Reality Check for Governments

Courtesy of Ed Moloney in the Irish Times, helpfully transcribed by Newshound. He highlights a suggestion from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in a recent interview that a potential way to continue ‘The Process’ would be for Sinn Féin to “divorce” the IRA. Moloney is not impressed – “ would be the rest of Ireland that would get screwed.”

First the suggestion itself, by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern –

“If the IRA decides they want to stay with the old ways,” he told Noel Thompson, “nobody is going to be able to convince them [ otherwise], but I think then the leadership of Sinn Féin are going to have a very clear decision themselves to make. Are they going to stay with that way, that way of the past and that way of paramilitarism, criminality, holding on to guns, or are they going to move forward on the political democratic project?”

In other words if Gerry Adams and his allies in the leadership can’t persuade the IRA to go out of business then the IRA and Sinn Féin should decouple and go their separate ways.

Moloney is scathing in his description of how that suggestion would probably have been received by Adams et al –

One can only speculate about the reaction of Mr Adams and his colleagues to the Taoiseach’s words, but something along the lines of a whoop of triumph accompanied by a fist punching the air would have been in order.

There is compelling evidence that the Provisional leadership has long cast wistful glances at the divorce option, for it would bestow upon them the privilege of the harlot down the ages, to paraphrase Stanley Baldwin, that is the enjoyment of power without responsibility.

Except in this case it would be the rest of Ireland that would get screwed.[emphasis added]

And he points out that it isn’t the first time such a suggestion has been made, except previously it was made by Adams –

This is not the first time the idea of a Sinn Féin-IRA divorce has been floated. Gerry Adams suggested it back in the 1990-91 period, before the ceasefires. He was frustrated at IRA operations that killed civilians and saw divorce as a way of being able to criticise the IRA in public. His suggestion had a twist. Sinn Féin activists who sat on the IRA’s Army Council should be allowed to stay on, albeit secretly.

The divorce would have been a sham, and it was too much for others in the IRA leadership, as one source privy to the episode told me: “It was rejected out of hand so strongly that it was never heard of again.”

And the reality check I mentioned? In the final paragraphs –

So attractive and profitable is the divorce scenario that the Sinn Féin leadership might be well advised not even to bother trying to disband the IRA but to go straight to it. And if they did who is to say that the same lie attempted in 1990-91 might not prevail this time?

Or put another way: does anyone seriously think that the control freaks of Sinn Féin would really let the IRA go its own way? The underlying issue is about power and strength. Do Gerry Adams and his allies in the Provisional leadership have the power and strength to set the IRA on the path to disbandment? Implicit in Bertie Ahern’s BBC interview is the belief that they don’t or mightn’t.

But the Taoiseach must face this conundrum. If Gerry Adams was not strong enough in 1990-91 to contrive a divorce on his own terms but can pull it off in 2005, what does that say about who now exercises most power in the Provisional leadership? And if his influence is strong enough to do that why not go the whole hog and start standing the IRA down?[emphasis added]

Why not indeed.

  • Davros

    I thought he made the “cake and eating it” point very well pete.

  • Levitas

    Who is better informed the Taoiseach with all his access to inteligence and security sources…(an argument deployed ad nasueam by anti-republicans when he pointed the finger at the RA after the Northern bank heist) or Ed Moloney?
    When the anti-republican posters hear Bertie saying something they like -he is the fount of all knowledge (access to British security briefings etc etc)…but when he says something that the anti-republicans do not like the sound of even countenancing the possibility of, namely the possibility that the RA and SF may be about to “divorce”, then all of a sudden he is deemed to be naive and ill-informed.
    You can not have it both ways…er but anti-republicans do because all they are interested in is having your own interpretation of the nature of the relationship between SF and the RA confirmed, and nothing will shift this, because it is central to their view of the issues.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Don’t Moloney and the govt share the same view of that relationship?

  • GavBelfast

    No, we want rid of private armies! All of them.

    And their fellow-travellers will have no one to negotiate with unless they go away.

    That is what is has come down to.

    I thought Bertie was just being Bertie.

  • Henry94

    Gerry Adams suggested it back in the 1990-91 period, before the ceasefires. He was frustrated at IRA operations that killed civilians and saw divorce as a way of being able to criticise the IRA in public. His suggestion had a twist. Sinn Féin activists who sat on the IRA’s Army Council should be allowed to stay on, albeit secretly.

    Secretly? As opposed to what? Isn’t membership of the Army Council always supposed to be a secret?

  • heck

    I know this might seem a stupid question but, leaving Northern Ireland aside, is there a principle involved in objecting to private armies. (I am not sure myself so I can’t argue strongly with any position). When the US gained its independence from Britain–(through terrorism?) the original drafters of the US constitution felt strongly that the power of the state should be balanced by other sources of military power. They felt strongly enough that they framed the second amendment “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. Of coarse the power elite in any nation state would condemn private armies, however even if they presented the argument in moral terms I would always believe they were motivated by self interest.

    I have heard the argument that the nation state should have a monopoly on the use of violence but this argument is unsatisfying. I could argue with examples from Nor Iron but I would like to hear arguments that were more general.

    Have any of you political gurus out there wrestled with this issue? Or am I the only one?

  • Alan McDonald


    My rusty recollection of history tells me that standing armies were not the norm in the 18th century. My interptretation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is that, in the absence of a standing mercenary army, a citizens’ army or militia should be encouraged by promoting weapons possession and usage. Again, my recollection of American history says that every time a “militia” arose against the Federal government it was put down by the Army of the Republic.

    Maybe someone else can add their knowledge of citizen armies in Switzerland and Israel.

  • peteb


    I can only recommend the recent words of the noted biographer Joseph J. Ellis, ostensibly on a biography of Thomas Paine, although arguably the words relate to all historical political analogies –