“It is rather as if the US and Europe ended up not only accepting the right of ISIS to exist but went on to embrace Islam as their state religion…”

At The Broken Elbow, Ed Moloney responds to the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’ recent claim that “the IRA was never defeated” and, in the process, provides a useful corrective to the partial, ahistorical, view held by some.  From The Broken Elbow post

Adams was also responding, according to press reports, to recent remarks by British premier, David Cameron that, “British resolve saw off the IRA’s assaults on our way of life”, i.e that Britain defeated the IRA.

So, who is right?

In one sense, both men are right.

When a war ends with victory for one or other side, the event is usually marked by a formal surrender ceremony and the signing of a surrender document in which the defeated side concedes their military failure.

No such ceremony happened in 1994, 1997, 1998 or 2005. There is no piece of paper on which P O’Neill concedes with his or her signature the IRA’s defeat.

So, in that sense, Adams is correct.

But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is wrong either.

Defeat or victory at the end of a conflict is also measured in other ways.

For example, if one party to a conflict surrenders its weapons, that is, disarms itself at the insistence of its opponent while that opponent holds on to their weapons, then there is no doubt that the former lost and the latter won. IRA decommissioning happened at the insistence of the British and by agreeing to it signaled that it would no longer defy the British with force or arms. It may have taken a long time to happen but happen it did.

Then there is the question of war aims. The Provisional IRA set out to enforce the Irish people’s right to national self-determination, last expressed on an all-island basis in 1919 with a vote in favour of Sinn Fein, a party that advocated complete Irish independence. In other words the IRA’s war aim was to reverse and destroy the affront to this democratic principle inherent in the existence of Northern Ireland, an entity that came into being within two years of that vote in 1919.

In Unionist and British eyes, Northern Ireland existed and was a legitimate entity because the people of Northern Ireland had the right to consent, or not to consent to a united Ireland. The IRA disputed this right on the grounds that it offended the larger principle of national self-determination and through its war set out to overthrow this principle.

So, how did this pan out? Well not only did the IRA not succeed in overthrowing the principle of consent, its political leadership has accepted the principle and agreed to participate in political institutions based upon that principle and given its support to state institutions like the police force also created upon that basis. [added emphasis]

It is rather as if the US and Europe ended up not only accepting the right of ISIS to exist but went on to embrace Islam as their state religion.

Indeed.  And, indeed.

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  • the rich get richer

    Some people aren’t happy unless the are Unhappy ! ! !

  • Brian Walker

    Ed Moloney writes:”It is clear that if they could have, the PSNI would have charged Mr Adams, put him on trial and see him sentenced to a jail term”!. OK if this means if the PSNI had had the evidence, which they didn’t appear to have. Not OK if they let him off because of his status. Of course we only know Adams’ version of the interrogation which seemed to be be more trying to get him to admit he had been an IRA leader. Or was it about trying to get him to grass on Ivor Bell? But all in all, curious episode. More more will come out at Bell’s expected trial. But I’m not holding my breath.

  • chrisjones2

    you ‘blame’ the PSNI but aren’t those decisions taken by he PPS who will consider the ‘public interest’ ?

  • Robert

    Slugger O’Toole is known for quality journalism. How come something so poorly written (both content and style) appears on this site?

  • Gingray

    Pete doesn’t do journalism – it’s copy, paste, highlight something about the hideous Sinn Fein, maybe add in a witty ed comment then leave it.

    You want to read Turgon or David or most of the others for their own thoughts rather than control+v control+p .

  • Gingray

    No doubt that the IRA failed to achieve their major objectives, and by decommissioning and disbanding they have been defeated.

    But it was a negotiated defeat, which saw their opponents grant them immunity, their political party increase to have major power in a system they designed.

    I’m not sure if they really lost, or anyone really won, we have a compromise sticky plaster that’s falling apart, but peace at least is not under threat.

  • npbinni

    The SF/IRA came to the point where they recognised that their campaign of terror was futile and even counter-productive. They saw that they needed to re-evaluate how they could obtain their objectives, and terrorism just didn’t cut it. In military terms they made an orderly withdrawal from the battlefield, undefeated, but, at the same time, unsuccessful in their mission.

  • mary

    During their dirty war of innocent men women children babies state, PIRA lost support within their communities. Murder of Pasty Gillespie thousands more. Only reason PSF are here today is because British American governments protect them. At all costs deal done!

  • banana man

    Did the American/British governments give them the 174/175,000 votes at the last election as well as this protection?

  • mary

    Keep them of the streets out of the ditches. Decent people want truth justice accountability now. Government protection all costs protect society.

  • Zeno

    Interesting how some phrases can come back to haunt you. I read in todays paper that the British Army were involved in a house raid in Derry and that they have been used here in 165 other mostly bomb related incidents this year.
    “They haven’t gone away , you know”

  • barnshee

    Says all we need to know about the electors

  • Kevin Breslin

    ” if one party to a conflict surrenders its weapons, that is, disarms itself at the insistence of its opponent while that opponent holds on to their weapons, then there is no doubt that the former lost and the latter won. ”

    I somehow doubt the victims of the LVF are evangelizing that the British Government defeated the LVF and other loyalist organisations when it decommissioned.

    The enthusiasm to nationalize or to self-identify ignores that during the Troubles Irish killed British, British killed Irish, Irish killed Irish and British killed British and both Irish and British killed nationals of other countries, indeed some of the victims and victim-makers were both Irish and British and some were neither.

    Both Britain and Ireland saw off militant assaults to its civilian way of life.

    Decommissioning and the end of violence of the IRA would have been wanted by the vast majority of Irish people too.

    I’m don’t believe the militant republican movement will be saving any face. People across this island have no illusions of the litany of failures and mistakes of the republican movement, and through extended whataboutery those of loyalist movements, national governments, security and defense forces even the actions of democrats.

    Violence was used by both sides to undermine self-determination, to say it is exclusively a republican disease would be to naively assume that the “Ulster will fight” speech were nothing more than harmless political agitprop.

    As many republicans would point out, Ireland had to accept British Rule over Ireland existed and that the state religious denomination were Protestant.
    Things like the Penal laws and the denial of Catholic Emancipation asserted as much.

    Such arguments about a “Moral High-ground” can be used to justify violence rather than stop them. Sinn Féin might moralize about republican actions but they were self-defeating and the fact it played second fiddle to the SDLP throughout the entire Troubles showed as much.

    How many innocent Catholics (and in some cases Protestants by association) who had nothing to do with the IRA were killed by loyalists simply because they were angry the IRA tried to claim moral high-ground over British rule.

    Disgusting to cheapen human life that way, but that is what the moral high ground argument does.

    We should praise the dignity of those on all sides who refrained from violence, but

    As an SDLP supporter the success of Hume-Adams is simply in this:

    “We are not acting as intermediaries. As leaders of our respective parties, we accept that the most pressing issue facing the people of Ireland and Britain today is the question of lasting peace and how it can best be achieved.”

    The moral high-ground is best summed up in that statement, not cursing the darkness but praising the light.

    I don’t think there will be another (old) Sinn Féin state in the South or in any future United Ireland, it was set up under (old) Sinn Féin rule and all the traditions, ideas and principles fell at the altar of real-politik of national and international affairs and the political forces of the people.

    As Mike Nesbitt pointed out, that in nearly half a generation all personnel links between Sinn Féin and the PIRA will be gone. Unionism will need to face Irish republicanism not from the moral high-ground but as democratic political competition for votes as they have with the SDLP and Irish National party.

    Sinn Féin may follow in the footsteps of the Ulster Unionists connected to the Ulster Volunteers, Fianna Fáil, the parties that forged Fine Gael either side of the Irish Civil War and Irish Labour who were connected to the Irish Citizen’s Army.

    Moralizing about the PIRA to a generation that has no memory of them and no intention to repeat their vices will achieve nothing.

  • John Collins

    And the people who voted Paisley in the late sixties/early seventies when police reports, quoted by Terence O’Neill in Stormont, indicated that he was closely associated with the UVF

  • John Collins

    But what war achieved its aims? WW1 and strickly WW2 did not.