By Anthony McIntyre (for the Pensive Quill)
In the swirl of ridicule that descended on the head of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness in the wake of the Real IRA bombing of the Ulster Bank in Derry it is all too easy to lose sight of the catastrophe that draws closer with each exploding device. It seems the Real IRA has learned nothing from the Omagh bomb and is prepared to risk a repeat of the slaughter inflicted there in pursuit of a legitimate goal through means that are anything but legitimate. The veteran socialist activist Eamonn McCann made an interesting observation worthy of reflection by those seeking to prosecute wars that can never be won. ...it’s pointless demonising the dissidents as gangsters with no politics. There are clear parallels between their campaign and the Provos. The Provos were wrong then and the dissidents are wrong now. Their campaign will bring death and misery to all involved.
It is probably only a few who feel that the whole purpose of the Derry attack was to rub Martin McGuinness’s nose in it. But doing so was almost certainly one factor in the Real IRA’s strategic deliberations. While McGuinness was lining up with the British Tories at their annual conference, where they marginalised him to the fringe, the Real IRA was announcing with a bang that the former Provisional IRA chief of staff was a busted flush in terms of his ability to hand the head of republican political violence to the British state on a plate. The timing of the attack led McGuinness into standing shoulder to shoulder with the squires from the shires in a crescendo of condemnation of republican armed activity. In his critique of the bombers the North’s Deputy First Minister referred to them as conflict junkies and Neanderthals. The irony was not lost on observers who have been quick to point out that the Real IRA are branded Neanderthals because they seek to ape McGuinness who in his day blitzed Derry.
After the killing of two British soldiers in Antrim in March of last year Martin McGuinness lambasted the Real IRA as traitors, demonstrating the validity of Tallyrand’s comment that treason is a matter of dates. If the organisation was irritated by the comments it maintained an inscrutable expression. But when the opportunity presented itself to turn the worm the Real IRA did so with rapier like delivery. It issued a statement designed to position McGuinness as far removed from republicanism as Margaret Thatcher. A Real IRA spokesperson told the Sunday Tribune:
It was entirely appropriate that Martin McGuinness’s condemnation of the IRA operation came from the Tory conference. The man who once bombed Derry into the ground is now on the side of bankers and big business. His sentiments are in keeping with those of his Tory friends. The contrast between McGuinness and those still committed to the republican struggle couldn’t have been greater.
It was a stinging rebuke for the former Provisional IRA leader whose political and strategic achievements were shown to be tiny when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made it clear that the North of Ireland might as well be Finchley. Perhaps for this reason the Irish Times could comment, ‘... it can hardly be denied that the dissidents are now solidly rooted in the place republicanism was anchored through much of the conflict.’