The Blanket

Out Of The Ashes Of Armed Struggle Arose The Stormontistas And They Fought … Ardoyne Youth
Nine times out of ten a revolutionary is just a social climber with a bomb in his pocket
- George Orwell

Anthony McIntyre • 5.9.02

One of the certainties in politics is the certainty of egg on your face if you believe in too many of them. What certainty could be built on the founds of a politician’s word? It is a safer bet to find wisdom in the old joke that you can always tell a politician is lying when you see his or her lips move. Yet in spite of this there are some trends which have such consistency that they resemble the gravitational pull applied to Newton’s apple. And nothing is more certain than that the pull of the RUC structure will prove irresistible to Sinn Fein which will fall like an apple right into the rotten barrel it for so long railed against. The choice for the party merely lies in which model to opt for - Peter Mandleson’s RUC or Chris Patten’s RUC. Hardly a life or death choice that will cause party leaders serious hand wringing or deep soul searching into the small hours.

Danny Morrison writing in the Sunday Tribune shortly after the Patten report was published rightly contended that the RUC had not been disbanded, although he did not dismiss Patten, urging republicans to move with caution after deep reflection before making decisions. In the intervening period as Patten has been diluted we are left even further short of anything vaguely resembling a disbanded RUC.

There is really no need to pursue an academic or philosophical discussion about what a police hat means as a method of testing the extent of change. 749 stitches rather than 750 stitches across the peak may serve as a indication for both the terminally clueless and the incurable gradualist that a stitch-up is less likely to happen and that it heralds improvement, albeit it of a transitional kind; but those on the streets who have to deal with stitched heads as distinct from stitched hats know instinctively that the RUC has not been disbanded and that the baton and boot of Seamus and Padraic are just as unpleasant as those of Mervyn and Samuel.

On every single core issue negotiated since the peace process began republicanism has lost out; from ‘no’ consent principle, ‘no’ Stormont, ‘no’ British declaration of intent to stay, ‘no’ internal settlement, ‘no’ decommissioning ad infinitum. It would be both futile and a bit late in the day for Sinn Fein to make a principled, rather than a verbal, stand on ‘no’ RUC. Toothpaste just doesn’t go back into the tube.

Comments by the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that the experience of nationalists, in particular those living in the interface areas, meant that there was no chance of Sinn Fein signing up to the new RUC (Mr Adams for reasons of tactical preparation of the grassroots prefers to call the not disbanded RUC the ‘PSNI’ or simply ‘police‘) were mere wool pulling not designed in the slightest to thwart the momentum that is taking the party toward the RUC. ‘Our position on this is very clear,’ Adams said. Someone not disabled by an ill-equipped memory might claim that it is as clear as it was when Martin McGuinness outlined the stance in relation to a ceasefire. His position too was ‘very clear’ and would ‘never, never, never’ change - it would simply not happen this side of a British declaration of intent to withdraw. The first ceasefire was called 8 years ago - and the Brits, well they haven’t gone away you know.

Sinn Fein will become part of the structure of the RUC. Whatever change is made between now and the point at which they sign up, no matter how minimal - and described, no doubt, as a ‘transition’ to Patten - will be heralded as some qualitative improvement which caused a change of heart within the party; in effect the smokescreen used to camouflage a decision already taken. Declan Kearney speaking at the John Joe McGirl Commemorative Weekend made that much clear: ‘in time, if and when the legislative, political and practical conditions are fully met, we will have to assume roles in the oversight of the Six-County policing service.’ Mitchel McLaughlin too, in what was naively described by the Daily Telegraph as a ‘direct challenge’ to Tony Blair (when really it was the party chair responding to calls of ‘your time is up Sinn Fein, you are coming in’), was engaging in a bit of kite flying when he said of the British Prime Minister ‘when and if he gets round to making these necessary amendments to the legislation, and producing and delivering on his commitment to Patten, then Sinn Fein will step up to the mark. We will not shirk the very difficult challenge that will pose for us.’ In other words the party is about to be courageous and imaginative again.

Of equal significance to what Gerry Adams had to say was the location chosen in which to say it - Ardoyne. That area served as a window on the political fulcrum upon which pivots the Provisionals’ ability to ease themselves into embracing the RUC. Two current obstacles were geographically distilled into one location or test site for republican ‘population management’ strategies: Orange marches and interface tensions.

The North Belfast enclave - an interface from the first day of the conflict and long before the term became part of the political lexicon - situated at the top of the Crumlin Road was the site of serious disturbances in July as an Orange parade passed it. Earlier, Belfast’s RUC supremo, Alan McQuillan, in what the Observer described as a ‘pre-emptive propaganda strike’ had warned that the IRA was planning a "major attack", as marchers passed along the Crumlin Road on the 12th Of July. Gerry Kelly complained that ‘it was an outrageous piece of black propaganda, which has criminalised and demonised a whole area.’ Why preparations for an aggressive defence of an area should be either criminal or demonic was left unexplained. The demonisation of the Official Republican Movement became a central plank of Provisional mythology on the grounds that the behaviour of the Officials was criminal for failing to prepare adequate defence. Equally puzzling was party colleague Martin McGuinnness’s claim that McQuillan’s allegations represented the agenda of ‘unreconstructed RUC elements’ within the PSNI. The only surprise here is that anyone should be surprised that within an unreconstructed RUC there are to be found unreconstructed RUC members.

In our Orwellian little world of organised lying, where adversaries battle to have their own lie accepted as the ‘truth’ rather than actually believed per se, the only course to tread for those keen to interpret matters for themselves is to ignore both Sinn Fein and the RUC, neither of which would pass the lie detector test with any aplomb. Fortunately one Ardoyne resident agreed to be interviewed by The Blanket. A professed long time supporter of the Republican Movement, he so feared for his safety that he insisted on not being identified.

People are afraid to speak out. I am only talking to you on the understanding that you won’t sink me by letting them know who I am. You know what them boys are like. They don’t like it if they think you mightn’t let them shove their views down your throat. I don’t want any comeback from them. Is that okay?

A grim reminder that Kanan Makiya’s book The Republic Of Fear had no reason to confine itself to Iraq.

His version of what happened in Ardoyne would exonerate Provisional republicans from the allegations levelled by Alan McQuillan, but would indict them in the eyes of many within working class communities who, like Michael Ignatieff’s cynic, have a healthy awareness of the gulf between what Provisional republicanism practices and what it preaches.

In his account, nationalists were physically beaten off the Crumlin Road, not just on the 12th, but in the days coming up to it also. Tracing this type of behaviour back to last year’s Holy Cross dispute he claimed that some nationalist youths ‘were beaten by the IRA as their mothers cried in despair’.

Regarding the controversial statement by Alan McQuillan he claimed that:

The whole of Ardoyne was prepared for a riot. We had been putting bricks, bottles and stones - anything that could be thrown - on the roofs of buildings for almost a week. We had no intention of using the anti burglar devices which the cops showed on TV but we had to move them in order to get on to the roofs. The IRA knew what was going on and while they were not involved in it they did nothing to stop it.

Why then the sudden republican turn on people if they were so indifferent to the matter before hand?

McQuillan’s statement changed the whole atmosphere in the area. The minute he opened his big mouth and said what he did the ‘RA turned on the people. On the day of the march lots of ‘RA from all over the city were drafted in to control the situation on the road. The people’s blood was boiling at the idea of these Orangees walking up the road. There was a massive RUC presence but it wasn’t needed. When the Orangees were only five minutes away many republicans could be seen walking about using walkie-talkies. When the Orangemen were walking by the ‘RA turned on us. Young people were beaten on the Crumlin Road, behind the Star and in Balhome Drive. The RUC seen it all happen. They didn’t have to draw their batons as republicans did it for them. There were digs to the head and some of us were kicked like dogs.

When asked to quantify how robust the IRA policing of Ardoyne on the 12th of July was, he alleged that about 30 to 40 people were beaten by republicans, assaults which ranged from shoving and slapping to punching and kicking.

Under threat we are supposed to stand with our hands in our pockets. The ‘RA want to wind it up when it suits them but turn on the people if it doesn’t. Now there is a major division in Ardoyne at the minute. The area has always felt the need for defence. But people are talking of being let down. It is no good. Sinn Fein come over at election time and then forget about us. There is whispering that they will not get as many votes next time they come round at election time. People have been sickened by what happened. We are now back to a situation like the 1970s where defence groups have to watch the area. People in West Belfast don’t know how safe they are. It is very vulnerable over here.

The account of the resident would appear to be consistent with other reports. Supposedly senior IRA members named by the Observer ‘were clearly seen defusing tension, pushing Catholic youths away from police lines and the loyalists…’ Alan McQuillan, according to the Guardian, ‘praised leading members of the IRA’. The leading RUC figure was reported as having said ‘Very senior members of the Republican Movement, Provisional IRA, were clearly involved in marshalling the protest. And when some young people did begin to throw missiles they moved in to stop it.’ Mary Holland writing in the Irish Times claimed that ‘PSNI’ officers privately admitted the Provisionals’ part in stabilising the situation.

In reflecting on the behaviour of the Provisional IRA in all of this, the words used by Amanda Platell to describe some in the Tory Party spring to mind:

With every crude attempt to appear normal and nice, these people become more ludicrous. Their pursuit of niceness is like Michael Jackson's pursuit of whiteness: everything they do to try to become that which they are not makes them slightly more grotesque.

The sense of a community being ill at ease with some aspects of Provisional behaviour was also indicated by a report from Suzanne Breen who claimed that ‘Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin activists who arrived at Rosapenna Court after a Catholic man was shot in the thigh were given a hard time by some residents who claimed the Provos had left them undefended.’

This continuing tension in the area has further manifested itself in tensions between the Provisionals and the INLA. The Irish Echo reported that ‘prominent members of the INLA were seen, in one case remonstrating with prominent members of the Provisional IRA who were restraining riotous youths.’ Two writers who co-authored a book on the INLA and who obviously have sources within the organisation wrote separately in the Observer and Irish Echo that a meeting took place between the IRA and the INLA over the situation in Ardoyne. The Provisionals were allegedly furious at INLA involvement in the conflict which they felt was destabilising the district. A major change in outlook for the Provisionals given that Ardoyne was at the forefront of a ruthless sectarian war prosecuted by the Provisional IRA over a two year period from the end of 1974 to the beginning of 1977.

Other reports from Ardoyne suggest that Gerry Kelly was verbally harangued at a public meeting held in one of the local clubs. Some people allegedly went as far to demand that he be removed from the platform of speakers.

One journalist privately posed the question what would the cops do if the IRA were to disband - who then would keep rebellion off the streets? In the view of one Provisional republican it is the streets which are the key. ‘The leadership is aware that it is from street confrontations that any alternative leadership may emerge.’ In his view before the leadership can embrace the RUC it needs to ultimately manage and defuse both the conflict at the interface areas and the problems that arise out of Orange marches.

It is these two issues that bring nationalist youth into conflict with the RUC. We may see the leadership trying to take the heat out of matters by organising street parties or cultural events within the areas to coincide with these marches. They would tell us some nonsense that this was a new form of protest.

The interface areas seem to be moving toward joint republican-loyalist management, already germinating from the Sinn Fein meetings with the Loyalist Commission which knit the managerial strata from each camp closer together. The Provisional republican continued:

The leadership need to be able to show the Brits that they alone are the power within their communities and that their ability to deliver cannot be undermined by others. There are no circumstances in which they would allow any challenge to take place.

This reasoning would appear to go to the heart of the matter. The nature of the Provisional relationship to the nationalist community has evolved from one of loosely defending it to a position of tightly controlling it. Non-stifled and porous community self-expression whether on the streets or in print is treated as an anathema that needs to be blocked. Those who see republicanism as being something other than the property of a social climbing leadership clique maintaining itself through the power of patronage and crass nepotism, and eager to simply emulate those whom republicanism traditionally stood four square against, could do much worse than ask ‘who shall liberate us from our liberators’?





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I was determined to achieve the total freedom that our history lessons taught us we were entitled to, no matter what the sacrifice.
- Rosa Parks

Index: Current Articles

8 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


The BNP, Anti-Fascism and the Libertarian Dilemma
Mark Hayes


Out of the Ashes of Armed Struggle Arose the Stormontistas And They Fought...Ardoyne Youth

Anthony McIntyre


Republicanism in the Age of Empire
Michael Youlton


The Interface
Davy Carlin


Colombia Deteriorates Daily
Sean Smyth


The Letters Page has been updated.


5 September 2002


Why Doesn't Britain Leave
Sandy Boyer


Che Guevara

Anthony McIntyre


Perfecting the Violence of Curfew
Sam Bahour


Understanding Culture
Billy Mitchell


Brian Mór


Brian Mór


Brian Mór




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