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‘Lies, The Lying Liars Who Tell Them - And The Law Of Unintended Consequences’
Tom Luby • 24.10.03

As Ireland’s various pundits and analysts this week furiously scratch their heads and wonder how the Northern peace process can be rescued from the cul de sac in which it now finds itself, it might be worth their while to reflect a little on one sobering truth about the current position.

The difficulties now facing the peace process derive directly from the historical need of the Adams’ leadership to lie to their base about their long-term intentions in relation the IRA’s weapons, which is that all the organisation’s guns and war material, save a little left to guard that leadership, will and must be decommissioned by them if the peace process is to succeed.

That lie is the pinnacle falsehood, perched atop a pyramid of untruths and deceptions, the most fundamental of which is that the success of the peace process, of the Good Friday Agreement, will be measured not by the extent to which it attains the Republic, as the IRA’s base was constantly assured was the goal, but rather its efficiency as the instrument by which that leadership attains power and respectability.

The constitutional status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged in the pursuit of that ambition, as much a prisoner of the principle of Unionist consent as it was in December 1969 when the Provisionals were born, while both the IRA and its weapons of war face oblivion, the former transmuted into an Old Comrades Association, the latter consigned to an eternity in a bath of frozen concrete. None of this was in the script supplied to the IRA and Sinn Fein rank and file.

To appreciate why all this is so, let us examine the present dilemma in the peace process. Leaving aside the question of Gerry Adams’ ‘war is over’ speech and P O’Neill’s subsequent endorsement of it, the peace process is in a logjam because the decommissioning supremo, General John de Chastelain, was unable to specify the amount, nature and significance of the third tranche of IRA weapons decommissioned as part of a choreographed process embracing Unionist guarantees about the future of the Agreement and fresh Assembly elections.

Having created expectations of a ‘transparent’ act of decommissioning, one in which sufficient detail would be given to convince his most doubting supporters, the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble felt obliged to call a halt to the sequence. To do otherwise was to invite disaster in the new elections. He had, he said, been promised transparency by Martin McGuinness (inadvertently revealed by a confused and exhausted General de Chastelain at his press conference last week as his IRA interlocutor) but had been betrayed. Hopes in London, Dublin and Washington that the ‘deal’ he had brokered with Gerry Adams would resuscitate the Good Friday Agreement appeared to be shattered.

As yet, we do not know any or enough of the detail of the talks between Trimble and Adams/McGuinness to make a judgement on the Unionist leader’s claims, but General de Chastelain has been forced to explain why expectations of a transparent act of decommissioning were so violently dashed.

According to the General, the decommissioning procedures gave him no choice. His exact words at his Hillsborough Castle press conference were: "I'd like to make a few off-the-cuff comments and remind you that the remit under which we carry out our mandate is legislated by the scheme and regulations provided by the British and Irish governments and these do allow for confidentiality if a paramilitary group wishes to exercise that right.” He went on to explain that while the LVF had not exercised that right in its one decommissioning act, the IRA had insisted on confidentiality in its first two acts of disarming: “....and they have exercised that right this time and therefore I cannot go into some of the detail that any of you might wish".

It was this exercise of the right to confidentiality which, according to General de Chastelain, tied his hands and pitched the peace process into crisis.

Except the General, quite simply, is not telling the truth. There is nothing in “the scheme and regulations” governing the decommissioning process that give any party such as the IRA a right to insist on secrecy. And the truth, as we might expect, is much more complicated.

There are two schemes and sets of decommissioning regulations published by the British and Irish governments. The first became public on June 29th, 1998. Paragraph 26 of that document deals with confidentiality. It reads:

“The Commission shall ensure that all information received by it in relation to the decommissioning process is kept confidential and that any records maintained by the Commission are kept secure. Disclosure of information received by the Commission may occur where disclosure is necessary:

  • for reasons of public safety;
  • to confirm the legitimate participation in the decommissioning process by those eligible to do so;
  • to fulfil the Commission's duty to report to the two governments.”

There is nothing in that paragraph which bestows a right of confidentiality upon the IRA interlocutor or anyone else. To the contrary, the Commission, and General de Chastelain, have the right to reveal information, such as the quantities and significance of a decommissioning act, in three sets of circumstances, each one of which, it could be argued, applied last week.

The second scheme and regulations were published in August 2002, in the wake of the Weston Park conference which, inter alia, agreed to allow the IRA to self-destruct its weapons by “putting them beyond use”, i.e. by immersing them in concrete. If anything this document widened General de Chastelain’s powers of disclosure. Paragraph 5 allowed him to say anything he wanted about decommisioning. It reads:

"The Commission may provide to a person who seeks it, such information in relation to the making of arms permanently inaccessible or permanently unusable in accordance with this scheme as it considers appropriate".

So, not only is there nothing in the rules which gives the IRA or anybody else the right to impose secrecy on the process, it seems de Chastelain has a discretionary right to publish or communicate anything to anybody about a decommissioning event.

So why did he claim that he was bound by confidentiality? The answer, now emerging from the international decommissioning body, is that General de Chastelain made a private agreement with P O’Neill, the effect of which was to apply the confidentiality clause of the 1998 scheme, that is paragraph 26, to his dealings with the IRA.

He needn’t have done so. There was no legal requirement on him to do so. It was an entirely discretionary act by him. He could have told P O’Neill’s human manifestation, Brian Keenan, or his successor, Martin McGuinness, to get stuffed, that the decommissioning process needed credibility and transparency if it was to succeed and that he needed to publish a full list of every weapon, every bullet and ounce encased in concrete in order to persuade Unionists that the IRA was really ending its war. If the IRA didn’t like it they could lump it and Gerry Adams would have to do without his Stormont Executive.

So why didn’t the General do just that? His decision seems to have been shaped by the outcome of a balancing act between conflicting needs, on one scale weighed the sensitivities of the Unionists, on the other the doubts and anxieties of the Provo leadership about their base. The argument that Adams and McGuinness might be consumed by their own angry supporters once the scales fell off their eyes and they realised the full magnitude of their leadership’s lies and betrayal, seems to have won the day. That it did is eloquent testimony to the scale of that betrayal and to the willingness of the British and Irish governments to pay any political price to defang the IRA.

The proof of all this can be seen in the benefits to the Adams leadership that flowed from de Chastelain’s self-enforced refusal to specify what happened in each decommissioning event. After the first decommissioning act in October 2001, IRA members and Provo supporters were told variously that either the press was lying, that nothing had been given up, or that the dumps surrendered had been compromised long before and were no loss.

After the second act of decommissioning, IRA supporters were told that de Chastelain had been fooled, that he decommissioned dummy weapons painstakingly manufactured by the IRA’s Engineering Department. A variant of this story, peddled in rural areas, was that de Chastelain had been caught by the IRA committing an act of adultery and was being blackmailed into lying about decommissioning. Nonsensical stuff but, extraordinarily, it was eagerly lapped up by a base which otherwise would have to confront the appalling vista of a lying, treacherous leadership.

This time, the IRA has, according to a number of reports, decommissioned the largest ever amount of weaponry but the scale of the move has been effectively camouflaged by the political row that followed de Chastelain’s press conference. Adams et al are able to divert internal attention away from what they have done by pointing to Trimble’s discomfort. The fact that the leadership has received no guarantee of a place in government in return for destroying so many weapons is overlooked. Nice one, Gerry! Nice one, Martin.

For years the IRA grassroots had been told repeatedly that decommissioning was one line in the sand that the leadership would never cross. The leadership’s problem however was how to reconcile these pledges with the deceitful reality. The answer was to lie, not for the first nor last time in the peace process. The result was a passive rank and file which went along with events, happy in its bovine contentment, and an IRA leadership delirious at its success, but surely contemptuous of its own supporters.

And so, de Chastelain’s willingness to indulge the IRA Army Council’s dishonesty laid the basis for the crisis which now threatens to destroy their shared ambition to see the peace process to its final conclusion. It was not the intended consequence of de Chastelain’s action but once the General gave the Adams’ leadership a licence to lie, the die was cast. There is a delicious irony in that.



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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

24 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Lies, The Lying Liars Who Tell Them and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Tom Luby


One More for the Road...And Another. Come Back Tony & Bertie, the Crack's 90

Anthony McIntyre


On the One Road
Mick Hall


Conduct Unbecoming
Kathleen O Halloran


A Political Nightmare
Eamon Sweeney


Ireland: Repression, Violence, Segregation - The Realities of the Sectarian State
Paul Mallon


When the Drugs Don't Work
Sean Fleming


Last Week, It Happened Again. In Bolivia.
Michael Youlton


20 October 2003


The Big Fella and the Big Lad
Breandán Ó Muirthile


Sabotaging the Fight for Freedom
Liam O Comain


Republicanism: Relevant and Not Going Away
TJ O Conchuir


Anti-Racism Network Statement for Endorsement
Davy Carlin


From Where Springs Hope
Anthony McIntyre


Trashing Free Software
Toni Solo




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