Armed actions not helping to end partition, says leading dissident

Former Republican Sinn Féin president believes Brexit has changed political landscape

Armed actions by dissident republicans are no longer helping to end partition but are distracting from traditional republican arguments for a united Ireland which could find support post-Brexit, according to a leading dissident.

Former Republican Sinn Féin president, Des Dalton, said that he did not believe that the current armed actions being carried out by the Continuity IRA and the other groups amounted to "an armed campaign" and he believed they may actually be distracting from debate on ending partition.

Stressing that he was speaking in a personal capacity and was not calling on any group to end its armed campaign, Mr Dalton said that he believed that the political landscape had changed considerably in recent years in Ireland and Britain particularly, because of Brexit.

“I think if you look at the number of armed incidents over the last four to five years and particularly those where somebody has lost their life, as for instance happened with the tragic death of Lyra McKee, it has actually accelerated an agenda which traditional republicans oppose.


"In the case of the death of Lyra McKee, it accelerated the reconvening of Stormont and retrenched the institutions of partition," said Mr Dalton, adding he believed such actions were sporadic and did not constitute an armed campaign which could be justified strategically or morally.

McKee, an award-winnning journalist was fatally wounded when she was shot in a botched gun attack on PSNI officers in the Creggan in Derry in April 2019 by members of the New IRA. The group later apologised for the killing, saying that McKee was not their intended target.

Mr Dalton stressed he supported the republican movement’s right to engage in armed struggle against British rule in Ireland and his view of what should happen now was similar to what happened in 1923 and 1962 when republicans called ceasefires to end the Civil War and the border campaign.

“In both 1923 and 1962, it was just a practical question of what was the best course of action for the republican movement – there was no stepping back from traditional republican principles by either of those republican leaderships, unlike with the Provisional IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997.”

Mr Dalton explained he had been taking part in an online discussion at the University of Liverpool where he was asked about the efficacy of the armed campaign by various republican groupings and he offered his opinion that sporadic armed actions were achieving little.

He said he believed sporadic armed actions distract from the arguments such as those that Republic Sinn Féin made in their Éire Nua document, proposing a federal arrangement in Ireland following a British withdrawal, which he believed could gain purchase in the changing political climate.

“I don’t subscribe to the simplistic idea that Brexit is going to deliver a united Ireland but I do think that there is a changed atmosphere and the issue of partition is back in the mainstream in a way that it hasn’t been in 50 years so there’s an opportunity for traditional republicanism to make its case.”

Political climate

Mr Dalton cited events in Scotland where there was a clear move towards independence and even a change among northern unionists to recognise that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland is up for debate as proof of the changing political climate in Ireland and Britain.

"Even six or seven years ago people like Jeffrey Donaldson were saying that the constitutional question had been settled for a generation but that's been effectively turned on its head within a couple of years and it's very much at the centre of the debate now.

"I remember Peter Robinson at the McGill Summer School in 2018 saying that unionists need to prepare for a border poll and that the possibility of a united Ireland was on the horizon and unionists need to recognise that if only to counter it, that was highly significant."

Mr Dalton said he was not currently active with Republican Sinn Féin due to personal circumstances so he was not in a position to say whether his views or analysis are shared by others in the organisation or the broader dissident republican movement including the Continuity IRA.

“I was asked a direct question at the University of Liverpool project and I gave my views – I haven’t done any straw poll or been discussing it with anyone in Republican Sinn Féin but I certainly would like to think it could be debated in Republican Sinn Féin though I can’t speak for them.

“I’m sure there are people who would disagree very strongly with me and I’m sure there would people who would be more sympathetic and supportive,” said Mr Dalton, adding he similarly had no idea how much support there would be for his analysis in the Continuity IRA and other dissident groups.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times