Reading headlines from Ireland over the last few weeks was strange because I could have sworn I’d read them before…and I have. Hunger Strike commemorations, anger over parades, riot police protecting interlopers over residents, arson fires at community centers, the birth of new political parties, and spies in the IRA have dominated the media of late. The anger, frustration, and general sense of “what the fxck” that came with it all was a bit stronger in the last couple of weeks than it has been in much of the last few decades. The pictures, headlines, and videos gave me a sense of foreboding and a lingering confusion which kind of felt like I was having a bad flashback. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Let’s start with the dismantling of the Twaddell “protest” camp. It was long overdue and it has cost the neighborhood and the entire city far too much over the years. However, at the end of the standoff it seems like truly nothing was accomplished, unless you count draining the city of millions and hijacking its resources for way too many years.
In the end, the camp is no longer a huge eyesore but the Orange Order’s years of bullying and making a nuisance out of themselves paid off. They got to “go home” after all, through a neighborhood that has never wanted them. Furthermore, there’s not much to stop them from doing it all over again, depending on the Parade Commission next year. This angered certain residents and community organizers, and they vented their frustrations on reporters, priests, and each other. It was an unfortunate display that went against them in the media and totally undercut their valid concerns. Many residents were not consulted in this compromise. Many feel like Sinn Fein has abandoned them and they have no voice or protection in the government. Some are worried about the problems that will likely return in July. Nothing about this deal addresses any of those things. None of the articles do either because watching Dee Fennell attack a priest is far more sensational and immediate than a real and inclusive peace deal ever could be. It reminded people of the provocative photos of the Troubles and the unbridled anger that led to them…and it sold a whole lot of papers and got a whole lot of hits on social media.
Which brings us to the birth of a new, militant political party – one that is also reminiscent of the past. It was pretty easy to see Saoradh coming. There are so many signs in the North pointing to a new dawn of paramilitary ideals and it didn’t die out after Easter. It is only getting stronger, and it is getting stronger together.
Saoradh means liberation (or rescue) in Irish and is a potent name for a new political party, but whether it lives up to it or not remains to be seen. The party is made up of a combination of various Republican factions from both sides of the border – many of whom do not normally stand together for any reason. This unity is a resounding rebuttal to established parties like the SDLP and Sinn Fein and their decades-long grasp on Republican voters. Saoradh is hoping to provide somewhere new for people to take their issues and allegiance to.
It’s been nearly twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement was ratified. During that time many have grown disillusioned with the lack of progress or change. The UK still claims the north and is about to drag it out of the EU, against its wishes. Sinn Fein has moved to the center and they don’t engage in battles that they think they might lose, even when they should. The party has distanced itself from republican prisoners, from many legacy issues, and from other topics that are important to their more militant base. They’ve seemingly turned their backs on those that gave them power to begin with and have underestimated their grip on a lot of the population. Making deals without community representation, not fighting for the Irish Language, being unable to stop serious budget cuts that effect their constituents, and publicly praising the Orange Order hasn’t done them any favors. In fact, it has cost them a lot of support. There’s a rising frustration on both sides of the political arena and instead of facing these issues head on, long-standing politicians continue on their predictable paths until they find themselves on the losing end of a battle they forgot they were part of.
This anger at the status quo and the need for a quick solution is not just happening in Ireland. It’s an international phenomenon. It’s how Brexit came to be a fact instead of just a very bad idea. It’s why a bullying buffoon is on the brink of winning the American elections and why people hate his rival just as much. It’s also why grass-roots organizations hold so much sway in the hearts and minds of so many people. We’re all sick of the way the world works (or doesn’t) and are looking for a change. Most activism is fueled by young people who are searching for something different or by old people who have watched the systems fail. In the north of Ireland, you have both. Many new young Republicans aren’t old enough to remember the Troubles so the trauma of the conflict doesn’t factor into their militant idealism. There are others who fought for decades who have spent the last twenty years wondering why they ever stopped. Both need something new and Gerry Adams is anything but. So they flock to a new banner of hope – one that promises to support prisoners, to protect communities, and to fill the Republican gap left by Sinn Fein and the SDLP. It all sounds grand and exciting, but quick solutions and wordy promises mean nothing unless someone can deliver on them. If Saoradh has much to offer, they’ll need to prove it quickly. They call themselves “unashamedly revolutionary” but their agenda isn’t that different from many that came before. They predict that they’ll contest elections but a policy of abstentionism means that they are unlikely to affect the change they demand. What Saoradh has to offer so far is amorphous and vague, aside from a great logo and their unrepentant Republican values.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of their concepts and I understand the frustration it rose from. Established politicians world-wide are more than content to remain where they are, collecting money and power at the expense of the people they’re supposed to represent. It’s infuriating and it must change but it’s also important to remember that every action has a reaction, and it’s the long game that matters. Saoradh has to prove they can stand the test of time.
The Good Friday Agreement was a temporary band aid on a divided society that has held for a blessedly long time but the potential fallout from Brexit and the rise of sectarian violence and paramilitary activity shows that this era may be coming to a close. It is going to take some work to prevent a slide back into the region’s troubled past and despite the bluster, I doubt anyone truly wants that. There needs to be a space for Saoradh at the table, for those they represent, and for their counterparts too, but I don’t think they can do it alone. I’m not sure that any party is up to that task but maybe all of them together could be.
(Then again, I’m an Irish-American stuck in the middle of my own horrifying political shitshow, so what the hell do I know?)