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Perspective and Perception

Eamonn McCann • Socialist Worker, 12 February 2005

I wouldn’t doubt that the Maguires, Conlons and others framed for the Guildford/Woolwich bombings rest easier for the fact that Tony Blair has said sorry. But the issue cannot be let rest.

We say sorry when we make a mistake. This wasn’t a mistake. The lives of 11 people were deliberately ruined by a ruthless gang of politically-motivated plotters, none of whom has been made accountable.

On “Question Time” on Thursday night, somebody alleged in relation to the case that the IRA had allowed innocent people to languish in prison instead of owning up to the atrocity. But the IRA unit involved did own up. Whether they’d have done so if they hadn’t been caught in the act of a subsequent attack is open to question. But the fact is, they did.

In December 1975, two months after the Guildford Four went down, Joe O’Connell, Harry Duggan, Hugh Doherty and Eddie Butler, the “Balcombe Street Four,” were arrested.. Three of the four provided convincing accounts of the Guildford/Woolwich bombings, describing the materials used, the journeys to Guildford and Woolwich, the getaways etc., etc. In every detail, these accounts matched eyewitness, forensic and other evidence in police hands, including evidence known only to the police.

O‘Connell recalled an encounter with a soldier as he entered the Horse and Groom, Guildford, asking him time of the last transport to Aldershot. This tallied exactly with a soldier‘s deposition already in possession of the Surrey police.

O’Connell declared in court: “I refuse to plead because the indictment does not include two charges concerning the Guildford and Woolwich pub-bombings---I took part in both---for which innocent people have been convicted.” Butler and Duggan made similar statements.

The police, the courts, the DPP, the Home Office all knew---not believed or suspected, but knew---that the Guildford Four were innocent. And yet they sat back and saw them flung into jail. The Four were given the longest sentences ever handed down in England---entered as such in the Guinness Book of Records.

Paddy Armstrong, 19, was sentenced to not less than 35 years. Mr. “Justice” Donaldson told him: “I must stress the words ‘not less than’. I do not mean to give you any reason for hoping that after 30 or 35 years you will necessarily be released.”

WMD Blair arranging his face for the cameras into an expression of sincerity and saying sorry doesn’t cover it. He didn’t acknowledge the corruption and criminality which was involved.. None of the corrupt criminals has been brought to book. Those wrongfully imprisoned may have achieved closure. But the case itself isn’t closed.

It puts the question of the criminality of the Northern Bank job into perspective.

Mitchel McLaughlin was splattered with scorn when he told a Radio Foyle interviewer last month that if the IRA had been behind the Northern Bank job it wouldn't have been a crime.

It would have been a crime, he conceded, if IRA members had carried out the heist for reasons of "personal aggrandisement." But if the operation had been properly authorised by a competent IRA authority---which he denied---it wouldn't have been criminal at all.

His underlying point was that the IRA embodies the nation, and that its interests and the “national interest” are therefore one and the same. And nothing done in the national interest could be a crime.

Taken on its own, this isn’t outlandish. Governments come out with the same sort of stuff all the time. The "national interest" is regularly used to justify everything from war to withholding evidence from courts to telling the poor to tighten their belts.

This perception of the IRA as the equivalent of a government is regarded by virtually everybody outside Republican ranks as a ridiculous delusion. But it’s taken more seriously by many Republicans than they often care to admit within earshot of outsiders. It has been at the core of the justification of ”armed struggle.” Since the IRA embodies the nation, runs the theory, the IRA Army Council, tracing its succession back to 1916, has governmental authority, and armed activity undertaken with its imprimatur is, ipso facto, legitimate .

In their hearts, Provo leaders may long have had an a la carte attitude to this ideology. Like many a cynical Churchman, they may in their own minds have dismissed the official beliefs of their Movement as more codology than ideology, as embarrassing, even, in enlightened company. But to spell this scepticism out clearly to their "own" rank and file would be to weaken their claim to leadership and their hold on the Movement.

Thus Sinn Fein chiefs who could comfortably pass themselves off as New Labour continue to approach Catholic communities in a spirit not of seeking their support but of claiming their allegience.

The problem for the Sinn Fein leadership now is that they have abandoned the objective which the armed struggle was intended to achieve and thereby, implicitly, abandoned the underpinning ideology. When they signed up to the Belfast Agreement they accepted the “principle of consent”---that the North will remain constitutionally part of the UK until such time as a majority within the Six Counties decides otherwise. This directly contradicts the idea of the nation on which the Provos’ conception of themselves and of their relationship to "their" community is dependent. .

Whether or not they actually did the bank job, this contradiction has now come to the fore and will have to be dealt with.

If Sinn Fein wants to continue to progress towards holding government office North and South, it will have to give up the fantasy of the Army Council as the government of Ireland and, formally and finally, accept the fact of the two existing States. That’s what the governments and the other major parties have wanted and been expecting Sinn Fein to buy into. In light of the Northern Bank job, they've hiked the price that the party is being made to pay.

One of the reasons Sinn Fein would be acceptable in government on both sides of the border---if they ended association with the IRA---is that, seeing their Movement as representing “the nation“, they don’t advocate the interests of any one class against another. In class terms, they are reconcilers. They can use rhetoric suggesting they are on the side of the oppressed and exploited, while being trusted by their potential partners in government not to destabilise the system which generates exploitation and oppression.

One reason IRA disbandment is such a big issue in Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein relations, for example, is that, armed struggle apart, there are no serious real differences between the parties. Looking back on past Republican splits and incorporations, it's striking that, once the guns were out of the equation, Republican factions were able to meld into conventional, constitutional politics remarkably easily, usually instantly.

What’s Sinn Fein's options if it doesn't do what it's bid by London and Dublin? Give the IRA the green light to resume shooting and bombing for “Brits Out” and an all-Ireland Republic? There’d be little support for such a course in any of the overwhelmingly working class areas where the party is well-rooted. And they wouldn’t be taken seriously anyway, having spent the last dozen years preaching peace and the last seven extolling the partitionist Agreement.

So, it’s into government, chastened, with right-wing parties on a right-wing programme---or back to armed struggle and isolation.

The answer for those appalled at the prospect is not to go back and start out again along the same road, as some Republican critics of Gerry Adams and his associates advocate. It's always turned out to be the road to compromise, betrayal and disillusion. Not because of bad faith or venality on the part of this or that leadership group, but because, well, that's where this road leads. It doesn't go anywhere else. It's the ideas at the heart of 20th-century Republicanism which have proven inadequate, not the stewardship of the ideas by whichever political and/or paramilitary chiefs have from time to time come to prominence.

Rank and file Republicans who want to carry struggle forward should ask themselves whether the time has not come to free themselves from the contradictions in which they have been entangled and look for a Socialist way forward instead.






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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

18 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

"Death by Suicide"
Margaret Quinn

But Will Anyone Object
Brian Mór

Seeking Justice for a Brother
Davy Adams

Perspective and Perception
Eamonn McCann

Only One Option Left, Really
Mick Hall

Trust Your Leaders!
James Connolly

A perfect 10 for Bertie's volte-face on the peace process
Anthony McIntyre

Distress vs Illness: Social Control
Sean Fleming

Double Visions Conference
Seaghan O Murchu

No More Lies

14 February 2005

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



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