Words, actions and the future of the IRA…

In January 2003, I sat down and penned what turned out to be a reasonably accurate picture of the twelve months that were to follow. It wasn’t rocket science. All the main parties were committed (publicly at least) to a resolution of the governmental impasse. The choreography wasn’t set, but commitment to dance was. The following year, in the wake of the November elections of 2003, I was asked to repeat the feat, but it eluded me. The Northern Bank robbery put the tin hat on a possible deal before Christmas last year, and all bets were off once again.

On Let’s Talk last month Lembit Opik predicted that we’d have a fully functioning local Assembly and government within two years. It was followed by a sharp intake of breath from some sections of the audience. Maybe he knows something we don’t.

What we do know is that Tony Blair will leave office at some point in this parliament. Probably some point just after the half way mark. He will want this process, to which he has committed so much time and resources, in his personal bag before he goes.

However, at the moment, it is the DUP which holds the ball – not Blair. They have named their conditions. There must be an end to IRA criminality; and that Sinn Fein must back current policing arrangements before they will return to the model agreed by all in the ‘comprehensive agreement’ before Christmas.

It is possible to see a double edge in yesterday’s comments by Nigel Dodds that his party has no interest in anything the IRA might say. And DUP councillor Chris Stalford recently explained why his party would not allow itself to be Trimbled – an internal party byword for taking any promises by the IRA at face value.

We can probably safely assume that the wording of any IRA statement will only have to suit the sensibilities of the volunteer base of the IRA. Their actions, however, will have to suit the needs of their opponents. So does this provide the IRA with room to move? Is there now a new game on?

Members of Sinn Fein I’ve spoken to over the last few months are convinced that something will emerge from the Adams initiative. It has to be substantial, they argue, if things are to move on. We will likely have to wait until the day of the announcement to see the detail. But the thinking inside the party seems to be confident that they can match the DUP’s demands with regard to the IRA.

Can Northern Ireland’s Catholics believe the DUP when they say they now accept powersharing? They’ve been publicly trailing this shift in policy from as far back as January 2004, when they opened their negotiation stance with three options: a voluntary coalition (to include at least one nationalist party); a corporate assembly; or the Belfast Agreement, (with some minor amendments on ministerial accountability) – contingent on the IRA going away. The paper trail (at the very least) should be enough to keep them honest.

On the other hand, will the IRA agree to play ball with the DUP in a way they wouldn’t with David Trimble? Those inclined to trust them, will see their good intentions in the massive scaling down of their military operations and the relative calm that holds in most Nationalist areas. But being a secret organisation not subject to the common law, and with “a reputation for coming up short and offering ‘post dated cheques‘”, few others will want to take them at their word.

Precise predictions are out of the question from here on in. But one thing seems clear, this time out the IRA’s actions (or lack of them) will count for much more than a thousand statements from P O’Neill.

  • Dr Snuggles

    It’s certainly possible to see a way forward leading to the restoration of the Assembly and an inclusive Executive:

    1. The IRA issue a statement on standing down their volunteers, committing to completely peaceful and democratic means, and perhaps a commitment to uphold the rights and safety of others (ie no criminality).

    2. A testing period of around a year (two IMC reports) begins. Partly, perhaps, filled by a shadow assembly.

    3. Full restoration around September 2006.

    The small matter of devolution of policing powers and Sinn Féin’s joining the Policing Board could hopefully be sorted out during that period.

    However there is enormous room for matters to go pear-shaped during the next year. Maverick bank robberies, punishment shootings or beatings, exiling etc may still occur. Will the DUP buy any denial of responsibility from the IRA for such actions? Doubt it.

    Moreover, just today, David Simpson has shifted the goalposts somewhat by disingenously claiming that the CIRA and RIRA “can do nothing without the OK from the Provisional IRA.”

    This appears to leave the door open for the DUP to walk away after any act of violence or crime committed by republican dissidents over the next year.

    If that is DUP policy, the prospects of an inclusive Executive just nosedived.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Good points Dr Snuggles,
    It almost sounds as if David Simpson is requiring the PIRA to engage in punishment beatings and exilings of any dissidents that cause trouble. Some clarity is needed on what is expected of the PIRA and republicans if dissidents cause trouble.

  • fair_deal

    “Some clarity is needed on what is expected of the PIRA and republicans if dissidents cause trouble.”

    Full co-operation with the PSNI to help thwart dissident activities or to lead to successful prosecution perhaps?

  • Comrade Stalin

    “Full co-operation with the PSNI to help thwart dissident activities or to lead to successful prosecution perhaps?”

    Pot, meet kettle etc. When have loyalists ever been successfully prosecuted for a terrorist act as a result of information being passed on by unionist politicians or political figures ?

    There’s a huge shortage of co-operation with the police when it comes to combatting paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, right across the board. Unionists have no business demanding that other people co-operate fully with the police when they will not do so themselves.

  • fair_deal

    Comrade stalin

    1. The clear-up % for loyalist paramilitary crime has been consistently higher than for republican crime.
    2. The PSNI and ARA have been making progress on loyalist racketeering so they are hardly immune.
    3. The question was asked what could be expected and I provided an answer. I did not claim it would prevent all dissident crime. It was a simple statement of what is expected of any public representative in a democracy.
    4. The amount of prosecutable information any public representative can provide will be most likely limited if not very limited. However, their endorsement of law and order structures can hopefully encourage on the ground co-operation. A terrorist is most successful when there is a supportive or frightened community the rejection by all elected representatives of them and their means can hopefully address either.

  • tra g

    “the amount of prosecutable information any public representative can provide will be most likely limited”

    Unless your name is Sammy Wilson

  • Comrade Stalin

    “It was a simple statement of what is expected of any public representative in a democracy.”

    Indeed, it’s a great pity that our politicians are incapable of meeting these basic standards of democracy. In any other country their close links to thuggery and paramilitarism would see them booted out of office. Here, we reward paramilitarism and thuggery and we take lectures about democracy from people who keep company with those dedicated to undermining it.

    “4. The amount of prosecutable information any public representative can provide will be most likely limited if not very limited.”

    It was your suggestion, and now you seem to be saying it isn’t very worthwhile at all. As it happens I disagree; the identities of paramilitaries are as well known in unionist neighbourhoods as they are in republican ones, and unionist politicians as representatives who know their communities know full well who is who. They look the other way because, like republican communities, they know that the support for paramilitarism on the ground is too strong.

    “However, their endorsement of law and order structures can hopefully encourage on the ground co-operation. “

    It’s simply not sufficient to say “I support the police”, although some people seem to think they can get away with just those words. I don’t understand how certain politicians have been able to claim they support the police and yet slavishly skirt around condemning the people hanging around on Drumcree hill chucking fireworks and petrol bombs at them, but yet they do.

  • fair_deal

    The support for law and order structures is to try create a culture of co-operation with them. It does indeed invovle more than ‘I support the police’ it involves individual, collective participation and encouragement of others to co-operate on the ground and using participaition in structures to ensure adequate protection is in place to protect those who co-operate.

    “the identities of paramilitaries are as well known in unionist neighbourhoods as they are in republican ones”

    1. Knowing something and what will be acceptable and credible evidence in court are two different things.
    2. Also considering how quickly and regularly the PSNI are able to pick up paramilitary members I don’t think knowing their identity is the problem.

  • aquifer

    Would the DUP care if SFPIRA were to continue an ETA style campaign of youth Alienation, Anti-social behaviour & Arson to maintain a political dynamic for the Irish separatist position and to deliver areas to nationalist control?

    This and generous provisions for Orange marchers would bolster the DUP electorally, so it looks like we have the basis for an unsettlement that looks enough like a settlement to portray the DUP as political martyrs later, their preferred position.