The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Lights, Camera, Inaction


Jimmy Sands • 14 December 2004

There has been much idle speculation over what was or was not agreed on the issue of IRA decommissioning being photographed. As a member of the Sinn Fein negotiating team (second alternate) I feel it incumbent upon me to set the record straight.

Proof that republicans never subscribed to the idea of visual decommissioning is actually evident from a close reading of the two governments' proposals. Bear with me here. At Annex C there is absolutely no reference to photographs. What it says is that, "the IRA leadership has agreed with the IICD [the Decommissioning body] to complete this process in a way which further enhances public confidence and to conclude this by the end of December." The way which enhances public confidence was the proposal to allow two independent clerics to witness decommissioning, which is what the IRA had agreed to. The absence of any reference to independent clerics further serves to reinforce this. Photographs are only mentioned in the statement that the governments proposed that General de Chastelain would make. According to paragraph 5 he would have said: "In addition, the IRA representative has told us that the IRA will have photographs of the weapons and materiel involved taken by the IICD, in the presence of the independent observers." De Chastelain would have said that the photographs would be published when the Executive was formed next March. It is clear from the context that these photographs were not intended for publication, but for the Army Council's Christmas Card and for possible use as souvenirs or for future merchandising opportunities.

The reference to photographs was obviously left out of the IRA statement because the British knew that the IRA had never agreed to that happening, though it appears that they were trying to bounce the IRA into accepting the unacceptable. In the circumstances the two governments' recent statements that the Republican Movement had agreed to photographs is in a very real and very Zen sense, further proof that there was no such agreement.

The British and Irish governments thus must bear a heavy responsibility for the impasse in political progress last week, and indeed for everything come to think of it. It is now clear that they ignored Sinn Fein warnings, given in plenty of time and using recognised code words, that visual decommissioning from the IRA was a non-starter, yet they persisted in disobeying what on any view were our clear instructions. Furthermore, we now know that the British government convinced the DUP that the pictorial aspect was a probability - almost a given - in a separate document on the issue which was never shown to Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness. If it had been, he assures me, he would have made sure everyone knew about it.

That little bit of deceit is the only possible explanation for Dr. Paisley abandoning his normal conciliatory approach. Falsely assuming that the IRA had agreed to visual decommissioning, he made his infamous speech about humiliation, repentance, sackcloth and ashes (and, later, threw in a hair shirt for good measure).

Paisley must have known the reaction his speech would have caused among republicans, and republicans showed customary courage and resolve in duly obliging him. He may have calculated that it would cause major division in the IRA and ultimately force the IRA to 'renege' on what he assumed it had agreed to - filmed decommissioning. That certainly would have got him off the hook of sharing power with Sinn Fein under the Belfast Agreement which is what he would have been signing up to. Well we certainly showed him.

However, despite what commentators, observers and politicians assert about Paisley being prepared to share power with republicans, I still cannot ever see it happening, for it would represent such a reversal of character. By him.

All of which begs the question I have heard many republicans ask: why do you bother? Certainly, Sinn Fein being in power appears to be the most viable strategy available. But can't it continue to consolidate its support and ready itself for power in the South (should it want to be in government; should the people blocking it be removed)?

The nationalist community might be angry and temporarily frustrated. But it remains stoic, and morale is high because the IRA made the right decision. No photographs, no humiliation. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Jimmy Sands

[a version of this article previously appeared pretty much everywhere you might expect]

That statement in full

The Blanket today prints in full a statement from the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Full text of IRA Statement

"More than ten years ago, an IRA cessation publicly heralded the onset of the Irish peace process. Since then, the IRA has, time and again, demonstrated its commitment to sustaining and developing that process through a series of very significant and substantive initiatives. Following these initiatives, as a further demonstration of our commitment to peace, another cessation was declared.

In the context of the work to conclude a comprehensive agreement, the leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann decided to announce the following measures which it will not now adopt but which, hypothetically, we would have done if certain parties (Ian Paisley, Ann McCabe) had kept their mouths shut:

  • to support a comprehensive agreement by moving into a new mode which reflects our determination to see the transition to totally new forms of rhetoric;
  • all IRA Volunteers be given specific instructions not to get caught engaging in any activity which might thereby endanger that new agreement;
  • the Army Council will in its sole discretion decide what constitutes such activity and no correspondence will be entered into. Suffice it to say, the next idiot who plugs a Garda needn't bother calling us no matter how well they know Martin Ferris;
  • the IRA leadership also decided that we will, in this context, conclude the process to completely and verifiably (but not too verifiably) put all our arms beyond use;
  • we instructed our representative to agree with the IICD the completion of this process, speedily, and if possible by the end of December; we also instructed our representative if possible, to get us a date with Andrea Corr. Anything's possible;
  • to further enhance public confidence we agreed to the presence of two clergymen as observers during this process. Des Wilson has kindly offered to make himself available. No Free Ps.

The IRA leadership decided to contribute in this way to a comprehensive agreement to resolve all outstanding issues, including those of concern within unionism should it come to that. For his part, Ian Paisley demanded that our contribution be photographed, and reduced to an act of humiliation.

This, for technical reasons too lengthy to explain here, was never possible. Knowing this, he made this demand publicly as the excuse for his rejection of an overall agreement to create a political context with the potential to remove the causes of conflict. As the IRA leadership has said before, this is a context in which Irish republicans and unionists can, as equals, pursue our respective and mutually exclusive political objectives peacefully. We must stress therefore that the next time we have to hurt someone, it will be Paisley's fault and no-one else's.

We restate our commitment to the peace process. But we will not submit to a process of humiliation. At least not ours.

We commend ourselves for our patience and discipline in these testing times. Our commitment to our republican objectives is undiminished and unchanged, although the objectives themselves may not be.

We thank those who have made genuine contributions to the efforts to find solutions to ongoing problems. No wait, that's us again isn't it?

The search for a just and lasting peace is a challenging one. The IRA leadership has risen to that challenge. The British Government and the leaders of unionism must do likewise. Reconciliation lies in a shared acknowledgment that everything is their fault.

P Mo Thoin
IRA (1970) Ltd.






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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

16 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Failed Entity
Michael Benson

Out of the Ashes
Brian Mór

Identity Crisis
Mick Hall

Lights, Camera, Inaction
Jimmy Sands

St Joseph, Patron Saint of the Peace Process
Anthony McIntyre

Breeding Ground for Racism
Dr John Coulter

Torture in Chile
Tito Tricot

The Broom Flower: Robin Kirk's The Monkey's Paw: New Chronicles from Perú
Seaghán Ó Murchú

11 December 2004

Post-Debacle Stress Syndrome
Anthony McIntyre

Keeping the Lid on Pandora's Box
Davy Adams

Paisley's Guide for Penitent Provos
Brian Mór

Talking to Mr. George
Fred A. Wilcox

Dr No Says No, Again; Dublin Wrong to Back Photos
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

A Way Out of the Impasse
Liam O Comain

'Eternal Elves of the West'
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Bobby Tohill vs. The Andersonstown News
Liam O Ruairc

Peace Comes Dropping Slow
Brian Lennon



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