When it comes to the North’s recent history, there’s a local political mindset convinced that: “Everything starts in Derry and if it didn’t start here then it’ll most definitely finish here”.
It is, of course, an exaggeration, an exaggeration shaped by the innate bias of localism. The essence of any exaggeration, however, contains at least a grain of truth. It is true that this city undoubtedly provides a succinct microcosm of the turbulent story which maps Anglo-Irish relations. In more recent years Derry has also cultivated much of the ground in which the seeds of peace have been rooted and grown. The personal stories of our local political participants have contributed a seismic portion of the North’s recent history.
It was the news last Friday which made me think of this political mindset. For it was last Friday when newspaper reports revealed that several factions of dissident republicanism have subsumed into a single organisation. This includes the mergers of the Real IRA, RAAD and a disparate group of other non-aligned dissidents. It seems undeniable that much of the impetus for the formation of this dangerous coalition emanated from individuals in this city. It seems a fair assumption to suggest that it may have started here.
This ‘new’ organisation proposes to carry on the tradition of physical force republicanism, operating under the complete fallacy that they are somehow opposing British rule. In truth their real threat and opposition is not to the British government but to the Irish people, both north and south. Their twisted vision of Ireland is set against the will of every single elected Irish parliamentarian in Dáil Éireann and Stormont. Their twisted vision for Ireland is democratically rejected by the historic referendum results on this island in 1998. Their twisted vision for Ireland is ultimately underpinned by the murder of Irish police officers, be they in the PSNI or in the Gardaí.
Given their source, it is vital that this city provides a firm, unwavering answer to those who seek to use violence in our name. The history of this city, the people of this city, have known violence and known its futility. This new formation of dissident republicanism will attempt to disrupt both our quality of lives and disrupt our political aspirations for this island. They have no right. It is we ourselves who must collectively confront their ideas and their actions.
Dissident republicanism must be made understand that there is only one Óglaigh na hÉireann. This is the organisation made up of men and women who travel to Lebanon, Liberia and Chad in order to perform peacekeeping duties. These are the true representatives of the Irish nation, a nation which has come through violence and now understands the impenetrable value of peace.
This city should act as the chief messenger of these truths to dissident republicanism. The tradition of physical force has no place in modern Ireland. The path to national reconciliation has been embraced by the Irish people. Our political future will be determined by a consensual coalition of the various strands of the Irish people’s political opinion and aspiration.
If this new violent organisation started here, then it can and must finish here. In doing so another ending may occur, an ending to the idea that violence has any role to play in the building of a new Republic. The space will then finally be clear for all of us to grasp and shape a new and agreed Ireland, an Ireland which remains perpetually possible.