O'Doherty: why no outright denial?

Malachi O Doherty’s Belfast Telegraph column from last Monday gave his view on the heist job. No friend of Sinn Fein’s, he nevertheless employs logic that “If they hadn’t done it, they would have said they hadn’t done it”.

By Malachi O’Doherty

If it was proven tomorrow that the Provisional IRA did not rob the Northern Bank a lot of people would be deeply disappointed.

Among them, of course, would be the many political commentators who relish slapping the Provos about the ears because they don’t think they get have enough of what is good for them.

Among them too would be many Unionists who feel confirmed in their own virtue every time Republicans commit a sin.

But also among them would be many people who support the IRA and vote for Sinn Fein. They love the thought that the Provos did it. The bank robbery strikes them as a perfectly admirable bit of work.

As a crime it was not victimless. Ordinary decent people were brutally abused but no one was killed and the glee with which they contemplate mountains of money stolen so boldly easily glances over the traumas visited on the hostages taken.

Republicans want it to have been the Provos. It proves that they are still a better, tighter, more efficient organisation than their rivals, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA – let alone the Loyalists.

Some might be hoping that the money will filter down to themselves but that is not the greater part of the delight they take in the biggest heist of all time. The IRA has always specialised in spectaculars and this is as spectacular as they come.

They like it too because, in a way, it has shot the Unionist’ fox.
Unionists have been thumping the table demanding verifiable decommissioning as proof of the IRA going out of business. Now it is clear that massive decommissioning, fully verified, would not necessarily mean such a thing at all.

If the Provos robbed the bank, they did it with a couple of pistols which, since they were not fired, might have been the kind that you can see in shop windows in Great Victoria Street.

Republicans like the robbery because they feel that their movement has been humbled by the peace process and that, at a stroke, all humiliation has been reversed.

You and I may speculate that enormous political damage will accrue to the Republican movement. The people who support that movement will not feel damaged at all. They are jumping over themselves backwards.
Most people, inside and outside the Republican movement, now clearly believe that the Provisionals robbed the bank.

When the IRA chose to deny it, it deliberately coined one of those ambiguous phrases it likes, which the rank-and-file recognise as saying something to them very different from what it says to the rest of the world. It was not in fact a denial at all but the dismissal of a suggestion, a refusal to discuss.

If they hadn’t done it, they would have said they hadn’t done it and the same politicians who had been condemning the firebombing of shops in the same week would have had strong words too for those who went into Poleglass and took constituents of Gerry Adams hostage.

When the news broke, some argued that it could not have been the Provos because it was against all their political interests.
Was it conceivable that they were planning this when they were in talks in December? What sense does it make politically?

Had the talks been completed and the DUP excepted decommissioning without a photograph, the robbery would have followed within the agreed decontamination period and scuppered the deal. It would also have made the DUP look pretty stupid.

Or would the Provos have behaved themselves then? Perhaps the robbery was a Canary Wharf type operation, intended to punish the governments for their failure to cement a deal on Republican terms.

Will it damage their vote? I expect it will probably lift it. Charles Kennedy should order a bank robbery too.

Will it hinder their prospects in the South? No, the Unionists will take the blame for failure to agree in the North. Decommissioning will ultimately be enough for Ahern, though it will prove nothing after this.

Anyway, there will be as many people to believe that Sinn Fein had no hand in this – that Adams and McGuinness knew nothing about it – as believe that three Republicans in Colombia were only picking daisies.

And still Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair assert that they are fully committed to talks and to efforts to close the tiny gap between Sinn Fein and the DUP so that devolution can be restored.

Why? Do they like being humiliated like this?

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Amazing how O’Doherty can transport himself into the body of the republican communtiy and tell exactly what people are thinking and why. The man should be on the stage.

  • David Antsinpants

    Amazing how Pat McLarnon can turn everything into a ‘shoot the messenger’ personal insult without ever getting a yellow card.
    Northern Bank money isn’t the only currency getting devalued around here.

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    still awaiting your apology for the completely false post that you entered the other day, but i’ll not hold my breath.

    It is perfectly valid to ask how a journalist like O Doherty can simulate the psyche of a republican activist.

  • David Antsinpants

    No please do hold your breath Pat. And hold it. And keep holding it. Sure aren’t you suffocating under the yoke of oppression anyway?

  • Pat Mc Larnon


  • Mario

    Interisting point of view. Very well written editorial, but I am still puzzled as to why he would think ( assuming he is not one) that Nationalists hope that it was the IRA. Is the implication that he beleives that Nationalists/Republicans still view the IRA as their guys?

  • Ringo

    Will it hinder their prospects in the South? No, the Unionists will take the blame for failure to agree in the North. Decommissioning will ultimately be enough for Ahern, though it will prove nothing after this.

    Decommissioning is seen as a unionist issue – it doesn’t affect the Republic directly. Criminal activity and gangsterism does. If the IRA robbed €30m from the AIB or BOI headquarters there’d be uproar – and you can be sure it would hinder Sinn Fein’s electoral prospects.

  • mickhall


    I do feel that David Antsinpants makes a fair point in regard to your post, what do you feel is untrue about Malachi’s article? Are you saying that people in the republican communities are not thinking along the lines of what he claims. On reading McIntyre’s article in the latest Blanket update shows that even he cannot help feeling a little pride in his old alma mater.

    All the best.

  • Davros

    Mick – politics isn’t about realities, it’s about what dares admit and what ones opponents can insinuate or prove.

  • Pat Mc Larnon


    what fair point do you think the contributor makes. Please read my 2.34pm post, is it not a valid point to query how a journalist with such a hostile history to mainstream republicanism can reflect the psyche of that same republicanism. He tells us what they hope and expect. IMO he is not qualified to do so.
    He more than any other would have less refuge in the anonymity of the source than most.

  • Davros

    Pat, how does hostility prevent one being able to read them ? I have read some excellent assesments of loyalism and the loyalist mindset by republican journalists.

  • Davros

    p.s. am I on the the duty-free smokes ?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Maybe Malachi talks to republicans? Possibly hard to believe, but not impossible!