The excellent Newshound has this article by Ed Moloney from Ireland on Sunday. Whether the movement he notes is a ‘momentous step’, or a sideways shuffle, is a matter of interpretation. But his conclusions, and recommendations, are worth noting.
Those final paragrpahs indicate that he clearly believes that any talk of an IRA split is only talk. And, more importantly, he notes that it was the public pressure, in support of the McCartney family, that forced the IRA to take the (limited) action they have taken –
The IRA action [expelling three members] also settles another issue, that of growing speculation about a split between IRA hardliners and the Sinn FÃ©in pragmatists on the Army Council. This is a decision that will benefit Sinn FÃ©in, not least by removing any threat of electoral damage, but if there really was a split and the hardliners were in the ascendancy, as some observers have claimed, it never would have happened. Had they been in charge the IRA hardliners would have insisted on standing with their men and hunkering down for the storm. If anything the decision demonstrates that it is the Sinn FÃ©in element of the IRA leadership which is calling the shots.[my emphasis]
Having said that the IRA and its political spokesmen had to be dragged, almost kicking and screaming to this decision and had it not been for the persistence and courage of Robert McCartney’s sisters it is likely this would never have happened.
This carries an important message about the way this IRA and Sinn FÃ©in leadership behaves and it has lessons for the wider problems caused to the peace process by the Northern Bank robbery. Without intense and unrelenting pressure that leadership will resist making any move at all in the hope that it if it sits long enough something will happen to improve fortunes. But if the pressure is applied strongly and resolutely enough that leadership will move. [emphasis mine]
As the Irish and British governments look forward to new peace talks and the hope that they can persuade the IRA to disband, decommission fully and abandon criminality it is a lesson they would be foolish to overlook.