The former British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, commenting on events during the Tan War said ‘never in the lifetime of the oldest amongst us has Britain sunk so low in the moral scale of nations … things are being done in Ireland that would disgrace the blackest annals of the lowest despotism in Europe’. We are hardly likely to hear Tony Blair say something similar. But if the events of this week are anything to go by he should.
The British state while trying to jail the journalist Ed Moloney in relation to a murder carried out by its own constituent elements were busily displaying their racist mentality to Northern nationalists. With supreme arrogance Mo Mowlam has said to the IRA that the British state will be more tolerant of the organisation if it only kills nationalists whatever the allegations against them but not loyalists, RUC or British troops.
Whether responsible for the latest killing or not, the IRA ceasefire has no more broken down than judicial process does when such process has been flagrantly violated. Few condemning Mowlam at present were heard to complain about breakdown when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to charge RUC members who were previously said by a high court judge to have mounted a vicious assault on the republican Davy Adams, breaking his leg in the process.
In accusing the IRA of killing Charles Bennett, Mowlam has merely reiterated what we all assumed to be true from the moment Charles Bennett's body was found. Had any group other than the IRA carried out the operation Sinn Fein would have been advising us all to be vigilant; that death squads were lurking at the rear of nationalist clubs, kidnapping and murdering Catholic victims.
The British in choosing the course of action that they did have reinforced the belief of many in the nationalist community that their remains a hierarchy of victims with nationalists firmly at the bottom. Nationalist deaths do not have the same meaning for the British as the deaths of others. The UUP MP, Mr Willie Thompson, said Dr Mowlam had decided there was a hierarchy of life in the North with the lives of British soldiers and RUC officers being more valuable than those of Catholic civilians. True, a strange bedfellow. But who could disagree with him? Have we not always maintained this to be so?
This is not to argue that Sinn Fein should be expelled from the process. Merely that the reasons given for not expelling the party smack of anti-nationalist racism. Sinn Fein rather than the British should be asking what is the purpose of republican participation in a process which to some extent depends on keeping nationalists at the bottom of the victim hierarchy? Looked at from another angle, if the principle of negotiations is to concede as little as possible then Sinn Fein failed hopelessly and would have been better outside of them. The British have reduced republicans to two options. Serve in a government which will administer British rule. Or do not serve in a government which will administer British rule.
Revisionist republican writers have attempted to create the pretence that this is some form of achievement and is not a defeat for the IRA. Danny Morrison for example tries to present own goals such as the return to Stormont and the acceptance of the principle of consent as forward movement. It only makes sense to say that the IRA were not defeated if the IRA is stripped of its political essence - something even the British failed to do - and reduce it to the status of a quintessential military machine which because it remains capable of military acts goes undefeated.
But the IRA was a political army designed to gain a specific political goal – a British withdrawal. That political objective has been defeated. Its political project has been defeated. And less the revisionists forget the IRA was always political. What else were the hunger strikes about? Or maybe in years to come some revisionist will tell us that the strategic objective of that exercise was to get into Stormont too! Writers of that ilk should be rewarded with a pencil - which has a rubber at each end.
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