|Patrick Donohoe: 'the thought that says I'm right'|
Mother Theresa once said: ‘Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.’
Ah, leaders. We know all about them. We’ve had them. We’ve put our faith in them. And time after time, we’ve been let down by them. The republican merry-go-round has always brought us to the cul-de-sac of constitutional politics and reformism, on every occasion due to weak leadership and a grassroots devoid of self-critical thought.
Kieran Conway, author of Southside Provisional, gave an anecdotal tale in his book of being present in the Sinn Féin office in Parnell Square around the time of the acceptance of the ‘Mitchell Principles’. There was a sense of dejection and bewilderment when the devil in the detail was crystallised; an agreement to total disarmament of the IRA (and other armed groups) and to pursue their arms through exclusively peaceful and democratic means – the term democratic being an oxymoron considering the whole partitionist set-up of itself is anti-democratic by its nature, hence the necessity for armed struggle in the first place.
Putting this into context – this is 1993 – which long predated the hard line anti-decommissioning stance taken by them, that ultimately seen arms dumps inspected followed by full disarmament. The first time in republican history we’ve seen such an occurrence. All the graffiti proclaiming ‘not a bullet, not an ounce’, all the t-shirts with the raised middle finger telling them to ‘decommission this’, all came to nothing and consigned to the folder filed under ‘B’ for bullshit; where it presently keeps good and esteemed company with ‘no return to Stormont’ and ‘no internal settlement’ and in more contemporary times ‘no Tory cuts’.
One would be led to ask how people can change their stance so easily – and largely collectively – in one linear process and in near-complete unison. The clue is the outcome of Keiran Conway’s tale in 44 Parnell Square and an outcome that saw him walk away from republicanism. In an office filled with despondency the phone rings. On the other end was their dear leader, some would say more a demigod than leader – one Gerry Adams. Gerry proclaims down the phone they can ‘work with it’ [Mitchell Principles]. No reason how – just they can.
Anyone reading it would see there was no wiggle room for manoeuvre but that phonecall was enough for despondency to turn to mild euphoria. I can almost imagine, the scene would have resembled that from Life of Brian when the false prophet insulted their intelligence and still they worshiped him. They’re not identical situations but the premise is the same; people lacking in critical thought are easily led by false prophets.
So the question I’ve heard asked so many times, how do we end up back at the same point – constitutional nationalism – time after time? The answer lay in Kieran Conway’s tale and the reason he left the republican movement shortly after. Republicans are conditioned to mundanely accept their leadership’s assertions without anything resembling critical analysis of arising situations, in turn giving the freedom for the inevitable turnaround, which usually comes under the guiding hands of the British Security Services.
Create a cult of leadership, make the evolution process so slow that they can’t see it and create conditions with that said cult of leadership that encourages the ‘loyal’ grassroots to take a philistine approach to any intellectual dissenting voice. Case in point, Anthony McIntyre and the polemic attacks on him that sneered at his PhD, which bordered on being infantile. That lack of personal development within republicanism, which in my opinion has been the primary reason for the plateauing of republicanism – where we have had a hierarchy of the great and good leaving all critical thought to them – creates for an environment that incubates ignorance to critical voices regards the cult.
So, how do we guard against this happening again and how do we cut out the root of the problem? For me, it’s simply how we organise. We need to lose the herd mentality and operate communally. A grassroots starved of empowerment and trust will always go the same way, become meek, accepting of dictates from above.
The 1916 Societies have come to the scene with a new format from the norm, one that organises from the bottom up, not top down, and has no leadership per se; where everyone from an Organiser to PRO can only hold a position for three years at a maximum, necessitating a membership that must always be developing itself and not afraid to take ownership of responsibility.
Time will tell if the Societies’ ‘One Ireland One Vote’ strategy is the way forward, but their model of organising certainly is – any movement not organised in an egalitarian fashion will almost always end up the same way.
Recently the Guardian newspaper reported on the IRSM call for armed groups to put down their weapons. It was an opening of the discourse that we need to have. Sadly, some took umbrage to the mere questioning of it: ‘They should mind their own business – who are they anyway?’ Silly stuff really because republicans should be constantly challenging and should be encouraged to be so.
Republicanism needs to reform itself and to do so must go on a journey, one that begins with a change in attitudes. The journey begins in every republican. The journey to the empowerment of a republicanism, based around the collective rather than an elite clique, is the beginning of the passage to national self-determination; a journey which leads us to that thought, where we can confidently and collectively assert, in the words of Bobby Sands, ‘I’m right’.