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Critical EngagementIrish Republicanism, Memory Politics and Policing$

Kevin Hearty

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940476

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940476.001.0001

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The Patriot Dead

The Patriot Dead

(p.121) Chapter 4 The Patriot Dead
Critical Engagement

Kevin Hearty

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter assesses the centrality of martyrology to Irish republicanism as an ideology. It examines how the dead become a useful political resource for competing memory entrepreneurs who are keen to sanctify their current strategies and in the process keep their grassroots support base on board during periods of political transition. It interrogates contending narratives on whether ‘critical engagement’ is in furtherance of or contradiction to the ideological goals that the Irish republican war dead sacrificed themselves for. The chapter grapples with the policing narrative proffered by each side; the narrative of ‘critical engagement’ being the extension of the courage shown by the dead during armed struggle and the counter-narrative that endorsement of policing represents a defeat of the goals for which the Irish republican war dead sacrificed themselves. It examines how commemoration and memorialisation were used by competing political groups prior to, during and following the Sinn Fein Extraordinary Ard Fheis on policing in order to bolster their respective positions through building a link of continuity with the martyred dead.

Keywords:   commemoration, martyrology, memory entrepreneurs, spoiler violence, war dead


This chapter examines the curious case of how the memory of those killed by policing agents could later be used to advocate support for policing in the North of Ireland. Leading on from examination of ideological contestation on policing to which the dead are inextricably linked, it interrogates contending narratives on whether ‘critical engagement’ is in furtherance of or a contradiction of the ideological goals for which the Irish republican patriot dead sacrificed themselves. It investigates the main components of the policing narrative proffered by each side of the debate; ‘critical engagement’ being the extension of the courage shown by the patriot dead during armed struggle, or whether endorsement of policing represents a self-inflicted defeat of the goals for which the patriot dead sacrificed themselves. This is followed by an examination of the political utility of the patriot dead to competing ‘memory entrepreneurs’ that critically evaluates why each side attaches so much worth to the patriot dead and why they go to considerable lengths to distance them from intra-communal rivals.

Irish republican martyrology

Firmly ensconced in ‘Irish republican theology’,1 the patriot dead are embedded in ‘the language of sacred soil and the cult of the dead’.2 The ‘historical determinism’ within Irish republicanism has seen the patriot dead provide a mandate to various Irish republican groupings, even if a mandate from the living evades them.3 One can say without exaggeration that the patriot (p.122) dead are omnipresent in the memory politics of modern Irish republicanism. The ‘cult of the dead’ is, however, hardly exclusive to Irish republicanism. It has been indulged in by political actors the world over. Before turning attention to the Irish republican case study, it is pertinent to outline why the ‘cult of the dead’ has such a strong appeal.

Christ’s position as the ultimate martyr who died for a greater ‘cause’ projects a latent divinity onto those who give themselves in furtherance of a political cause couched in Christian traditions of self-sacrifice.4 Even those who die whilst engaging in violence bathe in this divinity that places them beyond reproach. Narratives of those killed in political conflict revolve around the selflessness of their sacrifice made for the greater good of the cause.5 It is the selflessness of this sacrifice that sanctifies and legitimises their very cause.6 The mere virtue of death places the fallen on a higher moral plain, thus purifying the cause they died for. In Irish republicanism, this manifests itself in collectively celebrated Pearsian ideals of self-sacrifice by the ‘children of the nation’ in the name of ‘mother Ireland’. However, it is not only those who meet a violent end on the battlefield that hold importance to their constituencies. The value of Martin Luther King to African American ‘memory entrepreneurs’ demonstrates that even pacifists who die ‘political’ deaths become revered.7 The mere fact that a death is political endows it with an inherent sense of ‘commemorability’ which ‘memory entrepreneurs’ with the requisite ‘mnemonic capacity’ can turn into collective memory.8

Death in the service of one’s country ‘assumes a moral grandeur’ that little else can rival.9 This generated a culture of ‘martyrology’ within Irish republicanism that has been used by republican elites to obtain sympathy for the republican cause within wider Nationalism.10 It is the inherent ability of commemoration to construct collective identity through teaching the lessons of the past by using ritualism and symbolism that makes it so useful.11 Collective identity can be fostered around the dead as they enable ‘memory entrepreneurs’ to tie local events and local martyrs to larger national events and the collective dead. The dead may be from a particular locality and community, yet at the same time they belong to a larger national collective. As such, they (p.123) transcend temporal barriers by continuing the struggle of past martyrs and showing the way for future martyrs.12 The prevalence of the memory of Adem Jashari, ‘The Legendary Commander’ in Kosovo, is a case outside of the North of Ireland that demonstrates these points. Jashari’s memory has been projected beyond the confines of the Prekaz region where he was killed into the collective Kosovar Albanian memory that ties him seamlessly with past Albanian heroes.13 Likewise, muralisation of the dead in Gaza has served a similar purpose for Palestinians,14 while competing ethno-nationalist master narratives in Bosnia link the local dead of recent conflicts to the memory of the antifascist Partisans and the collective memory of the Ottoman era.15 Instructive examples from within Irish republicanism are the ‘Loughgall Martyrs’16 and the 1981 hunger strikers.17

The considerable value the dead hold for elites is indicated by how ‘acts of blood sacrifice have their greatest significance through a kind of hidden “moral causation” that eventuates in the desired political outcome’.18 That gunmen could have hidden moral value is indeed baffling on one level. However, within Irish republicanism the reality is, as Devine-Wright highlights, ‘the status of historic figures as soldiers or freedom fighters idealise aggression and fighting, thus providing important legitimacy for those who are fighting in the present’.19 This legitimating function takes on added significance because the dead ‘can speak only through the tongues of present day interpreters’.20 Though essentially casualties of a past conflict, the dead take on the role of inspiration, guiding and directing those pursuing the same objectives today. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in modern Irish republicanism. The ability of the dead to ‘lead the way’ is demonstrated through the assertion that ‘republicans will always remember and honour those who struggled in the past to achieve our shared objectives. We do so not merely out of respect and admiration but also to learn about the present and to plan for the future’.21 The importance of the patriot dead to the wider Irish republican constituency and rival hegemons within (p.124) that constituency cannot be underestimated. The patriot dead provide moral justification of the armed struggle, are useful in garnering political support, can help establish and solidify collective identities and, most importantly, they can be seen to posthumously endorse present strategies.22 When present strategies differ within a single constituency contestation intensifies, making the memory of the dead a potent and deployable resource for competing elites.

The traditional dominance of the Provisional movement within Irish republicanism birthed ‘a fervent rejection of any other political group’s ability to represent the Nationalist community’.23 As a consequence, they came to dominate commemoration of the patriot dead. Commemoration and ‘Provisional politics’ are infused, meaning that commemoration is as much orientated towards ‘Provisional politics’ as ‘Provisional politics’ is towards commemoration.24 The centrality of commemorative rites to Sinn Féin’s post-conflict memory politics is evident through their widespread use of murals, monuments, commemorative lectures and commemorative booklets to keep the memory of the dead ‘alive’ amongst their grassroots support. This feeds into the point made by Graham and Whelan that whilst commemoration acts as a reminder of the sacrifice of the fallen it ‘is concerned too, with the need to establish Sinn Féin as the rightful heir to the legacy of Irish nationalism’.25 The strength of the bonds between the memory of the patriot dead and Sinn Féin’s political project has led McDowell to conclude that they are ‘inexorably linked’.26 Commemoration of the patriot dead has a political value whereby the ‘performed memory of violence and sacrifice underlines a transformed politics’ thus conveying to the republican support base that ‘Provisional Republicanism is aware of its roots and remains true to them’.27 The practical outworking of this can be seen in the following extract from a social media advertisement for a commemorative event for IRA volunteer Francis Jordan in South Armagh: ‘People like Francis Jordan are the reason we all enjoy the rights we have today and it was their sacrifice that allows us to carry on the struggle for freedom peacefully and democratically. They went to war so later generations did not have to’.28 Provisional commemorative dominance, however, stops just short of a monopoly of the patriot dead. Members of other groups died too (p.125) and are commemorated by their organisations. Moreover, these groups also commemorate older collective heroes. For example, Belfast once hosted seven different Easter commemorations by multifarious Irish republican organisations.29 During the centenary year, this mnemonic free-for-all became more apparent as ‘memory entrepreneurs’ of every hue staked their claim to the 1916 legacy. Commemorative events ranged from a hard-line commemoration in Coalisland, Co. Tyrone that called for the completion of the ‘unfinished revolution’ to state-sponsored events in Dublin attended by the President and Taoiseach.30

There is a distinct difference in how the memory of the dead features in narratives when a war has been ‘won’ and when it has not been ‘won’.31 In victory, the dead are hailed as the champions of a cause that was proved righteous only through their blood sacrifice. The victory enjoyed by the living is the eternal debt they owe to the dead. In defeat, the death of martyrs is a ‘chosen trauma’ that spurs future generations on to avenge the injustice of their deaths.32 The inapplicability of either observation to the patriot dead speaks to the peculiarities of the position modern Irish republicanism finds itself in, being caught somewhere between victory and defeat depending on which perspective of the Northern Ireland transition one wishes to take. Neither militarily defeated nor militarily victorious when Irish republicans discontinued armed struggle, the dead of the most recent phase of conflict remain in a limbo-like state; their deaths facilitated a political process that has politically empowered Irish republicanism yet by the same token their military efforts did not drive the British Army into boats swiftly departing Belfast docks as initially thought.

It is from this very matter that the contestation inherent in post-conflict Irish republican memory politics stems. ‘Progressive republicans’ argue that Irish republicans are only in a strengthened political position today due to the sacrifices made by the dead during the armed struggle.33 They argue that as republicans move forward politically they continue to be guided by the sacrifices of the patriot dead. They are working towards the goal that sacrifice was made in pursuit of, albeit in a different manner. For others, this new means has essentially become an ‘end’ rather than a ‘means’. This ‘end’ falls short of that (p.126) which the patriot dead pursued. These groups who oppose policing – with the exception of the IRSP, whose members were keen to point out during interviews that unlike other Irish republican groupings they had no ‘shared past’ with the Provisional movement – are ‘contesting a shared past’ with Sinn Féin.34 They invoke the memory of the same armed struggle and the same martyred dead to sanctify their opposition to Sinn Féin’s current strategy. By contrast, the IRSP utilise the memory of the INLA dead rather than contesting the memory of IRA dead. They have, however, taken issue with the apparent expropriation of the INLA hunger strikers by Sinn Féin.35 Rivalry of this nature reflects that seen in South Africa over who can legitimately claim the memory of Steve Biko and the Sharpeville massacre.36 What was effectively an ‘official memory’ of the 1981 hunger strike, as ordained by Sinn Féin, has recently come under unprecedented internal challenge from a range of ‘memory entrepreneurs’ with varying agendas.37

With increasing division within Irish republicanism comes increased contestation over the memory of the patriot dead. No longer is there the unquestioning assumption that the dead actually died for what Sinn Féin say they died for. Those in disagreement with Sinn Féin are able to offer a different explanation of what the patriot dead died for and what their sacrifice means within contemporary Irish republicanism. Competing hegemons endeavour to carve a political genealogy that heralds these ‘struggle heroes’ as their ideological ancestors.38 This tendency to latch on to ‘struggle heroes’ was also noted by Laleh Khalili in Palestine when she observed that hegemons vying over the memory of Izz al-Din al-Qassam:

Chose to remember the martyr as it befitted their agenda and their ideology, analogizing the martyr’s strategies with those of the current period and drawing conclusions on the basis of this analogy … which legitimated the claims of the commemorating institution … the organizations instrumentalized the martyr and the practice of remembering him.39

The ‘malleability of memory’ gives it an uncanny adaptability, meaning that ‘struggle heroes’ ‘are evoked at various historical moments, places and contexts, (p.127) by interested agents as reverential and referential models of a communicable past; they can be used both for and against the same institutions against which the martyr once struggled’.40 In this context, the patriot dead become invaluable to both sides in the policing debate. What follows is an in-depth examination of their respective narratives; a narrative of continuity depicting policing as an extension of the sacrifice of the patriot dead and a narrative of rupture portraying it as the defeat of the goal for which the patriot dead gave their lives.

The extension of struggle

The greatest difficulty for those supporting policing lay in reconciling support for the PSNI with the sacrifice made by republicans fighting the police in the past. How, after all, can one pledge support for the same forces that comrades died fighting against a short time ago? This involved walking a mnemonic tightrope that required extreme dexterity lest a plunge to political suicide would result. This balancing act was not made easier by the natural apprehension over the move in areas that had suffered most at the hands of the security forces. Asking these families and communities to ‘move on’ and embrace policing as part of a larger strategy was a monumental task. The families of the patriot dead have always been important to the Irish republican collective. They have been central to republican commemoration as not only do they ‘remember’ the sacrifice as members of the Irish republican collective but they are also remembering members of their family.41 They embody the interface between republican collective memory of suffering at losing a member of the wider collective and the individual memory of loss stemming from losing a loved one. Sinn Féin therefore engaged with the families of the dead in an effort to get them ‘on board’ with policing. In areas where the issue was particularly problematic, special meetings were convened for families to air their concerns and provisions made for them to attend the Ard Fheis.42 At the Ard Fheis, special mention was made of the families of the patriot dead and the difficulty the move represented for them.43 That such effort was expended by Sinn Féin indicates just how important a constituency the families are within Irish republicanism. They were likely to be the most hesitant group within the (p.128) constituency and if they came ‘on board’ it was likely to persuade others to do so. Perhaps there was also an implied assumption that if the families came ‘on board’ this de facto meant that the patriot dead were ‘on board’ too.

The dead are immeasurably useful to elites in times of ‘system transformation’.44 They become a resource for reassuring doubters at grassroots levels and for anchoring the new direction of the present to the struggle of the past. The need for this on the policing issue is obvious. The move represented such a departure from the militant republicanism the dead had known that a link with this past was what ‘the leadership’ proposal would stand or fall on. Accordingly, the patriot dead were depicted as leading the way for the new political developments that were unfolding. These developments became the continuation of the war waged by the dead but by different means. This reflects how the Sinn Féin leadership habitually invokes the dead to ‘sanctify current strategies’ in a post-conflict setting.45 The irony of this is, as Rolston notes, that the party and its current strategy are ‘very different’ from that which the patriot dead would have known.46 Despite this, ‘the dead are woven into an advancing and evolving narrative of struggle where the “chosen destination” of past IRA volunteers and a republicanism now embarked on a peace strategy are the same’.47 In this context, memory becomes more than simply commemorating the dead. Rather, it involves placing them in a ‘meaningful’ post-conflict narrative.48 There is a distinct difference between ‘remembering’ and narration in this sense. While individuals can ‘remember’, it is only political elites that can place these memories in carefully constructed collective narratives. The patriot dead subsequently became actors in a protracted conflict narrative that led to the political project of Sinn Féin.

Constructing the narrative

The opportunity to write the patriot dead into this master narrative arose in the weeks prior to the Extraordinary Ard Fheis, first at the annual commemoration of two republican icons killed in a Border Campaign assault on Brookeborough RUC barracks and then at a commemorative event in Crossmaglen.49 At the first event, Gerry Adams acknowledged the quagmire that policing represented, (p.129) noting that republicans were ‘very aware of the irony’ of commemorating those killed in an attack on an RUC barracks in the middle of a debate on accepting policing. There was, however, ‘no contradiction’ in promoting republican acceptance of policing while honouring those who died physically resisting the RUC.50 For Adams, there was ‘no contradiction’ because he intertwined the narrative of the Brookeborough raid with that of the ‘political struggle’ Sinn Féin was currently engaged in; both were risky, both moved the republican cause forward and both were necessary. To this end, Adams exhorted: ‘like all republican initiatives, it is risky. The Brookeborough raid was risky. Struggle of any kind is risky. We should remember that those who want to maximise change, must be prepared to take the greatest risks’.51 Confronting policing in the new ‘political struggle’ was depicted as a bold move that required the same courage and tenacity that those who died had shown when taking up arms. Failure to confront policing would be a grave disservice to the sacrifice that the fallen had made:

Republicans have never lacked courage. The courage to take up arms like Séan and Fergal in their time, and countless other men and women in our own time. The courage to confront injustice and discrimination. The courage to seize an opportunity for peace. The courage to take risks and at all times to move forward.52

Policing therefore represented an extension not a repudiation of past armed struggle. It was the means through which the ideals of those who died during the conflict would come to be realisable. This point was reinforced by Adams in Crossmaglen when he told republicans that while strategy changed their objectives remained the same as those of the fallen:

The policing debate is the most challenging and difficult we have yet faced. But … let us also keep our eye firmly fixed on the big prize – the prize of unity and independence. Because everything we do is about taking us one step closer to that goal … I believe if we advance together, united behind (p.130) our republican goals, we will win our freedom and build the united Ireland for which Seamus Harvey and his comrades gave their lives.53

It is important to bear in mind McEvoy and Conway’s point that ‘an act of commemoration is more than a straightforward process of remembrance’.54 Indeed, the commemorative events helped reinforce ‘the leadership’ position as much as paying homage to those being commemorated. These commemorations were the platform on which Adams’ performances reinforced the pro-policing position, reassured doubters at grassroots level and issued a rallying call for togetherness during a time of difficulty. They laid the foundations for a narrative bestowing the courage of the dead onto those who were now continuing past struggle politically, thus using the dead to tie two markedly different strategies to a common end goal.

The extension of struggle narrative was further constructed by the prevalence of the patriot dead in the consultation process Sinn Féin rolled out across the six counties. Constructing a pro-policing narrative around the sacrifice and courage of the dead was an ‘important tactic’ during this process.55 Like countless other political elites elsewhere,56 the Sinn Féin leadership used the dead for the purposes of ‘clarification’ and ‘inspiration’. This was necessitated by open recognition from Martin McGuinness that some republicans had difficulty in understanding what accepting policing would ‘mean’ for the republican dead. In response to criticism for ‘selling out’ the patriot dead, he argued, ‘I could have been one of the republican dead in the past. Many of my friends are the republican dead … but I don’t call them to support my case’.57 If others relied on ‘knowing’ how the dead would view policing, then the former IRA commander in Derry was not prepared to do the same. This reflects how Sinn Féin avoided specifically stating that the dead would have accepted policing, instead preferring to depict the move as an extension of the armed struggle they had waged. What opponents stated with absolute clarity in support of their case, Sinn Féin implied through constructing a narrative that depicted policing as an extension of past struggle. It would be incredibly difficult, after all, to assert with utmost certainty that someone who died firing a gun at the RUC would some years later come to endorse the successor force of the same RUC. Linking current strategy with past strategy via an overarching master (p.131) narrative cleverly implied as much without making such a bold public assertion of support from the patriot dead. This reflects how political elites will use memory to reduce opposition to proposed political changes by making the changes appear consistent with the activities of their forebears.58

In contextualising this reality, one interviewee drew on their personal circumstances to argue:

I’ve family members; one of them was the patriot dead. I don’t know what he would think if he was alive. I don’t know if he would have supported it or wouldn’t have supported it so I can’t say that he would support it. But when he died, he died as an IRA volunteer and it’s the same IRA constitutionally that have moved onto the ground that we are on.59

Others picked up on the point that the IRA that the patriot dead belonged to had moved as an overall organisation to support the current Sinn Féin strategy:

Well, the problem with all that is that all those comrades are dead and you can’t really second guess – it’s impossible to second guess what anyone would do. All that I can say is that the vast majority of the guys who were active at the period … they have stayed on the path and have stayed true to the republican leadership.60

This line of reasoning adopts a ‘weight of numbers’ argument to provide a neat corporate transfer of past armed struggle into current political struggle.61 The logic of this is that there is an implicit belief that the patriot dead would support policing. This enables former combatants to not only ‘keep the faith’ with the dead but also buffers them from the criticism of intra-communal rivals that allege a ‘sell out’ of the patriot dead.

The counter-narrative of self-inflicted defeat

While Sinn Féin busied themselves convincing their support base that the move was not injurious to the integrity of the patriot dead, those opposed began countering this argument. They were, of course, in the much easier position of being able to rely on the fact that republicans had always militarily opposed (p.132) rather than endorsed policing. No ‘outside the box’ thinking was required to convey the merits of their argument. Simply put, the republican position on policing had to, if the sacrifice of the dead was not to be dishonoured, remain the same as it was when that sacrifice was made. This counter-narrative defined ‘critical engagement’ not as the extension of the patriot dead’s armed struggle but rather as the self-inflicted defeat of it.

The thrust of the counter-narrative was that endorsing a Northern Irish police force as part of a political settlement was not what the patriot dead had sacrificed themselves for. It was argued that those sacrifices were being wilfully, yet treacherously, traded by Sinn Féin for something falling drastically short of the republican objectives they were made in pursuit of. Adhering to a traditional ideological standpoint, these republicans asserted that policing and a political settlement were not what motivated Irish women and men to take up arms. Their ultimate prize was reunification to be gained through violent resistance not governing in Stormont or overseeing policing reform. This recurring criticism appeared at many crucial junctures throughout the peace process. For example, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt once famously proclaimed that, ‘Bobby [Sands] did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for Nationalists to be equal citizens within the Northern Ireland state’.62 One anti-policing republican invoked the same counter-narrative when resigning from Sinn Féin on the policing issue: ‘people did not die, they did not take up arms for equality. They did so for Irish freedom … it should be remembered that, as republicans, we were committed to fight on until Britain made a declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland’.63 This has remarkable resonance with the analysis of one interviewee who dismissed the Sinn Féin ‘extension of struggle’ narrative by asserting:

If that’s the level of depth of their analysis then the people who have died in the last 30 years fighting in the IRA and upholding the sovereignty of the nation were led to believe they were fighting for something then they must have been used by that leadership that have accepted much less.64

These republicans are correct when they state that the patriot dead did not die with these outcomes in mind. What their counter-narrative fails to acknowledge, however, is that these outcomes were virtually unthinkable during the conflict. The vastly changed political landscape of contemporary (p.133) Northern Ireland made these events possible, with the effect that many who had fought alongside the patriot dead have come to accept, encourage and endorse these moves. Simplistically arguing that ‘this is not what the dead died for’ conveniently overlooks this crucially important contextual matter.

Constructing the counter-narrative

Like Sinn Féin, the anti-policing lobby utilised republican commemorative culture to their advantage. RSF used the anniversary of the Brookeborough raid to reinforce their position on policing and in the process, dismiss as perfidious treachery that of Sinn Féin. The event was used to construct the counter-narrative by highlighting the obvious differences in armed resistance to policing agents and political endorsement of the same agents. Sinn Féin’s use of the event to promote policing was criticised on the basis that ‘Sean South did not die to reform the RUC nor to take part in overseeing the police. He died in the cause of Irish freedom … the latest moves by Martin McGuinness and those around him to recognise the police is akin to siding with the force that killed Sean South’.65 Further scathing criticism dismissed Sinn Féin’s commemoration of the men as ‘nothing more than an act of defilement to the memory of these men’. If Adams could not see any contradiction in voicing support for the PSNI while commemorating the patriot dead, this outraged republican could, venting ‘not only is there massive contradiction but there is hypocrisy, treachery, deceit and downright brass neck’.66 Another noted that having fallen in action against the RUC it was difficult to conceive of the men ‘joining the ranks of the enemy – donning a peeler’s coat – and siding with them in the inevitable confrontation with former comrades’.67 This commemorative event provided a platform for the counter-narrative to argue that policing was not an extension of the armed struggle of the dead as the two men did not die endorsing policing but attacking the RUC. If anything, the counter-narrative contends, those endorsing policing are aiding the defeat of the goals of the patriot dead through contrived betrayal of the principles on which past armed struggle was fought. The counter-narrative, as fashioned above, moved beyond merely placing distance between the patriot dead and Sinn Féin by (p.134) implying that endorsing policing was more than just dishonouring the patriot dead; it became a process of siding with those who killed them.

In a bid to further strengthen their counter-narrative, anti-policing republicans used their public meetings to put as much distance as they could between the patriot dead and the proposals of the Sinn Féin leadership. Supporters were told that accepting policing was a ‘sell out’ that could not be dressed up as an ideological advancement of the aspirations of the patriot dead. Addressing the obvious ideological quandary of supporting the police when republicans had suffered and died at the hands of such a force, one critic told supporters that accepting policing would have the effect of retrospectively ‘dishonouring and criminalising’ those who died for Irish freedom.68 Given the reverence the patriot dead are afforded by Irish republicans, such a claim generated foreseeable unease with and distaste for the move.

As the mnemonic debate over the patriot dead intensified, some families bought into the counter-narrative by openly questioning whether their loved ones would have supported the move. In Derry, a number of families broke ranks publicly to oppose the move.69 One family stated their opposition was grounded in the belief that ‘if Sinn Féin support the RUC/PSNI then not only will the ideals of our volunteers remain unfulfilled they will be reversed’.70 The mother of one of the iconic hunger strikers went so far as to state that Sinn Féin had ‘sold out’ to the establishment. In a damning indictment of the Sinn Féin proposal she asserted that ‘if they [the hunger strikers] had known that the struggle would end in support of the police they would not have thought it worthwhile’.71 It became evident that the families of the patriot dead were just as divided on the matter as other sections of the republican constituency. Anti-policing republicans were just as able – and willing – to call on the support of certain families to bolster their position as Sinn Féin was. The brother of Fergal O’Hanlon, for instance, aligned with critics, arguing that the acceptance of policing was ‘a betrayal’ of the cause for which his brother had died.72 There (p.135) was no unanimity on the matter amongst the O’Hanlon family. O’Hanlon’s sister and cousin were prominent members of Sinn Féin who had been present at the Sinn Féin event some days earlier.73 This indicates just how divisive the policing issue actually was. As a consequence of familial division, not only can no one state categorically how the dead would have viewed events but little clarity can be gleaned from the considerable disagreement amongst their closest relatives who have taken opposing sides in the debate.

A growing gulf between Sinn Féin and families opposed to the move came to public prominence. Despite engaging with the families of the patriot dead during the consultation process, some families felt that they were not properly briefed on the matter by the Sinn Féin leadership.74 Matters came to a head following one peculiar exchange at a public meeting in Galbally, Co. Tyrone. In a bizarre outburst, Gerry Adams attacked a rival by asking him if the dead had contacted him through a Ouija board to express their disapproval on the policing matter. The remarks created a media furore and were criticised by families in Derry, causing Adams to make a rather ignominious climbdown on the verge of the Ard Fheis to apologise for the remarks.75 Several points are noteworthy about this. Primarily, its shows the raw emotion involved in the debate. Secondly, that the families forced someone of Adams’ prominence into a public retreat speaks volumes about just how powerful a constituency they are. To slight the families is akin to dishonouring the patriot dead. Such a constituency are invaluable to competing ‘memory entrepreneurs’ when onside and a formidable foe when in opposition. An acute awareness of this probably contributed to Adams’ decision to apologise.

The disconnect between Sinn Féin and certain families has grown in recent years, with interviewees highlighting the case of families withdrawing their support from Sinn Féin in East Tyrone. As a consequence, ‘independent republican’ commemorations convened by the 1916 societies in conjunction with the families now compete with Sinn Féin commemorations in the area. In the aftermath of mass resignations from Sinn Féin, the 1916 societies emerged as the localised guardians of the memory of the patriot dead in East Tyrone that would prevent the Sinn Féin leadership from misusing it.76 According to interviewees, these independent republican events have come to dwarf those of Sinn Féin. In contrasting the sizeable Sinn Féin vote in the area with the (p.136) dwindling attendance at their commemorations, one interviewee argued that it evidences how ‘those currently voting for Sinn Féin are not republican, they never supported the IRA or the armed struggle and as witnessed at the Sinn Féin commemorations they don’t support its legacy’.77 This analysis, in suggesting that there is irreconcilable difference between the current Sinn Féin strategy and the armed struggle of the past, challenges the very foundation of the ‘extension of struggle’ narrative.

Contestation continues

Mnemonic contestation of the patriot dead rumbled on following the Extraordinary Ard Fheis. With assembly elections called as a result of the decision, Sinn Féin faced anti-policing candidates that included relatives of the patriot dead.78 As it transpired, Sinn Féin easily saw off this anti-policing challenge in the March 2007 elections, going on to entrench its position further as the largest Nationalist party in the North of Ireland. The results of these elections led to the restoration of devolved institutions in May 2007, coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of eight IRA members killed by the Special Air Service (SAS) at Loughgall. This further fuelled mnemonic contestation. For critics, it demonstrated just how far removed Sinn Féin was from the ‘Loughgall martyrs’, but for Sinn Féin, they were continuing the Loughgall fight via different means.79 Sinn Féin re-entering Stormont at such a time was derided as a ‘shameful act’, and further criticised as ‘akin to the Provo’s dancing on the coffins of dead men. In fact their pathway to political power is littered with dead bodies of men and women who believed in the unity of Ireland and the all-Ireland republic proclaimed in 1916’.80 Mnemonic contestation along this vein continued to simmer in the background before reaching fever pitch following successful attacks by anti-policing militarists against the British Army and PSNI in March 2009.81 Two British Army sappers were killed in a Real IRA gun attack on Massereene Army Barracks in Co. Antrim on 7 March, before PSNI officer Stephen Carroll was shot dead by the Continuity IRA in Craigavon, Co. Armagh two days later. Having unstintingly supported armed struggle in the past and having many senior members that had formerly engaged (p.137) in such activity, the attacks threw up a quagmire for Sinn Féin. Condemnation would present the difficulty of having to distinguish between past violence and current violence. Nonetheless, the Sinn Féin position was to argue that past acts were different from current attacks. This allowed them to protect the integrity of past armed struggle on the one hand, whilst condemning current activity by militant rivals on the other hand. This has been their default position on the matter ever since.

Rupture or continuity

A narrative depicting armed attacks as a rupture with the IRA of the past was moulded out of increasing condemnation that depicted those attacking policing agents as different from the IRA that had fought during the conflict. The logical implication of such reasoning was that their violence was also different from IRA violence during the conflict. Gerry Adams remarked that anti-policing militants ‘are not the IRA – the IRA has left the stage’.82 Admittedly, this discourse existed prior to the 2009 attacks. It was discernible even during the policing debate when Adams argued that ‘there is only one IRA, and that’s the one which fought the British for a very long time’.83 However, the 2009 attacks amplified such criticism due to the increased need to broadcast its core message that current militants were not the IRA and that, as a result, their violence was neither acceptable nor justified. This was echoed in protests that ‘the Irish Republican Army leadership and volunteers have long since declared that the war is over … the tiny splinter groups that carry out these attacks are pursuing a militarist agenda primarily designed to justify their own existence and perpetuate their own factions’.84 A growing sense of resentment towards those claiming continuity with the IRA of the past can be detected through Martin McGuinness’s protest that ‘I was a member of the IRA but that war is over now. The people responsible … are clearly signalling that they want to restart that war. They do not have the right to do that’.85

With militants going on to kill another PSNI officer (Ronan Kerr) in April 2011 and two prison officers (David Black in November 2012 and Adrian Ismay in March 2016), this line of argument has remained constant in Sinn Féin discourse on current violence. For example, Adams told those assembled (p.138) at a 2015 hunger strike commemoration in Dundalk that ‘none of the many alphabet groups that now claim the proud name of the Irish Republican Army have a right to that title’.86 According to this rationale, when the IRA stood down in July 2005 it took the justification for, and legacy of, armed struggle with it. This legacy was then passed via corporate transfer to Sinn Féin as the latter-day political inheritors of that struggle. This overarching notion of corporate transfer has also been used outside of internal memory politics to buffer against allegations of post-2005 IRA activity. Senior Sinn Féin member Bobby Storey dismissed media allegations of IRA culpability for the shooting of Kevin McGuigan, arguing ‘the IRA is gone. The IRA is stood down, they have put their arms beyond use, they have left the stage, they’re away and they are not coming back. So there is no current status of the IRA. There are no IRA members. The IRA has gone’.87 Basically, this argument contends that any current violence, whether that is attacks on the PSNI or the work of maverick elements, cannot be the deeds of an organisation that has since retired itself.

The thrust of this narrative has percolated down from elite level to grassroots level, where former combatants have used it to frame their own understanding of current armed activity and how it differs from the armed campaign they fought. They have drawn on macro-level criticisms about the scale, absence of support for and motivation of current militant activity, many of which were, ironically enough, once levelled at their own campaign.88 Their differentiation encompassed many strands of argument, including that current militants will never have ‘the experience and the machine that the IRA were able to put together’,89 are ‘a tiny minority’ with ‘virtually no influence in this area’90 and are motivated by nefarious personal and ‘securocrat’ agendas rather than by ideology.91 Varying degrees of empathy were, however, expressed for former comrades who had a ‘genuine’ difficulty with the transition. Contrasting these disaffected republicans with current militants engaged in status seeking, one interviewee noted:

(p.139) I’ll take criticism – positive criticism – from anybody who has come through it [armed struggle] and who has an issue. Of course. Absolutely. They’ve invested as much as anybody else and they are quite entitled to make points and criticise. But what I don’t do is take criticism from people who have played no role in the conflict, who have played no role in delivering for our communities and are basically naysayers who for one reason or another find themselves in where they are at the moment. Either that’s from a security agenda being put there or they feel the need to run about the community as some sort of hard man or whatever it might be. I don’t know, but I take none of their criticisms for it.92

The upshot of this is a clear separation between the campaign fought by former combatants and current armed activity. By extension of this, then, current activity can also be seen to differ from the armed struggle carried out by the patriot dead in the past. Accordingly, current militants are seen as little more than misguided or criminal pretenders unable to lay claim and unworthy of laying claim to the legacy of 30 years of sacrifice and hard-fought armed struggle.93

The differentiation inherent in the Sinn Féin argument allows them not only to criticise current armed activity but to go one step further and call for the community to help the PSNI curtail it. The most emphatic manifestation of this was when Martin McGuinness labelled the killers of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll ‘traitors’ to the Irish people and urged republicans to ‘whole-heartedly weigh in’ behind the PSNI investigation.94 In calling for co-operation with the PSNI, McGuinness was clearly seeking to draw a succinct line between ‘acceptable’ and ‘legitimate’ armed struggle of the past and ‘unacceptable’ and ‘illegitimate’ armed activity in the present. Despite encouragement to furnish the PSNI with details relating to militant activity, ‘informing’ still remains a spectre of the past within the wider Irish republican community. Not only has this been conceded by the PSNI95 but it has also been acknowledged by supporters of Sinn Féin who disagree with current militant activity. (p.140) One interviewee referred to an ‘inherent element’ within Irish republicanism that ‘it’s just not what you do’, but cautioned, ‘that shouldn’t be mistaken as support for them groupings’.96 One ‘mild sceptic’ encapsulated the anomaly that such calls had for former combatants, frankly conceding that ‘for me personally, I would never encourage anybody to do that against somebody that would lift a gun for Irish freedom. I just wouldn’t go down that road’.97 This sentiment validates the view proffered by one anti-policing republican who argued that for most Irish republicans ‘deep down they know that being an informer is an informer regardless of what generation you are in. You know some people say, “oh everything changes”. Well everything changes but some things stay the same and I think that people are well aware of what that is’.98 Thus, despite clear indication from Sinn Féin that co-operating with the PSNI on matters relating to militant activity is now acceptable, and despite differentiating between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ armed struggle, it appears that the stigmatisation around informing remains prevalent in the Irish republican psyche. Moreover, a residual physical threat does remain given that militant groups have continued to kill people – primarily their own members – for alleged informing.99

The Sinn Féin narrative of rupture has not gone unchallenged by those engaged in or supportive of current armed activity. A counter-narrative of continuity depicting current attacks as no different from those conducted by the IRA during the conflict has emerged. The logic of this being that if attacks against policing agents in the past were justifiable then attacks in the present must be justifiable too. Present attacks are placed in a historical context of generations of armed resistance, meaning that any criticism of current attacks would equate criticism of attacks carried out by the patriot dead during past armed struggle. While Sinn Féin criticised militant attacks as the work of those out of vogue with post-conflict political development in the North of Ireland, those opposed to policing referred to them as ‘the lessons of Irish history … that as long as the British Government and British occupation troops remain in Ireland there will be Irish people to oppose their presence here’.100 This (p.141) reflects a ‘root causes’ understanding of Irish republican violence that sees it as a natural consequence of continued failure to address the core issue that birthed it in the first instance.101 Likewise, in refusing to condemn a November 2014 mortar attack on a PSNI patrol car in Creggan, Councillor Gary Donnelly of the 32CSM likened it to past violence before noting, ‘Sinn Féin have not condemned the PIRA and have representatives who carried out violence’.102 So, although pro-policing republicans differentiate between ‘acceptable’ attacks on the RUC and similar but nonetheless ‘unacceptable’ strikes against the PSNI, anti-policing groups do not subscribe to such a skewed reading of the policing script.

For one opponent, Sinn Féin criticism of current activity is an attempt to ‘jealously protect’ the legacy of the armed struggle in order to fend off anyone challenging their hegemony.103 Another dismissed the ‘traitors’ remark by reducing it to ‘an ownership thing’.104 Hanley notes that those who have continued armed activity after larger sections of republicanism have embraced constitutional means have always faced criticism in relation to their tactics, motives, ‘war records’ and level of support.105 This was touched on by one interviewee who noted that the criticism that current militants were motivated by self gain and had not fought the ‘war’ was ‘as old as the hills’, having been fallaciously used by the pro-treaty forces during the Civil War.106 But the counter-narrative of continuity has become more than a purely defensive rhetorical device for anti-policing republicans. It has strategic agency and purpose through its ability to challenge the Sinn Féin claim to the legacy of the armed struggle. This has seen a corporate-transfer-based argument countered by a moralistic argument premised on a ‘root causes’ understanding. This is particularly noticeable in the response of imprisoned republicans in Maghaberry to Sinn Féin’s attempt via the ‘traitors’ remarks:

To renounce the right to wage war against the British, whilst falsely claiming the name Óglaigh na hÉireann. Adams and Co. do not own the rights to the Irish Republican Army, and we can assure them that the IRA (p.142) remains alive and well and will continue to bring the fight to the British invaders.107

Criticism of the ‘traitors’ remark was not confined to those supportive of armed struggle. Many interviewees who disagreed with Sinn Féin and with current armed struggle – albeit the latter being from a ‘tactical’ rather than a ‘moral’ perspective108 – also challenged the remark. Noting an apparent hypocrisy given that Sinn Féin commemorates those who did the same in the past, one interviewee opined:

It’s a strange comment from the man because if the same act is something in the 70s it’s not something else in 2013. Yeah, political circumstances change … but it doesn’t change from for a united Ireland to actively working against it, because that there is what the connotation of ‘traitor’ is.109

Moreover, whilst those who have accepted policing may ‘forget’ that many of the criticisms they now level at opponents were once levelled at them, this is precisely what others ‘remember’. In noting the Sinn Féin attitude towards ‘dissenting republicans’, it was argued that:

The people in ‘harrumph house’ [Stormont] were very proud in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s to say to the likes of you in an interview, ‘Oh yes, I’m a dissenter in the pure tradition of Theobald Wolfe Tone’. But now you’re a micro group. Well, when they started they only had 10 or 12 members. You’ve no support. They had no support. No one wants you. You know, you hear all this and it’s like rewinding back to 1970/71.110

Evidently, then, the IRA name and legacy remain a rich resource within modern Irish republicanism. Successfully building continuity with the IRA of the past, or, conversely, successfully differentiating one’s opponents from the IRA of the past enables hegemons to speak with a moral authority gleaned from those who had ‘gone before’ into the arena of battle. Paradoxically, it allows one lobby to differentiate between current attacks and remarkably similar attacks carried out in the past whilst simultaneously allowing the other lobby to buffer themselves from the criticism heaped on them by those (p.143) now endorsing policing. This is demonstrative that, as Bean remarks, the IRA name is ‘a legitimating memory worth fighting over’.111

While simplistic competing narratives of rupture and continuity can usefully demonstrate the intricacies of internal disagreement, they nonetheless expose the insularity of Irish republicanism’s views on its own violence and epitomise its failure at times to locate itself within a changed global environment.112 To this end, the internally constructed difference/sameness axis can be usefully evaluated against external discourses proffered by the British state and the Irish–American diaspora. The events of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ has impacted more generally on global interpretations of the use of political violence.113 Increased revulsion at the destruction and bloodshed that accompanies political violence has created an intolerance that has left current militants facing ‘perhaps the most unfavourable climate ever for the physical force tradition’.114 Irish republican political violence has not been immune to the post-9/11 rethink on the ‘morality of terrorism’.115 An interesting discourse on where it fits into this framework has emerged. Although the UK has always endured a threat of political violence in the Irish context, the modern focus on the threat of ‘international terrorism’ has seen the latter labelled a greater and more bloody threat than the former due to its deliberate mass targeting of civilians.116 The implication of this would be that the IRA campaign on the British mainland was a ‘lesser evil’ than the current activities of jihadi fundamentalists. This conclusion has even seen a differentiation being made between both forms of violence by a decorated British Army war hero.117 Indeed, the approach of the Blair government both rhetorically and legislatively, through the failed Northern Ireland Offences Bill, defeated in the Commons in 2005, was to differentiate clearly between the two.118 The thrust of this differentiation is directed at historical Irish political violence and less, it seems, at current militant activity. The changing nature of anti-terror legislation suggests that any differentiation is premised only on distinguishing past Irish political violence, rather than current militant activity, from ‘new terrorism’. The shifting (p.144) parameters of anti-terror legislation from the specific to the general means that those engaged in political violence in the Irish context are being combated under the same legislation as those involved in ‘new terrorism’.119 Moreover, MI5 ‘terrorism’ risk assessments frequently cite threats from Irish republicans along with threats from jihadi fundamentalist groups. This is suggestive that if prevailing state discourse on ‘terrorism’ differentiates between Irish political violence and that of ‘new terrorism’ it applies only to past instances given that anti-terror legislation does not treat current Irish republican activity any differently from ‘new terrorism’.

The same applies to changed attitudes among the Irish-American diaspora. Their traditional view of Irish republican violence was couched in the romanticism of a struggle for national liberation. Armed struggle enjoyed favourable interpretations in light of violent political struggle against apartheid in South Africa and against Western imperialism in Vietnam. It was interpreted and presented in simple black-and-white terms as a struggle against injustice, not only by overtly republican support groups like Noraid,120 but also, in the early years of the conflict, by leading Irish-American politicians.121 The events of 9/11, in tandem with the development of the peace process, heralded significant changes in attitudes towards support for and financing of Irish republican violence. After 9/11, Irish-American support moved away from armed struggle waged for a British withdrawal to favour instead full implementation of the GFA and republican commitment to constitutional politics.122 Thus, despite there being virtually no substantive difference between the aims and methodology of current and past armed struggle, external discourses offer succour to the pro-policing argument that current militant activity is somehow different from previous armed struggle. This is unlikely, however, to register any significant change to the ideological self-justification espoused by current militants who rely on ideological purity and ‘root causes’ arguments to assuage any criticism, whether that be internal or external.

Analysing Irish republican memory entrepreneurship

Contestation over the patriot dead revolves around the fact that no one can categorically state how they would view contemporary political developments. There is no doubting the accuracy of this simple fact, yet it has not prevented (p.145) rival hegemons from making a deluge of claims about the patriot dead. One critic argued that to claim that the patriot dead would support current strategy ‘is to take a liberty where none was granted … it is to steal a sacrifice and put it in a place other than its rightful one’.123 Although there is merit in this argument, there is no recognition that the same applies to arguments that they would have definitely rejected current strategy. It may appear somewhat macabre or perhaps just plain frivolous to an onlooker to claim that a dead person would view events in a particular way, yet this is essentially the crux of mnemonic contestation over the patriot dead.

To fully appreciate this point it is necessary to critically examine the role of the competing sides as ‘memory entrepreneurs’ and to establish why the patriot dead are invaluable in this regard. Before such an examination it is vital to acknowledge that the role of ‘memory entrepreneurs’ is not simply to create shared references to the past but also to regulate how the past is used and by whom it is used.124 To a certain degree, their role is to monopolise the past in furtherance of a particular agenda. The mechanics of this becomes evident upon examination of the battle between competing ‘memory entrepreneurs’ within contemporary Irish republicanism.

Pro-policing memory entrepreneurship

On an obvious level, using the memory of those who engaged in armed resistance to the state and its policing agents represents a quandary for the pro-policing lobby. However, the reality remains that they had to use the patriot dead to sell their position to the grassroots. There are two reasons for this. First, the armed campaign of the past has been of such centrality to the depiction of the Sinn Féin strategy as another ‘step’ along the winding road to victory that it cannot be suddenly dropped. If ‘memory entrepreneurs’ do not use the memory of past armed struggle and the patriot dead the only other option is to ‘forget’ it. The centrality of this memory to keeping the grassroots on board and the more general importance of the patriot dead to the wider Irish republican collective largely precludes Sinn Féin from enforcing an ‘overt silence’ that ‘forgets’ this ‘difficult past’.125 Rather than ‘forget’ the armed struggle, Sinn Féin engages in memory entrepreneurship through a process highlighted by Griffin and Bollen whereby the past is used in a way that relates to the questions and challenges faced by the collective in the present.126 The courage of the dead in the past is (p.146) passed on to those critically engaging with policing. The armed struggle of the dead against policing agents becomes the political struggle of those critically engaging with policing. This reflects how the image of the dead and what they died ‘for’ changes in tandem with the political needs of elites.127 During the conflict, the memory of ‘men of war’ was needed to rally support for the cause, but post-conflict this need transforms into the need to convey the patriot dead as visionaries with the foresight that the fighting would eventually give way to politics.128

Secondly, if Sinn Féin does not ‘remember’ the patriot dead this essentially forfeits a powerful political resource to their rivals. If rivals seize the mantle of the past uncontested they can unilaterally speak with a mandate from the dead. This mandate has echoed for hundreds of years and echoes most voluminously at grassroots level. ‘Memory entrepreneurs’ therefore ‘remember’ not simply so as to prevent ‘forgetting’ but also for the hegemonic purpose of keeping a powerful resource from rivals.129

Anti-policing memory entrepreneurship

The anti-policing lobby, for their part, are constrained by having to share the ‘contested space’ of the past with Sinn Féin. By necessity they have to use the same martyrs, the same armed struggle and the same past as Sinn Féin. The campaign of anti-policing militarists has not reached the level of IRA violence prior to the ceasefires. They do not have a rich tapestry of martyrs who died post-ceasefire that they can call upon to sanctify their current campaign. Anti-policing ‘memory entrepreneurs’ are constrained by the fact that, as argued by Majstorovic, emotional symbols and heroes that form the basis of collective memory cannot be created out of nothing and must have some basis in the experienced past.130 In the absence of a tailor-made hero that suits a current agenda unquestioningly, ‘memory entrepreneurs’ are forced to write older collective heroes into the collective memory in a way that adheres to their current political agenda. For example, the African American civil rights movement had to rely on the memory of Abraham Lincoln before the memory of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X became available to them.131 Rather than being able to utilise the memory of those who definitely died in opposition to the GFA and policing (i.e. someone killed on ‘active service’ (p.147) post-GFA and post-policing), they are forced into a mnemonic battle with Sinn Féin over what it is that the patriot dead of past armed struggle fought and died for. Interestingly, opponents of policing have begun commemorating deceased veteran republicans who had ‘fought the war’ and opposed the current Sinn Féin strategy.132 With this comes the implicit assumption that these critics of Sinn Féin who have plugged the martyr gap had a mandate from the patriot dead they had fought alongside. However, the prominent role in Sinn Féin commemoration bestowed upon former combatants who were active, arrested or imprisoned with the venerated dead133 demonstrates that implications of support by association cut both ways. If Irish republican memory entrepreneurs cannot proffer an unquestioning and irrefutable endorsement of current strategies from the patriot dead, they can invoke the blessing of what is seemingly the next best thing – their comrades in arms and/or their families.

In this context, memory contestation is not over what happened per se – no one contests that there was an armed struggle– but over the meaning of what happened in the past. As Hodgkin and Radstone articulate, ‘contestation, then, is very often not conflicting accounts of what actually happened in the past so much as the question of who are or what is entitled to speak for that past in the present’.134 Essentially, the memory of the dead becomes reduced to the fact that ‘the dead are supposed to have died for the same reason as what the survivors think that they have died for’.135 In such an ambiguous environment clarity vanishes as contestation thrives. If memory politics is, as Boyarin defines it,136 ‘rhetoric about the past mobilised for political purposes’, then memory contestation between competing Irish republican ‘memory entrepreneurs’ can be regarded as an apposite microcosm to examine intra-communal memory politics more generally.

(p.148) Conclusion

The patriot dead were at the heart of the memory politics that underpinned the Irish republican debate on policing. Being a venerated sect within the Irish republican constituency, their memory was heavily drawn upon by ‘memory entrepreneurs’ on both sides of the debate. Pro-policing republicans claimed that the patriot dead had fought the hard battle that paved the way for the struggle to be continued through peaceful means, whilst their anti-policing counterparts claimed that endorsing policing was siding with the very forces that sent these women and men to their graves. Commemorative events quickly took on increased political meaning, as they became battlegrounds for competing elites to ‘sell’ their position to grassroots supporters and to build that all-important link with those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of the republican ideal of a sovereign Irish republic. They also became the ideal ground to identify with the families and comrades of the patriot dead, thus sealing their approval for current positions. The prominence of the patriot dead in the wider policing debate reflects not only their importance within Irish republicanism, but also the general importance that war dead have to political elites and hegemons across the globe. Although it is impossible to state with any clarity how the patriot dead would view events that transpired after their deaths, this has not stopped elites from attempting to do so, whether this be through the building of new narratives that link present political developments with past armed struggle or through overlooking the vastly differing political contexts in existence today as opposed to when those past sacrifices were made. What remains constant, however, is the overarching premise of sacrifice that competing Irish republican narratives converge on. While these are collectively celebrated in performative and ritualistic commemorations of the martyred dead, they can also underpin prevailing narratives of victimhood and suffering at the hands of the state that pose challenges for post-conflict ‘moving on’ agendas. This matter is examined in the following chapter.


(21) S. Mac Brádaigh, ‘Remembering the Past, Looking to the Future’, Iris (summer 2007).

(28) This advertisement appeared on the Newry Armagh Sinn Féin Twitter account in the run up to Jordan’s 40th anniversary in June 2015.

(30) ‘The Main Easter Commemorations’, Irish Republican News, 26 March 2016: http://republican-news.org/current/news/2016/03/the_main_easter_commemorations.html#.VxSPNzArLIU (accessed 18 April 2016).

(35) ‘New Patsy O’Hara Hunger Strike Mural Unveiled in Belfast’, IRSP, 18 November 2013: www.irsp.ie/news/?p=1335 (accessed 6 August 2014).

(42) ‘SF to Meet with Families of “Fallen Comrades”’, Derry Journal, 19 January 2007.

(43) Opening Address by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), to the Sinn Féin Extraordinary Ard Fheis on Policing, RDS, Dublin (28 January 2007)’.

(49) ‘Policing: Transfer of Powers Would be Advance for Struggle’, An Phoblacht, 4 January 2007; ‘Seamus Harvey 30th Anniversary’, An Phoblacht, 25 January 2007.

(50) Quoted in Chris Thornton, ‘Adams Backs PSNI as he Honours IRA Men’, Belfast Telegraph, 2 January 2007.

(51) ‘Speech by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin, at an Event to Commemorate Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó hAnnluain, County Fermanagh, 1 January 2007’: http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/docs/sf/ga010107.htm (accessed 10 May 2012).

(52) ‘Speech by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin, at an Event to Commemorate Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó hAnnluain, County Fermanagh, 1 January 2007’.

(53) ‘Seamus Harvey 30th Anniversary’, An Phoblacht, 25 January 2007.

(57) Quoted in W. Graham, ‘McGuinness Admits Sinn Féin is Playing for “Big Stakes” on Policing’, Irish News, 16 January 2007.

(59) B, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, April 2013.

(60) A, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, April 2013.

(62) Quoted in Tonge, 2004.

(64) R, critic of Sinn Féin policy, interview, July 2013.

(65) Des Long, quoted in S. Breen, ‘Sinn Féin Told to Stay Away from South’s Grave’, Sunday Tribune, 31 December 2006.

(66) Mick McManus, quoted in ‘Sean Sabhat 50th Anniversary Marked in Limerick’, Saoirse, 237 (January 2007).

(67) Ruairi O’ Bradaigh, quoted in ‘Neither Ó hAnluain or Sabhat Would Follow “A Path of Deceit, Duplicity and Treachery over 20 Years”’, Saoirse, 238 (February 2007).

(68) Francie Mackey, quoted in ‘Dissidents Roar “No, No, No” to SF Policing Plans’, Derry Journal, 19 January 2007.

(69) ‘IRA Man’s Family Accuse SF Leaders of “Dishonesty”’, Derry Journal, 16 January 2007.

(70) McBrearty family statement, cited in ‘IRA Man’s Family Accuse SF Leaders of “Dishonesty”’.

(71) Peggy O’Hara, quoted in O. Bowcott, ‘The 76-Year-Old Dissident Taking on Sinn Féin’, Guardian, 1 March 2007: www.theguardian.com/politics/2007/mar/01/uk.northernireland1 (accessed 17 May 2017).

(72) Quoted in ‘Neither Ó hAnluain or Sabhat Would Follow “A Path of Deceit, Duplicity and Treachery over 20 Years”’.

(73) ‘Policing: Transfer of Powers Would be Advance for Struggle’, An Phoblacht, 4 January 2007.

(74) ‘IRA Man’s Family Accuse SF Leaders of “Dishonesty”’, Derry Journal, 16 January 2007.

(75) ‘Adams Apologises to Volunteer’s Families’, Derry Journal, 26 January 2007.

(77) Z, critic of Sinn Féin policy, interview, October 2013.

(80) ‘Sharing Power with DUP a “Shameful Act”’, Saoirse, 240 (April 2007).

(81) Michael Lea and Sam Greenhill, ‘Fury as Adams says British Special Forces Provided Pizza Delivery Murders of Unarmed Soldiers’, Daily Mail, 9 March 2009.

(82) Quoted in ‘Gerry Adams Lays Down Challenge to Killers – I’ll Meet You Any Time’, An Phoblacht, 14 April 2011.

(83) ‘CIRA Says No to Adams Invitation’, BBC News, 26 January 2007.

(84) Caoimhin O’ Caoláin, quoted in L. Friel, ‘Peace Process Under Attack’, An Phoblacht, 12 March 2009.

(86) ‘Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams says IRA “Has Gone Away”’, BBC News, 23 August 2015: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-34033753 (accessed 23 August 2015).

(87) G. Moriarty, ‘Bobby Storey: The IRA is “Stood Down” and has Left the Stage’, Irish Times, 13 September 2015: www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/bobby-storey-the-ira-is-stood-down-and-has-left-stage-1.2350112 (accessed 10 November 2015).

(89) A, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, April 2013.

(90) AD, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, July 2013.

(91) B, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, April 2013.

(92) B, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, April 2013.

(94) Quoted in D. McKittrick, ‘The Investigation: Two Arrested as Sinn Féin Brands Gunmen “Traitors”’, Independent, 11 March 2009: www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/the-investigation-two-arrested-as-sinn-fein-brands-gunmen-traitors-1642090.html (accessed 17 May 2017).

(95) V. Kearney, ‘Dissident Republicans: PSNI Say They Have Thwarted Murder Bids’, BBC News, 11 March 2016: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-35787273 (accessed 18 April 2016).

(96) B, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, April 2013.

(97) L, supporter of Sinn Féin policy, interview, June 2013.

(98) AC, critic of Sinn Féin policy, interview, November 2013.

(99) ‘Man Shot in Donegal Named Locally as 27-Year-Old Andrew Burns from Strabane’, Independent, 13 February 2008; ‘Real IRA Murder Victim Kieran Doherty is Buried’, BBC News, 1 March 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/foyle_and_west/8543145.stm (accessed 20 March 2015).

(100) Ruairi O’Bradaigh, quoted in D. Gordon, ‘Republican Sinn Féin Links Soldier Murders to “British Occupation”’, Belfast Telegraph, 9 March 2009.

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(108) J, critic of Sinn Féin policy, interview, June 2013.

(109) V, critic of Sinn Féin policy, interview, September 2013.

(110) P, critic of Sinn Féin policy, interview, June 2013.

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