Veteran Derry republican Gerry McCartney argues that the recent killings of two British soldiers and a PSNI officer by dissident republican groups will do nothing to achieve Irish unity.
Ten years ago, I spent my last night in a prison cell. I was released on Good Friday, 1998 as part of the Agreement. I spent my first night in jail on 15th September, 1974. I spent many other nights in different jails throughout the 70s and 80s and do not regret a single day. It was necessary to advance the struggle for Irish freedom. I would have no hesitation in doing it again.
That is not a boast or an ego trip; it is just the truth of the matter. I have to say, in my opinion, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should again have to see the inside of a prison cell in the pursuit of the Republic. There are now in place democratic structures to ensure that the Republic can be achieved without armed struggle.
Those small groups who still pursue armed struggle, far from advancing the end of British Rule, actually prolong it. The work required in today’s Ireland is about persuasion. It is about fostering all the children of the nation. The true work of modern day republicans is to convince those who do not share our vision of an Ireland of equals, that equality and justice are no threat to their way of life.
Ireland today is a multi-cultural society. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement there is a democratic mandate on the British to disengage if the majority of the people vote for it. It is more than 90 years since partition and it has proved a failure not only for the nationalists and republicans but also for the unionists.
Having a foreign government controlling a section of our country is not in the interest of any section of our people. It is not good sense to have in such a small island two education services, two health services, and two energy services. Such duplication is wasteful of meagre resources. It should be remembered that no one on the island of island, neither unionist nor nationalist, wanted partition. Unionism was opposed to Home Rule as they equated that with ‘Rome rule’ and, as things turned out in the 26 counties, their fears were not unjustified, but that is an argument for another day.
The republic is now attainable but not yet realised, so it is imperative that republicans of all shades are self-critical. We must continue to look at our actions and tactics to see if they are advancing the day that Ireland is reunited. Everything we undertake must move the process forward. It is the duty of all republicans not to sully the cause.
Armed action has been a legitimate response to British intransigence throughout the long struggle in our country, but in itself has not achieved freedom.
The republic is not only the ending of British rule in the six counties, it is the building of a nation where Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter work together to build a better place for all of us. If our national flag means anything it is to point us to a place we can share as equals, the country of our birth. Today’s population are not and can not be held accountable for the sins of our fathers.
If we were honest and take a look at where we came from Mc Cartney, Mc Guinness, Donnelly, Gallagher, Galagher, Dougherty, O Doherty, we might find some of us actually descended from the Scots planters and have since changed sides. My point is history is the past, the future is ours to make.
There are those on all sides who will not accept the new arrangement. There are republicans who don’t believe the structures can achieve the Republic. There are loyalists who believe the agreement is the road to Dublin. Dissident republicans have the same goal as anti-agreement unionists. They are trying to take us back to the old days of one party rule. “Dissies” need us in a place where we are repressed where nationalists and republicans have no voice. Gregory Campbell and his ilk want the same.
Those days are gone, gone and lost forever. Never again will the republican people be isolated or without influence. The Protestant state no longer exists. Republicans are at the heart of government and will drive our strategy forward. We will not be driven off course by micro groups. Jim Allister or Gregory Campbell. Nor will we allow those elements in the British military establishment to derail the political process.
Now let me turn to recent events; the killing of two British soldiers and a member of the PSNI were not, in any way, an advance in achieving Irish unity. It was an attempt to derail the political progress of Sinn Féin. The group which claimed responsibility have been in existence for 23 years and in that time have made no contribution to advancing the unity of our country. They continually hark back to the past but offer no vision for the future.
Their supporters’ illiterate rantings on walls, their attacks on Orange halls and their planting of hoax bombs in community centres in Belfast and the Bogside in Derry are acts of anti-social behaviour. They should desist from their activities immediately and disband. They offer no hope to the generation they are trying to influence. They offer only misery and long jail sentences, in a path that is going nowhere and, indeed, is no longer necessary.
The unionist state I was born into and chose to rebel against is gone. All of us now have a voice in the future. Unionist, republican, nationalist, socialist and ethnic communities are all represented in the new structures. Equality is at the heart of government in this state. It is time the “dissies” got off the backs of the people of their own community and fell into line with the overwhelming majority of the people of this island.
They need to realise the republic is coming and cannot be stopped by them or anyone else. In the words of John Lennon “give peace a chance.”