Anthony McIntyre, on his website The Pensive Quill, has emphasised to his followers that he is of the belief that Irish Republicanism is dead. This is in an interview headed “The ‘Boston College Tapes’Document Northern Ireland’s Murderous Past”. McIntyre when asked: “What do you hope happens in Northern Ireland? Are you still a republican?” replies: “To me, republicanism is over, but can I see a future for republicans if they behave in a rational manner and pursue justice and politics. Unfortunately, there are still people who think that political violence is the way forward, but for me it’s an absolute waste.”
When questioned by his followers as to his belief that Republicanism should be therefore “pronounced dead” , McIntyre
“There is nothing new in this view. I have held it and stated it for years. Republicanism is dead in my view because it lacks the capacity to overcome the bedrock of partition—the refusal of the unionists to consent. Republicanism as we knew it had a coercive attitude to unionism. Republicanism sought to coerce the Brits out of Ireland and the unionists into a united Ireland. It failed absolutely and nobody yet has put forward a plausible strategy for making coercion work. And once republicanism abandons coercion and acquiesces in the consent principle it is no longer republicanism, but merely embracing the Brit/unionist/ constitutional nationalist means of getting the Brits to leave and getting the unionists into a united Ireland.
“If coercion can’t win and embracing the Brit perspective is not on what can republicanism do? The options are limited to assuming a non coercive stance which avoids acquiescence in the consent principle. And that makes republicanism oppositional (sound in and of itself) but lacking serious sovereignty changing potential…
“The unionist question is the central question and one that can’t be wished away. The unbridgeable cleavage between the British state and republicanism was not on whether Ireland should or should not be united. It was on the terms it would be united. The Brits insisted on the partition/consent principle. Republicanism dissolved itself in order to acquiesce in the Brit position. Once the consent
principle is accepted it is an acknowledgement that partition has a democratic basis and is therefore legitimate. That is something which is irreconcilable with the republicanism we knew…
“Republicans are… faced with a dilemma: how to assert the right of the Irish people to be free of partition but deny the Irish people’s right to be free from republican armed force aimed at removing partition. It leaves republicans in the position of saying the Irish people only have the right to be free from [what] republicans say they can be free from.
“I can see no way republicanism as we practiced it can succeed. And I do not intend beating its drum so that others might march to it and lose their lives or end the lives of others.”
It seems to be only Anthony McIntyre and the rump of Hume’s former party which have learned this lesson so slowly. McIntyre seems to think that Republicanism and a political accommodation with the Ulster Protestants could not possibly co-exist. Has he never heard of the Sinn Fein Vice President in 1916, Fr. O’Flanagan? Father O’Flanagan in 1916 outlined the Republican alternative to Anti-Partitionism, which he could see, even at that stage, was bankrupt in relation to Protestant Ulster:
“We can point out that Ireland is a nation with a definite geographical boundary… National and geographical boundaries scarcely ever coincide; geography would make one nation of Spain and Portugal history has made two nations of them. Geography did its best to make one nation of Norway and Sweden; history has succeeded in making two nations of them. If a man were to contrast the political map of Europe out of its physical map he would find himself groping in the dark. Geography has worked hard to make one nation out of Ireland; history has worked against it. The island of Ireland and the national unit of Ireland simply do not coincide. In the last analysis the test of nationality is the wish of the people… The Unionists of Ulster have never transferred their love and allegiance to Ireland. They may be Irelanders, using Ireland as a geographical term, but they are not Irish in the national sense… “We claim the right to decide what is to be our nation. We refuse them the same right. After three hundred years England has begun to despair of making us love her by force. And so we are anxious to start where England left off. And we are going to compel Antrim and Down to love us by force” (Freeman’s Journal, 20.6.16).
Fr. O’Flanagan had the courage to recognise the complication that confronted Nationalist Ireland if it wished to build a single state on the island. Fr. O’Flanagan’s suggestion of the existence of Two Irish Nations was subjected to a great misrepresentation by the Irish News, which attempted to lay the blame for Lloyd George’s Partition scheme at the door of Fr. O’Flanagan and Sinn Fein rather than the Parliamentary Party which had done so much to bring it about in its political activity in relation to both the Ulster Protestants and British Unionism.
Fr. O’Flanagan was arguing the Republican position that Ireland had an in-alienable right to independence and that should be immediately recognised by Britain. Having conceded that right it was then up to Nationalist Ireland to obtain the consent of those who felt themselves to be part of the second Irish Nation to be a part of an Irish State. He understood nationality to lie with the subject, rather than being an external imposition. If anyone wishes to know another’s nationality, wrote O’Flanagan, the ultimate test is “Ask him” (The Leader 12.8.16)
Fr. O’Flanagan was not “Partitionist” and was not arguing that Ireland should be dismembered. He was in favour of a united Ireland and wanted to bring it about through recognition of the facts of the matter that were preventing it. He made explicit recognition of the two Irish Nations in order to try to overcome the complication in Ulster. That was a prerequisite for a functional policy on the issue. Redmond and Devlin would never take the necessary first step of recognising the national difference and as a result they never had a functional policy on Partition. When Devlin demanded self-determination for Ireland in the British House of Commons in 1919, Lloyd George called his bluff by suggesting that he would give Ireland self-determination if he would consent to Ulster getting self-determination.
Devlin was wrong-footed, being incapable of taking the British Prime Minister up on his offer and the self-determination argument was lost.
McIntyre traces the death of Northern Republicanism back to its birth: “The death rattle is to be found in the birth pangs. It was not the British being here that energised the Provos but how they behaved while they were here. A change in behaviour, not a withdrawal was all that was needed to bring the Provos to heel… The Provos were essen-tially a northern phenomenon: thrown up by conditions in the north and not the absence of unity per se. There were structural limitations on the expansion of the Provo struggle. This is why O’ Bradaigh and the Provos were an ersatz alliance—he was a republican and his politics would always see him stranded on a republican path once the Provos abandoned it. O’Bradaigh’s republicanism predated the Provos and outlived their republicanism.”
Of course, what is missing here is any notion of the perverse nature of ‘Northern Ireland’ in producing the Provos. The Catholic Insurgency that became a Repub-lican war was not Republican. It was a rising of the community in response to its political predicament, triggered by the events of August 1969 when the local security apparatus of the British State went berserk.
The Provisionals emerged in January 1970 before the British Army was acting as a repressive force against the community. The Republican Army certainly grew as a response to British military repression and the failure of Westminster to abolish the Unionist system it had established in 1921 and which was the root cause of the problem. But simply removing the British Army would certainly not have led to the end of the War.
The Provisional IRA began as quite an ambiguous movement during the Winter of 1969-70—a product of ‘Northern Ireland’, not of Anti-Treaty Republicanism. Within this development some old Anti- Treaty Republicans like O’Bradaigh gained a new lease of life. But they were really just incidental attachments that provided some continuity to the past and an all-Ireland dimension to what was fundamentally a Northern development. What was more significant was the development of a structure to replace that which the State had withdrawn, and an all- Ireland network for the provision of materials needed for defence, when Dublin pulled the plug on this aspect. G
iven these thoughts from McIntyre (which are indeed present in his thesis) one wonders what all the fuss has been about—since surely the Provos concluded their war in the only way they could, given their origin. But instead McIntyre has been condemning Sinn Fein as Republican sell-outs for over a decade for adopting the ‘consent principle’.
Martin McGuinness told a radio interviewer at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in 2012: “I recognise that there are one million people on this island who are British and let me state here and now that as a proud Irish Republican I not only recognise the unionist and British identity, I respect it. People who think that a new Ireland, a united Ireland can be built without unionist participation, involvement and leadership are deluded… The war is over and we are in the process of building a new Republic” (Irish Independent, 23.6.12). There is the spirit of Fr. O’Flanagan today!
This article was originally published in The Irish Political Review of October 2014