The Blanket

To The Beat Of A Different Drum
The gunmen in the dripping border villages aren't doing well out of this.... The poor bloody infantry, and the poor bloody sergeants, with our council flats and farmworkers' cottages? These are the people who now matter most, and are about the only people who haven't been bribed. Everyone else benefits from the peace process. - Andrew Marr

Anthony McIntyre • 3/11/2002

The announcement by the Provisional IRA, shortly after British security minister Jane Kennedy called upon it to make a substantive peace gesture, that it was to withdraw its interlocutor from discussions with John de Chastelain’s IICD was not without significance. But it lay less in what the IRA had to say than in the palpably nonchalant response that it prompted. The Independent dismissed it as something that ‘changes nothing.’ The Dublin Government was scarcely more concerned when it described the move as ‘unhelpful but hardly fatal.’ According to the Irish Times both Dublin and London take the view that 'they'll be back ... it's a ritual gesture, a comfort blanket for Provo hard men, an exercise in cold war huffing.' The Boston Herald depicted an indifferent reflex from throughout this country - 'the IRA's statement generally evoked a large yawn from both parts of Ireland'.

Since the hardly ground breaking measure, there has been some public debate aimed at teasing out the IRA’s motive. Featuring prominently in the discussion have been two competing although not mutually exclusive views. The first is that the IRA move is meant to appease republican grassroots who it is feared in some quarters - hoped for in others - may just be discerning that the final destination for republican strategy from the outset of the peace process has not been all that different from what the SDLP achieved in 1974 and which earned it the pejorative put-down from Gerry Adams of being the first Catholic partitionist party. The second view is that the IRA move is a bargaining chip which Sinn Fein will attempt to use to its advantage in whatever upcoming negotiations take place prior to the British once again setting up their centre-right government at Stormont.

Both perspectives are not entirely without something to recommend them. But each is also characterised by certain blemishes. Firstly, how much do the grassroots actually need appeased? The Irish News reported that one senior republican spoke of a growing sense of anger within the republican constituency. And what? At each step of the process there were those who either swore or predicted mutiny if their line in the sand was crossed. But when the leadership kicked the sand in their faces they merely put down new lines just to have the sand kicking process repeated only more contemptuously. Once their bluff had been called …

Their role in all major decisions up to now has been as recipients of the news that the leadership had made such decisions. And they appear happy to go along with that. They cannot fail to see that every time the leadership has recoiled from following through on yet another ‘never’ the heartbeat of republicanism registers as one more flat line. Yet none seemed moved to resuscitate it.

The second view of the IRA move doing the rounds seems to have even less merit than the first. As a bargaining chip, it has all the relevance of last years snow - its strength long since melted away.

An alternative way to look at the IRA statement is to view it as leadership semaphore signalling to those it needs to appease in the centres of establishment power just how marginal the IRA actually is to long term Sinn Fein strategic planning. Subliminally, the message is ‘why push an open door too hard?’

Six years ago when the British Prime minister was perceived by republicans to be putting it up to the IRA the republican leadership ordered the bombing of London’s Canary Wharf to devastating effect. Now that a Tony Blair/Hugh Orde combination is posturing in the manner of Merlyn Rees and Kenneth Newman by telling republicans that they are criminal and no different from the 78 gangs referred to by Billy Mitchell in his article Addressing Organised Crime, the IRA response is to engage in a bout of reverse diplomacy where it walks toughly but carries a very small stick - ably measured by Maurice Hayes as possessing all the potency of a ‘hiccup rather than a heart attack.’

Such a frail act will be interpreted in London, Dublin and Washington as a sign of just how dissolved IRA military purpose is if not the IRA as a body. It will be regarded as an oblique declaration of intent by the republican leadership to do exactly what Blair has commanded. The leadership will become ever more engaged in managing a process of having the IRA form ranks so that it may more easily be marched off into the sunset, proudly braying martial dulcets proclaiming that it will never be marched off into the sunset.

Those of us who remain tone deaf to tunes that make no sense will fail to understand a word of it. And as we watch them disappear over the horizon in green coats and dark glasses - a poor return for their considerable investment - and observe their leaders retiring to their second homes, we shall understand that the real business will be done by prosperous men in Armani suits marching to the beat of a very different drum.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

7 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Our Community
Liam O Ruairc


Billy Mitchell


To The Beat of a Different Drum
Anthony McIntyre


Bring Back Stormont and Political Status

Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Pinnocchio Redux

Brian Mór


3 November 2002


Addressing Organised Crime
Billy Mitchell


Leading You Back To The Start
Anthony McIntyre



Carrie Twomey


Review: A Secret History of the IRA
Deaglan O Donghaile


Review: Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of Conflict in Northern Ireland
Buffy Maguire


Yes, Palestine Is Still The Issue
Aine Fox


Support & Solidarity
Davy Carlin




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices