“…could have been passed for a News Letter editorial circa 1980”

Liam Clarke picks up on Martin McGuinness’s ‘no mandate whatsoever‘ statement on the Politics Show on Sunday, with the wry observation that somehow, we have been here before:

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:

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  • Gum

    Why are we covering this again? Surely everyone enjoyed themselves enough the first four dozen times that the Deputy First Minister denounced violence by ‘republican’ dissidents. I’ll ask the same question that I have asked in the past – would you rather he said nothing?

  • DC

    Same editorial perhaps but completely different circumstances in terms of political advancement and agreement cutting across both Unionist and Nationalist houses.

    But back in the 1980s Unionists were adamant in their belief that Hume and even Fitt were just as green as SF-IRA and power-sharing with ‘disloyalists’ was an utter no-no. A no-no because apparently it was tantamount to surrender, even though look at us today. The 90s heralded new moves that were not present back in the 70 and 80s as it was a case of each-to-their-own militaristic stances.

  • doctor

    In many ways Clarke’s article reminded me of a typical News Letter editorial of any vintage. I just found it to be an odd, and essentially pointless, article.

    We get the obligatory shot at McGuinness’s own background, followed by Clarke’s suggestions that are about as ludicrous as the apostolic succession within republicanism that he criticizes. We’re coming onto the three year anniversary of the IRA declaring the war is over and commiting itself to peaceful tactics, so I’m not why that is brought up as something the Provos can do now. I also don’t think renaming the Army Council is something the typical News Letter reader really wants, nor is revising the Green Book really going to make a difference at this point to anybody.

    So Clarke is basically suggesting things that appeal to neither side. The unionists won’t be interested in his updated and modified version of the IRA, while dissidents at this point are not going to be swayed by some after-the-fact tinkering by people they already regard as traitors.

  • paul kielty

    Mick Fealty,

    When you mention Liam Clarke, there is an almost collective, depressive sigh!!
    In the eyes of a vast majority of republicans, his views are ignored. They have been regurgitated, with a slightly different slant, hundreds of times in the past. If he did not stick to this anti-republican ethos, he would not be the position that he is, in terms of employment. And there lies the paucity of what has passed as journalism over the last four decades or more in these islands.
    Its hard to engage with this ‘veiwpoint’, when you see it for what it is. Boring!