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Kevin Myers: It's time true republicans claimed back the word

The first step in any political programme is cultural, and usually involves the requisitioning of key words, even though these can sometimes be misleading. American 'Democrats' are no more 'democratic' than American 'Republicans', and American 'Republicans' are no more 'republican' than American 'Democrats'.

In Ireland, the Labour Party is a dismal copy of the British Labour Party -- perhaps because its first three leaders, James Larkin, James Connolly and Tom Johnstone, were all British. Moreover, it has never really attracted the vote of the traditional urban 'labour' vote, for the working classes of Dublin have usually voted for Fianna Fail. Indeed, it was the small-town poor and the agricultural workers of Meath who were the most die-hard of 'traditional' Labour voters.

Overall, the Dublin vote for the Irish Labour Party was typically for middle-class lefties, and it never did a great deal for the working classes -- and indeed, it seldom did much as a matter of principle. Which was why it stayed in government with Fine Gael even after the then-Taoiseach voted against the only recognisably left-wing piece of legislation of the coalition of 1973, the Family Planning Act.

You can argue that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are simply silly names that have no meaning, and which invoke a wholly anachronistic sense of political identity. Certainly, if any English political party were to call itself the Family of Anglo-Saxons or Knights of the Round Table, one would be reaching for either some anti-racism legislation, or the key to the lunatic asylum.

But on the other hand, since no one who uses the terms 'Fine Gael' or 'Fianna Fail' has any real memory of their meaning, the words are essentially valueless. In that sense, they echo the old English words, 'Tory' and 'Whig', which are respectively Irish and Scottish, and have curiously similar origins. Tory, as you know, comes from the Irish to pursue, and Whig comes from the Lowlands term 'Whiggamore', which in turn derived from 'whig-a-mare', a dialect term for driving a horse forward.

So clearly, some political words are often unrelated to their real meaning in the outside world: and more to the point, no one really misunderstands them. The important thing is that they should not be contradictions: either they are meaningless, like Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, or they are general assertions of political piety, such as British/Irish Labour, and US Democrat and Republican. The Labour Party does not usually defend slavery, child chimney-sweeps or compulsory prostitution for convent schoolgirls. American Democrats do not argue for domestic despotism, nor their Republican rivals for an inherited monarchy.

Why then do we allow the entire tribe of murderous pagans in Irish life to requisition the word 'republican', and then to further corrupt the process of language-acquisition with the additional seizure of the word 'dissident'? If we grant (which I do not) Sinn Fein the right to claim the term 'republican' because it kills people it disagrees with, then when Sinn Fein actively opposes killing people, and demands that killers be made amenable to the courts, surely it is being 'dissident'? That is logical, is it not?

But no: we are too weak to insist that these people use language as we use it. We allow Sinn Fein people to still call themselves republican in a sense which is apparently different from the republican values maintained by Brian Cowen or Enda Kenny. But in what way are they more 'republican'?

Maybe it's because they still secretly swear allegiance to an IRA army council. But if that's so, then that's not being republican, but being party to a conspiratorial brotherhood. Let's call it that -- especially since both FF and FG both sub-title themselves "the republican party".

Moreover, if we allow that the possession of and willingness to use guns is the hallmark of a republican, then the motley gang of RIRA, CIRA and pseudo-Oglaigh na hEireann are not republican dissidents, but the real thing. Provisional Sinn Fein cannot take the word 'republican' with them wherever they go, as if it's their ball and they're going home for their tea.

To be fair to the Stickies -- which doesn't come easy, I can tell you -- once they stopped blowing up cleaning women in Aldershot and shooting elected politicians in the North, they also stopped calling themselves 'republicans'. So what kind of moral and lexical authority do the heirs of the Provisional IRA possess that they can still hold on to the word 'republican'?

Moreover, what precisely do they have to do before they forfeit that term 'republican'? Murder Protestants because they're Protestants? Done that. Run massive rackets to enrich the leadership? Done that. Be a cover for just about every single British intelligence agency? Done that. Murder loyal colleagues to protect informers? Done that. Diligently protect child-rapists? Done that.

It's time that we true Irish republicans claimed back the word in its general European and American sense, to describe those who believe in a secular, democratic state with no inherited ranks or titles. In which case, a dissident republican would simply be someone who has discovered a devotion to kingship, and not some bloodthirsty cretin who believes in murder.

Irish Independent