Category: Archive

Analysis: IRA to deliver better headlines

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Throughout the last thirty years, the IRA had periodically bombed Britain, frequently targeting political and financial targets and occasionally civilian ones.
In the 1970s it bombed pubs in Guildford and Birmingham killing tens of people and maiming scores.
In 1990, as former British Prime Minister John Major sat discussing the Gulf War with his cabinet colleagues, an IRA mortar-bomb landed only yards away in No 10 Downing Street’s back garden.
In 1996, the IRA chose to mount a series of bomb attacks in the city to signal its brief return to the armed struggle.
Londoners, in stoic fashion, have gotten on with their lives following Thursday’s horrific attacks. Numerous commentators have suggested that the long IRA campaign conditioned many to accept that their city will always be vulnerable to attack from Britain’s enemies.
Ten years ago they would have no doubt welcomed the news that the IRA was to call it a day, but now it is little more than cold comfort — such is the changed nature of the threat they face.
The relatively straightforward Irish republicanism espoused by the IRA meant that its political and military opponents could always look to the day when an accommodation might be reached.
With British police and intelligence experts scrambling to get a handle on just who slaughtered scores of innocent commuters, they must yearn for the time when they knew who they were dealing with.
The IRA was disciplined and focused on identifiable goals. In most cases it issued clear claims of responsibility and at different intervals sought to hold behind the scenes talks with the British government.
The London bombers, according to majority expert opinion, have no such singular focus, nor are they part of a tightly controlled and disciplined infrastructure. Al Qaeda has been described not so much as an organization but as a “virus” – one that is spreading and mutating throughout the West.
According to republican and Irish government sources, the recent “consultation” process between the IRA leadership and its grassroots was conducted thoroughly and without major hiccup.
The same clearly defined command structure that ensured that the IRA ceasefire has remained largely intact since 1997, has paved the way for a potentially momentous transformation of the paramilitary grouping.
Representatives of the IRA’s “army council’ have contacted IRA members throughout Ireland. At meetings, they have been canvassed on whether they think the IRA should melt into the background.
While Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has described the process as one of “consultation”, it has in fact been more of a leadership-led marketing campaign.
It would seem, going on signals emerging from the republican camp, that the campaign has largely been successful.
Inevitably there has been discontent expressed. However, republicans note that while many IRA members may be unhappy with the recent initiative, those who are seriously prepared to return to armed struggle and undermine the peace process have probably already left the organization, the IRA’s trajectory having been clear to see for some time.
Nonetheless, the organization’s leadership is not thought to have risked a potentially stormy “army convention.” The most significant convention of recent times was that in 1997 when former IRA quartermaster Michael McKevitt baulked at plans to cut a deal with unionism and went on to form the Real IRA.
According to some republicans, that same convention saw changes to the IRA constitution that have now enabled the leadership to carry out major changes in policy without having to put it to a vote among IRA members.
Prior to the attacks in London last week, government sources had been suggesting that a statement outlining the IRA’s plan to move into a “new mode” was to be expected sometime between July 12 and 23.
While there is little to suggest that events in London have altered the IRA’s plans in the coming days, government buildings are abuzz at the suggestion that the bombings may actually speed forward a statement.
One senior government source said that while British prime minister Tony Blair will now have less time to concentrate on the North, he will have been emboldened to deliver a final, definitive end to his government’s problems there.
“To be able to turn around to the British people only days after the bombings and say he has delivered an end to the IRA will be hugely attractive to Blair,” said the source.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is understood to be fully briefed on what the IRA is intending to do. He has conducted several meetings with senior republicans in recent months and is believed to have passed his eye over a number of proposed IRA statements.
Ahern appears to have reconciled himself with the fact that the IRA will not use the word “disbandment.” He recently said he would be happy that the IRA could become a “commemorative association.”
In the days ahead there will no doubt be claim and counter-claim about any move by republicans. Unionists will proclaim it a stunt, demanding actions not words. The two governments, assuming they get what they have been led to expect, will herald it as a huge step forward. Republicans will deem it historic and unprecedented.
Whatever the objective truth about what the IRA does, it knows that to return to the bad old days is not on the cards. Just as republicans sustained collateral damage in the backlash against political violence and terrorism that followed the attacks of 9/11, they would likely be forever cast into the political wilderness were the IRA to again level parts of London.
The British government has spent years working towards a time when IRA bombs would no longer devastate English cities. How ironic then that just as they have done so, they turn to face an even more frightening, deadlier foe.

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