originally featured in the Sunday Times on 27 April 2014 and is reprinted here with permission.Tonight The Pensive Quill features an article by Newton Emerson that addresses issues raised by Dominic Og McGlinchey. It
Republicans and Loyalists Hide Behind Rising Myths
27 April 2014
Dissident republicans must “start a conversation on removing the gun from Irish politics”, leading dissident Dominic Og McGlinchey has told The Irish Times. McGlinchey, who left Sinn Fein in 2006 to join the anti-agreement party Eirigi, has been making this argument in public for several months.
In January, the Irish News and The Guardian published identical statements from McGlinchey, backed by Gerard Hodgins, another prominent dissident and a former IRA hunger striker. Their claim that a serious debate is taking place within Ireland’s ever-changing alphabet soup of dissident groups is credible and significant.
McGlinchey’s analysis of why violence should stop is that the Provisional IRA campaign achieved nothing and was actively counterproductive to republican goals. He has never claimed the IRA’s violence was illegitimate but he is unambiguous about its failure as a strategy, with Britain infiltrating, compromising and outgunning the Provisionals until Sinn Fein was manoeuvred into a “partitionist” political settlement.
For dissident paramilitaries, the conclusion has been to carry on fighting, if only to preserve the sacred flame of the “physical force tradition”. For McGlinchey, the more rational conclusion is that violence has always been hopeless, and to continue fighting when your critique of the peace process implicitly recognises this is “mindless” and “dishonourable”.
Sinn Fein’s public position, repeated at Easter rallies, was that the Provisional campaign smashed the “Orange state”, delivered “equality”, and provided a political path to Irish unity. Party speakers were unequivocal in condemning dissidents but only on the basis that past violence has been so successful there is no need for any more.
This is an audacious rewrite of recent history but it appears to have been accepted wholesale by a new generation. When Sinn Fein’s support rose after the 1994 IRA ceasefire, it was seen as a reward for peace. How much of its support now is a retrospective endorsement of war? If violence “worked” in the past, why not turn to it today?
Republican rallies take place at Easter to draw on the legitimacy of the Rising. Once again this year, Sinn Fein speakers linked the Provisional IRA’s “patriot dead” to 1916, while republican commentators sneered at a “Dublin establishment” that stands in tribute at the GPO but recoils in horror from Gerry Adams.
Ultimately, official Ireland’s response to Sinn Fein is also that violence was so successful in the past there was no need for any more. The fact Sinn Fein makes the same argument to the dissidents does not stop all sides pointing it back at each other. In the accidental religiosity of republican Easter, Dublin, Sinn Fein and the dissidents are like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, where one faith is mainly divided over who was the last true prophet. Republicans have never had a Buddha, and Dublin and Sinn Fein are now in the absurd position where McGlinchey is on a higher plane of enlightenment.
Watching from the sidelines are the unionists of Northern Ireland, who have been allowed to think of themselves as blameless by republican self-absorption. A century ago, it was understood that the original sin of violence in modern Ireland was the threatened unionist revolt in Ulster, with the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913 and the importation of German guns the year after. Almost all nationalist contemporaries saw the Easter Rising as a reaction to this treasonous “Orange card”.
When the south rewrote the Rising as a heroic creation myth, it sought to do so without implying the unionist violence was equally successful. However, the task proved intellectually impossible without invoking the dreaded “two nations” theory, so republicans blanked it out — and respectable unionists have gratefully done the same ever since.
Dublin and Sinn Fein now apparently see royal participation as a way to build unionist outreach into the 1916 centenary. Unease goes beyond the usual suspects to include University College Dublin historian Diarmaid Ferriter. He is right to be worried. The Ulster revolt professed loyalty to the crown to mask its disloyalty to Britain while the Rising leaders railed against monarchism to mask their ethnic chauvinism. If the Queen arrives in 2016 with these historical denials still largely unquestioned, she may only serve to endorse them.
The best way to mark the centenary is to project McGlinchey’s analysis back, not just to the Troubles but to the Rising and Ulster revolt. It would remind us of Redmondite Ireland, and a political path to unity without violence.