Coalisland 2016: A Blow Against Normalisation

Dieter Reinisch overviews last weekend's Easter parade in Coalisland. Dieter Reinisch is Researcher at the European University Institute. His analysis initially appeared on his blog

Photo Credit: Dieter Reinisch

This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Ireland. Over Easter, hundreds of commemorations were held throughout the island. International media outlets reported lengthy from the official State commemorations on O’Connell Street in Dublin. However, the arguably most significant commemoration took place in a small town in rural Tyrone, Coalisland. The Coalisland parade struck certainly a blow to “normalisation” in Ireland.

Easter is a very special date in the Irish calendar. That is not only the case for religious reasons. At Easter 1916, a small group of militant Nationalists and Republicans of, among others, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens’ Army launched an insurrection against their colonial power Britain. In front of the General Post Office, that served as headquarter for the rebels, they proclaimed the Irish Republic. Although defeated within a week, the Rising marked a cornerstone towards independence. What was to become was a landslide victory of Sinn Féin at the elections in 1918, a War of Independence with Britain, the partition of the island, the independence of the southern 26 Counties, and a bloody Civil War.

The official State commemoration to mark the centenary was held in Dublin on Easter Sunday. Writers and commentators such as Ruth Dudley Edwards writing in the Belfast Telegraph and Henry McDonald in the News Letter both praised the “very fitting” tribute and “the sensitive handling of the celebrations.” The official programme marking the Easter Rising and the Decade of Centenaries by the Irish State is merely the most prominent among of a wide-ranging programme of events from various organisations.

Apart from the official commemorative events, there are the various Republican commemorations. Annually, Republican organisations, the National Graves Association, and Sinn Féin are holding hundreds of commemorations and smaller events through the island. The biggest commemoration is usually held on the Falls Road in West Belfast. The march, which is organised by National Graves Association Belfast/Sinn Féin, attracts more than 10-15.000 people. A huge number of the spectators are tourists. The spectacle repeats itself every year. However, this year was different.

On Easter Sunday, the second biggest parade in the North of Ireland was held independent of Sinn Féin. About 3-4.000 people, some participants even estimated the attendance with 5.000, marched from Clonoe Chapel to the town centre of Coalisland. Coalisland is a small town with a population of 5.000, and it is a historic place. On 24 August 1968, the first civil rights march was held from Coalisland to Dungannon.

The Republican parade on Easter Sunday was also significant. At 3pm, a huge crowed assembled at the carpark of Clonoe Chapel. The march was organised by the National Republican Commemoration Committee under the title “Unfinished Revolution.” Although the group had to brave windy, rainy, and cold weather conditions for an hour, no one departed. “We are still waiting for a band,” the organisers said. Indeed, a group of up to 80 women and men dressed in paramilitary uniforms was held back by the Northern Irish police service, PSNI, and hindered them to attend the parade. When the group finally formed up, cheers and a round of applause from those in attendance greeted them. By including women and men in paramilitary uniforms in the parade, the organisers clearly breached the orders of the Parades Commission that stated, “No military display.”
Photo Credit: Dieter Reinisch

Among the thousands of participants were some well-known Republicans, such as Mandy Duffy, sister-in-law of Colin Duffy, Hooded men Kevin Hannaway, former Republican prisoner Brian Shivers, or independent Councillor Gary Donnelly from Derry. On the following day, the front-page of the News Letter read “An island divided,” contrasting a photo of the official commemoration ceremony in Dublin with the militant display in Coalisland.
Photo Credit: Dieter Reinisch
The parade in Coalisland was not an isolated incident. The day before, a masked group of women and men in paramilitary uniforms marched at the Republican Sinn Féin Easter commemoration in the Kilwilkee estate of Lurgan; militant displays were also visible at parades in North Belfast on Saturday and Derry on Monday. In Newry, around 500 people marched at an independent Easter commemoration on Saturday, and on Monday, a few thousand people attended the annual Tyrone National Graves Associations’ commemoration in Carrickmore.

The organisers of these parades are Republican groups who oppose the current settlement and the 1998-Good-Friday-Agreement. Hence, all these events were not only independent of but also in opposition to Sinn Féin, the main Nationalist party in the North. The organisers of these commemorations are usually referred to as “Dissident Irish Republicans,” a term strongly rejected by the activists of these groups themselves. Indeed, the terms “militant Republicans or “traditional Republicans” characterises them better.
Photo Credit: Dieter Reinisch

Commentators usually accuse these militant Republicans of, first, lack of support and, second, lack of politics. The first notion has been belied over the Easter weekend. Up to 5.000 people, marching behind an 80-strong group in paramilitary uniforms through a small town in rural Tyrone is a significant development 18 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Coalisland lies in a staunch Republican area that has been at the heart of the war throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. That the second biggest Easter parade in the North was held independent of Sinn Féin is a further sign for the growing dissatisfaction with the current settlement among the Nationalist community, in particular in Republican strongholds. The current settlement, indeed, increased sectarianism, racism against migrants, youth unemployment, and economic stagnation. Therefore, I would disagree with Henry MacDonald, who commented in the Belfast Telegraph that the PSNI won the “propaganda war.” Instead, I would argue that the militant display in Coalisland was a propaganda coup for militant Republicans showing their growing support in Nationalist areas in the North.

The second notion is that these Republicans have no politics. Former Republican prisoner David Jordan gave the main oration at the commemoration in Coalisland. During the course of his speech, Jordan spoke about the need for a “political vehicle” to be established. He said:

Our overall objective must be to empower the Irish people using our revolutionary thinking to do so. (…) It is of the utmost importance that a strong vehicle is built. The vehicle must be ideologically united on radical socialist Republican objectives. It must be capable of formulating and implementing short-term and long-term objectives.

In the past, various attempts to establish such a vehicle failed and, therefore, more than half a dozen different groups exist. If the organisers of the parade in Coalisland succeed in closing this schism and establish a political force remains to be seen. For the moment, the Éire Nua programme, promoted by Republican Sinn Féin and recently by 1916-Societies National PRO Seán Bresnahan, remains the only political document outlining a long-term perspective for Ireland offered by militant Republicans. However, in the past 30 years, Éire Nua could not gain any significant support among Nationalists in the North. On the other hand, if militant Republicans succeed in providing a political alternative to those Nationalists who disapprove with the current settlement, it could be a game change in Northern Irish politics.

Researchers of militant Irish Republicanism focus on splits in the Republican Movement, and the counting of security alerts, punishment shootings, and lethal attacks to trace support for militant Republicanism. However, far from splits, prisoner numbers, and interviews with well-known spokespersons, a growing number of people from the Nationalist community in the North is prepared to show publically their support for these groups. In other words, the previous years have certainly seen tectonic shifts within traditional Republican communities, in particularly in rural areas and small towns in Counties Tyrone and Armagh. If future research is able to grasp these developments remains to be seen.

What remains is the fact that around 4.000 people marched through a rural town centre in County Tyrone on Easter Sunday. Flanked by IRA-signs on lampposts and lead by an 80-strong group in paramilitary uniforms, all those in attendance were defying the order of the Parades Commission. This very fact is in itself a blow against normalisation in the North of Ireland. If the organisers of this parade succeed in their attempt to establish a “political vehicle,” academics might be forced to re-write the lessons of the Northern Irish conflict.

Dieter Reinisch


  1. It was a fantastic turnout, and proves that sinn fein
    do not own the republican struggle. I am interested
    in this "political vehicle" and what it entails, I would
    like to see reps from the societies, rnu, irpwa come
    together an form a political strategy this is what I
    believe our oppents fear the most anti treaty republicans
    working together, it won't be easy but if republicanism
    is to have a future it needs to be done.

  2. Do we know how many attended Sinn Feins micro-Parade? Haha

  3. Isn't there's a certain irony to Mr Jordan's calling for the creation of 'a political vehicle' at a demonstration and march led off by eighty men and women in paramilitary fatigues?

    Few, I'd contend, will have any major concern that this is the emergence of yet another proto-facist front. Most will just sigh and see this for what it is ... the mundane and final death throes of an outdated and now largely irrelevant movement.

    The only positive that one can take from any of this is that it will serve for most thinking and rational beings as yet another embarrassing or cautionary reminder for the power that a conditioning narrative can hold over some if swallowed whole.

  4. Great that Dieter brought news of this event and the amount of page views it is drawing shows the interest in this type of coverage for marginalised perspectives. But in today's world when photos of marching men with masks and flags appear the immediate resemblance is with ISIS. That is what jumped to my mind and I am not given to thinking ISIS equals "revolutionary" republicanism. What does it suggest to the average citizen?

  5. I wonder if HJ could enlighten us as to who the other 'proto-facist' [sic] groups are that he refers to in his comment

  6. No one in particular Sean, more of a non-specific visceral reaction to the photos accompanying Dieter's article. Something similar, I guess, to what AM reported.

    There was a greater point to my comment; one that called to attention the anomaly and contradiction between Mr Jordan's call for a 'political vehicle' to be found and the paramilitary structure/format of the protest march/commemoration ceremony.

    If Irish Republicanism is to have any viable future purchase, if it is to make any meaningful and substantive difference in the lives of ordinary decent citizens, I am of the opinion, it has to demilitarise. It must commit to pursuing its goals and vision through legitimate and exclusively non-violent means.
    It must jettison the old and no longer sustainable militaristic narrative, listen to the peoples needs and wishes and then attempt a compelling vision with realistic strategies to achieve it.

    As is your wont Sean you avoided the substantive yet again ...this time through nitpicking and attempted misdirection.

  7. I had to look up 'proto-fascism but still don't see the connection. Being an anarchist in nature I can not conform, as a humanist I can not agree with offensive militarism, as a republican socialist I can not agree with exclusionism but I will commemorate all those who fight against against sectarianism, imperialism, social and economic inequality.

  8. Sorry HJ but it's not good enough to claim misdirection is at play. You are suggesting that any political vehicle to proceed from Davy Jordan's call would represent yet another 'proto-fascist front'. What gives you the right? Don't run to the headmaster looking support, he never described those who might emerge from Coalisland as any such thing - never mind whoever the others are that you're referring to. That you say you referred to 'no-one in particular' merely confirms your agenda is to justify your miraculous Redmondite conversion. That you now need to describe Irish republicans as though they are fascist in order to justify your flip-flopping shows how consumed you are by your ego.

    I did not ignore your point, it's just disgusting to see your pathetic agenda against Irish republicanism continue. And yet we are not that far removed from a time you loudly proclaimed that republicans must hold the line from revisionist narratives as that you now spout. I will quote your words back to you if needs be, they speak clearly for themselves and well you know it. You're in no position to preach about republicans or their direction, hiding behind a profile to fling mud at decent people and all while having not only insisted their analysis was correct but that it was vital to resist attempts to undermine it, no matter how isolated we might become.

  9. Beyond the usual hypocritical claptrap of our resident brain surgeon HJ there's a worthwhile conversation to be had on some of the issues raised. I'd be keen to discuss it further but tomorrow my sister is getting married. It's unlikely I'll have the chance to contribute further but what I will say is that as much as I dislike this Henry Joy's jibes he does raise some worthwhile points in his latter comment. I would not be adverse to discussing them further and indeed find little with which to disagree.

    Arguably republicanism requires a transition away from the language and slogans of old - and with them the methods and analyses republicans perennially cling to. This in itself presents a massive strategic challenge. It does not though require us to abandon ideological assumptions. Indeed to those same assumptions we must return. The bottom line is that as Connolly rightly told us, Britain has no right in Ireland and will never have any right in Ireland. There can be no shifting from that unalterable reality.

  10. I watched the event on youtube , I felt it was a fitting tribute to the Patriots of 1916 and their ideals , young and old showing their sense of pride in an event that is all to often hijacked by our shinner friends and their collaborators in the freestate parliament.

    One or two marched out of step behind the main colour party and as they stood at ease i noticed right hands in left hands and left hands in right hands , it should always be right knuckle on the left palm however im sure they dont drill every day of the week , Well Done Coalisland , very well done.

  11. Sean

    there are five photos accompanying this article. One of them is of Dieter, the other four, I propose, are totally out of touch with what the majority of Irish people consider decent and appropriate. Mackers suggests they might remind one of ISIS. I suggested they might suggest proto-facists. Same difference. Mackers was once enthralled by militant republicanism so was I. Same difference.

    Happy April Fools Day!

  12. Sean,

    I patently did not suggest any political vehicle arising from Davy's proposal was proto-facist. Here's what I said:

    "Few, I'd contend, will have any major concern that this is the emergence of yet another proto-facist front. Most will just sigh and see this for what it is ... the mundane and final death throes of an outdated and now largely irrelevant movement."

    I didn't grant any of those involved any capacity ... proto-facist or otherwise.

    With regards to the use of a moniker we've been here before too. Mackers offered you a 'court of enquiry' option before and you turned that down. Deal with my arguments or button it.

  13. Sean

    This conversation will keep. Thank you for acknowledging that challenges and anomalies exist for Republicans and Republicanism and that they need to be addressed.

    In the final analysis the vast majority of people aspire to a civil society and they will ultimately only support ideals, behaviours, individuals and organisations that they perceive as contributing to that.

    Most wise and ethical people will reserve the right to challenge things they perceive as impeding that noble ideal of a civil society.

    All that said I hope you and the clan have a great day at the wedding.


  14. HJ you keep replying and no one is responding????

  15. Stauffenberg

    Guess it appears somewhat schizophrenic all right but posts do not appear until they are put up by the moderator. Sometimes this results in them appearing in clusters.
    For example my comments at 10.51 and 11.16 were written having read Sean's comment at 10.24 but not having seen his one at 10.39 where he eventually acknowledged the substance of my earlier points.

  16. Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin talking to William Crawley on Talkback about the recent debate on two tier policing....

    At the start he gives his views on the Coalisland parade...

  17. This is one of the downsides of a moderated site: a comment could be waiting for hours in the stalls before the laptop gets opened and the site accessed. It can be frustrating for the commenter who would like to see their comment appear as soon as they post it. It is something we will have to put up with I guess. The plus is that regardless of what time it appears the time of when it was submitted is always shown.

  18. It still works for the most part and is actually better in my opinion than were comments to appear instantly. It allows more time for reflection. A thoroughly enjoyable wedding, just back in the door. Had no access to the Internet which is always a good thing at such events. Thanks for the link Frankie, will check that out now.

  19. Sean,

    I thin that is right it works ... for the most part!

  20. Sorry folks , i wasnt looking at the times of H.Js posts , it was late in the evening , wasnt totally scoped in...