The Stickie business of demonisation
The Stickie business of demonisation

By Damian Kiberd (for Daily Ireland)

The greatest virtue attaching to the statement of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams at the Conway Mill last Wednesday is that finally – eleven years after the IRA cessation of military actions against the British – it de-couples the process of change within Irish republicanism from the process of political negotiation and bartering, primarily with Britain but also with Ulster unionism.

Previously, the future direction of republicanism was the hostage of a process in which petty-minded individuals like David Trimble (a Nobel peace laureate) could “raise the bar” at the last moment after extracting concessions from Sinn Féin and/or the IRA. Trimble’s petulant behaviour scuppered the second last attempt by republicans to reach a settlement with Ulster unionism which might provide a permanent basis for peace.

Now Adams has chosen to make a unilateral appeal to the men and women of the IRA to choose an alternative road to the one upon which they embarked, most recently, in 1970. He does so with the authority of his office as Sinn Féin president. And he does so, while making the point that on previous occasions he has fully defended the right (in his opinion) of the IRA to wage war against the British occupiers of part of Ireland (this is, after all, the man who carried the coffin of the Shankill bomber a decade ago regardless of the public relations disaster that this meant for him and for his party).

There are a number of problems, however, associated with the Adams statement of last week, problems which will be familiar to its author. In the first place the process of dismantling the IRA’s military machine was supposed to take place in tandem with the dismantling of Britain’s military presence in the six counties. There is no particular evidence to show that Britain has taken this task seriously: even the Free State minister Dermot Ahern – who is no friend of Sinn Féin – drew attention to this problem in recent days.

Secondly, what will happen if loyalists attack Catholic districts in Belfast and elsewhere this summer or in 2006 and 2007? Clearly, members of the republican movement will try to defend their areas against attack, but if they do so will they not be accused of hypocrisy by the Dublin and London media? Even though your house might be about to be burned, this won’t stop people in the media from demanding that you apply higher standards to your own behaviour than they would apply in their own lives.

The prize which Adams seeks to win for Sinn Féin is a continuation of the party’s political advance. But he must be aware that this process will continue to be obstructed by a massive campaign of falsification, regardless of whether or not the IRA is “stood down”. In other words, the IRA might agree to go away, but the people who depend for a living on their capacity to attack the IRA won’t. These are the people who staff the upper echelons of Independent News and Media, The Irish Times and RTÉ among other media organisations.

At the weekend the Free State justice minister, Michael McDowell, repeated his bizarre claim that the IRA was “well on the way” in creating a state within a state (presumably within the Free State). This is a line which has been faithfully trotted out by so-called investigative journalists within the Irish Independent and Sunday Tribune in recent weeks (who on earth was briefing them?). They apparently have swallowed the line that the buoyant southern economy with its two million workers and its perennial budget surpluses is about to be overwhelmed by what they call SF/IRA, even though Sinn Féin holds just five of the 166 seats in Dáil Éireann.

There is no evidence at all to support McDowell’s ludicrous rhetoric. The only people who have genuinely used the process that Marxists refer to as “entryism” to subvert the institutions of the Free State in recent decades are the old, now almost defunct, Workers’ Party who seized control of parts of The Irish Times, Independent News and Media, RTÉ and SIPTU (in the 1980s) and who now – lacking any obvious ideological mission – simply use their positions to provide jobs for their relatives and friends. Nell McCafferty, in her recent autobiography Nell, unwittingly provided a unique insight into the Workers’ Party attitude to the mass media when she told of how she used to meet monthly with the Official IRA boss Cathal Goulding to talk about the situation in Derry after she was appointed as a reporter with The Irish Times in the 1970s (see page 252 of her recent book). I want to make it absolutely clear here that Nell herself was never a Stickie and never sought or received any favours from those who were Stickies, merely that meeting Goulding was then considered normal in the world in which she had to make a living.

The process of demonising Sinn Féin these days cannot be contained, regardless of whether or not Adams succeeds in his bid to wind-up the IRA as a fighting force. The reportage of criminal activity in Dublin in recent days proves that the opponents of the republican movement within the Dublin media have adopted a technique known as “the Big Lie”. Any murder – regardless of whether it is caused by a personal vendetta or by a dispute among criminals – will be attributed to republicans. Political activists working for Sinn Féin will be smeared by hack writers who appear to see part of their primary functions as a willingness to attack Sinn Féin.

This is a dirty business. As Adams tries to dismantle the IRA, the primary opposition to him is not coming from Britain or even from Ulster’s fragmented unionists. It is coming from Dublin where important people fear the advance of Sinn Féin. Neither state possesses a shred of evidence that Adams authorised the robbery of the Northern Bank in December (have you noticed the number of people arrested in connection with this event?). Yet McDowell’s leader Mary Harney felt confident enough to accuse Adams, and Martin McGuinness of complicity in this robbery on RTÉ radio and RTÉ saw fit to broadcast this piece of programming which essentially pre-judged the guilt or innocence of named persons  in connection with a crime which dwarfed the Great Train Robbery in terms of its scale.

 The Progressive Democrats seem to be obsessed with threats to Irish democracy. They should keep their eyes open. They are sitting around the cabinet table with people who signed blank cheques for Charlie Haughey. People who have forgotten what their parents believed in, and who are now embarked on a nihilist effort to wreck the peace process (to shore up their own political mandate) and who no longer have any interest in the pursuit of republican objectives. Shake hands with them, and count the fingers on your hand afterwards.

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