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.