By John Kelly
When the history of the last 30 years of Irish conflict is written, it will emerge that the total fighting strength of the various nationalist groupings, the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army and the Irish Republican Socialist Party, counted only in hundreds. It is astounding that so few could cause such carnage and devastation, especially in a territory saturated by the British Army and heavily armed RUC.
The capacity for mayhem was always there. Finance came mainly through shadow organizations ostensibly formed for other purposes, operating especially in the U.S. Weapons and explosives were obtained from a variety of friendly sources, especially from Col. Ghadaffi’s Libya. As Omagh proved in such a heinous fashion, the capacity is still there and the resources are intact. Even a murderous tiny faction like the Real IRA has the ability to create havoc.
There were no set battles in the last three decades. The main weapon was Semtex. The few fire conflicts that did occur were the results of ambushes from one side or the other.
One of its most blatantly murderous attacks was the brutal slaying of the Gibraltar Four, an IRA unit the British later claimed was involved in an attempt to score a major triumph with a murderous attack on British soldiers.
The RUC also implemented a similar shoot-to-kill policy. It operated its own squad, leading to an abortive inquiry by Chief Constable John Stalker, who was hampered and harried by the adamantly uncooperative RUC every step of his investigation. The complete John Stalker story has not yet been told; it is doubtful that it ever will.
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All of the various IRA groups, with the occasional exception of the Official IRA, and the bloodthirsty INLA, attempted to break the will of the British people to retain Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. They attempted to do by reducing commercial targets to mounds of rubble, paralyzing normal life in the statelet.
Occasionally, they directed their fire at the heart of the UK itself, especially in the aftermath of particularly violent actions by the army or the RUC. They aimed at achieving spectaculars, guaranteed to inflict the greatest damage while also attracting maximum publicity.
Although the British have been historically fast to realize the vital strategic importance of propaganda in the any anti-guerrilla campaigns the Empire had to wage, another astounding fact is that it was the nationalists who scored the biggest successes in the war of words. This was even more effective than a few pounds of murderous Semtex.
Throughout that arduous and perilous 30 years, there was one thing the republicans could never achieve. There was never the slightest possibility that they could bomb loyalists into a united Ireland. This was probably the single biggest error at the heart of the IRA campaigns. Even if the British could be persuaded that their continued domination of the North was a mistake, there was no way that the loyalists would reach a similar conclusion.
They constituted a British settlement based on the island of Ireland for more than 300 years and nothing, but nothing, was going to move them, not even the Crown or the government to which they claimed to owe their allegiance. They would not be moved. There would be no surrender.
Even if had been possible to bomb them into a united island, such an eventuality would merely widen the scope of the conflict. Instead of the IRA attempting to bomb them in, the island of Ireland would have then have faced a loyalist campaign to bomb their way back out again.
Clearly, some compromise had to be reached. Mainly through the success of the most effective and sustained Irish-American campaign ever, with the considerable personal commitment of President Clinton, that compromise was agreed on behalf of the vast majority of Irish people, North and South, last Good Friday.
It is the best possible chance for peace on this island ever. And it offers the only opportunity for the evolution of an agreed, united Ireland down the line, which is the only unity worth having.
The war is over. The Irish people have spoken through the ballot box as they have never spoken before. If there is no longer the slightest justification for war, then why is there a need for arms, especially Semtex?
In the aftermath of Omagh, the Real IRA, which probably has a force of no more than 30 people, will be obliterated either through its collective free will, which is the most likely, or the mass renunciation of the Irish people.
It is now time for all around decommissioning within the island. Neither bombs nor bullets can be allowed into the hands of those who wreaked such an obscenity on the lovely town of Omagh. The war is over. Let the arms be laid down.
Tony Blair, the British prime minister, made a revealing point in an article in the British Sunday Observer when he argued that the people who perpetrated the Omagh carnage were part of a tiny recalcitrant group.
"In a world dominated by terror," he wrote, "yes, we could to use the parlance ‘take them out.’ But our country is built on the values of democracy. We are winning the argument, which is why more and more people are opting for peace."
The people have indeed opted for peace. President Clinton will make that point forcibly during his visit to Ireland, especially when he stands in the broken heart of Omagh. Any group, however small, cannot ignore the wish of the Irish people.
The reality has to be acknowledged by all, nationalists and loyalists alike. The forces of law and order should lead the way. Nationalists complain that, despite the Good Friday accord, the security presence has not been reduced in the least. In fact, they make the point that, if anything, it is the opposite.
Surely this is not the way to win the prize of peace that is there for the taking? Surely, it is now up to the British government to give the lead by reducing the military presence and by undertaking the reform of the RUC?