Anthony McIntyre Archive 1995 - 2008

A history of the peace process 

Misc. 2000-2006

2000: The republican debate: GFA a victory or defeat? (Jack Holland, Irish Echo)
2002: Time has run out for an armed IRA (The Observer)
2004: Padraic Paisley (The Blanket)
2005: The IRA Is Morphing Into the ‘Rafia’ (LA Times)
2006: The Blanket & "Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism"
2006: Freedom of Speech (The Blanket)
2006: ‘The Blanket’ and the Cartoon Controversy: Anthony McIntyre Interviewed (Martyn Frampton, Henry Jackson Society)
2006: An honour to have been part of Blanket protest (Irish News)
2006: The Price of Our Memory (Speech given at the Annual H-Block Hunger Strike Commemoration)

Publications 1999-2008

* A Structural Analysis of Modern Irish Republicanism: 1969-1973, PhD Thesis, Queen's, (1999).
* Modern Irish Republicanism and the Belfast Agreement: Chickens Coming Home to Roost, or Turkeys Celebrating Christmas? in Aspects of the Belfast Agreement, (2001).
* Provisional Republicanism - Internal Politics, Inequities and Modes of Repression in Republicanism in Modern Ireland, (2003).
* Modern Irish Republicanism: The Product of British State Strategies, 1995, (reprint), in Irish Political Studies Reader: Key Contributions, (2007).
* Of Myths and Men: Dissent within Republicanism and Loyalism, in Transforming the Peace Process in Northern Ireland: From Terrorism to Democratic Politics, (2008).
* Chuckle Ar La, in Irish Review - Special Issue on Belfast Agreement, (2008).
* Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism, (2008)

Older Archive is in process of being updated:

Anthony McIntyre

I do not agree with the peace strategy. But this should not be construed as being anti-leadership. I am not so stupid, nor are the delegates here today so stupid, not to realise that this leadership are the people responsible for rubbing the noses of the British state in their own dirt over the past twenty five years and for which they should be applauded. A principal reason for my opposition to the peace strategy is that it cannot secure a declaration of intent to withdraw. Furthermore, I object to its strategic orientation toward the forces of constitutional nationalism in the North but more particularly in the South. The leadership manage the strategy quite well. But they do so by compensating with good ring craft for a lack of punching power. There is no punch in the strategy that could secure a declaration of intent to withdraw.

One of the reasons that it cannot secure a declaration of intent lies in the compromise made on the question of national self-determination. There has been a fracturing of the concept. In 1972 when the republican delegation went to meet the British in Chelsea, the first demand, recorded in the British House of Commons library, was for the right of the Irish people to national self-determination. Since then the concept has taken on an SDLP connotation. Republicans are now saying that no longer have the Irish people just the right to national self-determination, but they also have the right to decide how to exercise national self-determination. And this means that if a majority of people in Ireland as a whole decide that there will be no united Ireland until a majority of people in the North decide to come into one, that, by the very logic of the new definition, constitutes national self-determination. It is, I regret to say, a partitionist compromise.

And this takes us directly to the question of British strategy. Contrary to what some have said here today, the British state have had a very clear and consistent strategy since the early 1970s at least. Different governments may have had different policies and different emphases may have been placed on different things from time to time, but the state has always had one strategic objective. That objective has been to render ineffectual the military capacity of the IRA, and/or, more importantly, to render ineffectual the military capacity of the IRA to effect political change. Foremost, that change that would bring about unity without the consent of the unionists. In my estimation the British have largely succeeded in this objective. This is because the present strategy, if not yet having capitulated to the unionist veto, has come dangerously close to doing so.

This being so, what is the purpose in all-party talks? What have we to talk about at them when the outcome has been pre-determined in advance - no united Ireland without the consent of the unionists?

The logic of the strategy is that the only thing that can emerge from it or all-party talks is an internal solution with the externality of an Irish dimension grafted on. Some may argue that this should be construed as meaning that the extent to which Dublin comes in is the extent to which London pulls out. But even if true, the fact remains that the unionists will determine when the north will join a united Ireland. We may go to such an Ireland in a green vehicle, but the pace at which we go shall be determined by the unionists. This, in my view, is not acceptable. It is unity by consent which is a partitionist fudge.

We have heard today that there are some who are leaving the movement because they disagree with the peace strategy. There is no one more opposed to the strategy than me. Most people know my views on the matter. At the 1986 Ard Fheis, Martin McGuinness said if you walk away from this conference the only place you are going is home. He is right. I have been in this movement twenty-two years, eighteen of it in prison. I am not going home.

This leadership is not going to sell us out. Any suggestion that they will is ridiculous. But that does not mean that the strategy is right. I believe it is wrong. I will argue to change it. There are people in leadership who do listen to such arguments and ideas. They do not agree with the content of those ideas but they are at least prepared to tease out for debate ideas opposed to their own. In particular I would like to single out Mitchel McLaughlin, Gerry O'hEara and Tom Hartley.

But having said that, I too could be wrong and may be critical at a time when the leadership is doing its best to move the struggle on. So for that reason I am not going to take up the position of some others whose rallying cry is 'back to war'. My message to this conference is not back to war but 'back to work'.

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Anthony McIntyre
Parliamentary Brief
October 1995

The IRA ceasefire is now just past its first anniversary. That landmark was deemed by many this time last year to be a potential non-event. Those who thought otherwise, were inclined toward the view that if the anniversary was reached then the basis for a permanent peace would have been long since established. Neither school of thought were correct. We have the first anniversary but no sign of permanent peace.

British involvement of itself in Ireland has less been the primary factor in determining political violence over the past twenty five years than has the pro-union stance it has taken. The military and political actions the British state has been compelled to take and the nature of the alliances it has felt obliged to construct by the very logic of that stance, has led to a politically violent situation of extreme polarization in the North of Ireland.

Consequently, it is insufficient to define this polarization in terms of two communities apart. It is more accurate and politically honest to view the polarization in terms of one community alienated from the British state and those who support it.

The republican position amounts to one of demanding that the British state cease to maintain the pro-union stance, become genuinely neutral and act as persuaders for unity. At present it is inconceivable that the British state will bend to the last of these demands. If it were to, there exists the possibility that it would be accused of 'coercive persuasion'. And it has with massive military force nailed its colours to the mast that it will not coerce the unionists.

Yet the British state could cede the first two republican demands without in any way coercively persuading the unionists. By pursuing such a course of action it would open up the space for a process of what the nationalist columnist Desmond Fennell twenty years ago termed 'imaginative persuasion'. Nationalists, without the structural blockage of the unionist veto, would have the political space to engage in a process of imaginative and non-coercive persuasion. The very minimum that is required for this is inclusive all-party talks.

It is becoming apparent to many in wider 'nationalist Ireland' that the primary aim of present British strategy is to secure the eradication of militant Irish republicanism, rather than create a peace which would obviate the raison d'etre of the latter. With every twist and turn of British political maneuvering this dangerous but accurate interpretation of their intentions has taken firmer hold. It is manifesting itself in increasing disenchantment on the ground. During the 1981 hunger strike, the leader of the republican prisoners in the Maze prison camp, Brendan McFarlene, commented that 'it appears that they are not interested in simply undermining us but completely annihilating us'. The proceeding years were a consequence of that as much as anything else. That phrase of McFarlene's captures the essence of republican feeling on the ground today.

The longer the present impasse is allowed to linger, the more apparent it is that it is to the detriment of republicans and to the advantage of those who have been responsible for the state of oppression experienced by nationalists throughout the history of the Northern Ireland state. Furthermore, republicans are understandably apprehensive as a consequence of the 1975 truce. The Guardian on the 15th of July 1975, reported that:

Constitutionally, politically and militarily, the situation in Northern Ireland has never been so fluid or open to speculation. So called solutions like independence, restored majority rule and British withdrawal are openly canvassed and debated in the best informed circles, and with every day that passes the wilder predictions are growing more credible.

By the 10th of October 1975 the Times was reporting that British officials 'are privately anxious that the so-called ceasefire should continue ... they acknowledge that much of government policy is based on its longevity'. And in spite of the movement, fluidity and British professions of good faith, the aim of British government policy in that era became evident in the criminalisation strategy, resulting in the hunger strikes which prompted the very comment of Brendan McFarlene.

Republicans are now faced with a British government intent on dividing the nationalist consensus that all party talks should proceed as a matter of urgency. Little has seemingly changed in Tory strategy over the years. In 1972 the Conservative MP, Julian Critchley, revealed British state thinking in relation to the Dublin government when he claimed that the taoiseach Jack Lynch's 'attitude to the IRA in the South ... is the key to the eventual military victory for which the security forces are working in the North'.

This type of unchanged thinking can only serve to create the very combustible mix with which to hurl the people of these islands back into the cul de sac of violent political conflict.

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by Anthony McIntyre
An edited version appeared in the Sunday Tribune 12/4/98

‘Good Friday - Republicanism crucified - Sunday’s resurrection postponed’, is the type of comment a cynical graffiti artist might be prompted to write on the walls of poorer nationalist areas in the aftermath of this week’s Stormont agreement. And if, as Michael Ignatieff once claimed, a cynic is someone with a healthy awareness of the gulf between what people practice and what they preach, then such graffiti would certainly be more accurate than the leader headlines we have been exposed to in today’s papers. It seems to be that the hype machine has been given full throttle and a ‘regime of truth’ is been feverishly constructed in which certain concepts, perspectives and even words will be prohibited regardless of - and maybe because of - their explanatory power. So much for tolerance and a plurality of ideas.

We are often told that at some point in the 1990s London and Dublin agreed that the old policy of excluding republicans was futile and that the only strategic alternative was one of inclusion. What goes unmentioned is that the strategic objective was to include republicans while excluding republicanism. And Saturday’s Irish Times illustrated the success of such a strategy when it commented that the logic of the latest agreement was that ‘Nationalists have had to swallow the bitter truth that there will be no united Ireland in the foreseeable future and that if it comes, it will only do so with the consent of Northern Ireland’s majority’.

For those republicans unconcerned with Orwellian double-think, the Stormont agreement amounts to the following: the British state has repeated its Sunningdale declaration of intent to remain in the North until a majority here asks it to do otherwise; the British state has made it clear that the unionist veto shall remain in place and has strengthened the partitionist ethos underlying that veto by having it enshrined it in the revised Southern constitution; the British state has ruled out any transition to a united Ireland by refusing to state that by a certain date - no matter how far in the distant future - it will no longer have a presence in Ireland.

In such a context, only those republicans who had forsaken the ballot box and armalite strategy in favour of a ballot box in one hand and a white stick in the other, alone might argue that the Stormont Agreement constitutes a stepping stone to a united Ireland. On the contrary it is a stumbling stone to the unification of the country.

Republicans have not yet signed up for the deal. It is difficult to see how they can in the foreseeable future given the clearly partitionist shape of the outcome. One republican activist - admittedly opposed to the leadership strategy from the outset - observed yesterday that what had started out as a victory cavalcade on the Falls Road had ended up as a funeral cortege. But of more significance than the absence of any signature on the dotted line is the fact that republicans, by their involvement in the process, have helped to usher in the new partitionist outcome. Consequently, over time, - and dependent to a large extent on how unionism performs - the situational logic may be such that the pressure to ‘accept by instalment’ could prove irresistible.

Some are inclined to heap praise on the efforts of Ahern and Blair whose frantic efforts and negotiating skills in the final days of the talks allegedly were decisive in securing an outcome. A more measured view would be that their input was vital only to the sprint finish. The marathon itself and the predetermined course that it took were made possible only by all the participants, including republicans, consenting to an agreed Ireland. But any agreed Ireland, by implication subject to the agreement of the unionists, could never have been a united Ireland.

Ultimately, the Stormont agreement suits most partitionist nationalism and the British state. The former emerges feeling it has snatched back what was originally snatched from it in 1974. The British have secured agreement that they will leave the country only on the terms they have always insisted upon - by consent of a majority in the North. Unionism had to give, but no more than the normal asking price in return for the copperfastening of partition.

As one of ‘the creatures outside’, peering in at the Stormont talks, where they had all agreed secrecy and confidentiality, concealing in the process from their respective democratic bases the haggling of our collective future, I was reminded of the final words in George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

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by Anthony McIntyre
An edited version appeared in the Guardian 22/5/98

Once upon a time in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison camp when victory for the IRA seemed a foregone conclusion, ‘doing time’, despite the harshness of prison life, was relatively easy. Conviction rather than conditions sustained most of us. Our view of the world was simple, perhaps simplistic. Britain had no right to be in our country. It seemed as daft to us for British soldiers to die - as John Cleese once said - to keep China British as it was to keep Ireland so.

Part of the time spent in prison was under the leadership of the late Bobby Sands. He led us in an era when the British state had yet to get the measure of the IRA. And like many others who joined him in prison protest, he was arrested at a very difficult time for republicanism. The Republican Movement was in a state of strategic turbulence, desperately trying to anchor itself in the wake of a truce later described as ‘disastrous’ and a ‘virtual surrender’ by republican leaders such as Danny Morrison and Martin McGuinness. The strategic alternative to all of this was to wage a ‘long war’.

As an eighteen-year-old IRA volunteer in prison for the second time I was blissfully unaware of much of this. It seemed there was a war to be fought and enemies to be killed. I and others succeeded on both counts. On a cold January morning in 1977 in Belfast’s Crown Court with my mother gazing on in stunned disbelief, Lord Chief Justice Lowry informed me that I would serve at least twenty five years in prison for ending the life of a member of the UVF. I merely laughed at him, prompting tabloid headlines of ‘laughing killer jailed for life’. Nothing to worry about there. It had been sectarian attacks carried out by young Protestant kids which initially led me to develop an interest in the IRA. They had their orange parades - and we had our IRA. Although where it was no one seemed to know. But it was comforting to ‘feel’ that it was there and would ‘settle up’ on our behalf at some time. And now I was part of it. Membership of it armed me with the arrogance of the dammed - I simply did not care what the Lord Chief Justice had to say. In the IRA I was immune from his concerns. As readily as I had ‘settled up’ I prepared to settle down for the long haul.

And a long haul it proved to be - seventeen years of it. But the British had cause to fear republicans and went to incredible ends to defeat us. They could never hope to buy us off. So they put our leader in a coffin after sixty-six days of hunger strike and sent him to his grave at the age of twenty seven. And it was upon this that I was forced to reflect when I witnessed the present republican jail leader being allowed to attend the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. Padraig Wilson, like Bobby sands, was and remains a selfless volunteer and his integrity is beyond dispute. But I did not share the euphoria of the Sinn Fein delegates at his presence. He was not there as a result of a deserved amnesty reluctantly and grudgingly conceded, but was allowed to attend because the British wanted to bolster up their long term strategy in Ireland by securing a ‘yes’ vote for the Stormont Agreement at the Ard Fheis.

And in that context the conference was less a case of chickens coming home to roost and more one of turkeys celebrating Christmas.
In trade unions terms the republican leadership informed those it represents that it had secured for them a six-day week and lower wages. That the body of the hall did not storm the podium in anger at the Ard Comhairle is an indication of just how defeated the original Provisional republican project actually is.

Danny Morrison’s commentary piece in the Guardian (11th May) was an exercise in putting a smile on the face of the corpse. To claim as he does that the IRA did not win but had not lost either is demonstrably wrong. The political objective of the Provisional IRA was to secure a British declaration of intent to withdraw. It failed. The objective of the British state was to force the Provisional IRA to accept - and subsequently respond with a new strategic logic - that it would not leave Ireland until a majority in the North consented to such a move. It succeeded.

I concur with Danny Morrison’s hope that the war is over. But it would have been over twenty-plus years ago, and in less ignominious fashion, had the post-truce leadership not have insisted on fighting it to an inglorious conclusion. And then we would have been spared the twin sorrows of one jail O/C dying to resist British state strategy and a second, through no fault of his own, appearing to legitimise it.

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by Anthony McIntyre
An edited version appeared in the Sunday Tribune 20/7/97

Whatever surprise the imminent announcement of yet another IRA cease-fire holds for some lies only in its timing. Coming so shortly after Mo Mowlam, with a viciousness even Roy Mason would find hard to rival, directed the battering of innocent nationalists off the streets, the cease-fire announcement is in stark contrast to the steely and defiant IRA response to previous such repressive activity indulged in by British Labour governments.

But modern republicanism has travelled quite some distance since the Mason era and the heady days of its formation in 1969; or even since the 'summer' of its 'political' metamorphosis in 1986 when the Sinn Fein president could proclaim: 'if at any time Sinn Fein decide to disown the armed struggle they won't have me as a member'.

That is not to say that Sinn Fein have 'disowned' the armed struggle outright although there have been instances when the activities of IRA volunteers have been condemned by the Sinn Fein leadership. What is of more importance is that Sinn Fein has felt compelled to join all those other forces in Irish political life who refuse to support the actions of the IRA in public. Consequently, it may be said, Sinn Fein has contributed to the isolation of the IRA in public and political discourse.

And it is primarily the isolation and defeat of the IRA that concerns the British state. If the IRA were to cease to exist the British would not care how many nationalists voted Sinn Fein. They know that republicans without armed struggle are like birds without wings - unable to go anywhere. This was articulated most plausibly by Danny Morrison a number of years ago when he wrote that even if Sinn Fein were to win all the nationalist seats in the North and probably even if it won the majority of seats in the twenty six counties Britain would still not withdraw - armed struggle would remain essential.

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of armed struggle the rationale behind the absence of faith in an exclusively unarmed strategy is quite clear. More importantly it is a no less valid rationale today than it was at the time of Morrison's original comments. The fact that the unionists refuse to entertain either a British withdrawal or a united Ireland and have been given an immutable guarantee to prevent any such outcome means that neither republicans nor 'nationalist Ireland' in general can advance to the traditional republican objective in an unarmed manner.

The Sinn Fein leadership has recognised this and, premised on its own belief that the IRA cannot secure a British declaration of intent to withdraw, has politically, strategically and, to a lesser extent, discursively felt compelled to gradually nudge the republican project away from its traditional objective of a united Ireland regardless of unionist consent, and dangerously - others would say deliberately - towards the 'partitionist fudge' position of unity by consent.

The British for their part, do not care if Ireland is united, only that it should be so with the consent of the unionists. This is not out of a respect for the democratic wishes of the unionists but is the logic of a permanent structural acquiescence to the unionist strategy of threat. Ultimately, what the British are allowing republicans - by permitting them into all-party talks where they can argue for a united Ireland without the remotest possibility of securing it - is an opportunity to dig a tunnel to the moon. Despite Mr Adams's professed commitment to 'work to create the political conditions which will change British government policy towards Ireland', his formidable political and organisational skills, his insatiable desire for justice, the resilience and determination of his organisation in general and the vibrancy of his party on the ground, digging a tunnel to the moon is surely beyond republicans.

All-party blether characterised by blah blah blah and wah wah wah can only produce at best an outcome rather than a solution. And in order for that outcome to be dressed up as a solution the participants shall have to sign up to a package swathed in gobbledegook and jabberwocky, deliberately pitched above the heads of most of us. Sinn Fein enter those talks extolling the supposed virtues of conflict resolution. Yet as Kirsten Schulze has recently pointed out the compromise necessary for conflict resolution in disputes of the type in the North ''was often imposed through the use of force by the majority community''. And the British government in the form of Blair and Mowlam has made it perfectly clear that the majority community shall have their wishes respected.

Republican leaders are as intelligent as the republican base. And significant sections of that base are in no doubt that all-party blether can lead only to what Tony Blair has said it would - no end to partition; no British declaration of intent to withdraw; no united Ireland. Stripped of those elements the outcome can have no identifiable republican content. So what is the logic of the republican leadership in so desperately seeking admission to all-party 'talks'? It can only lie in Mr Adams' revealing article in Thursday's Irish News, in which he stated Sinn Fein will press for 'a renegotiation of the union'. That at least is arguably an achievable goal at all-party talks - but it is hardly a republican one.

In Friday's Irish News Mr Adams claimed the paper had miscontextualised his comments of the previous day. Papers habitually do such things. But whatever the truth, the question remains of how such a statement as 'a renegotiation of the union' ever came to be part of the republican discourse. My own view, for what it is worth, is that the original Irish News article was an accurate reflection of the Sinn Fein leadership's position - what other basis is there for going into all-party talks? - and Mr Adams' allegations of miscontextualisation was an exercise in steadying a base justifiably upset by the possibility of republicans being reduced to the status of union renegotiators.

The outcome of all party talks shall be 'partition plus'. What the plus will encompass is a matter for conjecture. Sinn Fein will undoubtedly strive to magnify that plus beyond anything the unionists will be happy with. Yet the terms of reference are such that a Sunningdale type arrangement is the most that can be expected.

And Sunningdale, while an advance on what exists in the north at present, nevertheless produced for the first time what Mr Adams termed a fully fledged catholic partitionist party - the SDLP. Given that, time alone shall tell if researchers and analysts may yet come to conclude that the peace process produced a second - Sinn Fein.

Republicanism has been in a state of ideological and strategic turbulence throughout the 1990s, in itself no bad thing as calm waters move nothing. But unlike similar turbulence in the mid to late 1970s which produced a determined fighting machine clear in its aims the 1990s has resulted in a strategic aberration termed the peace process. Republicanism can now front itself with the traditional goals but this remains a purely discursive exercise. The strategic reality is that, given the present peace process, the most republicans can gain is a renegotiation of the Union. As Mr Adams himself said in 1986 - the notion that the British can be talked out of Ireland is contemptible. Nothing in the intervening years has altered that unpalatable reality.

There now exists a very real danger that the spin in the peace process will hurl republicanism out of its own ideological orbit and into the arid sterility of constitutional nationalism. IRA volunteers, Sinn Fein activists and the wider republican community deserve much better.

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Sunday Tribune 4/4/1999

Sinn Fein's St Peter policy of denying the IRA has resulted in a situation where most in the party leadership today would feel acutely uncomfortable if asked to publicly defend or support an IRA operation. It wasn't always like that. There was a time when Sinn Fein public representatives would have calmly stated that Frank Hughes was quite right to kill the British soldier for whose death he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He subsequently died on hunger strike to proclaim the legitimacy of his actions. Frank Hughes was a courageous volunteer who conducted a ruthless but legitimate war.

But legitimate war can never be allowed to justify every act carried out in the course of its prosecution. For this reason there exists that category of activity termed 'war crimes'. And in recent days we have found cause to reflect upon the reality that not all IRA activity ranked alongside the war operations of Frank Hughes. The phenomenon of 'the disappeared' is an ugly blemish on the record of the IRA. Secretly burying executed victims, whatever the allegations against them, is something we have come to expect of US backed right wing authoritarian regimes intent on repressing freedom. It is difficult to reconcile such Pinochet type behaviour with the pursuit of freedom.

'The disappeared' was largely but not exclusively a Belfast phenomenon. After Operation Motorman in July 1972 the British military intensified its intelligence drive as part of an overall strategy to crush the IRA. Press reports of the day abounded with allegations that Seamus Twomey's leadership of the Belfast organisation, had been replaced by a new element as the republican group sought to counter the threat. If true, the change was felt by the British state security apparatus, its operatives and the people it recruited as agents. The IRA struck swiftly, killing Sapper Ted Stuart in the celebrated Four Square Laundry ambush on Belfast's Twinbrook estate. Gerry Adams, in his autobiography, claims that a further two British personnel were killed in this attack in addition to two others in an IRA operation on the city's Antrim Road. The organisation also broke up a schoolgirl spy ring in North Belfast as well as uncovering agents who had penetrated its ranks and who subsequently disappeared.

The greatest outcry of the period came in the wake of the kidnapping of Jean McConville. But the leadership of the Belfast IRA remained unflinching and ignored all appeals for insight into the woman's fate. This flinty attitude was in considerable contrast to the leadership of the Derry IRA which the following August, in response to massive pressure from the Catholic church, returned the coffin-encased remains of Patrick Duffy, whom it had killed a number of weeks earlier for allegedly informing.

With this week's statement by the IRA that it has at last identified the graves of nine of the disappeared, the torment and anguish for the families of the deceased may now be allowed to abate. But the timing of the announcement for many belies the organisation's expression of apology to the bereaved. It is as if the remains of the disappeared are being offered not to the relatives of the dead but to the unionist opponents of the IRA as 'bones to gnaw on' in a bid to deflect attention away from the decommissioning issue.

If so, the initial desecration of the bodies continues. Rather than being returned for humanitarian reasons alone they are featuring as an element in a morbid process of political bargaining. Instead of atoning for a war crime we are allowing it to be perpetuated to our eternal shame.

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In early 1983 in a canteen of H-Block 1, myself and the former hunger striker Tom McFeeley were engrossed in conversation about Sinn Fein's electoral strategy. I was expressing hope that Gerry Adams would take the West Belfast seat and oust the sitting MP Gerry Fitt. McFeeley felt that the combined vote of Fitt and the SDLP contender Joe Hendron while divided would still amount to a substantial anti-republican bloc. Victory or not for Adams things would not be plain sailing.

For me, Fitt would fade away after the election leaving us with only the SDLP to pose a threat. McFeeley, with that inimitable smile of his, told me I had my eye on the wrong ball. The real threat to the IRA would come from Sinn Fein and not the SDLP he suggested. He went on to explain that even if Sinn Fein were opposed to any such a move the British would strive to cultivate an environment in which it would be possible.

The discussion concluded with a feeling on my part that there was room for all manner of quaint views - even in the H-Blocks where intellectual conformity held a certain premium. And it was to that encounter that my mind returned in the wake of the recent Hillsborough declaration. For if ever there was doubt about the aim of British state strategy, all pretense was stripped away on that sunny afternoon in front of Hillsborough Castle - and the Sinn Fein delegation, huddled together on the steps, knew it.

The British state has only ever had one overriding strategic objective in relation to republicanism - that is to render ineffectual the military capacity of the IRA to effect political change, foremost that change that would bring about a British withdrawal without the consent of unionism. The central element in the British strategic thrust to achieve such an objective has, for a number of years, been the reconstitution of the Stormont political class. To be strategically plausible that class had to be redefined in such a manner as to make it less vulnerable to assault from those who previously opposed its existence. The means to achive this was through the incorporation into that class of the one time radical leadership of insurrectionary nationalist politics - Sinn Fein.
The price being an ever increasing contribution from the party to alienating the IRA in public and political discourse which has sometimes taken the form of public professions that a republican objective should be the disappearance of the IRA, but not curiously the SDLP.

This process has been strengthened by the salaried bureaucratisation of non-party political community leadership. At that level a tendency would be engendered whereby those in receipt of the salaries combined with their status and power in the bureaucracies would come to identify with the Stormont political class. Rather than behaving as the expression of community dissatisfaction against the political class their role would gradually become one of an extension of the political class into our communities thwarting radicalism and playing the tune of those who pay the piper.

The British do not necessarily want the IRA to disappear - simply its political defeat. Has not Ronnie Flanagan spoken of the need to maintain a united IRA? The IRA will be tolerated if it loses its sense of identity with the communiy out of which it arose. The British will make no attempt to crush it if its only function is that of a presidential guard for elements of the Stormont political class.

We may well feel as I do that armed struggle and the IRA can no longer aid the advancement of pre-peace process republican political objectives. But that is far removed from a position of acquiescing to British designs for the IRA, in which the body becomes a parody of its former self - an Official IRA mark 2.

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by Anthony McIntyre
An edited version was carried in the Observer 15/11/99

Milan Kundera once wrote that the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Some may think his words particularly apt for the Sinn Fein leadership now trying to forget its republican past. Those who remember the leadership promises are least likely to have lined up alongside the rich and the famous at the fiftieth birthday bash for the Sinn Fein president in New York’s glitzy Webster Hall last month. Those same people may also think that the poor and powerless of Ballymurphy have more integrity and make for better company. So, perhaps, they considered it is better to remain where they were and continue to remember what others are inclined to forget. Besides, the cost of an armani suit, that ‘new uniform of struggle,’ was most likely prohibitive.

They, who had promises to keep
broke every one
while the rank and file did sleep

The peace process, for the Sinn Fein leadership, has as much been about outmanoeuvring its own rank and file as about anything else. And on this point, at least, they and the Trimble unionists are united. Trimble has been claiming to his constituency that his involvement in the process has been governed by a desire to win security for the Unionist people - hence the unyielding emphasis on the decommissioning of IRA weaponry. He does not explain that the amount of weaponry the IRA could get away with giving up in order for Sinn Fein leaders to join the new British government at Stormont is considerably less than the organisation has been used to losing throughout its campaign. Those losses never diminished its capacity to wage war.

Republican leaders, for their part, exploiting to the full the original raison d’être of the Provisional IRA, contend that to give up such weaponry would expose their communities’ vulnerability to attack. With great indignation they protest that they shall never commit that cardinal sin. But what adequate defence against loyalist incursion could be mounted with the quantity of weaponry that would have to be decommissioned? The crux of the matter is not about security or defence and lies elsewhere - in the symbols rather than in the substance. The unionists want a symbolic surrender - the icing on a cake some feel they already have; the republican leadership want to avoid the symbolism rather than the substance of any surrender.

In replacing the ‘long war’ with the ‘long wait’ that leadership embarked on a path well trodden by less than illustrious predecessors such as Cathal Goulding and Tomas McGiolla. A one way ticket on a constitutional journey to the Stormont parliament, once reviled, but now the life support machine for a strategic ensemble, itself bereft of anything else and eager to deter the emergence of any such thing.

The one remaining obstacle to becoming fully constitutionalised is the possession of arms - or at least those arms which opponents are wont to create a fuss over. Despite promises never to ceasefire until the British declared their intention to withdraw; nor ever to enter Stormont; nor support any agreement that fell short of a transitional arrangement, the Sinn Fein leadership have been called to heel on each issue. And the party leadership now sit quite comfortably in the midst of an arrangement not remotely transitional and hardly dissimilar to the partition it was meant to replace. All of which goes to show that promises are not what matter. What does matter is situational logic. And the logic of the situation in which Sinn Fein finds itself is that decommissioning of IRA weaponry short of a solution is a virtual certainty. As a former IRA prisoner told me recently, guns were the life blood of a struggle now over. If nothing else was allowed to stand between the Sinn Fein leadership and constitutionalism, he pondered, why should weapons have a special prominence? His argument was that, for the leadership, guns had become a hindrance and would be ‘got rid of.’ On that point, the unionist, Stephen King, writes only too accurately about the slaying of sacred cows - none of them his own.

The procrastination by Sinn Fein is not linked to increasing its bargaining power vis a vis the unionists. It results from the hostility in the republican base towards decommissioning. A base, which unlike its leadership, in principle never succumbed to a constitutional mode. Witnesses to strategic failure after failure - invariably described as new phases of struggle - but persistently reassured that the IRA would never decommission any weaponry that base is highly unlikely to be impressed by headlines in An Phoblacht/Republican News proclaiming ‘Victory Through Decommissioning.’

Nevertheless, the Sinn Fein leadership are now faced with finding a way to reconcile the irreconcilable without showing the joints. That is the cost of the ticket to the destination of constitutionalism. It may well be that the term ‘parallel demilitarisation’ may come into vogue. Such discursive bodyswerving by that leadership would only thinly veil the crucially decisive tackle of their opponents which is what ultimately wins the ball. But that they will try is a foregone conclusion: and their chances of success in outmanoeuvring their base, measured against other inviolable principles dropped by the wayside, must look good.

There was always an alternative for republicans to consider. The radical republican Peadar O’Donnell praised DeValera ‘‘for terminating the war in 1923 without making peace. His tactic was in effect: dump the arms and go home and let them do their damnedest.’’ The alternative meant permanently withdrawing from the armed dimension of the conflict but simply refusing to decommission or even to discuss the issue. It meant Sinn Fein remaining as a radical political leadership rather than becoming political masters; standing under the street lights of East Tyrone rather than the bright lights of Washington. But for many, most rewarding of all would have been a republicanism reinforced by political activism and unadulterated by political opportunism.

In the struggle of people against power is it too much to ask that we be allowed to remember what we fought for even if we are determined not to fight again?

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As a rule I advise others never to respond to anonymous authors. Debate only with real people not shadows. I shall not depart from that rule. But republican friends have persuaded me to comment on the vulgar attempt at intimidation carried in last week's Andersonstown News letters page. In political debate we must be thick skinned - we give it and we get it. I shall be the last to complain about that.

But I shall speak only to the republican base and not the nameless letter writer. I believe that republicanism is being smothered to death; that it is losing its radical soul and is being rapidly transformed into constitutional nationalism; that the difference between republican policies and those of the SDLP are razor thin; that the slightest whimper of resistance to this is being sat upon. I may of course be wrong about where the present republican strategy is leading us. But I shall never know if I am denied the option of collectively, openly and fully discussing alternatives.

I believe that the republican leadership has an inalienable right to speak to the republican base through whatever medium it chooses. Censorship is a crime against the public intellect. When the republican leadership was censored North and South it was a crime not just against them but against us all. I further believe that the republican base has a similar inalienable right to receive as many alternative explanations of events as it wishes to consider. I remain convinced that the base has been denied this right for quite some time. There has been little ventilation of alternative views; there has been a concerted attempt to ensure there shall be 'no other voices'. The republican base has been allowed to participate only in a dangerous strategy of conformity.

As a member of the republican base, presumably no better or worse than the next member, I have made a conscious decision to use every means available for the purpose of informing the base. I have gone to the papers, spoken on TV and radio, polemicised and analysed. Again, I may be wrong in some of it - maybe all of it. But there is only one place in which a republican should be silent - in the custody of the RUC. If I were to be convinced that no one in the republican base wanted to read what I write or hear what I say I would call it a day, ignore the media and spare myself the wrath of some fellow republicans. But is the republican base uniformly hostile to my views? Or is there a thirst for wider discussion?

Quite unlike Vincent McKenna I have been and remain a Provisional republican. That I am no longer a member of the Republican Movement is largely due to my refusal to be muzzled. I left - I was not expelled. I respect grassroots IRA volunteers and Sinn Fein activists. Many of them are the best within our communities. I am not their voice but I feel they are denied any voice. David Trimble and John Hume seem to know more about their future than they do themselves. I will not turn my back on them to curry favour with the BBC.

I have been warned that the BBC will do a hatchet job on me if I have any skeletons in my cupboard. I suppose, like the rest of us, I have plenty of skeletons. But none of mine are secrets. And each has a backbone. I am less ashamed of skeletons than my accuser is ashamed of his or her identity. There is nothing of significance in my private or political life that the republican community does not know about. And they, not the BBC, are what matters to me.

Undoubtedly, there are those who think I can be silenced, that my views can be stifled and prevented from filtering through to the republican base. They are mistaken. Short of the silence of the grave my republican voice will not go away you know.

Anthony McIntyre,
Andersonstown News 27/11/1999

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A Rebel Republican

LIZ CURTIS talks to Anthony McIntyre and Carrie Twomey about the price they have paid for their criticism of Sinn Féin’s support of the Belfast Agreement.
Irish Post, April 26 2001

Anthony McIntyre (known as Mackers) and his partner Carrie Twomey have called their new baby Fírinne (firinya), which means truth.

Carrie explains: “Before she was born, we were staying away from home after Sinn Féin picketed us, and when I saw the name in a book, something just clicked. The truth was what we had fought for. She had already been through so much, and she deserved a strong name to take her through this life.”

Mackers and Carrie are among the handful of republicans who, while adamantly against any return to violence, are publicly critical of the Sinn Féin leadership. They are members of the Irish Republican Writers Group, which has a website and a journal, Fourthwrite. They have recently helped initiate a public discussion forum, Voice Of The Lark.

They are paying dearly for their stance. They live in Ballymurphy, a republican, working-class district in West Belfast. It was here that Real IRA volunteer Joseph O’Connor was shot dead by hooded men on October 13 last year. This incident proved a catalyst. Asked by O’Connor’s family to help, Mackers and fellow activist Tommy Gorman accused the Provisional IRA and called for a public enquiry. The IRA denies responsibility, though few believe them. Two senior IRA men visited Mackers’ and Carrie’s home, and Sinn Féiners then picketed it.

Carrie is American and a former trade union organiser. She moved to Ireland a year ago, having linked up with the Writers’ Group through the internet. She ran her own republican bulletin board on the net, and caused some anger by refusing to censor material posted anonymously which named leading republicans as possibly being the alleged informer, ‘Steak-knife’.

After the pickets, Carrie was hospitalised with a stress-induced infection, and the two spent a month away from home. A Sinn Féin member has attacked Mackers in the street, and anonymous leaflets have been circulated about them, leading the RUC to warn them to watch their personal security.

Mackers was brought up in the Lower Ormeau Road, a republican enclave in South Belfast. He went to grammar school, but, like many other teenagers, he got caught up in the political whirlpool, progressing from rioting to the IRA. From 1973 he was in and out of custody, till in February 1976 he shot dead a member of the loyalist paramilitary UVF, for which he spent 17 years in prison.

“I am sorry about the loss of life,” he says. “But I don’t apologise for taking up arms against the British state and the loyalists.” He was first held in the ‘cages’ of Long Kesh. After trying to escape, he was transferred to the H-Blocks. Here he spent over three years on the blanket protest for political status. He educated himself in prison, taking his first O-level aged 27 and achieving a first class honours degree. After release, he gained a PhD with a thesis on republicanism.

He left the republican movement in 1998, the day Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis approved the Good Friday Agreement, which he calls “the British state’s alternative to republicanism”. He says: “The plan for cross-border bodies and power-sharing was drawn up in 1972 and first implemented in 1974. This time round, rather than defeat republicanism by excluding republicans, they decided to defeat it by including republicans but excluding republicanism. No core republican demand is satisfied in the Good Friday Agreement.”

He explains: “The republican leadership under Gerry Adams promised to deliver a British declaration of intent to withdraw; an end to partition; an end to the Unionist veto; abolition of the RUC; and no return to Stormont. They failed on every count. They also promised that any agreement would be transitional, with the British government acting as persuaders - again they failed.”

In his view: “Joint authority between the British and Irish governments should have been a minimum demand. Republicans should have adopted an oppositional strategy with a radical programme, linked with a socialist alliance in the south. If it did not deliver a united Ireland, at least it would protect the rights of poorer nationalists. We now have Sinn Féin in a right-wing government in the north, hoping to join a right-wing government in the south.”

He opposes the violence of the Continuity IRA and Real IRA. “I would prefer Gerry Adams’ strategy to that, because it’s not leaving body bags in the street.”

Are the republican leadership happy with what they’ve got? “They can’t be,” he replies. “But they have decided to settle for it, and many of them seem to have done quite well out of it. At the start of this war, the wealth disparity between leaders and led was non-existent. That disparity has increased massively.”

Thousands of community-worker posts have been created since 1996, many held by ex-prisoners and Sinn Féin activists. Mackers observes: “The European peace funding has created a salaried bureaucracy within these areas. This is part of a counter-insurgency strategy. The government is trying to co-opt key opinion-formers, such as ex-prisoners, into a new managerial class. They have a salaried income dependent on the process continuing, so they don’t want it attacked.”

There is still terrible poverty in areas like Ballymurphy, he says. “We call the GFA ‘Got Fuck All’, because it has delivered nothing to working-class people. Instead, it has left them silenced and disorganised in the face of nationalist employers who exploit them.” When one mentions the Writers’ Group to pro-agreement republicans, the response is often an attack on their characters.

“We have been subjected to a vicious smear campaign,” says Mackers. “We’ve been called mad, alcoholic, whores, egotists and publicity seekers. It’s like the way the former Soviet Union dealt with dissidents. They use character assassination instead of tackling the political arguments.”

Going against the tide is hard. “The situation I find myself in is Kafka-esque. I feel very frightened and lonely. I would love to walk away, but I would feel too guilty. Every day is a struggle. There is a nice warm bath and there is a freezing pool, and I have to jump in the freezing pool!”

Liz Curtis is well-known for her writings on Irish politics. Her books Ireland: The Propaganda War and Nothing But the Same Old Story are regarded as classic critiques of media censorship and anti-Irish racism.

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Anthony McIntyre
Pens For Peace, edited by Noel Flannery & Matt Cannon
December 2001

Quite recently I attended a debate at which Jim Gibney of Sinn Fein was a panellist. I listened while he told his audience that ten years ago it was not possible to mention the word 'peace' within the Republican Movement. Brian Feeney, another panellist, quickly corrected him pointing out that peace documents had been produced by Sinn Fein in 1987. Had Feeney so chosen, he could have gone back considerably further. 'Peace' was a term much used by the Provisional IRA's first chief of staff, the late Sean MacStiofain. And he vacated that position as early as 1972 underlining the elongated shelf life a peace discourse actually does have within Provisional republicanism.

Sinn Fein members are among those who inhabit a culture where authoritarian power is virtually the centre of gravity. And as Eric Hoffer pointed out those in possession of such power can not only lie but can make their lies come true. It is regrettable but hardly surprising that some of these people, while fundamentally decent and honest, would serve as a conduit through which an authoritarian leadership would demand that the world accept how it alone had worked strenuously for peace. All preceding it was incompetent; all outside of it reactionary and devoid of any strategic vision. Anyone asking a difficult question ought, therefore, to be ashamed - such probing was unhelpful to the peace process.

Up until the arrest of three republican activists in Colombia, a large self-emasculated element within the media world facilitated Sinn Fein on these matters preferring to ask the easy question designed to ensure a soft landing for those republicans 'helpful' to the peace process. The same element further endeavoured to deliberately position the term 'dissident republican' in a bedrock of violence. Taking the principle of 'Definitio est negatio' (to define is to limit) to the extreme there emerged an illusory binary construct in which Sinn Fein stood for peace and dissidents for war.

As a republican dissident I found the time and effort refuting such insinuations tiresome. The attempt by Sinn Fein to monopolise peace and exclusively articulate it to the party's own brand of republicanism was patently false. The contextualisation of dissident republicans as both monolithic and hermetically sealed off from anything but violence was always self-serving. It allowed a wider world to turn a blind eye to Provisional IRA use of force on the basis that the alternative was always likely to be something worse.

And yet republican dissidents such as Tommy Gorman and myself have stood firm against any suggestion that republicanism should engage in violence. At one point we argued that never again should it take life in pursuit of its goals. Two nights later our homes were picketed by Sinn Fein who took exception to that line of thinking. It seemed to us that while we supported the peace Sinn Fein only supported the process. Hardly a recipe for a lasting stability in any society.

So what can peace mean for a dissident republican? Firstly, while desirable, it is not essential to get rid of the British to have peace. But while they remain and oversee projects such as the Good Friday Agreement the foundations upon which peace can be built shall always remain suspect. Such a project entrenches rather than overcomes sectarianism. It may unite the chattering classes as they pursue the interests of their own bloc. But because any progress - always measured against the opposing bloc - is dependent on communal advances the chattering classes only manage to drive those on the ground further apart in a self-perpetuating sectarian spiral.

More broadly, Ireland is a society facing economic recession and increased racial tension. Peace must confront those issues. If it is not based on democracy that redistributes wealth and is inclusive of all nationalities and races, then is it a peace worth having? Peace is not the absence of war. All too often those promulgating peace ignore what Dom Helder Camara of Brazil once termed structural violence such as poverty which denies human dignity and development.

What is paramount is the need for a human rights regime underpinned by a democratic international law which is not a tool of the rich and powerful. This captures the essence of both Fergal Keane and Jacques Derrida when they argue respectively that 'the human rights culture of our age makes the impossible seem possible'; and that 'democracy is the political experience of the impossible'. The twinning of these concepts compels us to avoid both apathy and tuning into the monotonous chant of the status quo - 'there is no alternative'.

Such a vision can only develop if we have the means to visualise through structures of transparency and dissent. Peace and democracy cannot otherwise survive. Without these structures the likelihood increases that Ireland may produce a situation similar to that pertaining in Austria where there was never a great tradition of dissenting structures. Consequently the right wing populist Jorg Haider came to power with all the ominous potential for racial havoc and devastation therein. Are we to be so afraid of democratic experimentation that we succumb to the 'castrated democracy' of Chile about which the dissident writer Ariel Dorfman had this to say:

"What politicians have done in Chile is that they've made democracy fragile by saying it's so fragile we can't touch it. Well, no. You've got to bring people into the process of defining democracy, testing it and pushing it. If you don't it's not true democracy".

Republican dissidents who reject the prevailing orthodoxy and dissent from the use of physical force can do much for peace and democracy. More, perhaps than those who talk peace but do not actually live it.

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  1. Hello, my name is Eduardo Verdú, I'm a journalist working for La Caña Brothers, a Spanish audiovisual production company. We are traveling to the Ireland to shoot a documentary about Brexit. The documentary will be shown in Movistar+ (a pay tv platform) and directed by the well known and respected journalist Jon Sistiaga.
    We are really interested in talking to Anthony McIntyre to know his opinion on this matter. It would be a great deal for us if we could interview him to know his point of view and to hear about his thoughts on this matter.
    Thank you very much for your time and attention.

    1. send your email address to this page (not for publication) and I will be in touch