Irish Republican News · July 30, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Great statement but what happens now?

By Gearoid O Caireallain (for Daily Ireland)

The reporter from the TG4 news wanted to know where they could find a group of republican supporters and nationalists in Belfast at lunchtime yesterday gathered around a television set, eagerly devouring details of the IRA statement and relieving their indigestion with generous dollops of political analysis and grassroots reaction.

I was sorry to disappoint her, but the only document Sean and Seainin Saoranach were perusing in West Belfast yesterday was the programme for Feile an Phobail.

The IRA statement was truly historic, clear and definite. The armed struggle is now over, and the IRA no longer an active force in Irish politics. So what happens now?

Media interest in the IRA statement may have seriously outweighed the interest shown by the general public by a ratio of ten thousand to one, but that was only because the media have been talking about very little else from the six counties over the past week. And you have to hand it to the republicans, when it comes to manipulating the media they are in a class of their own. For the past three months the main item on the agenda has been when this bally statement was going to appear.

Bertie Ahern seemed to have been particularly confused, revealing that, according to information received by him, the IRA statement was both imminent and unlikely to appear for weeks or maybe months yet.

And while yesterday’s frenzy of activity focused on the actual statement itself and how the unionists may react, no-one was asking the question that has been bothering wiser councils over the past number of weeks - what are Northern nationalists going to get out of it?

There is no doubt but that the IRA statement was one element of a carefully constructed plan to re-inject impetus into the flagging peace process here, a process which had been reduced to a snail’s pace by the two main unionist parties. Neither of the two main unionist parties liked the Good Friday Agreement but they were unable to stop it coming about. So the logical step from their point of view was to ensure that nothing happened too quickly: in that respect the eleven years since the IRA ceasefire have been a successful period for rejectionist unionism.

But back to my question: what are Northern nationalist going to get out of it? And I don’t mean out of the statement, but rather out of the overall plan in which the statement is contained.

Let’s start with the easy ones. Sean Kelly was released on Wednesday night. It was obvious that there was going to be no statement from the IRA without Kelly’s release, but the move confirmed that the IRA’s declaration was not to be looked upon in isolation - there would be quid pro quo. It can also be easily imagined that the removal of British army spy posts in South Armagh will be accelerated and that military patrols in those areas will cease.

Sinn Féin seem to be determined to have the political institutions re-established at Stormont - it was the first thing Martin McGuinness said on his arrival in the United States this week. They want to be central to a renewed power-sharing executive as the main plank to their strategy of achieving equality in the North in the short term and a united Ireland of some description at some time in the future. Twenty-sixteen has been mentioned more than once.

For their part, the DUP seem to be opening the door to taking part in this revamped executive. Jeffrey Donaldson has said no - well, not until decommissioning has been verified. And the IRA have already agreed to verification. The DUP have also said no - well, not until a suitable period of time has come to pass following decommissioning. But then the timetable to bring us from here to the re-activation of Stormont will certainly be a period of months, and might even include fresh elections.

Sinn Féin has been pushing for increased responsibility for the reconstructed Stormont executive, with particular emphasis on the portfolio for policing and justice. Let us assume that tentative agreement has been reached with the British government on this issue as well.

But the question that blurs the picture for nationalists is this: will the unionists be allowed to continue their eleven-year old policy of obstruction and hindrance, reducing progress on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to the level of the barely perceptible? Will they be able to use the Stormont assembly and executive - assuming that it does come around again - as an aid to achieving this aim?

Basically, the republican movement has decided to cash in their IRA chips. By moving away completely from armed struggle, and by rejecting the return to armed struggle as an option, they have committed themselves to Sinn Féin as the cutting edge of the republican movement. The IRA statement is clear and unequivocal - today is the first day when there has been no armed resistance to the British presence in Ireland, and all republican effort to achieve their aims will be solely political.

Significantly, we don’t know what has been agreed. Politicians won’t even confirm that a plan does exist, and that agreement has been reached. I believe there is an agreement - an overall plan - but I don’t know what is in it. However, this is what I think nationalists will be looking for:

Policing - nationalists need a true police service that embraces the idea of Irishness and that is non-political. The PSNI is still a political force. Ideally there should be a locally recruited, unarmed, community police to prevent crime.

Economic development - the once vaunted peace dividend never materialised. Nationalist areas need major investment to stimulate a new economic era.

Guarantees - the British government must guarantee that the unionist parties will not be allowed to hinder progress in the future. If they refuse to join in the institutions, then the institutions must go on without them. Or else the two governments must come together to find a way of promoting equality and progress without the institutions.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News