Sean Bresnahan is a republican from Tyrone and a member of the 1916 Societies. As a longtime contributor to The Pensive Quill, he writes here in a personal capacity.
With the Free State election been and gone (notably with still no government agreed or formed) and the May election north of the border closing in, an emerging narrative that republicans should go to Stormont through the backdoor of ‘Independents’ appears to be growing legs.
As such, there are important matters to be considered, key among them that the political process in its entirety offers only the illusion of power – likewise that a representative electoral strategy to Stormont will bolster the Good Friday Agreement.
Liberal democratic systems serve to present a facade of democratic accountability, providing cover for transnational corporations while they shape the policy agenda of nation-states from behind. The nation-state has been stripped of sovereignty through the process of globalisation. As such, if we are to challenge power and have it serve people over profit then we must first-off determine where power lies, in turn devising means to confront it. Has the backdoor route into Stormont a role to play in that?
Let us be clear that we cannot confront or influence power by entering the vassal institutions of so-called liberal democracy – because power and thus the ability to create change do not in truth reside there. Indeed the continuing failure to form a government in the South makes that clear (the system has hardly ground to a halt in its absence). If we are truly intent on challenging the state and its power, the purpose being to shape society for the betterment of ordinary people, not powerful oligarchs, we must look instead then to alternative strategies.
'One Ireland One Vote' is one such alternative. Predicated on the right of the Irish people to self-determination in a New and All-Ireland Republic, it demands an end to Stormont and the building of a National Democracy on its ruin. It considers Stormont the embodiment of British rule in Ireland, as a violation of Irish national sovereignty. Thus, elections to that institution have no part nor role in its strategic understanding. Instead it aims at struggle from below with the goal of empowering the people – not the institutions of occupation.
Our allegiance as republicans is to the Irish Republic and the Revolutionary Dáil established by the Declaration of Independence. The same must hold true as our object, that the All-Ireland Republic be reconstituted and a Third Dáil proceed from the people. Our efforts must advance that end and with no in between. Anything less can rightly be held an anathema to the republican position, as a breach of the Republican Constitution.
And yet republicans who campaign for taking seats in Stormont – in an effort to better represent the people – no doubt see worth in their action. And indeed there well may be. It does not though relate to republican strategy. Indeed, unwittingly, it bolsters the British strategy, which intends that the Irish administer their own occupation in a framework dictated by Britain, all with the design of perpetuating British interests in our country. Britain doesn't care if we oppose her, only that we do it through means and vehicles permitted by her. Such is the strategic intent – the cold logic – of the Good Friday Agreement.
The view of those arguing for Stormont is that we need republicans there to raise the issues that count. Rather than lobby or otherwise pressure politicians to raise such matters the argument instead, bizarrely, is that we need 'our own' people in so we can lobby them (if that makes sense). The argument is that for republican initiatives to succeed they will need political support, and that's not without merit. It should not though translate into supporting candidates for Stormont who intend to take their seats – just so they can be lobbied to support our initiatives and prove more amenable to our agenda. At best, they should get there off their own steam.
Jim Gibney and others produced similar logic at the time of the Agreement and we don't need reminded how that ended: with republicanism tamed and in bed with the Brits. When I challenged his assumptions, with the conviction of a zealot he looked into my eyes and told me this was the right thing to do. Given what we know now today can we say he was right? Surely a resounding no is the answer. Given that some understood how it would end and forewarned accordingly, should he have known better? It's arguable that he should have. Knowing where it ended and hearing now the same arguments being made today, should we follow that course is there any excuse? Absolutely none.
Those who say we should go to Stormont, better represent the people and in turn advance a republican agenda must realise it has been tried and has failed. Not only has it failed to advance Irish Unity it has not even remotely done so – indeed it has undermined its prospect more severely than seems understood. Our efforts should focus on dismantling the Agreement, not offering it a new lease with ourselves as stakeholders in the rule. Our objectives cannot be realised at Stormont or while that Agreement remains in place – their design is to absorb and defeat the republican struggle. Both then must go.
We would be better to examine recent history. Stormont serves British rule alone and that is the clear lesson of the last eighteen years. It is the bridge between the people and the rule, a colonial assembly fostered by imperialism to legitimate and further entrench the British occupation of the North. There is no place in Stormont for the republican analysis. It is a bulwark to exclude the republican narrative while presenting the rule as an outworking of democracy – in effect the first line of defence of the occupation. As such, we might note that campaigning for taking seats in Stormont in no way relates to the republican project.
That we now have republicans not affiliated to the Sinn Fein strategy encouraging just that – the sitting in Stormont as 'Independents' but who will secretly advance a republican agenda – is a worrying development devoid of strategic analysis. It has even been suggested we can use Stormont as a transitional vehicle to rebuild the Irish Republic. How anyone determines on that is beyond me but I am not so presumptuous to think I know best. What is required – on their part – and what should be forthcoming is a credible analysis of how this will happen, something thus far not seen. In its absence our duty is to speak out.
It should also be said that the strict ideology of abstentionism, and whether those who don’t adhere to it can be held as ‘republican’ or not, should be of little concern. What is important is not how we might term such individuals but to recognise the futility in their action. And not only its futility but how it in fact serves British interests in Ireland, even though they might not realise this. Thus we must ensure their argument does not prevail, that it does not roll into a new political strategy that sucks the life out of existing campaigns.
Ultimately for republicans, Stormont must be seen for what it is: a bulwark to thwart the republican project and not to empower it, to seal our demise and cement our defeat. It was ever thus. What we need at this time is not ‘Stormont by the back door’ but a republican strategy that proceeds from a republican analysis born of the republican position – the three pillars on which we move forward, secure we are creating something viable for future generations, those who will finish the task: the restoring of the All-Ireland Republic.
That an emerging coalition of republicans seem to have sped past the ramifications of their strategy is something for us all to consider. Their notion is that a cross-border 'Independent Bloc' can in time be established, forwarding a republican analysis at Stormont and Leinster House. They miss that both are reactionary by nature and exist to usurp the Republic. They miss that Sinn Fein are already attempting the same. Liam Mellows once told us, ‘it is a fallacy to believe that a Republic of any kind can be won through the shackled Free State’. God only knows what he'd make of the craic today.