Different folks will no doubt pay their money and take their political choice as to whom they choose to believe on this crisis: Hugh Orde’s suspicions; or the IRA’s P O’Neill statement. It would be bad grace at the very least not to put some store by it, since many of Sinn Fein’s detractors have pointed volubly to its previous absence as a sign of that organisation’s guilt. So who was it? Or more specifically perhaps, cui bono?Sinn Fein’s own favoured theory sees it as the work of British securocrats. Specifically unionist-friendly elements in the NIO, who don’t want to see Sinn Fein take executive power again.
Another idea floated early by republican sources was that this was the work of Loyalists, one that has as yet had little further corroboration. But it may be worth further scrutiny?
Is a freelance criminal operation at the bottom of it all? The kind of cross community operation the Community Relations Council would not welcome. One story from Neil MacKay might hint at something in that direction.
So who else could it have been? Dissident Republicans? A small (or rather not so small) splinter group from the Provisonals, in dispute with the leadership over decommissioning? There were rumours before Christmas of a split in the ranks – could it simply have been about photographs – or something more serious?
Could it have been the British secret services? It’s hard to see what the British get from stalling a process that’s taken nearly eight years to move from ceasefire to the brink of an inclusive deal, but few doubt they have been players in the past.
What about the Republic’s government services? Is this some kind of a double act between Garda Special Branch and military intelligence? Certainly some commentators seem to believe that the Republic is where Sinn Fein’s political credibility has sustained the most damage.
Despite the obvious risk to Hugh Orde in making such a public accusation, it is dangerous to accept the first line of argument simply because it comes from a government source. In fact, could it have been the PSNI or elements within the PSNI anxious to tip the propaganda war away from Sinn Fein’s abstentionist stance on law and order?
Is it possible that the statement is simply a smokescreen arranged between the party and the IRA’s Army Council – to allow for a wider ranging agenda when the leadership gets to meet Ahern next week? Once serious ambiguity over the actual truth is re-introduced, is the party simply hoping to resume where it laid off on December 22, 2004?
It may be none of the above. But, in absence of any public evidence, who, or which organisation, in your opinion could possibly have carried out and benefited from this robbery?
Adds: The Edge Question for 2005: “WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?” – Great minds can sometimes guess the truth before they have either the evidence or arguments for it (Diderot called it having the “esprit de divination”). What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty