicide bombings by Islamic militants. The combined British and Irish security services are getting very proficient at preventing major, Omagh, Dublin and Monaghan, Enniskillen and Bloody Friday-type terrorist slaughter.
And now that Sinn Fein has formally recognised the PSNI and sits on the Policing Board, don’t tell me there aren’t republicans slipping the authorities some juicy tit-bits about the activities of their rival dissidents.
The ‘confuse the Brits by having a lot of little factions’ tactic was the clear message given to me in published interviews with Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), the Real IRA and Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD).
So why have the Real IRA and RAAD along with a few individual ex-Provos teamed up under one banner of ‘The IRA’, leaving ONH and the Continuity IRA out in the cold?
Have the dissidents given up on their ‘hit and run’ sporadic terror campaign and their only way forward is to copy the Provos’ long war strategy?
Rather than take a negative approach that this is the start of yet another generation of sectarian violence, the positive path I encourage the dissident republicans to take is one of democratic political progress, especially in Northern Ireland.
At first reading, it may seem a little insensitive coming from me, an unrepentant radical Right-wing Unionist, offering political advice to the various factions which comprise the dissident republican movement.
Surely, as a Right-winger, my message should be - surrender now before we unleash the SAS with clear instructions for a ’shoot to kill’ approach towards all and any known dissident republicans?
Many of my articles for The Pensive Quill - and The Blanket before that - have been evocative, provocative, politically challenging, and to some - downright offensive. But I have one advantage in writing this article on the way forward for dissident republicans - I am not aligned to any republican party, faction or pressure group.
I am not, never have been, and never will be an Irish republican. I come to this topic of the way forward for dissident republicans with no nationalist political baggage.
Could it be the dissidents are coming together for one last blast of terror before calling it a day and are pooling their resources?
However, the fact the unveiling of this latest combined IRA movement has not been greeted with widespread panic from Dublin or Westminster tends to suggest that the dissident republican family has recognised the futility of terrorism and is looking for ‘an honourable ceasefire’.
I want to encourage dissident republicans to seek that ‘honourable ceasefire’. The political path is workable in the long term.
Just as the SDLP eclipsed the Irish Nationalist Party, then Provisional Sinn Fein eclipsed the SDLP, could a new Concerned Republican grouping eventually eclipse Sinn Fein in a post Adams/McGuinness Ireland?
Given the number of years it took to bring the Provisional IRA to states of ceasefire and decommissioning, perhaps Dublin, London and Stormont have realised the generations of time which could pass before all the various dissident factions follow the Provos’ lead.
It is clear Dublin and London want to do a deal with a single dissident republican leadership, so get the terror groups to combine first, and then offer a political package.
In the Republic, Southern Sinn Fein under president Gerry Adams may be leading the political polls as the head buck cats in the anti-austerity movement.
But at Stormont, Northern Sinn Fein is in government with Peter Robinson’s DUP and plays a major role in the power-sharing Executive which will have to implement very severe cuts as the UK plunges into a double-dip recession.
When dissidents opposed to the Sinn Fein peace strategy attempted to push a political agenda under the banner of Concerned Republicans, Provisional Sinn Fein wiped the floor with them in elections. The hard fact is that Concerned Republicans moved too soon. The republican community saw that Provisional Sinn Fein represented the best opportunity to outgun the SDLP at the ballot box.
In successive elections, especially since the signing of the St Andrews Agreement, Sinn Fein has battered the SDLP. In spite of all the propaganda and spin from youthful SDLP elected representatives, only a merger with Fine Gael or the Irish Labour Party to create an all-island movement will save the SDLP.
If it does not merge, it will end this decade in the dustbin of history along with the Irish Nationalist Party and the Irish Independence Party.
But across the North, the recession is biting deep into traditional republican communities and Sinn Fein may not be as popular as its triple Assembly election romp of 2003, 2007 and 2011. Is there now a real opportunity for republicans to put up a viable alternative to Sinn Fein in time for the next Stormont poll in 2015?
Concerned Republicans as a political grouping had dedicated and committed people, but they made their move a decade too soon. Most republicans were more interested in ‘Smashing the Stoops’ than pushing an alternative to the Sinn Fein peace process.
To do so, dissidents also need a united political front rather than a bagful of wee parties. The Stoops are already finished politically and will never return to the glory days of Gerry Fitt or John Hume. The Erps and Stickies are spent forces, and the fringe 32 County Sovereignty crowd, Eirigi, and Republican Sinn Fein are merely pissing in the wind in terms of political clout.
Forming a new combined IRA is a step in the right direction for dissidents. If they bring the various terror groups together under one banner, a ceasefire can be more easily negotiated and a new traditional republican party launched to take the Shinners head on at the polls.
In the meantime, Ireland will have to listen to a lot of terror sabre-rattling from the New IRA, leaving ONH and the Continuity crowd on the fringes in case the dissident ceasefire talks don’t work.
If the dissidents have run out of names to call their new political movement, they can take my own Democratic Republican Party (DRP) title – provided they don’t kill or maim anyone.
My DRP is a stepping stone for dissidents to take from violent armed struggle to peaceful politics. But I fear time is not on the dissident republican community’s side. What happens if the British and Irish governments lose patience with the dissident movement and decide to implement a ‘shoot to kill’ policy?