The Blanket

If You're In You Can't Win

Anthony McIntyre • Fortnight, October, 2002

As a banner headline in one of the daily Irish or British broadsheets, ‘Donaldson brings down Executive’ would raise few eyebrows. Many have long anticipated it. But if such headlines came to pass it would indeed wax ironical from those who screamed loudest about rejectionists if it were to be Denis rather than Jeffrey who, rightly or wrongly, took the lion’s share of the blame for the collapse of the institutions. With Sinn Fein’s Denis Donaldson now charged and due to appear in court as a result of last week's searches in Belfast it would nevertheless be wholly wrong for any commentator to presume his guilt.

The British police security operation at Stormont was not only unprecedented, it was also a major strategic strike by the British state of quite startling brilliance. Its aim was to incapacitate the Sinn Fein leadership’s climbing ability as all sides scramble for top position on the moral high ground in preparation for any collapse of the Stormont executive. While on the day the real evidence gathering most likely went on outside of Stormont the media-visible assault - inanely aided by Gerry Kelly - on the Sinn Fein assembly offices was designed to conjure up a powerful imagery in the public mind. Stormont was to become the site whereby the so-called ‘organic link’ between Sinn Fein, the IRA and ‘ethically indefensible terrorism’ was to be graphically illustrated in blazing searchlights.

Whether by accident or design - it matters little - all week, matters had been slipping outside the control of the control-obsessed Sinn Fein leadership. It was the week in which all the straws on the camel’s back finally came to break it. The party had barely time to digest the opening words of Ed Moloney’s book on its relationship to the IRA, before the British were leaking some findings from the Chilcott report into the Castlereagh break-in back in March which suggested IRA involvement. In a break with the policy of his predecessor Ronnie Flanagan, who seemed not to know who carried out anything, Hugh Orde allowed a police statement to be disseminated which unequivocally identified the IRA as the organisation which beat and shot Derry man Danny McBrearty. The trial of the three republicans in Colombia started in a blaze of publicity and fed into the week’s recurring theme which served to reinforce the unionist mindset that there was indeed a Sinn Fein/IRA and that its existence more than anything else posed a threat to the stability and longevity of the institutions. And from the British and Unionist perspectives the coup d’grace came with the search and seize operation at Stormont. The body language told it all. Bairbre de Brun on the evening news programmes appeared like the cat who had lost the cream whereas her government leader David Trimble adopted the persona of a dog with two tails puzzled only by which one he should wag.

Unlike with the debacle in Colombia the Sinn Fein president will not be afforded the luxury of claiming no one told him Denis Donaldson was in Sinn Fein. Nor can the party venture off to Cuba to hold an investigation into the status of Donaldson’s membership. Its sole defence shall be to position itself, as Martin McGuinness has, behind the legal shield and argue correctly that Donaldson is innocent until proven otherwise. But the real difficulty faced by the party is not one that can be deferred by seeking refuge in sub judice. It is not that in the court of public opinion Donaldson may already unfairly be deemed guilty - legally it is not for the public to decide - but that republicanism is. And unlike lengthy judicial proceedings public opinion generates an immediacy that requires hard and fast corrective adjustment.

Such adjustment against the present backdrop may well lead to the suspension of the institutions. The Stormont strike against republicanism makes such a course all the more easier while allowing any Trimble exit strategy to be relatively cost-free and him to emerge as the man to lead unionism into any new negotiations. And before any such negotiations begin the unionist demand that the IRA cease to exist as a prerequisite for them taking place will be strengthened immeasurably. If, as John Reid claims, Sinn Fein is riding two horses at once, the British are now determined to ensure that the horses will not run in tandem and that their rider will be pulled apart.

It is often claimed by Sinn Fein that moves such as the search of Sinn Fein offices at Stormont are the work of British securocrats who aim to destabilise the Good Friday Agreement. If some of the press reports from the Sunday after the event are reliable then - the case of Denis Donaldson totally aside - some may be forgiven for suspecting that the IRA intelligence system is infiltrated by securocrats. That system, allegedly, more than anything else has given both Sinn Fein and those in favour of the Agreement a headache that will be slow curing in the months ahead.




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The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.
- Ayn Rand
Index: Current Articles

13 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Just Say No
Ciarán Irvine


Full of Sound & Fury
Aine Fox


The Edge of the Abyss...Again

Brendan O'Neill


If You're In, You Can't Win
Anthony McIntyre


How Clever Was Adams?
Henry Patterson


Please, My Friend is Being Tortured
Sam Bahour


11 October 2002


Just Desserts?
Anthony McIntyre


'Robocop' Raid Seen as PSNI Reversion
Eamonn McCann


A Secret History of the IRA
Niall Stanage


Immigrant Slave Labour
Liam O Ruairc


Fighting the Sharks
Sean Smyth


Academics on Independence, Part 2

Paul Fitzsimmons


Wake Up and Smell the Occupation
Sam Bahour


From the Mouths of Babes
John Chuckman




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