Woodward playing a dangerous game with words…

One of the most interesting aspects of the shifting patterns of the game, has been the transference of terms like ‘criminal’ as the prime discriptor for the dissident Republican paramilitaries from Sinn Fein to the Secretary of State Shawn Woodward. It may have been co-opted in order to provide some cover/support for the Deputy First Minister and his party, but Malachi O’Doherty reckons it could end up making things a hell of a lot worse:

Those of us who remember the Troubles will recognise the tone of unction in the statements of condemnation of the Massereene murders. They will be wincing at the prospect of well intentioned people making things worse.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward’s appraisal of the soldiers killed as fine young men who wanted to save lives serving in Afghanistan may have been perfectly true. But, if not, it makes no difference to the ghastliness of their murder and the scale of the political problems created by this ambush.
It does, however, have the potential to rattle a republican culture which doesn’t want to see endorsement of the army’s role in Afghanistan as part of the moral package it has bought into through the peace process.

In fact, to many it will smack of lines being drawn between those who revere that role and those who want to murder soldiers. It would be better to focus on the politics of Northern Ireland and leave Afghanistan out of it.

Woodward will achieve nothing by sounding off plummily as if he thinks he only needs to be heard in the Home Counties.

Does Woodward know, for instance, the resonance of the word ‘criminal’ in republican culture? Yet he uses the word so often you would think he was deliberately trying to echo Margaret Thatcher in his taunting of the dissidents.

These are hard times and a lot of people are going to have to try and think a little more like their old enemies if we are to get through them.

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  • Brian Walker

    It’s useful for Malachi to put the case to let people have a look at it. For me – not in NI admittedly – it seems alarmist. The big change is surely obvious – an inclusive political settlement embracing the main paramilitaries.

    He says:
    “No power sharing government has ever functioned here against the backdrop of an ongoing republican campaign. The SDLP calculated that it could not share power with Unionists at a time when it would have been answerable for security measures against the IRA and its support base in the Catholic community.”

    Well, the SDLP to their great credit were keen to share power in 1973/4 even though the executive was swamped by a war on two fronts and the issues of policing and justice were deferred. It was unionism more than the IRA which provided the immediate political nemesis. The SDLP were never to trust unionism again without a stable all-Ireland dimension. But the SDLP leaders I knew would have supported a strong line against the IRA provided it was matched by the appropriate political settlement. They never got the chance.

    Malachi adds:
    “There is no precedent of a paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland being put out of business by the state through policing and security measures.”

    There never has been an inclusive political settlement before, so the precedent is of limited value. Policing has also developed greatly since the 70s and 80s. It will help if there is no IRA and Sinn Fein this time to exploit resentment. In patches the dissidents will try to play the old role of agents provocateurs. This time, there is the modern mainstream republican movement to counteract them. Four years after the McCartney murder, can they break an omerta they say they oppose? Maybe we’ll find out over the next few days. But the collapse of the executive? Far fetched.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Any threads on the extermely dangerous reckless remarks by Wee Reggie in the assembly yesterday?
    No. Just another anti-SF-rant from another newspaper.

    The UU are now aligned with the TUV and a Tory party wiating in the wings who may well be reaching for the orange card.

  • sj1

    Richard O’Rawe says people no longer recognise Sinn Fein as Republicans.

  • RG Cuan

    Why Ó Dochartaigh gets the column space i just don’t know. In the same article he also wrote this:

    McGuinness, like many others, was probably waiting for the first success of the dissidents to be the murder of a Catholic police officer. That would have been more manageable than this, for the whole Catholic community would have swung round unambiguously

    It’s just happened.

  • This conflict will never be resolved until all parties to it, including the governments, state that violence can only fail just as it failed in the past.

    It might be hard for Sinn Fein to accept this, since they have been dining out on the success of their military campaign in recent years, but they have to accept it for them to have any moral authority over the dissidents.

    At the moment they’re like a group of six year olds taunting their old friends on the playground.

  • picador


    The article was written before the policeman was shot.

  • RG Cuan

    I know Picador, but now that a catholic poilce officer has been killed, and the situation is ‘more manageable’ for SF, i wonder what Malachi will choose to focus on.

  • Jocky

    What should they be called if not criminals?

    This blog follows on from David Aaronovich piece. They are defined by their actions and the reasons for those actions. It’s all about the reason why they are doing it.

    Whatever the British Army is doing in Afghanistan is a complete irrelevence to those that carried out the attacks unitl they start dreaming up reasons to justify it.

  • Expenses

    Expenses – Jim Allister should be jailed as he is deliberately trying to stoke up tension. He should be jailed under anti terror legislation.

  • Brian, Far fetched? Yes I hope so, but I think Robinson and McGuinness have already shown how well they understand the danger. Sinn Fein took all of Sunday morning to work out a limited, well parsed response, and Martin was realising live on air – on the politics show – that he would have to go further. The DUP must have agonised long and hard about how much cover to give him too.

    Recall the crisis over devolution of policing and justice last year. Five months of no executive meetings. I think that what brought that to an end was a warning from Orde that the dissidents were a growing threat. McGuinness and Robinson realised then that if an attack happened during their tiff, there would be no way to make it up.
    Therefore they had to pull together.
    So you could argue that the dissidents strengthen rather than weaken the executive.

    But can this be managed over a sustained campaign?

    And, of course, it is perhaps quite unlikely that there will be a sustained campaign since the dissidents are so inept. It now looks as if the Killing of Stephen Carroll was borderline fluke, and the attack on Massereene was reckless and ‘lucky’ too.