Dissident republicans are a spent force

Posted By: November 06, 2015

They never achieved the traction that would have given them relevance
Denis Bradley. IRISH NEWS(BELFAST).Friday, November 6, 2015

Shortly after a young ‘dissident’ hit me over the head with a baseball bat, a senior Provo said to me: “Don’t get too carried away with yourself, Bradley. They hit you this time but it is me and my likes that they are really after”. He was dead right.

Both of us knew enough to know the complex dynamics of Irish republicanism. We both knew the fundamentalism that accompanies any battle for the soul of that militant tradition. Because I was on the Policing Board, I was an incarnation of the clash between the Provos entering politics and the dissident rump who viewed that decision as an act of betrayal. In the passion and the depth of that battle, I was a sideshow.

That is one of the big issues that hasn’t gone away. It was at the heart of the recent killings in Belfast that led to a convoluted but accurate assessment by George Hamilton, the Chief Constable, and that, in turn, led to the political spat between Nesbitt and Robinson. It is surely only in Ireland that something that can only be resolved within the politics of nationalism/republicanism should, instead, be the battle ground on which unionist politicians fight for moral superiority.

Mike Nesbitt may have done us a favour by insisting that the ongoing presence of militant republicanism be more adequately addressed than it has been up to now but he should also know the import and the weight he carries in this hundred year old dispute. He should know that, like myself, he is a sideshow.

It would be a great contribution to the future of Ireland if the dissident republicans had the wit and the honesty to admit that they have lost the battle. It is ten years since my honest Provo told me I was a sideshow. We both knew then that the dissidents had a few years to replace the Provos as a militant machine and as a political and social presence in the heartlands of nationalism and republicanism. They have failed on all fronts. They have fractured too much and too often. They are suspected of having too many shady characters who wouldn’t stand up to much temptation. They are seen as being massively infiltrated by the security people in the north and the south. Apart from a few skirmishes in pubs and the recent tragic murders in Belfast, they have not really confronted the Provos and they certainly haven’t replaced them.

At their least effective they are an irrelevance; at their most effective they are a stone in the shoe that makes things a bit less comfortable than they should be. Taking everything into account, it is time to throw in the towel.

And to be fair to the dissidents, they have good insight into the competence and the ruthlessness of their opponents. It takes that combination of competence and ruthlessness to plan and achieve a scenario that when the dissidents overstepped the mark, the ‘ghosts’ of the Provos moved in their usual deadly manner to face them down. The difference this time is that the ‘ghosts’ knew that they would be disowned – described as criminals within hours. Killing to save the peace; criminals for the purity of Ireland.

The upshot is that the dissidents are a spent force. They never achieved the traction that would have given them relevance. They are now in the worst of all positions that future violence coming from them is going to be bordering on the psychopathic. It will also put an end to the sham overtures from Sinn Fein to the dissidents to enter into talks with them. The people who have the least moral and political authority to act as persuaders to the dissidents are Sinn Fein. The Irish Government is the only entity that has that authority and competence but, unfortunately, the present government doesn’t understand the substance nor the centrality of the debate and even if they could be persuaded you would suspect that they wouldn’t have the stomach.

The Provos deserve recognition for the efforts they have made to bring militant republicanism to an end. Externally, they have mainly succeeded but within the hearts there still burns a small light to the belief that they are the true inheritors of 1916 and the guardians of the noble aspirations of the Irish nation.

It will take more effort and more time to extinguish that mythical flame. But that notion, too, will have to bow to the will of the Irish people.