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A View North: Gerry and the peacemakers: protectors of the process

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

One of the more alarming developments that has taken place since the beginning of the peace process has been the creation of the category “Enemy of the Peace Process.” It emerged most recently during an interview on BBC Northern Ireland when Gerry Adams told a journalist questioning him about the Colombia-IRA controversy that everyone has a responsibility to work against the enemies of the peace process, including journalists. The category came up again in relation to the controversy over the House International Relations Committee’s hearing on what role the IRA might have been playing in Colombia, where it has been accused of helping the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). The outcome of the hearing on April 24 was interpreted by as a “defeat” for the “enemies of the Irish peace process” by those who had opposed the procedure as a devious attempt to discredit Sinn Fein.

Whether the IRA was exonerated or not is, of course, a matter of debate — many came away from the hearing saying the opposite. But the implication was clear: anyone who was in favor of holding the hearing was an Enemy of the Peace Process.

Being declared an Enemy of the Peace Process sounds pretty damning, as bad as being against motherhood and apple pie. It usually is leveled against those who make allegations concerning the Provisional IRA’s continued activities. A few more recent examples come to mind. Anyone who said that he believed that the IRA was behind the raid on Castlereagh police station in March, during which Special Branch documents were stolen, was branded an Enemy of the Peace Process. Just last week, documents in the possession of the police, which showed that the Provisionals had collated information about top political leaders in the Conservative Party, were leaked. Again, anyone who gave them credence or made a fuss about it in the media was denounced as an Enemy of the Peace Process.

As a category, Enemy of the Peace Process goes back a few years. In October 2000, after the murder in West Belfast of Joe O’Connor, a member of the Real IRA, some people who dared to claim that the Provisional IRA was involved were denounced as Enemies of the Peace Process. They were also threatened. The Provisionals issued a statement which said: “The malicious accusations suggesting IRA involvement are designed to promote the agenda of those opposed to the current IRA strategy” — the “current strategy” being the Provisionals’ commitment to the peace process.

Supporters of the Good Friday agreement worried that O’Connor’s murder would be used by anti-agreement Unionists to make life even more difficult for David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader. Indeed, one pro-agreement Unionist predicted (inaccurately) that the murder would be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

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Without a doubt, the accusations linking the IRA to O’Connor’s murder did make things considerably more difficult for Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, just as do the allegations about IRA involvement in Colombia. Inevitably, such allegations do threaten the peace process simply because they make it harder for any Unionist to persuade his followers that the republican movement is to be trusted when it says that it is committed to a political path. But for the IRA to call them “malicious” is to suggest that it is the allegations, not the murder, which are the danger.

Something similar, but more explicit, has been taking place in the wake of the arrest of the three Irishmen in Colombia last August, accused of training FARC guerrillas. Sinn Fein has been conducting a determined campaign to deflect accusations about the IRA’s role in Colombia by alleging that such allegations are the concoction of the Enemies of the Peace Process. Its supporters in the U.S. congress have been most obliging in following this line, which goes on to hint darkly of a vast conspiracy embracing anti-peace process “securocrats” in Northern Ireland, Colombian military and U.S. politicians who are anxious to change government policy in Colombia to allow U.S. aid to go to the war against terrorism there. Those who insist that there are real questions to be answered concerning the presence of IRA men in Colombia have become Enemies of the Peace Process because (whether they know it or not) they are helping advance this conspiracy, which is aimed primarily at discrediting Sinn Fein and the IRA. Through this means, the peace process, they hope, will break down.

This kind of argumentation has a familiar ring to it. Back in the 1930s, any socialist who dared point out that conditions in Soviet tractor factories were not those of a workers’ paradise was accused by communists of being a Nazi — either “subjectively” or “objectively.” The first means you intended from the start to help the Nazis by attacking the Soviet Union. The second means that even though you did not mean to harm the Soviets, by exposing certain facts about Russia you achieved that object.

To move the analogy forward a few decades, there are those, such as the so-called securocrats, who feel so strongly about the peace process they plot to destroy it. And there are those who by reporting or giving credit to certain accusations objectively achieve the same aim even though they might not set out to do so.

In the meantime, the facts of the matter are swept aside or downgraded to secondary importance.

The argument shifts from whether the IRA actually did something to the impact that saying it did might have on the peace process. However, common sense suggests that the real problem is deeper than that.

The IRA continues to exist, there is no argument about that. The IRA continues to observe its cease-fire, which the Irish, British and U.S. governments accept. But they are accepting a cease-fire which has been defined in the IRA’s own terms as a complete cessation of military operations, that is, ending attacks on the security forces, their installations and so-called “economic targets.” This allows the IRA to continue to carry out other types of operations, such as intelligence gathering and fund-raising (in ordinary language, robberies). It also allows it to kill drug dealers and what it defines as anti-social elements.

Last year, the IRA carried out the biggest robbery in Irish history. Yet, to say so runs the risk of being declared an Enemy of the Peace Process. But surely this is missing the point: the real enemies of the peace process are those who continue to rob, kill and become entangled in dangerous foreign adventures.

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