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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

It Hasn't Gone Away You Know

Anthony McIntyre • 22 April 2004

The International Monitoring Commission has finally delivered its report. Sceptics, who had long harboured the suspicion that clarity would succumb to fudge and that, in keeping faith with the peace process, the body would gloss over the issues it was tasked to investigate, will have been pleasantly jolted out of their torpor-induced resignation. On delivery day Harry McGee in the Examiner described the finished product as a ‘no-holds-barred document’, while Stephen King of the UUP suggested that it should win a plain English award.

As expected the report was greeted with approval by the unionists and with a crescendo of howls from Sinn Fein. The nationalist party, eager to jump into bed with the elite of the Irish business world and visibly stung by allegations that it might be associated with something as unappealing to the business community as the IRA, has put in intemperate performances. For those who still feel Sinn Fein has radical potential consider this: the sharks of the business community shot Connolly and applauded Adams.

Sinn Fein has been rocked by the report. Even if it is the work of the apparently omnipotent and omnipresent securocrats, as the party claims, SDLP leader Mark Durkan probably best expressed what is widely assumed - the report confirmed what people already knew: ‘the IMC report confirms the full range and scale of paramilitary and criminal activity and it confirms just who is responsible.’ Bertie Ahern too rejected Sinn Fein claims that the IMC is not independent: ‘we accept its recommendations. We accept its conclusions.’ The message here is that the nationalist alliance that was promoted as an alternative to the armed struggle has clearly fragmented with the bulk of the nationalists situated on the other side of the barricades from Sinn Fein on this issue. Bairbre de Brun may well argue that 'it is a disgrace that the Irish government has signed up to the establishment of this body in the first place.' Decoded, that means that the Dublin government should have continued with the type of bamboozling approach highly recommended by Jim Gibney:

If there is one big lesson coming out of the peace process over the last ten years, it is words like 'certainty' and 'clarity' are not part of the creative lexicon that conflict resolution requires if it is to be successful. Can anyone point to a period over the last ten years when such words were used and they helped the peace process here? Words like 'clarity' and 'certainty' are part of the fundamentalist's political dictionary. They derive from an arrogant mentality, which assumes legitimacy and moral superiority. Demanding such words causes crisis and paralysis. They clog the peace process engine up with gunge. They box people into a corner. Pursuit of such words or their equivalent encourages intransigence by those seeking their use and by those burdened to produce them. Give me the language of ambiguity. It has served the people of this country well over the last ten years. It has oiled the engine of the peace process. Long may it continue to do so.

Accordingly, Sinn Fein's real gripe is not that it has been pronounced guilty as charged but that the fudge, lies, deceit, dissembling and duplicity which, in the words of Ed Moloney, lubricated the peace process have come to the end of their shelf life. The British were prepared to allow the Sinn Fein leadership plenty of room to con its grassroots about the ultimate strategic terminus for the peace process. But once it became clear that the lubricant had metamorphosed into glue and was blocking the securing of British strategic objectives, it was time to pull the curtain down.

In one sense Sinn Fein's present angst is the result of cold turkey caused by the withdrawal of the lie support machine. Because the party leadership lies like other people breathe it has acquired for itself a reputation for being totally unworthy of belief. The IMC report identified the IRA as being behind the attack on Bobby Tohill in February. Whether true or not is neither here nor there given that the matter is sub judice. But if, as Sinn Fein claim, the IRA was not involved, and the incident was nothing more serious than a barroom brawl, the party must surely be asking itself how is it that its take on events is being treated with the type of derision one would expect if Bin Laden were to claim that 9/11 was an air crash caused by drunken Muslims giving vent to air rage.

That the British Government which delayed and censored the Cory Report, subtly subverted the Barron Inquiry, wiped its prints at every turn from the Pat Finucane murder, would commission the IMC report is bad enough from Sinn Fein’s point of view. That it actually had the power to do so reveals a lot about the way the republican resistance to British rule concluded, in fact crumbled. A perusal of Sinn Fein’s response to the report is instructive. Mitchel McLaughlin says it is ‘little more than a tool to be used by the British government to undermine the electoral mandate of Sinn Fein.’ Gerry Adams commented, ‘the commission is not independent. That much is obvious from its remit, its membership and the fact it bases its decisions on reports from the PSNI, the British Army and securocrats.’ Alex Maskey said, ‘we will not be accepting these sanctions if they are to be imposed upon our party, although we may not be able to do much about them.’

This is all very well. But taken together, these statements are a damning indictment of the truth status of the claims made on behalf of the Provisional republican struggle to have seriously altered the power relationship between the population in the North of Ireland and the British state. Yet, Sinn Fein fails to explain why it entered into a process which left the British state with such power vis a vis republicanism. Those who emerged dominant, the British, have now shown that they can dictate the terms. And they are making it clear that the North’s largest nationalist party is to be denied even the benefits of the internal settlement it signed up to - a place in government. Furthermore, the British have the party right where it wants it, terrified of defending the IRA and its activities in public.

The fine recommended by the IMC is of course paltry if measured in strict financial terms. Seamus Mallon said it was ‘risible’ and ‘an embarrassment.’ This is true only if punishment is measured in terms of the potential for an economic sanction to curtail a party. Its real effect lies more in the symbolism. The IMC implied that Sinn Fein was now more about avarice than ideology and would be penalised in kind. It was a penalty oozing with utter contempt; a disdainful slap in the face and ultimately more humiliating than a clench fisted punch. The Sinn Fein president may have taken some solace from dismissing John Alderdice as a failed politician. Alderdice would have taken considerably more from being in a position to humiliate, as he would view it, a failed revolutionary.

Claim as he might that the report is 'not just about the IRA' the BBC's Brian Rowan is less than forthcoming when demonstrating that it is about anybody else. While the IMC clearly show that the loyalists have been responsible for the bulk of the violence, this report was never primarily about loyalist violence. It was specifically designed to address a crisis of legitimacy for the Good Friday Agreement caused by debilitating disputes over the presence in government of martial politicians. In this sense Sinn Fein has been a victim of its own electoral success. Armed with a mandate which would allow it a place in the seat of government, Britain permitting, Sinn Fein as an integral part of the British state's alternative to republicanism - in a way that loyalism is not - is being compelled to yield to the logic that goes with being a serious contender for government. The party is therefore right when it argues that the IMC was specifically designed with itself in mind. It has, however, been less than frank when explaining the motives behind the establishment of the IMC.

It is not, as Mitchel McLaughlin claims, to curb Sinn Fein’s vote. The British are not alarmed about the vote of a nationalist party that has succumbed to the consent principle and supports the long standing British terms for disengagement. Whitehall never worried about an increasing SDLP vote. The purpose of the IMC is to lubricate that slippery slope which Sinn Fein itself built, and which will ultimately see the IRA slide down the chute into oblivion. The Irish Independent view, reinforced by Frank Millar in the Irish Times, that the report of the IMC has been accepted more in sorrow than in anger by both the Irish and British governments makes considerable sense. Rather than seeking to triumphantly punish Sinn Fein, both governments wish to cajole the party into delivering on its undertaking to eradicate the IRA. In this context, the targeting and isolating of Sinn Fein makes eminent strategic sense within the framework of the peace process. It is not about undermining the process but driving it to its logical denouement.

Last May after the British had suspended the Stormont elections the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams responded by asking 'what part of ''no activities'' does the British government not understand?' Dick Kerr, the former CIA operative on the IMC who has been empowered by the British to bring Sinn Fein to heel has made it clear that 'no activities' is something understood only too well. He warned, 'we'll be back.'




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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.
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Index: Current Articles

23 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


It Hasn't Gone Away You Know
Anthony McIntyre


Brian Mór


We're on the One Road
Tommy McKearney


Easter Week in Derry and the Lazarus Complex
Eamon Sweeney


Time for the Dead

Mick Hall


POWs and the Challenge of Partnership
Aoife Rivera Serrano


'A Real Sensuous Pleasure'
Liam O Ruairc


The Letters page has been updated.


19 April 2004


The Laughter of Our Children
Anthony McIntyre


Prisoners Families Physically Removed from Maghaberry Visit
J. Sean Burns, IRPWA


Profile of a Glove
Kathleen O'Halloran


Irish Americans
Gerry O'Hare


The Globe and the Village

Lila Rajival




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