No prizes on offer for isolating Sinn Féin
No prizes on offer for isolating Sinn Féin

(for the Sunday Business Post)

Some brave soul recently sprayed: ‘‘A’ company, 3rd battalion IRA defunct’ on the wall of the library at Ardoyne.

It isn’t, of course. The graffiti writer is referring to the role of senior Ardoyne IRA men and staff of Northern Command in defending British soldiers as PSNI and British army forced Orange camp followers past Ardoyne in July.

Last week, senior republican Danny Morrison told BBC Radio 4 that under no circumstances would the IRA destroy or hand over weapons publicly. The DUP’s Peter Robinson has demanded that any future weapons decommissioning be ``visual’’. He would like it filmed.

Morrison assured listeners ``that is just not going to happen’’.

How are these two matters connected?

The answer is that they reflect in different ways the growing restiveness among republicans about the direction the political process in the North has taken in the last year.

For some years after the Good Friday Agreement many republicans were convinced that unionists were cynically devising obstacles which they hoped Sinn Féin could not surmount. If they couldn’t, they might then be expelled from the executive or assembly, or preferably both.

Each time Sinn Féin complied with an apparently impossible demand, unionists produced another one.

The change in the last year since Sinn Féin overtook the SDLP as the majority nationalist party in the North is that the British government, fully backed by the Irish government, has begun to support unionist demands.

The two governments have second guessed the arrangements agreed between General de Chastelain and the IRA and now insist, along with unionists, that decommissioning be `transparent’.

They insist, along with unionists, that the IRA disband as a pre-condition for stable administration in the North, a requirement mentioned nowhere in the Agreement.

At unionists’ behest the governments established the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission which, on advice from the North’s spooks, will decide whether or not the IRA has disbanded.

The Irish government, though a full partner in the Agreement, accepted the greatly expanded role of the IMC, nowhere provided for in the Agreement and furthermore, to appease unionists, accepted that Dublin’s nominee will have no role in matters Northern on which the IMC will adjudicate.

For many republicans the final insult has been the elaborate bugging devices uncovered in the home of one of Gerry Adams’s office staff and last Monday, in Sinn Féin’s Andersonstown office.

It’s okay for MI5 to spy on republicans, but it’s an outrage for republicans to spy on the British administration, so much so that the executive and assembly collapsed as a result.

Adams accused Tony Blair of ``bad faith’’ in continuing to plant such devices, but some republicans wanted him to pull out of the Leeds Castle talks asking, is there no humiliation which Sinn Féin will not endure in this current process?

Leaders of the republican movement respond that pulling out of talks is exactly what the British and unionists want Sinn Féin to do, that the whole Leeds Castle exercise is a piece of theatre in which the loser is driven off the stage while all the other dramatis personae point their fingers in true Whitehall farce genre.

Adams is determined that will not happen.

Isolating Sinn Féin is a dangerous game for the Irish government to be involved in.

There are no prizes for any Irish government in joining forces with unionists and a British government. After all, SF are the representatives of the majority of the North’s nationalists. People don’t like their representatives not being treated on equal terms with unionists, being regarded instead as lesser figures in the political system.

Is it acceptable to bug offices where the representatives of Northern nationalists may be planning their negotiating tactics for Leeds Castle? Is there a sophisticated bugging device in DUP headquarters?

Not likely. It’s a very grave matter to bug MPs. Then, of course, Sinn Féin MPs aren’t real MPs, are they, merely republican ones?

On all of this not a dickey-bird from Brian Cowen. Why is it that Cowen has made no important speech on the North setting out the demands of Bertie Ahern’s government in terms as unequivocal as Tony Blair’s? Why can Cowen not demand that the DUP state clearly that they will share power with nationalists on an equal footing?

At present, their position is that if the IRA disband and hand over their weapons “visually” then the DUP might deign talk to Sinn Féin. Is that position acceptable to the Irish government? Has Cowen no demands to make of unionists?

The effect of the Irish government ganging up with London is very serious.

It undermines the basis on which Adams and Martin McGuinness sold the peace process to IRA hard-liners a decade ago, namely that a ceasefire would produce a powerful coalition of northern nationalists, Dublin and Washington to pressurise the British.

It’s far from that we are today, which is the reason the graffiti artists in Ardoyne are sneering at the IRA and Morrison is putting down a marker.

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