Anthony McIntyre
Parliamentary Brief June 1995

Moods in politics can be quite fickle, and for that reason unpredictable. But in recent times it has been possible to detect a pattern within the nationalist community which does not bode well for future stability in the North of Ireland.

The author J. Bowyer Bell in his work on the IRA a number of years ago made the telling observation that CS gas did more for the emergence of the 'Provisional' IRA than all the legends and all the patriot graves. What, in essence, he was saying was that the development of the IRA was rooted less in a tradition and more in the malignantly fertile political ground tilled by the strategies of the British state.

Many authors have been prone to identify the existence of trends within modern Irish republicanism such as the 'militarist' tendency or the 'politicist' one, and they subsequently attempt to explain away or predict Republican strategy in terms of whatever tendency holds sway at any given point in time.

At the funeral of an old IRA volunteer in Belfast today, I happened to speak to the veteran republican Martin Meehan, and he relayed to me the tale of how the British press in 1972 ran with the story that he was organising a secret group to undermine the 1972 truce. It was nonsense. But, for some, why should the truth be allowed to stand in the way of a good story?

The danger of this type of media construction is that it serves to create a perception of the Northern Ireland conflict which is somewhat removed from the reality.

The point of all this is that if political violence is ever to return to the streets of the north, experience tells us that it will not be as a result of militarists within the ranks of the IRA opting to pursue armed struggle because it is 'the thing to do', and is in keeping with the 'physical force' tradition, but because the nationalist community was subject to the foreclosure of all peaceful avenues of initiating the so badly needed political change.

And it is of the utmost importance that the British public take full cognizance of this and watch with interest what exactly their government is doing. For that public too, unfortunately, has not escaped the spectre of the political violence that has haunted the north of Ireland for so long.

It would be incorrect to say that there is deep disenchantment with the peace process, or the republican leadership's decision to pursue it with such determination. But it is impossible not to notice the palpable drop in expectation since the announcement of the IRA cease-fire last August, when crowds flocked onto the streets to celebrate what they considered to be a new era of peace based on political progress. Given that there has been no such progress, and all the running seems to have been made by republicans themselves, people are aware that for all the major propaganda victories chalked up in America and elsewhere, republicans do not hold the key to unlock the door that will lead to a lasting peace. That is in the hands of the British Government, and not only are they not prepared to turn it they seem intent on keeping it away from the door.

The renewal of the Emergency Provisions Act, the miserly 'concessions' pertaining to prisoners, the expectancy that Lee Clegg is about to be released, plans by the British Ministry of Defence to use bases in the North of Ireland to house up to eight thousand British troops 'in the same way they could be based in Catterick or Colchester on peacetime garrison duties', and pledges by the Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew, to leave policing in the hands of the RUC, all coupled with the underlying stalling over the decommissioning of weapons aggregate up to an increasingly firm belief that the British Government is not going to move at all.

This reinforces a fear that the British, if allowed, will simply permit the place to return to a completely internal solution, which for nationalists means majority rule and all that that entails.

Speaking to a school bus driver, a few days ago, I learned that he had become more disillusioned with the British state than he had at any time since the hunger strikes of 1981. A housewife, alarm etched on her face, commented, 'if the Brits don't stop pandering to these unionists my kids will end up in jail'. A remarkably pessimistic view given that her oldest child is nine. Conversation in the bars evolves around the refusal of the British to move. There is a pervading sense that the British are primarily interested in rubbing the noses of republicans in the dirt. It is difficult anywhere to find an upbeat note.

This leads one to suspect that if the peace process is not yet at a crisis point, it does not have far to go before it reaches it. After nine months of relative calm, it would be utterly disastrous if 'peace' were to grind to a halt.

The present republican leadership are intent on securing the peace. There is little room to doubt that. In today's An Phoblacht/ Republican News, the former Sinn Fein publicity director, Danny Morrison, said 'the peace process is going to continue because it is bigger than everyone', but that 'it may well be that the whole process is going to consist of us and the world dragging the Brits in the direction they need to go'.

But equally, it may be argued, that the dynamics for political violence have always been bigger than everyone including the republican leadership. This being so, the present course being traversed by the British Government increases the daunting possibility that someone at some point may decide to decommission explosives in a way the British state is felt to understand - leaving a crater large enough to store even more arsenals.



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