The dissident run at Stormont

Having just written about Grizzly’s Amazing Disappearing Assembly Party, the obvious corollary is to take a brief look at the dissident slate, under the rubric of “Concerned Republicans”, unveiled in Toome last weekend. This is an offshoot of the dissident roadshow on policing, which has been getting sizeable audiences in a number of areas despite its progenitors – the Irps and the Real Republicans – being political tendencies that aren’t terribly popular or, it has to be said, coherent. But, given the substantial audience for dissidence implied by turnout at the roadshow and by the recent BBC Hearts And Minds poll, the proposal to run candidates against the Provos in thirteen of the eighteen constituencies gives us the best chance yet to look at both the potential and the weaknesses of the republican opposition.

There are serious practical difficulties in the face of any dissident slate – even leaving aside the likelihood of Provo dirty tricks and intimidation, many dissident supporters aren’t even on the electoral register, having taken their names off so as to avoid being impersonated. Furthermore, Republican Sinn Féin – the most substantial dissident tendency by some distance – has not only taken a stance of boycott for itself, but would not endorse any candidates who aren’t abstentionist. I think, though I’m not sure, that the Real Republicans are abstentionist towards Stormont, although the Irps and the recent ex-Provos aren’t. Given the improbability of any dissidents actually being elected, that argument may seem a little theological, but hey, that’s RSF for you.

I am also slightly disquieted by one or two of the candidates who are emerging. In particular I would mention Gerry McGeough, the voice of Catholic reaction, in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. McGeough may have a sterling record as a republican, but his rancid ultra-right Ailtirí na hAséirghe politics do constitute something of a liability for any progressive political project. I am even less impressed by the suggestion being mooted that the dissidents might endorse Eamonn McCann in Foyle. I would urge them to take a hard look at Eamonn’s programme before making a decision, and consider whether there would be the faintest possibility of them endorsing an SWP/SEA candidate other than Eamonn.

I don’t expect the dissident slate to do much business at the polls, although a reasonably substantial vote would at least lay down a marker as to the size of the audience for an alternative to the GFA/St Andrew’s process. The question is, what to do next? I think the obvious step would be to start on a process of political clarification. It would mean a serious and ongoing discussion of political alternatives to the peace process, without preconditions and without firm stances on issues like abstentionism and armed struggle being laid down in advance. Practically then, a series of open meetings in various parts of the country, along the lines of the policing roadshow perhaps, plus a forum where ideas could be thrashed out – maybe Fourthwrite would be suitable, or maybe a dedicated print or online forum – and extensive informal discussions to supplement the public side. The aim should be to develop some kind of political programme and practical plan of action that could make national liberation and socialism relevant in the current context.

I’m not putting forward any detailed ideas for what that programme or action plan might look like. But I am absolutely certain that a negative opposition to Gerry’s multiple capitulations, while it will get a hearing, is not sufficient to build on. Opponents of the GFA process are going to have to decide at some point what they stand for, put forward an attractive alternative, and try to win support for it.

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