Ambiguity lives on

[Via Newshound] Noted author [A Secret History of the IRA] and journalist Ed Moloney warned of the dangers of a contrived divorce between Sinn Féin and the IRA back in April. He’s read yesterday’s statement.. and argues that the cautious optimism expressed by both governments disguises “the failure of the governments to achieve its main stated goal: the beginning of the withering away of the IRA.”

I’ll excerpt part of Ed Moloney’s article – but go read the whole thing

Evidence that ambiguity lives on and that this is probably deliberate comes in the apparent fact that there has been no IRA Convention, no attempt by the leadership to refashion republicanism for a new order. No Convention means no changes to the IRA constitution. The IRA’s legally binding commitment to “wage revolutionary armed struggle” when possible thus survives and sits uneasily besides P O’Neill’s new, non-binding public pledge to use only political methods in the future.

The fact that there has been no Convention also means that legally speaking the IRA has not ended its war, no matter what yesterday’s statement said. Only a Convention can end the war with Britain and that has not happened. Ending the armed campaign – notice the statement did not say “armed struggle” – means this move is similar to the ending of the 1956-62 campaign. An important event for sure, even historic but the option of returning to armed struggle survives, as it did in 1962.[emphasis added]

That 1962 comparison was also highlighted recently in a report by the BBC’s Marie Irvine.. and was noted here by Mick

More from Ed Moloney’s article –

But in place of disbandment we now have a development that is bad news for the peace process no matter how it pans out. According to Justice Minister Michael McDowell, the three Sinn Féin members of the Army Council, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris have all quit, leaving the IRA leadership solely in the hands of ‘soldiers’.

Sceptics will be entitled to suspect that this is the beginning of a fraudulent divorce of Sinn Féin from the IRA in which Sinn Féin continues to benefit from the leverage that IRA activity or potential IRA activity brings while being able to deny any responsibility for it. The IRA meanwhile, led by an Army Council that more closely resembles a Mafia Commission these days, will carry on robbing, forging and smuggling – and anyone who thinks they won’t is living in cloud-cuckoo land – while thanks to yesterday’s statement those involved will be able to deny culpability.[emphasis added again]

A point, noted here at the time, which Vincent Browne in the Irish Times on Wednesday agrees with but interprets in a benign way.

Ed Moloney goes on to argue that this was a missed opportunity for the two governments to achieve their previously stated goal –

There was a way to address the disbandment of the IRA which would have been persuasive and effective but, crucially, none of the Provo leadership suggested it nor, as far as is known, did the two governments ask for it.

With the minimum of risk and cost to itself while at the same time signalling its intentions to Unionists and the world in a compelling way, the IRA could have stood down its units in Britain, in North America, in Australia and New Zealand and elsewhere. Thus a disbandment process would have started which could be accelerated if conditions improved or easily reversed if they worsened. At the same time neither the hegemony of the Provos’ within republicanism nor the confidence of their rank and file in their leaders would be threatened.

The fact that not even this most minimal move has been made can only strengthen the conviction that the Adams/McGuinness leadership wishes to keep the IRA intact, albeit now at a distance from themselves, both as a way of injecting instability into Irish politics when it suits and to trade it for greater prizes in the future. The Taoiseach may be correct, that this is the start of the IRA morphing into a commemorative body. But who would bet the mortgage on it? The Unionists certainly won’t.[emphasis added]

And he argues that the reason for that failure of government lies in their misreading of Adams’ position –

The real problem is that they mistake Gerry Adams’ caution for weakness. When he manoeuvres and manipulates the IRA into concessions they see that as an admission of his own vulnerability and that if a wrong, hasty move is made then he could end up in a ditch and the rest of us could be pitched back into conflict.

That was certainly true when the peace process began in the 1980’s and when the IRA ceasefire was called in 1994. There may even have been validity to that view five years ago. But not now. Too many things have changed for that to be credible any longer. The truth is that Gerry Adams and his allies now have, and have had for some time, complete control over the IRA and can take it in whichever direction they wish. And not only does the IRA not want to go back to war, it cannot. If Adams continues to manipulate the IRA it is not because he has to but because it convinces the governments he is weaker than he actually is.

For reasons known only to themselves neither Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair nor any of their advisers can or wish to see that. Until they do, this peace process will drag on forever.

  • middle-class taig

    good grief, the worst begrudgery yet

    sour grapes from the usually much better ed, in my view

    imagine using so many words and still failing to land your punch effectvely – an then getting paid for it (that, in all fairness, is genius)

    troubling, sad and all too predictable

    does that get me another yellow card, or can we assume that this teller of hisories so secret that they are unknown to the participants themselves has skin thicker at least than the diaphanous tissue the recent amicable statement would suggest?

  • raff

    It would be reasonable to assume that the lack of a convention to ‘wind up’ the PIRA campaign would benefit the ‘peace process’ as it will be used by Adams and co. to convince the more militant within the Provisional movement that they are still willing/capable, (if conditions were right)to return to an armed conflict. I believe it’s just another way in which the current Provisional leadership is controlling its followers.

  • peteb


    Well that’s only part of what Ed Moloney is saying.. and he argues that the control is more complete than is being acknowledged.

    But additionally, and more importantly, IMO, is the argument that by not pursuing a recognition of the necessity of ending physical force republicanism for good – and it is still being endorsed as a viable tactic by Adams – despite the previously stated objective of the governments, the repetition of history [see the 1962 reference] remains a distinct possibility – and, in those circumstances, Henry McDonald’s argument that Adams et al are now “hostages to the fortunes of history” is likely to become increasingly relevant.

  • harpo

    ‘good grief, the worst begrudgery yet’


    What he says is 100% true. The (this one? the current one?) armed campaign is over. No indication that the whole armed struggle (aka ‘war’) is over.

    It’s the same as the Nazis saying during WW2 that the North African campaign is over. Did that mean that they had surrendered and gone home for good and the whole war was over? No it didn’t.

    Forgive those of us who have seen subsequent PIRA actions after some statement explained away by people like you who say ‘but the earlier statement didn’t say X or Y, and thus this latest action wasn’t covered by the statement’ for being sceptical.

    Just as in 1994, when unionists were criticised for being begrudgers because they pointed out that the ‘cessation’ at that time was just a ceasefire and not a permanent end to PIRA violence, here we have a statement that you could very well see people like you defending in a few years by saying ‘well they never said that the armed struggle was over forever, they just said the campaign was over’.

    You can get worked up by the hoopla, but the devil is in the exact words used by the PIRA. In 1994 Gerry A and co refused to be pinned down by questions as to what the words actually meant – they just tried to keep it on a ‘there is no violence right now, what are you complaining about?’ level. But the exact words used by the PIRA at a point in time are very important to the PIRA in order to justify future actions after that point in time – usually concerning going back to violence – but at the time all complaints about clarity are dismissed as being begrudgery.

    That happened in 1994 – requests for clarity were dismissed, but the exact words became very important when the cessation was ended, and the PIRA took great pleasure in 1996 in pointing out that a cessation does not mean a permanent end, and thus they were being consistent with what they had specifically said in 1994.

    Here we have it once again. It’s the same old PIRA tactics.

    I wonder what the volunteers are being told at street level? That’s where it counts. In 1994 the volunteers were told it was just a temporary suspension in violence. And so it was. Never mind that the governments and various other parties were trying to sell it as anything but a temporary ceasefire.

  • Fishfiss

    I have to say that while I admire most of Moloney’s work and respect his work – his book was flawed but authoritative in many respects – this article does rather smack of a fellow who may have misplaced his critical faculties just a shade. Mind you, I don’t take issue with his conslusion that this process will drag on for ages – laregly due to the inherent flaws within the GFA itself – if people want clarity, stability and a future then a reckoning with destructive ambiguity and this unhealthy preoccupation with nuance and symbolism at the expense of substance, will have to come. My take is SF is not ready for it and is scared stiff of the implications of it, as well they might be.

    Smoke and mirrors people, smoke amd mirrors.

  • T.Ruth

    Most Unionists would believe Tony Blair before they would believe Gerry Adams. just as a piece of research-Are ther any Unionists out there who would believe anything Tony BLiar told them?
    Moloney is spot on in his analysis and reading of the present situation.