Paul McFadden - Winning friends and influencing people

Oglaigh na Eireann on parade.
Oglaigh na Eireann on parade.

The Irish News informed us this week that one of the most fearsome of the republican dissident groups, Óglaigh na h’Éireann, now has a political wing.

The newspaper reported that Republican Network for Unity decided at last month’s ard fhéis to link itself publicly to the paramilitary organisation. The paper suggested that Northern-based members of the Network were keen for the link to remain ‘clandestine’ and it has taken until now for news of the ‘alliance’ to filter out into the broader community.

Network spokesman Martin Óg Meehan denied there was any formal link between the two organisations, telling the Irish News that RNU supported Óglaigh na h’Éireann’s analysis of the current situation: “We have always been on record saying that we would not condemn those involved in disciplined actions against the occupying British forces, so this is not a massive shift in our thinking.”

The 100 or so delegates at the annual conference voted to send “comradely greetings” to the armed group. In a comment mirroring Sinn Féin’s view, the SDLP dismissed the dissidents as being without support and out of step with public thinking.

They are right in suggesting that support for the dissidents is minimal, but it is significant enough for the PSNI to demand tens of millions of pounds in extra resources and for the various paramilitary factions to pose a continuing threat to life and property.

What, I wonder, is the point of being best friends with a paramilitary organisation?

Is it to offer blind support – or political cover – for everything the armed group does?

Is it to become an apologist? Does it carry with it any sense of responsibility? Does it allow one to make criticisms, even well-intended ones?

I remember being taken to task once by a good friend of mine for behaving uncharitably towards someone else.

The criticism cut me to the bone, but I realized that my friend did what she did precisely because she valued our friendship.

The easiest thing for her to have done would have been to have said nothing; but just because it was the easiest thing didn’t mean it was the right thing to do.

Her candour and courage made our friendship all the stronger.

Perhaps the time has come for candour and courage from those who support the dissidents’ campaigns. It depresses me that the Republican Network for Unity supports Óglaigh na h’Éireann’s “analysis of the current situation”. The phrase “current situation” ignores the very obvious fact that Irish politics has been – and remains - in a state of flux. It can’t have escaped RNU’s notice that the financial climate has changed ever so slightly in the last three or four years. The Republic, which never seemed well-disposed towards reunification even during the Celtic Tiger years, will be considerably less tempted now that its economy is up the left. There is no appetite down South for a closer relationship with the North.

Furthermore, the dissidents’ methods have also been repudiated by the international community. The 9/11 bombings changed the global political climate, and countries which might once have been lukewarm towards terrorism no longer condone it.

Quite, then, how a military campaign by a dissident rump is meant to further the cause of Irish unity – either at home or abroad - eludes me. Booby-trapping children’s bicycles and policemen’s cars, blowing up banks and cultural premises, is hardly the way to win hearts and minds. It won’t unite Ireland. Perversely, what it has actually done is unite former political foes against the dissidents. I would suggest that the dissidents’ methods are counter-productive. I would suggest that a good friend would point this out to them. So having got the comradely greetings out of the way after last month’s ard fhéis, I would suggest that the Republican Network for Unity should have a quiet word with their new chums and point out the error of their ways.

It’s what any good friend would do.

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