There was quite a media stir last week with the publication of a new magazine by the Irish Republican Writers Group which, according to its first editorial, "includes both those who oppose the Belfast Agreement and those who support it."
Unfortunately, it looks like those members of the group who support the Agreement have broken their wrists because almost every article, from page one to page twelve, contains attacks on the Sinn Fein leadership. These include Martin McGuinness, Bairbre de Brun and Francie Molloy, but particularly attacks on Gerry Adams, which, in part, and no reflection on the editors, explains the generous coverage the launch of the magazine enjoyed in the media, including the right-wing Daily Telegraph, believing it had sniffed a wounded Adams.
The magazine is called Fourthwrite and is produced by, among others, Tommy McKearney from Tyrone and Anthony McIntyre from Belfast, ex-republican prisoners who both served life sentences, including time on the blanket protest and in Tommy McKearney's case, fifty-three days on hunger strike in 1980. Two of Tommy McKearney's brothers, Sean and Padraig, died on active service, and a third, Kevin, was assassinated by loyalists who also fatally wounded their Uncle John. In other words, many of the articles and analyses in the magazine have been written by deeply-committed republicans who fought and suffered for their convictions, and whose families also suffered.
The magazine cannot be ignored - but nor are its views to be specially weighted because from whom they originate. That their opinions might be thoroughly outnumbered by the diametrically-opposed views of other ex-lifers, ex-blanketmen or ex-hunger strikers in support of Sinn Fein policy does not invalidate the arguments expressed in Fourthwrite. Everyone else might be wrong.
Where the magazine suffers is in its intemperateness. There is no sign of comradeship and its claims to be inclusive is, as I said, transparently lacking in this first edition, although the publication of an attack on Sinn Fein by Ulster Unionist Stephen King is certainly one definition of inclusiveness but not, I think, the one claimed. Also, use of the term 'Provisional' and 'Provisional leadership', clearly in pejorative senses, sounds remarkably like Republican Sinn Fein-speak to me.
Other articles speak of Sinn Fein's opportunism, careerism and clientelism. Gerry Adams is "a modern day de Valera" and Sinn Fein is doing the job for the British of keeping the people "fat, dumb and happy".
The centre-page interview is with Brendan Hughes and is aptly called 'A Dark View of the Process', as it expresses deep demoralisation and disillusionment. He criticises republicans "who have big houses and guaranteed incomes", implying corruption, and speaks of a confident British counter-insurgency strategy to "mould leaderships whom they could deal with", which in the insult-stakes comes not far behind calling someone a collaborator.
His most remarkable and unconsidered comment, however, is the statement that the "republican leadership has always exploited our loyalty." Remarkable because Brendan is introduced as the "former leader of the IRA in Belfast and OC of republican prisoners through the blanket protest in Long Kesh." Given his own role as a leader both outside and inside jail and the fact that no guerrilla organisation or PoW structure could operate without loyalty, which is exploited and relied upon for common or particular tasks ("do this and don't query it"), it is difficult to understand his complaint.
The complaint may be that out of loyalty republicans exercise too much self-censorship, which is true in some cases but not all. Tommy McKearney has been openly critical of republican strategy since he helped found the League of Communist Republicans back in the late 1980s. Republicans have already widely read the opinions of the magazine's other editor, Anthony McIntyre, in the Sunday Tribune, The Irish News and the Andersonstown News, and seen and heard both men on television and radio.
Perhaps the only nerve the editors have touched is a raw nerve of their own. Perhaps the one-sidedness in the magazine is a reflection that other republicans are more than familiar with their views, don't share them, and would not want to be associated with uncomradely harangues such as the "republican leadership is in the pay of the British government."
It is very difficult to comprehend what it is the magazine is advocating as a realistic alternative to Sinn Fein's strategy. Having said that, it does carry one sensible and refreshing feature, a piece by Tommy McKearney, 'Republicanism in the 21st Century', where he reminds activists that radical republicanism is about more than electoral politics.
"Are we content," he asks, "to confine democracy to electoral participation or are we capable of expanding it and clearly defining it to include practical economic, social and intellectual democracy? Are we able to create a social order that provides for the poor, the young, the old and the weak? Are we able to produce a foreign policy that is genuinely ethical and not designed to lean on the whims of the regulators of global capitalism."
If Fourthwrite could concentrate on debating those questions and leave aside the invective or whatever personal spites or past slights are possibly eating away at some, then perhaps it could find some common purpose with old comrades, and the rest of us would be all ears.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison