The tactics of utter futility

The tactics of utter futility

Think about the north of Ireland for a moment. Think about Northern Ireland. Just think about that place right now in 2023. Analyse it.

Think about the tortured history and think about the more settled present. Think about the economic and social issues of the place. Think about it in that way. Then think about the national issue. Think about the constant backdrop that is part of that place. Think about it then as a hived-off part of this state, the Republic.

Think about it from a deeply republican point of view. Think about it as if you were the most deeply committed republican. Think about it, indeed, as if you were a committed physical force republican.

That is, that not only do you believe in the fundamental rightness and justice of a united Ireland but you believe in using physical force to bring it about. You believe in the use of political violence in order to achieve that Holy Grail. A united Ireland.

Analyse it from that point of view. Let’s go even further. Let’s make it as plain as we can.

Analyse it from the standpoint of you being someone that believes bullets and bombs is the only way to bring about a 32 county republic.

Analyse it from there. And then tell me, honestly, from any of those standpoints did you arrive at the logical or emotional conclusion that the next step towards ensuring that republic would be the shooting of a policeman?

Of course I’m being deliberately cold about this. I’m not talking about a father shot in front of his son and his son’s friends. I’m not talking about a man shot in front of fleeing children. I’m not talking about standing over him and putting more bullets in to his body as those football-loving children run and scream. I’m talking, in fact, about seeing this man solely as a high-ranking policeman of the Northern state and your aim being a united Ireland.

Do you at any time conclude that attempting to kill him is the best way to achieve this? Even if, remember, you are a committed physical force Republican. Even if you believe previous manifestations of physical force, be they 1916 or 1969, were thoroughly justified. Do you at any time now, in 2023, conclude shooting that policeman is the best way to achieve this? Would that make sense to you?

It is hard, isn’t it, to imagine that it would. It is almost beyond belief that it would. From any standpoint it is almost impossible to see how you would look at things as they are now and conclude a shot policeman is the next step towards getting that 32 county state. Which begs the question, so if not about

bringing a 32 county country in to existence, what was the meaning of that shooting?

It can only be, can’t it, that physical force republicanism demands physical force. Not because that force will lead to a united Ireland but because it must assert its own existence. In this way of thinking all of those who took up arms in the past demand that future generations take up arms too.

On and on into eternity. Irrespective of context and circumstance.

So if taking up arms in 1916 made strategic sense but does not in 2023, that is not the point. The point is not the aim. The point is not a united Ireland. The point is bloodshed.

On and on forever, political violence must be committed as a tribute to physical violence. We must honour the dead by sending more people to their deaths. This is physical force republicanism not as a means of bringing about an Ireland united and free but as a death cult.

The living must honour the republican dead and they must never stop doing so. It has to be that doesn’t it? Because otherwise the shooting of that policeman makes no sense. It does not bring a united Ireland one step nearer. It does not make a 32 county Republic in any way more likely. Only the politically illiterate could believe that to be so.

Maybe I’m utterly wrong. Maybe there is another explanation. Maybe someone can explain why pumping bullets into that policeman in front of fleeing children is good for a united Ireland. Maybe there is an an analysis whereby that blood spilled alongside a football pitch will be something a future Ireland can be proud of. But if there is it is beyond me. Way, way beyond.

Joe Horgan tweets at @JoeHorganwriter