Jude Collins

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Derry and Milltown: starkly contrasting strategies

For a micro-group, there seemed to be an awful lot of them. Then again, the TV camera loves a crowded picture - it can even make attendance at a hockey match look big. But the balaclava-ed figure who spoke into the microphone in Derry yesterday was real enough. Representing the Real IRA, he said that his organisation would continue their attacks  on "Crown Forces personnel, their installations, as well as British interests and infrastructure".   In short, the war goes on.

There couldn't have been a sharper contrast with the words of Declan Kearney. At Milltown Cemetery on Sunday, he said "Unionists have been hurt by the war; and so too have republicans. We need to keep moving the peace process into new phases and onto new ground. National reconciliation is integral to our strategic project...Make no mistake: there is no other IRA, here in Belfast or anywhere else".

There you have in essence two completely-at-odds republican views. That represented by Declan Kearney believes reconciliation between former enemies is central to achieving the goal of a just and re-united country; the man in the balaclava believes in the same goal but is convinced it will be achieved through the cutting edge of violence.

The morality of political violence, whether in 1916 or 1976 or 2012 could be argued forever. But Kearney and mainstream republicans aren't arguing about the ethics involved. How could they? They themselves engaged in political violence over a period of decades. Their argument is that now - not in 1916 or 1976 but now - political violence is counter-productive. It alienates and deepens antagonism among unionists. The only road to national independence is the slow, unglamorous road of reconciliation. The man in the balaclava argues that such an approach emasculates republicanism: politics is about power, and power comes, as Mao said, from the barrel of a gun.

History, by and large,  is on the side of the man in the balaclava. The 26-county state was born out of bloody struggle against Britain, not reconciliation. And down the centuries, republicans have always believed in political violence and acted on that belief.  To  engage in reconciliation and power-sharing is to do Britain's work for it. Equally, though, you could say that history is on the side of mainstream republicans today. If the breadth and depth of IRA violence during the '70s and '80s failed to dislodge the British, then the puny efforts of the Real IRA are surely futile. And they have the opposite of their intended effect, since reconciliation with unionists is a sine qua non, an absolute essential in a re-united Ireland.

The  strategy of the man in the balaclava is clear, traditional and bloody. The strategy of  Kearney and  others like him is more complex, non-violent, and, for Irish republicanism, unique. Which strategy is more effective, it may take decades to decide. But as to which of the two is the bolder  and more imaginative,  the answer must be  Kearney and Co.


  1. It seems to me the contrast between the two cases Milltown and derry is explained for me at least by the ageing process. Adams and mcGuiness , as with paisley reachedf a point where they were running out of time and had to make a judgement call on their legacy as the fire was no longer in the belly. So they drew a line and took a revisionist approach to their record over the time.[madraj]

  2. The difference is one lot have realised the violence wasnt working and the other lot are too thick to figure that out for themselves and will probably need another 30 years for the message to sink in. As for all the parades really have people nothing better to do than dress up in clothes that dont fit wielding toy guns and dont even get me started on the Apprentice boys of Derry - why the hell do they parade in Belfast - do they need a geography lesson or something??

  3. So Sinn Fein,by fully embracing the consent principle,have finally reached the position where John Hume was decades ago.As Seamus Mallon once said its surely Sunningdale for slow learners!You say that "political violence alienates and deepens antagonism amongst unionists".So now the mantra is be nice to our unionist friends.A bit cynical many would say!

  4. Anon 12:57 - thanks for your thoughts. Are you familiar with the phrase "Damned if you do and damned if you don't"?

    1. Yes,Im familiar with that phrase.It just seems a pity that Declan Kearney and the Shinners are now belatedly adopting the philosophy of John Hume and his party.At one time,the S D L P were being pilloried for this approach by the same folk who are making such a virtue of engagement with the unionist community.O tempora, o mores!

  5. I'm sick of hearing (reading) this " Sunningdale for slow learners" bit. The only reason we are where we are today was the I R A campaign. The Unionists and S D L P seem to forget how hopeless it was to make any movement on the basic rights for Catholics. Even today its like pulling teeth. This is what the Dissidents see. Looks like the slow learners are the ones who talk about it. Deasun O'D

  6. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/stormont-tricolour-bid-is-run-up-the-flagpole-16143521.html

    Kearney and the boys are really making inroads....can't even get a flag flown, how are they going to reunite Ireland? In the cold light of day, away from all the emotionalism, you have to surmise that the United Ireland bluster is simply a smokescreen to cover up for a failed political strategy and measly participation in a constitutional cul de sac!!