Sunday, April 5, 2015

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Good Friday in Duleek

Easter oration delivered on Good Friday 2015 by Anthony McIntyre at the Duleek annual Independent Easter commemoration hosted by Duleek 1916-1981 Monument Committee.


Good Friday might seem an odd choice of day for republicans to gather in memory of the Easter Rising and to reflect on the republican men, women and youth who lost their lives in the service of the republican cause. Odd because of this day’s association with that grave ideologically toxic event in 1998 when so called republicans gathered at the graveside of republicanism and filled it with as much concrete as it was possible to heave into it. What was left over was later used to entomb the weaponry with which the IRA had prosecuted its war against the British. 

There was not as much as one British weapon decommissioned. Where British weapons were put beyond use, and masked with the euphemism “bureaucratic bungle”, it was to put them beyond the reach of any court that might consider trying paratroopers for mass murder. There was none of the much vaunted parity of esteem there. British weapons alone were esteemed. 

That it was people with a history steeped in republican activism who helped inter republicanism was not perchance. It was purposeful: two sets of interests dovetailed. A republican leadership ravished by the Stick virus, for which the only cure is political office, was highly susceptible to the British prescription. The British are blunt enough to acknowledge this in private conversation: they did not shaft republicanism, republicans shafted republicanism, is how one senior British official retorted to my challenge that they had set out not to secure a just outcome but to screw republicans.

To make this possible the British did not have to abandon any of their core objectives. They merely changed strategic tack. Instead of continuing with its long standing policy of excluding republicans the British state in a recalibration of the old divide and conquer tactic, decided to split the republican project: it calculated that it could include republicans but exclude republicanism. This is why the Good Friday Agreement does not remotely resemble the republican project nor does it contain one core republican precept. It is the inversion, the implosion, the anything but the success of the republican struggle.

Such has been the success of British state strategy that there are two unassailable and perhaps deeply uncomfortable truths that we are confronted with as we pay homage here this evening. And they relate to the volunteers who served and on occasion died in the ranks of the IRA and the INLA. Not one volunteer who lost their life fighting the war is on record as having stated that what exists today is what they were fighting for. They have left us nothing that would allow such a claim to be made on their behalf: not one letter, one interview, one recording - nothing. Everything we know about them indicates that today’s political dispensation was something to be avoided at all costs.

The second unassailable truth is that not one volunteer who fought in the ranks of the IRA will live to see a united Ireland. We can at least spare ourselves the indignity of feigning surprise at Brendan Hughes having said that the Good Friday Agreement acronym, GFA, stood for Got Fuck All. Sinn Fein for all its self-proclaimed negotiating prowess, sold a horse and bought a saddle.

So, while it has been said before, at times like this it is always worth saying again. While two days separate Good Friday from Easter Sunday, light years separate the Good Friday assent perspective from the Easter Sunday dissent perspective. If republicans were as doctrinaire as they are often made out to be we would be holding our commemoration in two days time, Easter Sunday. If Sinn Fein were as honest as they pretend to be, they would have held their commemoration, two days ago: on Spy Wednesday.

At Easter, whatever may divide republicans, we come together for one thing above all others: to commemorate the republican dead. Each of us brings our own particular memory. For me, I would like to pay special tribute to one IRA volunteer who was laid to rest in Belfast today. Toby McMahon was one of the most committed, serious, thinking and industrious activists within the ranks of the IRA, where he stayed through thick and thin. He did not die on active service but he certainly saw a lot of it, and numerous years in prison to boot. With a highly developed bullshit detector he was never destined to secure the much vaunted average industrial wage. He died in poverty. Volunteers like Toby McMahon deserve full recognition for their contribution at this most poignant time in the republican calendar.

We come here with different takes on republicanism and its potential to address the societal inadequacies it speaks out against. We may disagree vigorously, even bitterly about the past, present and the future. But the intellectual and emotional centre of gravity that draws us to a place such as this outstanding monument to human selflessness and unarmed protest, is a dissent from treaties with the British that underwrite and legitimise partition. Fine Gael and its condom, known as the Irish Labour Party, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are all treaty parties, each buying into the partition principle. They form a very powerful Treatyite bloc, willing to smear, ostracise, censor and ultimately crush those who do not subscribe to their view of the world. It was in the face of such formidable power that the late Dolours Price would assert her preference for the republican way, which she identified as the way of the few and the spat upon. 

Michael Collins, prior to signing the Treaty which would later pitch him in a murderous vendetta against republicans, said at the graveside of Thomas Ashe, that the volley of shots “which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make above the grave of a dead Fenian”. Today, we gather in a silence not punctuated by the rattle of gunfire to remember the Fenian dead, the republican fallen. Nor is there a Che Guevera type call “to intone the funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine-guns and new battle cries of war and victory”. We need none of that to prompt our memory of those who lost everything. Guns too often were used as weapons of mass deception to cheat those in the ranks of the IRA, as if the importation of them from Libya and elsewhere somehow equated with fidelity to a republican belief system. 

At the same time let us not delude ourselves about the men of 1916 or those who would later follow in the path blazed by them. We are not standing here in honour of peace promoting hippies, as worthy as such types may well be. Easter 1916 was an armed uprising against the British state, just as the armed struggle of the post 1969 IRA was. But it was not just that. It embodied a spirit of dissent from the nefarious machinations of the British Empire and British rule in Ireland. It is vital that the spirit of critical dissent is retained in a world where the strategic usefulness of armed struggle has been exhausted. Republicanism otherwise is finished.

Armed campaigning, because of its dependence on a culture of secrecy and the exclusion of the many from the secrets of the few, will invariably conjure into existence that most inegalitarian of military hierarchies, characterised by cabals and caudillos all too eager to use the blood of those at the bottom as a lubricant to grease the wheels of the political careers of those at the top. Despite the claim by George Orwell that it is a struggle to see what is in front of our nose, it is not that difficult to work out where this will end up. The power cartel, although not society, in this country has been well served by Fianna Fail. And if it concludes that Official Fianna Fail is in terminal decline it will as readily embrace Provisional Fianna Fail.

It is sometimes asked how you supposed to see something when your political career depends on you not seeing it? I don’t have a political career and can take a leaf out of Steve Biko’s book, seeing what I want and writing what I like. What I see and what I write about is this: the history of the Northern conflict is being reframed. At times it is done so bizarrely that we could be excused for thinking that the script writers of Monty Python have been stirring their creative juices with frenetic energy. There is something horribly satirical conjured up in the image of the IRA chief of staff during the 1981 hunger strikes sporting bowtie and tails to toast the British queen, while she permits him to splice quail’s eggs and dine on halibut. How the British establishment must have rollicked with mirth and glee as they observed the once “greatest threat” to them ape them in all their monarchical finery and spiffing splendour.

In these times the British are more sophisticated than they were back in the day. They don’t force you to paint your face, wear a grass skirt and shake a rain stick for their merriment: they just have you assume the posture of Homi Bhabha’s mimic man. They teach you to think like them, talk like them, stand like them, act like them, and even to condemn and criminalise like them. They get you to suppress what you once were and to express what they have got you to become. They don’t wear what you wear. You wear what they wear. They remould you in their image. The discerning critique contained in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks has lost none of its analytical potency.

With one former chief of staff celebrating victory to the banquet men and another embroiled in more sex abuse scandals than the average bishop, a damning distortion-inducing prism is now firmly in place through which history is truly constructed from the perspective of the present: the character of republicanism is projected as caricature, like some sort of seedy play acted out by grotesque gothic-like characters all trying to out-Pinocchio each other. Each of us old enough probably feels tainted by our collective failure to have prevented it.

Quails eggs and halibut are far removed from the dietary regime of erstwhile H Block prisoner Christy Walsh who is now on his 19th day of hunger strike. This morning, as he does every morning, he wrote to the former IRA chief of staff who sampled the fine foods of royalty. Christy appeals to him to put the promised manners on David Ford, the so called Justice Minister. Christy Walsh is the victim of a British state stitch up, which in turn is given cover by the Stormont political class. We do not need to ask ourselves about the nature of the squalid political arrangement that prioritises the political career of David Ford over the suffering of a victim of a grave British miscarriage of justice. While we remember the dead we must never forget the living. Leave here today determined to do something on behalf of Christy Walsh, a current victim of British injustice.

We may lack the power to prevent what is unfolding before our very eyes. But we can bear witness to it by refusing to acquiesce in the organised lying that protects the peace process and the political expansionism of one party to the detriment of the rest. We can honour the republican dead by speaking fearlessly and truthfully about them: that they did not die so that some caudillo could scream traitors at people for carrying out the type of orders he once issued or to enable another to become Europe’s first Minister for the Disappeared.

I have no idea what thoughts people will leave here with today. Some may even leave disgusted that they heard what they didn’t want to hear. Tough it out. There is no right to be protected from ideas that offend you.

But there are a few ideas that as republicans we may wish to consider. Republicanism is always about the rule of the people, not rule by oligarchies, monarchies or hierarchies. If republicanism it is to function as a movement it must do so as a movement of the people not a movement over the people. It must constructively engage with the wishes of the people, even where it finds those wishes wrong, rather than prescribe in tablets of stone what those wishes are. Republicanism, if it is to make something of the sacrifices of the activists we honour from every generation, must integrate their deaths into an ongoing critique of power within this society, North and South.

We inhabit a deeply inegalitarian society where power is organised hierarchically and dispersed unevenly. It is a society which will be well served by a republican project willing to speak truth to power, willing to say not in our name or in the name of those we commemorate today.

16 comments :

sean bres said...

Terrific read Tony and your analysis of the situation is spot on. Whether it comes to pass another matter...

sean bres said...

For me Irish republicanism is about the extension of decision-making capabilities to the people themselves, at the expense of centralised power structures. Some form of 'Eire Nua'-style constitutional reconfiguration is needed which puts the people in command of their own destinies within a truly sovereign Ireland - an Ireland in which codified constitutional guarantees ensure the interests of the people, not corporate profit, underpin the functions of state and government

eddie said...

Excellently stated baseline - some of which obviously did and does hurt, but it is best that it is said, 'it' being the truth. Hopefully it will appeal to others as it did to me, that we have to claw something back for the Toby McMahon's of this world and for other innocents like Christy Walsh; such injustices which Toby et al made gigantic efforts and paid a heavy price to overcome for the good of everybody. The issue in the Walsh case is obviously 'truth'. The state in all its forms is trying to resist the truth and if it gets away with it in Christys case it will inspire the state to do the same and similar again and again, we cant leave Christy to fight this end game battle on his own like we did with his earlier battles. If we do then we will all pay a price for it if the state overwhelms him.

Peter said...

Fascinating stuff AM. Your ability to see complex matters with clarity and articulate a position eloquently is a thing to envy. You saw the Troubles from behind the barricades and the wire, I wonder how long you can keep sharing a stage with those who want to take us all back there.

DaithiD said...

...Nor is there a Che Guevera type call “to intone the funeral dirge with the staccato singing of the machine-guns and new battle cries of war and victory”...

Given their disavowal of militarism, the only proper staccato 'singing' at Adams etc funerals would be a mass array of flatulists?

Henry JoY said...

Brilliant piece of penmanship from Dr Big Mackers. Love the idea that The Northern Freestaters would hold their commemoration on Spy Wednesday!

Though I am in agreement with much of your analysis Anthony I'm afraid I can no longer hold with the implied central premise of the piece that Irish Republicanism was ever a worthy sea-going vessel, not even in the early years of the twentieth century. Think most folks here have heard my opinion on that often enough though.

For now its more important to say fair play to you for the exposure you and other contributors have given to Christy Walsh's ongoing quest for justice.
It is clearly within the remit of the Sinn Féin DFM and the Provisional Sinn Féin President to call upon the 'Justice' Minister David Forde to deal with this matter now.

We all need to be promoting Christy's case with all elected representatives but with SF one's in particular. Surely we can shame some of those bastards into action. There has to be some residue of decency left in a few?

diplockcourts said...

Anthony

As has been said above, and I have said so in the past, you are very able with words to illuminate complex issues.

Eddie

I think you are right in what you say, Ford thinks you are right thus his concern that the profile of my case might get highlighted. On 25th February a senior Republican told me that Republicans will not support me. I asked him if he would raise my case with Martin McGuinness he responded "Take care".

Why would SF be so resistant toward me in favour of the abuses of the Diplock System?

Christy

Feel te love said...

At last we have an admission that gerry adams failed. Yesterday he called on the people of Ireland to achieve a united ireland, through peaceful means. YE HA. HE SAY HE FAIL.

Fionnuala Perry said...

Reflective and relevant, and in relation
toToby very poignant.
I asked someone from an ex prisoners
support group, why their outreach did
not include Toby or Brendan or any of
the volunteers locked outside the 'New
Strategy', no reply!!!
They're contained by by their own
reintegration only policy, that's why.
As Brendan said, 'the ship has sailed
and the people who put Sinn Fein where
they are today, have been left in the dirt
and the muck and the sand.'

Tain Bo said...

A thoughtful speech if any left feeling disgust then per chance, they were not listening.
It is fitting to honour the fallen volunteers in the traditional sense, even if some found the observations a little difficult to digest.
What I find indigestible are the hypocrites who will continue to speak rehearsed words to acknowledge the dead but constructed to deny them the truth for which they died.

Irish republicans in suits administering British rule under the guise of peace, the new enemy traditional Irish Republicanism. The new SF political nutting squad will be content if they succeed in eliminating traditional Irish Republicanism and burying it in an unmarked grave disappearing the past so those who dare to speak will not embarrass the SF future.

Tain Bo said...

Peter,

Dissent from the SF narrative is the lesser of two evils exposing their hierocracy and challenging the platform they vowed to break but now share is a republican necessity. That does not mean that every anti-treaty-republican wishes to go back, if that was accurate we would already be back it or it would never have died out and lingered on the margin.

I sincerely doubt anyone wishes a return to the 70s, I assume even militant republicans are aware of that and more aware of their limitations, knowing they do not have the capacity nor support to wage an effective military campaign.

Every time the loyalists flare up does that mean they want to go back the UDA, UVF, are still very much part of the landscape so in a sense going back isn’t accurate as for paramilitaries they never left but the media would have us believe it is only republicans who continue.

Henry JoY said...

Peter

As AM acknowledges with his reference to Orwell ... its sometimes challenging to see what's right in front of our noses.
Its only fair to acknowledge that Anthony's comments in this piece and over recent years are unambiguous about the legitimacy of any return to armed struggle and the inevitable outworking that inherent hierarchical secrecy brings.

Its unfortunate though that similar attention isn't brought to bare, by informed and educated republicans, on the implications of secrecy surrounding the activities of the IRB in the lead up to Easter 1916. Their emotional hijacking of political events at that time ended up being the template for most hues of republicans that were to follow in their footsteps. And indeed their ostrich-like formula for dealing with Unionist opposition to their plans has been mimicked also.

What some construed as weakness in O'Bradaigh's leadership was in reality an attempt to deal with such short-comings: his moves towards a more democratic and flat structure for the movement, along with sincere attempts to address Unionist concerns and fears (Éire Nua) were seized upon by a small cabal and in time swallowed unthinkingly by a majority. What was to follow was inevitable and well articulated by Anthony above.

If we are to take anything of value from the lessons of history Irish Republicans must of necessity widen their perspective to include such considerations. Otherwise attempts to integrate the sacrifices and essentially honourable actions of brave and committed men and women will be left devoid of any substantial meaning and purpose, only allowing those selfless sacrifices to be exploited, massaged and manipulated yet again for selfish purpose and ends.

Peter said...

Tain and Henry JoY

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. After watching the 1916 Society Catney lecture video on Youtube it is clear that AM and the likes of Fennel are miles apart regarding the legitimacy of violence. My question is: how long can "alternative" republicanism's profoundly different strands share the same platform? I understand republicanism's disappointment at the GFA but primarily it was a vote (on both sides of the border) for peace. Some, like AM (excuse me for being presumptious), seem to agree others are violently opposed, how can alternative republicans form any cohesive opposition to PSF with such a fundemental disagreement on the issue of violence? How long before the "debate about the way forward" becomes an unseemly falling out, or worse?

Henry JoY said...

Peter

In all likelihood Irish republicans and Irish republicanism aren't and isn't going anywhere important, real or meaningful any-time soon.

Some of us though despite our best efforts just can't help occasionally poking about in the emotional vomit of a time that has truly past us by.
Either that or we're just enthralled by old trance inducing memories, hopes and justifications.

The challenge for most (and maybe this includes old soldiers from all strands to the conflict) is to find status, purpose and meaning in replacement ways!

Neither Irish Republicans nor any of their 'isms' offer in truth even the smallest measure of realistic hope for uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common names of Irishmen and Irishwomen.

I'm of the opinion the imperfect patchwork fudge of a society we've ended up with will be sustained in similar form for a very long time to come.
10/4

Tain Bo said...

Peter,

opposite ends of the spectrum are not an impediment I cannot speak for either man but I can weigh up their opinions and decide what is more reasonable.

How long did it take SF to arrive at Stormont they shared a platform with the IRSP. Different factions of republicanism are nothing new the same applies to the present divisions. Each faction vying for the Alpha position which if examined becomes a dead end they rally under the banner of Irish unity but refuse to unify in theory they defeat their own purpose and the Brits will certainly oil that not so squeaky wheel.

Alternative republicanism needs to hammer out more than just the issue of militancy the Provos failed to bomb Stormont out and succeeded in bombing SF into government. That should be a good indicator long-term attrition in all probability will not end in a military victory.

In fact the Brits will ensure that it does not succeed they have the advantage of resource and are constantly revising and updating their methods and strategy for dealing with more savvy and sophisticated militants.

At present the enemy of alternative republicanism is itself, it would seem the meaning of united is interchangeable. Genghis Khan had that one sussed long ago; he took a single arrow and snapped in half and then took a handful and could bend them a little but could not snap them. It was a good visual in uniting the tribes of the Mongolian Steppe strength through unity.

I assume the Brits view the many factions as single arrows and in order to keep them that way they will continue to hype them as a severe threat to peace instead of the minor inconvenience of a hastily pushed through peace-deal.

It is obvious that those who would not accept the deal were insignificant enough to be left out of the equation and could simply be controlled and mopped up as the more significant threat from PIRA/INLA was now eliminated.

The lack of unity works in favour of the establishment and the Brits understand their original blunders and are highly unlikely to repeat them.
How long is a piece of string? I sincerely doubt there will be a degenerate falling out on the scale of old style feuds. As for politics, I assume political opposition to SF would be secondary to opposition of the Brit Government the same thing.

Is the threat of violence any less in loyalist paramilitary quarters? They have not exactly been passive should republicans be concerned with the threat loyalist paramilitaries pose?
It is after all NI and even with the agreement; it would not take much to reignite.

I do not see much point in dissecting the issue of paramilitary militancy if we are only examining one part of the volatile mix.

The division amongst republicans is minor compared to the divisions amongst those in power that depend on keeping the walls and barriers up the voting bloc is still along the old lines an UK or an UI the passive aggressive nature of politics in the north.

mcclafferty32 said...

Brilliant speech Anthony.

Christy: SF has NEVER called for the end to Diplock courts since the GFA. What does that tell you.