Belfast Telegraph

Revising history will add nothing to our future

A self-styled dissident republican manifesto is notable not for what it says but for what it leaves out, writes Brian Rowan

If you travel back in time a quarter of a century or so, you will find a Sinn Fein document entitled A Scenario For Peace. It was written in very different times, when there was a very different mindset.

The IRA was the senior figure in a republican partnership with Sinn Fein and there was a much greater focus on the 'war'. Scenario For Peace was a demand from within the republican movement to Britain to 'declare its intention to withdraw'.

'Anyone unwilling to accept a united Ireland and wishing to leave should be offered resettlement grants to permit them to move to Britain, or assist them to move to a country of their choice,' the document read.

It was the stuff of political pipe-dreams. But in this period of the 1980s, Libya had armed the IRA, and the IRA thought it could win - or, at least, could not be defeated.

In the 1990s, that military stalemate was eventually recognised by the many different sides and it is what opened up the possibilities, first of a ceasefire and then of a negotiated political settlement.

Of course there was no British declaration of its intention to withdraw, no resettlement grants for those unwilling to accept a united Ireland and most republicans had come to accept that politics works through persuasion, not coercion.

That document of the mid-1980s was written outside the frame of political reality, as has another document just published - not by Sinn Fein this time, but from within what is now defined as dissident republicanism. It is on the website of Republican Network for Unity (RNU); its title: Standing Outside the Peace Process.

We are told it is offered for the purposes of debate as a precursor to a substantial set of policy documents entitled Revolutionary Republicanism that are due to be released early next year.

But there are things we are not told. For instance, how some within Republican Network for Unity are inextricably linked to the armed dissident faction Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH).

There is no mention of this in the 16-page document, but it is important to know so as to understand the context and motivation of some of the arguments that emerge in the paper.

At times it is a rant about the political sell-out that Sinn Fein is accused of from within that dissident world. Indeed, the document is described as a 'revolutionary republican analysis of the Irish pacification process'.

It suggests that the nationalist/ republican community was sucked into acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement; frightened into a Yes vote.

'State-directed loyalist death-squads, such as the LVF and UFF, still hovered menacingly over the Catholic community in the years in which the Good Friday Agreement was designed,' the paper reads.

'This spectre of random sectarian murder reminded the Catholic community that a heavy price could be extracted from them should republicans continue to pursue revolutionary goals in their name.'

So, the conspiracy theory here is that the loyalist killing-spree in this period was politically motivated and directed; designed to deliver a very specific warning to the nationalist community: vote Yes, or else.

Key elements of context are ignored - and deliberately so; left out to fit the skewed analysis of this document.

There is no mention, for instance, of the INLA killing of loyalist leader Billy Wright inside the Maze jail in December 1997. This is just months before the Good Friday Agreement; a killing that was always going to provoke a murderous response.

But, in the RNU document, the period is presented differently: 'In practice, the threat from these state-sponsored killer gangs, along with the continued presence of the British Army and RUC, provided a deadly coercive influence which made acceptance of the GFA vitally important to the average Catholic/nationalist voter in 1998.'

According to the document, history was repeating itself: 'This same dynamic existed at the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922, when Britain evoked the threat of "immediate and terrible war" in a bid to coerce the people into voting in a way they saw fit.'

The page turns in this document reveal the bitterness and divisions that exist within the republican community. This is not the presentation of a serious and alternative approach, merely an opportunity to have a swipe at Sinn Fein, encapsulated within this paragraph:

'The failure of republican negotiators to provide basic safeguards for former combatants and prisoners in the GFA raises questions as to just how far they were willing to turn their backs on activists amongst their own ranks (not to mention future political prisoners) in the pursuit of political ambition.'

Again, it is skewing the story. The jails emptied as a result of the political agreement and those now in prison are linked to a range of dissident groups that have rejected the peace and who continue to fight phoney wars.

Yes, they have a killing capacity, witnessed in the recent murder of prison officer David Black, but not the ability to reconstruct, or re-create, the decades-long IRA campaign.

The futility of continuing armed actions is not addressed in this document; it only wants to talk about what RNU considers to be the failures of the peace process - its false hopes, false economy, false investment and false jobs and how 'the artificial "feelgood factor" has passed its sell-by date'.

This is not about presenting a serious and viable alternative strategy, but rather part of that continuing play of dissident-versus-mainstream that is the bitter divide within the republican community.

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