There’s an old saying that you can keep some people happy some of the time, but not everyone happy all of the time. Whoever coined that obviously had in mind the same sort of characters which make up that great bastion of revolutionary thoughts and action – the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective. These individuals have no elected mandate to represent the people of Ardoyne yet have used every avenue and juncture to jeopardise any possible plans towards compromise and reconciliation between the two communities and traditions, not just in Ardoyne but in the North of the island too.
This attitude and their tactics/behaviour reveal something very uncomfortable about them – they are led by people of a fundamentalist (fascist, even?) and authoritarian nature, who couldn’t give a hoot about democracy or forging political consensus. Look at some of the groups they align themselves with and how these people still love to fiercely parade around in intimidating regimental mode (conditioning children to do so also) when most of the nationalist community recognises the need to move beyond the past and towards a more cohesive future. These individuals love reinforcing extreme ideology, regalia and imagery in all that they do, demanding money be spent on murals of a particular depiction that serve only to polarise nationalists even further from their unionist neighbours. Why? Because it serves their obscure purpose. They’re not agents of change or the all-inclusive Republic that was proclaimed in 1916; but rather defenders of a by-gone status quo which they try to align themselves with ever so rigidly. It’s hard to imagine how some of them would even have been admitted into the Provisional Movement or the GPO, to be frank, yet now they are “die-hards”.
These people are not left-wing; they talk left but act with a kind of right-wing intolerance. Nor are they actually pluralist republicans – ideologically, they’re “blood nationalists”, who want a return to war because it serves their psyche and agenda of stratification over the local communities in which they operate. They love confrontation and rows. They thrive on division and discontent. They love pointing at anti-social behaviour and claiming it’s a product of a failed peace-process when we have one of the lowest crime rates in Ireland and the U.K. GARC and its affiliates, in the various splinter groups have a single goal and methodology – to bring about a state of chaos and a return to war; to convince enough people that the peace process is failing them, so that they can seize power by portraying themselves as the “real republicans”. Never ones for realistic mediation, they don’t believe the North should have any police force at all. They want a breakdown in law and order. They love the idea of British soldiers being flooded in to occupy our streets like before.
Throughout the world we can find examples of how renegade extremes have emerged which make progress and human development difficult by their intransigence. In any post-conflict situation, there are going to be people who fear change, who know and desire war alone. Products of a hostile environment which has passed and is leaving them behind rapidly.
Fearing that American pressure on Mr. de Klerk regarding Apartheid in South Africa could potentially arouse support for the far right-wing and extremes who opposed compromise and change, Mandela (really rather admirably) recognised the need to be pragmatic in his dealings, particularly on longstanding issues of division and culture that generated contentious feeling in his homeland. That’s the approach which must be perpetuated here, however loud GARC shout. We have a conflict of identity among Irish people and whatever the politicians agree to will never be enough by GARC’s books, so it stands to reason not to play or adopt their rules and approaches to things. For even if you deliver their demands, they’ll still find plenty more to shout about.
The best way to expose and change GARC is to highlight the facts and figures to those who are reasonable members of that organisation, but also to the good people who that splinter-group is trying desperately to attract among their ranks. To inform people of the work that’s being done on the ground and to provide adequate facilities for residents in Ardoyne and the surrounding areas to voice their concerns or views to their elected representatives in an aura of regular transparency and accountability. I’m in favour of fortnightly question times being established in local halls and venues, so that people can put issues to their MLA’s, Councillors and MP’s, directly, Unionist and Republican. Of course some of these meetings will become arenas for GARC, to try to instigate show-downs of who can shout the loudest and promise the sun, the moon and the stars. But I think that’s the Achilles’ heel at the heart of it all – that very same approach will demonstrate first hand to the people of Ardoyne and North Belfast that GARC aren’t willing to work with their own elected representatives, never mind other groups in the wider community. People need to reflect on how the behaviour and approach of this group have devalued so many properties in Ardoyne, providing a disincentive to those who do live there and those who would otherwise live and raise a family there. In summing up, I predict that over time they are simply going to self-destruct under the weight of their own indifference to any progress at all. If this deal, which has been reached by good faith and real dialogue, can be shown to work effectively and produce recognisable results on the ground, then GARC is dead in the water!