Who’s spinning whom?

Eamon McCann’s article from today’s Derry Journal (written and submitted before last night’s killings) reminds us of three important details. 1 just how much energy Sinn Fein and ‘mainstream Republicans’ were putting into trying to dismiss dissident Republicans as mere Criminals. 2 That the party’s argument that an ‘Irish’ Justice minister would keep British troops out of Northern Ireland. And 3, Hugh Orde neglected to tell the Policing Board on Thursday of his deployment of Special Reconnaissance Regiment at it meeting on Thursday.By Eamon McCann

The main reason Sinn Fein is so angry about the deployment of British Army “special forces” in the North is that the move contradicts the party’s insistence that “dissident Republicans” are mere criminals.

If they are criminals, it’s not “touting” to provide the PSNI with information on their activities, has been the recent Sinn Fein line.

But if the British Government recognises the “dissidents” as a political rather than a criminal threat, it follows that to support a crackdown, particularly one involving a special forces regiment, is to take a political stance on the side of the British.

Sinn Fein sold its acceptance of the PSNI to rank and file Republicans by assuring them that control of policing would be in the hands of an Irish—albeit, initially, a Northern Irish—authority in which Sinn Fein itself would have a powerful voice. These new policing structures, the argument continued, were part of an arrangement which would lead on to a united Ireland. Therefore the policing deal could be seen as part of a strategy for ending Britain’s role in Ireland.

It was for this reason that SF leaders have for months been involved in a propaganda blitz designed to strip the “dissidents” of any claim to a political role. That’s now at risk from the action of the PSNI leadership in summoning help from a regiment set up specifically not to combat criminality—the regiment would be insulted by the suggestion—but to defend the British State.

The formation of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment was announced by Defence Minister Geoffrey Hoon in the Commons on April 5th 2005. Recruits would be drawn from serving members of all three armed services. The regiment would be based in Hereford, home of the SAS. “The creation of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment demonstrates our commitment to shaping our armed forces to meet the ongoing challenge of tackling international terrorism.”

(Hoon, incidentally, announced at the same time that a separate “Ranger” unit was also being formed to support special forces. This was to be recruited from members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. There was no indication from Hugh Orde last week that the “Rangers” had been or would be used here. But the principle of deploying the new forces to support policing having been established, from Orde’s point of view there is no reason why not.)

These developments have to be seen in light of the briefing last month by “senior Republican figures” in Belfast attacking the “dissidents” as criminal enemies of the Catholic community whom it was the duty of the community to help the PSNI root out. “This is a straightforward criminal matter,” a senior PIRA figure told trusted journalists.

Former Belfast Telegraph security correspondent Brian Rowan reported (February 2nd): “Extortion, robbery and drug trafficking…(are) the real stock in trade of terror gangs who won’t admit the war is over. Drug dealers are increasing their trade to meet protection payments demanded by dissident republicans…

“The senior republican sources…said they wanted to ‘lift the lid’ on the groups….The Real IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann and the INLA were accused of a range of criminal activities including extortion, robberies and involvement in punishment shootings over personal disputes….

ӑYou have groupings using republican clothes to carry out criminality,’ one of the senior sources said… ‘We are looking to de-mystify it, so we can address it as criminality.’ Another source said: ‘We are trying to create a context in which co-operation (with the PSNI) improves and increases…’”

The briefing followed fierce condemnation of the “dissidents” a fortnight earlier by Gerry Adams, who put his considerable moral authority behind calls for cooperation with the PSNI in hunting them down. Commenting on an “increase in criminal actions by a number of organised criminal gangs who claim to be Republican organisations”, the SF president declared that, “Their actions are not about furthering the republican goals”, but were “creating a fear of criminality” in Catholic communities.

Rowan commented: “The community is being told from the very top of the Republican Movement that it is okay to talk to the police about this—that it is okay to provide information. The message is that this is not touting, or informing or any betrayal of republicanism.”

That’s what’s undermined by Orde’s action in not only calling in the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, but in neglecting to inform the Policing Board of the fact.

The ominous question looming over all of it is, Did he do it deliberately? And if he did, what was his purpose?

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