From yesterday’s Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole gives his reaction to the IRA statement – “The most extraordinary thing about the IRA’s statement last week is that it shows how much joy has been drained out of the peace process”
He argues that the general feeling “of boredom, scepticism and apathy” that met the statement was in part a result of the overtly choreographed presentation –
So why was the moment, when it came, so anti-climactic? Why, beyond the realms of a media world delighted to have a story to fill space in the silly season, was the general feeling such a sour compound of boredom, scepticism and apathy? Some of the reasons are obvious enough. People know news management when they see it, and the staging of this event has been painfully transparent.
The other part in the reaction, he argues, was the lack of intellectual or moral insight –
More profoundly, however, there is a sense of unacknowledged futility. The decision to wind itself up is accompanied by neither intellectual nor moral insight. There is no recognition that, at the very least, the last 20 years of the IRA’s campaign was politically counter-productive, no acceptance that a political settlement based on violent coercion was as unattainable as it would have been unsustainable. There is no remorse, no pity, no shame.
He asks a question that hasn’t been raised elsewhere – namely why was the proposed IRA statement, previously published, in December 2004, in Annex C of the Proposals by the British and Irish Governments for a Comprehensive Agreement [pdf file], not used?
That draft included a very carefully calibrated formulation that had obviously been tested and found to be acceptable to both governments and to the other parties in Northern Ireland. It stated that the IRA would accept the “need not to endanger anyone’s personal rights or safety”.
It was a simple, comprehensive and straightforward phrase and one that must surely be acceptable to any organisation committed to furthering a political goal exclusively through peaceful and democratic means.
And so, a long history of conspiratorial republicanism comes to an end, not with a bang but with a self-regarding whim. There is nothing eloquent, no sense of grandeur, no epic moment of historical, emotional or moral truth.
And in that at least, the IRA’s departure is in keeping with its presence over the last 35 years – a small and sordid rebuke to the vainglorious rhetoric that sustained it.