Thursday, May 12, 2005

Myth of ‘totalitarian militarism’ in republican areas needs challenging

Danny Morrison:

To comment:

Liam Kennedy, a professor of economic history at Queens University, is no doubt a nice guy. But neither he nor his supporters understand the nationalist psyche or care little for the nationalist experience of state repression. Indeed, he and his supporters do appear to have come from out of space and speak a strange language. He ran on a ticket to protest publicly against “the vicious beatings, shootings and intimidation meted out by the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries to people in their own communities.”

He got 147 votes. So why waste time on him?

He got 147 votes but his campaign, and the perpetuation of a myth about life in nationalist areas, despite being roundly repudiated by the massive support for Sinn Féin in secret ballot, is the fodder for attacks on the republican community by British and Irish newspapers and their columnists. Their work, poor and pitiful journalism that it is, creates a culture which complements political parties and republican opponents in their continued demonisation of Sinn Féin.

In the past two weeks, nationalists in republican areas have been described as living under “totalitarian militarism”. In these areas Sinn Féin “practises the most extreme forms of coercion” [Sunday Telegraph] and Sinn Féin “practises terror and engages in heinous acts” [Sunday Times]. On the other hand, nationalists who vote for Sinn Féin are “politically and morally delinquent… and they are responsible for any horrors that may follow as much as the Germans who voted for Hitler were responsible for the horrors that followed” [Sunday Independent].

Dismiss this nonsense though we may, people read it, in the South, Britain and abroad.

It might well reassure or buttress the prejudices of some loonies but it influences others, particularly the naïve, to form wrong opinions.

Often, one is tempted just to let it go, but occasionally it needs challenged.

For decades there has been a policing vacuum in nationalist areas. That was hardly surprising given the RUC’s sectarian history; that the RUC led mobs of loyalists at the time of the pogroms in 1969; that the RUC tortured prisoners; shot protestors; executed republicans; and has a long history of collusion in the deaths of nationalists and political activists.

The nationalist community turned to the Republican Movement and put pressure on the IRA to fill the policing vacuum. The bulk of policing was done through mediation between those in dispute, unreported and away from the media spotlight. But republican vigilantism (a propaganda gift to republican critics) was rough and imperfect, especially when the IRA was fighting an armed struggle and had little time for niceties.

The IRA viewed community policing as a major distraction from its chief purpose and suspected that the RUC indulged criminals in order to tie down IRA resources and demoralise the nationalist community which might, just might, out of desperation, look favourably to the return of a ‘reformed RUC’ as a possible solution.

Republican policing was at its most exertive in those areas where the IRA was strongest. Despite being ‘popular’ and expected by communities it had major downsides. It could alienate the extended families of those individuals the IRA took physical action against or could rebound more broadly when the IRA made mistakes, as it inevitably did.

However, republican policing could not go on forever, especially when republicans were taking part in a peace process and negotiations, which were to lead to power-sharing institutions, and all-Ireland bodies, in which they were investing legitimacy.

Underpinning the political security and rights of the nationalist community has been fraught and would still involve “a battle a day” within an assembly and executive. Underpinning that community’s physical security involves, ironically, the complete demobilisation of the IRA (which was reorganised initially to defend nationalists from attack) and its replacement with a truly representative and just policing service, operating professionally, impartially and with high standards. In the past such a service was unattainable and could not exist anyway in an unjust society.

The SDLP argued that the PSNI was the answer, jumped on the bandwagon and reduced the pressure on the British government to deliver a proper policing service. Sinn Féin disagreed and has had its analysis powerfully endorsed by the nationalist community.

Clearly, the policing issue cannot be resolved without further legislative changes. Unionists will resist such change because they are terrified of a police force not in their image and at the prospects of republicans joining the PSNI in large numbers.

Currently, we are ruled directly from London by day trippers. It remains to be seen if the new British secretary of state, Peter Hain, can inject new momentum into the stalled negotiations.

The unionist community has overwhelmingly voted for Ian Paisley’s DUP, a party of intransigence.

His campaign was the old campaign of ‘No’ and playing on people’s fears about Sinn Féin emerging as the largest party. The only motive that will drive the DUP to share power with Sinn Féin and the SDLP is self-interest. That is, that it would prefer to run the North on behalf of its people and avoid the neglect they suffer under direct rule ministries – though the price of devolution is sharing power with Sinn Féin. Whether it can do that under Paisley is another matter. Whatever, it is only postponing the inevitable.

Another great analysis from Mr. Morrison.


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