Argument for a Ceasefire

Guest writer and former blanketman Tony O'Hara with a contribution to the ongoing debate on Physical Force Republicanism.

I got released from Long Kesh at the end of August 1981 a few weeks after my friend and Comrade Michael Devine died on Hunger Strike. The last of The 10 men to do so. I left my younger brother’s memories there too as he died on May 21st.

I walked through those gates with a heavy heart as that morning they had let me out I was with Bernard Fox who started the Hunger Strike a week earlier. He was getting sick into the sink. I mumbled some words of pity as I didn't know what to say or do. I went back to my cell to await release raging and thinking there is me getting released and that poor man will be dead in a few months if not less.

I was determined to get back into the struggle in whatever way possible. But I walked out into a simmering feud in the INLA - one of many. I tried to remain impartial, and prompt for unity as each side tried to win me over. By 1985 I had enough: heartbroken.

I was playing in a band at the time and we had 8 gigs a week - 2 on a Sunday. But in my spare time I got involved in community activism in the anti-drug campaigns and unemployed groups etc. I didn't need to be a member of a party. And I had a talent for organising. So I was content. From 1985 to 1995 I had lived in Dublin, Sligo, Donegal and then returned to Derry.

I still followed the political developments and actually talked with members of SF who had told me of the train of thought before the Hunger Strikes: it was for a ceasefire and a dumping of arms. This thinking increased after Bobby Sands, Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew were elected as MP andTD's. And the strategic thinking in the North under the Adams group caused a major divide in SF that led to the O Brady's Ard Fheis walk out. 

We heard the '' Armalite and the Ballot box'' chants - in actual fact the Armalites were slowing getting dismantled behind the scenes as the Peacemakers planned for a complete end to the campaign. And 10 years later it happened.

Oh, how I wish it had of happened in 1978 or earlier as all those lives that were lost in vain would have been saved.

By that time , the IRSP had almost ceased to exist. And the INLA was the smallest it had ever been.

I decided I couldn't sit back and rejoined the IRSM. My main reasons were to:

1. Get an INLA ceasefire
2. Get the POWs released
3. Get a fitting monument for the Hunger Strikers in Derry: my Brother Patsy and Mickey Devine.

When I got all the above I lost interest. And when I got suspended for missing meetings (and not sending apologies) I just went back to my music and activism.

I never thought they would decommission, something I was and am totally opposed to.

The teasefire was needed as to continue the campaign would not lead anywhere. It would only bring more deaths misery and imprisonment on our members and community.

The glaring contradiction since the founding of the IRSP was that in principle the only people that could free Ireland were the working class.

Yet the armed struggle was stopping working class unity. As a large part of the working class in the Protestant community were threatened by what they viewed as Catholic gunmen.

This is still the case. The Armed struggle should be halted even temporarily to give us a chance to work on the Issues that face us all in the new world of Police States.

The British are delighted that we have fragmented into small insignificant groups that can be easily contained. I know that Padraig Pearse said ''Ireland Unfree shall never be at peace''. But it can be free and at peace if we unite and organise.

I respect the Comrades that are fighting on. But if you just take stock and pause for a little while. And help us with a new strategy.

This is something the British fear the most. Because with our strength in unity we can tear down all those Imperialist institutions and instigate our own in a Socialist Republic.


  1. I thought that article was nicely done respectful and poignant with an alternative strategy. I still have reservations whenever socialism is mentioned as the answer, socialism has transpired as an authoritarian, elitist doctrine in practical terms wherever it been the official ideology of the state. why would Ireland be any different?

  2. Tony,

    Always enjoy your writing and comments, always informative and to the point.


    We are brainwashed into a belief of Socialism that isn't accurate. To dismiss socialism as authoritarian and elitist escapes the reality of the governments we accept and endure under capitalism here.

    IMF, Ministerial Corruption, fraud draconian laws, special police, secret intelligence squads, counter agency, internment, Intel led Policing, no dissent, no opposition, media control, crisis, economic tyranny, deprivation imposed, homelessness, poverty, suicide - sheer evil dictatorships and political dynasties both in Leinster House and Stormont.

    If you took it further to include the foreign policies of England, Germany France and the US then you meet real Dictatorships and wholesale slaughtering of innocents.

    Socialism is sweeping over many impoverished Nations globally, India, Philipines, Nepal, etc, and no where that it is present are crimes like the above prevalent.

    It has been betrayed by tyrants as all philosophies have, Irish Republicanism if discussed abroad is known as the property of tyrants like De' velera and Adams that is unrepresentative as are the slurs against socialism based on individuals.

  3. Antaine, I am aware that most people involved in socialism are there for the betterment of their people the problem with socialism and all isms is the ideology becomes more important than the people involved.
    I am not naive enough to be took in with propaganda especially from capitalist sources but history doe not lie most socialist revolutions have started out with the best intentions then ended up repressing anyone who opposed them.
    If we are going to build a just society we have to forget about all isms as the elite monetary system control them all and concentrate on human rights and true justice, not staying rigidly loyal to a belief whatever the belief may be.

  4. A ceasefire makes sense it does not diminish the understandable reasons for wishing to keep picking away but it is beyond time to understand what exactly is being picked away at.
    All good generals know when to leave the battlefield but it is the great generals who know when the war is lost.

  5. Tain Bo,
    In Republican terms people are all over the place.
    People are trying to be supportive,but not really understanding what it is they are supporting.
    It is also a particularly dangerous time for Republicans, outside of their ow n circle I would say most people have good reason for lacking trust.

    Each new ideal seems to be sadly reminiscent of a old and failed idea.
    I think what Tony, Antaine and Jim Slavin are saying is realistically the only way ahead.

  6. Nuala,
    I agree we are basically scattered in the British winds even those within their own circles are laden with distrust.
    It is difficult to understand what is being demolished the British are happy enough to sit back and relax as their nets are well placed and at their own leisure they just reel in the fish.

    The message coming from experienced republicans is being viewed as positive and is injecting a well need boost.
    Part of the problem is we focus on the militant position which in turn is portrayed and viewed as the main staple of anti GFA republicans.

    The division amongst the armed factions only adds to the confusion amongst republicans so it is no surprise when people turn away disillusioned and confused.

    The only alternative is to face the reality the war was lost and now is the time for people to help rebuild republican identity.
    We don’t need more prisoners we do need to be honest as all we are doing is going round in circles.

    I would prefer to hear of negations taking place and the prisoners being a priority in those negations.

    It is past time to build on a serious political alternative otherwise we should just pack it all in.

    On a happier note I was happy that Marian got a fair sentence and now hopefully she will never again be back in a British prison.

  7. Again a legitimate argument of undoubted merit is articulated not to the Republican armed groups themselves, but to the Unionist press.

    Are the recent commentators content that their opinions fall on deaf ears?

    That is what they are ensuring by going about things this way.

  8. Ciaran why are you so fixated in how the message is delivered ???

    The words are valid, the opinions and discussions are extremely necessary! It is a good thing that some media are willing to give a platform to alternative thoughts and thinking.

    I am so tired of this purist thinking - these same things have been said for years by most of those who have recently contributed but no one listened or cared to create the space for discussion.

    Stop fixating on who prints it and start dialogue - isn't the group you represent got the words " network and unity " in it ?

    Would you prefer to call a meeting of armed groups and have folks sit down in a hall and talk to them? Because that seems like a weird friggin tactic...

    It could be said that it is the responsibility of those who claim to politically represent said armed factions who really should be creating dialogue with those they claim to be affiliated with?

    This constant whining gets no where and that's all i've heard from some .....

  9. Aine, I may as well just answer with a cut & paste of a comment i made in a piece from last week.

    People involved in armed actions and those groups perceived to be close to them live life outcast-ed by much of society, harassed by the state and berated by the press. When republicans question their actions via headlines, it comes across not as an act of comradely concern but as just another condemnation.

    The same dynamic was played out by the Newsletter publishing these articles, and i suspect that the response from the groups will be the same, none.

  10. Ciaran,

    I understand what you are saying and I did read that comment that you made last week.
    Those involved in armed actions are of course "outcasted" as you put it - by the state they are in direct opposition and resistance to it. These aspects of life as unfortunate as there are are also a inevitable part of life for those who choose to act as they see fit. The fact they people are feeling detached from their own communities is an aspect of this that needs addressing. In an analytical sense we should be asking ourselves why is this happening and how can we change this.

    The point that concerns me the most however is that these criticisms have been widely voiced within our own communities and critique is not an attack - the two are very much different.

    Not listening to what "the people" are saying regardless of where it comes from is a big problem as we have seen through countless years of our history.
    Why is there resistance to listen? Words cannot do harm they are merely words.
    Surely creating the space for such dialogue should be a priority? Said dialogue is not just the responsibility of those who choose to oppose or criticize certain chosen tactics.
    In my opinion there is a lot of work that needs to be done with putting unity as a true objective and figuring out how such unity is possible, taking into consideration the variety of positions that exist within today's republicanism.

  11. Well said Angie.

    People that are academically educated must feel they have to have all the answers,for those that have no formal education. The very reason the conflict continues.

  12. Ciaran Cunningham,

    Nothing ever falls on deaf ears it is heard the message is understood and there is no argument against the few that have the right to ignore the massage.

    As for the Mickey Mouse attitude that it is by design for the Unionist press appears laughable as the Unionists are happy that the militants are hanging on it gives them more leverage and ensures more repressive legislation will be introduced.

    Your attempt at counter propaganda makes as much sense as your community court rooms.
    There is lost irony in there as how can you complain about the Brits harassing the people and in the same breath mimic the Brits via Knee capping courts?

    Cops and robbers are part of every society when a certain group decides they are the law in their community then they rule by fear rather than reason.