There will be a United Ireland; it will come from Republican Socialist Agitation

Ciaran Cunningham (CC) a member of Republican Network for Unity, talks to Chris Kilpatrick (CK) about the ideology of the organisation, his thoughts on the Good Friday Agreement and why he believes there will be a united Ireland. The interview initially featured in the Belfast Telegraph on 31 March 2014.

CP: What is Republican Network for Unity, is it simply a mouthpiece for Oglaigh na hEireann?

CC: Absolutely not. Definitely not.

CP:  How big is the gap between the two?

CC: As big as you want it to be. There is no linkage. Every political activist in Ireland has been touched by the conflict. Everybody over 30. So we would certainly understand the mindset of people who still advocate armed actions. That's not saying we endorse them.

CP:  Do you condemn them?

CC: We don't endorse or condemn them. We understand the logic. Armed actions are a legacy of British occupation in Ireland. The ascendancy of the British state in Ireland was made possible by brute force, force that did not care for morality, for anything. It didn't care for the suffering or people, human rights, simply the destruction of any expressions of resistance. That's what today's state mechanism is built on, brute force. There will always be a group of people, no matter how small, who will remember that and say that, rightly or wrongly, the logic of the gun is fair enough. That's the legacy issue. It would be inaccurate for me to say that mindset is wrong. It would be equally or wrong for me to say it's right. Is it worth the suffering? That's not something our party hasn't done. We haven't sat down and had that discussion. What we allow for is our members through freedom of thought regarding armed actions to have their own opinions. Within RNU you will find members with completely different views on armed actions.

CP: The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to move on. Small pockets of so-called armed resistance aren't going to change anything, are they? Surely they haven't a hope of delivering a united Ireland.

CC: Do I believe pockets of resistance, small gestures of armed actions can lead to Irish unity? Personally, no.

CP:  So their actions are futile?

CC: I'm not saying armed struggle is futile. What I'm saying is it is a legacy. I will never put the blame on the practitioners of armed actions because I know about Irish history. They are the karma to what England did. They are the legacy of how England took over this country. England has to live with that.

CP: How long can we go back to things that happened hundreds of years ago. Surely it's time to move on?

CC: It was only five years ago there were more British troops in Ireland than Iraq. It's not hundreds of years ago. It would be ideologically unsound for us to condemn armed actions. It would also be disingenuous of us as republicans to put the blame of armed conflict upon republicans practising armed actions. The media have to accept there is a huge difference in refusing to condemn armed actions and advocating armed actions.

CP: You call them armed actions, many call it murder. The killings of David Black, the soldiers at Massereene barracks, Ronan Kerr. Isn't that murder?

CC: In exactly the same way mainstream media doesn't refer to the Nato invasion of Libya as murder, they don't refer to the dropping of massive bombs on weddings in Afghanistan as murder. It doesn't cross their minds to describe those acts as murder. There have been more people killed in Afghanistan in two hours than in 15 years in the six counties. That's a fact. The media are under no compulsion to describe those acts as murder and will justify it because there's an oil field 20 miles away. I'm under no illusions as to the tragedy caused by every death in this country but to take sides, to take moral sides saying this is murder, this isn't, that's not something I'm going to do.

CP: When acts were carried out such as those I mentioned, when you turned on the news at the time and saw that, how did you feel?

CC: When people are killed? I feel the same as you. I recognise the human tragedy behind that and the way it leaves families. Absolutely. There's no doubt about it. Where we differ, as alternative republicans, is we see the dynamic coming from a different place. The deaths didn't arise from any personal defect in the people carrying out armed actions, no more than the dynamic for deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq arise from defects in RAF pilots or British soldiers. It isn't personal defects, it's political conditions and historical legacy which causes those deaths.

CP: Is it not a personal choice?

CC: The people who carry out the armed actions are the butchers, the teachers, the unemployed who are into the politics, the historical legacy of this country. They have made a decision to express opposition to that legacy by force. It's up to them to justify to the public. RNU can't because we don't practise armed actions.

CP: Are there any RNU members who are also members of those groups?

CC: I don't know.

CP: There are widely-reported links to groups including Oglaigh na hEireann.

CC: That's media sensationalism. That's all it is.

CP: You spent time in prison a decade ago for intelligence gathering (while working at the Royal Victoria Hospital). Do you regret what you did?

CC: No.

CP: Would you do it again?

CC: It's not where I am any more.

CP: Would you like to see others who have the same mindset you had then opting for a different approach?

CC: Personally, I did my analysing of the Good Friday Agreement in jail and I possibly didn't before that. I believe there's much more effective means of creating an alternative to Good Friday than what existed in 2003.

CP: Is that through political means?

CC: I believe alternative republicans are only now gaining the confidence, the talent, the skills needed to build a political alternative.

There's a vast difference between building an alternative to Good Friday and promoting a return to the past.

CP: A peaceful alternative, no need for bloodshed?

CC: It can be. It depends on the state as well. I envisage a future struggle in which we bring the respectable minority along the road of political action; strike action, civil disobedience, the vast array of methods capable of putting pressure on the state. And we can take back Ireland using those methods. The question is, will the state allow us to do that without reacting violently. If we were to pursue our objectives peacefully would the British state step in violently? I believe they may.

CP: Is it a fragile peace?

CC: I believe Good Friday contains the seeds of sectarian conflict. That would be a complete tragedy. It could happen because people's minds are focused on stupid issues – flags and emblems, marching.

CP: Are they stupid?

CC: Yes they are. On the eve of the British government trying to implement the Welfare Reform Bill, for the six counties to be obsessed with a piece of coloured cloth on the roof of City Hall instead of those cuts is absurd. For any nationalist to celebrate the flag coming down while ignoring the reality of what the Tories are trying to implement is crazy. It's smoke and mirrors. Good Friday encourages fighting over flags and emblems.

CP: You have two candidates in Belfast in the forthcoming council elections, so what does RNU stand for, what are your policies?

CC: On a wider level we stand for self-determination, we stand for socialism and an end to sectarianism. What that equates to locally is standing with working-class communities, promoting a strategy to empower working class communities to empower themselves and we aim to do that through everyday struggles.

CP: So it's jointly socialist and republican, which takes precedence?

CC: That's what we are. We believe the continued British occupation in Ireland is tied in with the wider economic system, the partition of Ireland is. Those who support the partition of Ireland and the occupation of the six counties are the same forces who support domestic and international capitalism. Furthermore we believe that the key to ending British rule in Ireland lies with the promotion of socialist values. Only they can break down the mirage that is the tribal outlook and only those values have the power to let people see beyond tribal politics and recognise the common benefit which would come from the working class being in control of the 32 counties.

CP: You'd agree it's very unlikely there will be a united Ireland in our time?

CC: There will be a united Ireland and I think it will come from republican socialist agitation. Irish unity will come as an inevitable result of class struggle for national liberation. One can't happen without the other.

CP: The Good Friday Agreement promoted sectarianism?

CC: Absolutely. It's entrenched in sectarianism. It embodies an acceptance that society can only be seen in terms of two communities. If you read it, it's peppered with terms 'both communities', 'two communities'. It ignores the potential we can one day destroy those barriers and exist as one community. By reinforcing this position and putting communities in competition it's a strategy to prevent the potential of the working class. It's the classic tactic of divide and conquer. Tell the Paddys there's two communities, throw them crumbs and let them bicker over them.

CP: So, you'd happily live alongside those in the Protestant, loyalist, unionist community? You've no problems with them?

CC: They're being used as pawns and we're being used as pawns. You see it with health cuts. They are done down tribal lines. The right thing to do is say 'no, there will be no cuts', rather than bickering whether the Prods or the Catholics lose theirs. There's one community, the only one we care about. The Irish working class.

CP: The majority of people in Northern Ireland signed up to Good Friday. Huge numbers have also backed the direction Sinn Fein has taken republicanism. How do you take that on, the rejection of conflict?

CC: The mass growth of Sinn Fein was their reward for delivering an end to an IRA campaign. When the IRA ended their campaign, rightly or wrongly, there was no need for the SDLP any more. Everything the SDLP was calling for for 30-odd years, once the IRA stopped, Sinn Fein embodied what they had called for.

Sinn Fein were more charismatic, their activists were more grounded with the people, they were more grounded through struggle. So it was inevitable for a period they boomed. That doesn't mean they were correct.

CP: You said when the IRA ended their campaign "rightly or wrongly". Was it the wrong move?

CC: I don't think I'm qualified to say if it was right or wrong. I was 18 when the ceasefire was called. I don't feel armed with the right to say whether it should have carried on or ended. Good Friday was not worth the pain.

CP: To stop the bombs and the bullets, a price had to be paid by all sides, surely?

CC: We think it ironic many of those who kept the campaign going long after it had lost its logistical merit, many of whom insisted in keeping it going were those who accepted Good Friday. It was possible to achieve peace in Ireland without upholding the causes of the conflict. A perpetual guerrilla campaign wasn't inevitable and republicans didn't have to settle for what Sinn Fein got us. It's inaccurate to suggest Good Friday was required to end the Provisional armed campaign.

CP: Do you have open lines of communication with Sinn Fein? If they invited you guys to the table, would you take them up on it?

CC: They have done. They know where to get us. They have invited us for discussions on strategy. It was last year. They wanted to sit down for an ideological debate around the merits of their strategy and ours. When we announced candidates that correspondence broke down.

CP: Who from Sinn Fein wanted to meet you and are you still willing to sit down?

CC: I won't say who but there's no appetite in our circles to discuss strategy with these people. What, if any, common ground is there with any organisation that greets the Queen within occupied Ireland? Refers to republican prisoners as traitors, does nothing regarding prisoners' treatment. Eventually the gulf between their leadership and our membership is so large it would be a waste of time.

CP: Martin McGuinness described dissident republicans as traitors to Ireland, how did that go down with your members?

CC: I don't think it angered people. He had taken such an ideological somersault a long time before he began using that type of language. He did himself more damage. He exposed how far he had travelled ideologically to some within his own party.

CP: You use the term alternative republicanism instead of dissident, why?

CC: Dissident republicanism is a media term which was seized on to degrade the legitimacy of republicanism and as a derogatory term. It's used to isolate principled republicans.

Call me a dissident all day long, I dissent from the state, the forces of the state, but I don't dissent from republicanism. The implication is you have perverted your republicanism, which isn't the case at all.

CP: Are Sinn Fein dissident republicans then?

CC: They are somewhere else. It may be Hibernianism, liberalism, it's not republicanism. They are republicans in those ranks, they are not in that movement. Their party leadership has walked away from their republican values.

CP: How many members do you have?

CC: About 200 we can rely on, across Ireland. We've no illusions or wish to state we are anything but a fledgling organisation.

CP: RNU helped organise an anti-internment rally through Belfast last year. Colin Duffy was there. Is he a member of RNU?

CC: No. We recognise that Colin Duffy, like many others, was the focus of particularly harsh state harassment over the years. Like most principled republicans, we called for an end to that harassment, calls to an end to internment by remand which he was placed under.

CP: On parades, you have members affiliated with the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective. Is trouble inevitable this marching season, again. Would you be willing to meet and speak with the Orange Order?

CC: The Ardoyne community has succeeded in preventing sectarian coat-tailing through their area. I don't see why they should back down now. Why would they concede any ground?

I'd speak to anybody but all I'd have to say to them is stop marching though areas you're not wanted. I've nothing else to say to them.


  1. …we believe that the key to ending British rule in Ireland lies with the promotion of socialist values. Only they can break down the mirage that is the tribal outlook…

    Which political grouping preaches solidarity and fellowship the most? The socialists.
    Which political grouping is the most fractious and fratricidal? The socialists.
    Partition is safe under this bogus analysis.

  2. Re CC 'I'm not saying armed struggle is futile. What I'm saying is it is a legacy.' Time to knock the armed struggle on its head because it IS futile & just hideous that impressionable young lads will do time because they believe it is the only option. Rather than do the dance between the two views to accommodate militancy Ciaran How about naming it for what it is Futility and not ever validated by reference to legacy. Its 2014 not 1960's There r other ways and options. No glory in a kill No patriotic thrill Only for psychopaths and u older Irish who propagandize up young ones I spit on u all. (This is not to trivialise ongoing injustices nor trivialise the wounds inflicted historically and into the now - but it is time to mature up)
    'We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools'
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  3. spot on mary marscal and daithi. it takes balls to stand up to these guys/gals . bone idle bastards half of them who wouldnt do a days work to save their life. theyve made enuf money in last 20 years of extortion to build an army to knock shit out of all of them over there in the ukraine. wonder where all that lovely lolly goes.

  4. Thanks Larry, one contradiction (of many) of the socialist position is their eschewing of Nationalism. In doing so, they diminish one of the prime motivations for removing the partition. Because of the surety in which some people talk, I have to regularly read the Easter Proclamation just to confirm the word socialist doesn’t feature in it. Maybe its like that film Casablanca which doesn’t actually feature “play it again Sam”, but everyone thinks it does.

  5. This crowd are as bonkers as Sinn Fein ....There will never be an United Ireland because even if a vote was taken to allow Ireland to be reunited the Loyalists will be pissed off for the next thousand years so we are left with different bunch of looneys running around, but sure who cares as long as its all for a good cause

  6. @ Grouch It is painful stuff to challenge militancy beliefs when one looks at the pustules of human beings like Adams and McGuinness strutting their stuff on the backs of courageous dead men. It is just difficult all round. Ciaran is intelligent - is a voice of his generation and it was a good interview in that other facets were addressed – (ie) sectarianism Who doesn’t feel their blood boil and feel violent at the sickening parade of hypocrisy, lies and bs of sf but it is vital to stand your ground and speak your conviction rather than mumble o it’s understandable the militancy. Of course it be freakin understandable but it does not make it a viable nor should it be tolerated or sanctioned. Ciaran knows full well that killing one bastard only means another will rise to take their place. I don’t want any young Irishman or woman to do time or die for the cause nor do I want those I despise to be taken out as NB tokenism gestures of resistance. A bastard will always rise to the top – there r plenty of Irish of the ilk of Gerry Adams & Marty McGuiness swanning around Those lovely big houses build on the foundation of others bones and blood r sprinkled all over Ireland

    ‘And is the world more civilized this morning?…’
    And is the world more civilized tomorrow?
    Or will another bastard take his place instead?

  7. I notice the only people criticising this interview are intransigent, semi-soveirnty promoting Nationalists, stuck in 1908 with Arthur Griffith. And Loyalists, that one doesn't need description. ' Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.
    Albert Einstein

  8. Sean Bres,
    says this is an "excellent article" but feels unwilling to back up his claim in the face of others on this site. Are you afraid to burn bridges here or why have you remained silent while others attack the opinions of the interviewee?

    If I had made a point contrary to the views expressed in the interview you would have been all over it! Grow a pair! Stand up and be heard or remain sitting and be silent!

    Are you here to make friends or to express your political opinions?

  9. In a recent article in the Belfast Telegraph Billy Hutchinson said..."If people want to get jobs, of course they are going to go to the UK," he said.

    So Billy made what a Freudian slip, was he thinking out loud??? What he did say was in effect that the six counties aren't part of the UK. He could have said the mainland, England or other..He didn't, he said "they are going to the UK". On youtube there is person with a 'channel' called Protestant Irish Republican and he/she reckons there will be a UI in the not to near distant, he/she put a video up called Economist talks United Ireland ...

    There are now PUL-ers learning Irish again, celebrating Paddy's day..some even applied for Irish passports to get free uni in Scotland. There are a lot of liberal minded loyalists out there and all people have to do is convince them they'll be quids in in a UI than a government funded state receiving charity handouts.. And what a lot of people forget is there is an ever growing 'eastern European' population in the six. And if there is a border poll they'll be allowed to vote. Now do people think they'll vote with the PUL camp, when every other day there are loyalists attacking them? If there was a poll today in the UK, 50+1% would say "hand the six counties back to the Irish, it's theirs, not ours"..

    And the PUL-ers are more fragmented than people either want to believe or think about. It's not loyalists but loyalism's...

  10. Larry I can do it shorter :
    Red flag,

  11. DaithiD

    red flag like us all likely would be a miners supporter, if old enough. Otherwise I'm left wondering why did James Connolly require a Citizen Army... Answers not on a postage stamp but on a 'micro-dot'

  12. red flag,
    was albert einstein a prod or a taig?

  13. bres
    what did you do to mac tirent, he is pisd with u.

  14. Frankie,

    This seems a very optimistic overemphasis. I'm not so sure that what you detail here are indicators pointing towards a growing desire within the Unionist community for an united Ireland.

    I learnt Irish twenty years ago, Jackie McDonald and Stormont Speaker Willie Hay, for example, are both Irish passport holders and St Patricks Saltire is not only a component of the Union flag but forms the centrepiece of the badge of the PSNI.

  15. Grouch,

    was albert einstein a prod or a taig?

    I don't know but I am sure if he were alive today Martin McGuinness would present him as a 'staunch supporter of the peace process.'

  16. Robert,
    When you, Jackie McD or other's were pup's growing up on the mean streets of Belfast why didn't you apply for Irish passports (the prevision was always there)? You learnt Irish 20 yrs ago.. Why didn't you start learning it 21, 22 or 25yrs ago?

    Tell me what has someone from Mount Veron, Shankill or other has in common with someone from Watford, Newcastle or Birmingham. When PUL-ers step outside the six counties you are called a 'Paddy'...Explain why you want to remain part of the UK? Explain to me why you are proud to be British? What has the UK gov., that you want to lord over your community actually done for people living in Tigers Bays, East Belfast...? We both know it has taken money away from both sides of the oxymoron's.. Kept divisions and sectarianism alive..Why do you want to be part of that?

    I know no matter William Ennis tries to say or what compound once said to myself that Loyalism ins't inclusive. Loyalism is very much exclusive. At least Republicans (I don't include PSF) are prepared to let Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter have an equal voice...