A thawing consciousness

In an interesting, and pertinent, article in today’s Irish Times John Waters marks what he describes as “a thaw in the consciousness of this society, dulled and wearied by 25 years of slaughter”. “The eaves are now dripping”, he argues, and charts his own thawing consciousness as part of that process. If accepted, his analysis is likely to have an impact on the decision that the Irish Government still faces.Those concluding paragraphs read –

Many of us who offered succour to the Provos, in whatever degree, believed not so much that the actions of the IRA were legitimate but that, since this was how many Northern nationalists saw it, we, not being in their shoes, could not rush to condemnation. We wished and prayed it would stop, but could not go further without distancing ourselves from our own history and leaving Northern nationalists isolated and more desperate than before. This resulted in what Eoghan Harris called “the leaky national consensus” in which support for the Provos waned after an atrocity and grew again as the memory receded.

But the leak has been effectively welded by a succession of events with no justification in the context of the alleged “war”: the Belfast bank heist, the Colombia Three, the McCabe affair and, by no means least, the episode in which the wife of a Sinn Féin TD participated in a public brawl in which gardaí were assaulted and threatened with the consequences, by virtue of this woman’s connections, of applying the law her husband has pledged to defend.

I have touched before on what I called “talking the Provos down from the ledge”, by which I meant the need to convince the extremists that they would not lack support if they laid down their guns. If the killing could be stopped by bringing “our” side in from the cold, then surely it was better that we offer them solidarity if they stepped back from the brink and handed over their hostages?

But as time goes on, I agree more with those who told us that the Provisionals were incorrigible thugs who sought one thing only: power at the point of a gun. Michael McDowell now describes the Provos as “classical Marxists”, but this may be to mistake the mask for the face. He may have been closer to the truth when he called them thugs. The IRA “struggle” bears the classic hallmarks of terrorist psychology: a deep sense of grievance which translates into a desire to hurt and keep on hurting, not just those who have wronged you but even those who, by living ordinary lives, seem to suggest that your grievance does not matter.

For all their alleged political sophistication, the Provos have not shaken off this founding neurosis. It becomes clearer that they were never Marxists, never republicans, and, as we observed in their attitude to Articles 2 and 3, never nationalists in any sense connected to concepts of unity understood in this Republic. They never had any concept as to how Ireland might be reunified, and probably no such ambition other than as a rhetorical instrument.

You might say that they were purely a “Brits Out” movement, except that they have clearly been willing to accept a settlement without getting the Brits, as it were, out. Always, they have been willing to concede anything except their own grievance, their “right” to avenge it, and the overall meaning this holds for them.[my emphasis]