The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Thing About History

Tom Luby • 2 January 2005

It was Karl Marx who made the observation that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. What, one wonders, would old Karl have made of the obscenity that is now the North of Ireland in this, the 10th year of the ceasefires as the media and the three governments struggle and squirm not to say what everyone suspects and knows within their hearts: which is that the Provisional IRA was behind the pre-Christmas robbery at the Northern Bank in Belfast. Instead a long list of alternative, more politically acceptable suspects has been trotted out for inspection - Loyalists, dissident republicans, criminal gangs and, God help us, "ex-Provos" - anyone and everyone except the sole organisation with the manpower, resources, sophistication, experience, track record, intelligence-gathering capabilities - and motive - to carry out such a robbery.

Karl might say that perhaps they were all keeping quiet for to do otherwise would be to admit that they were all made fools of during the recent talks about a political settlement. For if it does turn out that the Provos did the robbery it means that at the same time as Gerry Adams was leading his talks team into discussions with the British, Irish and American governments, he knew that he and his buddies on the Army Council had approved a job which if there was a deal, would throw Ian Paisley's DUP into turmoil, and if there wasn't, would add a tidy sum to the "Second Home Fund" set up to benefit senior IRA and SF leaders and to advance their political and electoral ambitions. And he would also know that very few in the media would dare openly accuse him or the Provos of any involvement and the governments would wriggle and twist before admitting their boy could deceive them so egregiously. Either way the chances were very good that Mr A would come out top.

Karl might also say to himself, 'Shit, I have been here before!' For the truth is that we are now seeing history repeated in Ireland as both tragedy and farce. Those with long enough memories can cast their minds back just twenty years or so to the days when journalists and politicians with serious, "believe-me-when-I-tell-you" expressions on their faces would assure us that there was no such organisation as the Official IRA, that the Workers Party had no paramilitary wing and that all those stories about OIRA arms dumps in Turf Lodge, drink robberies, building site scams, currency forging, massage parlours and so on were the product of malicious and over-excited imaginations.

It took years and lots of hard investigative journalism to expose that lie, yet that was a relatively easy task compared to the job of uncovering the real truth behind Mr Adams and his friends. Lots of people had motives to cover up for the Officials; both governments regarded an armed opposition to the Provos in places like West Belfast a very useful weapon in the counter insurgency armory but could never admit that it existed, while very few in the media, those who weren't Workers Party members that is, had the balls to challenge the lie. The proof that the lie was both tolerated and encouraged came in the subsidy granted to the Officials and their paramilitary wing by the British in the form of drinking club licences awarded in areas where they had a strong presence, the dishing out of lucratived building contracts to construction companies controlled by them and the generous deployment of a Nelson's eye to investigate allegations of OIRA criminality. In the South, OIRA allies tunnelled into positions of influence in trade unions and semi-state bodies and virtually controlled the news and current affairs agendas of The Irish Times and RTE.

It was an Orwellian period in Irish life when all the major organs of Irish society conspired to propagate a huge deception and punished and marginalised those with the temerity to challenge it. Hideous and obscene as that lie was, it ranks as a child's harmless fib alongside the monstrous dishonesty that is part and parcel of the Adams' enterprise. The motives for turning a blind eye to the Adams' deception are much stronger than those which inspired the OIRA lie for the prize is a veritable pearl without price: the transition of wild revolutionaries to constitutionalists and a real end to physical force Irish Republicanism.

The only people who don't know that - or refuse to see it - are the IRA's own rank and file who rather than admit the appalling vista staring them in the face take refuge in pieces of nonsense and fiction, that Adams has taken the IRA down this road as a 'tactic' for instance or that it will all work out for the best in the end when the Big Lad produces a trick from up his sleeve.

For this ploy to work it is necessary to give it substance which is one of the reasons the IRA has gone to Colombia, raided Castlereagh, smuggled guns from Florida, spied on the NIO, abducted rivals from bars and now, raided the Northern Bank. These help to make the fiction of a subtle strategy credible and gives Adams the space within which to make more concessions or, when convenient, to do the opposite and to argue that the hard men were making life too difficult for him to move. It is also the reason why for so long all three governments tolerated continued activity by the IRA. "Adams needs to bring the hard men with him", breathless civil servants would intone after each incident.

For the same reasons most of the Irish media are witting allies in the telling of the lie for without them to trot out nonsense about Adams being under pressure from his hard men or giving credence to idiotic allegations of securocrat-inspired sabotage or smiling indulgently when Adams denies IRA membership then the lie would be clearly visible for what it is. But the worst offence committed by the bulk of the Irish media during the years of the peace process is simply that it failed to do its job, which is to dig out the truth and challenge those with the power and motives to tell lies, no matter how uncomfortable or unsettling the end result. Instead too many of them have become court jesters in a kingdom of deception.

Evidence that this repetition of Irish history is both tragic and farcical comes in the central involvement of RTE and The Irish Times in the telling of the lie, an involvement which almost exactly mirrors the role these two major media organs played in giving the OIRA deception credibility in the 1970's and 1980's. Disgraceful as that role surely was, it never quite plumbed the depths to which The Irish Times reached last week when it spiked Kevin Myers' article on the Northern Bank robbery, preferring instead to believe an anonymous Republican source, not even P O'Neill, whose denial of involvement - "We are dismissing any suggestion or allegation that we were involved" - must surely rank as the least assertive and most ambiguously worded in the history of crime.

Pressed into a corner those in the media responsible for refusing to challenge the lie would probably justify what they do by saying that they are only covering for Gerry Adams's own lie to his supporters and followers, that if the truth was told he could not survive their anger and the peace process would probably die. Perhaps, but that is not a decision for the media to make. They are observers not players and their job is just to tell the truth as best they can; and as they do their job they can console themselves with the thought that if the peace process cannot survive the truth then it will probably perish anyway.

But the other problem with this line of reasoning is that while it may once have had a basis, it no longer has. Back in 1994 Gerry Adams might well have been in trouble had the IRA rank and file understood where his journey would really take them but not in 2004. The bulk of concessions have been made, the ideological retreats completed and the dissidents have long since left and become marginalised while other malcontents have either departed to get new lives or accommodated themselves to the new order. Adams' control of the IRA is now absolute; the reason for the lie no longer exists.

But the lie lives on, sustained by three governments and a docile media - and therein lies a major problem and a host of questions. The problem is that there is no reason why the lie should not live on indefinitely, for there is no sign that anyone has the will or courage to end it; in fact quite the contrary if The Irish Times' behaviour is anything to go by.

But the questions nonetheless intrude uncomfortably, evidence that lies eventually corrupt those who refuse to challenge them: Will Adams and his Army Council colleagues be allowed to approve robberies and the like even when they have decommissioned and are in government because otherwise their rank and file might conclude they have sold out? Is involvement in crime going to be a permanent but unacknowledged characteristic of government in both parts of Ireland for years to come, even when the Provos join and back the PSNI? Will everyone else be expected to join in the lie to cover for Mr Adams and what happens to those who challenge it? What sort of society will result when corruption and dishonesty like this become the norm? Does peace sometimes come with too high a price tag?

When Bill Clinton's womanizing practices became public knowledge and nearly caused his impeachment the question on every lip was why the President of the United States would risk so much for so little? The answer, of course, was that he behaved in the way he did because he could.

In the same fashion, Mr Adams talks peace from one side of his mouth and approves robberies, spying, trips to Colombia and so on from the other, because he can - he has been given the go-ahead by three governments and most of the Irish media. It has happened repeatedly without fatal results for his enterprise so why shouldn't he push the envelope out a little bit more? He'd be foolish not to. That's why this week the Northern Bank is minus some £22 million and Ireland's politicians and journalists are performing verbal gymnastics to avoid admitting what stares them in the face.

Karl Marx had wise words to say about history. But so did the Spanish-American poet and philosopher, George Santayana, words that the people of Ireland would be wise to heed: "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them".




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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

2 January 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Thing About History
Tom Luby

Do Not Be Afraid to Face the Truth
Mick Hall

Past Time to Deliver an Outcome
Davy Adams

Reclaiming Irish
Dr. John Coulter

Anthony McIntyre

Response to Anti-Semitism
Brian Kelly

23 December 2004

The Spectre of Imprisonment
Marian Price

Bad Santa
Anthony McIntyre

Blunkett's Interment Law Struck Down
Eamonn McCann

Trust Us, It's Not What It Looks Like
Brian Mór

ARN & Street Seen: End of the Year Comments from Davy Carlin
Davy Carlin



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