Was decommissioning really that difficult?

Ed Moloney with one or two pertinent questions that arise from last week’s events

He asks:

…was IRA decommissioning really such a difficult nut to crack? After all, it began when the peace process itself was well advanced and the floor was already littered with the cadavers of republican holy cows. The IRA ceasefires were seven years old and the Provisional leadership had long since conceded the sacred tenet of post-Treaty republicanism, the principle of consent, when General de Chastelain put his first IRA gun beyond use. The ground had been well prepared before it happened.

He then argues the politics of Sinn Fein’s core support was considerably more flexible that the party’s own apparently fundamentalist roots:

But what really enabled Adams and his colleagues to complete decommissioning was the shallowness of their supporters’ politics, nourished as they were not by the writings of Connolly and Pearse or Marx and Fanon but by fear and hatred of the Protestants who would burn them in their beds.

The truth is that the Provisionals were mostly in the defenderist not the republican tradition, and in their world the sectarian imperative ruled. All that mattered to them was that, politically-speaking, Celtic beat Rangers on New Year’s Day; the Champions League could take a running jump. Ceasefires could be called, unionist consent conceded and leadership promises broken just so long as the Prods didn’t like it.

  • PaddyCanuck

    A piss poor piece of conjecture.

    If republicans were really “defenderist” (did he make this word up too?)in nature, decommissioning would not have happened, amid the continued and under reported campaign of sectarian violence, that has been directed at catholics across the north in recent years.

    Decommissioning happened because of the leadership and vision of Sinn FEin, which is working to make a reality of an all Ireland Republic.

    The first act of decommissioning was completed several years ago. If unionists had of properly engaged republicans earlier in the process, decommissioning would have happened sooner.

  • David

    I think “defenderist” refers to the 18th century “Defenders”, not to defensive actions..

  • Comrade Stalin

    If republicans were really “defenderist” (did he make this word up too?)in nature, decommissioning would not have happened, amid the continued and under reported campaign of sectarian violence, that has been directed at catholics across the north in recent years.

    One of the most consistent arguments by republicans against decommissioning was exactly about defence. Decommissioning has occurred in spite of that argument, not because it was never used.

  • Ross

    PaddyCanuck, it will always be a matter of debate exactly what constitutes republicanism of the Provisional trend. But there is sufficent evidence to support Moloney’s position. You only have to read the early accounts of those who joined to see that Moloney has a point. The formation of the Provisional IRA and the manner in which it absorbed defence committees gives much insight into its political composition. There is nothing wrong and and an awful lot right in the behaviour of those who joined for defenderist reasons. Likewise for an organisation that came into being to defend the community from whence it came.

    As for your reasoning that decommissioning only happened because the IRA is not defenderist – is it not easier to make the case that in fact the opposite is true? An ideologically driven IRA steeped in the history of 1916 and beyond would never have countenanced giving up guns. It would be heresy. The biggest critics of decommissioning come from that tradition. A defenderist tradition, that through no fault of its own, proved unable to defend nationalists sufficently – how could the IRA arsenal defend Thomas Devlin from the murdererous fiends who preyed on him going to the shop to buy sweets? – would have no ideological difficulty to overcome in putting beyond use weapons that are for the most part offensive? There are sufficient legally held weapons in nationalist areas to prevent the type of attack that the IRA could only usefully defend against in the first place – that of mobs trying to overrun a community. If the PSNI nad the state decided to overrun the areas it would not matter what weapons the IRA had.

    Your comment that decommissioning happened because of the vision of the leadership sounds a bit weak. Brian Keenan didn’t have that vision when he said the only thing that would ever be decommissioned would be British rule. LIke the first act, the fourth one was pressure induced. The leadership played it good with a bad hand. But it is hardly visionary.

    I think we are at our weakest on these boards when we try to dress up our setbacks or paper over the cracks. So what if Moloney is right? There is nothing wrong with being defenderist. Better the Provisional IRA volunteer who defended his street out of necessity than the Real IRA volunteer who slaughtered the innocent of Omagh out of ideological conviction

  • PaddyCanuck

    “The truth is that the Provisionals were mostly in the defenderist not the republican tradition, and in their world the sectarian imperative ruled”

    This is the crux of Maloneys arguement, and it is were his argument fails.

    There may have been members of the IRA who were motivated by the urge to defend their communities, there may have been those that where motivated by sectarianism but to condemn the IRA as a bunch of thugs who care most about celtic beating rangers is clearly wrong.

    The politicization of the republican movemnt is well known. Many volunteers had their political education in the Kesh. The ideology that they espoused was essentially republican, and revolutionary, and to the left of the political spectrum. It was a 20th century ideology, influenced by struggles in central and south America and other anti colonial and anti imperialist struggles, and inspired by people like Che Guevara, as well as the Irish Republicans who had gone before them. It was not a 19th century influenced struggle. The IRA largely avoided the sectarian centred campaigns waged by the British military and Intelligence services through their proxies in the UDA and UVF. They often reacted to these campaigns, as in Kingsmill, but often only in an attempt to cease the loyalist campaigns. The IRA was by in large focused on making the Britih etablishment realise that the aspirations of nationalists and republicans must be recognised, and delivered upon.

    I can also state that there are very few if any “defenderists” in the republican movement. There may be people in the IRA, in the Short Strand, or the Ardoyne, for whom their primary motivation for joining up was to defend their communities, but these people are by no stretch of the imagination “defenderists” following an ideology or tradition of “defenderism”.

    Maloney and others seem already to be embarking on a process of historical revisionism, which is directed almost entirely against the republican movement. If they sought to apply this revisionism across the political spectrum, then maybe their sincerity would not come into question.

  • ross

    PaddyCanuck,

    ‘to condemn the IRA as a bunch of thugs who care most about celtic beating rangers is clearly wrong.’

    I think this is to miss the point. Most republicans that I know do not support Celtic. The point Moloney seems to make is more subtle than that. What I think it amounts to is that republican ideology as traditionally understood neither motivated most people to join nor held them there while they were members. Did Robert White not do a very good book on this years ago?

    I think the politicisation that went on in the prison was overrated. The main reason for saying this is that many of those who experienced it during their first spell in prison went out to the movement and found their jail experience totally irrelevant – comradeship excepted. That is why they were the least disinterested in the prison education process when they returned to jail. The leadership also felt that the education process in the jails was ultra leftist. It declined to publish the second part of a book series on those grounds.

    Most of the things the prisoners championed in jail as a result of their education process seems to have been set aside for new strategies. I am not always sure that the official republican history of the jails and the range of sub histories always gel. In fact they clash.

    You are right to point out that republicans avoided for the most part the sectarian campaigns. But leadership must be given a large part of the credit for this. It imposed a curb on the more sectarian passions of the grassroots. 1974-76 showed how easily republicans would pursue a sectarian campaign much to the chagrin of Adams and his colleagues.

    I disagree – without proving you wrong – that there are very few in the movement for defenderist reasons. But I don’t think it can be reduced to defenderism. I think the length of time the struggle went on helped create an organisational imperative. Most that I know seem to defend that. What the organisation does is secondary to the need to protect it. But this is a well worn phenomenon not exclusive to republicanism.

    I think it is easier to make the case that rather than Moloney being the revisionist we ourselves are heavily involved in it. Our position today would lead people to think that the war was waged for equality. It was waged to get the Brits out. We settled for less because we could not get them out. Too big a power, overwhelming odds – to last as long as we did was no small feat. But we are comfortable with the outcome in a way that the ideological republicans are not because ideology was not the main thing with us.

  • Robert Keogh

    …was IRA decommissioning really such a difficult nut to crack? … The ground had been well prepared before it happened.

    Ed knows full well that it was Adams & McGuinness that prepared the ground and that decommissioning was only possible because of those preparations.

    But what really enabled Adams and his colleagues to complete decommissioning was the shallowness of their supporters’ politics, nourished as they were not by the writings of Connolly and Pearse or Marx and Fanon but by fear and hatred of the Protestants who would burn them in their beds.

    There is no evidence furnished to support his hypothesis that Adams supporters are politically ignorant. His claim certainly doesn’t hold any water when it comes to the prisoners whose support was crucial to Adams at many points in the process. I suppose Mick will have to give Ed a yellow card for man not ball here.

    Ceasefires could be called, unionist consent conceded and leadership promises broken just so long as the Prods didn’t like it.

    And the Prods didn’t like it because the it was something done by the IRA. Round and round we go. The way Ed is writing it here you’d think zero-sum politics only just arrived in NI. For how many decades has the measure of success been the degree of anger from them’uns? If the price of IRA decommissioning is the irritation of a vocal minority in the unionist community then it is certainly a price worth paying – especially for something deemed impossible in 1994.

  • middle-class taig

    So, as Ed Moloney would see it, the hunger strikers sacrificed their lives because the prods wouldn’t like it. Apparently a woman scorned holds not the greatest fury.

    Amazingly, indefensibly, as the republican movement DELIVERS to the unionist community that which it has most craved throughout the process, the race is on for the legion of Gerry haters to characterise full IRA disarmament as some snide, sectarian insult.

    Gerry has delivered. Payback time!

    Ross/Paddy/Robert

    This is a fascinating debate which is much needed within republicanism; in particular because it addresses, albeit tangentially the reasons for exisitng divisions within the broadest realistic conception of “Irish republicanism” (wherein I include the SDLP, but exclude Fianna Fail).

    I think there’s a distinction here to be made between the republican ideology underpinning SF politics and the methods chosen in prosecuting the armed struggle. The latter were unquestionably defenderist. By their nature, they were always more likely ultimately to deliver moves towards equality for catholics/nationalists (which they did), than they were to secure a 32 county egalitarian socialist republic.

    The abstraction of the latter is unfathomable to the 18-year-old watching his street burning, and will not secure his participation in political violence. Nonetheless, it provided an intellectual underpinning for that armed struggle, and operated as a brake on those who might otherwise have pursued more ethno-territorially motivated tastics. “We” may always have wanted the Brits out, but “we” never wanted the prods out – and for that we have republican ideology to thank, atleast in part.

    The choice of method of resistance, that of armed struggle, should not be allowed to be held up as defining the republicanism of those who prosecuted that struggle, or voted for SF, or have subsequently voted SF. The vision of the great majority of those is one of an Ireland underpinned by egalitarianism, the legitimacy of dissent and anti-sectarianism.

    My other point is that war is a coarsening, dehumanising thing, which permits of retrospective justification for the most grotesque of iniquities. That we have come through it with the qualities mentioned in the previous para intact is a testament to their paramountcy in republican ideology, proof of the humanity and capacity for forgiveness of our communities and a great source of hope for the future.

    The prods are going nowhere, but the Brits are leaching out of our soil. Both those things are wonderful. Eventually, colonialism’s polluting effect on our body politic will be remedied. This is the new vocation of republicanism. It’ll be easier to do it without guns.

  • P Ring

    “We” may always have wanted the Brits out, but “we” never wanted the prods out – and for that we have republican ideology to thank, atleast in part.

    Aw c’mon middle-class taig: are you telling me there’s not a few prods you’d rather see the back of?

  • Dualta

    Maloney is certainly right about the lack of politicisation of the main bulk of the Republican family.

    Sure, wasn`t this referred to some time ago by Danny Morrison when he called the grass-roots supporters of the Republican Movement plebs?

    Maloney`s point is spot on. If you`ve ever attended a major Republican function you`d see exactly what he`s talking about. The vast bulk of Republicans are not political idealogues, but are merely ethnic warriors, just like their counterparts on the Loylalist side.

    They`re ordinary people who have been born into a society in which they find themselves and their community under attack. It is only natural for them to fall into line behind those they believe are best equiped to defend them and to forward their interests.

    What has made it easy for Adams and his colleagues in Sinn Fein to move the Republican movement on so far has been that, despite the continued extistence of the Loyalist paramilitary threat, most Catholics and Republicans feel that our circumstances have improved considerably since the fall of Stormont.

    Most of us now feel, rightly or wrongly, that Northern Ireland has been fatally wounded. The confidence is up that Irish unity will fall like a ripe apple.

    It has been easy for the Republican leadership to argue that the armed struggle had delivered enough and that it had arrived at the end of its shelf life. The challenge for them now, is to rid their community of sectarianism.

    My sincerest fear now is though, that if Republicans and Nationalists do engage in a process of tackling their own sectarianism, there will be those within the Loyalist and Unionist political leaderships who will try to reignite sectarian tensions by the usual means, fearmongering, rabble-rousing and sectarian murder.

  • Ross

    Robert Keogh, could you illustrate two of your points? One, that Gerry and Martin prepared the ground for decommissioning? They certainly did in places external to the movement as part of a negotiating strategy. But within the movement they insisted that it would never happen. One of the complaints made by Belfast SF councillors – while not opposed to decommissioning – was that three days before the first act happened in October 2001 they were being briefed to ignore reports – it would never happen. Some of those councillors said anybody with sense knew it had to happen but complained that it was withheld until the Conway Mill announcement.

    Why, if the ground was prepared, were so many within the movement prepared to deny that it had ever taken place even? You will hardly need me to confirm this for you. All you need to do is sit and talk to movement members who you socially interact with.

    The second Robert is your contention that the support of the prisoners was essential to Gerry and Martin. At what points? Prisoners in my view never had any input into strategy – and in fact were told by Martin a few months before the GFA that it would never happen as republicans would never sit in a Northern assembly. Those prisoners who expressed a view to the contrary later felt the chill of disapproval from those leading the prison. Padraig appeared at the 1998 ard fheis but this was to endorse the strategy, not because the prisoners’ support for it was essential. Had the prisoners expressed public opposition to it there could have been problems but the chances of that happening were slim. The jail leadership was appointed from the outside not elected from within.

  • IJP

    Dualta is pretty well on the money (they are wrong to assume that ‘Irish unity’ will simply ‘fall to them’ of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t).

    What is interesting about decommissioning really though, is what it tells us about Unionist political leadership (or lack of it).

    Unionists have consistently made a demand of decommissioning. Yet they never clarified how they would tell whether or not this demand had been met. So now, instead of celebrating a great Unionist victory, they’re busy niggling and looking frankly very pathetic.

    What on earth is the point of electing people to negotiate on your behalf if they can’t determine whether or not the deal made has been carried out effectively? Instead, they simply tell ‘their people’ that ‘it’s not enough’ and we go around for another session of rabble-rousing. Pathetic indeed.

  • Michael Turley

    I thought the Maloney article was astute as usual.

    I am amazed at the confidence of some northern nationalists regarding the preceived inevitability of a United Ireland in the near term. It usually emantes from two types of nationalist; one, who ignores the fact that unionists exist or regard unionist wishes as irrelevant and, two, one who thinks that big hearted gestures from the nationalist side will somehow make the logic of a United Ireland too obvious for the Orange section of this great island to resist. Seems a little hopeful when you consider the fact that very few unionists seem to recognise the logic of inter-community dialogue when it comes to organising parades.

    IJP is correct when he points out that the unionist leadership has been inept and politically short-sighted. However, any sign of progressive instincts in a unionist leader (real or imagined) is enough to have that leader Lundy-fied. Unionist politics has become a slave to its own self-absorbed negativity. I would suggest that even the great I.K. Paisleys reputation would be significantly damaged if he was to seek a pragmatic compromise.

  • Henry94

    Michael Turley

    I think you and IJP are right about the condition of unionist leadership and I think the reason for it is that they can’t afford to lose the support of the block of their voters who don’t want power-sharing at all.

    Thus unity is maintained by demanding more.

    The crunch will have to come.

  • aquifer

    MCT

    “”We” may always have wanted the Brits out, but “we” never wanted the prods out – and for that we have republican ideology to thank, atleast in part.”

    Dressing up a military imperative as a moral position is a great idea that flatters armed irish separatists.

    If their aggression had become overtly sectarian rather than just usually having protestant targets, they would have invited massive retaliation from armed protestants and suppression both sides of the border and the Atlantic.

    An overtly sectarian campaign was plainly not viable.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    aquifer: “Dressing up a military imperative as a moral position is a great idea that flatters armed irish separatists.

    If their aggression had become overtly sectarian rather than just usually having protestant targets, they would have invited massive retaliation from armed protestants and suppression both sides of the border and the Atlantic.”

    Religion in the Anglo-Irish conflict is more an accident of history, the narrow gene-pool of European royalty and Henry VIII’s quest for a male heir / his early efforts at serial monogamy than anything else. As a part of the propaganda aspect of the more recent Anglo-Irish conflict, its roots may lay in British / Unionist propaganda of the Anglo-Irish war (1919-1921) where an effort was made to excite Protestant passions through the simple mechanism of identifying Protestant victims of violent IRA acts of sedition / rebellion while remaining silent when the “honored dead” was a roman Catholic, as was frequently the case with the RIC. I would posit that the only ‘mainstream’ overtly sectarian aggression was Cromwell, who committed violence for religions and political reasons. The Nationalist goal has been a political one, not a religious one.

  • Robert Keogh

    Ross,

    One – GA/MM prepped ground for decom.

    I am referring to the constitutional and political changes that were wrought in the IRA and SF to permit/support the cessation and then decommissioning. I would point to the body of articles by Gorman, Moloney, Davenport, McDonald etc – tidily summed up in Moloneys book. Is it your position that GA/MM did nothing prior to decommissioning to create the environment?

    Two – support of the prisoners.

    But what really enabled Adams and his colleagues to complete decommissioning was the shallowness of their supporters’ politics, nourished as they were not by the writings of Connolly and Pearse or Marx and Fanon but by fear and hatred of the Protestants who would burn them in their beds.

    I was rebutting Moloneys ad hominem attack, your point and mine are not in conflict unless you are saying the majority of prisoners were against the cessation, decom and GFA but an installed leadership delivered the PR endorsement required? I suggest that you are reading far more into my comments about prisoners support than was intended.

  • Ross

    Robert Keogh, You are right that Adams-McGuinness prepared the ground for decommissioning. I think this is obvious and you have pointed to a trail that documents such preparation. They made it procedurally easier. But they did not prepare their members for it in any conscious sense in the full knowledge that the latter would endorse. My point is merely to show that such preparation is not evidence of political astuteness on the part of the body of republicanism. From rereading your post I acknowledge that you do not actually suggest it was evidence.

    On the prisoners there was very little support for a ceasefire until the leadership made the decision. Those who favoured such a move were ridiculed and accused of wanting to end the war. Same with the GFA. There was absolutely no support for decommissioning because up until their release the prisoners did not belive it was an issue. Although Padraig Wilson in a kite flying exercise in the Financial Times did suggest circumstances in which it could happen. But this was seen by the prisoners as nothing other than positioning. They were told by Padraig there would never be decommissioning, that the exercise was about no more than appearing more flexible than unionism