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It is error alone which needs the support of government.
Truth can stand by itself.
- Thomas Jefferson



Bertie Talking Bollix


Anthony McIntyre


At one time on this island there existed a discourse which remained in permanent overdrive as those who shaped it worked with singular determination to ensure the IRA were demonised, banished, banned and regularly called liars. Those of us in the organisation's ranks were subjected to such pejoratives as 'terrorists', 'criminals', and 'gangsters'. The demonology dictionary seemingly 'required reading' for conflict writers and establishment politicians. But now, that Peace Process is here to look over us - Big Brother-like in its pervasiveness, monitoring our every word and action lest we say something that 'is not helpful to the peace process' or behave in some manner which is 'opposed to the peace process' - there has been a considerable discursive twist. And it is nowhere more pronounced than in nationalist circles. So fearful have we become of upsetting Peace Process that we tend to appease it, feed it on a diet of its own myths and tell it nice things about itself, even when it is nonsense. We are all expected to act as a mirror for Peace Process in which it is only ever allowed to see its own deceitful intellectual image tarted up as truth. 'Yes, Peace Process, you are the most exemplary of all peace processes'.

And when the mirror dulls down and its ability to reflect peace as distinct from a mere process is called into question, there is no shortage of word cleaners to come along with new products which explain to us that the dullness is in fact a shine, merely turned inside out; that we need to think strategically and avoid being mesmerised by the tactical manoeuvring of the moment to fully understand it. How else are we supposed to conceptualise the great language of our day such as 'constructive fudge' and 'creative ambiguity'? Without this ability to 'get our heads around it', we could never rest at peace with ourselves having tasted the forbidden fruit, unsuspectingly handed to us by a leading Irish participant at a 1998 Oxford conference on the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: the Good Friday Agreement, all were warned, is 'a delicately balanced compromise which can be destroyed by truth ... honesty and straightforward talking must be avoided at all costs.'

And nowhere is the evidence of this more substantive than it is within the political leadership of establishment nationalism. Referring to talks between the IRA and the de Chastelain disarmament commission, John Hume once commented, 'the most important thing about the guns factor and those who have used them is when they have said they have stopped that they are telling the truth.'

Gerry Adams - well he would wouldn't he - informed his audience in June 2001 that 'the one thing about the IRA, they accept what they have done even when it is unpopular.'

If matters were just restricted to these two minor partners in the nationalist body politic the myth about Peace Process would not be so oppressively encompassing. But when the hegemonic element, represented by the leader of the country, puts his shoulder to the wheel of fiction it then becomes totalising. The regime of truth is established, not constituted by the facts but by all those with the dangerous power to, in the words of Eric Hoffer, 'make their lies come true'.

Speaking after Fianna Fail's annual Easter Rising commemoration at Arbour Hill, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, echoing Hume and Adams, made the following comment in relation to the Castlereagh theft: 'down the years when the IRA say they were or were not involved in something, however horrific, it is usually factual. That has been the experience. The Republican Movement said from the start that it had no involvement in this particular incident and I've no reason to disbelieve them.'

It is very possible that Mr Ahern has every reason to believe the IRA when it says it was not involved in the break in at Castlereagh. After all, the British have neither record of nor reputation for honesty throughout the past thirty-three years. Sunday Tribune reports (21/4/2002) that the British are once again moving to conceal their involvement in the 'dirty war' - this time by blocking a proper investigation into the Dublin/Monaghan bombings should serve as a reminder that what they say about Castlereagh need not be absorbed like a sponge. And over the years their persistent lying to cover up what took place in Castlereagh interrogation rooms became so ridiculous, it at times sounded like they were being tongue in cheek. In the mid to late 1970s few in the nationalist community would have raised eyebrows if the following statement were to have been released by the British: 'Last night another six prisoners beat themselves up in Castlereagh. One officer who intervened to prevent a suspect attacking himself had his fingernails broken by the suspect's eyes'.

Moreover, even less than the at best scant evidence than has been produced in the Colombian case - none in fact - has been forthcoming that would suggest republican involvement in the break-in. The British state has relied on the inevitable innuendo and speculation that would generate as a result of the arrest of a prominent right wing republican with media-alleged leadership connections. If the public can be conditioned to presume the guilt of the arrested party, then it is only a small step to make in terms of public perception in order to implicate the republican leadership. Consequently, a moral panic is created which may have little basis in real terms.

But any historian, rather than a revisionist, of the conflict would instantly recognise Bertie Ahern's comments as nonsense. While his judgement may be right about Castlereagh - the jury is still out on that one - it seemed not to strike the Taoiseach that his sense of timing was going to leave him open to allegations of insensitivity. In the week when the deaths of two gardai brought to public mind the fatalities the force sustained over the past three decades it shall hardly be seen as opportune to forget that the death of Garda Gerry McCabe was a killing carried out by the IRA and immediately denied.

The IRA's history of doing exactly what Mr Ahern claimed it doesn't is long. Even at the earliest stage of its bombing campaign the organisation remained silent about its involvement until one of its volunteers, Michael Kane was accidentally killed bombing an electricity transformer at Newforge Lane, Belfast. This practice of remaining mute was resurrected on at least two further occasions; during the sectarian war of 1974-1976 when the IRA killed numerous Protestants; and during its campaign in the mid-1990s against drug dealers when the cover name 'Direct Action Against Drugs' was employed.

But remaining silent or using cover names was not the only stratagem employed. In a number of cases the IRA resorted to outright lying. For decades it told the relatives of Jean McConville that the organisation was not responsible for her fate, whatever that may have been. In May 1972 rather than accept responsibility for its involvement in the Anderson Street explosion in East Belfast which led to eight people dying including four of its own volunteers, the IRA pointed the finger at loyalists or the SAS. It lied about the Claudy bombing of August the same year in which nine people died; Sean MacStiofain, the then chief of staff saying an internal IRA inquiry had established that the organisation was not involved. In November 1974 it denied being responsible for the Birmingham bombings. Months later it denied the attack on the Bayardo Bar in 1975 in which five people died. One of those convicted went on to lead IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks during the 1981 hunger strike. In April 1981, the organisation was again lying when it denied killing census collector Joanne Mathers in Derry. This time the finger was pointed at those who were 'frantically attempting to discredit the election campaign of hunger striker Bobby Sands'. In today's language, 'securocrats'.

In November 1987 the IRA blamed British Army electronic measures for having detonated the device that killed numerous civilians at the Enniskillen Remembrance Day ceremony. By 1995, according to David McKittrick and Eamon Mallie, IRA sources 'admitted that this ''explanation'' was just nonsense'. In December 1987 the organisation again lied about having accidentally killed Derry man Gerry Doherty in a bomb blast. In October 2000, the IRA was found to be lying in relation to the Ballymurphy murder of Real IRA member Joe O'Connor, even going as far as to cynically offer condolences to his family.

Eddie Holt surely got it right when he claimed that 'the language of war, like the language of advertising, political ideology and corporations, is a jumble of jargon, euphemisms and downright lies ... - a sanitising operation, designed to disguise the reality of butchery'.

The litany of lies is far from exhaustive. But that lies are officially manufactured to conceal other lies demonstrates that the peace process is intellectually fraudulent and morally bankrupt. Perhaps if his advisers were to have provided Bertie Ahern with the Irish Times more often he may just have noticed that as early as May 2000 the paper was commenting that 'frequent assertions that the IRA are models of truthfulness are not borne out in all circumstances'.

It is perhaps to be expected that the IRA, like all other parties, will peddle its own myths. But for those of us who support the peace but are not beholden to the process because of its counterfeit composition it seems bizarre that others do. From the point of view of Fianna Fail's own self-interest Ahern seems to have lost the plot in ensuring that the sun shone so that others could make hay. There seemed to be little strategic sense for the party leader to be crediting the Provisional IRA with a general honesty it does not possess at a time when the other side of the house, Sinn Fein, is making a claim to be a party of integrity in a sea of corruption.

The South African writer Nadine Gordimer's observations may yet come to haunt the Fianna Fail leader: 'to serve your society best you have to be honest and frank'. And historians may ultimately ask if this was the turning point at which Bertie Ahern failed to turn?



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