Parliamentary Brief December 2001
When does an act of surrender become an act of patriotism? Seemingly, when the IRA decommissions some of its weapons - an event which the republican leadership reassured its grassroots would never happen precisely because it would be surrender. Not even in one thousand years insisted one commentator. Just how wrong can you get?
The leadership is now engaged in 'organised lying' to its grassroots by claiming that De Chastelain was a fool who had been conned; that no decommissioning had in fact taken place. Indeed it might. Because the grassroots have reason to feel particularly aggrieved. Not only were they not consulted, they were insulted - London, Dublin, Washington and, of course, the Unionists had all been told in advance. The republican support base was urged to go out ignominiously and think about a decision already made.
Hence the need to tell the membership that De Chastelain had been duped. It helps to take the sting out of the humiliation for a republican rank and file who sense that their critics are laughing at them in nationalist ghettos. The references to DIRA (Decommissioned IRA) and 'No More Lies' have left them uncomfortable. They now have to face those they deemed 'stupid' or 'mischievous' for having predicted the inevitability of decommissioning. They had even painted walls in West Belfast brightly proclaiming 'not an ounce not a round' and 'Decommission? - no mission'. Now the walls have to be painted over just as they were a number of years ago. Then the occasion was to obliterate the 'No return to Stormont' slogans.
While that act of decommissioning was always inevitable, equally so was the fact that republicans would seek to manage the event in such a way as to mollify the British, Irish and American governments but cause uncertainty and fractiousness within unionism. Seepage from republican ranks sullying the substance of De Chastelain’s integrity would nurture doubt in some unionist minds. This would allow the republican leadership to claim that unionism was all at sea and had been destabilised by the 'courageous and imaginative' IRA initiative (Sinn Fein recommended words of the week according to the writer Eamonn McCann). Victory through only appearing to decommission would be the whispered rationale. But both inside and outside the ranks of republicanism it is only the incorrigibly faithful that believe such nonsense. The type that would readily believe the same leadership pronounce that the British are no longer really here but are only pretending to be just to fool the unionists. Those more prudent know the enormity of what has happened and wisely give a philosophical shrug when asked to explain.
The ease with which the republican leadership took the decision indicates just how devitalised anti-systemic tendencies within Provisional republicanism have become. As they are moved muttering from one slain sacred cow to defend another before it too is slaughtered, their numbers are fewer. Their reputations as defenders of sacred beasts in tatters, they inhabit an increasingly isolated and self-referential world.
Some commentators and politicians while accepting the bona fides of the Sinn Fein leadership regarding its commitment to getting rid of IRA weaponry, nevertheless, felt that the grassroots acted as a constraint on the leadership's freedom to manoeuvre. But how could such an intellectually cauterised and strategically moribund body of people act as a brake? The 'let them eat cake' attitude of their leadership did not illustrate even disdain for their opposition. It simply acknowledged that there was no opposition. For quite some time the Adams leadership had been free of any internal constraint. Determined to decommission it was aided in its purely tactical procrastination by the practice pursued by London and Dublin of imposing ultimate deadline by endless postponement. It was merely waiting on the opportune juncture to cash in the guns. In the view of some writers the most likely moment was in the run up to the Republic's general election. Guns for votes and parliamentary seats would seem a nice trade off in Sinn Fein's view.
What changed everything was the September 11th attacks on the USA. The pressure of the new constraint - American opprobrium compounded by the Colombian debacle in which three republicans were arrested - proved stronger than the lure of any opportunity. And like the tragic victims on the roof of the New York's World Trade Centre Sinn Fein could do little other than jump. Despite its denials and its unalloyed self-praise that it only moved to save the peace process, the latter was no longer dependent on Sinn Fein support. The Good Friday Agreement certainly was. But unlike pre-September 11th where the Good Friday Agreement was considered essential for the peace process, the latter could now stand alone. Could the IRA bomb the financial heart of London to allow Sinn Fein to continue administering British rule? Highly unlikely. It would be administered with or without them. Sinn Fein moved to save itself - nothing else.
And for that reason De Chastelain has not been conned. Such is the emphasis on maintaining American approval that American demands for real product in terms of arms decommissioning are not going to be subverted by trickery and fake weapons.
'Oh what a complex web we weave when first we practice to deceive'. But it is Irish republicans rather than Americans who are on the receiving end of that strategy of deception.
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