The irony was that exactly the same arguments which McGuinness deployed at the weekend were dismissed by him when they were used against the Provisional IRA.
They had no mandate; they brought only death; they were obstacles to peace; and if they had listened to the people they would have known that their popular support was too low to sustain a successful campaign. People should support the police against these criminals. These arguments, deployed by McGuinness at the weekend, were precisely the arguments used against the Provisional IRA in the 70s and 80s.
With some editing for style, for instance substituting the “Londonderry” for “Derry”, much of what McGuinness said could have been passed for a News Letter editorial circa 1980.
As some have pointed out on Pete’s earlier thread, the claims to legitimacy for McGuinness’s own ‘armed struggle arise from a peculiarly unRepublican Apostolic Procession:
It was like the divine right of kings a system which allowed leadership to be inherited without any necessity for popular consent. Like that system, it spawned dynastic disputes with rival claims to legitimacy.
There are now a number of groups claiming to be the IRA Army Council and the legitimate government of Ireland. For instance, the Continuity IRA claims their mandate from General Tom Maguire, a leader of the old IRA who died in 1993 but not until he had passed the parcel of republican legitimacy to CIRA in 1986. When Republican Sinn Féin, CIRA’s political counterpart, commemorates his death in Mayo this Saturday and will, no doubt, take the opportunity to argue that they are the only real republicans.
To an outsider these claims to legitimacy are absurd, like arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The more serious side is that they are accompanied by attempts to escalate CIRA’s campaign because the role CIRA claims to have inherited commits it to pursue its aims by force of arms. It is the claim of legitimacy that dissidents believe sets them apart from criminals.
Clarke reckons that this makes the abolition of the IRA Army Council problematic (in the short term at least). He proposes:
…a number of things that they could do to build confidence and pave the way for the devolution of policing and justice.
They could officially announce that the war is over and that political methods have superseded “armed struggle”. They could amend the IRA’s Green Book, which sets out the rules of engagement to reflect this new state of affairs, and they could directly deny the legitimacy of other groups styling themselves the IRA as McGuinness has done. They endorse the new policing structures.
Such steps would put republican legitimacy beyond use
In the meantime, the INLA in Derry’s retort – reported in the Belfast Telegraph – has its own echoes of an earlier time:
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