Threatening the existence of the Assembly is a victory for terrorism

Oh God, not another fundamental breakpoint founded on the highest principles, whether they’re about welfare or the IRA! Come on, get real. This kerfuffle over “IRA structures” will pass. For all their simulated outrage over the IRA or welfare, no politician – none of the leaders anyway – want to close Stormont down.  Electoral politics are also in play on both sides of the border. We should discount it. No clear advantage can be gained by any party threatening to withdraw or pull the plug. They would simply be repeating history by handing the initiative to anarchy and violence. They actually know that but think it impresses their supporters by  positioning themselves as principled defenders of the  GFA and St Andrews.  The tortuous language of the police – where on earth do they teach them to speak like that? – doesn’t help. But we can still manage to work out the difference between “continuing to exist” and “not being involved in terrorism”.

What are “IRA structures” anyway?  The old gang meeting in a back room?  Local vigilantes asserting an old authority, still ready to stand on the necks of drugs/ fags/ red diesel /racketeers to which the great movement degenerated long ago, or rival racketeers themselves?  The omerta preservation society? Settling old scores is activity bent on preserving local communities as inward- looking ganglands.  Some of the late capos are even popular as we’ve seen by the size of the funerals. No doubt some of them are community leaders adept at winning some bits of local development via the elected Sinn Fein. But the harsher side fatally compromises the small gains.

Rough justice for the murder of Robert McCartney may have unleashed a sequence of fresh struggle for control over the underworld which is never far below the surface in working class areas. We read about this phenomenon in disturbed communities the world over, from Colombia via Sicily to the Philippines. In parts of Putin’s Russia like Chechnya, the thugs are in officially charge. Are we really saying that the same applies in miniature in our working class areas?

How do political hysterics help tackle this detritus of the Troubles? Sinn Fein are obviously closer to the old warriors on their side than the DUP are to most of the loyalists who are in many cases – not all – their bitter rivals. But I bet none of them genuinely believe Sinn Fein is party to these recent killings. In his Belfast Telegraph article, Ian Paisley asks a useful question even if he purports to knows the answer.

Does anyone seriously believe that a gun and a strategy and a decision to murder such a prominent republican with IRA personnel used, would not include in the decision-making process the organisation’s head of intelligence and head of operations and that those individuals would not pass such information on to the political people they work with?

Myself I can’t see why “the political people” would want to touch it with a barge pole. But of course I don’t know. Nor does Mr Paisley. Nevertheless he would be prepared  to threaten the future of the Assembly.

There are uncomfortable conversations to be had beyond those between basically comfortable people. In the old IRA command centre of the Derry gasworks  and more importantly  in private elsewhere, Sinn Fein and the PSNI need to talk real together to begin  serious efforts to break down the wall of silence. There are many  old members who sang like canaries when the pressure was on.  it’s time to sing again. Perish the thought but there may even be votes in it.

The wall of silence is a fundamental problem.  Nobody seriously  believes Sinn Fein can just snap their fingers and  command compliance. If they could, that would surely mean the IRA were fully in business. Can’t unionists grasp this obvious point? Yet at the very least  Sinn Fein need to stop lecturing the world on the success of the peace process when it is so badly flawed in their own heartlands.

However unpalatable the thought may be, a small number of internal killings do not amount to a reason for threatening the existence of the Assembly. The DUP should encourage not  merely snarl their suspicions. After all they know very well what it’s like to fail to control those they think of as their own people.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London