Armed Struggle: An Open Letter to PIRA
Date:June 1988
Organisation: Communist Party of Ireland
Contributor:James Stewart
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

20th January 2008

A self-explanatory but very interesting document that runs to some 30 odd pages (the file size is 8mb - if this poses problems please comment and I’ll try to reduce it yet further). This black and white A4 pamphlet contains an open letter to PIRA and responses to that letter from various individuals and parties, finishing with a further response from the CPI. It is much as one might expect, and yet, I can’t help but admire the fact that such a discussion was taking place during a very dark period of the Troubles. I might - retrospectively - wish that the WP had been so wedded to persuasion as the CPI, but I guess that such a dialogue was close to impossible given the animosity and shared roots of the various organisations.

One point. When scanning this I neglected to include the front page. This was a donation, so I sent it back before realising the error. If anyone has a scan of the front page I’d be very grateful if you could forward it to the cedarlounge at cedarlounge@yahoo.ie so I can add it to the PDF. It doesn’t lose much without it, but to maintain the integrity of the document it’s better with it!

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 26 Jan 2008 17:56:58

    Lots here. On the trajectory of the 1960s. WBS is right to say that urban areas were deliberately avoided to avoid creating sectarian feeling in the border campaign. But this does not mean that a defenderist ethos had disappeared. By the time the Troubles broke out, there were elements demanding that the movement represent a Hibernian ethos. The stuff in Kerry over the refusal to distribute the UI, the arguments over the rosary at commemorations, never mind what people in the north were saying, many of whom were no longer members like Joe Cahill.

    On the point that had people been more aggressive in defence of Catholic or nationalist interests, they may have held on to more support while still moving towards a serious socialist programme. One need only look at the history of the IRSP to see that attempts to marry these led inexorably to greater sectarianism.

    WBS is entirely right to say that it was the sectarianism of the state and of unionism that was the motor force for the outbreak of the Troubles much of the violence of the early years. This does not negate The WP analysis that the Troubles were fundamentally sectarian, but in fact reinforces it. As does the justification that paramilitaries on both sides put out, that their community (itself defined as religious and not as national or political) was under attack, or under threat, and that they were forced to take up arms by the violence and sectarianism of either the unionist state or of the opponents of the state. Ironically, the whole narrative of those engaged in violence recognises that the Troubles were a sectarian struggle, yet The WP is regarded as being mistaken for putting the blame on sectarianism.

    I’m not a greater believer in postmodernist theories, but I do think language is important. There has been a deliberate move to make Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist and Catholic/Nationalist/Republican mean the same thing, which was never the case during the Troubles. We all have the same goal, so we all fundamentally think the same, so why are we arguing? Let’s unite against themuns. A powerful argument and dynamic, and one which has done a great deal to boost the DUP and PSF, especially among young voters who don’t remember the Troubles who they have sewn up. And I see it used above, when the belief of an internationalist party in an independent Ireland is described as nationalist in reality.

    On WBS’ idea of sectarianism as being cultural supremacy, and that the SDLP and PSF have no sectarian programme. There are a lot of unionists in Derry who might disagree, or people who were students at QUB when the Irish language was being used as a sectarian weapon as it still sometimes is, and the unilateral siteing of commemorative statues/stones in sensitive and provocative
    areas (especially in rural areas), never mind incidents like a member of PSF falling off the roof of an orange hall, suggest otherwise. The demand for more neutral workplaces etc is of course a completely legitimate one.

    WBS’ definition is, I think, a misguided one. It ends up seeing sectarianism only in the Orange Order, and not in those who seek to define a street as belonging to one religion or the other, and that those who wish to walk down it need the permission of the side to which it belongs. This of course was the logic of those who attacked the Civil Rights march at Burntollet. It also ignores the gross manifestations of sectarianism that are possible short of the desire to remind one side who has historically been in charge. What of the idea that nationalists have rights as nationalists and that unionists have rights as unionists, as looks likely to be put into the Bill of Rights at the urging of nationalist politicians. I can think of absolutely nothing more against the tradition of republican thinking over the meaning of citizenship from the ancient world to the early modern period, to the French and American Revolutions, and from Tone to Connolly. To suggest that one has rights as a nationalist or as a unionist rather than as a citizen is certainly communalist – in the sense that rights are grounded in membership of a group within society. In NI, this means sectarian thinking.

    I’d like WBS or Wednesday to address whether they would accept the term communalism if not sectarianism. The parties are cooperating in Stormont. Great. But the nature of NI politics remains us v them. When the dynamic of politics is us v them, and us and them are defined primarily in religious terms, what should we call that if not sectarian? Talking about taigs or huns is just a less polite way of saying us Catholics/nationalists or Protestant/unionists against that other crowd. Show me a definition that better describes NI politics and I’ll consider it.

    Wednesday says that the southern parties operate on the basis that there is a Protestant Unionist community unpersuadeable about unity and that is therefore sectarian. I’m not sure that they do. I think they operate on the basis that they want nothing to do with the north until the majority there has emerged that wants to be in a united Ireland. And that is to be brought about by persuasion, but not in the foreseeable future. I don”t think the majority of the parties in the south see themselves as the representatives of the northern minority. In that sense, regardless of whether they would ultimately like a united Ireland or not and regardless of whether Wednesday is right or not that they think unionists will always be unionists, they are not involved in a sectarian approach, that seeks to promote the interests of their side.

    On WBS’ final point about unionists becoming not unionists. Nothing wrong with wanting that to happen, and seeking to bring it about. But I’d say that most people think that the Catholics will eventually outbreed the Protestants, and unity will follow. Which is a different, though as WBS says, dangerous thing.

    Apolgies for the disorganised screed.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 26 Jan 2008 19:00:04

    That’s a huge amount to take in and I can’t address it this evening, Garibaldy, but there’s loads of interesting and valid points in there… And no reason at all for an apology about structure… BTW… any chance we’ll get that post(s) soon? 🙂

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Wednesday Sat, 26 Jan 2008 19:02:38

    It is true that some Shinners tend to use the terms Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/unionist interchangeably. In my experience it’s usually the Belfast ones who do that, for whatever that’s worth. I remember a few years ago attending an internal meeting where a strategy document was circulated that included a reference to “outreach to Protestants”. I pulled up the party member giving the presentation on it – not realising at the time that he was a Protestant himself… anyway it’s something that most of us, certainly in the South, would want to see us get away from. But the point is that the reason it happens is that there is a strong correlation between Catholicism and nationalism on the one hand and Protestantism and unionism on the other. That’s the reality at the moment. It certainly wouldn’t be party policy to look at those correlations as 1:1, which should be self-evident given that the current SF strategy is predicated on turning a sufficient number of unionists to create a nationalist majority.

    As for the free state (feck off WBS) parties, they absolutely do look on unionists as unpersuadable. I don’t know how you fail to see that. And their not seeing themselves as representatives of the northern minority probably has more to do with the fact that they don’t have northern members (well, not many anyway). If Fine Gael ‘The United Ireland Party’ ever do organise there, where do you think they’re going to go looking for votes? FF likewise. Labour would be the exception, but they’re fairly openly partitionist at this point anyway. The problem I have with your definition of sectarianism is that it effectively makes a party sectarian simply to have a strong position on the border, which I see as an issue of imperialism and not of religion.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: CL Sat, 26 Jan 2008 19:38:18

    These contentious matters will be resolved next Monday when the renowned Senator Eoghan Harris debates Ruairi O Bradaigh at U.C.C.

    http://www.uccphilosoph.com/internal/

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 26 Jan 2008 21:22:39

    Wednesday,

    On the free state parties, I’m not so sure that FG and the PDs in particular wouldn’t be chasing right-wing unionist votes of they ever came north. But the point being they haven’t. So they remain in the south, where they seek to be neutral.

    My definition of sectarianism has nothing to do with the border. What you call a strong postiion on the border has in effect meant prioritising it to the virtual exclusion of everything else. A point succintly summed up by Gerry A in 1983 when he said that a bill of rights had no place to play in the republican struggle, or as I once heard a young, supposedly civic unionist UUP member say to a young DUP member after he’d spent the public discussion talking about social issues, “it’s got fuck all to do with whether you’re left or right”. I would say that it is entirely possible to take a strong position on the border and deal with other, social issues – as in fact your and other parties are now doing. And I would say The WP has been doing for the last three and a half decades, consistently standing for a socialist republic, even when De Rossa et al were trying to shift the goalposts. But it has not been sectarian. Take the marching issue. Nothing to do with the border, but lots to do with sectarianism. Northern society is structurally sectarian – and to be honest most people like it that way, as do extremly powerful interest groups.
    I think you’re saying that it’s communalism at the minute but you hope it won’t be in future, but don’;t want to put words in your mouth.

    Which relates to the language thing. You’re right to say some Shinners. But when those are people like Adams, Maskey, Doherty and McGuinness (not Belfast), and most especially Kelly, then it’s a bit more than some suggests. It’s the leadership.

    It is the reality that there is a strong correlation. But the question is, do you embrace it or fight it – and the answer of all the major parties in NI has been to embrace it. The virtual total abandonment of the Shared Future programme by the Executive – and let’s not forget who dominates that – demonstrates how that sectarian reality suits people nicely thank you very much.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Wednesday Sun, 27 Jan 2008 11:18:28

    I didn’t include the PDs because they’re barely organised in Dublin let alone Belfast. But on FG, I very much doubt it. They have too much invested in their fetishisation of Michael Collins. If anything they’ve tended to go more green in recent years, which plays very well in their rural southern base, and I just don’t see them abandoning that for the sake of a small pool of unionist votes. As for them being neutral, no, they aren’t. In Assembly and Westminster elections they go north to campaign for a nationalist party. In one of his Easter speeches a couple years ago Kenny said that unionists “may never be ready to see [1916] as we see it” (my emphasis). Another of their TDs has said that the British presence in Ireland is the unionist people. They are not neutral.

    And no disrespect, but the WP’s position on the border (by which I mean the national question, which has quite a bit to do with sectarianism) wouldn’t be considered “strong” by anyone I know.

    But when those are people like Adams, Maskey, Doherty and McGuinness (not Belfast), and most especially Kelly, then it’s a bit more than some suggests. It’s the leadership.

    Well, the northern leadership anyway… admittedly a lot of people, not least themselves, confuse the two… I don’t see the view of SF as “embracing” the division. As I said earlier, the current strategy depends on breaking it down to at least some degree. And that’s what all the “unionist outreach” stuff (which I recognise that plenty of people are very cynical about) is for. I’m not saying that we don’t ever use the division to our own advantage, but the longer-term aim is and has to be to break it down. Whether anything the party is doing actually contributes to achieving that aim is, of course, a legitimate question.

    As to who dominates the Executive, I tend towards a Gerry McHugh view on that subject…

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Sun, 27 Jan 2008 12:24:00

    I think we can agree to disagree on the significance of the UI rhetoric of FG, and their occasional canvassing. It’s clearly gesture politics, and is recognised as such by all, including unionists. As for the British presence remark, that was surely to deny that the situation was a simple anti-imperialist one, and to argue that to unite the country meant persuading unionists they should embrace an Irish identity. I don’t believe they have any intention of coming north, I was just responding to a hypothetical.

    I’m not surprised to hear that people you know don’t consider The WP position on the border as strong. Clearly The WP position was to get the violence ended first as workers were being killed simply for their religion; and because it was holding back the chances of progressive change in NI by playing into the hands of reactionary elements; but also, and this was always crucial, because it was keeping the people of Ireland divided, and setting the cause of unity as well as socialism back by decades.

    On the use of language. You can say that it;s the northern leadership – but are you really saying that they aren’t the driving force behind the whole country, and that the people in leadership positions in the south aren’t there because they have their backing? I think that’s a bit of a false dichotomy to say there are two leaderships. Incipient partitionism perhaps? 🙂 I have a vague recollection of Mary Lou talking in this tone, but didn’t include her originally because I couldn’t remember the details.

    I think PSF policies are predicated on the division, and on using it as the basis for political growth and development. We have seen no progress on integrated education for example. I know that the rhetoric has shifted towards breaking the division down. But I am far from sure that the reality reflects that, either on the ground or at Stormont. Good work is done at interface areas, but not at creating a communal identity. BTW, I find it interesting that you can acknowledge that advantage is taken of division and still regard the project as in line with Tone’s thinking. It’s something I could never reconcile, and a conversation I’ve had with other southern PSF people of a socialist bent.

    On the executive, I reckon that both the main parties are benefiting from it too much to rock the boat, but agree that DUP control of the purse strings gives them the ultimate say.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Wednesday Sun, 27 Jan 2008 16:04:16

    As for the British presence remark, that was surely to deny that the situation was a simple anti-imperialist one, and to argue that to unite the country meant persuading unionists they should embrace an Irish identity.

    I found the entire speech online. Here’s the relevant section:

    ‘Northern Ireland was seen as part of the national territory and that the only real solution was immediate re unification with the entire island and a withdrawal of “the British presence”. Unfortunately, too few people recognised that the British presence in Ireland was the 1.5 million Unionists who lived in the north east of Ireland. In a document “Towards a new Ireland” written by Garret Fitzgerald and Paddy Harte, Fine Gael defined the problem in terms of recognising the reality of partician [sic] and attempting to engage with the Unionist population on the issues that really mattered. Fianna Fail in the Downing Street Declaration finally embraced the principle of consent, which Fine Gael spoke about in the 1960s. It was the cornerstone to a new agreement, which finally left the issue of national territory to one side while reconciliation between Unionist and Nationalist was to be given a chance.’

    Now I see nothing in there about persuading unionists to embrace an Irish identity. Quite the contrary in fact. It reads to me as welcoming the fact that FF aren’t trying to persuade them into a united Ireland any more.

    When I say ‘the people I know’ I’m not just referring to Shinners. I have a somewhat wider range of acquaintances than that 🙂

    As for the leadership, they’d be drawn in roughly equal numbers from the North and South. That’s definitely the case with the Officer Board (it’s 4/3). I don’t have a full list of Ard Chomhairle members to hand – the one on the website is woefully incomplete – so I can’t give an exact breakdown for that body. Most of them are directly elected either by the Ard Fheis or by their cúige so the northern leadership (by which I mean leadership figures from the North) has very little say in it.

    I definitely wouldn’t say that the nordies are the ‘driving force behind the whole country’. They do exert more influence than the southerners in some respects (not all, thankfully). The basic point I was making was that that language is probably coming from them as northerners, rather than from them as leadership figures. I definitely don’t recall ever hearing it from southern leadership figures and I have heard several of them stress the contrary. As for Mary Lou, she’s from Rathgar so I assume she knows plenty of Protestants and knows full well they aren’t all unionists.

    While I too would like to see integrated education, I’m not sure how the lack of progress on that front reflects a policy in favour of division. A policy that doesn’t adequately tackle it, quite possibly. And that goes for the other areas in which you feel the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric. The people formulating these strategies within the party genuinely do seem to believe in them, that’s always the impression I get from the tedious numbers of internal meetings I’ve attended. Maybe it’s a harder task than they realise or maybe they aren’t actually up to it, I don’t know. BTW I didn’t intend to acknowledge that advantage is taken of division so much as to not rule out the possibility that it happens at some time or another. Without knowing exactly what instances you’re thinking of (and bearing in mind the possibility that you and I might disagree that a particular instance is, in fact, taking advantage of division), I’d broadly agree that it would be incompatible with Tone. But I don’t think it makes ‘the project’ as such incompatible, because I guess I would see any such instances as not being a proper part of the project anyway.

    I don’t know if you’ve read any of my own blog posts on the subject but I was and remain deeply sceptical of the Assembly as a whole never mind the Executive. Our Ministers don’t have enough power to deliver radical change (and it’s the Brits who really control the purse strings, not the DUP, but obviously the latter have their own ways to block progress) and the assumption which I think a lot of people were relying upon that we’d get a boost in the 26 County elections because of it turned out to be, erm, premature. We gave up a lot to get to this point (not least a significant number of very good activists) and I don’t think that’s finished yet either. So, I’m really not sure where we’re supposed to be benefitting.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 27 Jan 2008 18:03:45

    Lots here. On the trajectory of the 1960s. WBS is right to say that urban areas were deliberately avoided to avoid creating sectarian feeling in the border campaign. But this does not mean that a defenderist ethos had disappeared. By the time the Troubles broke out, there were elements demanding that the movement represent a Hibernian ethos. The stuff in Kerry over the refusal to distribute the UI, the arguments over the rosary at commemorations, never mind what people in the north were saying, many of whom were no longer members like Joe Cahill.

    It’s interesting to read the Ó Brádaigh biography which addresses these issues above. The attitude from that camp was that since most of the volunteers who had died were Catholic it was respectful to say a Rosary, and let’s be honest, as we know from Sean South some were very very Catholic indeed… but Sean Garland was a close comrade of South – so who knows. Yes, I’d have enormous reservations about such public protestations. But, I think that that doesn’t per se prove a Catholic defenderist ethos, indeed the problem with that argument is that any action to ‘defend’ locks straight into your ‘sectarian’ narrative when defence might well have been the only logical tactic during this period. It’s also fair to note that Garland, Goulding et al had been part of SF throughout this period and presumably only began to demur in the mid to late 1960s.

    On the point that had people been more aggressive in defence of Catholic or nationalist interests, they may have held on to more support while still moving towards a serious socialist programme. One need only look at the history of the IRSP to see that attempts to marry these led inexorably to greater sectarianism.

    My own sense of the IRSP was that it came up against the limitations of socialist rhetoric in a conflict rooted in national identity where the two communities were linked to religion. When it proved less and less possible to attack the BA they started to do precisely what the UDA/UVF had done prior to them, go after soft targets purely on a religious basis because they were easy and they represented the other ‘side’. However, that was in a radically different security situation to the early 1970s which is the only period I could seriously see OSF pushing a stronger line so I don’t believe that defensive actions under an OSF banner were necessarily destined to be sectarian… and incidentally, I wouldn’t say Catholic interests, I’d suggest that we had a clear instance of one community under threat from both the organs of the state and the other community (or portions of same)… the tag we use doesn’t matter.

    WBS is entirely right to say that it was the sectarianism of the state and of unionism that was the motor force for the outbreak of the Troubles much of the violence of the early years. This does not negate The WP analysis that the Troubles were fundamentally sectarian, but in fact reinforces it. As does the justification that paramilitaries on both sides put out, that their community (itself defined as religious and not as national or political) was under attack, or under threat, and that they were forced to take up arms by the violence and sectarianism of either the unionist state or of the opponents of the state. Ironically, the whole narrative of those engaged in violence recognises that the Troubles were a sectarian struggle, yet The WP is regarded as being mistaken for putting the blame on sectarianism.

    I think the problem is that you use the word ‘sectarian’ when I would see communal as more accurate. There is a distinction. The former is clear pejorative. It reifies one over another whereas the latter at least hints at some equality between the two (or however many communities there are). I’m genuinely unsure that the paramilitaries did from my reading of the literature posit in religious terms. Yes, the words Catholic and nationalist were used interchangeably on occasion but we all do that on occasion without meaning that all nationalists worship at the alter of Benedict or all Catholics want a UI. There is a convergence because most Catholics are Nationalist. As for the Troubles being sectarian. I don’t believe that it was primarily. It was a national identity struggle garbed in the cloak of religious struggle. But on a basic level it’s hard to see even in the political programmes of those on the nationalist (or in fairness the UUP later on ) side any obvious sectarian aspect. Nor can it be said that religious bodies proposed clearly sectarian agendas other than some individuals and some evangelical Protestants (education is a different thing, and trust me, I’m completely against religious control in education but that’s a characteristic of both parts of the island, and indeed increasingly the UK).

    I’m not a greater believer in postmodernist theories, but I do think language is important. There has been a deliberate move to make Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist and Catholic/Nationalist/Republican mean the same thing, which was never the case during the Troubles. We all have the same goal, so we all fundamentally think the same, so why are we arguing? Let’s unite against themuns. A powerful argument and dynamic, and one which has done a great deal to boost the DUP and PSF, especially among young voters who don’t remember the Troubles who they have sewn up. And I see it used above, when the belief of an internationalist party in an independent Ireland is described as nationalist in reality.

    I think that’s simply incorrect. What move has there been to elide these terms?If anything the confessional aspect of the conflict has been diminished at a rhetorical level due to the concentration on political identity. No one registers as a Catholic or Protestant in the Assembly, they register as a Unionist or Nationalist or Other. And the end point of a 32 county Republic is nationalist, Irish nationalist. There’s no escaping that fact.

    On WBS’ idea of sectarianism as being cultural supremacy, and that the SDLP and PSF have no sectarian programme. There are a lot of unionists in Derry who might disagree, or people who were students at QUB when the Irish language was being used as a sectarian weapon as it still sometimes is, and the unilateral siteing of commemorative statues/stones in sensitive and provocative
    areas (especially in rural areas), never mind incidents like a member of PSF falling off the roof of an orange hall, suggest otherwise. The demand for more neutral workplaces etc is of course a completely legitimate one.

    Sure, some people will use culture to promote themselves or their agenda. Over bearing gaelgoirs are found everywhere. We see a similar process with Ulster Scots. We see a similar process with English. Go look at A Tangled Web to see the ne plus ultra in that particular game. That individuals will act in sectarian, or stupid, ways such as the moron on the Orange Hall is a given. But IIRC that person was expelled from SF. What about the inherent sectarianism in the OO itself. The big question is how this is all treated. Can the OO modernise, can it retain aspects of its identity without losing it entirely? I don’t know? I’m agnostic on that so far.

    WBS’ definition is, I think, a misguided one. It ends up seeing sectarianism only in the Orange Order, and not in those who seek to define a street as belonging to one religion or the other, and that those who wish to walk down it need the permission of the side to which it belongs. This of course was the logic of those who attacked the Civil Rights march at Burntollet. It also ignores the gross manifestations of sectarianism that are possible short of the desire to remind one side who has historically been in charge. What of the idea that nationalists have rights as nationalists and that unionists have rights as unionists, as looks likely to be put into the Bill of Rights at the urging of nationalist politicians. I can think of absolutely nothing more against the tradition of republican thinking over the meaning of citizenship from the ancient world to the early modern period, to the French and American Revolutions, and from Tone to Connolly. To suggest that one has rights as a nationalist or as a unionist rather than as a citizen is certainly communalist – in the sense that rights are grounded in membership of a group within society. In NI, this means sectarian thinking.

    I don’t for a second deny that there is a vernacular sectarianism, or societal sectarianism and that it shapes the ‘narrative’ for want of a better word right down to streets. But..it’s impossible to get away from the fact that Unionism and Nationalism/Republicanism are at base political positions which blend into religious aspects at some points and away from it at others and in the context of a divided polity it actually makes some degree of sense when you do as you say have ‘communal’ if you prefer rather than national blocs competing to recognise that fact. Or let’s put it a different way. The Tricolour flag in the window in the mid-1960s that caused a riot was rioted over by Loyalists and Unionists because it was a political icon as much as a cultural or societal one. In that environment it makes sense – after a history which included the Flags and Emblems perhaps to make it explicitly clear that nationalism is as valid an expression of political cultural or social identity as Unionism. I really don’t – even as a Republican who profoundly believes in citizenship – have a problem with that, perhaps not necessarily in the way you suggest it’s being put that nationalists have rights as nationalists, but rather that the expression of nationalism is legitimate, in the short term as the society works together. Yes, obviously in any future dispensation it would have to go. Having said that after the history since and before 1921 I’m not sure I’d blame anyone for trying to codify rights as best they could. And I’m pretty sure that’s not sectarian either.

    I’d like WBS or Wednesday to address whether they would accept the term communalism if not sectarianism. The parties are cooperating in Stormont. Great. But the nature of NI politics remains us v them. When the dynamic of politics is us v them, and us and them are defined primarily in religious terms, what should we call that if not sectarian? Talking about taigs or huns is just a less polite way of saying us Catholics/nationalists or Protestant/unionists against that other crowd. Show me a definition that better describes NI politics and I’ll consider it.

    Yes. I would accept the term communalism. I can’t see how it can be otherwise in a polity still dictated by the boundaries established in 1920-21 and drawing on a heritage of plantation, exclusion and economic and social domination and submission, and riven by politico-cultural division. But to suggest that it has to be zero sum, ‘us and them’ seems to me to be both pessimistic and actually run counter to everything the WP espoused. I always thought that WP policy was that once the violence was finished it would be possible to draw together class interests. Well. The violence is over. So isn’t it time to start working in that way rather than focussing on the obvious fact that there are self-perceived self-ascribed national identities? Those aren’t going to go away anytime soon, Benedict Anderson has taught us that much. And criticising the fact that such identities are exist and are embedded is rather like criticising gender inequality. The choice isn’t to complain but to educate. But it’s also odd from my perspective that there is a sort of conceptual leap from saying these communal issues are wrong and the self-identifications, or national identities, are wrong to one which say, but at the end of the day the solution is a United Ireland. How is that functionally different from what PSF, or the CPI, or FF or anyone actually says? I can’t see it. If the idea is that the WP version of the 32 county socialist Republic is somehow self-evidently superior, well again I don’t get it. It’s either so utopian it will never come to pass or there is no distinction with other entities who propose that they want the same thing. And here I have a real problem with the superiority of the ‘Republic’ that is proposed here. It seems to me to be akin to the RSF ‘Republicanism’ which is somehow ‘pure’. Most people ascribe the term Republic to a form of government. I think that’s the only logical way to do so, otherwise we start to engage in a policy of mystification.

    Wednesday says that the southern parties operate on the basis that there is a Protestant Unionist community unpersuadeable about unity and that is therefore sectarian. I’m not sure that they do. I think they operate on the basis that they want nothing to do with the north until the majority there has emerged that wants to be in a united Ireland. And that is to be brought about by persuasion, but not in the foreseeable future. I don”t think the majority of the parties in the south see themselves as the representatives of the northern minority. In that sense, regardless of whether they would ultimately like a united Ireland or not and regardless of whether Wednesday is right or not that they think unionists will always be unionists, they are not involved in a sectarian approach, that seeks to promote the interests of their side.

    Again with sides. Of course there are sides because the communities don’t just represent themselves but are also representative of broader all island and inter island political processes and dynamics that are both contemporary and historical. Hence UK representation for Northern Irish MPs. Hence the involvement of Dublin since the AIA. How could it be otherwise because this is the evidence that far from simply being a ‘sectarian’ or communal issue it is also very clearly a political/national identity one. The six counties don’t exist in isolation. Nationalists are nationalist to a nation. Unionists are unionists to another nation. It’s not all, or even just, about religious identity. Remove religion from the equation tomorrow through a mass conversion to Dawkins style agnosticism and nationalists would still be nationalists, Unionists still Unionists because the fundamental issue isn’t what religion one is (although it colours the street) but who governs and from where.

    On WBS’ final point about unionists becoming not unionists. Nothing wrong with wanting that to happen, and seeking to bring it about. But I’d say that most people think that the Catholics will eventually outbreed the Protestants, and unity will follow. Which is a different, though as WBS says, dangerous thing.

    If a unionist becomes a not-unionist what do they become? They become a 32 county Irish nationalist. That unfortunately is zero-sum. A 32 county Republic is the antithesis of Unionism. But why mention Catholics in relation to the increase in the Nationalist population? I agree that it’s dangerous, I’m just not sure why the religious identification is used instead of the political one.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 27 Jan 2008 18:11:19

    Apologies, Wednesday, that wasn’t meant to be a serious crack re FS… 😦 Garibaldy started it – I blame him!!! 🙂

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  • By: Garibaldy Sun, 27 Jan 2008 18:12:34

    You fuckers started it when you signed the treaty

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 27 Jan 2008 18:22:23

    I’m not that old. It’s not my fault. Also, in my retrospective defence, I have more than a little time for some elements of the anti-Treaty side. Where though I’d have been in 1921 is a very interesting question….

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  • By: Garibaldy Sun, 27 Jan 2008 18:38:21

    WBS,

    I’ll won’t have time to deal with all the points properly, but briefly on the language thing. This elision is something I have a particular interest in. I keep a close eye on it. There has been a shift towards the dropping of the Catholic part, but around the time of the ceasefires onwards there was a noticeable shift in the amount of times people used Catholic/nationalist/republican interchangeably in television and radio interviews in particular. Also the emergence of the concept of the PUL community which one can see quite often on slugger.

    For me, republicanism in Ireland is an identifiable political philosophy with a history, a set of principles and assumptions against which political positions can be tested and, if you like falsified. So others may use it differently. I don’t really care. I’ll never accept that someone like Michael McDowell or the people who carried out Kingsmill are republicans even if they don’t want a monarchy.

    As for wanting a united Ireland being automatically nationalist. Again, I don’t agree. I believe in the sovereignty of peoples, and that they should be free to make their own decisions. That doesn’;t make me a nationalist. To adapt Lenin’s analogy, countries should have the right to organise their governments whatever way they want but it doesn’t necessarily mean I think that should be a nation-state as nationalists do. I believe in internationalism.

    Accepting communalism but not sectarianism because one is perjorative seems to me to be accepting the same thing. I don’t think that sectarianism sets one up over the other. I think it is basing your assumptions, politics, and attitudes one the interests of one part of the community. Of course there is a massive political dimension to the problem, based around perceptions of nationality. Like it or lump it, the division in NI is perceived by the people there to be religious. And social institutions are divided on that basis. Schools, teacher training, at one point the hospitals in Belfast, housing estates, and even the boy scouts are divided between catholic and protestant. Not nationalist and unionist. People talk about Catholic and Protestant areas for example. Not unionist and nationalist. Even if I am wrong and you are right and it’s a communalist conflict and not a sectarian one, my criticisms hold from a socialist viewpoint.

    As for the point about criticising communalist identities and not educating against them. I could have sworn that’s what my political activity is about. But how can we fight sectarianism without pointing out what it is? If what is keeping the country divided is the belief that the people who live in it are fundamentally different, them that division must be challenged.

    Anyway gotta go out. Be back to all this, and Wendesday’s points, later.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 27 Jan 2008 22:22:52

    More to think about, but I’ll wait for your full thoughts before moving forward…

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 28 Jan 2008 10:22:18

    In terms of why mention Catholic on the idea that those in favour of a united Ireland will efventually outnumber those who aren’t, because that is the way the debate on demography in the north is had. I think I pointed it out before, but chechk out Mitchell MCLaughlin’s piece in Norman Porter (ed.), The Republican Ideal (Belfast, 1998) for a great example. Or look at the comments surrounding what the last census was expected to say. Let’s not forget that the census makes me a Catholic or Protestant REGARDLESS of whether I say I’m an atheist or not. Is there more eloquent proof of the way people perceive themselves, and are percevied?

    On the point about the fundamental issue about who governs who from where. This is of course true. But that issue has been parked by the GFA. And we can see PSF recast their struggle as a struggle for better treatment for Catholics/nationalists within NI. Which goes to your point about the SDLP too and what it really sought to represent.

    On Wedneday’s last.

    I would say the principle of consent involves persuasion of unionism.

    On who are the real movers within PSF. I have to say that I find your argument on the balance of power unconvincing. Especially given the number of complaints that emerged after the last election about the northerners running everything and messing it up. I think it’s fairly clear that people who come to prominence in the south do so only with the support of the leadership based in the north. That may change but we;ll have to wait and see.

    On the rhetoric/reality thing. I tend to judge these things by actions. In the last government in NI and in this one, PSF controlled the ministry of education. There was approval from Mc Guinness of a few integrated schools which had effectively already received approval and nothing else. The same too on the Shared Future. Even the unionist outreach thing has been seriously downgraded. Martina Anderson was a prominent, if provocative and (perhaps deliberately) self-defeating person to have the job. Since then it has gone to someone hardly anyone has ever heard of, and from whom there has been barely a peep. So if people talk about wanting an end to division while practically embracing it (as all the main parties in NI and the British government do) then I remain sceptical of their bona fides.

    I have read a lot of your blog. I realise you are sceptical about the whole thing. But I think it’s fair to say your party as a whole has been highly enthusiastic and has embraced the situation. And done a good job of sharing things out with the DUP and stitching up the other two parties when necessary. You are of course right to say London ultimately holds the purse strings, but Robinson is doing a fine job of ensuring the way the pie is distributed is in his hands.

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  • By: The Left Archive: “Teoiric” the Theoretical Journal of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, 1980 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 28 Jan 2008 11:06:49

    […] as the last Left Archive piece has inspired a lively and – I think – illuminating debate about the legacy and policies of OSF/WP […]

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  • By: Wednesday Tue, 29 Jan 2008 06:57:54

    I would say the principle of consent involves persuasion of unionism.

    There’s nothing intrinsic to the principle of consent about persuading anyone. All it says is that the status quo is acceptable until there’s a majority in favour of changing it. Whether that majority comes about through persuasion or outbreeding or indeed whether it never comes about is an issue that the principle of consent, by itself, does not address.

    I did acknowledge that the northerners frequently exert more influence than the southerners but they don’t have quite the iron grip you imagine. Frank Little has noted several times here the ideological differences between the party in the two jurisdictions – there have been issues on which there has been a clear north-south cleavage and the southerners have won the argument, although I’m not going to get into details on a public site! There are also some well-known southerners who are actually quite at odds with the nordies, though that may not be apparent to those outside the party. Anyway my point about the use of language still stands.

    And there is still unionist outreach stuff going on. There’s a less public dimension to it, which could be the style of the person in charge of it now or it could be because all the publicity around what Martina was doing was viewed as not particularly helpful.

    On the schools thing I think WBS has a good point. The ‘right’ of parents to send their kids to schools controlled by one particular faith is deeply ingrained on this island – north and south. Persuading people that multi- (or preferably non-) demoninational education is the way to go is a huge job, and one that is much more than a matter of a Minister approving new schools. It’s a cultural change that’s required.

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  • By: Joe Tue, 29 Jan 2008 11:52:33

    I’d go along pretty much with WBS’s two national identities on this island. I’m interested too in this idea that Southern parties think that the Unionists are unpersuadable. I’d pretty much agree that they are. Put the shoe on the other foot. Am I persuadable that I’m really Irish and British and that the Republic should rejoin the UK? The answer in my head and my heart and my gut is no, never, never, never. And I’m pretty sure that Joe Unionist is a mirror image of me in that regard.

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  • By: pj callan Fri, 02 Sep 2011 23:53:28

    The CPI archives were mentioned on the RTE news the other night – if you missed it, here is the link – See from 19th minute of link below to RTE News, 31st August.

    http://www.rte.ie/news/av/2011/0831/9news.html#

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  • By: Gordie_Shore Thu, 10 Oct 2013 00:20:42

    All you Paddies do is double – Dutching the fascist, imperialist regime over yourselves. Communism is exactly the same thing. They take away all of your money, so the services come for free. Isn’t it the same as giving up all of your goods/money to the king of another country. Therefore you are speeding up the imperialism and globalization in the lamest way possible.

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