One Era Ends As Another Begins – Where To For Irish Republicanism?

Developing his theme on new opportunities towards the realising of a United Ireland, Sean Bresnahan, reflecting on the announcement that Gerry Adams is to stand down as Sinn Féin leader, argues that Republicans must countenance emerging realities.

After his announcement last weekend that he is to step down as Sinn Féin leader, love him or loathe him, Gerry Adams will be a huge loss for the party without question. His pending departure will also have a bearing on the wider Republican struggle. For notwithstanding the timeless adage, ‘follow the cause and not the man’, what the Adams leadership helped disguise was that Sinn Féin the party – with its role in the peace process – rather than a mere ‘one man show’ was in reality an Army project.

How far this remains the case today is difficult to quantify. No matter, last Saturday’s announcement portends not just the end of the Adams era but with it any remaining vestige of the Army within the Movement. There could be consequences in a broader sense as, absent this vanguard and in the context of its displacement, a further drift from core objectives might soon be on the cards. Given Sinn Féin’s role in the public mind as the primary Republican vehicle, this is of concern to us all — whether supporters of the party or not.

What this demands of those of us outside Sinn Féin, in terms of the role we must set toward and assume, is that we become ourselves a vanguard of Republicanism, seeking to influence the constitutional environment and the political actors therein. Our role in this regard is to advocate the inalienable rights of the Irish Nation — rights which exist in their own space and time, beyond and impervious to current or future constitutional realities.

What Sinn Féin must address, and it is our role to try and have them do so, is the vagueness of their so-called Agreed Ireland. The key point where clarity is required is on the constitutional lineage of this same supposed arrangement. Should a border poll be held and passed will it speed the reconstitution of the Irish Republic or will it instead give form to a revised continuum of the Good Friday Agreement? This is now at the core of the matter in terms of where our struggle is headed.

Just in terms of Adams himself, while there is a tendency to do so, we cannot just blame him for the past 30 years. The reality is that the Republican Movement chose the course that it did. Many of us played our part in this and have our own responsibilities accruing — which most prefer to forget. Yes he was a pivotal figure but the rank and file were hardly mere dupes. It was widely understood that a political vehicle to ‘broaden the front’ could ease the pressure ‘in the field’.

To put this down to one man’s scheming is a mistake, even if he carried an inordinate influence on and over the process. Ultimately things are now where they are for a reason — a war weary nationalist community, who seen the possibility of developing new forms of struggle, being central. What is incumbent on ourselves is that we work out together how best to develop these same ‘new forms’ — seeking out the best way forward in regard to the Ireland of today.

On the bigger picture is where our focus must be. If there is a pathway to the Republic once thought ‘strategically redundant’ but since impacted by changing circumstances then we must be big enough to adapt. This will bring difficulties for many. It may even seem an admission that ‘Adams was right’. But Adams or Sinn Féin don’t own demographic change. Nor do they own the rising sentiment found in the youth of the nation. These are forces which we too should seek to harness.

While the political process is British designed and is clearly an internal arrangement, it is this, perversely, that can prove its undoing. With Britain having set her conditions for withdrawal and with those same conditions now something that can be realised, a United Ireland is closer to hand than before. Acknowledging this does not require that we internalise British constitutional constraints. Britain’s ‘democratic stick’, no matter, can ironically seal her demise. This reflects shifting demographics and is unrelated to any particular Republican strategy. It should not, then, be mistaken for a legacy of Adams and need not present issue for ourselves.

While it is not automatic that unity will follow should a nationalist majority emerge in the North, a critical consideration will still have been birthed. Currently, nationalism requires that a section of unionism find merit in a United Ireland if one is to come into being — this of course in accord with Britain’s conditions and not our own. When nationalism arrives at a majority, however, the opposite will be true. Unionists will require that a section of nationalism find merit in the Union in order that it be maintained. This is of huge significance.

The efforts to conceal demographic reality can hold out no longer. Those who have tried cannot disguise the inevitable — that the days of the Union are numbered. With change comes new opportunities and with them responsibilities on our part. While Adams steps down with a United Ireland still to be achieved, the failure belongs to us all. Regardless, with a new era before us, the time to push on is now. The dead generations demand it; their sacrifice – for the Republic – must not be in vain.

That Republic is still the objective and it is our role, at this critical time, to ensure this remains the case.

Sean Bresnahan is a member of the 1916 Societies and TPQ columnist writing in a personal capacity.

Follow Sean Bresnahan on Twitter @bres79

Share This:

Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

15 comments to ''One Era Ends As Another Begins – Where To For Irish Republicanism?"

  1. Given that the citizens of the 6 counties can hold dual citizenship and in the light of brexit, I wonder if many nationalists would vote for a united Ireland when they can have the best of both worlds.

  2. Steve R,
    Steve that is a very Unionist take on Nastionalism and which Unionism seems to think it knows Irish doesn't and it always interprets Nationalism in terms of Unionism....those who claim to be Nationalist and vote against a United Ireland are not nationalist to begin with. How could they be?

  3. Niall, they are what I would call partitionist nationalists

  4. Sean

    thanks for sharing your thoughts on evolving events but regardless of with whom, regardless of where, the leadership of Provisional Republicanism lay in the past ... and indeed where it might fall in the future it (Provisional Republicanism) follows a course not of its own charting.

    Having missed the premiere of Maurice Fitzpatrick's movie on John Hume at The Galway Film Fleadh earlier this summer I got to view it in the cinema last week. The documentary clearly demonstrates that the dominant actor in the affairs of Ireland in relation to unity and the shaping of policy concerning same was John Hume.

    Martin McGuinness may deny having had any hand, act or part in tying Patsy Gillespie into a van load of explosives but John Hume certainly tied McGuinness and Adams into a policy shift which would eventually lead to the demise of their cherished legitimisation of armed struggle and an undermining of any concept for Irish unity by the general masses save but with the consent of a majority within the Northern state.

    That of course does not preclude anyone advocating or even agitating for unity but it does effectively lay out the parameters that define what's likely to be acceptable to the population north and south. Those limitations are markedly similar to those ideas advocated for by Hume in his 1964 article for The Irish Times in which he argued for change as evolution rather than by revolution.

    With hindsight it becomes ever more clear that it was the guiding and steadying hand of Hume that laid out the course which would belatedly come to be traveled by Adams et all. His vision is now more deeply accepted and embedded than anything old style republicanism has or had to offer. Any ideas you might hold Sean that Hume's legacy will be squandered by the collective Irish family are foolhardy ... and foolhardy in the extreme.

  5. Sean who else but Adams and those in his 'Think Tank', the likes of McGuinness and Ted Howell etc (the Ted in his tweets), could have undermined the Movement from within?
    Adams in fact created a movement within the Movement, or the cancerous growth which weakened and eventually brought about the demise of the IRA.

    He did this by willingly sacrificing men and women who believed in him and the others within this 'Think Tank', starting of course with the Hunger Strikers in 1981 and then those who died on the streets and country lanes from then on in; more particularly from 1987. Adams himself now admits, famously at the trial of his brother Liam, that he was engaging in the 'Peace Process' with Father Reid from 1987. Therefore at a time when he and McGuinness were still encouraging war and IRA Volunteers were dying, he was seeking a way out of it.

    Therefore the rank and file were indeed mere dupes, more so given that a Priest knew what those fighting the war didn't know, that the war was by then seen as a hindrance to the political route envisaged by Adams and his clique.

    None more so, for time at least; than Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who admitted himself that he wasn't aware of any offer made during the second Hunger Strike and in fact Adams true involvement in the running of it. So if a Republican the caliber of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh can be duped what chances had the rest of us?

    Lets not forget also that both Adams and McGuinness were clearly protected, the argument as to whether they were touts or not is disputable but clearly they were at least seen by the British as the threat within the IRA that must be safeguarded at all costs.

    Read the section about Adams in the De Silva Report, how he was saved from death in a UDA limpet Mine attack in May 1987. Read how Nelson was told to not to target Adams and concentrate on Pat Finucane instead.

    May 1987 was also the same month that the most fearless unit in the IRA was wiped out in one fell swoop at Loughgall. 1987 was also the year, as I pointed out, that Adams now admits to engaging in the Peace Process.

    Adams has taken the Republican Movement so far down the road already trodden by the SDLP that he is now using John Hume's 'Agreed Ireland'. Think about that and also think on this, Britain had set her conditions for withdrawal out in the Sunningdale Agreement, the exact same conditions for withdrawal were laid out back then so it's nothing new... "If in the future the majority of the people in 'NI' should indicate to become part of a United Ireland, the British Government would support that wish."

    It's my opinion that Adams sees himself as the next De Valera and his intention has been to turn Sinn Féin into the new Fianna Fáil. In fact his attempts at attracting the support of the Irish Diaspora across the globe has been nothing less than a watered down version of De Valera’s world-wide Anti-Partition Campaign, from 1948 to 1951, during which there was a massive parade through New York's thorough-fares in his honour. Adams can just about get a welcome in Washington these days.

    His visions of becoming the next De Valera have unraveled before his eyes and now he steps back into the shadows with the Army Council still intent on at least replacing Fianna Fáil with his party, Sinn Féin. His failing there will be the fact that not only are Fianna Fáil too well established in the South but who wants a smaller version down there as well?

    So it's foolhardy for anyone to believe that with Adams stepping back, and I'm not suggesting you'd believe this Sean, that Sinn Féin could eventually change for the advancement of Republicanism. It will not change, for he is merely letting his puppets appear to be taking the lead, nothing more.

  6. Niall,

    "..those who claim to be Nationalist and vote against a United Ireland are not nationalist to begin with. How could they be?"

    With considerable rational.

    I expect for those who identify as nationalist but otherwise dissent from its absolutism, the trade off is one between aspiration and pragmatism. They appear no less nationalist for it.

    Anthony refers to them oxymoronically as 'partitionist nationalists',perhaps, but only in so far as their support for partition is a manifestation of pragmatism borne of the logic that,".. an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it, and that unpractical ideas are to be rejected.

  7. Niall,

    I am a Unionist but I see your point. As Anthony said, not every Nationalist may automatically vote for a UI especially if they can have their cake and eat it.

    And was it yourself that pointed out that the South may not want a bar of the troublesome Nordies in the event of a UI anyway?

  8. Your observations regarding Adams are spot on Dixie but what I meant with the comment about responsibility related more to further down the line than the period you mentioned. In 1997 it was already obvious to me that the political process we were engaged in was heading towards a settlement that encompassed a continuation of partition. I was a teenager at the time in question and yet still could see what was happening.

    There is an idea we can blame all that went wrong at this point on Adams and McGuinness and do away with our own failures on that basis. But when we think back and remember that many warned of what was happening at the time of the Agreement – of what and where accepting it would lead – then the truth is the responsibility is spread far wider, given that many of those now rigidly set against that Agreement were not only content to go along with it but actually pushed it over the line in our communities. This isn’t to undermine those concerned but to reflect on and acknowledge the reality of what happened.

    I’ve told this story before but when I drew attention to the shifts in our public stance and what it was likely paving the way for I was told by those in charge, locally, ‘if that’s how it pans out don’t worry about leaving because we’ll all be leaving’. When the time came no-one left (Mackey and others had already gone). When those who knew all the arguments but went along with the Agreement blame everything on the leadership I find it a bit of a cop out. Many of these same people dragged things across the line so I don’t think it a fair assessment to say they were mere dupes. If I knew what was happening then surely they did too — they were about far longer than me. That’s really what I was referring to.

    That aside, my main concern with the article wasn’t so much to review the Adams period as to look closer at the situation emerging. My hope is that the people push on for a proper United Ireland – the one so many died for – rather than for sold out politicians to dictate our direction and lead us to somewhere else. For me it is critical that the space opening up is not abandoned to revisionists who will happily waste the emerging dynamic to bring about yet another compromise with the British.

    It is precisely because there are forces trying to shift the direction of travel towards something entirely different to the Republic – to this bogus SDLP-type ‘Agreed Ireland’ – that I feel we must step up our efforts. We are at a pivotal moment in our history in my opinion and we must rise to the challenge. We owe as much to every man and woman whose name is on the Roll of Honour.

    I could be totally wrong but something tells me this could all be brought forward much sooner than anyone expects at present. Much depends on how Brexit unfolds but the demographics are a live consideration either way. Ultimately, regardless of Adams and his legacy, instead of arguing over who was right or wrong I feel it would be better that we try and have everyone push in the one direction as we move forward. That direction? The Irish Republic. That is what I was really driving at, even if it is, perhaps, naive.

  9. AM and Robert,
    Partitionist nationalists are self-deluded British subjects who wish to have a foot in each camp but keep their presence in one camp quiet.....the practical reality is that they don't actually exist. They may outwardly appear to be nationalist but otherwise they are as British as Finchley and so not nationalist.

  10. Niall,

    partitionist nationalists are nationalists who support the partition principle otherwise known as the consent principle. There are many more of them than there are any other sort of nationalist and they have a long history which predates the emergence of the Provisional IRA.

  11. The plan seems to be hinged on shelving Adams until the opportune time arrives to unwrap him for a presidential election race in the Free-State. He will not be at the helm when important debates such as coalition options really come to the fore in the party. It is interesting to see Unionist commentators on this site seeking the retention of the PAC in this regard. His resignation announcement received an immediate recapture of lost percentage points in the 26-County polls although it will take some time before the impact of Mary Lou's leadership begins to see any return.

    In the North last week, the revelations of a general amnesty for crown forces really gave me a sense of a repeat in what occurred shortly after the Civil War. In 1925, as Republicans frantically attempted to rebuild, following total defeat, fracturing and in the midst of an increasngly operational Free State administration, the Cosgrave Administration faced it's first crisis when a British paper leaked details of the Boundary commission report, then subsequent to that, there was the revelations relating to the 'Ultimate Financial Settlement'

    I have wondered all week whether the SHA/FSA and Action Plan contain enough secrets within them to give Nationalists and Republicans of all hues an impetus to organise effectively. It is so frustrating to accept that the answer cannot be known until they are revealed! Without Adams in the leadership such major contentious issues would hypothetically be enough to create a platform of genuine opposition that is above schism. It is, in my opinion, no longer good enough to sit on the margins of society and 'blame' Adams. anymore, just as it was not good enough to sit on the margins of society in 1925 and blame Griffith or Cosgrave. Republicans brought ideas forward and built campaigns which mattered to the people. I thank Seán for another jolt into thought and re-analysis. As always it gives much food for thought.

  12. Niall,

    there's much more denial, delusion and deceit going on than that which might be placed at the feet of partitionist nationalists.

    Look, if you can, to the log in thine own eye!
    (Hint; why did Connolly degree that no shots be fired in the North in 1916).

  13. Tarlach,

    That Unionist commentator is well known to be bonkers. Within the PUL community there's no illusion that it's either went away or is even remotely likely to. Exactly the same as the Loyalist groupings, in one form or another they will always be there in the shadows.

  14. Steve R

    I think that people are confused about the Provisional movement on all sides. Either they are playing a shrewd game or, they simply don't have one. I haven't heard of the 'Provies' in years and I don't know if that is because they are better business people than those from other groups are, or because they genuinely have left the stage. Certainly I wouldn't be aware of the 'Provies' having been involved in any of the activities that are associated with the new buzz-word 'paramilitarism' in 12 years. It would be interesting to ascertain whether that is because of a genuine commitment to the current Sinn Féin project or as a consequence of time and change.
    Sinn Féin unveiled a blistering attack on the IRSP last week also and I wondered what the intent therein was. It seems that there will be a battle for funding now and the designated 'lawful' groups will have to fight it out. This will be interesting because the funding is part of a process aimed at ending 'paramilitarism' Strange times in Ireland.

  15. Tarlach,

    I don't mean in the over-arching sense of the capabilities the Provisionals had in the 80's-90's, I meant more in the skeleton of structure. Though I don't ever see it returning a hypothetical act of barbarism by the British Army would instantly see the skeleton regain flesh.

    Storey, Wilson and others certainly would not have dismantled the grapevines in totality, one only needs to look at the retribution for Jock Davidson to see how the Army Council deals with attacks against senior Republicans. They knew exactly who was responsible, and how to get away with it, all of which takes some degree of planning.

    But yes, they are all vying for the carrot as everyone got sick of the stick.


  • To add an Emoticons Show Icons
  • To add code Use [pre]code here[/pre]
  • To add an Image Use [img]IMAGE-URL-HERE[/img]
  • To add Youtube video just paste a video link like