The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
When A Leader Deserts His Men

Anthony McIntyre • Fortnight

Andy Sproule, the senior PSNI member running the investigation into the robbery at the Northern Bank, has reported that on the evening of the theft, a couple with a child approached a traffic warden and made it known that two men wearing wigs and carrying baseball bats were in the immediate vicinity of the bank. The information that the traffic warden, in turn, passed on to the police was of the type that would lead only Inspector Clueso to think Halloween revellers were having a lark. This is all the more so since the revelation by Suzanne Breen on RTE's Prime Time that the PSNI were in possession of information that a robbery of a Belfast bank by the Provisional IRA was imminent. By the time the cops arrived, however, the robbers had gone. Along with their substantial haul of notes.

As if things were not bad enough for the PSNI, a diffident Sproule went on to assert that his boss Hugh Orde had made no claim to be in possession of actual evidence but was nevertheless in a position to identify the group behind the heist. Setting aside the debate about where the boundary between intelligence and evidence sits, the PSNI performance both before and after the robbery has left many of the force's advocates jittery. A cloud of suspicion still hangs over the PSNI that its professional and technical prowess was far outmatched by that of the robbers.

Using the type of language that has come to characterise most PSNI pronouncements thus far, even the evidence for the existence of evidence, was evidently not evident when, on the same news report, Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside could be seen angrily gesticulating as he took advantage of parliamentary privilege to name a former republican prisoner as being responsible for the bank heist. Given that the same man was named by the Hennessey Report as being behind the massive 1983 escape from the H-Blocks, and has featured in public discourse in relation to a series of alleged IRA activities, it is all too easy to create the dots and then join them any way you want. Shouting a well-known name is evidence of an ability only to shout a well-known name. It can as easily be the result of guesswork as it is the product of reliable intelligence. The upshot of the blame game is that neither Sproule nor Burnside has firmed up public assumptions about culpability, managing only to reinforce a view already out there of investigators peering into a black hole.

But as ridiculous as the meanderings of those determined to pin the rap on the Provisionals at times seem, they pale in comparison to the absurdity displayed by those seeking to deflect barrages of fingerpointing away from Sinn Fein's alter ego. There is more heavy lifting to be done in defending than accusing on this one. Finding anyone who thinks the job was not the work of the Provisionals is as challenging a task for journalists as locating those responsible for pulling it off is for detectives.

In their denials of Provisional IRA involvement Sinn Fein have exuded the demeanour of men with forked tongues managing to protrude through every cheek. Martin McGuinness at one point took to calling the robbers criminals. No doubt he would insist on this to the family of Bobby Sands if they were to ask him if the IRA were involved.

Perhaps more than anything else this displays the cynical opportunism of Sinn Fein. In 1976 republican prisoners began a protest within the H-Blocks of Long Kesh to refute a British government lie - that IRA activities were criminal. Five years later ten republican volunteers died defying the lie. A major consideration in those young volunteers readily giving up their lives was to create space for people like Martin McGuinness, understood by those hunger strikers to be their chief of staff at the time, to publicly proclaim in defiance of the British state that IRA (and INLA) actions were political in motivation.

The hunger strike was the most intense moment in the history of the Provisional IRA. It has assumed the status of sacred. Those of us involved in the blanket protest still shake with emotion when the memory of ten men dead visits our consciousness. When we approach their graves we do so with the respect reserved for hallowed ground. To see Martin McGuinness, who went on to gain so much from their deaths, virtually spit on their sacrifices and demean their agony by employing the term criminal to describe what few could possibly deny is an IRA operation, is more galling than having to listen to Margaret Thatcher in the days before Bobby Sands died pontificate 'a crime is a crime is a crime.'

Thatcher and the Tory government could not make criminals of the IRA. McGuinness and the Sinn Fein leadership most certainly did.






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

14 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Ireland of Equals Will Not Be Built on Fear
Gerard Quinn

'Law and Order' From Behind a Balaclava
John Kelly

Where Are the Guards of Honour?
Sean Magee

Losing Hearts and Minds
Mick Hall

Protest? You're Having a Laugh
Michael Benson

Brian Mór

When A Leader Deserts His Men
Anthony McIntyre

No News
James Fitzharris

I Didn't Know Her, But I Did
Fred A. Wilcox

Parents Must Fight Bigotry
David Adams

9 February 2005

Oderint dum Metuant
Anthony McIntyre

Life Amongst the Proveau Riche
Brian Mór

Can Republicans Succeed Without Upholding National Sovereignty?
Francis Mackey

The Party or the Process
Dr John Coulter

Sean Russell and the Nazis
Mick Hall

Counting the Bodies
Liam O Ruairc

Elections' Aftermath
Ghali Hassan

What did Aeschylus write in "Daughters of Danaus"?
Toni Solo



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