Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Doublethink Inherent within Irish Nationalism

On an official state level our pseudo-republic inhabits two contrary mindsets when it comes to acts of political violence. What I am referring to here is the way that the state and indeed many individuals accept the view that the men of 1916 were heroes who died for Ireland, but at the same time condemn murders and attacks on PSNI constables in Northern Ireland. This is a classic example of what George Orwell referred to as doublethink. That is the capacity to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time and believe fervently in both.

However, the perpetrators of both the 1916 debacle and the current unhinged extremist nationalists who attack the police in Northern Ireland are cut from the same cloth, in that both these groups believe that democratic mandates are not a prerequisite to murdering agents of the state.

Let us consider the militant nationalists of 1916. These men and women belonged to organisations that had no representation in the parliament of what was then the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland to which the Irish electorate had returned constituional nationalist MPs to seek Home Rule by peaceful and democratic methods. Therefore the will of the majority in the lead up to the 1916 rising was to advance the nationalist cause through democratic and parliamentary means and for Ireland to retain some political ties to Britain and to the project of Empire to which Ireland had helped to construct and willingly participated in. This is an established fact that many of today's nationalists of all shades of green try to dismiss or rationalise.

Therefore on the morning that Pearse, the deluded half English, catholic fundamentalist, that he was, led his rag tag rabble of idealists on what he knew to be a suicide mission, he was in effect attacking the democratic wishes of the Irish populace who in the 1910 election hadn't elected a single militant nationalist anywhere on the island. When Constable James O'Brien was shot by a member of the Irish Citizen Army outside Dublin Castle this murder had no democratic legitimacy. Similarly, when Countess Markievitz shot dead her compatriot Constable Michael Lahiffe at close range she did so motivated with a disregard for the wishes of most Irish people at the time. The attacks by the rebels on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, drawn mainly from Dublin's working class, were a further hostile act againt the very people and their wishes whose on behalf the rebels claimed to be acting.

The executions of the leaders of the rising and the subsequent internment of moderate nationalists by a harsh and authoritarian British state led to an upsurge in support for militant nationalism. This culminated in the Irish people, apart from Irish unionists and what was left of constitutional nationalism, giving democratic legitimacy to the 1919-1921 War of Indpendence. However, an intellectual dissonance developed over the decades in the Irish Free State and later the Republic, in which on the one hand we celebrated as heroes the idealistic rebels of 1916 and their disregard for democratic mandates and on the other we interned, jailed and even executed members of the IRA, as Devalera did during World War Two.

Every grouping of militant nationalists since after the formation of the Free State that have adapted the name of the IRA to suit their political grievances have attempted to legitimise their struggle by claiming to be the true heirs to the mythical Republic proclaimed by Pearse on the steps of the GPO. The truth is that all of these different incarnations of the IRA, be it the Provisionals, the Real ones or those that wish to have a Continuity of slaughter or any other extremist nationalist groupings for that matter, share one thing in common with Pearse and Connolly and that is they have all had, at one point or other, a complete disregard for the machinations of democratic politics.

It is this anti-democratic tendency within militant nationalism that inspired the murderers of Constable Kerr in 2011 and the attacks and killings on other PSNI members who were merely obstacles in the pursuit of a mythical unified Ireland, rather than the real one that is united today in its abhorence of political violence. However, if it is was wrong in the minds of Irish nationalists to murder Constable Kerr in that there was no democratic mandate to do so, then it logically follows that the killings of RIC officers and members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were also wrong in that these murders also had no mandate.

The condemation by almost all nationalist parties in Ireland of dissident republican violence therefore leaves me somewhat confused when I see them celebrating various militant uprisings whether it be the 1916 Rising or the Provisional IRA terror campaign of the latter part of the twentieth century. The degree to which each nationalist party in Ireland condemns and condones undemocratic acts of political violence depends of course to which interpretation of nationalist history they adhere to as well as where their party loyalties lie under the broad canvas that is Irish nationalism.

This doublethink will be fervently on display during the centenary celebrations of the Easter rising in 2016 when almost every nationalist political party on the island of Ireland will commemorate and honor the men who took up the gun and murdered fellow Irish men without the consent of the electorate. These same politicians will also be quick to condemn in the harshest of tones and with the full force of the law, today's extremist nationalists who kill in pursuit of their political objectives.

As a constitutional nationalist and democratic republican I recoil at all acts of political violence carried out by all the protagonists involved in the Irish conflict over the course of the past hundred years. In the words of the founding father of constitutional Irish nationalism and the respected parliamentarian, Daniel O'Connell:

"The principle of my political life …. is, that all ameliorations and improvements in political institutions can be obtained by persevering in a perfectly peaceable and legal course, and cannot be obtained by forcible means, or if they could be got by forcible means, such means create more evils than they cure, and leave the country worse than they found it." The Nation (Irish newspaper), 18 November, 1843.


  1. I read a book many years ago. Printed pre-WWII, don't remember the author or title, but it was Victor Gollantz, who I suppose was the only likely publisher of such stuff then. I remember the point that in the spring of 1916 there was unrest in towns across the UK, but it was successfully suppressed everywhere except in Dublin, where there were local reasons why it should have taken off.

  2. 1. Not familiar enough with the Irish situation, but violence is sometimes needed in a situation of unequal power dynamics. The colonizing entity usually need not resort to hard power, precisely because it is stronger, and can therefore exercise power through "democratic" and "legal" means. Surely many a problem existed in the democratic setup at the time?

    3. Franz Fanon argued for the necessity of violence so that the colonized may liberate themselves completely from their colonizer. He was a psychiatrist as well as a political thinker - I think he may have been speaking from a psychological point of view when he made that point.

  3. Take it down from the mast Irish traitor.

  4. Do you expect to be taken seriously, when you don't even reveal who you are.

    You worked for the Guardian. In your dreams.