Category: Archive

Inside File The pen-dulum swings again

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Oh what a difference a few weeks make. Editorials in U.S. papers following the February collapse of the power-sharing Executive in the North were invariably hard on the Provos and Shinners, but all has now changed, more or less utterly.

The Washington Post was leading the pack in February when it took a swipe not just at the Provos but at the Clinton administration and Irish-American political leaders. Somebody must have been whispering in the Post’s ear since then, because the editorial that followed the recent IRA arms statement was different in tone and emphasis to a considerable degree.

"True, the Post declared, "the IRA has not declared that the war is over; and for the moment it promises nothing more than to open a number of its arms caches to inspection by international monitors. Nonetheless, the IRA’s statement suggests that it will gradually allow monitors to create an inventory of its armory. Ultimately, the monitors may be invited to verify the destruction of weapons.

"The Ulster-Unionist hardliners seem more likely to cause trouble on the question of police reform. . . . To get past this blockage, the British government may now be tempted to hang on to the old symbols. It may want to retain the royalist name, possibly as some kind of subtitle; it may want to work the design of the old badge into the new one. But concessions in this direction are dangerous . . ."

The New York Times also praised the Provos. "The IRA’s long-awaited commitment was not an easy one for the group to make. Its leaders deserve credit for overcoming doubts about disarmament among the organizations most militant members," it stated.

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The Boston Herald was positively ecstatic. The paper opined that unionists "would have to be crazy not to give enthusiastic assent" and concluded that Gerry Adams deserved the ultimate pat on the back: "Our bet is that the inside story will make a crystal-clear case for a Nobel Prize for Gerry Adams to match those held by [David] Trimble and John Hume . . ." So there you go!

Beyond Bill

One of the first thoughts to occur to "IF" following the IRA arms statement was that the new deadline to set all things right in Northern Ireland — June 2001 — will mean that the peace process is going to extend beyond the administration of a president largely responsible for its birth in the first place. The first IRA cease-fire was heavily contingent on Sinn Féin being allowed gain a legitimate political and financial foothold in the U.S. and it was Bill Clinton who eventually stepped up to the plate and gave Gerry Adams a visa.

Now another president will be in the White House early next year even as some outstanding matters are still to be played for in the North. It will be up to him, whoever he is, to carry through Clinton’s policies into June and possibly beyond. Clinton himself will be cheering from the sidelines, although it has been suggested that he could undertake a Jimmy Carter-like peace brokering role in the North should the peace process require yet another deadline. We’ll see.

Dissenting voices

Not everyone has been praising the Provos for their bold move on decommissioning. Republican Sinn Féin referred to what was "in effect a Provo surrender of arms." There was "neither stability nor peace in new proposals for Stormont," said RSF president Ruairi O Bradaigh. The 32 County Sovereignty Movement described the Provo move as "nonsense," while adding that it was "perfectly obvious to any observer of Republican history that the statement issued is incompatible with every principle of Irish Republicanism . . . "

And we’ll all spy together . . .

There was much huffing and puffing a while back when it was revealed that her majesty’s snoops were listening in on Irish telephone traffic from a secret communications tower deep in the English countryside. But rather less has been said about an impending deal that will reportedly link the wee republic with an international communications and intelligence-gathering operation primarily run by the same royal snoops along with their U.S. counterparts and a handful of other former colonials.

The Dublin-published satirical and investigative magazine Phoenix has revealed a "secret agreement" that will see Ireland joining the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a "world-wide network of electronic intelligence collection platforms (120 satellites and ground stations) code-named ECHELON.

In June, according to Phoenix, Ireland will become part of this secret alliance in order to help America’s National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters "to snatch computer systems from all over the world."

News of this elevation to near James Bond-status for the wee sod was contained in a special European Commission report on ECHELON that, to the clear annoyance of the French and Germans, only includes countries speaking the queen’s English.

Stated Phoenix: "Spy bosses in Washington and London sucked Ireland into ECHELON with fascinating ingenuity. First approaches came from the FBI in 1993 to Garda HQ and the Department of Justice to join a mysterious body called ILETS [International Law Enforcement Telecommunications Seminar]. So closely involved has Ireland become with ILETS that in 1997 Dublin Castle was chosen as the venue for a meeting of ILETS and ECHELON experts. Information about ILETS is not made available on ‘security’ grounds.’ So secret are the arrangements about ILETS that the European Parliament report describes it as ‘as previously unknown international organization.’"

Bejasus, but this must be fierce embarrassing for the mandarins at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, given all the Euro-posturing of Ireland in recent years. Still, Ireland’s participation in a global spying game that sounds like a plot from the 1960s TV show "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." was probably inevitable given that we live in an age where some eejit in Manilla can bugger up half the computers on the planet with an e-mail.

Obviously, a small but economically surging nation like Ireland — which suddenly has considerable stakes in the international telecommunications and computer business — has to be plugged into the fast-growing game of information and intelligence gathering, if only to keep the lid on some of its more sensitive commercial secrets. That said, it is hard to see how such increasing Irish involvement in what basically amounts to an international intelligence agency can be reconciled with the republic’s neutrality. Clearly it can’t. But neutrality has been more of a myth than fact for years now anyway.

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