On Friday, Fionnuala O’Connor noted that “through the trauma of The Troubles and the prolonged, anti-climactic dickering that for the most part has replaced violence, conspiracy theories have been almost as sustaining as religion”. Eammon McCann highlights the problem of even making an educated guess as to who exactly who killed Donaldson:
Donegal Catch is Ireland’s leading frozen fish brand. Hence the joke that has been whizzing in text messages around Northern republican circles: ‘‘Donegal Catch dish of the day – Cottage Spy.” The fact that the quip is relished as much by members of the mainstream Provisional movement as by so-called dissidents highlights the difficulty that Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fe¤ in leaders face in dealing with the issues emerging from Denis Donaldson’s death.
But setting aside for a moment the question of culpability for last week’s killing McCann re-iterates the logic behind the IRA’s past actions against informers:
This belief is rooted in the core republican idea of the IRA as the legitimate army of the Republic proclaimed at Easter 90 years ago, and of its armed struggle as a defensive war to protect the Republic. This is not a view which can easily, or at all, be reconciled with unequivocal endorsement of the multiparty agreement of Good Friday 1998 which leaves the North constitutionally within the UK and makes any future vindication of the Republic conditional on the support of a six-county majority.
Sinn Fein leaders have managed to appear to dissolve this contradiction by advertising the agreement to their rank and file, not as a settlement but as a means of undoing the purported settlement of 1922. Thus, demands for the full implementation of the agreement are accompanied, sometimes in the same sentence, with pledges to press on without delay the vindication of the Republic, sometimes anticipated as being accomplished by the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016.
McCann believes the real test will come:
…when they endorse the PSNI, accepting the legitimacy and becoming part of the arm of the machinery of the partitioned state, that republican rhetoric will collide with reality and crumble. It will then no longer be possible to maintain the view which provided moral justification for the armed struggle and enabled Sinn Feiners last week to take pleasure in the death of Denis Donaldson.
But this in turn raises another important question: will Sinn Fein ever accept publicly endorse policing in Northern Ireland?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty