Stop the military campaign! An open letter to Gerry Adams
Socialist Organiser 334, 12 November 1987
You have said publicly that you deeply regret the slaughter and havoc caused by the Provisional IRA bomb in Enniskillen last Sunday.
I'm sure you do. Not only have you slaughtered and maimed innocent Irish people attending a religious service, you have also dealt a grievous blow to the cause you want to serve - Irish unity.
Before the Provisional IRA admitted responsibility, there were grounds for suspecting that the bomb might have been the work of your enemies, the British state. That's the measure of the discredit you have brought on yourselves, and, inevitably, on your avowed cause.
Nor will it do much good with decent people in Ireland or Britain to express regret and sorrow. You offer the explanation - in fact, the excuse - that the British Army accidentally set off the bomb your movement planted, which you intended to explode when members of the military were passing.
Even if that is true, it hardly exculpates you. Even if the bomb had exploded accordingly to your schedule, there must have been a very big chance that it would have killed civilians too. Every thinking person in Ireland and Britain will know that.
They will find your excuses hypocritical and obscene.
"The politics of the last atrocity" rules in Ireland - the pendulum swings against whichever side - yours, or the British and Unionist - has done the latest exceptionally horrible deed. But there are deeds that stand out and are long remembered. I suspect that this will be one of them.
You don't have to be religious to find it peculiarly horrible and unpardonable to explode a murderous bomb in a crowd of Protestants holding a religious service in memory of the Protestant and Catholic dead of the two Great Wars. It is also, and you must in some part of your mind know it, Mr Adams, an act which is in flat and absolute contradiction to the root idea of Republicanism - the equality of the different segments of the Irish people, "Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter", to use Wolfe Tone's phrase.
It was a grossly and explicitly sectarian act. Mr Adams, neither you nor the movement you speak for takes seriously the sentiment expressed in the declaration of the Republic read out by Patrick Pearse at the Dublin Post Office on Easter Monday 1916, the commitment to "treat all the children of the nation equally". You talk vaguely about socialism, but you function as Catholic sectarians.
You have neither acknowledged nor apologised for the Catholic sectarian side of Sunday's massacre - though that is the side of it which will be most in the minds of Ireland's Protestant community, and especially of Protestants in areas of Northern Ireland where Catholics are in the majority, as they are in Fermanagh.
I wrote above of your "avowed" cause because what this carnage brings out most clearly of all is how sharply what you do contradicts what you want to achieve. The constitutional nationalist John Hume was right to describe the Enniskillen slaughter as a "sectarian provocation". You say you want a united Ireland - and you commit a sectarian atrocity like this against the community without whose consent there will never be a united Ireland!
Whatever you want to do or think you do, Mr Adams, your movement does not work for a united Ireland. The entire logic of your military campaign points not towards a united Ireland but towards bloody repartition by way of sectarian civil war - a war made up of such acts as Enniskillen.
Even if you gain your immediate objective, British withdrawal, through your military campaign, that will only be the first step towards the tragedy of sectarian civil war - out of which can only come repartition.
Irish nationalists like Eamonn De Valera abjured violence against the Protestants m a means of uniting Ireland because they knew it could not work. They knew that the most it could achieve would be to shift the border east and north, incorporating some of the Six Counties territory, into the Republic. The 16 year long war which your movement has waged proves that they were right on that.
What was wrong about their approach was their social and political programme, not the lack of gunfire.
Doing what is necessary to defend Catholic communities in Northern Ireland against attacks by Orange bigots or British forces is one thing. Trying to unite Ireland by guerrilla war against the British Army - and hi fact, against the Northern Irish Protestant community - is another.
It is a war you cannot win. It is a misconceived war. Its objective - Irish unity - cannot be won by war. It can only be won if the consent of the Irish minority is won.
Your war is premised on a number of radical misunderstandings and self-hypnotising ideological lies.
It is not "British imperialism" that keeps Ireland divided. Fundamentally, it is the refusal of the Protestant Unionist Irish minority, who are the majority in north-east Ulster to accept the status of a permanent minority in a Catholic state.
If Britain withdraws without a political settlement - that is, before the Catholic and Protestant sections of the people of Northern Ireland and of Ireland as a whole have worked out a modus vivendi, a way of living together - then what will follow will not be self-determination for the people of Ireland as a whole, but Protestant self-determination.
Deprived of the British state, which they see m their own, they will not submit to Catholic rule. The Protestants will assert their own identity and work for their own self-determination against the Catholic majority. And they have the strength to achieve it.
What will inevitably follow from that is Catholic-Protestant civil war.
The Catholics could not win that war: they are a minority in Northern Ireland, and the people of the South will not rally to a Catholic crusade to crush the compact and well-armed Protestant community. No Wolfe Tone Republican would want the Catholics to win, because if they did win, the united Ireland that would result would have one million Protestants at least as alienated and hostile as are the half-million Catholics imprisoned by Partition against their will within the Six Counties state. But the Catholics would not win, and sectarian civil war - after much slaughter on both sides, of the sort we see now in Sri Lanka would lead to a new partition.
These are the fundamental realities of Irish political life, Mr Adams. For at least 100 years Irish political life has been dominated by the contradiction between the Irish majority's demand for unity and its demand for independence. The resistance of the minority - aided, for reasons which have varied over the years, by the British ruling class - has made it impossible to have both independence and unity even after the initial British resistance, for imperial military reasons, to any form of Irish independence, had vanished, as it did decades ago. The barrier to Irish unity lies within Ireland, Mr Adams.
The Northern Ireland unit is undemocratic and unviable and Ireland should be united. But Ireland will be united by a political movement which has a programme capable of uniting its communities - and, in the first place, the workers of the two communities.
An effective Republican movement should be fighting sectarianism in all forms, advocating a federal united Ireland with regional autonomy for the Protestant-majority area, and striving to unite workers in struggles for jobs, wages and conditions. It should ruthlessly reject all green nationalist rhetoric and all provocative actions that divide workers.
We cannot unite Ireland without uniting Irish people. James Connolly was right when he wrote: "Ireland without her people means nothing to me".
The last way to break down the barriers to Irish unity is by way of a military campaign. Your military campaign - conceived and justified as a campaign against British imperialism and its local agents - has raised and strengthened those barriers massively.
Yours is a war waged in the name of the Irish people, but actually based only on the Six Counties Catholic minority - and even on a minority of that minority: Your support in the rest of Ireland is miniscule. In a 26 Counties poll last week, 44% believed that your people should be extradited to stand trial in Northern Ireland, as against 34% who thought they should not.
Your chances of winning over the Northern Ireland majority are nil. In fact you don't try. Everything your movement has done over the years is proof that you have no interest in trying. You based yourselves on one community only, in both your political aims - a unitary Irish state, which would inevitably be Catholic-dominated - and your methods - a guerrilla war against the British state and against the Protestant community.
Against the Protestant community? Yes, Mr Adams, there is no other way to describe it, whether we are talking about what happened in Enniskillen or about the killing of Protestant workers earlier this year after they had been labelled as "military targets" for doing jobs somehow related to maintaining the army or police.
The slaughter of the innocents in Enniskillen will convince many of Sinn Fein's erstwhile supporters that the Provisional IRA's war has landed your movement - and all of Northern Ireland's society - in a bloody dead-end. It should convince the socialists within Sinn Fein that the military campaign needs to be called off now.
No good can come of this campaign. There is nothing revolutionary about militarism-on-principle. Even if this campaign should succeed in forcing the British to withdraw - and it won't do that - then it will not unite Ireland, but bloodily redivide it... forever.
Enough is enough!
John O'Mahony, Editor, Socialist Organiser.