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By Jason Michael

‘IT WAS EMOTIONAL,’ said by comrade. I confessed to shedding a tear myself. We never saw it coming. No one saw it coming. Mary Lou McDonald, an unassuming wee woman from Dublin, had led Sinn Féin to its greatest election victory in over a hundred years – a century that has seen Ireland struggle through the darkness of a revolution unfinished and the pain of division, of partition, and of a bloody armed conflict. Back in 1998 the parties of the Free State; Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, asked us to come in from the cold, to put down the gun and continue the struggle at the ballot box. Armed struggle in the occupied counties had brought Britain to heel. In Belfast we chipped away at the chains of empire, and robbed the unionists of their majority. Against the endless sniping in Dublin, the continual and conceited reminders of the past, we won our place in Dáil Éireann.

Irish people, beat down by austerity, sick of the homelessness and the housing crisis, have turned to Sinn Féin in numbers; the only party for a united Ireland – a Republic for all the children of Ireland. As the counting trundled on, one win after another put to bed forever the idea that Ireland cannot awaken from the nightmare of its history, a story imposed on us for centuries by British soldiers, their occupation, laws, and atrocities. At long last our day has come, and the wave – the ‘surge’ – of emotion that rushed through the Republican movement was equalled only by the stunned shock with which it was met in the ranks of the defeated old establishment. Only a week ago their chorus of ‘no coalition with Sinn Féin’ was all we heard. Now, the phone won’t stop ringing.

But before we break out the glasses, a few words need saying. The past will remain with us for as long as we allow it. Sinn Féin’s victory is at the same time closure and continuation; it puts to an end the bitterness of the war that brought us here and yet resets the clock on Easter 1916, giving us – after a lengthy hiatus – the opportunity to finish the revolution begun by Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, and all the brave young women and men who fought in Cumann na mBan, the Irish Volunteers, the Citizen Army, and Na Fianna Éireann. At no time since Britain partitioned this island in 1921 has unification been closer than it is today, and while the final blows of this process were struck in peace, we cannot forget that this peace and this opportunity were made possible by war. Only the volunteers and soldiers of that war could be the peacemakers.

Every Irish voter who marked Sinn Féin on their ballot paper was asked by the Irish and British media, by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Greens ‘What about the IRA?’ As a Sinn Féin member and as someone who voted for my party, I’m going to give you my answer to that poisonous question.

Too often, when attempting to address this question, Republicans first point to the blood-soaked histories of Fianna Fáil and the fascists of Fine Gael. But let’s not do that here. Let’s just talk about Sinn Féin and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Yes, Sinn Féin was the political voice of the Provisional IRA. Many Sinn Féin members were volunteers, and many Provos were card-carrying members of political Sinn Féin. In many parts of the North it was impossible to tell where Sinn Féin ended and the IRA begun. And so, there must be at least some justification in the efforts of our opponents to shame us with the past, but we can answer this without shame – we can accept the past, even take pride in what was achieved, while looking to a future without violence.

The men and women of Easter 1916 went out against Great Britain for the freedom of Ireland; for the freedom of the nine counties of Ulster as much as they did for the freedom of Connacht, Leinster, and Munster. They fought and laid down their lives for a united and free thirty-two county Republic. Today, when the parties of the Republic condemn ‘the IRA,’ they betray their defeated Free Stater mentality – because the Provisionals were the only ones who could say with any credibility that they were continuing the work of the martyrs and rebels of 1916 – an incomplete revolution which had created a cosy little bubble in the twenty-six counties in which southern Irishmen could get fat and clap themselves on the back, saying: ‘A job well done.’ But all the while, in terms of the Republican tradition, only the IRA and Sinn Féin – the militant Republican movement – could lay claim to the spirit of 1916.

The war was necessary and it was unavoidable. This may be difficult for many in modern ‘Ireland’ to accept, but the conflict in the North was as necessary and unavoidable as the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. In fact, all three are but phases of the same struggle for a free and united Ireland, the real Ireland – the only authentic Irish Republic. British rule in ‘Northern Ireland’ – ‘a Protestant State for a Protestant People’ – was every bit as barbaric, callous, and cruel as it was in the rest of Ireland before independence. The same anti-Irish imperial thinking that produced Cromwell, the Penal Laws, the Famine, the workhouse, and Ireland’s heartbroken global diaspora produced the rabid sectarian statelet in which Irish men and Irish women were turned off their land, put out their homes, denied the vote, and kept out of industry. Apartheid Northern Ireland, in which Irish people daily suffered state violence, was simply Britain doing in the north of Ireland what it had been doing all over Ireland until partition.

Dublin with its back turned to Belfast and Derry could never finish the work of Pearse and Connolly. The Free State mentality was always a betrayal of the Republic. Dublin shares responsibility for Britain’s violence – because doing nothing is a sin too. When British paratroopers went house to house gunning down old men and young mothers in Ballymurphy, when those same criminals opened fire on the people of Derry, who was going to defend them? Who was going to save them, protect them? Dublin? The ‘Republic’ of Ireland? No.

The Good Friday Agreement was no more the achievement of the Dublin government than it was that of the British government. The Good Friday Agreement was the achievement of the IRA, the only force on the island of Ireland willing and able to tober Britain and protect Irish people in Ireland. But Dublin and London love to take the credit, and from the sides of their mouths they curse at the ‘violence’ and ‘criminality’ of the IRA. Their double standards are astounding. Never would the Brits describe the Battle of Britain as violence against Germany, and Ireland wouldn’t describe the actions of the rebels of 1916 as criminality. Defence is not violence, and nor is it a crime to fight for the freedom of your country against a repressive foreign occupation. Ireland never invaded England, and the IRA didn’t intern British politicians and starve them to death. Odd as it might sound from where we are now, but the IRA was doing in 1980 what the Irish government should have been doing. But one was a Provisional Republic and one was a Free State.

It’s not easy for me to say this or even think it. I despise war and violence. No political cause is worth bloodshed and murder, but the IRA wasn’t fighting for a political cause. Irish Republicans took up arms in response to Britain’s political cause and England’s violence – and that’s defence, not ‘violence.’ It wasn’t heroic. It was war. The IRA killed innocent people. It committed war crimes. Republican volunteers were not saints, they were soldiers. War is an ugly, ugly business. But Britain was never going to leave, it was never going to quit its violence and criminality against Ireland and Irish people until Irish people stood up and defended themselves. This is precisely what the IRA did. It was messy, and awful, and it was painful, but we would not be where we are today without the Troubles and what brave Irish women and men were prepared to do to defend their country. The IRA’s war was what made peace possible, what made todays democracy possible – and that is where we are now. We have arrived at peace and at last have a free and united Ireland in our sights.

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Damien Dempsey – Colony


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13 thoughts on “Our Day Has Come

  1. Jason
    I don’t know how many people will comment – just because of the topic. However for me, you are a rare writer because you do not look away. I know that is a lonely road as no one likes looking at their own sins…we try so hard to pretend they are not there.

    Just thought I would send you some positive thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t know all the history of what where and why but I do know that England moving armed forces into Ireland and then taking control of the politics and communities of Ireland killing Irish people who objected was without any doubt whatsoever a very very bad act of aggression that turned to war.
    I’m so glad Ireland is taking back control of Ireland from England.
    It’s a very sad affair that the ancestors of the English and Scottish people who were persuaded to move to the north of Ireland by the English government all those years ago with bribes of a job and a house are still trying to justify that despicable act it is time they integrated properly with the rest of the Irish people and accepted that they are Irish .
    If they wish to continue to call themselves british it will become more difficult for them as unification progresses.

    There will be no going back , reunification should never have been necessary , England should have returned Ireland to the Irish completely in 1921 instead of partitioning it and causing all the pain of the last hundred years.

    As for your honest appraisal of Dublin I would say that after what happened a hundred years ago it is perfectly understandable that at the time people grabbed the partial victory with glee , I’m sure that not long afterwards they would have been filled with remorse for not fighting on to recover the whole of their country but their actions are understandable.

    Nobody likes war , except those who control it from a very great distance.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jason,
    Any thoughts, or a post even, on how this change came about and what it means with respect to the UK’s new relationship with the EU? Previously the EU appeared to let Leo Varadkar take front and centre stage. Do you think that will change?

    Like

    1. @Stuart MacKay

      The EU/Members have always worked the gaps. Using one or other to play the bad guy – but with no real authority…its like arguing with a shadow. The UK was actually past master of this.

      Any changes in EU tactics (yes this has always just been tactics) may not be because SF came to power, it may be just because Brexit has entered a different phase.

      If the UK populations thought the UK was weak in the Withdrawal negotiation…they are about to see a whole new level of weak in the next phases. I suspect a SF victory may give the EU even more leverage in what is to come. They won’t use it in the same way…but wow when they play it the UK will really feel it.

      Like

  4. A good read thank you. Growing up in N.E. England of course the ‘troubles’ were constantly on the tv. The IRA and Sinn Fein were names that sent shivers down your spine, they were just ( portrayed as) pure evil. The history of Ireland of course was never taught, not even mentioned, and certainly the British soldiers were portrayed as heroes, fighting the good fight. But we were never told what they were fighting for really, led to believe it was to ‘stop the Irish killing each other’. Yep, pull the other one, if the Brits had wanted to do that, they would have kept their nebs ( a geordie word for nose!) out of Ireland, and if anything gone down the route of reconciliation by negotiation.

    The Brits still do not do negotiation though do they. Look at Brexit!

    I still know very little about what happened in Ireland, the history, have read a wee bit about the famine, the cruelty of the Brits, which they are very very adept at, but probablt like most people everywhere, my knowledge on that is scant. However, given the reputation of the Brits in their empire building around the globe, I think that most people identify with the oppressed, the people who were treated so disgracefully in their own countries.

    It’s a new Ireland now, I hope that whatever the majority of people want will be granted, ie unification. Now with Brexit, ( Engexit) the so called UK ( UK = England really) has surely taken a different path, a narrow insular, enclosed backward path. Ireland might still have to deal with the imbeciles in power in England, but the EU have your backs, and NI will do well to decide to reject the narrow British nationalism which is so damaging to civilisation, and not conducive to a positive future for the generations to come.

    Now Ireland can move forward, and improve on what’s being achieved as a member of the EU. I wish the people of Ireland and a future united Ireland all the best, it’s been a long time coming, the peace and prosperity that you deserve.

    Like

  5. Well written and honest article. Thank you. I am English, but I can’t remember a time I felt proud of that accident of birth. I hope that this electoral victory leads to the reunification of Ireland, and ultimately to stable peace in the country.

    Like

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