[Marxism] Irish Republicanism and Postmodern Pluralism Article

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at hotmail.com
Tue May 17 08:25:43 MDT 2005


Hi,

The following is an excellent article form *Capital and Class* journal, no. 
71, Summer 2000. It addresses the serious shortcomings of postmodern 
'identity' based analysis of social conflicts particularly as applied to 
that in the north of Ireland. Postmodern conflict resolution theory, and its 
political practise as consociationalism, is by now heavily institutionalised 
in most of the pertinent areas of Irish academia and political life and, 
partly through the discursive mechanisms thereof, in much popular political 
consciousness.




IRISH REPUBLICANISM AND THE POTENTIAL PITFALLS OF PLURALISM by Mark McGovern

This article examines the relationship between the discursive character of 
Irish republican ideology, the ‘pluralist’ and ‘two tradition’ perspective 
that underpins the latter. It suggests that mainstream contemporary 
Republican thought is the product of changing material conditions, 
externally generated ideological forces and an inherited spectrum of 
political ideas. These ideas range from the radical and universalist to the 
ethnically centred and particularist. The paper further argues that it is a 
communalist rather than a class-based and universalist agenda within 
republicanism that tends to be promoted by the institutions established 
under the Belfast Agreement. It is in the contestation of this trend that 
the future potential of a positive, dynamic and radical republican politics 
will



INTRODUCTION

Republicanism, Pluralism and the Peace Protest

The Belfast Agreement, signed in April 1998 and overwhelmingly validated by 
simultaneous referenda both North and South of the border, signalled the end 
of a particular phase in the long-term dispute over the constitutional 
arrangements by which Ireland is governed. As such it marked a critical 
moment in modern Irish history; although whether or not it proves to be the 
starting point for a lasting settlement remains to be seen. The Agreement 
was also a political compromise of the principles of all those involved, 
though perhaps some had to go further (and with less acknowledgement) than 
others. As one of the main party’s involved in the talks process, Sinn Fein 
represented the dominant voice of modern day Irish republicanism.1 Through 
much of the Process the message of the party leadership to the republican 
grassroots tended to be almost self-consciously upbeat. For example, in the 
week that saw the setting up of the power-sharing executive in December 1999 
a correspondent for Sinn Fein’s newspaper An Phoblacht
(AP/RN) argued that ‘it was a good time to be a republican’ (AP/RN, 2/12/99: 
17). Whilst the previous five years of political machinations had been 
‘confusing’, it was argued, this was so because ‘that’s winning for you’. 
Yet the debate within republicanism over the trajectory of the Process was 
often both fraught and vociferous. The President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, 
himself recognised that the Agreement had been a ‘wide rubicon’ for the 
party to cross (AP/RN, 18/11/99: 8). For at least one republican critic the 
peace strategy had led the Sinn Fein leadership ‘to launch an unprecedented 
assault on the belief system of the republican base’ (Observer on Sunday, 
4/7/99). For the same commentator the acceptance of the principle of 
decommissioning was sufficient to call into question the whole reason for 
having conducted the war in the first place. Certainly the party’s support 
for the deal involved them accepting, however reluctantly, conditions which, 
it could be argued, go against the very grain of the republican tradition 
itself. Sinn Fein suggest that the Agreement will lead to a period of 
‘transition’ for an end to partition and a realisation of republican aims. 
This may or may not prove to be true. But, whatever progressive dynamic has 
been built into cross border bodies and institutions and the significant 
inroads made in terms of the equality agenda for northern nationalists, Sinn 
Fein signed up to a partitionist assembly, and acknowledged that the future 
re-unification of the national territory required, under the terms of the 
Agreement, the explicitly expressed consent of a majority of the population 
of the six counties (O’Leary, 1999). There are clear and understandable 
reasons for Sinn Fein’s position. The social, political and indeed military 
circumstances within which the party was working were hardly those of their 
own choosing. The changing nature of Ireland’s economy, and the class 
re-alignments brought in its wake, impacted in a range of ways upon the 
attempt by Sinn Fein to move beyond the confines of its traditional base; 
the northern catholic working class (Shirlow, 1997). Similarly, the whole 
approach of the party to the business of making peace since the mid-1980s 
needs to be seen against the backdrop of British counter-insurgency 
strategies which had been designed to isolate and marginalise both the 
movement and the community from which it stems
(McIntyre, 1995, Tomlinson, 1993). Allied to this, a sense of increasing 
unease with the continuation of the conflict was undoubtedly taking shape 
within their own constituency ensuring that Sinn Fein, from the late-1980s 
onward, more and more felt the need to develop a ‘peace agenda’ (McGovern 
and Shirlow, 1998). The implicit recognition that republican goals were less 
likely to be achieved by a continuation of armed struggle than by other 
means led the IRA to ‘cash in their chips’ and support Sinn Fein’s emerging 
unarmed strategy (Rolston, 1994). Modern Irish republicanism has itself 
been, in other words, through a period of profound transition. The adoption 
of their ‘peace strategy’ brought with it both new possibilities and new 
problems. The strategy was premised on the party combining with other 
anti-partitionist political forces in what was to become known as the 
‘pan-nationalist consensus’ (Bean, 1995, Hayes, 1998; McGovern, 1997). The 
Dublin government, the SDLP and the pro-unification lobby in the USA were 
all identified as new possible sources of complimentary political leverage 
in the ‘battle for fresh allies’. In addition, the British government was 
increasingly called upon to ‘join the ranks of the persuaders’ and to 
recognise that its historic involvement in Ireland had created with it a 
‘responsibility’ to bring about a lasting constitutional settlement; which 
for republicans meant rejecting its pro-unionist stance. Inevitably the 
adoption of this strategy brought with it a very significant reworking of 
Sinn Fein’s overall political outlook. The party was basing future progress 
toward its goals upon its ability to influence matters through a very 
particular model of conflict management and resolution that it helped shape, 
but by no means controlled. As a consequence the party began to shift its 
perspectives in line with this paradigm of conflict management, and the 
essentially liberal bourgeois model of democracy and society upon which it 
is based. It is the central contention of this paper that this fundamental 
shift has profound implications for the politics of modern republicanism in 
a whole range of ways and represents the terrain upon which the future 
trajectory of republicanism as a political project will be fought. In 
particular, long-term tensions within republican ideology itself, between a 
left orientated, radical and universalist agenda and that of an 
ethnically-centred, particularist frame of thinking are being tilted in 
favour of the latter by a peace process predicated on a view of society best 
defined as both pluralist and postmodern. Although conceptualised and 
explained somewhat differently, such tensions within Republicanism were 
alluded to by a number of contributors to the Capital & Class special issue 
on Northern Ireland published in Autumn 1999. For Colin Coulter the 
‘incessant dialogue between class consciousness and ethno-national 
orientation’ almost invariably left the latter with ‘the last word’ 
(Coulter, 1999). O’Hearn et al., argued that what they defined as 
‘conservatising’ and ‘radical’ impulses within Sinn Fein were key forces 
directing previous and future policy initiatives within the party (O’Hearn 
et al, 1999). In the latter case the impact of strategic and contingent 
concerns on intra party debates provided a central focus. Whilst in no way 
seeking to discount the importance of such factors this paper will rather 
lay emphasis upon the influence of a wider framework of external and 
specifically ideological forces which have shaped the form and tenor of such 
debates in recent years. From this perspective an understanding of the 
possible routes along which Irish republicanism might go in the future 
necessitate a consideration of how the postmodern politics of identity have 
impacted upon intellectual debate and the peace process in Northern Ireland 
through the promotion of ‘multi culturalism’ and the concept of the ‘two 
traditions’.

THE ‘TWO TRADITIONS’

1: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Postmodern in Northern Ireland 
Multiculturalism has ‘colonised discourse on Northern Ireland’ (Rolston, 
1998: 253). In essence multiculturalism calls for the celebration of 
difference within society as various (usually ethnically constituted) 
identities are seen as equally valid, culturally-constituted moments of 
irreducible social difference. Originally the product of liberal responses 
to the politics of ethnic mobilisation in the US and Britain in the 1960s 
and
1970s, multiculturalism represents itself as the embodiment of social and 
political equality. Its Northern Irish variant is the model of the ‘two 
traditions’. The two traditions paradigm suggests that the Northern Ireland 
conflict has been the product of two hostile and mutually exclusive ethnic 
identities, Irish Catholic Nationalism and Ulster Protestant Unionism. This 
approach to Northern Ireland, as essentially a site of ‘ethnic conflict’, 
has increasingly come to dominate academic as well as political debates on 
the root causes of political violence, particularly during the 1990s. It is 
a dominant model of academic explanation that should also be seen in its 
social and political context, the product of a specialist intelligentsia 
operating in a very specific material context where a premium has been 
increasingly placed upon rejecting critical and colonial analyses (McVeigh, 
1995; Miller, 1998; O’Dowd, 1996). For example, Desmond Bell has argued that 
the growth of critical interest in questions of identity and difference has 
characterised much intellectual debate in the
1980s and 1990s in Ireland as elsewhere. In turn this has helped foster a 
government-led ‘search for multicultural consensus’ in the North in which 
the ‘motif of culture as redemptive and as an instrument of reconciliation 
has become a key one in the pluralistic approach’ (Bell, 1993: 144). The 
‘two traditions’ perspective has undoubtedly provided the basis for 
implementing policy in a variety of spheres. State centred strategies of 
multiculturalism have been highly evident in the implementation of 
educational and social initiatives through such organisations as the 
Cultural Traditions Group, (a sub-group of the Community Relations Council 
since 1990), whose remit is to ‘encourage a tolerance of diversity amongst 
the communities in Northern Ireland’ (NICRC, in Rolston, 1998: 256). Such 
policy initiatives have also helped define the wider social environment in 
which the politics of the peace process would ultimately take shape. Often 
engendered by liberal social and political perspectives, the contemporary 
rationale of multiculturalism also closely parallels postmodernist 
sociological thought. Whilst it is difficult to make generalisations of a 
body of ideas that is itself highly disparate, postmodernist discourse is 
primarily concerned with notions of ‘identity, marginality, locality, 
difference, otherness, diversity and desire’ (Eagleton, 1998: 326). It 
posits a conception of society in which universalising concepts have been 
discredited as ‘Eurocentric’ and ‘essentialist’ and in which cultural 
pluralism is the corollary of a world characterised by fragmentation. The 
stress in postmodernist thought is therefore placed upon the multiplicity of 
social identities. In itself, of course, this is not necessarily a bad 
thing. However, it often leads to a cultural relativism in which all 
identities are stripped of their social content and treated as 
‘self-validating and mutually incommensurable’ (Eagleton, 1996: 124). 
Indeterminacy, invariably celebrated within postmodernist discourse, leads 
to an inability to distinguish between those identities that might be 
conducive or antithetical to key democratic imperatives. The lack of a 
universalising element prevents a clear under standing of social relations, 
ultimately resulting in a ‘questioning of equality itself’ and precluding 
the emergence of a transformative political project (Malik, 1996: 16). In 
contrast a modernist paradigm focuses upon ‘rights, justice, oppression, 
solidarity, universality, exploitation [and] emancipation’ (Eagleton, 1998: 
326). Such notions necessitate a universalist perspective in which it is 
possible to conceive of shared interests and identities capable of 
underpinning the pursuit of human self-determination. Material social and 
economic conditions are such that they insinuate the need for solidarity 
beyond the smallness of ethnic and other identity based distinctions for the 
realisation of desirable (and universally grounded) principles, such as 
equality. Critics of liberal multiculturalism have also emphasised its 
relationship to the rise of global capitalism that homogenises global 
culture at the same moment it insinuates a fragmentation of the social and 
creates a growing emphasis on the local. Indeed, multiculturalism has been 
described (after Fredric Jameson) as the ‘cultural logic of multinational 
capitalism’
(Jameson, 1991; Zizek, 1997). In addition, in its celebration of irreducible 
difference, postmodernism has been castigated for replicating the very 
categories of racist ideological thought that it is intended to supersede. 
It is in this sense too, that postmodern thought has been denounced as the 
inheritor of romanticism’s tarnished mantle (Eagleton, 1999). Postmodern 
pluralism presents an apparent challenge to the powerful, but is ultimately 
complicit in the domination of capitalism’s contemporary form. There can be 
little doubt that postmodernist perspectives have come to play an 
increasingly central role in debates around the conflict in Northern 
Ireland. Indeed ‘two traditions’ multiculturalism has been openly identified 
by some academic analysts not only as Northern Ireland’s version of post 
modernist pluralism but one which offers the best strategy of conflict 
resolution. Thus Cathal McCall recently described the Cultural Traditions 
Group as a body designed to ‘induce self reflexivity’ that provides ‘a 
useful postmodernist deconstructivist critique of the cultural resource’ of 
nationalism and unionism (McCall, 1998). Significantly, McCall identified a 
benignly defined ‘postmodern’ European Union, with its prospect of 
‘multilevel governance’ and ‘supranational citizenship’ as the arena within 
which the identity differences of Northern Ireland could be sublimated and 
reconciled. Such an approach is typical of the ‘Postnationalist’ agenda 
celebrated in the Irish political world by John Hume (along with virtually 
all the leading voices of the south’s political establishments) and in the 
academic world by, for example, the philosopher and cultural theorist 
Richard Kearney. Kearney has been a key exponent of recent European 
postmodern philosophical trends and played a critical role in their 
introduction into Irish intellectual debates. He has also been a keen 
advocate of a ‘Europe of regions’, a reconstituted European Union as the 
structural formation within which localism and cosmopolitanism could be 
positively intertwined. Similarly Kearney has suggested that the resolution 
of the North’s problematic relationships would be best tackled within a new 
‘dissensus’, a conception of pluralism framed by a ‘postmodern hermeneutic 
of indeterminate judgement’ that would therefore recognise ‘certain 
differends (conflicts of incompatible but equally valid interests) which 
cannot be resolved’. Significantly (and somewhat ironically) Kearney has 
also sought to combine this indeterminate postmodernist perspective with 
what he suggests is the ‘authentic legacy of republicanism’, a liberal 
interpretation of the universal principles of the enlightenment (Kearney, 
1997). This viewpoint exemplifies the aspirations of large sections of 
Ireland’s intelligentsia and bourgeoisie, north and south of the border, 
whose interests are increasingly closely linked with the island’s 
integration into the European Union and the global capitalist economy. 
Kearney’s culturalism is the high browed face of the Celtic tiger. Couched 
in the language of ‘postmodern resistance’ and liberal egalitarianism, the 
celebration of the structural mechanisms of transnational capital as 
supposedly empowering and progressive is a manifestation of Terry Eagleton’s 
critique of postmodernism as ‘politically oppositional but economically 
complicit’ (Eagleton, 1996: 124). In similar vein the cultural relativism of 
this outlook, as an intellectual underpinning of ‘two traditions’ pluralism, 
wedded to the conception of such principles as justice within an 
‘indeterminate’ framework, ensure that, whilst it can voice demands for 
identity recognition, it offers no meaningful critique of the material 
context of competing identity claims. In the ‘battle of ideas’ for the 
meaning of modern republicanism Kearney and others are essentially arguing 
that its ‘postnationalist’ mode should be one in which questions of power, 
oppression, and other such troublesome modernist concepts are subsumed in a 
morass of cultural ambivalence masquerading as equality. The best future for 
Northern Ireland is therefore one in which pluralism is enshrined within 
governmental structures, and civil society is shaped by the cultural 
expression of ‘varieties of Irishness’ (Kearney, 1997: 89-91). Such thinking 
shadows the logic of the peace process and the Belfast agreement.

2: Consociationalism, Pluralism and the Peace Process

In the wake of the Belfast Agreement disagreements have been primarily 
focused upon those measures dealing with issues that arose as a consequence 
of the conflict, including the release of paramilitary prisoners, the 
decommissioning of weapons and reform of policing. These, whilst of great 
importance (particularly to those communities most directly affected 
throughout the last three decades) are not, however, the cornerstone of the 
political settlement itself. This is rooted in the new structures of 
government the Agreement is designed to implement. The Belfast Agreement has 
been described as a consociational settlement with a ‘bi-national’ dimension 
(O’Leary, 1999). The model of consociational democracy was developed as a 
means of governing what were defined as segmented societies through four 
inter-related elements (Lipjhart, 1977). First, the creation of a 
power-sharing coalition. Second, establishing segmented autonomy. Third, 
instituting the ‘principle of proportionality’ and fourth, that a 
‘concurring majority principle’ should guide decision-making processes 
(McGarry and O’Leary, 1993). Consociationalism is premised upon the idea 
that conflict resolution can be achieved by the management of differences 
that are seen, at best, as transitional and must, in any case, be recognised 
and given institutional form within a framework of pluralist governance. 
Supporters of such a strategy of conflict management argue that this is 
designed to avoid the ‘compulsory integration of peoples’ and that critics 
who suggest that such arrangements institutionalise sectarianism are either 
utopian, myopic, partisan or a combination of all three (O’Leary, 1999). 
Certainly the Belfast Agreement would seem to accord with consociational 
criteria. It allowed for the establishment of a devolved assembly and 
government for Northern Ireland in which the principles of power-sharing and 
proportionality are intrinsic elements both in terms of representation and 
executive decision-making. The concept of ‘parity of esteem’ is also 
supposed to be applied in a range of ways to ensure an element of ‘equality 
in cultural life’ and a bolstering of minority rights. The ‘bi-national’ (or 
what is sometimes erroneously considered to be the ‘post-national’) 
dimension of the Agreement is seen to be reflected in the greater degree of 
co-operation and coordination it allows for between Belfast and Dublin, 
alongside a re-negotiation of the British-Irish relationship. The logic of 
economic and political co-operation evident in the processes of greater 
European integration have undoubtedly informed these developments and such 
changes parallel the implementation of transnational structural change in 
line with global economic developments. Taken together, these elements would 
clearly indicate that consociationalism lies at the heart of the Agreement. 
Consociationalism, it has been argued, is framed by a modernist liberal 
consciousness. However, the distinction between liberal conceptions of 
ethnic differentiation and postmodern thinking on ethnic pluralism has 
become increasingly blurred. Certainly in the Northern Ireland context the 
consociational dimensions of the Belfast agreement are viewed as the means 
to secure identities and thereby make them potentially permeable in the 
longer term, to foster the possibility of ‘mutually enriching traditions’ by 
denying the prospect of ‘forced assimilation’. The ability for such a 
strategy to deliver its desired ends might, however, be questioned. The 
principles of ‘power-sharing’ and ‘parity of esteem’ are premised on the 
idea that parties are communal representatives. When elected to the assembly 
parties are required to declare themselves as being representative of one or 
other of the ‘two communities’, though, it should be noted, it is also 
possible for parties to declare themselves for neither. Given the nature of 
the system, however, and the ‘zerosum’ context of Northern Ireland politics 
that it seeks to operate through rather than deconstruct, it could be argued 
that it will encourage parties to maximise their political clout by adopting 
an overtly communalist perspective to the process of political negotiation 
and horse-trading that this model of government encourages. The Agreement 
was the logical outcome of a talks process that, throughout, placed the 
differentiation of ethnically defined communities at the centre of the 
political arena, on the grounds that this was realpolitik recognition of the 
status quo. In an essentially managerial approach, communal political elites 
were encouraged to arrive at a rapprochement that did not so much dismantle 
such divisions as re-negotiate their meaning. Indeed, the peace process 
strategy was one that placed great emphasis upon the politics of identity 
and the realm of culture and language as the context within which the 
apparently irreconcilable could be rendered non-conflictual. Such 
culturalism reflects an anti-materialist mindset that is also a hallmark of 
postmodern politics. In other words the logic of the ‘two traditions’ lay at 
the heart of the peace process, framed the Belfast Agreement and operated in 
tandem with a wider social environment that had in turn been conditioned by 
the promotion of ethnic pluralism both through the implementation of 
specific social policies and the general tenor of intellectual debates. 
Consociationalism and postmodern pluralism thus emerged as ‘mutually 
supportive’ processes
(Wilford, 1992: 45). The theoretical contradictions of a postmodern 
pluralism that is supposed to deconstruct ethnic differentiation but which 
essentially rarefies and reproduces such categories have therefore been 
replicated in the practice of the peace process and the Belfast Agreement. 
It is in this sense that the Agreement has been criticised for ultimately 
institutionalising sectarianism, ensuring that in the formal political 
sphere at least, the possibility of developing a politics that supersedes 
such ‘ethnic’ divisiveness is made less, not more likely (McCann, 1993; 
McGovern, 1997). The intensification of sectarian tension that has 
paralleled the peace process throughout, and which has been most clearly 
evident in the confrontations and civil unrest that have surrounded 
contentious Orange parades in general, and that of Drumcree in particular in 
recent summers, might therefore be viewed as a consequence, rather than a 
contradiction, of the process. The politics of the peace process were 
therefore designed to reconceive sectarian division as ethnic difference. 
This helped shape one of the abiding characteristics of the talks process, 
the dual voices of interpretation that emerged from British and Irish 
government officials that greeted each and every new development. Such 
appeals were invariably made through the logic, signs and symbols of 
pre-existing political perspectives to what were always regarded as two 
distinct constituencies. In similar vein, the process therefore sought to 
re-constitute those political perspectives by adapting their internal 
character in a very particular way. To understand how this has impacted upon 
the politics of Sinn Fein, and why it did so by amplifying the very aspects 
of republicanism that might be considered most antithetical to a politics of 
transformation, it is necessary to examine how modern Irish republicanism 
has become what it is today.

MODERN IRISH REPUBLICANISM

1: The State and Sectarianism, Experience and Consciousness

The support afforded to Irish republicanism throughout the decades of 
conflict in Northern Ireland has given rise to a wide range of perspectives 
on the roots and nature of its appeal. Antagonistic explanations have placed 
an emphasis upon everything from the pathological to the theological. In the 
latter vein, for example, Richard Kearney explained the rationale of 
‘militant republican’ activists as having less to do with social and 
economic issues than ‘an exigency of sacrifice to a mythological Ireland’. 
Similarly, Sean Moran described republicanism as a ‘theology with its own 
morality’ that was so deeply embedded in the traditions of western 
Christianity that it could not surrender ‘the notion of the holy and the 
true’ (Kearney, 1988: 211; Moran, 1991: 9-23). Such views, again reflecting 
the vogue of much postmodernist sociological thought, are based upon a view 
of the social in which the constitution of consciousness is disassociated 
from any conception of an external material reality. It might also be noted 
that they have often paralleled, whether wilfully or not, the state’s 
prosecution of a counterinsurgency strategy that was designed to contain, 
criminalise and depoliticise armed opposition to itself. Conversely, other 
analyses have been flawed by looking at republicanism solely in its own 
terms and by reference to its own logic and internal dynamic (Kelley, 1988; 
O’Brien, 1993). As both Anthony McIntyre and Mark Ryan have pointed out, 
modern Irish republicanism cannot be understood unless put into the context 
of wider, external and often hostile forces. For McIntyre, it is British 
state strategies adopted from the early 1970s onward that, to all intents 
and purposes, defined the parameters within which ‘politically violent 
anti-partitionism’ became the dominant expression of modern Irish 
republicanism (McIntyre, 1995: 98). Mark Ryan has analysed the emergence of 
the peace process, and what he has called the ‘twilight of republicanism’ as 
primarily a product of changing global geo-political and economic realities. 
He points to the emergence of a post-cold war new world order as a primary 
and overarching influence that has ensured ‘nationalist movements are 
everywhere in retreat together with oppositional forces in the West’ (Ryan, 
1994: 162). Such macro-level forces have undoubtedly helped shape the lived 
reality and experience of those who have been active in (or given their 
backing to) modern republicanism. In addition, however, that lived 
experience was the outcome of a particular interaction of material 
circumstance, consciousness and ideology that owed a great deal to the 
influence of both class and sectarian division lived at a more localised 
level. There can be little doubt that the support base of both the IRA and 
Sinn Fein over the past thirty years has been principally found within the 
northern catholic working class. As a result, explaining the nature of 
republicanism necessitates a clear understanding of the relationship between 
class and sectarianism as dominant social cleavages within the North. In 
what remains one of the most thoughtful analyses of this issue Liam O’Dowd 
argued that sectarian division must be understood as a ‘material reality’ 
and that class relations in Northern Ireland are ‘sectarian class 
relations’, the product of a specific history of colonialism, capital 
accumulation and class struggle (O’Dowd, 1980: 25). Similarly, Frank Burton 
suggested that Irish republicanism emerged as the dynamic mobilisation of a 
‘catholic social consciousness’ within nationalist working class areas of 
the north in the 1970s (Burton, 1978). A fusion of the politics of ‘civil 
rights’ and ‘national liberation’, republicanism offered an historically 
rooted ideological resource through which sectarianised social relations, 
alienation from the state and the experience of conflict itself could be 
comprehended and shaped into an active response. Revisionist and 
postmodernist perspectives tend to emphasise the over-riding importance of 
an historically derived mentalite, the irreducible influence of identity, or 
a deviant social psychology as the prime movers of republican activism. 
However, most accounts from those who either became involved in (or have 
given support to) Irish republicanism throughout the last three decades 
invariably evidence the importance of experience for their political 
engagement. Of course, there were those (such as Gerry Adams) who were 
always likely to become republicans having been born into the relatively 
small group of families with a specific history of involvement in the 
movement. Far more typical, however, is a story of politicisation born 
through experiencing a material historical process, itself shaped by class 
and sectarian relations, in which confrontation with the forces of the state 
was often direct, immediate and deeply shocking. It is in this context, for 
example, that Bloody Sunday was so politically significant. In other words, 
the politics of modern Irish republicanism were defined by the very 
particular circumstances facing working class catholics living in a state 
that had enmeshed sectarianised social relations into its structures and 
policies, and that was willing and able to employ its coercive capacity to 
maintain the same. Within this context republicanism has therefore been the 
vehicle through which a large section of the northern catholic working class 
have articulated their anger, hopes and fears over a considerable period of 
time. Clearly, as those circumstances changed so too did the nature of that 
experience and that response. What is also true, however, is that 
republicanism itself, as an ideological paradigm, has offered a range of 
avenues and possibilities for both action and thought which have, in turn, 
been profoundly influenced by wider developments, both material and 
ideological. As the world within which modern republicanism took shape was 
defined by the interaction of class and ethnic tensions and contradictions, 
so these were refracted through the discursive elements of republicanism 
itself.

2: The Universal and the Particular

Irish Republicanism is the inheritor of a complex and diverse range of 
intellectual and ideological antecedents, many of which are often not merely 
competing but contradictory. Throughout a history shaped by the dynamic of 
social and economic development within Irish society, and the various social 
forces that development has unleashed, republicanism has also been deeply 
affected by wider international currents of intellectual thought just as 
Ireland itself has been anything but isolated from the influence of global 
economic and political circumstances. Such intellectual influences, if often 
only received in relatively inchoate form, have been similarly disparate. 
Whether in terms of Tom Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ and Rousseau’s early 
romanticism, Herder’s ethnic nationalism or the call of international 
socialism, Catholic traditionalism, the maxims of Mao or the logic of third 
world national liberation, the intellectual history of Irish republicanism 
has been marked by the tense meeting of such externally generated 
influences. Such intellectual trends cannot, of course, be divorced from the 
realities of class positions and interests that have struggled both within 
and against Irish Republicanism. Indeed, diverse conceptions of what 
republicanism is have been the means by which class antagonisms have been 
articulated through it. However, these ideas have helped frame the form 
republicanism has taken, and what it has said, in any given place and time. 
What has been left is an historical residue of ideas, symbols and signs 
through which the contemporary world can be viewed, understood and 
articulated. This does not, however, imply a single perspective. 
Republicanism is discursive in that it offers an internally differentiated 
series of ideological possibilities. It contains within it a range of 
exemplary models, memories, stories and rational political arguments that 
can be interpreted and re-interpreted through time. The ‘republican 
tradition’ may therefore be conceived as a discursively constituted, 
culturally and politically specific collective resource by which power is 
contested at the level of the idea. Certain broad categories within that 
tradition have been identified by a number of analysts and while it may be a 
necessary but insufficient categorisation, Irish republicanism can be seen 
as containing within it both ‘ethnic’ and civic’ strands (O’Leary, 1996). In 
the former the emphasis upon cultural belonging is very much to the fore; 
the particularity of Ireland and its people identified as the key 
constitutive element underpinning the Irish republican and (the often linked 
but significantly distinct) nationalist case. The influence of romanticism 
in the post-enlightenment era clearly had a profound impact in this regard. 
The more ethnocentric versions of Irish nationalism and republicanism that 
have surfaced throughout modern Irish history have been the result. The 
civic dimension, on the other hand, places emphasis upon universal 
principles, the non-ethnic-specific calls for justice, equality and human 
empowerment that are the celebrated legacy of the Enlightenment, radicalised 
and otherwise. When such universalised political goals are applied to the 
Irish case, it has been argued within such versions of republicanism, they 
legitimate and indeed necessitate calls for an end to British involvement in 
Ireland and the creation of an independent Republic. For human beings on the 
island of Ireland to be free, so the argument goes, thus must Ireland be. 
Indeed, it has been recently suggested, such a ‘civic’ and transformative 
perspective offers the basis for a specifically ‘non-nationalist’ case for a 
United Ireland (Eagleton, 1999). These (often contradictory) perspectives 
have cohabited more or less uncomfortably, within republicanism throughout 
much of its history. That history is one that cannot be divorced from the 
context of colonialism, post-colonialism and the changing nature of 
contemporary capitalism. The balance of the universal and the particular, of 
the ethnic and the civic elements within the rhetoric of republicanism has 
often reflected those changing realities. This has ensured that the history 
of republicanism has in many ways been characterised by discontinuity. The 
rhetoric and political projects of Irish republicans can often seem to have 
little enough in common from one historical period to the next, though 
certain broad continuities of thought and principle are also evident; that 
of national self-determination being the most obvious. The historical 
discontinuity within republicanism has not only reflected changing social 
and political circumstances but also the contest of conflicting class 
interests through which those circumstances are forged. The discursive 
character of republicanism has meant that various interests at any 
historical moment, and from one historical period to the next, have 
struggled for hegemony by laying claim to the republican tradition. Indeed, 
by providing a series of historicised signs and symbols through which 
discontinuity could be presented as the perpetuation of unchanging political 
truths, such hegemony has also been grounded in the very idea of ‘tradition’ 
itself. It is in this sense that republicanism might be considered a highly 
historically-minded ideological force. ‘New’ politics, or the possibility of 
transformation, are almost invariably presented as the realisation of 
‘traditional’ goals. Within modern republicanism, therefore the key 
ideological struggles have been fought on the terrain of the ‘particular’ 
and the ‘universal’. The political projects of republicans have been 
conceived in the balance of ethnic and civic elements that have in turn 
reflected, more or less coherently, the changing realities within which 
republicans have operated and the class and other interests such projects 
have sought to serve. Critically, however, this process has not occurred in 
a vacuum but in the context of external influences, both material and 
ideological. These have impacted directly upon the balance of the ‘ethnic’ 
and ‘civic’ elements most obviously brought to the fore within republican 
discourse. State strategies of conflict management, the integration of 
Ireland into a transnational global capitalist economy, and the parallel 
arrival of postmodernist conceptions of the social world have all helped 
shape the context within which the ‘universal’ and the ‘particular’ are 
being constituted in contemporary republicanism.

3: Class, Ethnicity and Community

The fraught relationship of the ‘universal’ and the ‘particular’ within 
modern republicanism have been most evident in the expression of class, 
ethnicity and community as key mobilising concepts. Such a relationship, 
that has proved so problematic within the history of Irish republicanism, is 
illustrative of the wider tension between socialism and nationalism in the 
politics of national liberation movements. It has also been predicated on 
the emergence of modern republicanism as a communitybased political 
movement, severed from a wider social base by the sectarianised social 
relations that have defined society in Northern Ireland. The interaction of 
class, ethnicity and community as conceptual elements within the rhetoric of 
Irish republicanism has been noted by numerous analysts throughout the last 
three decades. In the 1970s Frank Burton wrote of the ‘remarkable’ nature of 
an ideology which could ‘express its revolutionary claims one week in a 
thinly veiled religious and mystical form and the next in a style and 
reasoning much closer to Lenin and Mao than to Aquinas’ (Burton, 1978: 75). 
Indeed, Burton argued that ‘doctrinal looseness’ was a key means by which 
the Provisionals were able to balance the conflicts and tensions existing 
within the community. Jim Smyth pointed to the evident problems in Sinn 
Fein’s espousal of socialism in the 1980s when ‘class’ as a collective 
political subject stood in a fractious and (more often than not) subservient 
relationship to that of the ‘people’; the key conception of the nation as 
‘imagined community’. In similar vein the tendency for Sinn Fein to 
celebrate a supposedly distinct Irish variant of socialism was seen as an 
inevitably flawed attempt to reconcile what are, in the last resort, 
incompatible political subjects (Smyth, 1991). This was similarly identified 
in the 1990s by Eamonn McCann, who has noted the tendency for the party to 
ethnicise the ever diminishing socialist content of its politics, as the 
party sought to distance itself from any hint of ‘some exotic sinful class 
of socialism’ (McCann, 1998:167). For some this reflects an irreconcilable 
contradiction at the heart of republicanism that means its commitment to 
class politics will invariably be subverted by its nationalism. Henry 
Patterson contends that left-orientated ‘social republicanism’ is an 
illusion. Modern republicanism, he suggests, is essentially a ‘communal 
nationalism of grievance’ and that both its internal characteristics, and 
the environment within which it operates, ensure that it offers no 
meaningful avenues for a transformative political project (Patterson, 1997). 
Unquestionably Patterson’s analysis is at one and the same time both 
illuminating and caustic, pointing to the problematic of reconciling the 
universal and the particular in a form of republicanism largely confined to 
a communal support base. However, the rejection of a colonial dimension in 
his historical analysis, combined with an assumption of the positive 
reformist potential of the British state in Northern Ireland, tends also to 
define Patterson’s overtly negative definition of all anti-partitionist 
politics. As a result the precise nature of the context within which a 
politics of communal grievance has emerged, and the possibility of social 
progress through a combination of class and nation, are ultimately denied. 
What is clear, however, is that modern republicanism has in large part 
become a politics of community. In itself the very idea of community has 
been seen as a critical concept within the shared political culture of 
northern nationalists (Todd,
1991). This in turn reflected the long-term importance of ‘community’ as a 
lived experience for the alienated minority within the northern state. Such 
alienation fostered the development of a distinct communally based network 
of institutional and social structures through which the idea of ‘community’ 
was lived. In terms of its ideology, its structural form and political 
practice Sinn Fein has attempted to harness this phenomenon to its own 
political project. The battle for hegemony within catholic working class 
areas of the North, waged in the main by Sinn Fein with the Catholic Church 
from the late 1970s onward, was fought on this terrain. Modern Sinn Fein 
essentially emerged in the 1980s as a party that in large part forged its 
constituency through grassroots community activism. In turn, the ‘imagined 
community’ of the nation in many ways emerged as a symbolic representation 
of this lived ‘resistance community’. In such a way, the politics of nation 
and of community were symbolically and ideologically fused with one another. 
The recognition of its limited appeal beyond the ‘resistance community’ was 
in large part responsible for the rethink that defined the emerging ‘peace 
politics’ of Sinn Fein from the late 1980s onward. The single greatest 
factor limiting the party’s ability to break out of its ghetto support was 
the very IRA violence that was part and parcel of the republican movements 
overall long war strategy. However, as the party moved toward the search for 
‘inclusive dialogue’ the environment within which it would do so was being 
set by a social view that would in many ways encourage, rather than 
deconstruct, a communalist outlook, albeit one that sought to replace 
‘division’ by ‘difference’. It is in this context that the politics of 
‘multiculturalism’, as they have been implemented in the peace process, has 
impacted upon the shape of modern republicanism.

THE PEACE PROCESS, REPUBLICANISM, PLURALISM AND PROTESTANTS

It is important to stress that Sinn Fein has not, of course, assumed 
wholesale the spurious logic of postmodern pluralism. Nor, by any stretch of 
the imagination, could the party be said to support an overtly 
‘postnationalist’ perspective. The party continues to argue its position 
through the language of rights, equality, liberty, oppression and national 
self-determination. Sinn Fein remains committed, for example, to the 
long-term goal of creating a ‘national democracy’, though their conception 
of what constitutes the expression of national self-determination has 
undoubtedly been affected by the implementation of an all Ireland plebiscite 
on the Belfast Agreement. In addition modern republicanism, even in terms of 
Sinn Fein alone, cannot be considered a monolithic political and ideological 
animal. Indeed, the debates that have taken place within the republican 
movement (particularly between an often impatient grassroots and the 
leadership) evidence the extent to which many are fully aware of the 
implications of some recent developments for the very nature of 
republicanism itself. It would be untrue to say, however, that the dominant 
politics practised and at times espoused by the party have not been shaped 
by the wider material and intellectual developments that have helped 
engender both the specific nature of the peace process and that of the 
Belfast Agreement that has been its consequence. To do so would be to 
consider ideological debates within Irish republicanism peculiarly immune 
(if not hermetically sealed) from external influences. Given that the ‘two 
traditions’ model has been at the core of approaches to that conflict 
resolution strategy and as a major player in the peace process Sinn Fein 
has, by definition, had to reconstitute itself in relation to that agenda. 
As has been argued, the peace process has sought to end a conflict defined 
as ethnic by institutionalising communally based politics. This has been 
rooted both in the model of consociationalism and the conception of ethnic 
pluralism and multiculturalism that has come to dominate discourse on 
Northern Ireland, and the overarching logic of contemporary multinational 
capitalism that such ideas manifest. The interaction of these processes with 
modern republicanism has, in turn, been dependent upon the changing material 
circumstances of the ‘republican constituency’, the discursive character of 
republicanism as an ideological form and the political practice of Sinn Fein 
as a ‘party of community’. The sectarian nature of the northern state (and 
the role Britain played supporting it) defined a republican politics in 
which the desire for equal and collective access to economic and social 
opportunities, along with opposition to state strategies of militarisation, 
marginalisation and exclusion were articulated through the signs, symbols 
and discourses of the ‘republican tradition’. For decades this underwrote 
the armed opposition to the state manifest in the political and paramilitary 
activism of Sinn Fein and the IRA. However, circumstances changed. State 
strategies have been increasingly designed to draw a significant section of 
the catholic community into a new social and political consensus 
(particularly the burgeoning upwardly mobile new catholic middle class) and 
to re-negotiate the British-Irish state relationship given the wider context 
of continental and global economic conditions (McGovern & Shirlow, 1997). 
The consociationalist and pluralist agenda of multiculturalism and the peace 
process were the result. In turn, the logic of the peace process drew upon 
the more communally-orientated elements of Sinn Fein’s ideology and 
political practice as the means to successfully integrate the party with the 
political mainstream. After the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 
(which enshrined consociationalism and ethnic pluralism as the bases for a 
state strategy of conflict management) Sinn Fein began to re-negotiate its 
own perspective in order to seize the political initiative. However, its 
avenues for doing so and for finding a way out of the conflict that had had 
such a devastating effect upon the community from which republicans came 
were circumscribed by this wider context. The identification of ethnic 
difference as the mechanism of conflict resolution conditioned the 
environment within which Sinn Fein’s own ‘unarmed strategy’ was developed. 
The reworking of Sinn Fein’s vision of republicanism was, likewise, 
discursively reconstituted within these material conditions of possibility. 
Again, it is important to stress that such shifts have not gone uncontested. 
Indeed, it could also be argued that, although the policy positions of the 
party have in the main remained wedded to radical perspectives, these have 
not always proved commensurate within the statements and positions adopted 
by the key leadership players.
However, what emerged was a new balance of the universal and the particular 
in which the universal subject of class became less and less apparent and 
the particularity of communal identities, constituted within a culturalist 
and pluralist framework, were brought to the fore. This process can be seen, 
for example, in two inter-related but distinct spheres; the relegation of 
socialism in Sinn Fein’s contemporary political appeal and the culturalist 
ground upon which the search for a rapprochement with protestants is now 
being made. In the 1980s Sinn Fein was at some pains to manifest its 
socialist credentials. However, engagement with the peace process has 
undoubtedly involved a rightward shift in the public pronouncements of the 
party on a range of social and economic issues. The ‘battle for fresh 
allies’ in the creation of the pannationalist consensus brought with it a 
new emphasis upon political respectability and a republican version of 
Blairite ‘new realism’. Much of the class-based revolutionary rhetoric of 
the earlier period began to disappear and instead Sinn Fein repositioned 
itself as a social democratic voice of the centre left. Thus, in an address 
to the World Economic Forum in 1996 Mitchel McLaughlin (then Sinn Fein party 
chairperson) combined a demand for ‘economic justice for all’, and in 
particular an end to sectarian discrimination, with a call to the ‘local and 
international’ business community to play a ‘fundamental role… in securing 
the peace process’ (Sinn Fein, 1996). The key objectives of Sinn Fein’s 
current economic policy reflect this perspective. The party’s expressed 
desire is to provide ‘sustainable and dignified livelihoods for all 
citizens… to develop economic resources, human and material, to their 
fullest, and to create an economic base which reflects the social and 
cultural values of all the Irish people’. This may be considered a critique 
of the prevailing logic of multinational capital, but if so, it is of a 
somewhat muted variety (Sinn Fein, 1995). Similarly, while the rhetoric of 
the radical republican tradition continues to be occasionally invoked, its 
revolutionary goals have been replaced with those of social reformism. This 
has led to some rather peculiar juxtapositions. At the 1999 Ard Fheis, for 
example, Gerry Adams conjured up James Connolly’s call in 1915 for the 
‘reconquest of Ireland [to ensure the] social as well as the political 
independence from Republicanism and Pluralism 153 servitude of every woman, 
man and child in Ireland’, to support the party’s call for local government 
reform. Adams also criticised the ‘hard heart of the Celtic tiger’ for 
failing (a la the 1916 Easter Proclamation) to ‘cherish all the children of 
the nation equally’ but offered little in the way of an alternative vision 
to the multinational dominated inward investment strategy that is the 
essence of the ‘Celtic tiger’ economy (AP/RN, May 1999). That said, An 
Phoblacht recently declared that ‘the core theme of Irish republicanism’ 
historically has always been ‘a commitment to the creation of the economic 
and social conditions where the Irish people are truly free’ and so, 
consequently, the goal of the movement today remains that of a ‘socialist 
republic in the twenty first century’ (AP/RN, 25/11/99:
6). In line with this the official policy of Sinn Fein continued to denounce 
the national wage agreements, corporate tax incentives and property 
development initiatives that have been the mainstay of the low wage, 
multinational capital-led ‘Celtic tiger’ strategy of the southern regime in 
recent years (AP/RN, 25/11/99: 10-11). There is clearly ground here for 
potential intraparty diversity and debate. In many ways the contradictions 
evidenced in such debates may reflect a potentially problematic conundrum 
for Sinn Fein as an all Ireland party with two quite different roles in the 
two jurisdictions. In the north the party is set to become a permanent 
fixture (as long as such a thing exists) in an executive that has a shared 
remit for, amongst other things, economic development and investment 
strategies. At the same time, and for the foreseeable future, Sinn Fein is 
likely to base its electoral strategies in the south upon its potential 
appeal as a voice of radical opposition. Indeed, the space for such 
electoral expansion has been identified as critical to the future 
development of the party (O’Hearn et al., 1999: 21). What has been striking, 
however, is the dilution of class as a universal and transformative 
political subject in the dominant statements of the party. At the same time 
there has been an evident emphasis upon the particularity of 
community-centred issues, such as a just call for an end to discrimination 
and ethnicity (i.e. the ‘cultural values of all Irish people’). This 
diminution of a class content to Sinn Fein’s politics also has direct 
implications for its increasing adoption of a pluralist perspective as the 
basis for its strategic approach toward the protestant community (McGovern, 
l999). Since the late 1980s Sinn Fein has been making increasing efforts to 
redefine its grasp on the position and politics of Ulster protestants. In 
some senses this has represented a desire to reedify the civic traditions of 
republicanism. However, this has been done in a very particular way. The 
attempt to ‘sensitise republicans’ to the position of protestants has 
included a series of elements. An appeal to a specifically anti-sectarian 
history of Irish republicanism, and of protestant involvement in that 
history, became increasingly prominent within republican rhetoric. At the 
same time the party began to take protestant fears of republicanism more 
seriously than before, tacitly acknowledging the alienating impact of 
republican violence as part of the logic of moving toward an unarmed 
strategy (McLaughlin, 1992a). Even more significantly the public 
pronouncements of the Sinn Fein leadership began to re-define pro-unionists 
within a ‘crisis of identity’ model, seeing them less as a supremacist 
community than one ‘wracked with fear and self-doubt’ (McLaughlin, 1992b). 
This ‘crisis of identity’ theme was evident in a variety of ways. 
Occasionally Sinn Fein adopted the language and symbolism identified with a 
specifically ‘Protestant’ political culture in order to articulate its 
message. Similarly Ulster protestant distrust of Britain was recognised as a 
distinctive strain within protestant political culture and seen as the basis 
for engaging meaningful with it in the future. Above all a desire to 
construct political rapprochement through cultural empathy meant that 
republicans were called upon to approach a protestant sense of identity 
within its own terms, to ‘address the political perceptions held by 
unionism… and to engage with them on the basis of what they say about 
themselves and not on what we say they are’ (Gibney, 1996). This essentially 
multi-culturalist perspective is closely allied to a republican variant of 
ethnic pluralism that has similarly come to the fore in recent years. Whilst 
denying that there are ‘two traditions’ in Ireland Gerry Adams was also able 
to argue that there were in fact ‘scores, maybe hundreds [of traditions] all 
making up a diverse and rich culture [that] in total represent the sum of 
our diversity’ (Adams, 1995: 317). Such a conception of diversity is not, of 
course, in itself an unwelcome development and certainly represents a more 
conscious attempt than that previously undertaken by Sinn Fein through much 
of the last thirty years to break out of the confines of communalism. 
However, it has increasingly done so on the basis of a culturalist 
perspective that in many ways echoes that conception of pluralism (evidenced 
in the peace process itself) which, through constituting and recognising 
identities as self validating, suggests that they will become more porous 
and, ultimately, less important. In other words, the recognition of cultural 
difference and distinctiveness is the first step toward superseding those 
identities. Culture therefore emerges as the only sphere within which the 
politics of anti-sectarian unity can be sited and forged. Such culturalism, 
increasingly evidenced in the politics of Sinn Fein is the product of the 
various factors, both external and internal to the republican tradition, 
which have been outlined above. It is, in particular, tied directly to the 
marginalisation of a transcendent political subject, such as class, in the 
contemporary politics of the party. The ability to found a politics of 
transformation upon universal principles and shared material conditions, the 
means in other words of mobilising beyond the divisiveness of however many 
cultural ‘traditions’ one would care to identify, is ultimately diminished 
rather than increased by such an approach. It is in this sense that the 
party’s politics has been most profoundly influenced by the dominant 
conceptions of ethnic pluralism and multiculturalism in contemporary Irish 
society that are, in turn, the local face of the ‘logic of multinational 
capitalism’. Ironically, it has also been a natural corollary to Sinn Fein’s 
position as a ‘party of community’.

CONCLUSION

Relegating the Particular, Re-invigorating the Universal Modern 
republicanism as a mobilised political ideology was forged in the 
interaction of two things. First, the concrete material circumstances that 
have shaped the lived experiences of northern working class catholics. 
Sectarianised social relations, the changing localised impact of global 
capitalism and the various British state strategies of conflict management 
adopted over three decades have all been dominant influences in this regard. 
Second, the historical residue of signs, symbols, ideas and arguments that 
constituted a shared social consciousness within that constituency and 
provided a means to make meaning of such forces, experiences and actions. 
The consequence of this interaction was the emergence of Sinn Fein in the 
1980s and 1990s as the most prominent force in modern Irish republicanism. 
Largely emerging as a party of community, Sinn Fein’s politics, shaped by 
strands within its own discursive political tradition, the interests of an 
overwhelmingly working class support base and an ongoing and direct 
confrontation with the state, were also capable of giving expression to 
radical egalitarian left-orientated demands. The tense relationship of the 
particular and the universal was always evident in its political outlook. 
However, the environment within which Sinn Fein operated began to alter from 
the mid-1980s onward. Transnational political institutions, designed to 
facilitate the multinational economy, became increasingly important for 
political relations in Ireland and between it and Britain. The class 
structure of Irish society (North and South) was shifting and breaking down 
traditional political alignments. The basis of the British State’s strategy 
of conflict management shifted from containment by exclusion to that of 
co-option. The influence of consociationalist and multiculturalist 
perspectives in intellectual debate and upon the implementation of policy 
became increasingly hegemonic. The twin forces of capitalist global 
integration and social fragmentation that are celebrated in postmodernist 
discourse as cosmopolitanism and ethnic pluralism were therefore replicated 
in the creation of the Irish peace process and had direct consequences on 
the political trajectory of contemporary republican politics. Sinn Fein 
developed an unarmed strategy rooted in a pan-nationalist consensus and a 
re-negotiation of its perspective on the role of the British, both of which 
insinuated a diminution of its socialist agenda. It also embarked upon a 
cultural pluralist rapprochement with Ulster protestants. Within this 
context Sinn Fein’s contemporary republicanism, as a discursive fusion of 
the universal and the particular, has increasingly withdrawn from a 
class-based politics and replaced it instead by a fusion of social 
democratic ‘new realism’ and pluralist ‘identity politics’. In addition, 
this new ideological configuration has in many ways only reinforced the 
community-orientation of both the party’s political practice and sometime 
ethos. To engage with a distinct ‘Protestant’ Republicanism and Pluralism 
157 community from the social and political base of a distinct ‘Catholic’ 
community is both the model promoted by the Belfast Agreement and the 
dominant perspective within a particularist brand of republicanism. The 
strategy of developing anti-sectarianism on the basis of cultural pluralism 
is one that therefore goes hand in hand with the overall approach adopted to 
the business of conflict resolution within a multiculturalist paradigm, the 
‘community'-orientation of Sinn Fein and, ultimately, the logic of 
contemporary capitalism. Again, it is important to emphasise that such 
developments have by no means been uncontested within the party. The ability 
to challenge the drift of party policy toward such an outcome has, however, 
been severely hampered by the (in some senses) confining and pervasive need 
to maintain solidarity in pursuit of the strategic imperative of the ‘prize 
of peace’. Too often oppositional voices were easily marginalised as 
supposedly offering nothing other than a return to a war that no one really 
wanted. If, in the wake of the Belfast Agreement being fully implemented, 
space for alternative and radical grassroots perspectives is easier to find 
then it is at least conceivable that the balance of the universal and the 
particular in the ideology of contemporary republicanism can be reforged. To 
do so though, it will have to operate in relation to political structures 
that are more likely to foster an emphasis on the latter rather than the 
former. It is at least questionable, therefore, whether the strategic 
approach that has dominated to date is ultimately capable of moving toward 
the democratic imperatives that are implicit in the project of the 
radicalised enlightenment to which many republicans would lay claim. It 
might therefore be argued that, rather than reifying its ethnic and communal 
particularity in the context of a ‘postmodern’ framework, republicanism must 
reemphasise its modernist and universalist traditions (in spite rather than 
because of the pressure that the peace process has engendered). This is 
critical if modern republicanism is to aspire to an empowering and 
transformative dynamic. To pursue a truly pluralist agenda Sinn Fein should 
be seeking to relegate the role of communal culturalism and re-invigorate a 
commitment to class politics.
______________________________

1. Throughout this article the terms Sinn Fein and Irish Republicanism refer 
to Provisional Sinn Fein. Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA were 
created in 1970 after a split in the Republican movement from what became 
known as the Official IRA. The Provisionals have, since the early
1970s, been the most prominent political and paramilitary expression of 
modern Irish republicanism. Whilst there continue to be disparate strands of 
Republicanism Provisional Sinn Fein is far and away the most prominent voice 
of the tradition today.
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