not too little.. but much too late

The Irish Times carries Ed Moloney’s view of the final act of decommissioning by the Provisional Movement[subs req], as announced yesterday by John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general, who, when first appointed, “had so many strikes against him from an Irish nationalist viewpoint that Dublin and the Provos recruited Bill Clinton’s assistance in trying to get him replaced.”

As Ed Moloney reminds us, all has changed –

Ten years on the Provos and the Irish Government have nothing but praise for de Chastelain and those early doubts about his impartiality, when recalled nowadays, are met with uncomprehending glares. Instead it is the unionists who rage on about the former Canadian soldier.

He argues that de Chastelain’s acceptance of the Provisional Movement’s demand for secrecy is, partly, behind the change in approval –

The conventional explanation for this is that the way IRA decommissioning was conceived, the fact that it would be voluntary, carried out by the IRA itself, although verified independently and covered in a blanket of silence, was done specifically to avoid any impression that the IRA had been defeated and humiliated.

but that this is only part of the story –

The rest of the explanation lies in the fact that the secrecy allowed the IRA leadership to claim to its rank-and-file that decommissioning either hadn’t happened or was of less significance than was being claimed.

It was the perfect example of constructive ambiguity in practice, of the grease being applied to the wheels of the peace process.

This application of constructive ambiguity benefited some, but not others –

And in the process the IRA leadership slowly got its membership used to the idea that weapons could be decommissioned without the sky falling in.

In fact they were able to demonstrate that disarming actually brought gains and for that they were indebted to the unionist community whose already ingrained scepticism about the IRA’s bona fides was enhanced and inflated by the secrecy surrounding the process.

All this took its toll on David Trimble’s ability to captain the unionist ship through the choppy peace process waters.

His response – the only possible response his friends say – was to place obstacles in the way of Sinn Féin joining the power-sharing government until the IRA delivered and so the Belfast Agreement lurched from one crisis or suspension to another.

Eventually Trimble’s ship was scuppered; Ian Paisley is the new skipper and the prospects that the Belfast Agreement will ever be revived must be dimmer.

But the decommissioning itself is devalued as a result –

The secrecy surrounding decommissioning which Gen de Chastelain sanctioned may have been meant to make the ordeal of disarming easier for Sinn Féin and the IRA to bear but it had consequences which one doubts the general could ever have foreseen or intended.

No-one can seriously doubt that massive IRA decommissioning has taken place and that Gen de Chastelain and his witnesses were telling the truth yesterday, albeit a sadly incomplete truth, about what they saw.

Where the doubt exists now is over the worth of the exercise. The IRA’s weapons proved to be immensely valuable chips in Sinn Féin’s hands throughout the vexed years of negotiations and if they have now been finally surrendered it can only be because they have outlived their worth in the eyes of the Provo leadership and been replaced by other, more potent tokens such as the IRA itself, the persistent curse of criminality and the prospect of the Provos in the police force.

What Gen de Chastelain delivered yesterday was definitely not too little but it was almost certainly too late.

  • Shay Begorrah

    More west brit whining from the now utterly worthless Irish Times. Obviously it has not been Gageby’s paper for a while but now we can even look fondly back on the days of Conor Brady’s editorship.

    An ex PD TD as editor? Genius.

    Anyway, the Unionist echo chamber of the southern media establishment will now begin its camapaign in earnesy to say that even though we cried for decomissioning for years it is now useless.

    Genuinely pathethic but also quite sad and and looking at the rampant obstructionism it is not too hard to see how the troubles started.

  • smcgiff

    ‘Irish Times…the Unionist echo chamber’

    I thought that was the Independent! You’re not getting paranoid, by any chance?

    Although, I’ve always said, THE Paper was your only man! 🙂

  • aquifer

    And I thought that this was simple.

    SFPIRA promised Trimble to decommission in a manner that would inspire confidence etc, and then failed to deliver, or rather show what they had delivered.

    Trimble fries.

    Prods back Paisley as no-negotiator.

    Isn’t Irish self-determination, as brought to us by the selfish lonely ones, great.

  • Ringo

    Although, I’ve always said, THE Paper was your only man!

    Did you see their front page today? The’ve all the IRA victims names listed with a back drop of a gunman. No doubt Shay and co would expect nothing less from a paper ‘in that free-stater Michael Collins’ home county’, or some such rubbish.

  • smcgiff

    Ringo,

    Haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard it was quite dramatic.

    Was wondering if many would get the reference to ‘THE’ Paper, but I think you’re from the ROI, though.

  • Henry94

    I think “de Paper” is the correct Cork pronunciation.

  • smcgiff

    I think “de Paper” is the correct Cork pronunciation.

    I was anglicising it for our northern friends! 🙂

  • Ringo

    Was wondering if many would get the reference to ‘THE’ Paper, but I think you’re from the ROI, though.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived amongst Corkonians in their native paradise. 😉

  • Shay Begorrah

    Just as in the UK most of the Irish newspaper canon is owned and heavilly influenced by right wing (and therefore sypathethic to Unionist) interests.

    Would you disagree with that analysis? Would you deny that Ed Moloney’s outlook in the troubles is essentially a partitionist/Unionist one?

    I somehow doubt you will be approvingly quoting whatever the SBP prints on the decomissioing event- somehow, for some reason, their journalism will be prejudiced Republican tripe while Sam Smyth’s outpourings are insightful and plain spoken. Same ole same ole. No self awareness, no surrender.

  • jamesc

    Just as in the UK most of the Irish newspaper canon is owned and heavilly influenced by right wing (and therefore sypathethic to Unionist) interests.

    Right. But the SBP is owned by the same people who own de paper. It wouldn’t be that press erm, you know, sort of tries to reflect their reader’s and journalist’s views?

  • peteb

    There’s been more than enough playing the man [and the paper] on this thread already.

    Play the ball.

  • Shay Begorrah

    With no respect to PeteB I think this deserves a little more discussion.

    Right. But the SBP is owned by the same people who own de paper. It wouldn’t be that press erm, you know, sort of tries to reflect their reader’s and journalist’s views?

    Firstly, you have me bang to rights guvnor, fair and square – TCH did indeed buy the SBP in 2002 and they already owned the IE. God bless em, they have not changed the SBP editorial line too much yet (I suppose it was economcially enough to the right for them).

    I would disagree strongly that newspapers merely reflect the views of their readers and I think you can argue that the eighties in Britain and nineties in Ireland saw the motivations of newspaper proprietors change quite radically as to the purpose of their organs were used for (Murdoch/O’Reilly) – The London Times amazing move to the right (which I am sadly old enough to remember) prefigured (and may have been the cause of) the views of its readers changing. Obviously this is not the first time in last few centuries that this has happened but acknowledging the lack of impartiality (and I think honesty) in the majority of todays press is important, particularly considering it often forms seed material for Slugger.

    lastly the naked prejudice on show in what used to be Ireland’s paper of record (Marcus Steyn anyone?) is in a similar vein though driven editorially rather than by the papers proprietor. It is still pretty damn sad.

  • Shay Begorrah

    Aieeeeee!

    I meant “with respect to PeteB” rather than “with no respect”.

    My profound apologies Pete.

  • Yoda

    Where the doubt exists now is over the worth of the exercise. The IRA’s weapons proved to be immensely valuable chips in Sinn Féin’s hands throughout the vexed years of negotiations and if they have now been finally surrendered it can only be because they have outlived their worth in the eyes of the Provo leadership and been replaced by other, more potent tokens such as the IRA itself, the persistent curse of criminality and the prospect of the Provos in the police force.

    I was wondering where Moloney was coming from here. I don’t think that I’d argue with his point that the weapons had outlived their usefulness: that to me seems to be the value: the politicisation of the RM which has been one of the major goals all along.

    But how is the IRA a “more potent token”? Token of what?

    What exactly does he mean by “the persistent curse of criminality”? Who or what is cursed by criminality? It’s not clear to me what Moloney means.

    And “the prospect of the Provos in the police force” seems to be one of the logical consequences of the process: they’ll be rubbing shoulders with a few loyalists and their sympathisers.

  • ulsterman

    You guys need to get real. The provos in the PSNI getting the crap beat out of them more like.

    It aint going to happen. The sooner you all realise the GFA is dead in the water the better.

    There aint going to be any British SF ministers in Ulster. Get used to it.

    The IRA should have decomissioned when the white feathered UUP brigade were in charge. We are in changed times. It is the DUP who are the masters now.

    We say No surrender and No compromise ever.

  • ulsterman

    Who really cares. No one is interested.

  • Robert Keogh

    Moloney is not saying that it came too late, he’s saying it came too late for unionism. He’s not saying anything you can’t see for yourself.

    He is also saying that the IRA have gotten rid of all their weapons.

  • Shay Begorrah

    I have not read the whole article Robert but your interpretation of his words seems very generous.

    From his excuse making for Trimble’s self destructive stalling (“his friends say he had no choice” – incisive stuff), through his mumbling about Provo’s in the police force (reminded me a lot of what I heard from whites in South Africa about how the post Apartheid police force was now filled with badly educated former terrorists (ie: those smelly kaffirs)) and his allegations of Republican voodoo criminality the article has nothing to say apart from that every problem of modern Unionism’s is the fault of the Republicans/The IRA.

  • Robert Keogh

    I have not been able to read the entire article but I was able to listen to him on Morning Ireland. I think his position comes over pretty clearly.

    All the pointy-headed NI buffs are singing the same song about IRA decom. I can’t find any credible authority that is saying anything to the contrary. So I think it’s just that unionism needs some time to digest and accept it.

    Ideally we need a really harsh and wet winter to keep all the trouble makers indoors. Here’s hoping for a white christmas.

  • Shay Begorrah

    Ok, perhaps Moloney’s position is more balanced than I suggest.

    Here’s to Richard’s cold, wet and peaceful winter.

  • Aidan Maconachy

    Despite the name I’m an Ulsterman of protestant background (over in N.America now).

    I’d like to congratulate Sinn Fein on this move, because stepping down … way down … is what both sides need to start doing. I never want to see another child blown up or caught in cross-fire. I don’t want the land I love torn apart in hatred.

    The one thing we both share in both communities are common Christian values, and the cardinal virtue as we know is humility – “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Funny I should be quoting this because I’m not much of a church goer.

    It’s time to find a sense of humor. Time to lower the bar of suspicion and reach across the divide. Its already going on in those sectors of N.Irish society that haven’t been the most polarized. The future, to quote Gerry, is indeed bright but it’s time surely to allow questions of a united
    Ireland to be answered democratically, and not at the point of a gun.

    I know none of this is easy, trust me. But I have a wee story to share to show it can be done with grace.

    When I was a young lad I lived with my grandmother on a street off the Antrim Road. My gran was a spinster at that time and a very devout woman with a simple evangelical faith. The street was 80% catholic so we were in a tiny minority. To this day I will never forget the grace and the civility that existed between my gran and our catholic neighbors … the kindness and generosity of spirit.

    The kids I played with were all catholic lads and religion never came up. We were more interested in Dinky toys and comics. It never occurred to us that anything could come between us.

    The one time I found out that it could was when I was about seven, and I woke to hear the sound of pipes and drums coming up from Carlisle Circus. The Orange Parade had begun to mass. None of my wee friends were around. The homes of our neighbors had curtains drawn, and even though my gran dressed me up to go and watch the parade, I was troubled, without really understanding the larger political meaning of any of it.

    Then after the 12th day passed, the neighborly relations would resume. I remember the elderly catholic lady next door giving me a half crown for cutting her privet hedge, much to the horror of gran who tried to give it back. The two of them argued about that half crown for ten minutes, before the good neighbor forced it into my palm and retreated from the protestations of my gran.

    There are indeed two traditions in Ulster, the green and the orange, and I want it to enrich us rather than rip us apart. In the small example I gave, I saw as a child how it could be done … mutual respect, decency and a sense of humor.

    God bless all in Ulster and the very best wishes for the future from one of your emigrant sons.

  • brighid mcbride

    Sour grapes from the king of sour grapes, Ed Moloney, who is just mad that he won’t be able to earn a living talking about the “evil IRA terrorists.” How transparent. How pathetic. How utterly Moloney.

  • amused reaer

    you shinners are an absolute hoot. i take it the bearded wonder has bought you all pcs with broadband with his £26M to recompence for your sudden lack of semtex and ak47s.

    i meant ffs ed moloney – a pro unionist brit stooge. presumably kevin toolis has been brainwashed by securocrats into becoming a rejectionist enemy of the peace process. hilarious!!!