Republican Network for Unity (RNU) has outlined its opposition to the Good Friday Agreement after announcing that it will field candidates in future local elections throughout Ireland.
At a media event in Belfast, the small republican socialist party launched a position paper on the peace process, entitled ‘Standing Outside the Peace Process’. The following is an abridged version of that paper.
Where hope met history?
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was marketed to the Irish people as the Panacea between war and peace. Designed in the hangover of a long, vicious and bitter conflict between Republicanism and the British state, its advocates claimed it was the only alternative to a horrible war which had touched almost every family in the six counties and many beyond that.
The real and bitter suffering endured by so many as a result of that conflict - from actual loss of life and liberty, to the long list of other negative legacies which arise from a long war - made selling the GFA to the people much easier and in particular to the republican and nationalist community, in which there was little or no debate as to the long term political merits of the Agreement itself.
State directed Loyalist death squads such as the LVF and UFF still hovered menacingly over the Catholic community in the years during which the GFA was designed. 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.
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.
When packaged as a vote for peace there was little doubt that the nationalist population would tick the box marked Yes , and following strong lobbying from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP, this is precisely what happened.
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.
There was no option for Irish unity on the ballot papers, and if there had been it would hardly have mattered as the outcome of the northern vote [pre- Determined as it was by partition itself] held supreme, regardless of what the rest of the Island wished for.
In this way, the Good Friday Referenda were in reality a continuation of the old partitionist dynamics of the early 1920s, made possible by the same gerrymandered voting arrangements and the same threat of British/Loyalist violence, as had been practiced many decades earlier. Irish history had merely came full circle and found itself back at square one, bar a series of reformist and cosmetic gestures designed to smooth the transition of the IRA into a constitutional movement, entirely absorbed into Sinn Fein structures.
Given that the [once revolutionary] Provisional leadership had by this stage, committed itself to constitutional politics alone, there was little to be gained by them from criticising the internal workings of the Agreement itself.
Furthermore, 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.
Good Friday even provided for the imprisonment of its own supporters, as was later seen in the case of Sinn Fein representative Gerry McGeough, who upon voicing disapproval at his former party s support for the PSNI found himself arrested and imprisoned for actions he undertook decades earlier in a time of war.
Many other former republican prisoners have had their release licences revoked in response to voicing or acting in a fashion critical of the Good Friday Agreement, and in effect hundreds of former POWs are today being held as hostages of their own conscience as a result, fearful of being returned to Gaol should they resume revolutionary politics.
And if Sinn Fein could get things so wrong on the welfare of Republican prisoners, then the question must be asked, did they get it wrong on the constitutional issue also?
The virtual internment of its political opponents today along with the coercion of the wider Nationalist population in 1998 shows just how counter revolutionary a settlement the GFA actually was.
However, it is its many other aspects and dynamics which also dispel utterly, claims that the Good Friday Agreement could be used as a vehicle to deliver credible republican aspirations, and which explain why true revolutionaries, Irish republican socialists can have no truck with it.
Inherently Sectarian, Inherently Partitionist, Inherently Capitalist
Despite being marketed as the key to ending sectarian conflict in Ireland, the GFA is in fact a sectarian settlement, with sectarian values at its heart and a guaranteed sectarian outcome if it remains the only vision for political progress in Ireland.
From its internal clauses regarding parity of esteem to the constitutional out workings and daily running of its Stormont executive, the entire world view of the GFA presumes and supports a view of Irish society in which Sectarian divisions are inevitable and even natural.
RNU, as revolutionary republican socialists, as followers of Tone and McCracken, reject this two communities vision, which the GFA enshrines as the cultural and social model around which we should base our future.
We reject the notion that historical discrimination practiced upon the Catholics of the north, can or should be crudely addressed by simply pointing to the lot of the protestant working class and demanding the same for our side , as is proposed by supporters of the GFA.
This eschewed view of equality creates only mistrust and deliberately lowers working class aspirations; it is exploited by the rich who take comfort in working class division and postpones the day when protestant & catholic workers unite in a true common struggle.
That is in the national and class struggle to secure for the working class of Ireland the ownership of Ireland and all its resources to be used for the common good.
In this sense we are truly anti-sectarian, we don t seek equality between two communities , we seek to destroy sectarian distinctions altogether in the course of struggle to achieve a New Ireland. This places us apart from the pro- GFA parties, whose values accept sectarian division and see them as inevitable, regardless of what they claim to profess.
We seek to create a united Irish working class, united not within a national or communal identity but in common purpose for progressive human gain. Stormont and British politicians, as well as the Capitalist business elite here, recognise the benefits of maintaining sectarian divisions within our communities.
They see that divisions within our ranks serve their financial and political interests, and they therefore place little importance on ending them.
We need only point to the example of the 1932 cross community outdoor relief riots to emphasise the revolutionary potential of protestant and catholic working class communities rising above the identity brackets assigned to them by church and state here.
And when we consider the potent results of this real example of class unity, then we can fully understand why the powers that be have little interest in allowing true unity happen today; why they allow sectarianism to continue, in the form of the Good Friday Agreement.
Politicians understand that it is much easier to implement Anti-Working class cuts, such as the Welfare Reform Bill or merely to deny workers basic rights and conditions, if the working class base sees itself as divided into two hostile factions incapable of uniting in common cause.
This dividing factor was used by the Orange boss class and the Catholic Church for hundreds of years here, and its negative influence continues today via the workings of the GFA.
We should all at this point ask ourselves the serious question, are we really committed to the Revolutionary Republican Socialist path?
Why stand outside the Peace Process ?
Although they are well meaning, some principled Republicans still campaign solely on the issue of Brits Out while being neutral on the economic question; others are unashamed advocates of Capitalism. This position is a non-starter as it is at best doomed to perpetuate failures of the past and at worst, take us to oblivion.
If some are not committed to the revolutionary path - and merely wish to return (solely) to the war politics of the past - then there is no reason to expect that the lure of the economic incentives mentioned above (which did compromise republican leaderships) could not take their toll on them too in future decades.
If that was to be the case, then they would be as well backing the Sinn Fein electoral strategy now instead of later, indeed that is point Sinn Fein spokespeople are making, when they mislead the public by asking RNU to debate with them.
Those of us who do stand Outside the Peace Process do so with good reason, yet we should be aware of those reasons, so as not be lured into similar processes in the future.
The Revolutionary Alternative?
Revolutionary Republicans stand by the belief that the struggle for National Liberation and Socialism should be practiced hand in hand, that the liberators of Ireland will be the working class and that it will be within a duel struggle for control of the National territory and the Means of production that a worthy freedom will eventually be achieved.
Such a process would take place on our terms (not Britain’s) but would require the challenging of both communal sectarian identities (green and orange) as well as of capitalist economic priorities in Ireland, cross border though they may be.
In conclusion therefore; RNU view the so called Peace Process as in fact inherently sectarian, inherently partitionist and inherently capitalist, promoting ultimately communal division, a continuation of British rule and the dominance of a greedy capitalist class who care little for the economic wellbeing or welfare of the Irish people north or south.
We on the other hand, intend to propose a programme of Revolutionary Republicanism, the encouragement of the Irish working class to pursue a Free Socialist Republic, via all available means of struggle. Not for nationalist or emotional reasons, but for practical and humane reasons and as part of the progressive struggle for control of Irish resources, to be worked for the welfare and future integrity of all our people.
We believe such a path to be the true republican & non-sectarian path, the route towards healing our Nation, and freeing it from Imperial and colonial evils; from corruption, poverty and privilege, instead taking us towards true Irish freedom.