Radical group seek republican ground lost by Sinn Fein

Mon, Jul 27, 2009, 01:00

Dissidents say Sinn Féin has lost its way and Gerry Adams is losing his republican soul, writes DAN KEENAN

THEY DO not like the term “dissident”, but members of an emerging and distinctive grouping fully admit they dissent from Sinn Féin and what they see as status-quo republicanism.

Perhaps the most distinctive “dissident” organisation, Éirígí disputes Sinn Féin claims that it has a strategy for Irish unity and questions its commitment to radical politics.

Éirígí sees itself as a genuine republican revolutionary organisation, steering itself away from endorsement of violence and denying links with any armed group. It shuns also what it sees as the trap of representative politics Stormont-style. It further denies the oft-repeated claim that it is little more than a split from Sinn Féin over the issue of endorsing the PSNI.

Founded in 2006, the organisation, whose name translates as “Arise”, claims to have followed the organisational precedents set by the Fenians and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. For them there is little point in a broad-based membership if activism is limited to selling ballots and circulating An Phoblacht. Better to have small and committed “circles” of activists committed to clear political themes. “There are no inactive revolutionaries,” says one.

That’s why recruits to the movement must serve out a probationary period, to prove revolutionary credentials, before being fully accepted.

Brian Leeson, Éirígí national chairman, claims that since the Belfast Agreement there has been “a massive realignment within Irish republicanism”.

“In real terms this means that thousands of republican activists have transferred their allegiance from Sinn Féin to other republican organisations, such as Éirígí. A proven track record of political campaigning, combined with an unambiguous socialist republican platform, has enabled Éirígí to attract large numbers of existing left-wing republicans.

“In addition a new generation of activists, who are attracted by Éirígí’s message of revolutionary national and socio-economic change, is now emerging. Éirígí’s decision to directly challenge the establishment parties within the electoral arena has further boosted our credibility as a coming political force.” The organisation believes Sinn Féin’s rush towards the nationalist centre ground may have drawn in former SDLP voters, but the shift is costing Gerry Adams his republican soul.

Éirígí sources, speaking to The Irish Times in the wake of the Ardoyne riots, claim there is a new furrow to be ploughed in the territory between violence and Stormont constitutional politics.

The Ardoyne riots flowed from Sinn Féin failures, they say. There was a failure to halt unwanted Orange parades in the nationalist enclave and an equally flawed failure to condemn the police handling of a legitimate counter-protest by residents.

The resulting violence has shone a harsh light on Sinn Féin, they say. Éirígí cite Gerry Kelly’s blaming of “outsiders” for street violence, support for the police and failure to halt Orange Order marches in nationalist areas.

“A small number of Éirígí activists were in Ardoyne on July 13th to support a peaceful community protest against unwanted sectarian marches,” says Leeson. “When the PSNI forcibly prevented that protest from taking place some young people reacted in a predictable and undesirable manner. No Éirígí activists were involved in the rioting that followed. The blame for the riots in Ardoyne lies squarely with the Orange Order, for marching without the consent of the local community, and the PSNI for suppressing the right of the people of Ardoyne to peacefully oppose that march.”

He adds that “the indiscriminate use of lethal plastic bullets by the PSNI was a particularly vicious and deplorable action which only exacerbated the situation”.

Éirígí is scathing of Sinn Féin claims that it was involved in the Ardoyne trouble. “These accusations are designed to divert attention away from Sinn Féin’s support for the PSNI and their use of plastic bullets,” says Leeson.

He goes further: “When the policing board cleared the PSNI to theoretically use plastic bullets in June 2005, Gerry Kelly attacked the ‘ineffectiveness’ of the SDLP. Four years later, with Sinn Féin now on the policing boards, plastic bullets are actually being fired.

“Instead of challenging the PSNI’s use of plastic bullets, Gerry Kelly has instead chosen to sling mud at republicans. Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP should recognise their combined ineffectiveness and withdraw from the Policing Board immediately.”

Éirígí members know, of course, that opposition from the sideline is easy and that theirs is not the first attempt at a radical, left-wing republican movement.

They are not yet registered in the North as a political party and their first tilt at an election may yet be some way off. They say it is better to get it right than get it soon.