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Go to sleep, my weary Provo, let the time go drifting by.
To Sleep, My Weary Provo
Fortnight, December 2001/January 2002
At a time when the UDA is disbanding its political wing Sinn Fein is maybe headed in the opposite direction by dissolving the IRA. But is the organisation that fought so hard to secure a British declaration of intent to withdraw being put uncomplainingly to bed without even the slightest sign of the lights going out for Britain in Ireland? It was said recently that medieval Catholics, about to tuck into the Friday steak, would address it 'I baptise thee carp'. The Sinn Fein leadership, with little or no internal fuss, having done likewise by baptising a defeat 'transitional' could quite easily wind up the IRA. The latter is now a mere extension of Sinn Fein policy; and if the new exigencies of such policy require yet another 'courageous and imaginative' summersault, do not be surprised.
By early summer the Provisionals seemed to be cruising. They had just doubled their representation at Westminster and had, against even their own expectations, usurped the SDLP as the leading nationalist party. Glenbryn loyalists guided by the strategic equivalent of Mr Bean and Basil Fawlty were beginning their PR suicide campaign. This enabled Sinn Fein's most pompous performer to swan round the television studios condescendingly admonishing the unionists for kicking up such a fuss about silent IRA guns while a colleague told a British newspaper that only a fool would believe that IRA weapons were completely silent.
Then all of these linguistic mazes, doublespeak, gobbledegook and jabberwocky that had helped sustain the leadership throughout its prolonged dance of deceit caught up with it. Three republicans were arrested in Colombia. The evidence against them was so terribly deficient that in its defence a prosecuting attorney in Bogotá interviewed by BBC Spotlight was reduced to incoherent babbling. Yet even she appeared articulate compared to the Sinn Fein spokespeople put forward to denounce any suggested links between the party and the three arrested republicans. Media lie detectors that for so long had lain idle began to buzz frantically each time a Sinn Fein spokesperson appeared on television. Even Sinn Fein on Sunday found their evasions hard to stomach.
Of course, it all depended on who were being told the lies. If it were the republican grassroots the media would tolerate that, even facilitate it in some cases. But the American government was a big 'no no'. The president of the United States can lie to you. And you can even jump up and down and wave your hands in the air to boot while he is doing it; a la the Mexican wave for Clinton in the Odyssey last year. But you cannot lie to the president.
The 11th of September attacks on the United States further compounded matters for the Provisionals. With the spectre of FARC haunting every refuge, Bin Lying pontificated in his eagerness to denounce Bin Laden. There was no comparison between the IRA and Al Qaida the growing band of sceptics was assured. The awkward question produced the evasive response. Only media mischief-makers would suggest that, for Sinn Fein, human bombs in Derry were implicitly ethically defensible in a way that similar vehicles of civilian death in New York were not. But it was all a face saving charade. Just as in the title of a Christopher Hitchens book there was no one left to lie to - except the republican grassroots of course. And they could be ignored. Loyalty to them mattered little when Big Brother had to be appeased.
When the decision was announced by the Sinn Fein leadership that it would move to secure decommissioning the fact that it could so contemptuously ignore the input of those who had fought, killed, maimed and served time to help put the leadership where it is, demonstrated just how easy it would be to send the IRA packing if external pressure necessitated it. A grassroots quite prepared to allow the leadership to reach a point where its objectives had been reduced to debating what version of a partitionist police force it would accept -Mandleson's or Patten's RUC - could scarcely celebrate shutting the gate once the horse, long since bolted, was off grazing, fat and prosperous, on Stormont's four green fields.
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