Ominous Development

By Danny Morrison (for the Irish Examiner)

The statement issued [Thursday] afternoon by the IRA, the second in twenty-four hours, represents an ominous development and a major deterioration in the peace process.

Unlike Wednesday night’s lengthy exposition of the IRA’s analysis on what went wrong last December when a deal foundered, Thursday’s statement was terse and suggested that the talking had finished. Republican frustration and anger has been building for some considerable time. Certainly, where I live, in the heart of Gerry Adams’ constituency in West Belfast, there is a feeling that each and every time republicans have made concessions the goalposts are shifted by unionists, often with the support or tolerance of the two governments.

The majority of Northern nationalists, who voted for Sinn Féin, are of the view that the governments are hypocritical and operate double standards. Elements of the two governments are hostile to Sinn Féin for different reasons. Some, on the British side, are still fighting the war by other means, are out to destroy the Adams’ leadership and would consider a split in the IRA and a return to conflict as a major strategic success which would allow them to finish off the organisation.

Political parties in the Republic, particularly Fianna Fail, never anticipated the success of Sinn Féin and its potential. Their party political concern is now a real factor in perversely affecting Dublin government thinking and using the current crisis to lambaste a domestic rival instead of coolly assessing what is a complex situation.

Republicans cite the list of compromises they made to help make peace: Sinn Féin changing its constitution to recognise a Northern Assembly; supporting the amendments of Articles 2 & 3 as a concession to unionist sensibilities; compromising and accepting the Patten proposals on new policing; the IRA suffering a split over the issue of engaging with the International Decommissioning body (IICD), which led to the formation of the Real IRA; the IRA putting three large tranches of weapons beyond use; and offering total decommissioning of weapons by Christmas, independently witnessed by Protestant and Catholic clerics.

But Patten was gutted during its legislative process. The old Special Branch migrated into the PSNI. There has been no Bill of Rights. Outstanding changes on criminal justice and equality have been stalled. The strictest electoral laws in Europe were introduced on the back of false allegations of mass personation by Sinn Féin - only for Sinn Féin’s vote to increase. Republicans recall David Trimble being found guilty in court of illegally excluding two Sinn Féin ministers from North-South council meetings - yet he suffered no sanctions. Unionists refuse to accept the Decommissioning Commission’s word on arms - even though it was set up for them. David Trimble reneged on the deal for the re-establishment of the executive in October 2003.

When at Christmas the anti-Agreement Ian Paisley blocked the peace process by demanding the total humiliation of the IRA, its wearing of sackcloth and ashes, the two governments caved in. They didn’t threaten the DUP. They didn’t look for an alternative ‘government of the willing’ of pro-Agreement parties, in the way they would now like to establish a gerrymandered coalition if they could recruit the SDLP.

The governments went along with the unionist demand for transparent evidence of IRA decommissioning. But when republicans politely asked for transparent evidence of IRA involvement in the Northern Bank raid new rules of confidentiality kicked in.

And now republicans are told by the two governments that the only obstacle in the way of peace is the IRA. That is such a blatant lie. But it is a pretext for the British rolling back the Belfast Agreement and nationalists are angry that they are being thwarted once again from achieving their rights.

The IRA - which re-emerged in 1969 because nationalists were left defenceless - has not gone away and won’t go away until the security of the nationalist community in the North has been established and guaranteed, and republicans are free to use established institutions to peacefully campaign for social and economic harmonisation as a process towards unity.

The two governments have always calculated that the IRA cannot return to armed struggle without Sinn Féin paying a heavy price electorally. Undoubtedly, because there is a degree of association, Sinn Féin’s vote would suffer. However, the reason why a return to armed struggle would be foolhardy, in my opinion, is because it would be a return to a military stalemate.

However, the IRA defies conventional analysis. If it decided there was a case to be made for a return to armed struggle it would go down that road without regard to the post 9/11 perception of the world.

It has always been easier for the governments to blame the IRA than to face up to what Britain created in Ireland at the time of partition - a sectarian state which refused to treat a section of its citizens as equals.

A major political vacuum looms. Hope is evaporating. People feel desperate. All depends on whether the governments listen to what is being said.

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