A new force enters Irish republican politics
A new republican political party was established in Ireland last weekend. The name of this new party is Saoradh – the Irish for liberation. This is a very interesting development and, if they are successful, they could alter the narrative regarding republicanism in Ireland.
The launch of this new party was a surprise from any, myself included. It is clear from the media reports and photographs taken at the ard-fheis that a lot of time has been spent in preparing the launch of this new party. The party was launched in a large upmarket hotel in Iúr Chinn Trá. This was also the venue for the Ógra Fhianna Fáil conference in November last year. The choice of hotel did not go unnoticed by reporters. Suzanne Breen, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, made pejorative remarks indicating that normally republican meetings are held in community centres in poor areas.
There was a professionally designed logo and banners, and all the delegates wore proper conference badges. All of these are an indication that a lot of time and money has been spent on preparing the party for its launch and the party is aware of the necessity of branding and proper optics. (More about that later).
A challenge to Sinn Féin
Saoradh is what is normally called a dissident republican party but in reality are republicans as their point of view about Irish unity has not changed unlike Sinn Féin which is called republican but no longer is.
There are many people in Ireland who disagree with the direction Sinn Féin has gone in and disagree with the Belfast Agreement. Sinn Féin supports the Belfast Agreement but it has not brought Irish unification any closer. This disallusionment with Sinn Féin and the lack of progress towards a British withdrawal and Irish unity are what are feeding Saoradh. For too long there were different groups and organisations who opposed the Belfast Agreement but did not offer a proper political alternative to Sinn Féin and the other nationalist parties who told the Irish people that the Belfast Agreement is the only way to achieve Irish unity.
These republicans focused on violent means to oppose the Belfast Agreement and British rule instead of organising a party that could challenge Sinn Féin.
A proper political party?
It will be interesting to see if Saoradh will be a proper political party. By this I mean, will Saoradh stand candidates in elections? Will it use every election as a new possibility to further its message? In my eyes political parties are organisations that frequently contest elections. Organisations that have a political philosophy and call themselves parties but that do not contest elections are not really political parties. They are just groups – protest groups, debating groups etc. but that is all that they are, just groups which can’t really be considered political parties until they frequently contest elections.
At the ard-fheis, it was said that Saoradh would contest elections in Ireland – for Dáil Éireann, the northern assembly and for Westminster elections. This is a welcome development as for too long republican so-called parties refused to contest elections for some strange reason. Interesting, Saoradh said that if its candidates were elected it would abstain from the bodies to which they are elected. Has Sinn Féin Poblachtach had a bearing on this? Or will it render Sinn Féin Poblachtach irrelevant if a new republican party also has the same abstentionist position?
Votes – the thing the establishment fear the most
If Saoradh does contest elections and starts to win them, they will strike terror into the establishment and in Sinn Féin. Whatever establishment parties say about wanting republicans to come in from the cold and participate in the electoral system, they actually prefer that they don’t as it means that they can say that republicans have no support from the public. However, if a party like Saoradh wins elections, it will cause horror in the establishment as it means that people do support the republican ideal and are not fooled by the idea that the Belfast Agreement is the only means to achieve unity. It would cause most headaches for Sinn Féin as they like to present themselves as the only republican party. If Saoradh took votes from them and won some seats that Sinn Féin normally wins, then Sinn Féin will have to change tack to become more republican. This would mean that Sinn Féin would have to address some of the criticisms about the Belfast Agreement and the flaws and let downs that have occured.
It is important to speak about optics for any party of whatever philosphy. As mentioned earlier, the organisers of Saoradh seem to have understood the importance of branding and optics.
They have well-designed banners and logos and they chose an upmarket hotel to have the launch of the party in. The delegates wore conference badges around their necks and judging from the photographs, it seems to have been well organised.
So far, so good.
When one looks at the Saoradh Facebook page, it is a different story. There are images of people in military garb marching to a commemoration. This kind of image scares the hell out of most people and turns them off. The logo has a pike as used during the 1798 rebellion. Again, this gives the connotation of violence and looking back to times long ago. While these sort of things may seem minor to Saoradh members, they send out the wrong message to the general public whom Saoradh will have to appeal to when they stand in elections. If they are serious about attracting support, they will have to abandon this type of optics and have no militaristic element about them. I get the feeling that some of Saoradh’s members know this but the history of militant republicanism may be difficult to eliminate entirely. For the record, Fianna Fáil does a pathetic colour party at its commemorations. The people who do it look like knobs. No political party should have military parades.
Violence or non-violence
It is unclear yet if Saoradh will be like Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin Poblachtach, and the Irish Republican Socialist Party of yesteryear when they openly supported armed resistance. Hopefully Saoradh will state that it does not support armed resistance or any other violence and only wants to use elections as the way to shape events in Ireland. If not, Saoradh will just be a mouth-piece for the IRA and a wasted opportunity for a new republican initiative.
Time will tell
This is a new and different initiative from republicans. For the moment, it looks like there are capable people running the party and who aim to be professional and well-organised. Time will tell though if they take the right actions to contest elections, win votes and support and pose a challenge to the Belfast Agreement consensus. If they are smart, they will opt to be non-violent and appeal to the general public. If they are not so smart, they might chose to be cheer leaders for the IRA and therefore limit themselves to a small constituency in Ireland.