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A Subtle But Brilliant Use Of The IRA
Anthony McIntyre • 11 January 2004

The sense of apprehension that has swollen within Southern governing class minds since Sinn Fein comfortably outpolled the SDLP in last year's Northern assembly elections has yet to subside. What consolation Fianna Fail, positioned as it is at the centre of the governing bloc, extracted from Bertie Ahern's 'most subtle gutting' of Caoimhghin O' Caolain in Leinster House, has added little spring to the party step from which the observer could discern a confidence based on an uninterrupted expectation of hegemony cum longevity for Fianna Fail. Like the hare seeking to put it up to the hound, O'Caolain sustained his gutting for being foolhardy enough to publicly pronounce the modern equivalent of the earth being flat. It is perhaps not unfair to speculate that there are as many people who sincerely believe that Sinn Fein does not profit from IRA activity, as there are those who believe that the Sinn Fein president has never been a member of the IRA. The same people, arguably, distinguish themselves from the thinking community by believing both.

Stephen Collins may report in the Sunday Tribune that the IRA is involved in:

robbery, smuggling, racketeering and surveillance, particularly in Dublin, where the organisation is now believed to be generating very large amounts of money … it is now raking in a percentage from the ordinary criminal gangs

But republicans of all hues see little of news value in it. And whatever the accuracy of their claims, even West Belfast hoods complain bitterly that the substantial sum of money they robbed on the Falls Road last October was taken from them by the IRA 'just to be handed over to Sinn Fein.'

Sinn Fein alone appears to question the content of Minister for Justice Michael McDowell's claims about the party being financed to some degree by the army. Gerry Adams insisting that 'there is no substance to these allegations' assumes the persona of Lord Aston, prompting only a Mandy Rice Davis retort - 'he would, wouldn't he.' But, if the substance of McDowell's salvo leaves little for critics with which to fashion counter charges of inaccuracy, his timing has raised a few eyebrows, as self-interest flashes subliminally across more than a few minds. Sinn Fein is hardly doing anything today that it has not been doing for decades. In fact it is plausible to believe that the party is now more sensitive to allegations about its behaviour than at any time in its history; not an altogether inconsiderable constraint. Why all the fuss only now?

Matt Cooper, writing in the Tribune just before Christmas, welcomed the intervention by McDowell. But he attributed no motive other than ‘moral’ to the man in the driving seat at Justice. ‘There seems to be no obvious political advantage the PDs can derive from Michael McDowell’s highly charged attack on Sinn Fein.’ Yet a more probing mind would wonder if McDowell's critique of Sinn Fein was as much about limiting Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's wriggle room when the time comes to decide who Fianna Fail shall form the next coalition government with. Whatever the Fianna Fail leader's protestations that his party will not enter a coalition with Adams’ party there are grounds for feeling he protests too much. Sinn Fein obviously stands to improve its position in future southern elections. According to Paul Bew:

Dublin is now transfixed with fear but at the same time seems helpless to resist the irresistible rise of Sinn Fein ... in the November elections the shark devoured the SDLP in Belfast; next summer, it plans to devour Fianna Fail in Dublin.

Reason enough for PD denizens to be jolted into making it as difficult as possible for Fianna Fail to jilt them and hook up with a new partner – Sinn Fein.

The Republic’s political class is now facing the offspring its planned temporary dalliance with Sinn Fein helped produce. It impregnated political culture with the notion that it was acceptable for Sinn Fein to sit in government in the North - but not in the South - while the party leadership continued to manage and oversee a functioning IRA. Diarmuid Doyle put it in less than flattering terms:

I understand that a certain amount of leeway has to be allowed to people like O’Caolain and McGuinness and Arthur Morgan as they slither their way into normal society.

The political class assumed that the Sinn Fein leadership's decision not to retire the IRA was something it could go easy on giving that it appeared to be a matter exclusive to the North; determined either by the political imperatives of negotiations or by issues internal to the party's military wing. By maintaining the IRA, Sinn Fein could steadily keep the process fluid and move forward in an incremental fashion, drip-bleeding concessions from the British government; or alternatively, Sinn Fein was considered the best judge to evaluate the impact of any concession republicans might have to make on its own constituency of which the IRA is a substantial part. In any event, the existence of the IRA was considered as relevant only to the North and ultimately an impediment to the progress of the party in the South.

The problem now confronting the Dublin government is that through its retention of the IRA Sinn Fein is creeping up on the blindside in the Republic. There is little that would support the notion that the Adams leadership is fearful of dissolving the IRA in case there is some recalcitrant body of republicans waiting on the opportunity to challenge the leadership. That moment came and went in 1997, and a multitude of civilians rather then the Sinn Fein leadership paid the price, as the Real IRA set about slaughtering them in Omagh the following year. Given that the Sinn Fein leadership has managed on occasion, to cite Jim Gibney, to turn the IRA upside down, Adams faces no internal obstacles to sleight of hand disbandment. Moreover, the ability to use the IRA in the North for leverage has dissipated as a result of republicans being blamed for the prolonged hiatus afflicting the political institutions. Pressure for concessions from Sinn Fein rather than concessions to it is going to mount as both governments seek to find the appropriate stabiliser with which to entice unionism, in its new form, into the power sharing saddle once again. In sum the IRA prohibits Sinn Fein from acquiring institutional power, and in the absence of internal opposition why not put it out to graze?

The IRA as we have come to know it will ultimately be dissolved when Sinn Fein decide that there is nothing else to do but go back into government in the North. That moment would come all the sooner if in the absence of such participation in government, the party’s expansionism was to be arrested. But, despite Bertie Ahern being supposedly ‘seething with anger at the way republican intransigence has led to the current impasse’ in the North, his approach has in fact facilitated such ‘intransigence.’ Playing footsie with the IRA in the mistaken belief that its existence is relevant only to the North’s political institutions, has both postponed ‘completion’ in the North and created leg room for Sinn Fein in the South. Political analysts might now just consider that the IRA is being retained primarily because of its potential to enhance the profile of Sinn Fein in the Republic.

Through its management of the peace process the Sinn Fein leadership has performed remarkably well in terms of profiling itself. Party president, Gerry Adams has been catapulted to poll position in the popularity stakes in the Republic, making him the party's most valuable and vital asset in the party's expansion there. Such a meteoric rise is not a result of his social and economic policies, his false promises of a united Ireland in 2016, or because the Southern electorate need some Percy Pompous to relieve them of their political tedium. Without the peace process would Adams in spite of his political dexterity be any more relevant than the leader of the Greens in Dublin? And what dynamic would the peace process have if the IRA ceased to exist? The North would have attained post-peace process status. By holding onto the IRA and depicting it as part of a wider problem, Adams holds out the possibility that he more than anyone else has the potential to be the problem solver. In terms of profile building, it is a recipe for major success. A subtle but brilliant use of the IRA, made all the more dazzling by the inability of Dublin to see it.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

11 January 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Subtle But Brilliant Use of the IRA
Anthony McIntyre


The Process of ‘Constitutionalisation’
Breandán Morley


A Victory for Extremism
James Fitzharris


Demilitarise Divis Tower
Kathleen O Halloran


History Repeating Itself

Eamon Sweeney


Say What You Like, the Brits Sure Do Know the Irish
Fr. Sean Mc Manus


Rafah Today: Demolishing Houses
Mohammed Omer


8 January 2004


A Man for All Seasons?
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"A Means to Fight Back"
Marian Price


Tame Bulls in the China Shop
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The Rising of the Moon: the language of power
Liam O Ruairc


Limerick Feud Denial

Óglaigh na hÉireann


Selective Memory
Michael Youlton


A Free Press in Iraq?
Mick Hall


Robert Zoellick and Wise Blood - The Hazel Motes Approach to International Trade
Toni Solo


Christmas Greetings 2003
Annie Higgins


The Close of the Year 2003 - The Belfast SWP
Davy Carlin




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