The Democracy Journal
Search Site
Get Involved
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Support the PJRC

    Support the PJRC for continued original analysis on ending the wars, funding domestic priorities and preserving civil liberties.

    Make a contribution to benefit the PJRC now! 

    Conferences & Events

    Tom Hayden speaks in Port Huron, MI, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement.

    Invite Tom Hayden to speak in your town! 



    Follow Tom


    Contact Us
    This form does not yet contain any fields.

      The Fate of Revolutionaries: Northern Ireland

      The evolution of Northern Ireland, from the 1968 revolt by a new generation of republican militants to the successful Good Friday Agreement of 1998, is a classic example of the movement model. However, it has received little attention on the traditional American left or among national security thinkers. Left theorists, historians and sociologists have either tended to be British-centric or suspicious of the anti-semitic tendencies associated with Catholic nationalism, sometimes justifiably so. The neutrality of the Irish state during World War II cemented this suspicion on left and right.
      But there is a long Irish revolutionary tradition, which, in the 1916 Easter Rising, blended religion, nationalism and socialism under the leadership of the trade unionist James Connolly. The roots of that tradition, known as republicanism, lay in the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen – Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters - which was closely patterned after republican movements in America, France, the rest of Europe and Latin America. While succeeding in America and France, the Irish republican dream was deferred in the bloody defeat of 1798, where an estimated thirty thousand were killed by Crown forces, and the forced exile of thousands to other lands, including America, where Thomas Jefferson welcomed the Irish refugees despite a ferocious Protestant-led backlash symbolized by the Alien and Sedition Acts.
      One of those exiles was Thomas Emmet, who carried on the republican heritage in America after his brothers beheading by the British. I was named after this Thomas Emmet – Thomas Emmet Hayden the 4th – but since the assimilation of my third-generation parents required a certain amnesia. In Irish, the name Hayden derives from O hAodain, which roughly means “the person of the flame”, while Garity [my mother’s maiden name] came from Mag Oireachtaigh, or “the assembly man.”  I never knew a thing about this history of my own personal ghosts until the 60s made me Irish. When I asked my mom why I was “the 4th” in my lineage, she only said it was because there was the first, second, and third. I was not alone in her disconnection.
      On a cultural level, the 60s constituted a process of reverse assimilation. People of color sought liberation from whiteness. Women liberated themselves from male cultural standards. Native people fought against reservation schools. Universities were forced to establish programs in black studies, Chicano studies, Asian studies, Native American studies, women’s studies, even the formally-designated queer studies. Just as the Irish-Americans celebrated assimilation with the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, the fabric of identity was unraveling. As the 1968 Chicago confrontations subsided, I watched on television as marchers in Northern Ireland were beaten and hosed while singing “We Shall Overcome.” I discovered a heritage which, it turned out, was not so much lost as taken from me by a culture and school system which disparaged Irish culture as inferior to the white, Anglo-Saxon paradigm. The fully-assimilated Irish-Americans – the Catholic hierarchy, the Chicago police, legions of FBI agents, the conservative building trades – were on the other side of the blossoming culture wars.
      The 60s were sweeping across Britain’s northern Irish colony as well. The Irish Republican Army [IRA] was a spent force, its last military campaign having stalled and stuttered through 1962.  A climate of surface contentment prevailed, similar to the parallel assimilation of the Irish-Americans into suburban quietude. Beneath the surface, it was another matter. A new generation was awakening. A young Gerry Adams, then working in a Belfast pub, remembers being gripped by a “youthful, mistaken conviction that the revolution was happening all around us…[there] was a feeling shared across countries, continents and religions.”[1] Partly it was the music, especially Dylan’s lyrics. But fundamentally, it was the global impact of the African-American civil rights movement.
      Adams was from a strong Republican family, worked at a local pub, and involved himself in community organizing around housing discrimination. His hair was shaggy, his glasses large, his intelligence keen. Skeptics will claim that he already was a closeted revolutionary, ready to manipulate events to republican advantage. On the face of things, however, he was engaged in reformist activity to improve housing opportunity on the Falls Road. He was beaten up on one occasion for selling the republican newspaper. It would be more accurate to describe him as a new generational figure in an old tradition. As a youth, he became a natural leader in the nightly community meetings during the siege of Ballymurphy, and was interned in 1971 along with hundreds of others.  As for Martin McGuinness, he was a devout young Catholic who joined the IRA during the wave of street battles in the late 1960s. When I first met him, in the mid-70s, he was 28 years old, the same age as myself during the Chicago street confrontations. McGuinness wasn’t hidden in the shadows, but a visible target of the British, openly taking part in community protests and, indeed, in the thick of spontaneous street fighting. Though traditionalist in certain ways, he shared a distinctive consciousness of the 60s, complaining that the British were “trying to turn us all into golfers” in a consumer society. A third longtime friend, Danny Morrison, was waiting on tables and dreaming of classic literature when the 60s struck his life. Another, Tom Hartley, was working in the Sinn Fein bookstore on the Falls Road, hawking leaflets and posters, and accumulating knowledge about the history of Belfast cemeteries. Like many others I met, they would survive to be leaders of their generation, supporting armed struggle, surviving terrible feuds with other factions, leading Sinn Fein towards a political strategy that abandoned violence, and arriving finally after thirty years in leadership positions in the communities to which they always belonged: Adams and McGuinness as the catalysts and negotiators of the peace process, Adams as president of Sinn Fein, McGuiness as minister of education and deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, Morrison as an accomplished author of many novels and essays, Hartley as the Lord Mayor of Belfast. While considered “fenian bastards”, criminals, incorrigible radicals, terrorists and contaminated untouchables along the way, by any measure today they would have to be considered part of the establishment, a term that surely makes them wince.[2]
      There already existed fertile nationalist ground in the Catholic ghettos, though fallowed with time. In his history of The Troubles, Tim Pat Coogan refers to uisce fe talamh, or “water under the ground”, an Irish “consciousness of race and place, formed by history and circumstance, whereby one grows up knowing things without realizing where one learned them.”[3] The infectious concept of a nonviolent struggle for civil rights was a new one. Previous generations of republicans hewed to their physical force strategy on the grounds that the British colonial power was unreformable by peaceful means. To seek civil rights within the British empire was to abandon the long quest for national independence. But now the images from the American civil rights movement drew a diverse array of factions and personalities into a Northern Irish Civil Rights Association [NICRA]. Ending discrimination in employment, housing and sectarian gerrymandering were popular demands uniting Catholics of all class backgrounds, while drawing fierce opposition from the Unionist state. Instead of rancorous debate, the unifying assumption was that the civil rights demand would test the limits of British rule. According to one historian,

      The new strategy was inspired by the Black civil rights movement in the United States. The term “civil rights” had not been used to define the aspirations of the minority community in Northern Ireland and it had never before adopted a strategy that was both militant and constitutional.[4]
      The sentiment was expressed bluntly in Roddy Doyle’s 1988 The Commitments, in which Jimmy Rabbitte, the leader of a Dublin rock ‘n roll band and devotee of James Brown, proclaims proudly that “the Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads.”[5]

      The civil rights demand allowed the movement, including radicals and republicans, to broaden its appeal to the Catholic mainstream, a significant number of Protestant liberals, the European community, and Irish Catholics in the United States. Repeated attacks on peaceful civil rights marchers, including the moderate Westminster MP Gerry Fitt on October 5, 1968, were transmitted globally by media. Charismatic young leaders like Bernadette Devlin were attracting the attention of journalists like Jimmy Breslin and stirring a global audience. “We Shall Overcome” was sung on the road to Derry.
      There were two layers on the Machiavellian side, first, the privileged unionist community and the more extreme loyalists, organized in agencies like the Orange Order, leading a Protestant population then numbering over sixty percent of Northern Ireland’s 1.5 million people; and second, the supporting organs of the British colonial state which funded, gerrymandered, and provided one-sided security on all levels, organized through Westminster’s Northern Ireland Office [known to republicans as the “securocrats.”] The unionists were threatened by a loss of privilege, the British by a loss of empire. The most well-known of the “no surrender” faction of Unionism was the Armagh-born Rev. Ian Paisley, recipient of a divinity degree from then-segregated Bob Jones University in South Carolina.[6] America’s fundamentalist Right were domestic allies of the Orangemen. In the background was the so-called “special relationship” between the US and UK, which treated Northern Ireland as the internal affair of the British, with the US providing diplomatic and intelligence cover.
      The Irish civil rights movement provoked an immediate and violent backlash from Orange mobs, including firebombings, shootings, beatings, even de facto pogroms. For a brief period, the dominant reaction in besieged Catholic neighborhoods was to call for intervention by British troops. Within a year, however, the British proved themselves so be deeply intertangled in the preservation of the Protestant status quo that they were regarded as an occupying army.
      By 1969-70, Catholic ghettos in Derry and Belfast became communities of resistance giving a new identity to everyday life. Barricades went up in Derry [home of  McGuinness] and Ballymurphy [a housing estate off Belfast’s Falls Road, and the home of Adams], and rioting occurred almost on a nightly basis. Along the Falls Road, colorful wall murals went up overnight. Community newspapers were invented underground. Black taxis replaced a burned-out bus system. Hundreds of community organizations were born. And in face of the immanent threat of loyalist attacks with British complicity, the self-defense networks gave birth to a new “provisional” Irish Republican Army.
      The response of the British was the internment policy of 1971, in which hundreds of alleged IRA members were lifted from their homes to be imprisoned without charges on the prison ship Maidstone in Belfast harbor, the newly-created Long Kesh prison, and jails in Crumlin Road and Armagh. In these harsh conditions of martial law the militant republican identity was only solidified.  According to young Gerry Adams’ description of the change,
         a steely determination entered many hearts, a feeling that if it was war they wanted, it was war they would get.[7]

      The key transition occurred in Derry in 1969-72, climaxing in the British army killing of 14 peaceful protestors on January 30, 1972, known as Bloody Sunday. Officially named Londonderry, but known to nationalists as Derry, the city’s Bogside ghetto became a no-go, or liberated, zone proclaimed in huge murals as “Free Derry.” The name was chosen because the young radicals had heard of “Free Berkeley”, a romantic experiment in establishing an autonomous community in resistance to Ronald Reagan and the UC Regents at the time [I was involved then in one of the many Berkeley communes]. Free Derry was more than a state of mind, however; the Bogside was the scene of perpetual confrontations with loyalists, police and British troops looking down on the ghetto from the ancient walls of the city. This was a genuine community of meaning that would be carried forward in the lives of thousands of its young rebels for three decades.
      The killings on January 30, 1972, meant to suppress the rebellion and restore order, have been the subject of two lengthy inquiries, several films, numerous books and articles, John Lennon’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and U2’s 1984 song of the same name. The key facts are that the British forces shot and killed 14 unarmed people and wounded 13 more, falsely claimed that their troops were provoked by sniper fire, then engaged in a massive cover-up decades. “The state stood by its own”, wrote a Derry radical of the time, Eamon McCann, referring to the fact that a Lord Chief Justice had proclaimed that the killings were neither wrong nor illegal.
      “Standing by its own” was a key Machiavellian maxim. But could the British state have chosen otherwise? As we shall see, the state interest changed in the course of the 30-year war, but at the time, the state “stood with its own”, in defense of the “Protestant state for a protestant people” and protecting the image and power of the United Kingdom. The apparent similarities between the American and Irish civil rights conflicts were becoming stark opposites: within the segregated American South, blacks could appeal to the interest of the national state in ending unconstitutional practices in a section of the country; i.e., civil rights meant equal rights as Americans. The Northern Ireland crisis was more like the 18th century crisis between the American colonies and the British crown; i.e. the British would not accept a definition of civil rights which included the fundamental right to be Irish. Thus
           Free Derry posed an unambiguous challenge to the authority of the state and the rule of law.[8]
      According to internal documents, the British decided the following day, on January 31, to pursue a tribunal strategy that would “pile up the case against the deceased”[9], even though there was no evidence that any of them were armed. After all, the Downing Street memo underscored, the state was “fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war.”[10]

      Bloody Sunday marked the shift from a civil rights movement to armed guerrilla warfare against British rule. In terms of our model, the militant social movement came to dominate, as did the militant counter-movement against the moderate middle classes. In the three years previous to Bloody Sunday. 210 people were killed across Northern Ireland; nearly 500 died in the eleven months after Bloody Sunday, and over 3,600 in the three decades to come, the rough equivalent of 600,000 Americans.[11]
      The British never defeated the IRA or the larger force of Irish nationalism. Instead their material costs and reputational power suffered as some 700 British soldiers were killed, along with larger numbers of Ulster regiments and RUC officers. Billions of pounds in property damage were inflicted, too: In April 1993, the IRA blew up London’s financial district at an estimated loss of 800 million pounds.[12] Again, in 1996, when the peace talks were stagnating, they blew up London’s Canary Wharf and the center of Manchester.[13] While open support for armed struggle was confined to a nationalist minority, the relevant fact is that a sufficient number northern nationalists were anti-British enough to understand, tolerate, and give protection to the IRA’s network of active-service units. In that sense, the organization was embedded within mainstream nationalist opinion in the north and, to an extent, in the legacy of the quieter southern state as well.
      With the militant strategy prevailing, however, the option of a political strategy preferred by the Irish majority was postponed for years. Sinn Fein, the political party led by Adams and associated with the IRA, was limited to a dedicated hard-core constituency and unable to make wider breakthroughs.  Its moderate rival, the Social Democratic and Labor Party [SDLP], drew heavy support from the Irish establishment, including Irish-American political leaders, but their nonviolent electoral strategy was no answer to the British occupation. According to the New Statesman in 1994, “British intelligence had played a vital role in the creation of the SDLP. Dusting off from the decolonization strategies of 1960s Africa, the objective was to create an acceptable, modern alternative of to armed militant nationalism.”[14] This sharp division between militants and moderates continued over the decades, ending sharply in the 90s when Sinn Fein and the IRA captured the peace banner, and thus middle class Catholic support. This was unexpected news for the Machiavellians, one of whom said “we were all taken by surprise by Hume-Adams”; the New Statesman added that “the British government is surprised and somewhat alarmed by the progress that Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams have made in the key political constituencies of Dublin and Washington…MI5 and the RUC Special Branch clearly have a major role to play in the continuing political [nb] struggle against the republican movement.”[15]
      A critical moment came with the 1981 republican hunger strikes when ten republican prisoners slowly and painfully died while demanding the restoration of their status as political prisoners. The British establishment, represented by Margaret Thatcher, held fast to a hardline stand as Irish and world opinion turned against them. Irish people long divided over the IRA came together in urgent unity in support of the prisoners. It was not simply Thatcher’s cruelty, but the sense of a purity of sacrifice among the strikers that deeply moved the population. The prisoner’s leader, Bobby Sands, was a poet whose lines were smuggled to the outside world on toilet paper hidden in the back passages of prisoners and passed to visitors. Sands condemned a world where journalists “wrote not a jot of beauty tortured sore”, and compared the prisoners to “flowers in the dark” or bluebells lifting their heads. With naked courage, eloquent writing, and an iconic face resembling Che Guevara or Jesus Christ, he touched the souls of many. The political effect of the hunger strike was to make the unthinkable possible: Sands elected to the British parliament while he lay dying. Two other strikers, Kieren Dougherty and Paddy Agnew, were elected to Leinster House, the seat of power in Dublin. For Sinn Fein, the explosion of public support was undeniable evidence that an electoral strategy a new kind was possible, a combination of the ballot box and armalite, Danny Morrison said. Not only was there an unprecedented opening to the political mainstream, but Sands and his nine comrades would endure in memory as global legends.[16]
      There were many more dramas and deaths ahead, but the purpose here is to examine the process by which the actors were reconciled in an unusual peace agreement in 1998. Let me first describe the dynamics of the nationalist movement, then the Machiavellian response. The key notion is that the conflicting sides each came to the realization of a stalemate, that is, a strategic recognition that their maximum goals were becoming unreachable. On the nationalist side, Sinn Fein understood the impossibility of its aspiration of  forcing the unionist majority to either convert to Irish nationalism or be forced to emigrate from Ireland. The long war had been waged for two decades, and while the IRA could not be defeated, a military victory also was out of the question. The reality of unionism would have to be accepted, and therefore, some sort of connection with the UK. Reaching the holy grail of the Republic would be delayed. President Clinton told Adams at the White House that a united Ireland would have to wait upon the Catholic birthrate, according to someone who was present.
      For moderate nationalist leaders like John Hume, it was equally clear that unity was needed with the republicans, despite principled differences over violence and revolution. The SDLP base, however opposed to violence, was strongly nationalist and shared much of Sinn Fein’s agenda, including radical reform of the RUC. Just as Adams was limited by the IRA’s military campaign, Hume was limited by having no leverage over the IRA. In January 1988, therefore, Adams and Hume sat down for secret open-ended discussions in search of a pan-nationalist strategy for power. The talks were strongly supported by an ally of Adams, Father Alec Reid, a priest at the Clonard monastary in West Belfast. The Adams-Humes approach at the time was deeply unpopular with large segments of their followings. For a social movement in particular to shift fundamental direction without convulsing into deadly factions is a testimony to the skills of Adams and the republican leadership, particularly their decision to continually convene lengthy, participatory, often confusing meetings of the membership at each decisive moment. There were defections, to be sure, but the memory of devastating splits in past republican campaigns might have influenced the character of internal debates during the peace process.[17]
      On the British side, key strategists realized that the military war against the IRA could not be won. Two further developments permitted a modification of their worldview. The first was the end of the Cold War, which meant that the IRA could never again be demonized as a communist threat, like Cuba, across the channel. Second, new pressure from an ad hoc network of Irish-Americans had influenced the thinking of Bill Clinton. Perhaps because he himself was a child of the Sixties, perhaps because he was impressed with Bernadette Devlin’s speeches while he was a student at Oxford,[18] Devlin was elected as a 21-year old rebel member of the House of Commons in 1969 while Clinton was a graduate student. Ultimately in 1992, Clinton was persuaded to endorse an Irish peace process, appoint a peace envoy, and offer a visa to Gerry Adams. He did so against the strong opposition of his State Department, the CIA, and most of the Irish-American establishment. It was even necessary for the White House  to wrest control of Northern Ireland policy from the State Department.  This decision meant rupturing a long-held “special relationship” with the British, under which Northern Ireland was considered an internal matter reserved to the United Kingdom. Why Clinton acted in this way may have been purely political, that is, his quest for white ethnic votes in the 1992 election. Or it might have been political payback for Prime Minister John Major’s effort to help the Republican Party defeat Clinton with scurrilous attacks on his patriotism.[19]
      The split in the British-American axis was enormously helpful to Sinn Fein and Adams, creating a pro-nationalist US counterweight to British colonial interests. Adams’ visit to America in 1997 generated huge Irish-American crowds and a media frenzy. Overnight a new Irish-American movement became a factor in pressuring Clinton to move forward, which he did with the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as the envoy who eventually mediated the peace process. There were many twists, turns, crises and near-implosions and acts of unexpected leadership in the process which are well-recounted in many books, but the point is that the outcome was a classic example of a new order being constructed through the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.[20]
      For whatever mixture of reasons, the British secretary of state, Peter Brooke, gave two revelatory speeches on British strategy in 1989 and 1990 breaking “all the unwritten rules” of diplomacy.[21] In the first, Brooke acknowledged for the first time publicly that “it is difficult to envisage a military defeat [of the IRA]” and suggested that an “imaginative” alternative process would have to be “managed.” In the second, Brooke went further, declaring that “the British government has no selfish or strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland…[and] an Irish Republicanism seen to have finally renounced violence would be able, like other parties, to seek a role in the peaceful political life of the community.”
      As their stalemate deepened, the British in June 1997 announced a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday, this time as a confidence-building measure in the peace process. The Dublin government released a damning assessment of Bloody Sunday for the first time, on the same day. Tony Blair acknowledged the innocence of the fallen. It was a victorious moment for the victims’ families, lonely researchers like Don Mullen, and Irish nationalism, though 25 years in the making. Human rights issues had become central to the unfolding peace process. Two years later, in 1999, British documents released during the new inquiry revealed there 1972 military proposals to “restore law and order” with “stronger military measures” which necessarily would include killing “innocent members of the crowd”, the scenario which played out in Derry that Sunday.[22] The counter-movement had prevailed over the handful of voices counseling gradual but radical reform of the British state.
      There followed many unsuccessful efforts to undermine and split the republican movement, one British leader snidely proposing a “decontamination” period before Sinn Fein could be at the table. But the new nationalist alliance held firm, expanding to include the Dublin government and, to an extent, the Americans. The IRA declared a cease-fire, broke it in 1996 when talks were going nowhere, and re-established it in 1997. The main loyalist paramilitaries announced parallel cease-fires as well, signifying the indispensable support of the armed movements for the peace process. The apparently impossible contradictions were carefully managed through negotiations in which hundreds of British diplomats faced off against small cadres of self-educated Sinn Fein cadres accountable to endless community feedback sessions. Politically, Clinton’s 1996 re-election was followed by Tony Blair’s Labor Party sweep in 1997, thus making “the Ulster unionists no longer a factor in the Westminster political equation.”[23] What emerged was a brilliant example of conflict resolution that brought the cycle of killing to an end and opened a political path for nationalism to succeed.  
      On the Irish side, the rights of Irish nationality, culture and language were guaranteed. The RUC was dissolved and replaced, in principal, by a police service committed to fundamental reform [as of 2009, the transfer of justice and policing powers to the Northern Executive was in the final stages of negotiation]. The Irish tri-colour could be flown everywhere. Border checkpoints were removed and cross-border commissions were established between North and South. All political prisoners, Irish and loyalist, were released to their communities. The IRA was committed to eventual decommissioning [putting out of use] of their weapons without any implication of surrender. Tribunals were established to seek the truth about Bloody Sunday and other cases. A system of power sharing, based on proportional representation, allowed Sinn Fein representatives to essentially co-chair the Stormont assembly and become mayors of numerous cities, including Belfast, while Adams and others were elected members of parliament, still declining on principle to serve officially. Sinn Fein was free to organize in the south, where Sinn Fein soon achieved seats on municipal levels and the Dail [parliament], becoming Ireland’s only island-wide nationalist party. The path was open to de facto reunification of Ireland as a whole, at least on a gradual step by step basis. It was less than a 32-county Irish Republic, but more like a transitional bi-national arrangement in which Irish nationalism was empowered for the first time in some eighty years.
      On the other side, Blair could claim that the existence of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom was preserved, though on an entirely new basis and only for the foreseeable future. It would no longer be a Protestant enclave, but the rights and property of the diminishing Unionist majority would be guaranteed. The British had found a formula for preserving both the appearance and reality of their core Machiavellian interest, their reputation as a credible guarantor, their writ of sovereignty intact, even if over a profoundly changed situation. There were moments when a mutiny of the British generals seemed possible, but it never transpired. Michael Oatlay, a secret negotiator for the British MI6, wrote an unusual piece in the Times denouncing the conservative counter-movement as the “picador approach”:
          No doubt if sufficient barbs are thrust into its [the IRA’s] flanks, the animal, with reluctance, will charge. The picadors then can claim the beast was always a ravening monster.[24]
       The paradox is that a peaceful arrangement was achieved by the inclusion of the former “extremes” while the moderate parties gradually imploded. By 2007 the first minister of the North was Ian Paisley, and the second-in-charge was Martin McGuiness.
      Sinn Fein has been little studied as a political party, but ten years after the Good Friday Agreement it has survived so far the fates usually predicted by political scientists. This may be because it remains more a movement than a party. It has neither been coopted into loyalty to the British state, nor has it been sundered by significant factions. With leadership and some luck in timing, a pan-nationalist unity was cobbled together between Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Dublin government and Irish-America, when divisions might easily have undermined the project.  Sinn Fein has not come to power across the island, but neither is it a remnant of the past. It is the largest nationalist party in Ireland, holds scores of seats in the north and south, and has beaten back both the demonizers and dividers. The key to its political rise was its leadership in the peace process. By one estimate, its vote rose from 78,000 in 1992 to 176,000 in 2001, and it doubled its elected northern councilors from 51 to 108.[25] It is true, as in the case of all social movements, that success in winning so much of its original agenda has led to some demobilization of its activist base and an uncertainty of purpose. With the borders open, the occupation ended, the detention camps emptied, Irish music and writing flourishing, the formal goal of a unified Irish state still seems years away. In the meantime, Sinn Fein must deliver on issues that originate beyond its scope, in the globalized capitalist economy. When peace arrives, do revolutionary movements wither? When what was radical becomes mundane, what happens to the radicals?
      But forty years after the British attempt to crush its birth, a period of normalcy is to be expected, and even deserved. Killings due to the Troubles have fallen nearly to zero, and Belfast is more peaceful than big American cities. Sinn Fein remains a model of conflict resolution for revolutionary nationalist movements as well, having exceptionally close historic ties to the African National Congress and, more currently, direct engagement in round-table dialogue among rival Sunni and Shi’a movements in Iraq.
      I last saw Adams and McGuinness in August 2008, at the longtime Sinn Fein headquarters off the Falls Road. Outside is a wall-size mural of Bobby Sands, smiling down, with the quotation, “Everyone has a part to play.” McGuinness was essentially co-chairing the Executive with Peter Robinson, who earlier vowed to “smash Sinn Fein” and donned a red beret to vow resistance to the Good Friday Agreement. I had just returned from City Hall, where Lord Mayor Tom Hartley presided over the official placement of the Irish Tricolor. The day before, I spoke to the Belfast Festival about the Good Friday Agreement as an example of compromise between Machiavellians and movements. When I commented on the unusual success of Sinn Fein in avoiding the splits that usually follow victories, Adams joked that it wasn’t too late.
      Inside the Sinn Fein building, I interviewed Martin McGuinness about his two recent trips to Baghdad, where he was trying to export the lessons of the Irish peace process. His partners were a startling assortment: Jeffrey Donaldson, once a Unionist hardliner and now part of Belfast’s power sharing arrangements;  Cyril Ramaphosa, a former secretary-general of the African National Congress; and Roelf Meyer, once the key strategist in South Africa’s white apartheid regime. The message was dramatic: if the bloodied foes in South Africa and Northern Ireland could achieve coexistence through power sharing, so might the fractured factions of Iraq. The Iraqis were fascinated, McGuinness said, that arch rivals like Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party could sit at the same table. At the first Iraqi talks, competing factions would not talk to each other, he said, “but now they acknowledge each other, and it’s interesting they showed up the second time.” In their presentations to the roundtable gathering, the ANC leadership stressed that “the most important constituency to negotiate with is your own”, he said. To all the words scribbled on the meeting’s blackboard, McGuinness added only one: leadership. The key to the Irish process, he believed, was the release of prisoners on both sides, while Iraq had only evolved from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship to a Shi’a gulag with thousands of Sunni prisoners. “It might all end in tears”, he acknowledged. But several years into the Irish peace process, there were more British troops in the North than were deployed to Iraq, and yet an agreement had been reached. The Iraqis eventually would learn there was no alternative to dialogue and politics, and until then McGuinness would keep going back. Indeed, by the end of the Bush years, the Iraqis were negotiating a pace that would withdraw American troops and leave Iraq as a unitary state, a future that seemed unlikely even one year before.
      It seemed incredible to me that an IRA leader who fought the British army to a standstill would now be conducting foreign policy missions to Iraq, with the tacit acceptance of the British, and even George Bush. “The Brits and Americans wanted to help us, but I said no”, McGuinness commented. “But every time I see Bush at the White House, he asks how’s going and he seems well-briefed.” George Bush asking Martin McGuinness how to be helpful?  Had Martin joined the Machiavellians or had certain Machiavellians learned a better way than military occupation to cope with social movements? Gerry Adams wasn’t sure, but reckoned that Martin’s mission might be useful in the long run, spreading Irish lessons to a world of stalemated ethnic wars. But there was more work to do in Ireland, he said. How to keep a social movement alive when its leaders are in office? How to win more elections in the southern Ireland when peace was no longer the issue and the activist base was aging. At 60 years himself, Adams had been organizing on this road for 42 years, and it was by no means finished.
      [NB: No sooner than I finished these reflections, dissident republicans shot and killed two British soldiers and one policeman in Northern Ireland, in a violent rebuke to Sinn Fein’s politics, the peace process, and the continued partition of the island, where about 4,000 British troops remained in barracks. Leaders across Northern Ireland, including McGuinness, were quick to unite against the violence a remarkable display of nationalist-loyalist unity. Although the renewed violence was dismissed as isolated, and the probabilities of going back to war unlikely, the shooting were clear evidence that ancient hatreds were not erased by the compromise Good Friday Agreement. In addition to the three killings, there were 15 other attacks on troops or police in the previous 17 months, and a 250-pound bomb was defused outside a military barracks.[26]
      At least as serious, America’s Wall Street meltdown late in 2008 led to a collapse of the “Celtic Tiger” experiment with neo-liberal economics in the south of Ireland. Not only could Sinn Fein be strengthened as a force of peace, but its supposedly obsolete rhetoric about the 1916 socialist republic might gain them greater support across Ireland than ever before.

      [1] Gerry Adams, Before the Dawn, An Autobiography, (New York: Morrow, 1996), p. 93

      [2] Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966095 and the Search for Peace (London: Hutchinson, 1995), 113.

      [3] Bob Purdie, Politics in the Street: The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland (Belfast, NIR: Blackstaff, 1990), 2.

      [4] Roddy Doyle, The Commitments, (London: Minerva, 1988), p. 9

      [5] In 1971, the university admitted only married African-Americans, in tiny numbers. They ended a ban on inter-racial dating in 2000, the same year George Bush campaigned in the South Carolina presidential primary. A Bob Jones faculty member that year spread the false rumor that another candidate, John McCain, had a black child out of wedlock. As of 2009, students are prohibited from listening to jazz, new age, rock, country music or “contemporary” Christian music, nor attend movies above a G-rating. They may only use email through the school. Rooms are inspected daily.  [from bju/prospective/expect/rhall.html]

      [6] Adams, Before the Dawn, 143; emphasis added.

      [7] Tom Herron and John Lynch, After Bloody Sunday, (Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2007), 8.

      [8] From handwritten notes on an official memorandum of Lord Chief Justice Widgery, in Don Mullen, ed.m Eyewitness Bloody Sunday (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1997), 63.

      [9] Prime Minister Edward Heath, February 1, 1972, confidential Downing Street minutes, in ibid., 43.

      [10] Herron and Lynch, After Bloody Sunday, 2. For an objective description of each of the thirty-six hundred deaths, see David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, and Chris Thorton, Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men and Women Who Died as the Result of the Troubles (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1999).

      [11] Peter Taylor, Provos, The IRA and Sinn Fein, (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 327.

      [12] BBC, Mar. 4, 2001

      [13] “Intelligence Quotas: Effect of Ceasefire in Northern Ireland on British Intelligence Service”, New Statesman, Oct. 7, 1994.

      [14] It is noteworthy that secret intelligence agencies, previously engaged in secret collaboration with loyalist assassination teams, would continue their operations despite the shift to a peaceful political context. New Statesman, Oct. 7, 1994.

      [15] The others were Michael Gaughan, Frank Stagg, Francis Hughes, Patsy O’Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Mickey Define.

      [16] In 1986, the Sinn Fein decision to end its policy of abstentionism [with regard to the north], was 429-161, only eleven votes over the required two-thirds, for example. A later split occurred again in 1996, over continuing armed struggle. The result was a disastrous bombing at Omagh, which the Adams’ leadership denounced. See Gerard Murray and Jonathan Tonge, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, From Alienation to Participation, O’Brien, Dublin, 2005, p. 161

      [17] Clinton recalls how his roots in the civil rights crisis affected his perception of Northern Ireland while at Oxford. He told Conor O’Cleary that he “never dreamed when it all started and I was a young man living in England and just fascinated by it and heartbroken by it, that I’d ever have a  chance to do something about it.” He remembered following Bernadette Devlin around and reading everything about her, too. The account is in Conor O’Cleary, The Greening of the White House, Gill & MacMillan, 1996, 16-17.

      [18] Tom Hayden, Irish on the Inside (London: Verso Books, 1997).

      [19] Taylor, Provos, 316, 318.

      [20] Ibid., 315. Brooke came from a longtime Unionist family with roots in Ireland going back two centuries. One of his ancestors was the poet Charlotte Brooke, who first used the epithet “fenian”: to disparage republicans.

      [21] Ibid., 318.

      [22] “Marches in Derry”, a memo by Lt. Col. Harry Dalzell-Payne, Jan. 27, 1972, three days before Bloody Sunday.

      [23] Taylor, Provos, 354.

      [24] Michael Oatley, Sunday Times, Oct. 31, 1999.

      [25] Murray and Tonge, Sinn Fein, 209-210.

      [26] New York Times, Mar. 8, 2009.

      PrintView Printer Friendly Version

      EmailEmail Article to Friend