"a ball of smoke"

I hadn’t looked at the Irish Times when I posted my earlier comment today, but I see Vincent Browne, sort of, agrees. From his opinion piece in today’s Irish Times –

The IRA is not going to disband. The IRA is not going to end what is called criminal activity, not for now anyway. The IRA may decommission most of its weapons but it will retain some.

From Vincent Browne’s opinion piece in today’s Irish Times

The IRA is not going to disband. The IRA is not going to end what is called criminal activity, not for now anyway. The IRA may decommission most of its weapons but it will retain some, writes Vincent Browne.

Senior members of Sinn Féin will continue to be involved in the IRA. More than likely there will be some internal rearrangements which will perpetuate the IRA in some other guise, allowing deniability and cover. And for many people, were they to appreciate all that, this would be unacceptable. They would be mistaken.[emphasis added]

To get an idea of where Vincent Browne is coming from you may need to re-read his benign theory of events

Back to today’s article

What matters now is not an IRA statement announcing disbandment or an end to operations or full decommissioning or commitment to solely peaceful methods. There is another test, a far more important test, a test, which, if met, would be truly transformative.


Policing has been the big issue for a decade and remains the big issue. Everything else is a ball of smoke. Decommissioning doesn’t matter – it never did.[emphasis added]

This argument has been put forward before.. and I’m still not convinced by it –

If republicans are tied into policing all other issues fade away. And by being tied in I mean the following: that they give their total support to policing; that they urge their members and supporters and society generally to co-operate with the police force in the prevention and detection of all acts that are against the law (let’s not get tangled up in the semantics of criminality – all action, that is, against the law as the law now is, is what matters); that they agree no other organisations have any authority to enforce anything other than the police force and the courts; that “punishment beatings” be reported to the police along with all information on who were involved; that members, supporters and others are urged to give information to the police on all breaches of the law, ie to “inform”.

This won’t stop criminality, won’t stop all “punishment beatings”, won’t end the IRA as an organisation. But it will or would be transformative for it would mean an acceptance of the democratic institutions of the state, notably the police force, as the sole legitimate institutions, demanding unequivocal allegiance.

Of course there will be fudges and equivocations on this for a while at least – only the appointment of a Sinn Féin minister in charge of security would end the fudges and we would then see a law and order which many of us liberals might not like at all.[emphasis added]

He skips quickly on from what seems an ominous statement, in which I suspect that he’s actually implying that only a really hard-line Minister for Justice can get to grips with this society’s problems.. to blame the political culture

The problem is not so much with the IRA or republicans generally, it is to do with the political culture.

There is a danger that when republicans are found to have engaged in further criminality, the whole process will be discredited because of a failure to appreciate that transformations are not sudden – they take time, lots of time.

The problem with this argument, as well as the further indulgences in the ongoing process it requires, is that Vincent [the liberal?] is putting the cart before the horse – for how can any society accept the word of any organisation claiming to be committed to policing while it continues to operate on the basis of, in Browne’s own words, “some internal rearrangements which will perpetuate the IRA [or any other organisation] in some other guise, allowing deniability and cover” for continued criminal activity? And how can any society then continue to accept that fiction while that organisation takes hold of the post of Minister for Policing and Justice?

As I’ve already said, Vincent Browne’s seeming preference for benign scenarios permeates the article – in contrast, perhaps, to Gerry Gregg’s noting of Browne’s interpretations of other events

But it’s also worth noting that the process he suggest fits, even more closely, the contrived divorce scenario.

In short, expect more ambiguity, and more crises, ahead.

56 thoughts on “"a ball of smoke"”

  1. “The IRA is not going to disband”.

    Anything less is just not good enough for the Loyalist community.

  2. Great – this link is only open and already it has more comments than the just as relevant (if not more so) loyalist post below.
    I wonder if that illustrate where the priorities lie with the posters?

  3. “The IRA is not going to disband”

    I agree with Vincent

    I have already said on Balrog that the statement may be enough for the two governments but not for Unionism.

  4. Some days you have to laugh at the utterances of loyalism – (well most days anyway.

    But ‘Anything less is just not good enough for the Loyalist community’ just about takes the tea cake.

    I don’t know anyone – loyalist, republican, unionist, nationalist dictating what loyalism should do – other than posibly encouraging them to target Catholics as both Ian Paisley Snr did at the start of the current phase of the conflict or Ian Paisley Jnr did last week shortly before the upsurge of loylist sectarian violence in North Antrim.

    The reality is that republicans are doning is something that will change the political context on this island forever.

    Would anyone even claim that loyalists have made a positive contribution that even comes into the same ballpark.

    Yes there has been a conflict. Yes everyone was a part of that conflict. There are victims on all sides. But who took a responsibility for finding a way out of it.

    As for the hundreds of loyalist sectarisn attacks that go under reported on a daily basis – i don’t work for the media they must atone for that themselves.

    Not to mention what loyalism has done to its own community.

    No surprise that the majority of the brightest you from meet from here in places like london are from working class protestant estates. They describe themselves as irish and don’t want to talk about the politics especially over their pint of guinness.

  5. Chris,

    I agree with you and Vincent. As an American, I would add that the statement will probably be enough for all 3 governments.

  6. It’s going to be an interesting time ahead

    Paisley isn’t as cute as he thinks he is. The pressure will be back on Unionism at the end of the week.

  7. Do you think a % will be given as to how much decommissioning has happened or will the general just say “a lot” or something like that?

  8. If the statement is made, this means the deal has already been done and it is good enough for the British and Irish governments.

    It will also probably be good enough for the majority of the northern nationalist and southern electorates.

    After that, it will be full steam ahead on potraying recaltricant unionism as the guys holding up the process and NI’s future.

    Step one, send the state media to ask Ian Paisley’s opinion and lead with it on the BBC 10pm news.

  9. Sorry to disappoint Mr. Gaskin et al, but anyone who seriously thinks that the DUP will be bounced by a load of the same old waffle from Sinn Fein’s military wing are deluding themselves.

    Words are not enough. The Provisional IRA must be totally, utterly and completely put out of business. All guns must be handed in and destroyed in a manner that restores maximum public confidence. Anything less is a slap in the face for the families of those murdered by Sinn Fein and their colleugues over the last thirty-five years.

  10. PS. If the price for devolution at Stormont is Provo murderers keeping their guns, then the price is too high.

  11. “Lets just wait and see”

    A sensible comment 🙂

    Speaking as someone who puts peace and good relations at the top of my priorities, I would welcome as much decommissioning as possible, and the end of the IRA as a physical force organization. If the IRA statement doees this that is a good forward step.

    I don’t really think one should get too much into the game of saying that unionists will be terrified by this and so on. After all this is what unionists want too – an end of the IRA as they knoew and hated it.

    Unionists will have an opportunity to test the IRA statement over a number of months to follow and thereafter enter negotiations on the shape of devolved government.

    Its not THAT exciting. But hopefully it will allow us to move forward to a situation where we actually come to appreciate and respect the good things about the two alternative traditions in Northern Ireland.

    Rather than contantly being negative about each other. As seems to happen at Slugger O’Toole.

  12. If the price for the return of the Assembly is unionists getting off their collective holes and doing something about their loyalist bedfellows then is it a price they are prepared to pay?

    Because generally speaking – some ultra unionist posters especially – need to recognise that momentum, stability, what ever way you want to look at it requires everyone to get up off their lazy good for nothing behinds.

  13. I am not being at all censorous, but given the eagerness with which certain people go to law I would suggest that the 3-46pm comment from The Dog be altered a little.

  14. The Dog

    Unionists cannot be held responsible for the nehaviour of the so-called loyalist paramilitaries. The have no standing whatsoever in the Unionist community and are viewed with as much hatred as the Provos are in the areas in which they operate (see todays Newsletter – DUP MLA Peter Weir telling exiled “loyalists” to stay out of North Down). Quite frankly the Unionist community are getting more than a little pis*ed off waiting for the Provos to move, but the attitude is very, very simple – the bar has been set – anything less will not be acceptable – it would be political suicide for the DUP to go down the same path as Trimble and trust Sinn Fein like he did.

  15. Chris
    The third paragraph is risky, given the people it mentions and how they run to law at the drop of a hat. I deliberately make no comment re. my own view on what is being alleged.

  16. “the majority of the brightest you from meet from [Northern Ireland] in places like London are from working class protestant estates. They describe themselves as Irish and dont want to talk about politics”

    I must say I have not noticed this.

  17. Yep, there’s nothing inaccurate about the Dog’s post at all.

    BTW the attitude of republican posters here to this statement appears rather ‘tactical’ i.e. that’ll stick it up them orangies.

    I find this a tad depressing. In truth also, pressure will only swing back onto Paisley if the statement is credible beyond the republican rubber-stamp community. Considering how often SF has cried wolf before, if they don’t come up with something radical they’ll get laughed out of court.

  18. Fanny

    “BTW the attitude of republican posters here to this statement appears rather ‘tactical’ i.e. that’ll stick it up them orangies.”

    I hope it will put pressue on the DUP not the “orangies” as you so elequantly put it.

    If the statement is good enough for the governments, which I think it will be, then it will put pressure on Paisley

  19. Jacko,

    Point taken.

    Ian Paisley Snr was alleged to have told a crowd of people from the Shankhill that Catholics lived at X,Y and Z. The actions of said crowd and the decsion of Catholics living at said addresses to find alternative accomodation were in no way related and indeed at least one highly esteemed british government report has found Mr Pailsey Snr entirely innocent of any role in the devlopment of a situation that saw the rebirth of the modern IRA after years of irrelevance.

    Ditto for Paisley Jnr. His comments that a parade in Ballymena organised by dissidents would lead to violence is in no way connected to the large number of sectarian attacks on Catholics.

    Strange that he absented himself from the follow-up media after the upsurge in these attacks.

    By the way did you hear the comments of the local PSNI Cheif Inspector – it was tantamount to saying girls in short skirts shouldn’t be surprised when . . . .

    But on the key issue of the thread.

    I hope that what we get from the IRA in words and action is good enough to move us forward.

    But the responsibility of unionism to deal with unionist violence should not depend on anything that anyone else does. It should only depend on their commitment to the people they serve.

    Y’know things like an end to mob rule in East Belfast. An end to sectarian violence and racist attacks.

  20. Nothing will happen until Paisley kicks the bucket, he just has too much power and 17th century thinking. I don’t mean to be nasty but we need this:
    1) Unequivocal IRA statement
    2) Paisley dies of a heart attack

    The shorter the timescale between these events the better. Prods deserve better 😉

  21. Chris

    re. Joint Authority, save your idle threats sunshine! This spectre raises itself now and then in the vain hope of intimidating Unionists into compliance. It won’t work. Frankly I find the condascending attitudes of republicans hard to stomach.

    Sinn Fein members stood around while an innocent man was cut to ribbons by Provo thugs, leaving a a toddler without a father. His family have since been intimidated in their own homes for daring to speak out about their ordeal.

    Provo rioters nearly killed dozens of police officers with blast bombs not two weeks ago, as well as petrol bombing a peaceful Orange parade in Londonderry on the same day. Sinn Fein councillors were present at the scene of both incidents, including the man who would be Deputy First Minister.

    I could go on, but I think these two examples demonstrate just how fundamentally unfit Sinn Fein are for government at this time. Put bluntly, I don’t want a Provo about the place no choreographed words or stunts will change that. Until the IRA disappears, no Unionist will accept Sinn Fein in the government of Northern Ireland.

  22. Certainly if the IRA say they have decommissioned 100% that is something, if they say they have decommissioned x% with x left vague, then its not too hard for unionists to say “we have heard it all before”.

  23. The Dog
    Believe me, you are preaching to the converted.
    It is merely the legal implications for this site and for yourself that concerns me.

  24. “Chris,

    Which paragraph????”

    The one you just clarified Dog

    Relax 😉



    re. Joint Authority, save your idle threats sunshine!”

    LOL, you are certainly rattled but I should inform you that since I haven’t the power to grant JA it isn’t a threat.

    “Frankly I find the condascending attitudes of republicans hard to stomach.”


  25. I would say, though, that the statement may have the potential to get talks between the various political parties in NI going again, in the future, regarding how to implement devolved power. I think an all party approach will be needed, with not too much focus just on the DUP and SF.

  26. Ginfizz,
    but what if the manner of the guns disappearing and the IRA’s new mode is acceptable to the British, Irish and American governments?

    Then the only faces being slapped will be the faces of democratic governments. At least, that is how it will be portrayed.

    You seem to be under the impression that unionism can hold this process up by refusing to return to Stormont.

    Stormont is irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, I’m afraid, and direct rule, with SF as the contact party for the nationalist community, will see drip by drip “concessions”.

    There will be movement in lots of areas and unionists won’t be able to do anything about it. Except maybe resorting to ratcheting up sectarian tension, general strikes and violence. That will help alright and will strengthen the cause.

    The idea that a post-deal direct rule will maintain the union in its present form or help unionists is patently ridiculous.

    If the deal is done to the satisfaction of all, then unionism will be left swinging in the wind and no amount of digging up the bones of past dead will get its neck out of the noose.

    People in the UK or the US don’t care enough about NI to give a damn about photographs or acts of contrition.

    If they are told and see the IRA doesn’t exist anymore as a physical force organisation or more importantly as a threat, then that will be good enough.

    Sure, we might have to wait months, or probably years for this to reach its full conclusion but there is a clear direction and path laid out. Unionism, on the other hand is in a cul de sac.

    I don’t know how it can get out of it but I would recommend it start by preparing its troops on the ground, as the saying goes, for the changes ahead.

  27. Its a bit spinnish, though, to say that Direct Rule by NIO ministers is going to take republican concerns into account moreso than unionist concerns. I doubt this. I don’t even think that Direct Rule is all that sensitive to the view of NI people. Its essentially rather technocratic and geared to initiatives being introduced in GB. Direct Rule brings us Water Charges and Variable Student Fees. (I happen to support the latter policy and don’t have huge problems with the former).

  28. What we do not need when this statement comes, is triumphalism and talk of the hand of history, for taking the gun out of Irish politics is sadly not in the gift of one man or a single organization and to talk this up as if it were, will simply hang a peg up for some bigot to hang their reactionary politics on. Nor do we need motorcades with waving Tricolor flags as if this is some sort of victory, instead of the new beginning it hopefully will be. Nor cynicism coupled with bigotry and union-jacks before the ink on the paper is even dry.

    What is needed is some quite reflection, firstly on those from both communities, whether innocent victims or combatants, who have lost their lives or been maimed over the past thirty odd years; and then hopefully a determination will emerge that todays youngsters will not have to go through something similar.

    The ceasefire has been on for many years and the Assembly suspended for a few, thus if the PIRA is finally stood down, there is no need to rush to make a judgement, no need for deadlines and Prime Ministers and politicians burning the midnight oil. We all, including the aforementioned politicians have had far to long to understand what is at stake. If all side’s behave in a truthful and honorable way, then all is possible. No more cute hoors please.

    To paraphrase, combine and add to quotes from Churchill and Sands is some what unusual, but never the less, Ireland/NI can become a place of bright sunny uplands, where the laughter of children is our revenge and hopefully an ever distant reminder of the barbarism we humans are all capable of.

    As John Lennon once sang, Give Peace a Chance

  29. Mickhall


    Have you not looked at belfast and the loyalists. The british army will have to go too.

    What use is peace without freedom?

  30. I see some posters are moving the goal posts again!

    The SF/IRA statement when viewed to the public will be a statement of surrender. (simple as that) They are no more likely to state that the “WAR IS OVER” than to state they have “LOST THE WAR.”

    Lets face the facts, the British community of Northern Ireland had everything thrown at them by Irish terrorists including a very slick propaganda campaign, (which is still being used to this day.) For thirty five years they withstood the unslaught of the Worlds most organised International terror group SF/IRA.
    This small community still say no surrender and have become stronger as a community by doing so.

    The facts are the terrorists tried, the terrorists failed, I know this is simplistic to some but nevertheless it is also true.

    Who in the right mind is going to trust SF/IRA other than the indoctrinated?

  31. I very much agree with MICK HALL.

    This thread has already seen people trying to cast the IRA statement as a victoy for repubolicanism and the demise of unionism, and no doubt unionism can cast it as winning the argument on decommissioning, etc.

    As Mick Hall puts it – far more eloquently than a unionist could – lets hope it is not seen as narrow “victory” or “defeat”, but instead as leading on to greater trust and harmony between the people.

    Thanks Mick for that, which cheered me up.

  32. Just got back from running an errand and noticed Mickhall’s post.

    What a thoughtful, measured piece. Such are alas in short supply but give one hope.

  33. The usual twaddle about “only complete decommissioning will be acceptable”. Given that nobody with any sense trusts the IRA, how can anyone say for sure that complete decommissioning takes place ?

    If the IRA says that it has decommissioned, then disband, who will people call on to ensure that decommissioning is completed ?

    Why don’t people just admit that they will never do a deal with Sinn Fein. Then we can get on with working out Plan B.

  34. Comerade Stalin I think thats why the DUP have this idea of a monitoring period when the Assembly is in shadow form and a few IMC reports can be studied before the exec is set up.

  35. Ginfizz writes :

    “Unionists cannot be held responsible for the nehaviour of the so-called loyalist paramilitaries.”

    Yes they can. Unionists tolerate paramilitarism on with ambivalent and muted criticism (“stay out of North Down” is hardly the kind of language unionists use when dealing with the IRA) which fails to get to the heart of the matter. It was left to Naomi Long to meet the police and ask them to do something about the loyalists in Garnerville – apparently none of the unionists could be bothered.

    Right now, there are UDA slogans painted right along the lower Newtownards Road. If these people are scum and no-one supports them, why won’t Peter Robinson call for their removal ? IRA graffiti would not be tolerated in any part of the Newtownards Road, so why is loyalist graffiti tolerated ?

  36. Comrade Stalin asked:

    “If the IRA says that it has decommissioned, then disband, who will people call on to ensure that decommissioning is completed ?”

    Er, General de Chastelain?

  37. If SF/IRA are as good at news management as they think they should get a statement out tonight, if only to submerge the news from Bratislava. As someone on the Rangers website has just posted…”Martin O’Neil, Rod Stewart, Jim Kerr, Billy Connolly YOUR BHOYS HAVE TOOK A HELLAVA BEATIN !!!!!!!!!”

  38. Dave,

    … the British community of Northern Ireland had everything thrown at them by Irish terrorists including a very slick propaganda campaign, (which is still being used to this day.) For thirty five years they withstood the unslaught of … [snip]

    And it ain’t over yet. Not by a long straw. No IRA statement is going to stop the real war, which, as you have correctly noted, is not necessarily military.

    This small community still say no surrender and have become stronger as a community by doing so.

    Umm … maybe a quick look at at the unionist vote since 1969 might correct your little misconception! Unionism is shrinking, and long-term, as the IRA (and most thinking people) know, it will lose its majority. Hence the military war is no longer necessary. Trust in rust, as we cynically say … unionist dominance is rusting away, slowly, but inexorably.

    I know this reality is unpopular with unionists (maybe it stinks of nationalist triumphalism?). But I really find it hard, nay impossible, to care. You had your chances, over a long period, and you blew them. Your time is up.

  39. So presumably SFPIRA have ‘come up to the mark’ as far as the governments are concerned, and I would not see either of them being choosy about where that mark was set, or in any hurry to usher the DUP back into government. So expect a portrayal of the Unionists as the blockage to last through the ROI and maybe assembly elections.

    Unless SFPIRA really are interested in moving things on and will take things further?

    Policing is the litmus test, as Vincent states, but given a container of heavy eastern bloc metal, would Unionists notice?

  40. Denny Boy, the unionists don’t trust De Chaistelain. They need photographs, remember ? His word carries no credibility with them.

    aquifier, after the events of this week in East Belfast it’s pretty clear that unionists don’t support the police either.

  41. “Denny Boy, the unionists don’t trust De Chaistelain. They need photographs, remember ? His word carries no credibility with them.”

    Yes, this is so amusing, Comrade Stalin. A general from a well-respected country of 32,000,000 people not being trusted by a bunch of provincials numbering, what, fewer than a million?

    This is one of the tragedies of NI, that utter lack of objectivity. Ulster politicians imagine that they’re in some way of international importance, for no other reason than that GENUINE world statesmen receive them from time to time.

    When are they going to realize that said statesmen regard Northern Ireland as the Sick Man of Europe, and are continually looking for some means by which those squabbling provincials can be made to see some sense?

    Or did you imagine that GW Bush sees Paisley or Adams as his equals?

  42. Comrade Stalin asked:

    “If the IRA says that it has decommissioned, then disband, who will people call on to ensure that decommissioning is completed ?”

    Er, General de Chastelain?

  43. Comrade Stalin

    “after the events of this week in East Belfast it’s pretty clear that unionists don’t support the police either.”

    Generalising from a couple of drug and gangster infested enclaves to the general unionist population is a leap too far. Policing is best done by consensus, and the consensus is that the LVF are, well they are what they are, and few would want them as neighbours.

    I would rather have it out in the open that the police have difficulties dealing with paramilitary threat than have it hidden but understood by all.

    It also makes it apparent to the garden centre prod the state they live in.

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