Tony Catney: One Year On

It is a year since Tony Catney died and it seems as if it was the shortest year in history, a sort of leap year which leaped right past me. I mourn the fact that he is not about but more for personal reasons than political ones. He was always a great friend. In my mind’s ear I can still hear his voice, its tone, its twang. It was a voice he put to good use: summing up situations, grasping dilemmas and outlining ways forward: supportive at the drop of a hat, critical if the situation required. He was a problem solver and like all good practitioners in the field he observed the first rule of problem solving: don’t pretend there isn’t one. He didn’t always solve them. He can hardly be faulted for that. The ability to solve the insoluble is not a human attribute, and as there are no gods ...

No, nothing as big as gods, but there are elephants, some of whom are not seen no matter how large. The unseen elephant in the republican room at the minute is that republicanism in terms of what defines it, its essence, is hopelessly sterile: essentially going nowhere. There are answers to the question of partition, just no republican ones. 

What seems to fuel current republicanism is a sense of let-down rather than any blueprint that might give it lift-off. 17 years have flowed under the bridge since Sinn Fein endorsed partition through its acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement, and the republican opposition has little to show for its efforts. Apart from the North West, if there are signs of a republican revival they have been well and truly camouflaged.

Many of today’s republicans let the GFA pass on their watch. A giant Trojan horse that a republican with a white stick should have spotted, was placed right in the middle of republican Troy. Like the current elephant it too went unnoticed. If it was one eyed political myopia on the part of those who gave it the all clear but now regret it, there is nothing to be gained from poking them in the other eye. Bragging rights should mean zilch. But the upshot is that they have been marginalised and marooned on an island somewhat of their own making, their strategic ability to chart a way forward, questionable. 

Often I would speak to TC about this. Aware of the Mount Improbable republicans had to climb, he was keen to listen. I was never persuaded by his answers, nor he by my critique. He was an optimist and had had energy in abundance. I sometimes wondered if he mistook enthusiasm for effectiveness. 

He was not alone in refusing to relinquish his enthusiasm. Although I had to admire it more in him than in others who, through no fault of their own, have not yet been around the block enough times to have their own tested and tempered. Earlier this year I went to a 1916 Societies event in Dublin. The craic was good and the enthusiasm, while not infectious insofar as it failed to infect me, was hardly lacking in vibrancy. Yet the most relevant speaker on the day was the one who spoke very little about One Ireland One Vote, and talked about the homeless in Dublin. I commented to my travelling companion, a hardworking and amiable activist within the societies, that it all reminded me of a campaign for the resumption of the Latin mass. Needless to say, while he smiled and saw it as facetious, he did not concur.

I think what the Societies and TC alike failed to grasp was that the republican project no matter what form it takes simply does not have the puff to blow down the house of partition. That might be a pessimistic conclusion but in terms of republican potential to overcome partition no pessimist was ever proved wrong. The outcome to the failed IRA campaign was one of those situations where the problem is midwife to the solution. It prescribes the permissible and marginalises the improbable.

Republicanism failed to make hegemonic its idea that the British presence was the problem. Rather, in Gramscian terms the “common sense” that so rivalled and subverted the republican idea, that British behaviour rather than presence was the problem, triumphed in terms of strategic impact. The solution to that problem was not the British leaving but changing. The notion might not be to our liking but it is pervasive. And it seems very durable.

Would TC given his formidable intellect, had he lived, come to that position? I doubt it. He was an incurable revolutionary. And he was for having no truck with my views which he considered hopelessly defeatist. Although we both believed that something as sordid as politics should not impinge on personal friendships. 

Guys like him are never easily replaced and looking over republicanism since his death there is little sign that anybody of equal intellectual gravitas has filled his shoes. No new strategic life of any sort seems to have been breathed into the republican project. It appears indifferent to the strategic crux that it can neither reform the Northern state nor abolish it. 

TC was committed to republicanism. He felt it had a future. I have taken the view that there are an awful lot of useful things republicans can do but republicanism as we once practiced it is not one of them. Yet it remains vital that the sense of abhorrence of injustice that motivated many republicans is not dissipated at the partition wall where many heads are endlessly and futilely banged. I was honoured to have given the address at his inaugural memorial lecture in March. It is something hopefully that is continued: that different speakers make use of his memory for the purpose of thinking seriously about the political future, that they may urge support for the prisoners currently in British jails but ask serious questions of the armed struggle logic that puts them there.


  1. Good on ye Tony, interesting piece from an analytical viewpoint but of course a touching tribute to an honest man. I guess we can agree we are currently experiencing lean times but criticism like your own is worth taking onboard. If republicanism hopes to become relevant again in Ireland then it needs to be relevant to the people and their needs. That is a huge strategic challenge and one I agree with you on, at this moment we are nowhere near capable of addressing. We need to take an honest look at what you're saying, unfortunately the 1998 Agreement is a very effective bulwark to maintain Britain's presence in our country. It does not and nor does the consensus it produced have no weak spots. What we need to do is find these and focus our efforts on those points until better times come our way

  2. Mackers, all a man can hope for is to have a friend such as you to purvey the feelings of the heart. Whether you muse about Brendan Hughes or TC you heart shines through and no man has a better friend than that.

    Eddie mc Garrigle

  3. Big Eddie,

    thanks for that. Hope all is well with you. Maybe we will get another piece out of you at some point!!!


    thanks. As suggested in the article acknowledging the problem is a good start. You grapple with it all the time and don't see it as simply done and dusted. I think it important that energy is not expended in projects that offer no return. It leads to deflation and maybe even a conservatism. And there are many issues republicans can get a return from if they are willing not to supplant them by insisting on itself alone.

  4. That we may be protected from incurable revolutionaries!

    If they are to make any measurable or worthwhile contribution they'd (the revolutionaries) be better advised to relinquish the old pugilistic model ... and indeed anything that vaguely bears any connection to it. More and more people are coming see that (that) model in today's Ireland is anathema to the values of the vast majority.
    Though the warrior ethic still has purchase in fundamental fuedal societies the elaborate rationalisations and moral justifications required to ensure cohesive popular support for campaigning against 'Brit occupation' or partition are no longer persuasive enough to motivate or draw resilient support from any significant number.

    More and more people, that I talk with, are coming to the conclusion that, for as long as republicans adhere to their uber-nationalism they're doomed to their self-imposed anachronistic and ineffective path. A futile path that many would say that only leads to destination suffering, destination jail or destination madness.

    (Well-craft honest, courageous and humane piece AM).

  5. Absolutely. Republicanism and its adherents at this time require a fundamental reassessment that accounts for the political landscape 2015 - conscious that 1916 was a century back and that much has changed since. For me this requires a comprehensive analysis of power, where power resides in Ireland and its relationship to the Good Friday Agreement. Needless to say, this should factor in the broader position working people find themselves in across Europe and beyond and how their daily lives are also impacted by the power matrix. Such an analysis can allow us to figure out where, as you suggest, we can beat invest our political energy and achieve short to medium term progress. As Irish republicans there is no shame in such a, what we might call a more limited project. For as Irish republicans we are about more than the simple reunification of Ireland. It is also though important, at least for me, that while nationalism does not dictate the political strategy that its overarching relevance to our broad analysis is not discarded. All of the above requires honest debate and discussion, which unfortunately is not happening, at least to the extent it should be, at this point. The old internal rivalries and shuffling for position are a tremendous barrier to the emergence of a credible and relevant political analysis, in turn leading to a strategy which can achieve results. We can only see what time brings and try our best I suppose

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  7. Ffs here comes the plague again, this asshole just can't help himself by the looks of it. Away and do something useful with your time and stop the trolling - try and leave my name out of your pathetic utterances elsewhere while you're at it. I've no desire to play your silly games, as it seems are most others. Slan

  8. Writing thoughtful eulogies is probably gift you wouldnt want to know you had.

    The end result of Republicanism is still worth pursuing,its the methods that are the issue here, but isnt it amorphous enough to be reconstituted as something vital again? If we drop the retro language (Adams has won this field im afraid), then surely new ideas will follow.

  9. Resistance is never a futile path, lonely, wrongheaded, strategically misguided and countless other things but futile never. Been re-reading Ennie O'Malley's two magnificent tomes. Just wonderful books.If only he had wriiten a third.

    Anthony great to see the Quill is being dipped in the inkpot ;)

  10. Very good piece, I doubt one of mates will be able or have the aptitude to write as good a tribute to my life as that.

    I perhaps would not have agreed with Tony Catney on many things, but there you go such is life.

    Henryjoy, made a great little point in my opinion: "More and more people, that I talk with, are coming to the conclusion that, for as long as republicans adhere to their uber-nationalism they're doomed to their self-imposed anachronistic and ineffective path. A futile path that many would say that only leads to destination suffering, destination jail or destination madness".

    If people are speaking like that, then maybe all is not lost, something needs to give and any direction away from futile militant Republicanism would be considered as a good step in the right direction if you ask me.

    For example, if I thought for one minute that, if I lifted the gun that, I could get rid of the sectarianism, the establishment class or system of inequality here, when I say I would, I would.

    The reality is it will not. There are for to many controls or obstacles for such a simple approach, and I understand that some people see it as an traditional approach. The answer to it all seems to be continuously out of reach or one step beyond.

    A step in the right direction in my opinion is to focus on tackling the "Quality of Life Sanctions" about to be rammed right down all our throats from Whitehall, via Stormount.

    But, then again what do I know...

  11. Organised Rage, Are you missing Ernie O'Malley's 'Raids and Rallies'? I take it you've read 'The Singing Flame' and 'On Another Man's Wound'.

  12. I agree with 'Organised Rage' t'is great that Anthony has dipped his quill in the ink pot once again. Particularly so, that he's back airing his views on the current state of Irish republicanism. Threaded through his eulogy to TC is the most searing critique of the current state of affairs within what once was 'the movement' and of its most sacred dogmas.

    Strip back the references to Tony Catney and you'll find nothing oblique in Dr Big Macker's appraisals of the not so sanguine sterile credos of a marooned movement. True there's nothing exclusively new here ... but there's something quite shocking (even for me) when one's sees again the small snippets that were handed down, almost as throw-away comments during exchanges over the last weeks and months, now pulled together and served-up on a platter.

    That the profundity of this piece will be lost on some and may be conveniently ignored by others is almost implicit. None-the-less Anthony McIntyre is on the record and hits all the nails on the head once again.

  13. Great piece AM, When one reads d well thought out and i believe truthful analysis of were
    republicans are at today there seems to be a consensus that We hv failed to build a alternative
    strategy. IS it not time that the leadership of the different factions of armed organisations
    actually show leadership and call a complete cessation, this in my view will give republicans
    the space to debate an build a cohesive alternative to partition an d GFA.We can decide to
    stay as is an keep filling d jails but I believe we hv to be strategic it's not failure to change
    tactics, it's only failure if we fail to adapt. Even if republicans of all shades can't agree on
    a cohesive way forward I think our comrade TC would appreciate the debate.

  14. Simon

    Perhaps i failed to explain myself well, I have read O'Malley's 'Raids and Rallies' and when I get the time intend to re-read it, but as far as I remember its an amalgamation of events some of which he took part in some not. What I meant by a third book was something which linked to this thread. Ernie would have been well placed to write about Irish Republicanism, its future whether viable or not. The second book touches on whether compromising the Republican flame (so to speak) brings anything but tears and failure.

    These issues impacted on his generation and subsequent generations right up until today. Looking from the outside it seems to me whatever side of the argument comrades have been on down the years, a major problem has always been they overdress in the green to prove they are the real heirs of those who went before. The same old arguments are put forward about betrayal, touts and one more heave this time with a true leadership.. Only rarely does anyone question the topdown organisation of Irish republicanism or whether the political should control the military section and if they do it is because they understand full well they are one and the same.

    His first book highlights how easy it was for the military to ignore the political, to put it bluntly it's how Collin's manipulated his control of the movement and how Adams did the same. Yet this problem is hardly dealt with as the volunteers are sacrosanct along with the Army Council.

    Comradely regards


  15. HJ,
    Its totally futile, the utterly insane repetition of those who wont let go, quite possibly, cant let go. Its the attempted forcing of ones will onto another, with no chance of success at this stage, and its becoming increasingly apparent, never actually had a chance of success.Those of us who observe this, can but try to ameliorate our own changing emotional response, much like navigating the vicissitudes of the seasons.With just as much certainty that they must pass too.

    Im not on about Republicanism mind, im on about your attempted engagement with Sean Bres. Logs/eyes etc haha.

  16. Good to see you writing again.
    Do you think republicanism should focus on single issues? Tommy McKearney said socialisn should do this at a QUB lecture last year. Focus on single issues were there is a chance of success to build support and momentum.

  17. Organised Rage, Sorry about that Mick. You are probably right in a sense about O'Malley being able to tell if there is a future for Republicanism. Whether that's on a military or political level someone with the intellect of O'Malley could judge our situation correctly.

    The best bet isn't to wait for someone to articulate a proper strategy or analysis but for everyone to abide by the central tenets of Republicanism whilst maintaining peaceful means when violence doesn't appear to help.

    Goals like equality, proper representation of the people, lack of heritary entitlement, aspiring towards unification of Ireland amongst others. Keep the principles rather than giving up ideology. Violence isn't indispensable particularly when the defacto arbitrary border makes it counterproductive.

  18. Daithi

    What was it Sean called you recently?
    "A hateful little prick" or at least something to that affect. Didn't agree with him then ... and still don't.

    Have to leave it at that for now .. can hardly see a thing!

  19. Jesus. Underneath all your clever prose (shit-talk the most of it) you really are one pathetic, obsessive freak. Doubt you need to get a life - or at the very least some fresh air. Mummy forgot to cut the apron strings or something by the looks of it. Away and sort yourself

  20. Stop playing the victim Sean. Refrain from the insults too. In the long term it'll all work out.

  21. '' It shall be the first duty of the Republic..'' Why is no-one paying the slightest attention to what the teenagers and all those under 40 are studying, listening to, saying,
    and doing-the majority of voting citizens. Thats the real elephant in the room. '' The past is a foreign country.'' to them.

  22. Our in-house, self-styled psychoanalyst could do with a wee look in the mirror me thinks, for a wee chat like, ya know? Take a load of lad, it might never happen. There's more to life than your obsessive wee games on the internet. Slan

  23. Sean, does it ever occur to you to be kinder and gentler? Is this not part of the problem talked about In the article? I'm not criticising Sean, I know in the absence of mass participation the few need a fervour l, but can you not be a bit more Catholic about it?

  24. AM
    At last someone has addressed the the elephant room. As you are fully aware I hold a similar viewpoint which most times is not as elegantly put but as is the case in the Republican family I was simply ignored....that seems to be the problem, the small insignificant fish are speaking and no one is listening.....a left over stigma from SF. Although I have never known TC in the same manner as you have he was still a likeable person and you have spoken kind words about him I said before to you, only the good die young, bastards like you and me will live until we are 100!

  25. Thanks to all who commented here.


    single issues, multiple issues, republican, non-republican. I thin republicans should focus on them. Republicanism - what should it focus on? - which is what your question is as distinct from what republicans should focus on. Democratising itself, giving voice to the widest section of society possible; avoiding absolutism in thought and methodology.

  26. Yet more ad hominems Sean.
    Do you deny speaking to Dáithí as I recalled it?
    If you can't or won't address the substance of my arguments and comments leave the insults aside.

    (Regarding Sean's allegations of trolling, I'd like to take the opportunity to put it on record that I've never had any communication directly nor indirectly ... verbally, written nor electronically, with or about Sean, save the bickering between us that has transpired here on the Quill, and as such, I refute his allegations).

  27. Peter,

    I had never actually stopped writing. At least it didn't seem that way to me. I think that was just a rumour Mick Hall started!!

    Niall, as someone well used to not being listened to, my advice is take it in your stride, and continue not being listened to. It is always good for the record, so that when future generations look back they will be able to say not everyone bought into the bollix!

  28. Henry Joy, whoever the hell you are I'm long sick looking at your pathetic references to me and the incessant attempts to play 'silly boogers'. I've no interest in your snide remarks but let's not kid ourselves, you're trolling flat out. You are devious, or at least you think you are. It became that obvious you had to delete your comment ffs. I don't know if some kind of urge comes over ye or what but there's definitely something not right with ye. It's got that bad I even seen you bring my name into threads where I hadn't got round to looking at never mind contributing to. Childish shit in truth and very off-putting but I've long since come to expect as much. Take a day off or something man, or better yet go for a walk, grab yourself some fresh air and catch a hold of yourself. Use some of that psycho-babble bullshit to get your own life in order before haranguing people on here who you really don't have the first clue about. This is the last I've to say in relation to ye. Adh mhór