The End of the Northern Ireland Model of Peace Processing?

Even with the recent apparent spike in terrorist activity, including a large car bomb abandoned near Newry, and public paramilitary displays, it’s probably premature to talk of “the IRA’s resurgence”.  But that’s the reference used in this article by Michael Rubin

Perhaps the most important fact I learned was that British security officials believe that their pact with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may be unraveling.  British intelligence and counter terror officials are now tracking and interrupting more IRA terror planning that at any time since before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The problem is not simply IRA dissidents, as some reports suggest, but mainstream IRA upset that their goals are not being fully met through the political process.  The reason why the collapse of the IRA model is so important is because it has increasingly been the key justification for negotiation with terrorists.

Probably premature… but they haven’t gone away, you know.  And such arguments throw into sharper relief the comments by Sinn Féin chairman, Declan “Something, Something, Something, Dark Side” Kearney – “there is no other IRA” –  as well as Martin McGuinness’ offering to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE] conference in Dublin – “The war is over”.  [For you, Tommy Martin, the war is over – Ed].

Naturally, the coverage of Martin McGuinness’ speech focused on interpreting his vague futuring.  And ignored his proffered self-serving narrative of “the Irish Peace Process”.  [Is that the same as the Northern Ireland Peace Process? – Ed]  Probably…

A notable exception in that coverage was BBC NI’s Mark Devenport’s blog on the event

Besides listening all the places visited by Stormont politicians, Mr McGuinness acknowledged the places which haven’t taken the Northern Ireland example on board.

He expressed great disappointment that his visit to Sri Lanka hadn’t assisted the Tamil Tigers and the government there to broker a Northern Ireland-style deal.

Instead the Sri Lankan army tried to finish the conflict there by force, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamils and the continued displacement of tens of thousands more in holding camps.

After the formal opening speeches, the press left the hall, so I can’t give you a blow by blow account of what points the various foreign delegations raised (although one source suggested the Moldovans wanted to know how you could ensure the media toe the line!)

Whilst Martin McGuinness and Michael Rubin are talking about the lessons from the Process here, for different reasons, both would probably agree that there is no direct analogies to draw elsewhere.  Rubin is explicit with his concerns in the article – “With the IRA’s resurgence, hopefully the arguments for engaging and appeasing terrorists can be put to rest.”

For McGuinness there is at least one unmentioned [white] elephant in the room.  And one of a darker complexion.

What both neglect to mention is what was also un-aired in San Sebastián in October last year.

Because in the passing caravan of peace-process tourism there is normally no mention of the secret war conducted by the state and its impact in convincing republicans they could not win the war.

Rather it is all sweetness and light; testimonies to how “dialogue” and “talking” persuaded the key violent actors in Northern Ireland to reverse out of the “armed struggle” cul-de-sac and into constitutional politics.

During the discussions in San Sebastián there will be lots of references to the example of Northern Ireland as a light unto other nations embroiled in conflict.

In any realistic analysis it is worth examining exactly how deeply even such a professional outfit as the Provisional IRA was infiltrated by the beginning of the 1990s.

[Denis Donaldson? – Ed]  For example. 

And the final destination rarely matches that stated on the sold ticket…

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  • You get articles like these from time to time, usually written by Americans who display an extremely limited grasp of facts on the ground. This is one. Former provisionals are being treated as though they were still provisionals, and the water is muddied by the ignorance of those writing. That is clearly what is happening here.

  • Alias

    “Former provisionals are being treated as though they were still provisionals…”

    Actually, Provisionals are treated as though they are the IRA. That is an essential part of the “historic compromise” promoted by the British state. If it is just a recent and regional murder gang that agreed to implement British rule then there is nothing remotely historic about the compromise. It must be presented that the aims of the IRA were accomodated, and not simply the leaders or members of said local murder gang. The problem is, of course, that it was the latter that was accomodated and not the former. Hence, Marty’s ‘war’ is over but not the ‘war’.

  • I meant they were treated like as though they were still provisionals for the purpose of arguments like Rubin’s, which ignore the reality on the ground in pursuit of an argument that is grounded in a mistaken premise. The fact, for example, some people in Tyrone who stayed with the provos until a few years ago are now, having left them, possibly re-involving themselves in terrorism is taken as evidence that the entire provo army is doing so, when nothing could be further from the truth as anyone with eyes can see. You are talking at total cross purposes to what I was saying.

  • Pete Baker


    It’s clear that Rubin’s argument is aimed elsewhere, hence my “Probably premature” comment.

    But equally he doesn’t argue that “the entire provo army is doing so” but that “British security officials believe that their pact with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) may be unraveling” due to “more IRA terror planning that at any time since before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.”

    The clear concern expressed is that there are increasing numbers of “mainstream IRA” members becoming disenchanted with the Process.

    Try to look at the bigger picture here. Beyond what’s above the fold.

    We have continued and, arguably, increasing terrorist activity in the name of the IRA while, in Dublin, Martin McGuinness declares that “The war is over”.

    And there is a Process to sell…

  • The question here Pete is what is meant by the term ‘the IRA’. My understanding is that the groups now calling themselves the IRA are not using the term provisional IRA, and that the reason for this is that they are seeking to claim continuity with a pre-existing tradition but at the same time separate themselves from Adams, McGuinness and co. This is the key fact, and a fact that Rubin seems unaware of. It’s clear what he is referring to – it’s the like of the people who stayed with Adams and co but who now are active in the various groups calling themselves Óglaigh na hÉireann. Describing them as ‘mainstream IRA’, meaning the provisionals, is no longer accurate, so the whole thing is based on either ignorance or a falsehood.

    Given McGuinness’s reaction to the murders at Massarene and provisional support for the cops, we are near enough at a situation where they are being blamed for the actions of people they are trying to see put in gaol.

  • Pete Baker


    The clear concern expressed is that there are increasing numbers of “mainstream IRA” members becoming disenchanted with the Process.

    Try to look at the bigger picture here. Beyond what’s above the fold.

    And beyond the Process.

  • I’m aware of what the concern is Pete. And that isn’t simply that more people are unhappy, it is that the entire deal is in danger of unravelling. However, for an argument that a pact is unravelling to be plausible, it would require people who remain within the organisation to be doing this stuff, not people who left the organisation because they couldn’t do it. So his whole argument that talking to terrorists doesn’t work because it is no longer working in NI is based on a blatant falsehood.

    As for the broader question of dissident violence. At this time, the danger seems to be that they will get lucky and kill some people connected to the security forces, or some bystanders with a bomb. However, short of some disaster on the scale of August 69, internment, or Bloody Sunday, there is little prospect that they will be able to mount and sustain a serious campaign with a significant amount of popular support. Nor is there any evidence to suggest otherwise, regardless of what Americans seeking to justify continued operations in Afghanistan would like us to believe.

  • New Yorker

    I do not know how much Michael Rubin knows of recent history in Northern Ireland. He may not be aware of the distinction made between the Provos and the dissidents. But he is aware of ongoing terrorist activity by those claiming to be republicans and that is what matters to his argument. The GFA was supposed to do away with terrorist activity and it clearly has not done so completely. Can anyone deny that?

    One could say that there is much less terrorist activity, but it has not been eliminated, as the recent Newry bomb sadly proves. Probably most people think the level of terrorist activity is tolerable, but that is not saying that the problem is solved. And the GFA was advertised as a solution to the problem and that may have been a disservice.

    Michael Rubin is well respected in his circles and the publication, Commentary, is often controversial but generally highly regarded.

  • JoeBryce

    A settlement that lasts 14 years is clearly robust. However, the following needs to be asserted. Republican violence at this stage has the objective effect of cementing the current arrangements in place. Such violence inhibits further political change in direct proportion to its scale. There’s enough PUL left in me to cause me to wonder whether there is not among the ultras a terrible fear of further change, because a new negotiated Ireland would be a genuinely secular and non-sectarian state. RIRA and CIRA objectively support partition, because their actions reinforce it..

  • socaire

    I think it is reasonable to assume that neither the Scots nor the Welsh have any imperialist plans for this country so it is fair to say that our colonial interference comes from the English. If and when the English remove their tentacles from this country we can look at ‘republican’ violence from an objective standpoint and then we can use words like ‘pointless’, ‘sectarian’ srl.,srl. But until then we can hardly be expected to undergo self castration to prove we are opposed to rape.

  • socaire,

    Of course not, but could you be persuaded to desist from scrubbing your own hands with a nailbrush in order to let your skin grow back?