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Derry republicans meet - Republican regroupment on the cards?

May 17 2007

John McAnulty

A meeting to discuss a united republican regroupment was held in Derry on May 12th.  The meeting had grown out of discussions between the IRSP and other republican groups as well as the activity of a Prisoners group and a Concerned republican group opposing the RUC/PSNI.  In the recent past activities have included a mass petition by former republican prisoners opposing Sinn Feinís decision to support the RUC/PSNI and an electoral campaign in support of Peggy OíHara, mother of hunger striker Patsy OíHara. The campaign gained almost 2000 votes.  As one militant put it, it hadnít secured a seat, but it had secured a base for republicanism.

The meeting had many strengths. Working-class militants take politics a great deal more seriously than the clappy-happy section of the Irish left and the discussion reflected this.  The sheer size of the meeting, well over 100, dwarfed most recent political discussions and marked a noteworthy rejection of Sinn Feinís capitulation and a willingness to organise against the sectarian colony they were helping to revamp. The number of younger people there was significant.

There were many grim tales of abandonment.  Working people who had supported republicanism all their lives found that calls for help at Sinn Feinís door went unanswered. The conference was told of Sinn Fein packing community groups, taking over the leadership, and forming a new layer of apparatchnicks paid by peace grants Ė the grantocracy.

What was most impressive was the relative openness of the meetings. One militant remarked that he felt empowered and enthused by the many different views put forward.  The discussion was a necessary part of moving forward again.

There were however a number of weaknesses:

The meeting relied heavily on the sponsorship of prominent republicans both here and in the US.  This is a standard form of dialogue within republicanism but it has already failed to have any influence on the mass of Sinn Fein supporters. A political base for action is what is important now.

The conference seems to be repeating the mistake of the socialist movement in Ireland.  It has spent many years, unsuccessfully seeking socialist unity and the new group now seeks republican unity.

The point here is that there are different political positions that reflect themselves in different organisations.  It is more realistic to look at tasks that face the Irish working class and around which socialist and republican groups could co-operate rather than trying to smooth over differences.

The IRSP proposal to the conference, for a united Bodenstown commemoration, seems to fall into this category, involving lots of work without getting much closer to political tasks.

In any case it was quite clear from the conference that a close republican unity would not be possible.  Marian Price of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement spelt that out very clearly.  Her movement would unite around tasks but would oppose organizational unity.

This stance, and the reasons for it, were the substance of the general discussion. Marian was standing by the traditional republican position Ė that commitment to revolution depended on the right to carry on an armed struggle and on the boycott of elections short of the elections of a new republic.  She was in a minority, but peoples views were very unformed.  I suggested that any new movement would have to explain the absolute failure of the militarist perspective Ė it was unrealistic to see the collapse of republicanism as based on betrayal by a few leaders.

The discussion that followed is difficult to sum up.  In brief most present stood by the need for force given the attacks by the state.  They did not now believe that there was an armed road forward and were looking for a political road.  They were willing to use electoral tactics but suspicious that an electoral movement would be easily hijacked.

I suggested that a new policy would be based on the difference between what people expected and the reality of the settlement.  Most expected that sectarianism would decrease while in fact it was being built into every facet of society.  Most expected a period of prosperity while a savage economic offensive was built into the agreement.

It was too early for these issues really to fit into the debate.  The point is that things are moving on.  Drumcree is on its way, the reality of an effective Paisleyite majority is sinking in.  It is in the way that the new movement responds that will determine its long-term future.


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