Depressing, distressing support for violence
Northern Ireland is one of the most surveyed and polled parts of the universe. Sometimes there are glimmers of hope, and indications that the North is travelling away from sectarianism and violence. At other times the results are thoroughly depressing. Some polling which came out in August fits into this latter category and makes us realise how very far those in the North have yet to travel. When Michelle O’Neill, northern leader of Sinn Féin, said the IRA had no alternative to armed struggle in the Troubles that set up considerable comment and debate with unionists and many others naturally questioning her logic.
However the most depressing point was not that she said it but the acceptance of what she said in the Catholic/nationalist part of the community. Sinn Féin strategy in exiting armed struggle and moving forward politically has consistently been to justify IRA actions in general (regretting a few in particular) in order to take people with them, and this has had considerable success. Michelle O’Neill said in a BBC interview “I think at the time there was no alternative, but now, thankfully, we have an alternative to conflict and that’s the Good Friday agreement.” However she also said ““My narrative is a very different one to someone who’s perhaps lost a loved one at the hands of republicans. But we need to be mature enough to be able to say that’s OK, we’ll have to agree to differ on that one, but let’s make sure that the conditions never exist again that we find ourselves in that scenario.” And yet politics in the North frequently looks like the continuation of war by other means.
It subsequently came out “In a LucidTalk opinion poll for the Belfast Telegraph, 69% of those in the nationalist and republican community believe “violent resistance to British rule during the Troubles” was the only option, with just 25% disagreeing……Three-quarters of young voters support Ms O’Neill’s position. Surprisingly, so too do almost six in 10 over-45s. ….” https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/seven-in-10-nationalists-agree-with-michelle-oneill-that-there-was-no-alternative-to-iras-campaign-of-violence-new-poll-reveals-41924287.html
The take on all this which INNATE has had is that of course there was a nonviolent alternative to armed struggle and violent action by all sides but that generally those supporting such violence did not see the alternative, or thought it to be likely less effective. This of course was false but it was what most people, on all sides, believed. Northern Ireland could have arrived at political accommodation through nonviolent action which would have prevented the terrible destruction of lives and bitterness which came through the Troubles, and this might have set up higher chances of political agreement on an ongoing basis than exists today with a functioning Stormont being an intermittent feature of political life.
However the argument that nonviolent action is more effective than violent, and it not just being a question of ethics, is not something which even today holds sway in general. Something like Chenoweth and Stephan’s analysis of the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle compared to violent is not widely known, and the possibilities of nonviolence are largely ignored. Laying the blame for this lack of awareness falls at the feet of the peace movement as much as anyone else.
But it is also the case that in the North the story of those who consistently opposed violence on all sides have not been taken into account. INNATE has argued that the role of all parts of civil society in the Troubles and its seeking to oppose and overcome violence – including trade unions, churches, community groups, women’s groups, peace and reconciliation groups etc – has not been properly documented. We have gone on to say that the failure to do so, to document the challenge to violence which civic society groups made during the Troubles – would play into the hands of paramilitaries and the state who justified their own violent reactions. Our prophecy has, tragically, been proved to be true in this recent reflection on Catholic/nationalist views.
However it would be naive to think that it is only Catholics have not come to terms with what peace means. Loyalist paramilitaries have continued to exist in a way that republican ones do not. And the threat from either has not gone away. However on the unionist side of the house, and among those in general who have supported the British state, there has tended to be support for wars that the UK has fought internationally, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have resulted in far greater destruction, death and misery than any IRA or other paramilitary campaigns in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Those who believe in nonviolence do not go for the myth of state backing justifying violence, nor that a death somewhere distant abroad is any less significant or important than a death at home in the grand scale of things, even though a local death may impact on us in a way that a distant death does not – but for those close to that death distant from us, that is what impacts them, and not a death here.
The significance of all this is that it is not just Northern Catholics/Nationalists who have supported the use of violence who may go on to support violence in the future, should the conditions be judged to be appropriate, but the majority on all sides. It might have been hoped that the inhabitants of the North and their descendents, given the experience that people passed through, might have realised that violence was counter-productive and nonviolence was a far better way forward. It seems that few have come to that conclusion.
The task before us is to educate people in, and allow them to experience, the power of nonviolence. That is a huge task. We invite you to participate in that and contribute to that work, in whatever way you can. But it is both depressing and distressing that so many should have gone through so much but learnt so little. We say that not from a sense of superiority, that ‘we have the truth’, but a sense of failure on our part and a sense of the enormity of the task.
Depressing, distressing support for violence
The ongoing elimination of Irish neutrality continues, engineered in an underhand way by the ruling political parties in the Republic. Bit by bit, slice by slice, the political elite (not just politicians but also others including an incipient military-industrial complex, and some in the military) has been desiccating and destroying neutrality while all the time denying what they have been doing. There is a huge contrast between the fearless and principled non-aligned stance of the Irish state of old, for example under Frank Aiken as minister for foreign (‘External’) affairs, in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties (and Fianna Fáil’s anti-imperialist stance at the time) and the current craven attitude of most of the political parties who can’t wait to be a full member of the emerging EU superstate and its wider military ally, NATO.
An active neutrality on the part of the Irish state, allied with military peacekeeping (of which most Irish people are proud) has been a distinctive part of Irish identity. This is being lost and sold down the river. As peace and nonviolent activists we would strongly support Irish neutrality because the alternative is being either a fellow traveller with, or, as is increasingly becoming likely, a full blown member of the nuclear-armed and confrontationist NATO cabal. And the EU itself is increasingly militarised; it will become another global neo-imperialist player as the 21st century progresses. If things continue on the current track, Ireland will be a fully paid up supporter of violence internationally which will undoubtedly be unleashed by the EU in times to come.
One recent manifestation of this has been the backing by Ireland of military training by the EU for the Ukrainian army. According to the Irish Times of 30/8/22, “Minister for Defence Simon Coveney called the agreement to establish an EU training mission the “next phase of military support” for Ukraine in its fight against Russia. He said Ireland “would like to be involved” and would provide practical support for the mission.” Here again we see the political elite using the war in Ukraine to push back boundaries on Irish action. Peacemaking? No. Peacekeeping? No. Is it supporting the pacific resolution of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination, as in the Irish constitution? No. Warmaking? Yes.
Polls have consistently shown considerable Irish support for neutrality. However an online poll conducted in June-July raised major questions about this, showing approximately even numbers for and against joining NATO (52% for, 48% against) but a slight majority (54%) in favour of joining an EU army rather than NATO. https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2022/08/28/public-divided-on-nato-membership-new-poll-shows/ Paradoxically this poll still said “Six in 10 people said Ireland remaining neutral was important to them but just 42 per cent said it would keep the country safe in the event of global war.” However this begs the question of what questions were asked for the poll; what would keep the country safe in the event of global war?????? However the question is relevant of what would keep the country safest.
It would seem that a majority of the Irish public is attached to neutrality but is unaware of what this entails, or could entail. This is perhaps hardly surprising since Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael (in particular), Labour, and the Greens have done such a good job, from their point of view, of obfuscating issues and trying to ditch it by stages. The above mentioned poll showed Sinn Féin supporters were divided on neutrality so if they come to be the major party in a government after the next election it depends whether their politicians have the courage to chart an Aiken-esque path or keel over and join the imperialists.
With no party championing neutrality and what it can entail it is perhaps not surprising that we have arrived at this sorry state, post-Nice, post-Lisbon, post-’Partnership for Peace’ (sic), post-PESCO. The sad, sad fact is that as Sweden and Finland join NATO there is more than ever the need for a neutral voice or voices to call and work for peaceful resolution of conflicts – as the Irish constitution advocates and stipulates. There is a crying need for the vision of peace, of non-alignment, which Ireland has previously supported, and taking this into the 21st century.
Joining the rich man’s (sic) military club may feel like belonging for many politicians and others but it will be done at great cost, and great opportunity cost. No longer will Ireland be able, even if it wanted to, to offer a critical view of western neo-imperialism, forthcoming EU military manoeuvres, or NATO’s brutal and wrong-headed foreign wars. The motto will be ‘Blessed are the warmakers for they desperately want to be on the winning side, whatever the cost’.
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