“The Provos are in Egypt”

Where? “In The Nile. De-Ni-Al.” That’s Gerry Moriarty’s summation of “the Ulster Unionist” position. As he says, The old ones are the worst all right. An interesting piece, though, from the Irish Times, in which he argues “The big and real political danger now is that while time has healed other crises in the peace process, it won’t heal this one”And he’s probably right. Given, as he points out –

Republicans, and that includes Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, have a big credibility problem with everyone else in the process, particularly in light of the Taoiseach’s claim that the Sinn Féin leadership had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank job.

If the IRA decommissioned skip-loads of guns and Semtex outside Ian Paisley’s door in front of BBC, UTV and RTÉ cameras and vowed on a stack of Free Presbyterian issue Bibles that it would end all activity, it wouldn’t cut the mustard now.

And it would be difficult to argue with his summation of opinion beyond the one party that believes ‘P O’Neill’.

Listen to a summarised cross-section of opinion beyond the republican heartlands. “The Provos just don’t get it,” said the Dublin insider. “How can we move forward when the parties don’t believe a word they say?” from a despairing London counterpart. “They blew it,” said the DUP man. “The Provos are in Egypt,” said the Ulster Unionist.Where? “In The Nile. De-Ni-Al.”

There’s a favourable review of Bertie’s performance in the Dail –

The old ones are the worst all right, but that certainly has been the defensive strategy of Sinn Féin all this week as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the entire republican movement were assailed from all quarters, and most effectively from the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, in the Dáil on Wednesday.

It was high-value theatre: Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, at his loftiest and most episcopal, declaiming republican innocence and hurt from the eminence of the Sinn Féin benches. But he was no match for the Taoiseach, at ground level, who opted for Joxer Daly-type Dublin tones to rout his opponent.

It wounded, but still Sinn Féin would not be forced from the headquarters script: deny, deny, deny.

But he argues that the financial sanctions, which the IMC are widely expected to impose, will not provide any impetus for movement

So, it’s a question of who you believe and right now it’s debatable whether even ordinary republicans credit the protestations of Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness. Venture beyond the gilded republican circle and observe the sly smirk followed by, “Of course it was the IRA, and more luck to them.” Be sure, too, that the Independent Monitoring Commission believes Hugh Orde above P. O’Neill and will say so shortly by imposing financial penalties on Sinn Féin.

That will make a minor point and give republicans another excuse to play the victimhood card, but it’s an inconsequential sub-plot. The big issue is whether there is any medium-term way out of this shambles. The more atavistic commentators and observers demand a perpetual exclusion of Sinn Féin from the process. The governments and the pragmatists in the parties, including in the DUP, know that that’s a cul-de-sac, but again, such is the credibility issue for republicans that it’s difficult to see a way out of this dead end.

He certainly doesn’t appear to be among those who actually believe ‘P O’Neill’, and suggests two possible reasons for the Northern raid, one “malign” and the other “benign”

So, why did the IRA do it? Here are two scenarios to consider. The first, and most malign, is from a senior nationalist who is now convinced that the provisional republican movement effectively has abandoned the Belfast Agreement.

In brief he argued that Sinn Féin and the IRA reckons it’s pointless “wasting time in trying to do a deal with the DUP” when with its electoral power bases in the North and South, it should be aiming for bigger gains, particularly when there is now a real chance of achieving the balance of power in the Republic. Therefore, bypass the agreement and strive to leapfrog to joint authority to enhance the chances of a united Ireland by 2016.

The second scenario is that the IRA gave the go-ahead for the robbery only after the collapse of the talks in December. Republicans believed that unionists, especially with Ian Paisley talking of humiliating the IRA and Sinn Féin, had spurned a good deal and needed to be taught a salutary lesson short of a return to war. Sure, where was the political danger; wouldn’t the robbery be yesterday’s news in a week or two?

Which is rather like the old joke of King Billy meeting a dejected King James after the Battle of the Boyne. “Don’t worry about it, Jimmy,” he says, “this’ll all be forgotten about in a week.”

It’s no surprise to see that his reading is that the “more benign” scenario is preferred by the two governments, despite the “monumental mess” that they now face –

So far the governments are leaning towards this second, slightly more benign explanation of events. But if that was the gambit it’s fair to say republicans miscalculated hugely.

Ian Paisley would indeed enter into a government with Sinn Féin if the IRA visibly disarmed and ended paramilitarism and criminality but, to quote the DUP source, only after 12 to 18 months of first testing any commitments from the IRA and Sinn Féin. How can that work? It’s a monumental mess.

Republicans have raised the bar so high for themselves that it just might be insurmountable the next time there is a serious attempt to find a deal – in the autumn? In 2006? 2007?

And a bleak assessment for the foreseeable future, with no apparent solutions, beyond waiting and ‘talking tough’… with fingers crossed.

Right now, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair don’t have any solutions. That’s why they asked Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to go away and reflect and to come back when they had something constructive to offer. Seems fair enough: republicans engineered the crisis, and only they can get us out of it.