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British Victory At Culloden

Anthony McIntyre • 27 September 2005

When I arrived in the Culloden Hotel yesterday for the De Chastelain press conference that would announce the completion of IRA decommissioning, the thought occurred that it was an apt setting. While the location was surely coincidental the venue designated to declare that the IRA leadership had given up its guns had only one meaning for me. It was the same place where the British agent in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci, had met members of the Cooke Team in order to damage some of his colleagues. Presumably, he felt comfortable in the Culloden having most likely met his handlers there throughout his agent career, which spanned three decades. He too was determined to divest the IRA of its guns. A momentary thought penetrated my mind. The IICD was gently ribbing republicans, even subliminally, reminding them that peace processing and Stakeknifing, while on different paths, both worked towards the same thing and ultimately arrived at the one destination.

As I sat amongst the throng of media people, they failed to hold my drifting attention. My mind wandered back over the years to the many exchanges that I had with IRA members and others who fervently believed decommissioning would never happen. To them, even to mention the topic was heresy. I conjured up an image of an insightfully smiling Micky McMullan writing in the Observer in 1999, where he argued that for tactical reasons alone decommissioning should take place. The common refrain was 'Micky has lost it.' He had never lost it just as his critics had never found it. His problem was to have been right too soon.

I thought of the people who vowed never to let go of one ounce of explosives; of their vows to have their own fingers broken before they would yield their grip to any leader seeking to remove as much as a single round from the palm of their hand. There is the well-circulated story of the IRA leader from Belfast who told volunteers that he would accompany them on their mission to shoot any leader who as much as handed a round over. Foolishly, they believed him. They told me how they would resign and publicly criticise the leadership if decommissioning took place either upfront or in an underhand manner. My advice to them was not to leave themselves hostages to fortune. Decommissioning would happen and they would not resign. No point in inviting a face full of egg. Still they felt otherwise. I sat with them in my own home, into the small hours at my kitchen table, listening while they dismissed my suggestions that decommissioning was a path the leadership would ultimately follow. On other occasions people took to the papers to castigate me for having the temerity to express a view that the guns would be given up. Elsewhere I was told that 'for somebody who is supposedly well educated you don't understand what this process is all about.' I was dismissed as a fool devoid of foresight. Often it was done in banter form, other times not. It never concerned me. I knew that on this one the chickens would, as always, come home to roost.

The same people who believed decommissioning would never happen invariably were of the belief that the IRA would never declare its war over until the British had given a declaration of intent to withdraw. Nor did they believe that republicans would come to undermine the raison d'etre for their armed struggle and embrace the consent principle. A few weeks before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement I phoned up a Sinn Fein councillor on cumann business and while on the phone said to him, 'it's our Stormont too, you know.' He laughed, and told me I had definitely called it wrong this time. He is now a MLA. No doubt they were all marching through Dublin on Saturday deluding themselves that it was about making partition history when all that had been achieved, regardless of what took place at the Culloden, was to make republicanism history and replace it with the central tenets of constitutional nationalism.

Not all were incapable of this appalling lack of foresight. Other IRA members were more perceptive. Sensing that the IRA leadership was lying when it thundered 'not a round, not an ounce', these volunteers were mistaken only in thinking there would be widespread rebellion within the ranks against the move. It was not a view I shared. The rank and file would as easily be weaned off their opposition to decommissioning as they had been weaned off everything else. Experience is a great teacher - for some. It showed that at every juncture, the leadership prevailed and those who swore to stand up to leadership 'betrayals', as they termed them, invariably folded. Despite its potential to teach experience was something many failed to learn from.

Yet again as so often happens on these occasions, I reflected on the gulf that developed between myself and the movement to which I had given so much of my life. The sharpest clashes invariably resulted from trends that I was projecting, not because I was challenging the leadership or threatening to go outside the movement. It seemed so obvious to me that the peace process could only take the movement to where it is today. There had to be room for discussion of these concerns. When I wrote about it I found myself castigated in a manner that roughly paralleled the experience of Damien Kiberd. I fully expect that those who hounded me as being a defeatist for having predicted events will now excoriate me for describing them as a defeat. C'est le vie.

The story of the peace process has been one of unmitigated denial amongst the republican grassroots about the future. It bemuses me when I hear Martin McGuinness describe such people as highly politicised. In my mind politicised people can see ahead to some degree. Nobody gets it right all the time. But getting it wrong on every single issue hardly merits the description politicised.

2005 and there we were learning of the event that would never happen should the peace process go on another 1000 years. It was Danny Morrison who argued that there would be no decommissioning by the year 3000. It would never happen he reassured his readers because it would be tantamount to IRA surrender; and the IRA of course would never surrender. At the Culloden Hotel yesterday I felt Morrison's logic seep into my consciousness. He was right about the logic of decommissioning equating with surrender. He was wrong that it would never come about. What I observed yesterday was the fourth instalment in a long sequenced surrender.

Not that I have any wish to jump on a high horse and shout 'sell out' because the IRA surrendered. Danny Morrison probably forgets it but during one of the lengthy exchanges I had with him in prison I opined that conditional surrender was an option that the IRA would have to look at. He balked at the term but seemed open to suggestion while reserving the right to disagree.

If there is any point in fighting a war, it lies not in fighting one that cannot be won. Sometimes surrender is the only feasible option. Pride alone should not stand in the way of lives being spared and misery avoided. The degree to which surrender is ignominious is determined by the quality of the conditions won by the losing side. People must make their up own minds on the conditions secured by the Adams leadership in return for its surrender to the British state objective of an internal Northern Ireland solution.

Yesterday, in the Culloden Hotel there was nothing in those conditions that for me would validate one day spent in jail. How much less validated is the loss of life.


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Index: Current Articles

27 September 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Analysis: Treating the Symptoms Will Not Cure the Disease
Anthony McIntyre

Reflections: British Victory at Culloden
Anthony McIntyre

Decommissioning Will Reveal Real Problem
Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Inclusive Republicanism
Maire Cullen

Wish List for Unionist Leadership
Dr John Coulter

Sunday World vs. Thugs
Mick Hall

Real and Relative Poverty
David Adams

How the Poor Live and Die
Fred A Wilcox

Poverty — Do You Get It?
Joanne Lightfoottlane

Defending Multiculturalism
Anthony McIntyre

15 September 2005

Treating the Symptoms Will Not Cure the Disease
N. Corey

We Shall Not Be Challenged
Anthony McIntyre

Riots for 'Recognition'
Brendan O'Neill

Dr John Coulter

Ireland: Nationalists Resist Loyalist Intimidation
Paul Mallon

Facing the Truth About the North
David Adams

Mowlam and the Status Quo
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh

Exports for the North Mean Exploitation for the South
Cedric Gouverneur

Snapshots from Occupied Bil'in
Greta Berlin

'Send in the Clowns!'
Mick Hall

Times Are A-Changing, Part II
Michael Youlton

Along Baltimore City's Peace Path
William Hughes

The Critic and the Clown
Anthony McIntyre



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