Alternative strategies

Liam O'Ruairc loruairc at
Mon Feb 4 08:20:13 MST 2002


The leadership of the Provisional Republican Movement argues that its 
current strategy represents a decisive “new phase of the struggle” and not 
an abysmal strategic failure. What it presents as a “new phase of the 
struggle” is in fact what the British government has proposed as an 
alternative to Republicanism since 1973-74. Those currently leading the 
Provisional movement rejected that alternative then, but accept it today 
without explaining what has changed in the meantime to make it acceptable 
now. To make things worse, in many ways Sunningdale was a better offer than 
the so-called “Good Friday Agreement”: this makes all the suffering and 
sacrifices made after 1973/74 appear to have been in vain. Those who defend 
the present strategy of the Provisionals would reply that it is very easy to 
criticise it, but there were/are simply no alternatives to this “new phase 
of the struggle”.

However, at least four alternative strategies, none based on the use of 
physical force, could have been worked out. Different elements from the 
different scenarios could also have been combined. All four strategies are 
sufficiently realistic for not being wishful thinking and being excluded out 
of hand. All could have had varying reasonable chances of working on the 
basis of the balance of forces as it has existed since 1997. Even from a 
most conservative and pessimistic logic, it is possible to argue that there 
were alternatives. The first alternative would have been for Republicans to 
put joint authority as their minimum demand: better half a loaf than no 
bread at all. Joint authority is preferable to a return to Stormont. Given 
the recurrent instability of the Northern Ireland institutions, the British 
and Irish governments would seriously consider joint authority as an option. 
The second alternative strategy would have been for Republicans to argue 
that  since Northern Ireland is an artificial entity and works on the 
Unionist consent, why couldn’t it also work on Nationalist and Republican 
consent, with the possibility of counties with a Nationalist/Republican 
majority seceding after periodic polls ? The three or four seceding counties 
would form a strong pressure group in the South pushing for more radical 
action, and a Northern Ireland with counties seceding would be increasingly 
chaotic and unworkable and its days would soon be counted. This second 
strategy is perhaps less plausible than the first, but it nevertheless a 
possible alternative. A third strategy would have been for Republicans to 
argue that since Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the  future 
of Northern Ireland will not to be determined by the people of Northern 
Ireland alone, but by the population of the UK as a whole through a 
referendum. Given that a majority of the population of the UK favours 
British withdrawal, the problem of the Unionist veto is resolved. The  
fourth strategy would have been for Republicans to concentrate on the task 
of building a radical opposition movement North and South aiming at a  
re-organisation of society in the interest of the most marginalised; instead 
of going into government in Stormont and trying to be more SDLP than the 
SDLP. The Provisional Republican Movement would have been able to challenge 
the status-quo by other means instead of integrating the institutions it 
once tied destroy.

Had any of these strategies been tried, there are good grounds to think that 
the situation today would have been different. From a radical Republican 
perspective, the fourth strategy would have been the most appealing –and it 
could have been a highly realistic one. The Provisional Republican Movement 
would have lost the war, but never sold out. It would have been 
uncompromising, standing by its principles, and trying to define a radical 
way ahead. Since it wouldn’t be in government, the problems associated with 
the issue of decommissioning would have been avoided. Provisional 
Republicans would have never administered British rule in Ireland, or 
implemented policies such as hospital closure or PFI in education. Also, 
more importantly, most of the divisions and splits that have weakened Irish 
Republicanism since would have had less chances to happen, and the 
Provisionals could have gone ahead as unified movement. Today, the task 
ahead is to create a space within Irish Republicanism and progressive 
currents where different alternative strategies can be worked out; so that 
never again they will be faced with the argument that “there are no 

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