Two issues in the world of republicanism to be tackled today. Firstly, Sinn Féin Eile held its Ard Fheis at the weekend, whereat Ruairí Ó Brádaigh stood down from the party presidency he has occupied for the past 23 years. Some shit-stirring from the Sunday World notwithstanding, there’s no evidence that Ruairí’s decision wasn’t on the stated grounds of age and health – remember, he’s in his late seventies and hasn’t had the best of health in recent years – and the handover seems to have been amicable. The report in the Irish News indicates the, not merely respect, but the real affection in which Ruairí is held within RSF. His leadership held a small and beleaguered movement together through some very barren times, and that’s not nothing. I expect there will be many tributes in the next issue of Saoirse. And if RSF aren’t already planning a festschrift in his honour, they really should.
The remarkable thing was that there wasn’t a staged succession, but actually a contested election – itself a rarity in republican politics – with neither candidate being called Ó Brádaigh, although both were called Des. This resulted in Des Dalton of Kildare edging out Des Long of Limerick for the presidency. The issue here wouldn’t be ideological – neither man dissents from RSF’s rather fundamentalist trad-republicanism – but generational. Des Long would freely admit that he isn’t in the first flush of youth, and while you could be absolutely sure that party orthodoxy would be safe in his hands, it would have been a bit like Benedict succeeding JP2. The decision of the Ard Fheis to go down a generation and elect the relatively youthful Dalton demonstrates that the party has decided to pick a leader who will be in place for quite some time to come. We await to see what comes from his mission to make RSF politically relevant at grassroots level – squaring practical activism with RSF theology will take some doing.
There’s also a northern interest in the elevation of veteran Ard Chomhairle member, Geraldine Taylor of Poleglass, to vice-president. Geraldine isn’t exactly part of the youth wing either, so this can be seen as a tribute to her many years of stalwart service, and in particular her undoubted ability to annoy the hell out of the Provos.
More details will of course follow, especially in terms of whether or not there are new people coming through into leadership positions. To the extent that RSF have a perspective of moving away from just being a holding operation for traditionalist republicanism, and towards trying to build their movement outwards, there will be some difficult questions to be answered, of the sort that always arise when republicans try to break out of an insular sectism. I expect the Dalton leadership to be cautious, and the man himself has shown absolutely no desire to challenge the various taboos of RSF theology, but those issues implicit in, say, trying to build a local government base can’t be avoided entirely. Nor can the contradiction of the physical force tradition between trying to build a popular movement and simultaneously having an armed conspiracy on the go. Although the party’s core cadre is tightly knit and highly ideological, I have my doubts about some of the young people in the north who are attracted to dissidence.
A further point about dissidence: the arrests linked to the Massereene barracks killings continue. They have by now encompassed rather a lot of individuals belonging to a whole range of organisations or none. Most are being rapidly released without charge. Some of these are political activists who may have a paramilitary past but who, given their profile, would have to be absolutely insane to go around taking part in armed actions. As with the media campaign against éirígí – and I note that the IMC report includes an examination of éirígí, an entirely political group with no armed wing – it’s hard not to conclude that the cops are taking the opportunity to shine a spotlight on republican irreconcilables, and getting their names into the public domain. Back in the Troubles, that sort of thing used to get people killed.
Search of the week: In a reprise of our popular feature of old, I’d like to give a shout out to the Googler who landed on this blog searching for “Scooby Doo on crack”. I always had Shaggy down as more of a psychedelics man…