Category: Archive

A View North: Commit yourself to peace – or else

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

Those of us who have relished the ironies and contradictions of the Ulster crisis over the years had a treat last week. In the same week, the Provisional IRA gave an interview condemning the Omagh slaughter and warning the so-called "Real" IRA to disband "sooner rather than later," asking ominously, "Was it a mere coincidence that at this point in our history, when our struggle was at its strongest, such seemingly reckless actions were carried out, actions which could only have the effect of damaging our struggle? People can draw their own conclusions on this." Then a few days later, Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s president, declared that "the violence we have seen must be for all of us now a thing of the past, over, done with and gone."

Both statements are interesting. One is as vaguely menacing as the other is vaguely reassuring — the perfect combination for the Provisional republican movement, whose spokespersons since the beginning of the peace process have thrived on inexactitude and ambiguity.

For the Provisional IRA to hint strongly that not only is the "Real" IRA damaging "our struggle" but is doing so deliberately, perhaps at the behest of sinister forces, is usually a sign that a few people are going to end up with holes in their head. After all, no more serious allegation could be made against former comrades than that they are now working for the enemy, whoever that is — these days it’s hard to tell. Of course, such actions would be in flat contradiction to the reassuring words of Mr. Adams, who tells us that violence "must be . . . a thing of the past." Yet there is a vast gap between "must be" and "is." "Must be" is a moral imperative, not a statement of actuality. If he had said "violence is a thing of the past" then the supporters of the "Real" IRA would probably feel more reassured. But luckily for the latter, there are the Mitchell Principles of non-violence, which Sinn Fein has signed up to and which the Provisional IRA would have to violate (yet again) if it wanted to "disband" the splinter group in the traditional manner of the republican family — i.e., fratricidally.

This is another little irony. The "Real" IRA fiercely opposes Sinn Fein’s acceptance of the very principles which are probably protecting it from the kind of nasty end the Irish People’s Liberation Organization suffered in 1992. The IPLO had previously ignored a Provisional IRA warning to "disband." It’s leader was murdered and dozens of its activists were seriously wounded on a "night of the long knives" in Belfast.

One man’s "psychopath" . . .

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In the fall-out from the Omagh bombing it was once more made apparent how, in the politics of terrorism, friends so rapidly become enemies. U.S. Rep. Peter King was quoted as saying that the members of the "Real" IRA are "just 50 psychopaths running around with Semtex." Yet less than a year ago, a few of those "psychopaths" were high-ranking members of the Provisional IRA, respected for their years of devotion to the cause and then, when they called a cease-fire, praised for the courage of their decision. Not only have they become psychopaths overnight, but (if one reads the Provisional IRA’s hints correctly) agents for MI5.

Some of the attacks are fascinating in how they make the same kind of allegations about the "Real" IRA and the 32-County Sovereignty Committee that Unionists have been making about Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA for years. For instance, some Irish-American commentators are deriding the claim that the 32-County group is separate from the "Real" IRA, insisting that they are both the same. What a coincidence! Unionists have been referring to "Sinn Fein/IRA" for years. They should take note: They are being imitated in quarters which might surprise them.

The Armalite and ballot box

Of course, everyone knows that Sinn Fein and the IRA overlap, and no doubt the "Real" IRA and the 32-County Sovereignty Committee do also. That has been in the republican tradition for many years now. If Sinn Fein and the IRA did not share dual membership, then the British and Irish governments would not have taken the political wing as seriously as they did.

Minus the IRA, Sinn Fein was hardly more than a vaguely leftist minority party whose main support was among unemployed Catholics in Belfast and Derry. But from about the late 1940s, it has been the case that Sinn Fein and the IRA have had an embryonic relationship. In 1977, they became closer still, as a secret Provisional IRA document from that year shows.

Anyway, anyone with half a brain knows that it was not Sinn Fein’s politics (muddled as they were) that frightened people. It always had one enormous asset that the other political parties did not possess: an armed wing, which Sinn Fein spokesmen used to call "the cutting edge" of the struggle. That was a savagely apt description, as anyone who has seen the aftermath of a bomb attack will testify.

Of course, in Ireland one has to have an armed wing to be taken seriously politically. Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, the Workers’ Party and Democratic Left all began life linked to the IRA in one way or another. One could also say, I suppose, that the Unionist Party had the UVF to back it in 1912 and that without it nobody would have paid much attention to Edward Carson’s threats of "kicking the Crown into the Boyne."

Indeed, who takes the poor old Alliance Party seriously? Not only does it not have an armed wing, but it doesn’t even have direct access to anyone who has. At least the SDLP, also lacking an armed wing, lived down the street from a party which had one. They could go to Sinn Fein and say, "For God’s sake, tell your lads to call it off." Which is what John Hume did all those years ago, and from whence came the peace process. And the reason Sinn Fein could tell the lads to call it off was because all they had to do was to look into the nearest mirror. If that had not been the case, there would be no peace process in the first place.

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