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Return to Conflict No Alternative


David Adams • Irish Times, 1 September 2006

Dissident republicans are undoubtedly correct when they accuse their mainstream rivals of settling far short of a united Ireland.

Self-evidently, the Belfast Agreement does not amount to a 32-county unitary state nor provide any guarantee there will ever be one. Beyond these basic points, however, many dissidents part company with rational analysis.

In their unwillingness or inability to recognise the circumstances that made such an agreement inevitable, they seem to exist in a parallel universe. Those advocating a return to conflict, for example, claim that the republican movement betrayed the past sacrifices of IRA volunteers and their families by ending its armed campaign before a united Ireland had been achieved. (I do not mention the suffering of many thousands of others in the conflict because it appears not to be a factor in their deliberations.)

This is an emotionally loaded argument that does not address fundamental realities and is, in fact, dangerously circular. It infers, erroneously, that the IRA could eventually have achieved its aims by violent means. The truth is, it had been apparent for at least a decade before the 1994 ceasefire the IRA campaign was going nowhere.

After 35 years of sustained conflict and almost 4,000 deaths, republicans were no closer to a united Ireland than they had been in 1969.

For people to argue for a resurrection of that campaign in the full knowledge that it now has even less chance of success than before, is outrageous. For them to use past sacrifice as an excuse for the re-creation of more needless suffering, is nothing short of obscene.

Rather than questioning whether the conflict should have been brought to an end, republicans along with the rest of us should be asking why it took so long. The choice facing mainstream republicanism was clear, either continue with a self-destructive, self-perpetuating unwinnable campaign or sue for peace and a settlement.

With a sizeable electoral mandate that held untold potential for further growth in a post-conflict environment, it was a choice that hardly needed making. Other dissidents have reluctantly accepted that an end to armed struggle was inevitable, but seem convinced that Sinn Féin could have got a better deal.

This is self-delusion of the highest order.

Though Sinn Féin's negotiating position was bolstered by its close association with the IRA, the influence this gave has been exaggerated.

By the time of the negotiations, the IRA's best days were long gone. Though having weaponry and still capable of the odd "spectacular", it could no longer mount a sustained campaign of the breadth and intensity of former times.

By 1994, the IRA was heavily infiltrated by informers and operating in circumstances that had changed dramatically, politically and socially, over the previous 10 years. The Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985 marked the beginning of an ever-improving relationship between the British and Irish governments and this, in turn, led to increased co-operation between police and security services on either side of the Border.

By the early 1990s, no longer could the Republic be considered a "safe haven" for republican activists. Closer to home and from a republican perspective of equal importance, was the changed attitude of nationalist communities that for decades had provided a support base (and cannon fodder) for republican groups.

They were heartily sick and tired of the conflict: they wanted an end to violence and a political settlement. It was, therefore, with the imprimatur of an IRA that had virtually run its course that Sinn Féin came to the negotiating table at Castle Buildings, Stormont.

It was not entirely accurate for Sinn Féin to insist they were negotiating solely on the basis of their political mandate, but it was far from a totally dishonest claim either. On political and constitutional matters, they had no more clout than their electoral mandate allowed.

Unfortunately for Sinn Féin (or, considering the compromises that had to be made, perhaps fortunately), such was the SDLP's electoral strength at that time it was they who held pole position within nationalism and led all negotiations on their community's behalf.

It has been in the attempted implementation rather than the negotiation of the agreement, that the IRA - its activities, weaponry and continued existence - has given extra leverage to republicans. Thankfully, not all dissenting republicans fall neatly into one or other of the above categories.

There are highly intelligent, anti-sectarian republicans who oppose a return to violence and recognise that political compromises had to be made, but disagree fundamentally with Sinn Féin on a range of social and political issues.

Not least, they baulk at the continued dictatorial and totalitarian tendencies of the mainstream republican movement.

If, as some spokespeople have recently claimed, dissident groups are genuinely interested in providing a viable and realistic political alternative to Sinn Féin, it is from these people they must take their lead.



Reprinted with permission from the author












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Index: Current Articles

3 September 2006

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Public Commitment or Public Relations
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False Memory Syndrome
Ray McAreavey

True Faith
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Not the Cathal Goulding I Knew
Liam O Comain

Dark Days Ahead
John Kennedy

Return to Conflict No Alternative
David Adams

Sir Reg's Party Games
Anthony McIntyre

A Secret History of Irish Music
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Unionism's Favourite Nationalist
Dr John Coulter

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 7
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Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 8
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Global Conscience Not US Capital: The Case for Liberal Intervention
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Letter to Bertie
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Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 6
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Number Crunching
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PFI Ventures Show the Con in all its Sordid Splendour
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