What is the IRA here for?

Interesting analysis from Chris Thornton in the Irish Independent, in which he argues that the Bank Raid was a tipping point in the relationship between Sinn Fein, the IRA and the two governments. He doesn’t believe it will affect the party’s onward and upward trajectory in the short term, but the raid and the IRA’s criminal activities will remain centre stage in any future negotiations. He notes (via a quotation from Slugger) too that on this occasion, the IRA seems to have been the last actor to realise that all bets were off.He notes a tragic incident in Tyrone the day before the robbery of the Northern Bank:

It’s obscured now by piles of Northern Bank notes, but it happened. A bleak weekend in December produced one of those little glimmers of hope to which people in Northern Ireland cling.

Patrick McGrath, a 75-year-old former postmaster, had been smothered after a break-in at his home in Coalisland, Co Tyrone. His elderly sister had been beaten, the town was scandalised and their MP had something to say about it.

Martin McGuinness, chief negotiator for Sinn Fein and acknowledged IRA leader, said he was “shocked… that individuals in our society are so devoid of feelings that they can find subjecting our senior citizens to this brutality acceptable”. Anyone with information about the murder, he added, should talk to whatever authority he thought appropriate.

Thornton notes that, “in a confirmed republican town like Coalisland it was decoded enough to see that cooperation with the police was okay”.

Towards the end he examines reasons cited in the past of the positive role played by the IRA:

The argument used to be that the IRA was necessary to the peace process. Ronnie Flanagan, the former Chief Constable of the RUC and no friend of the Provos, used to say they provided discipline that the process needed by controlling weapons and people. Now, after a decade, that’s changed.

In spite of P O’Neill’s threatening tone, most republicans agree there will be no return to war. It would cripple Sinn Fein’s growth and, anyway, the peace process was founded on the basis that the war couldn’t be won.

Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein’s former director of publicity, wrote in Daily Ireland that “the reason why a return to armed struggle would be foolhardy is because it would be a return to military stalemate”.

He ends the piece with an awkward question for the Republican movement: “if it is incapable of waging war and incompatible with peace, what is the IRA there for?”