Irish Government Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, writing in the Irish Times refutes the claim that party-political considerations are behind the Irish Government’s criticism of Sinn Féin – “This assertion is both wrong and self-serving. Sinn Féin is being challenged because the licence granted its leadership to manage a transition over a period of time from paramilitarism to peace and democracy has expired.” – perhaps the most direct acknowledgement to date that the Irish, and by implication the British, Governments have been turning a blind eye to continued paramilitary activity.
Dermot Ahern begins by setting out what the proimise was, back in 1998 –
The Belfast Agreement of 1998 envisaged a human rights-based democracy of equals in Northern Ireland. We will not relent in our efforts to achieve the full potential of the agreement, including the restoration of an inclusive government on a stable and durable basis.
The fundamental obstacle to the full realisation of the agreement is the tyranny of fear. One of the clearest examples is the fear that surrounds all those involved in the McCartney case, particularly those who fear for their safety if they help the police to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime and its subsequent cover-up. That kind of fear is generated by a culture of paramilitarism and its related intimidation and punishment attacks.[emphasis added]
He, like Denis Bradley, takes issue with the resorting to the blame game –
It is now simply not acceptable to deflect attention from the huge issues raised by the murder of Robert McCartney and the Northern Bank raid by resorting to a narrative of political victimhood, or by seeking to explain them away through the comfortable dichotomies of British versus Irish, unionist versus nationalist.
That form of politics, like paramilitarism itself, feeds off and deepens community division and generates fear and suspicion.
The present situation demands a move beyond that form of politics. It demands a shift in focus from ongoing process to definitive peace.
This will require concrete action to end the culture of paramilitarism and the concomitant absence of justice.[emphasis added]
His suggestion of a way forward has been made before.. ‘if only SF would sign up to policing… everything else would fall into place’ – personally I’m not as convinced as Dermot Ahern appears to be… despite the caveats he adds to the suggestion –
I think it lies primarily in the one area of the agreement that the Provisional movement has been most reluctant to engage on – policing
Sinn Féin’s spokesmen have spoken about the implementation of the Patten report on policing being “mangled”. I have heard the sound bites and the generalities. Yet I have yet to see a cogent and detailed analysis of this from Sinn Féin.
The challenge now for Sinn Féin is to convince us that they want decent policing in Northern Ireland and that they are in a position to make a contribution towards it. A decision to support policing means offering positive encouragement to young nationalists to join the police or the part-time reserve. It means contributing constructively to the work of the Policing Board and the district policing partnerships and an end to all subtle forms of discouragement and intimidation that are still inhibiting ordinary people from dealing with the police.
It is not possible to half-support an institution like the police. That has been made abundantly clear in the McCartney case. Any half-hearted endorsement of policing by Sinn Féin would be a retrograde step. The Patten project is too important to be jeopardised by tactical moves. Above all, Sinn Féin needs to convince those whom they will be working with on policing that they are committed to the rule of law. And that means a convincing end to paramilitarism and crime.
Policing remains a crucial key to unlocking the problems that have plagued us, as is the restoration of an inclusive Executive. A decision by Sinn Féin to support and work the new policing arrangements would be a welcome step forward if its precise words are matched with concrete deeds. It can only be truly convincing if it happens in the context of ending paramilitary activity and crime.[emphasis added]
I do not underestimate the challenge that represents for all concerned, but its achievement would be a further qualitative and defining move towards the new beginning to which we are all committed.
The problem for the Irish Government, and for the rest of us, is that the Governments have not stated clearly what those “concrete deeds” must be. They seem content to hint and cajole and hope that the ‘right’ decision will be made.. and followed through on.
But if the “concrete deeds” turn out to be a public ‘divorce’ from the IRA, as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has suggested, then the “tyranny of fear” will remain. Or as Ed Moloney succintly put it, and it’s worth repeating in the context of Dermot Ahern’s article –
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.