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Just Desserts?

Anthony McIntyre 11.10.02

What an ironic note was struck through merely observing a Belfast Telegraph photo of a po faced Sinn Fein MLA appearing to conduct a damage assessment exercise in the party's Stormont office after it had been raided by British police last week. After all, was it not just action of this very type, or maybe even more robust, that Mick Murphy implied was needed when he recently criticised the PSNI for not confronting the Real IRA in his South Down constituency? Would such confrontation have taken the form of polite knocks followed by a lengthy period of waiting outside the doors of RIRA suspects?

Not only does hypocrisy seep through the pores of our politicians like treacle, the body politic also drips with its own sense of self-importance and searches around for absurd comparisons with major events of three decades ago to highlight its own predicament. David Trimble has been comparing the raids on the Sinn Fein offices and the arrest of Denis Donaldson to the Watergate scandal. Mary Nelis of Sinn Fein has likened the certain collapse of the institutions to the Pinochet overthrow of the democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Because they have more staffers running their fiefdom than the US president has to manage his own, the unionists now seem to think that their little provincial Hicksville carries the status and stature of the White House. As for Pinochet comparisons, it never seems to dawn on people like Mary Nelis that unionists who believe what they have read in Ed Moloney’s new book may be tempted to claim it is Pinochet-types whose eviction they seek from Stormont. Perhaps no provision was ever made in the Good Friday Agreement for a Minister of Silly Statements simply because the competition for the post would have been too great to administratively cope with.

All this aside, it is common knowledge that political espionage of some variety has long been part of the staple diet for Northern politicians. The DUP has for years been receiving supposedly sensitive material. Ian Paisley in 1975 was producing classified British Army documents which alleged that Mountjoy escapee and IRA chief of staff Seamus Twomey was living in Belfast and that the military were prohibited by government instructions from apprehending him. Nationalists watching the events up at Stormont will probably feel that it is better that politicians pilfer each others documents than have a political vacuum that may be filled by violent activity on the streets, given that they are much more likely than others to be the recipients of such violence. While probably finding republican protestations that securocrats have been at their skulduggery unpersuasive, they will wonder why such a police presence has never been seen in response to the ongoing UDA campaign against Catholics. A number of loyalists have indeed been arrested lately but this seems to stem more from internal loyalist rivalry than it is related to attacks on Catholics. And when loyalists are caught with documents itemising details of Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin, there is a momentary blip on the media radar and then it is on to other business. If the chattering class is to be sent off elsewhere to mumble and mutter about the gravy train going off the rails then at least their exorbitant wages, which they should no longer get, could at last be put to something useful such as protecting nationalists from UDA attack.

Some within the nationalist community may take a more nuanced approach than that which simply dismisses everything as a grand unionist/PSNI/securocrat conspiracy. They may feel that the contempt they believe they are held in by sections of unionism is possibly being replicated within their own political camp. Most of the media focus and political commentary is on the affront to the rights and sensibilities of the unionist community resulting from whatever illegality was allegedly going on at Stormont. But nationalists are also owed an honest explanation as to why republicans may have fashioned a rod for their own backs which the unionists and British are now using with some dexterity. If unionists were going to bring down the institutions as many anticipated why was it made so easy for them not only to do so but also to emerge on the moral high ground?

Moreover, getting booted out of government does not mean that Sinn Fein’s problems are not going to be restricted to the institutions in the North. Bertie Ahern and cabinet are most likely sitting down pondering the future consequences of being in a coalition with Sinn Fein while the IRA still exists. Cynics that they are, there is little chance of them, regardless of how they posture publicly, believing a word from Sinn Fein as to what really happened. Senior Fianna Fail figures will most likely be asking themselves how do they manage the political fall out if gardai raid offices in the Dail, search the homes of office staff, seize copious amounts of allegedly stolen government documents and then claim that one branch of government is using a private army to spy on cabinet colleagues?

It is rapidly becoming clear that that it was never intended that the institutions were going to survive the IRA or even co-exist alongside it for too long. Sinn Fein, if they want the Good Friday Agreement to succeed, must have known for some time that keeping the IRA in existence as some form of extra-parliamentary aide was only going to be a short term measure. Years ago Sinn Fein was an embarrassment to the IRA. Now the IRA appears to be an embarrasment to Sinn Fein. This, coupled with the logic of the agreement, suggests that the IRA will have to be dispensed with.

Part of the dilemma for Sinn Fein is that it has never been honest with its supporters as to exactly what the peace process entailed - that it was about the defeat of republicanism. Where people talk about the agreement being a historic compromise, this is a mere sweetener to allow a partitionist pill to go down all the easier. Unionism compromised as a means of securing the defeat of republicanism. If republicanism compromised at all rather than capitulated, it is a compromise that sits much closer to the defeat end of the victory-defeat continuum. Maintaining an IRA has made it easier for the republican leadership to feed its grassroots this otherwise bitter tasting meal. Now the grassroots are about to find out that there is to be no sweet dessert.






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Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.
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Index: Current Articles

11 Ocotber 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Just Desserts?
Anthony McIntyre


'Robocop' Raid Seen as PSNI Reversion
Eamonn McCann


A Secret History of the IRA
Niall Stanage


Immigrant Slave Labour
Liam O Ruairc


Fighting the Sharks
Sean Smyth


Academics on Independence, Part 2

Paul Fitzsimmons


Wake Up and Smell the Occupation
Sam Bahour


From the Mouths of Babes
John Chuckman


6 October 2002


That Book
Tommy McKearney


"SOS - Save Our Stormont"

Anthony McIntyre


Birds of Ireland
Brian Mór


The Right to Live
Davy Carlin


Interview with Colombian Human Rights Worker



Willpower of Revolutionaries




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