I’m sorry I missed the debate between Danny Morrison and Malachi O’Doherty on the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh this morning. I know and respect both men, so I’m sure these points I’ll list were covered in the course of the debate.
Was the IRA campaign justified? Well, that would depend on your perspective. If you’re a pacifist – say, a Quaker – you’ll firmly answer No. All violence is wrong and nothing could therefore justify the IRA campaign.
If you’re not a pacifist – that is, if you believe in violence under certain circumstances - then much will depend on how you saw the circumstances of 1969-70. There would have been those who saw peaceful protest through the civil rights movement as futile and decided that the only way to meet the violence of the Loyalists/ B Specials/RUC/British Army was with a violent response. They would point to the killing of Peter Ward and later John Scullion by loyalists as examples of unprovoked violence prior to 1969/70. The same people and probably many others would point to the killings on Bloody Sunday 1972 by the British army. Finally there would have been those republicans who believed that like generations of other Irishmen and women, they were justified in employing violence in an effort to remove British jurisdiction, both political and military, from Ireland.
The charge that’s often levelled at Sinn Féin today is that they condemn those ‘dissident’ republicans still committed to physical force. This is denounced as hypocritical, since they themselves once employed physical force. Insofar as I can understand it, Sinn Féin appear to condemn ‘dissident’ republicans because (i) Sinn Féin believes a united, independent Ireland can be achieved, given markedly different circumstances, by peaceful means; and (ii) the physical force employed by ‘dissidents’ is militarily inadequate and doomed to defeat. ‘Dissidents’, on the other hand, would argue that Sinn Féin have given up on trying to achieve the traditional goals of republicanism and that it is up to them, the ‘dissidents’, to continue an age-old struggle, however out-numbered, to remove British rule from Ireland.
There is another argument which says that while a united independent Ireland is desirable, it is not worth shedding blood for. And a further one that says you're entitled to employ physical force only when you have the assent of the majority of the Irish people.
Finally, there is an argument that says the whole concern with a united, independent Ireland is out-dated and irrelevant, that we live in a post-nationalist era, and that any time spent discussing the notion of a united, independent Ireland, let alone employing physical force in an effort to achieve it, is time tragically wasted.
Since I didn’t hear this morning’s programme, I assume all of these positions were considered and that Morrison and O’Doherty dealt with them in an informed and logical way. If they didn’t, I’m sure someone will let me know.