The online commentary from Derry citizens exudes a collective sigh of relief that their young people had the good fortune to escape being killed in a bomb attack on a public place by one of the armed republican militias in the city. That relief is fused with a palpable anger that the bombers targeted Derry streets in the first place. A flavour for the feeling is captured in the raw Twitter comment from Derry:
They represent no one, they are not patriots they are criminals. When your fight for freedom restricts the lives of the people you claim to fight for, its futile … Fuck every last one of you and your 'cause'.Strong stuff, seemingly reflecting a much wider band of sentiment as well. There is no room for doubt that the people of Derry want to bury the republican physical force tradition, not their children.
The New IRA as it is colloquially known has been blamed although to date no republican body has been willing to come out and stand over the indefensible and reprehensible. Apart from some contextual mumblings and stale rhetoric from fraternal groups or individuals, there has been no admission of responsibility. The public of Derry, seemingly, is not permitted to know who is bombing it or why it is being bombed. The rule of Closed Material Proceedings appears to apply.
The PSNI have encouraged the perception of New IRA culpability through its arrest of several Saoradh activists. There is a common perception that both groups drink from the same well, with more than a few observers of the republican scene willing to see the relationship between Saoradh and the New IRA much like that which existed between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. Arrest Saoradh activists and by extension the New IRA is in the frame plus a legal political party is smeared in the process. A cop version of buy one get one free. It is sleight of hand. As the PSNI is so at ease with public lying, there is no particular reason to attach any weight to its justification for the arrests that “everything we do has to be lawful, proportional and necessary” when in fact much of what the force does is laughable, disproportionate and gratuitous. A more persuasive case has been made by solicitors acting on behalf of one of the arrested men:
There was never any question of charges in this case. This arrest was particularly cynical. Not a shred of incriminatory evidence was put to him in two days of interviews.The independent political activist Emmet Doyle has reinforced scepticism towards the PSNI statement by saying:
despite all the whoha, four of the five people arrested by police are home, without charge. No doubt the fifth will follow so the question is why kick doors in and drag people to Musgrave for nothing?”While the PSNI are simply unworthy of belief, they did not plant the bomb but took risks with their own lives shepherding the people of Derry to safety from a lethal device placed in Bishop Street by people who thus far have lacked both the moral and political conviction to stand over their actions.
21 years after the unmitigated and unpardonable atrocity inflicted by republicans on the civilian population of Omagh, it seems unfathomable that there remain republicans so divorced from the concept of rights other than their own, that they would still consider detonating a car bomb in a population centre. Whatever the purpose – we do not know because nobody from the militarist camp has told us - the discernible military effect was noise. Republicanism advanced not one solitary step either strategically or politically. The opposite in fact. Republicans of the armed sort have once again allowed themselves to be depicted as troglodytes who now and then emerge from tenebrous caverns to hurl spears at wider society. This, after having consulted some strange hieroglyphic drawings on the walls of their caves which they interpret as bestowing upon them the right to risk killing and maiming citizens. There is need for neither consultation nor approval, just the endorsement of the wall. Like some conceit-saturated British aristocrat from the film Braveheart claiming jus primae noctis.
It takes no leap of the imagination to conjure up the horrendous vista that the civilians of Derry were exposed to. The result of Saturday night’s attack could easily have been a homicidal catastrophe of Omagh scale proportion. Yet somebody still thought making a lot of noise was worth the risk. The video footage of a crowd of Derry youth being permitted by the bombers to walk past a primed bomb with absolutely no awareness of the danger they were placed in was nothing short of villainous negligence. When juxtaposed to the footage of one of the bombers running away from the scene to ensure his own safety, the image may yet become damningly defining for armed republicanism. The old pejorative of I Ran Away that so stung and helped fuel the emergence and rise of the Provisional IRA, has acquired an added inflexion and will possibly endure.
Such injurious intonations add to the serious credibility problem that republican militias face. In the South, even if the persistent accusation against them is untrue – that they licence the criminal drug trade via taxation – and they have not therefore criminalised the physical force tradition by such arrantly criminal funding mechanisms, their warring with drugs cartels has caused people to regard them as something straight out of a Love/Hate set. The public see no 1916 type rebellion against the British, just street executions related to the drugs trade.
In Drogheda here, those who have commented about it discuss the Derry bombing as if it was an extension of the local bomb incidents that have plagued the town recently. Those occurrences are the result of an ongoing inter gang feud, and events in Derry are viewed in much the same light, just something that happens further up the road. When people invoke Nidge and Fran from Love/Hate in conversation to articulate their view of modern armed republicans, futility induced fatigue prevents me even attempting to disabuse them of their perception.
In the North, the current military prowess of armed republicanism has long been a standing joke amongst former Provisional IRA activists, for the most part seen as resembling the Provisionals’ civil administration teams, up to the task of beating the local hood, but little else. Many who took part in a serious guerrilla war are wary of dignifying the current posturing as a “war”, seeing the “revolutionary acts” as the make believe of pretenders performing a militaristic rain dance, put on for the purpose of headline grabbing. An oft quoted term to describe the leaders of the various grouplets is “egos”.
Even if such perceptions are false or exaggerated, their pervasive existence should alert any serious thinkers within armed republicanism to the impossibilist nature of the task they have undertaken and the incalculable damage being done to republicanism and its history. Since the Omagh bomb at least, the reputation of physical force republicanism has been in tatters.
Given that republicanism most certainly did not benefit in the slightest from the bombing of Derry, there is one very clear answer to the eternal political question of cui bono? British security services, eager to expand their security empire by exaggerating the threat posed by armed militias. Being beneficiaries is a far cry from the security services having any involvement. Still, various republican militias are legendary for their ineptitude and underachievement compared to the Provisional IRA. And as the latter’s competence in the field of internal security was nothing to write home about, it is easily conceivable that today’s militias, being even less competent are even more penetrated. We know from Omagh that the British security services are not easily absolved from blame or black operations.
The IRSP has taken to admonishing one of their members for stating publicly what others are speculating privately. Yet, if the hidden hand of the British was not involved in the bomb attack on Derry - there is no evidence thus far to show that it was - then we are left to conclude that some republican activists all on their own and without any nudging from the British are so rotten to the core that they would wilfully endanger the lives of Derry youth. A most sobering and shuddering thought.
As the author of an upcoming book on “dissident republicans”, Marisa McGlinchey, makes clear, there are many from that dissenting school of thought who simply would not countenance the Derry attack. That wider body of republican opinion needs to purge itself of this revolutionary arrogance which holds that the community of Derry has no right not to be bombed and that some masked militia has the right to bomb it. If republicans are insistent on freedom, then the right of a community to be free from republican violence must figure top of the agenda. Violence if ever resorted to has to be the last resort, never the first. It must also be strategically not traditionally driven. Republicans have no more right to bomb population centres in defence of republican doctrine than priests would have to burn people at the stake in defence of Catholic doctrine. In our current political climate where Ireland has rebelled against antiquated institutions and cultures which insist that their laws trump societal law, the republican physical force tradition now appears quasi fascist. Canon Law of the clerics or physical force law of the militarists can have no application to wider society.
Of course, this will be heresy to the heretic hunters. Evolution of ideas is invariably anathema to fundamentalists. As keepers of the flame with which they seek to burn others, without the flame they have nothing to keep, their raison d'etre extinguished with its final flicker. Nevertheless, their ahistorical view of a precept possessing a timeless immutable quality, unable to adapt to climate or circumstance, is ultimately pushed aside by the power of evolution.
The republican physical force tradition is not immune to that trend. Once an adjunct of republicanism, it is now an aberration. The popular working class nationalist mood has unquestionably shifted from one of Brits Out To Bombers Out. Republicanism, if it is not to belie itself, is ultimately a foil to absolutism of any hue, whether monarchical, political, military, clerical inter alia. As a creature of the Enlightenment it is bound by progress not regress, by the latitude of innovation rather than the deadweight of tradition. A gaggle of the self-appointed and the self-anointed is an apostolic succession better shunned by republicanism than deferred to. There is no intellectual or ethical basis for republican coexistence with absolutism. Dictatorships of army councils, like psalters of bishops, who seek to inflict their archaic and destructive doctrines on society should be told where to go.
Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill. Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre