Irish Republican News · March 3, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Sinn Féin and the political crisis
A different take on recent political developments and a look to where it all might lead. By ‘The Robe’.


Gerry Adams has been the unassailable leader of Irish Republicanism since 1983. Indeed, he has never been far from the political and military leadership positions since imprisoned, in Long Kesh, in 1973. He has, through great personal charisma, wily political intuition, superb oratorical skills and a ruthless streak, brought republicans to places where never in their wildest dreams they imagined they would go.

The recognition of Dail Eireann; the involvement of republicans with ‘non-republicans’ in a pan-nationalist consensus; consent to the deletion of Articles 2 and 3 from the Irish Constitution; recognition of the necessity of Unionist consent; participation in the Stormont Assembly; the wreath-laying by Sinn Féin members for fallen British soldiers; the display of the Union-jack in a Sinn Féin Mayor’s office; a growing support for involvement in the PSNI; and most of all, the acts of decommissioning of arms while British troops remained on Irish soil is testimony to Adam’s, (and his small coterie of Generals’), leadership skills. No Irish republican leader before him has successfully brought about so much change in so short a period of time.

Adams was able to achieve so much because he had a number of influential, highly respected republican thinkers around him who often planted the ideas for him, allowed time for republicans to digest them: and then Adams went on the offensive, patiently touring the country meeting ‘Oglaigh’, attempting to convince them that ‘the dual strategy’ can - get votes, get seats, help Sinn Féin become a dominant political party, annihilate the SDLP, become the representative of the nationalist minority in the six counties, become the largest political party in northern Ireland, show up Unionist intransigence; and become a party holding the balance of power in the Irish parliament, with all the ramifications that this entails.

Yet all of this was achieved, not without cost. It brought about two serious splits, saw the emergence of two competing armies for the republican mantle. Saw Adams and McGuinness, increasingly riled, as having ‘reneged’ on sacred principles and having ‘grown old’ for armed struggle by suspicious insiders.

What is beyond doubt, however, is, at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, Adams had a strong united movement behind him. The implementation of the ‘Agreement’ in its totality, guaranteed by two sovereign Governments, with its strong ‘parity of esteem’ agenda was seen by the vast majority of republicans as removing the Unionist ‘veto’ and weakening their resolve to ‘fight for Ulster’; also, a view was conveyed to republicans that Britain was to act as ‘persuaders’ for Irish unity.

The lack of progress on demilitarization, the claw-back on Patten, the shut-down of the institutions, the slow progress on the equality agenda, the reneging by Unionists on road-maps for progress, the establishing of a ‘Monitoring Commission’ outside the terms of the GFA, the lack of reciprocation by the UUP and most of all the lack of any real response to the acts of decommissioning of weapons casts doubts in republican ranks that the two governments were fully committed to pushing the process forward.

Each ‘reneging’ on the Good Friday agreement and the impotence of Sinn Féin to drive the issue, eroded Adams’ power-base significantly in the IRA and left many Oglaigh disenchanted. This disenchantment existed at Army Counsel, Army executive, Army Convention and General Headquarter staff levels, and right down the lower chain of command.

The problems for disenchanted Oglaigh were/are: i) in a post Omagh and ‘September 11th, world’ the return to struggle is a difficult option. ii) each acquiescence to Adams ‘vision’ brought republicans into a cul-de-sac’ where Adams’ agenda became the only show in town, iii) Adams and McGuinness had stifled the emergence of any middle level leadership which might have challenged and ousted the present leadership; iv) aligning with ‘dissident’ republicans was out of the question in view of the way they departed from the movement; but also it had become obvious to any observer that both groups had been heavily infiltrated; and had become incapable of engaging in any type of successful military action.

That Adams and McGuinness are totally committed to the peace process and wanting to ‘take the gun out of Irish politics’ is crystal clear for all to see, except for those blinded by prejudice or just plain stupid. Their every utterance, and the direction they have taken the republican movement is unmistakably along the path of peace. Both Adams and McGuinness are right when they claim that they have risked their lives to advance this peace process; (and maybe the coming days will show how great this risk is). As far back as the early 1980s they had come to the conclusion that armed struggle could, at most, produce only stalemate. Each electoral victory, as well as the emerging demographic data, convinced them more than ever that a British disengagement could be brought about, in their lifetime, through the ballot box. Hence, all their energy over the years since has been spent on i) convincing non-republicans that they were serious about the peace process and; ii) convincing the IRA that armed struggle was a tactic that belong to the past. Adams was confident that he could achieve both if there was some understanding from those who should know better of the painful, difficult process of bringing men steeped in the physical force tradition to embracing constitutional politics. Certainly, ‘humiliation’ could have no part in such a process. Fianna Fail, more than any one else should know that.

The issue of ‘decommissioning’ which has bogged down the ‘peace process’ was always a ‘red-herring’ brought into the equation by intransigent Unionists who were unable, and unwilling, to share power with Irish nationalists. After all, the IRA’s guns had been silent for years and nobody believed that the IRA was intending to re-use them. Furthermore, the more Sinn Féin immersed itself in the institutions of state the less likelihood there was that war would ever be resumed.

The events culminating in the breakdown of talks that would have resurrected the Good Friday institutions, in November, 2004, were a defining moment for all republicans. Adams had just barely, but sensationally, pulled off a deal with the Army convention, (the Army Counsel alone could not have given such consent), that a ‘complete and final act of decommissioning’ of all IRA weapons, would be made by December, 2004, and the IRA ‘stood down’ if the institutions were restored and ‘guarantees’ given that the Good Friday Agreement would be implemented in its totality. The deal was pulled off despite the fact that looming large in the consciousness of all Oglaigh was the reneging by Trimble, and Blair, of the October, 2003, deal to re-establish the executive in return for the IRA’s third and largest act of decommissioning. It was another incredible feat by Adams and his Generals.

A ominous development for Adams at this Army convention, however, was that those who fiercely opposed the deal had, unlike the two former splits, decided not to ‘walk-out’ leaving the floor clear for Adams to pursue his ‘politics without guns’ agenda. Organised and determined they went on the offensive to convince grass-root Oglaigh that an ‘act of completion’ was contrary to the IRA’s Constitutions, and should be resisted. ‘The Sunday Business Post’ reported on its Web page, (28th. November), that among those opposed was senior members of the hierarchy; including four members of the Army Executive and the Quartermaster General himself. Others speculated that the Chief of Staff, a traditional Adams loyalist had joined the dissidents. The source speaking to the SBP denounced the Adams/McGuinness leadership and was emphatic in stating that they would not be aligning with members of the two existing dissident groups - a coded message, that this time the new dissidents were not leaving the Provisionals’ stage.

Had the DUP not made such an outrageous demand for ‘a public act of humiliation’ in the planned decommissioning; and had the two Governments not acquiesced to Paisley’s demands, (contrary to the GFA), Adams would have carried the day and done what no Irish politician had done before him, succeeded, once and for all, in taking the gun out of Irish politics. The event would have been accomplished before opposition could be organized among rank and file Oglaigh. Even now it is difficult to understand why the Irish and British governments caved-in and allowed Paisley scuttle a deal of immense historical proportions. The lack of intent, particularly by both governments, in pursuing the ‘new understanding’ of the GFA, negotiated over many months; sent a wave of anger and revulsion through the republican movement. For once both ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ were united in demanding that Britain be taught ‘a lesson’. At no time since Adams assumed the mantle of leadership has the ‘Adams’ agenda’ come under such scrutiny. Only time will tell if Adams can claw back and hold the republican movement together?

Already, the ‘slagging match’ has begun, and the bitterness and recriminations are being sown. The ‘fall-out’ from the Northern Bank robbery, before Christmas, is the first act that threatens to drive the factions irretrievably apart. On ‘cease-fire’ mode, all actions that would/could threaten the ‘peace process’ need to have the expressed authorization of the Chief of Staff. He in turn would keep his Army Counsel informed. Once actions are authorized they become ‘military actions’ and are never allowed to be criminalized no matter what the circumstances. The ‘dirty protest’ and the ‘hunger strikes’, of 1981, are proof of that. That any republican would criminalize IRA actions, sanctioned by the leadership, would be a great act of apostasy.

Adams, McGuinness, and this week in a groveling display, in Dail Eireann, Caoimhghin O Caolain, have all condemned the Northern Bank robbery and described it as the work of criminals out to destroy the peace process. In the immediate days after the robbery Adams vehemently denied that republicans were involved. He asked, “... when the truth comes out, would those who now accuse the republican movement apologise?” The IRA too issued a statement denying that they were involved. Were/are all of these lying, (committing that unforgivable act of apostasy), undermining their own credibility at a vital moment in the peace process; undermining too, the military code of conduct that lets every volunteer know that sanctioned military actions cannot be disowned by the leadership? Or was it more likely the case that dissenting Army Counsel members reviewing the intelligence available on the Northern Bank operation, and believing that a time may come when they will need funds to fuel a war effort, gave the ‘go ahead’ for the heist to take place? Was the operation planned in such a way that all knowledge was kept from certain members of the Army Council?

In January, Adams and McGuinness were trenchant in their belief that it was the work of security agents wishing to undermine the peace process. In the early days of February, Adams looked a rattled man. In Spain, in the Basque country, he was willing to entertain, for the first time that maybe the IRA was involved. Did he learn, from his own supporters, at this time, that republicans had, in fact, carried out the bank robbery?

On his arrival back in Dublin, presumably after reading up intelligence reports available to him, and meeting with his own loyalists, he was more defiant. He was adamant again that the IRA was not involved - at least not, in Adams’ perception, the majority of the IRA! Did he also understand, for the first time, the very serious nature of the challenge posed to his leadership by those who carried out this robbery; and the enormous implications of dissenting members suddenly having millions of Pounds available to them?

Has he, now, along with his supporters, come to the conclusion, for the sake of all Sinn Féin’s electoral gains, and for his own credibility, that he must force the issue, no longer waiting for all to come on-board, and have Sinn Féin and the IRA declare for ‘constitutional politics alone’ even at the expense of precipitating a civil war in the republican movement?

Adams, always a cautious man, wishing to avoid splits and desiring to bring as many as possible with him, is now facing the biggest challenge of his political life - that of confronting those who still believe that the British only make concessions when “the Armalite is held in one hand and the ballot box in the other”. In view of what happened in November, when the two governments pulled the carpet from under him, his task is now immeasurably more difficult and it looks very uncertain indeed that he can achieve his goal without leaving a very divisive split in the ranks of the republican movement.

The use of the word ‘criminal’ to describe those who carried out the bank robbery is the first shot fired at ‘the militants’. Also, his comments: “... We would not have been able to play the role we played in the peace process by ignoring issues or by not changing events and developments over the years”, is a further reminder to all to be prepare for hard changes. This will bring about the debate within the IRA and Sinn Féin where Adams can push his agenda of bringing ‘militarism’ to an end. What will happen at the IRA level will be hidden and go unreported; but almost certainly, it will be a bitter and acrimonious debate with both sides aware that those who emerge winners takes not only the arms and the assets but also the patrimony of the IRA. Certain too, in view of the November fall-out is the fact that Adams is moving at the worst possible time. There is still an awful lot of anger present among all republicans at the way the November deal was abandoned.

At the political level, Sinn Féin will call an Ard Fheis where the floor will be asked to repudiate those who carried out the bank robbery and all will be asked to embrace the constitutional, democratic process. If the militants triumph at the Army convention, Sinn Féin will also be asked to repudiate the IRA. This debate too promises to be bitter and acrimonious, and every bit as divisive as that which tore the heart out of the republican movement in 1921; and which presaged the civil war.

A possible scenario emerging from these events is that Adams will lose at the Army Convention level and his group will walk away from the provisionals. He will then bring his case to another Ard Fheis, where, among ex-Oglaigh now enjoying the perks of politics, which is far better that damp beds in safe-houses, he will pull off victory, thus breaking definitively the links that exist between Sinn Féin and the IRA: And here could be the bitterest irony of all for Unionists, and the British. If Adams and Sinn Féin repudiate the IRA there can no longer be any barrier to them being in government. Decommissioning will no longer be an issue as they will have nothing to decommission. The institutions will have to be kick-started and made to operate despite all Paisley’s protestations. Sinn Féin, as pacifists, will then pursue their All Ireland agenda from inside Stormont while outside, former comrades (possibly with a large war-chest courtesy of Northern Bank) may resume the war of attrition inflicting heavy casualties as and when they choose. And this time there will be no one to remind them of what is politically correct or not. On with the Republic!

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