The continued British presence in Ireland
has no more legitimacy than those who oppose it with arms.*
There has been a great deal of hand ringing and talk of moral values since the death of Constable Ronan Kerr of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who was killed after an armed Irish republican group placed a bomb under his car, which was parked outside his house in Omagh, County Tyrone. Understandably, Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of the British police force in Ireland lauded his dead officer, and kept to a time-honored script which is played out whenever a member of the British armed forces lose their lives whilst serving the crown.
No complaint there, it is what senior officers do when one of their number fall in the line of duty, however it was the politicians who outdid themselves and it was not only the British Prime Minister, his Viceroy in Ireland and the Unionists who got in on the act. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness elbowed his way to the front in an attempt to paint himself as a loyal servant of the British crown. Mr McGuinness addressing a Sinn Fein meeting in South Belfast shortly after the death of PC Kerr, all but claimed the dead police officer as one of his own when he said:
“I went down to see Nuala within hours of her son being killed and it was very obvious from being in that household that many of the family circle were Sinn Fein voters. And I would go so far as to say that Ronan Kerr voted for Sinn Fein, and joined the police because he wanted to be part of change and wanted to support the peace process.”
Such cringing subservience did not go unnoticed by the British establishment, and shortly after McGuinness had spoken the Secretary of State for NI, Owen Patterson, was on his feet in the Westminster parliament congratulating McGuinness on his behavior, as the hear hear’s of his fellow MP’s echoed around the parliamentary chamber:
“The leadership was evident again when the First [Peter Robinson of the DUP]and Deputy First Ministers (Martin McGuinness) and the Justice Minister stood as one with the Chief Constable to reiterate their determination that these terrorists will never succeed. They all called for the active support of the PSNI.”
I do not believe I am being unfair here when I write Mr McGuinness’s behavior was identical to the unionists who swear allegiance to the English monarch, it is difficult not to conclude he has evolved into a loyal servant of the British crown and more importantly, it seems Tory politicians like Owen Patterson regard him as such.
This raises questions about the legitimacy of the six county statelet and whether it is legitimate under international law for Irish republicans to use armed struggle to remove the border and complete the Irish national revolution. Under international law, the right of national liberation movements to use armed force is controversial. On occasions, the UN General Council has endorsed the right to armed struggle, For example it supported a resolution giving the Palestinians the right to use 'all means' to throw off their Israeli oppressors and today under the pretext of a UN resolution, the USA, UK, France and their NATO allies are giving military and economic aid to their north African ‘rebel friends’ with a clear aim of overthrowing by force of arms the Gaddafi regime in Libya.
Undoubtedly a large number of UN affiliates maintain liberation movements have the legitimate right to use armed force to secure the right of people to self-determination. As far as Ireland is concerned, the first question we need to ask is does the British presence in six counties of Ireland fall into this category. The British government clearly believes it does not, but given their track record, few rational people would take their word. Indeed, when it comes to this matter, there our few governments who have such a long and appalling record of abusing peoples human rights. From their original occupation of Ireland, through to the British Empire and on to Iraq and Afghanistan, the British government has plundered its way around the world leaving famine, mass migration, death and economic destruction in its wake and many claim it continues to do so to this day.
Ireland, by force of arms, has been occupied by the English and then the British State for hundreds of years, its record there is one of brutality, neglect and deviousness. Thus when making a judgement about what is legitimate or not, it would be foolish and negligent as some deem to do today, just to consider the situation in Ireland since the signing of the GFA. One must look at the whole picture and take into account how the six county statelet came into being after the British withdrew from the 26 counties which make up today's Republic of Ireland. Did NI become a geographic and political entity due to a democratic decision of the Irish people; or was it brought into being after British governmental threats of a dreadful and terrifying war.
Sadly the latter is the case, and just because these threats were made in 1922 does not nullify this fact. They can only be nullified when the Irish people are given an all Ireland referendum on whether the island of Ireland should become a single unified state. Until this occurs the border will continue to be contentious and without legitimacy. (The all Ireland ballots which took place in the two separate Irish political entities and centered on the GFA, were clearly lost opportunities as sadly they did not fall into this category.)
However the legitimacy of the border and those who oppose it by using armed struggle is not the only question. Armed republican groups do not operate in a vacuum, but amongst those they wish to liberate and unlike in 1916-22, and 1969-2004, there is not a sizable section of Irish people who support the use of violence to remove the border, this is as true in the North as it is in the South.
For those who currently engage in armed struggle to dismiss this by claiming so what, it has always been so, will just not do. It may be true that at times previous generations of republican insurgents were unable to claim a degree of majority support, but there was a good reason for this, as the scale of the hardships or harsh oppression the insurgents and general population faced during previous Republican insurgencies were incomparable to what the British inflict on the nationalist people of the North today.
Indeed if we are being honest, the overwhelming majority of those who live in the six counties today, face no greater oppressive state forces than those who live in the rest of the UK. The six counties cannot be regarded as a society which is suffering under the iron heel of a tyrants boot. Having said this, it does not make the situation correct simply because the tyrant has replaced his boot with a smart Gucci shoe, as the change of footwear still allows the writ of the UK State to run in six counties of Ireland without a shred of democratic legitimacy.
But for Republicans to engage in arm struggle simply because they can, would be a sign of hopelessness and a negation of their revolutionary traditions. For without a degree of mass support, all an armed campaign can achieve is to lay a blood stained marker in the sod, which proclaims the continued presence of the British State in Ireland is wrong. As much as some Republicans may welcomed this, It is difficult to see how this alone can justify the negativity which flows from engaging in armed struggle. The lives of volunteers wasted either from premature death or years of imprisonment, and the inevitable collateral damage any military campaign inflicts on its host communities. Along with the death and maiming of people like PC Kerr, whose only real crime is they represent a public manifestation of the British government in Ireland, and provide a comparatively easy target in comparison with those who actually govern the northern Statelet at a local level.
It seems to me it is a tad hypocritical for armed republicans to target this group of public servants, when senior members of the Stormont administration like Martin McGuinness live without sanction in nationalist communities. Just to be clear, in no way am I suggesting senior members of SF should be targeted, I am simply pointing out one of the many contradictions in the strategy of groups like the RIRA, CIRA and Óglaigh na hÉireann.
As I mentioned above, the only justifiable reason to continue the arm struggle as far as I can see is to keep the beacon of reunification alive, it is about as clear a statement as one could get that some Republicans refuse to turn their backs on eight hundred years of struggle. Whilst this may be a powerful argument, it takes a leap of faith to justify the use of armed struggle as it is difficult to see how targeting minor servants of the British State in Ireland like the police, can produce constructive change when thirty years of the most determined armed struggle could not.
Even those who want no truck with the GFA, cannot honestly claim the six counties is the oppressive society it once was. True, like the British police elsewhere in the UK, the PSNI is still obsessed with the enemy within; and can behave in a heavy handed manner, but in truth when it comes to dealing with public order situations, its manner of policing is little different from similar police forces in the EU’s metropolitan areas.
The public manifestation of Mi5 in the north is far more worrying as it now has the full remit for counter terrorism throughout the six counties which cannot but further embed the north east of Ireland within the UK State.
Nevertheless, despite this and the English crowns provocative visit to the South, there are, north and south, viable political avenues open to all Republicans through which they can advance their cause and just because the Provos also claim this, does not make it any less so. The Stormont assembly is crying out for a left-republican opposition which is mandated to expose the mockney and sectarian parliament’s shortcomings from the inside whilst working for its abolition.
I realize such participation is a problematical subject for Republicans and will need extremely delicate handling, but for revolutionary republicans to pass up such an opportunity is left wing infantilism. Instead of abstentionism to avoid the mistakes of the past, the key is surly not to cling irrevocably to past republican dogma, which in truth has never served the movement well in the post 1922 period, but to build an organization which is based on the collective will of the membership and has the necessary inbuilt democratic checks and balances.
True state agencies will place road blocks and obstacles in the way, but there is no surprise about this, it has always been so, it is what all revolutionaries face.
The one certainty about the British State, when dealing with republican groups, it is guaranteed to make a bad situation worse, as we have witnessed with the charade trial of independent republican Gerry McGeough, which ended with him being sentenced to 20 years jail time and the current treatment of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail.
Napoleon once said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Good advice perhaps, but it seems to me to base an entire military campaign on the possible mistakes of one’s enemy is taking this dictum to the level of the absurd.