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Only One Option Left, Really

Mick Hall • 15 February 2005

If the offer made by the Sinn Fein negotiating team at the latter part of last year, to fully decommission the weaponry of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), was genuine —and I see no reason to doubt it— then it is worth analysing in what direction the PRM goes from here. Once Paisley Snr made his sackcloth and ashes demand, it became a certainty the PIRA offer would be withdrawn, as Mr Paisley knew it would be, making one wonder and not for the first time who is actually pulling the Army Council's chain. For once the statement withdrawing the offer signed by P O'Neill became public knowledge, all blame for the failure of the pre Christmas talks between SF, DUP, etc was bound to shift from the shoulders of Mr Paisley's Party the DUP onto those of Sinn Fein. Admittedly the Northern Bank raid hardly helped SF, but by making their statement when they did, the Army Council were all but confirming the direct linkage between their military and political wings — and not only in the minds of the two governments.

The offer made by SF during the talks, which were designed to get the Assembly and Stormont Government back up and running, was in itself quite momentous, so it is hardly surprising some like the DUP preferred to take the easy option and dismiss it out of hand, rather than run the risk of accepting it at face value and seeing where it might lead. In reality what you had was the PIRA agreeing to decommission the vast majority of its remaining arsenal in front of two independent witnesses, Christian clergymen, one of each denomination. Hardly a trivial offer from PIRA, as it nor any of its forbears have ever done such a thing before, i. e., allow independent witnesses to be present when an act of decommissioning takes place.

For the Provisional Republican Movement to make such an offer means there must have been extensive discussions throughout the ranks of PIRA, or certainly within its senior and middle ranking leadership. These volunteers must have either agreed with the proposed decommissioning, or have at least been prepared not to actively oppose it happening. Indeed stories leaked out of senior republicans visiting volunteers around the country and explaining to them the decision to stand the army down had been made, all bar a small security detachment to protect senior leaders etc., plus the Intelligence Department would be able to slot across to become engaged in political work, but in the main as far as the majority of volunteers were concerned, that was it, the war was over.

Now if all of this is true, after the talks failed due to Paisley's intransigence, did the Army Council have to go back to the membership and say, “Oh, sorry, about what we told you last week, we were wrong about that, the war is not over after all, carry on as you were, you know us, we were only kidding the Brits.”? What message does this send out to volunteers? That they have a war on one day, off the next, military leadership, the chain of which the British, or their unionist acolytes can pull at will being sure of a negative response? For if the situation was such in November-December, that the Army Council decided the war was over, thus PIRA arms could be decommissioned, what made it different in January? Surely not the mere fact that Mr Paisley acted in a provocative, foolish and bigoted way? The man has made a whole career lasting decades out of behaving in such a manner. Yet it is difficult to see any other real reason for the offer's withdrawal.

No, if the senior ranks of the PIRA felt the time was right to decommission weapons in November-December and carry on the struggle by solely political means, which in reality, as far as taking on the British State, is what has been happening since 1997, then the fact that Paisley has a big mouth and often spouts bigoted nonsense should have been of no consequence. It is difficult not to conclude one of two things. The PIRA was manoeuvred into making the decisions they did, by their political opponents north and south; or, whilst serious about continuing the process of decommissioning, they have not yet reached the stage when they would be willing to order that PIRA is stood down in perpetuity, still seeing it, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, as a powerful bargaining counter in any future talks they may have with the British State and as a vehicle that allows them to punch above their weight in the ROI political arena.

Whatever one of these options one chooses, if on the day after these talks had broken down due to Paisley's bombastic outburst P O'Neill had announced that decommissioning was going ahead no matter what, under the originally agreed terms, i e two clergymen as witnesses, they would have pulled the rug from under Paisley, and the two governments in all probability would have been forced to demand the inclusion of SF within any northern government, with or without the DUP. If the latter still refused to enter a coalition with SF, which I feel is doubtful, I doubt the UUP and SDLP would have refused an invite to the party. Having the necessary majority, the show would have been back on the road.

True, there is also now the added problem of the Northern Bank Heist to overcome, however, if the third trance of weapons had been decommissioned, the PIRA would have been well on the way to being stood down. SF would no longer be a party with dual loyalty, thus it would not have been the intractable problem it now appears. Perhaps too much may have been made out of whether the Army Council knew beforehand that the Northern Bank was to be robbed. During the first ceasefire something similar happened, although the sum stolen was nowhere near so large.

This time the raid took place in Newry; during the course of the robbery, a postal worker, Frank Kerr, was shot to death. As over the Northern Heist, the two governments where in full outcry and again the PRM denied senior SF politicians had sanctioned the robbery as members of the Army Council. In his book A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney quotes IRA sources as saying the Army Council did not directly sanction the Newry robbery, but their orders during the ceasefire were somewhat ambiguous in so much as “a general permission had been granted to continue ‘fund raising’ activity, ceasefire or no ceasefire. It was a necessary part of the job of keeping the IRA as efficient as possible.” [A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney, pp 433-434] If the same ambiguous order was given during the current ceasefire, then those members of SF who also sit on the Army Council may well be speaking the truth when they say they did not know about the Northern robbery before hand.

As it seems unlikely even the most militant Provisional Republicans will be able to come up with a strategic argument as to how returning to the armed struggle will progress their cause, then the road to decommissioning and dissolution is the only viable option open for the PIRA, if the PRM are going to have anything to show for the years of sacrifice. The longer they take to bring this act about, the more pressure from the media and their political opponents they will find themselves under. At times this may well include lies, slanders and half truths. This being so, coupled with the ceasefire, the more likely the PIRA is to descend further into criminality or become engulfed in bloody feuding, something to their credit they have in the main astutely avoided down the years.

Sinn Fein, free of a military wing, that in these post 9/11 days cannot but be a hindrance politically, can go forward hopefully as a truly democratic party. Unless they do this, it is difficult to see how they will ever gain a large enough electoral mandate, to implement their programme of equality and the reunification of Ireland. If the aforementioned demilitarisation of this struggle were to come about, then as far as the future prospects of SF was concerned, all bets would indeed be off and in Ireland at least the future may well belong to “the wretched of the earth”*. Having said this, the aforementioned depends on the decisions the current leadership of the PRM makes over the coming period.

* The Wretched of the Earth, title of a book by Franz Fanon, which was said to be a favourite of Bobby Sands.






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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

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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