Quentin Peel, writing in today’s FT, argues that despite ‘a good result’, Sinn Fein should not be allowed to forget (subs needed) the parallels between their own campaign of violence and that being waged in Baghdad, London and other places against innocent people.
The IRA move is not just because al-Qaeda has given terrorism a bad name, to put it crudely. That is true, of course. The attacks of September 11 2001 suddenly brought home to ordinary Americans, in particular, that you cannot distinguish between “good” terrorists and “bad” ones. Financial support in the US for Irish republicanism virtually dried up. Ever since, leaders of the IRA and Sinn Féin, their political wing, have been desperate to distance themselves from “global terrorism”.
But their problems go back well before 9/11. They are not just a matter of image. The armed struggle is being abandoned because it has failed in both its fundamental goals: to deliver a united Ireland, regardless of the will of the Protestant majority in northern Ireland; and to protect the Roman Catholic minority in the North from intimidation and discrimination. If anything, IRA terrorism has made matters worse, inviting a brutal backlash from loyalist thugs that has cost many innocent Catholic lives and driving Protestant voters into the extremist arms of the Reverend Ian Paisley and his Democratic Unionist party.
If Irish unification is any nearer today than it was in 1969 it is because of the “Celtic tiger”, the economic boom that has transformed the Irish republic both socially and economically, while the north has stagnated. The European Union has been another factor, since the UK and Ireland joined together in 1973. Higher Roman Catholic than Protestant birth rates are also changing the demographics of the North, where
the anti-unification majority is shrinking. Against such a changing background, IRA terrorism has been utterly counter-productive.
That is what has driven Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin/IRA leaders, to espouse the new realism.