The Blanket

Silent But Lethal

Anthony McIntyre • 11/08/2002

The Real IRA's war against whatever enemy it perceives to be out there continues unabated. A casual look at the fatalities resulting from Real IRA activity would lead to a conclusion that topping the target list are civilians - Irish, Spanish and English. British soldiers, RUC and loyalists are seemingly safe from Real IRA activity. I have no problem with that, feeling that little would be served by killing any out of the last three categories. I merely wish that the organisation would extend its protection policy to civilians as well. But the armed republican body will doubtless ignore me as it has so many others over the years. Like the Provisionals before them they are permeated with a view that our opinions do not matter when Ireland is to be freed. Our right to freedom is restricted to only those freedoms that the Real IRA say we may have. We, therefore, are allowed to be free from British rule (whether we will it or not) but are not to be free from the violent methods employed by the Real IRA to secure something which they alone want at a particular price.

The Real IRA's war is the Real IRA's war alone. For the most part it is not fought on behalf of anybody else other than those who are in its ranks. And as those well informed dogs on Belfast streets know the ranks have had, over the years, more than a smattering of dubious characters. At one point so seemingly pervasive was dodgy activity throughout its organisation in Belfast that some observers with no particular axe to grind drew comparisons between it and the IPLO. There is a striking frankness about some of those associated with the organisation who readily admit to such a deficiency although they stress that it has since been rectified. While that seems true the organisation, nevertheless, remains unrepresentative and gives off the appearance of being even more unpopular than the RUC in poorer Belfast communities.

When I put this last point to someone close to the organisation but who would go no further than describe himself as ‘an activist’ he maintained that it holds good for Belfast exclusively. ‘In other areas such as Derry, there is growing support for people who want to carry on with the armed struggle.’ This seemed ironic given that it was always joked about within the Provisionals in jail that the Derry IRA had given up the armed struggle even before the ceasefires.

That the Real IRA on most occasions lacks the moral fortitude to claim responsibility for its operations suggests a furtiveness we have come to associate with its counterpart the Provisional IRA. Do its members really feel that 'no claim no blame' will work in a way for them that it does for the Provisionals? If so they need to realise that the Provisional IRA is now Britain's favourite IRA and as such can expect favours from Britain such as the recent ultimate deadline by infinite postponement that John Reid announced in response to unionist demands that he introduce sanctions as a result of ongoing Provisional IRA activity. The public (those few amongst it not yet totally indifferent) still await official comment on what organisation killed Joe O'Connor almost two years ago. There is no such wait on official blame being dished out in relation to the killing of David Caldwell. The British nor the media will spare the Real IRA in the manner that is reserved for the Provisionals. Continued silence on its operations suggests a Real IRA contempt for the wider population and a lack of conviction. We are supposed to guess the purpose of their campaign and the strategic logic behind each operation and meekly accept that fundamentalists with guns - that dangerous concoction which a friend, Harry Donaghy, warns so severely against - know best.

The killing of David Caldwell was a brutal and futile waste of life. He didn’t die because he was standing in the way of the Irish people as they march towards unification. Nor did he die because his death would help further facilitate the wishes of those same Irish people. He died as a calculated snub to those wishes. He lost his life because he was a working person who picked up a lunch box containing the so called key to Irish freedom which when detonated opened nothing but misery, grief and despair. Many who would rarely agree with Niall O’Dowd nevertheless find his logic irrepressible when he objects to some republicans ‘deciding that what it is the people of Ireland need is the murder of an innocent workman who left a devastated partner and children behind. Just how this particular act brings a united Ireland closer has escaped us.’ Eamonn McCann in Derry got it right when he hit out at the butchery of a man who died because he worked in order to live.

Those sympathetic to the Real IRA will point to the hypocrisy of those republicans who repudiate killings such as that of David Caldwell but who remained silent when the Provisional IRA were doing likewise. They ask ‘if it was not immoral then how can it be so now?’. In that they have a point. For that reason, any serious re-evaluation of the Provisional IRA campaign, instead of claiming legitimacy for it in its entirety, needs to state that there was no more justification then for killing someone like David Caldwell than there is today.

Calls by Martin McGuinness for those who favour such activity ‘to put their heads above the parapet and defend their actions’ would carry greater weight if someone from his own stable was to do likewise and explain ongoing Provisional IRA activity. In that way his call would have a genuine ring to it rather than appearing to be a move to outflank some of his republican critics. Furthermore, what makes the Real IRA determined that it has no case to answer in the court of hypocrites is that the justification used by the Provisional IRA for its war post-Sunningdale provides the ostensible rationale that the Real IRA presumably employ today. To quote Martin McGuinness:

I can give a commitment on behalf of the leadership that we have absolutely no intention of going to Westminster or Stormont … our position is clear and will never, never, never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved.

That he should be more privileged than others who possess a similar logic is a questionable assumption. Is it all just a matter of dates?

Seemingly so. Because with minority support we who were in the Provisional IRA waged an armed campaign to get the British out of Ireland. Unless the justification for the bulk of our activity is revisited and unpicked then the Real IRA will always find within our collective history substantive justification for continuing as they are. It is the Provisional leadership’s acceptance of a power sharing executive and lightweight cross border bodies coupled with its subsequent condemnation of anyone who wants to fight on for more that delegitimises considerably the use of armed struggle after 1974 - and not merely after 1998. The more they praise their decision to terminate the war the less they justify it ever having been fought in the first place.

There would be little in the way of inconsistency on the part of Sinn Fein if it were to follow through on the logic that its acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement has delegitimised the Provisional IRA’s ‘long war’ and state clearly that the armed struggle for a British declaration of intent to withdraw post-1974 was a strategic disaster, the residue of which is to be found in the Real IRA campaign today. That at least would deny the Real IRA the luxury of shouting ‘hypocrite’ every time a Sinn Fein spokesperson opens their mouth in condemnation on the basis that armed struggle was no longer justified after 1998. It may also begin to chip away within their minds - where the real work needs to be done - at their sense of justification.

The Real IRA are no more criminals than we were. And we were no more republican then than they are now. Calling them ‘rejectionist’ is mere pious cant as they reject only what we rejected for twenty four years` killing many more innocent in the process than the Real IRA have managed. But that does not make them right. Neither are they fanatics who will stop at nothing. They are people who feel let down by men who demanded plenty, promised much and delivered little and who seem to have done quite well out of it all. Men who would, in the Real IRA view, slot neatly into the pejorative description used by Captain Seamus McCall against some of those in the Anti-Partition League in the 1950s: ‘men to whom removing the border is simply a euphemism for the transfer of ownership of the fleshpots of place and patronage.’

Real IRA volunteers who want to do something for their communities rather than impose republican diktats upon them need to consider that there is no functioning republican alternative to Sinn Fein and its acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement. There are theoretical alternatives but they have never become functional because those who oppose the GFA simply have never managed to get their act together. Their claims to offer plausible alternatives have never been tested. Part of the reason for this is that the the various physical force IRAs create an ethical, intellectual and strategic bottleneck through which other ideas battle vainly. There are undoubtedly many intelligent Real IRA volunteers who have plenty to offer. But it shall not be through the Real IRA. The organisation is an albatross around the neck of a radical republican alternative. Those still in it should quit and join the 32 County Sovereignty Movement where they could retain and proclaim their republicanism rather than keeping it under a stone from where it fears to speak its name.







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A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.
- Adlai Stevenson

Index: Current Articles

11 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Class War
Newton Emerson


Nationalist Euphoria - Unionist Despondency
Billy Mitchell


Silent But Lethal

Anthony McIntyre


Democratise Democracy
Davy Carlin


The Pentagon's Secret Weapon
John Chuckman


8 August 2002


Billy Mitchell


Frances McAuley - Resisting the Loyal Sons of Hate

Anthony McIntyre


Intense Winters
Miguel Castells Artetxe


Modernising Republicanism
Davy Carlin


Another Death in Turkish Prison Hunger Strike




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