Ahern: IRA allowed continue to prevent vacuum

Since he left office in 2008, Bertie Ahern rarely ventures into the spotlight or gives any real in-depth comments about Northern Ireland. However, even his most ardent critics would acknowledge his role in bringing about the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreement. Today he as spoken to Fiach Kelly in the Irish Times about the current crisis in Northern Ireland. Kelly gives his introduction;

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said it was envisaged the Provisional IRA would continue to exist as an unarmed group to prevent a vacuum emerging that could be filled by dangerous dissident groups.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Ahern, whose main achievement is the Northern Ireland peace process, said it is “time for cool heads” and a calm focus to ensure the Stormont institutions do not collapse.

Ahern goes on to highlight some of his own rationale about the IRA and how he viewed their activities;

“The bigger picture is the ongoing peace process,” Mr Ahern said. “It is always delicate. Cool nerves, think this through. It is terrible there are atrocities, but are those atrocities being done [by people] who might have been on the inside but are now long since on the outside?

“Unfortunately, there are always fringe players in the organisations,” he said. “People should keep it calm. We should never get lax about the bigger picture, and we should just keep that to the forefront and not talk ourselves into crisis. There is a bigger picture; the bigger picture is the ongoing process.

“These peripheral things, which I can only assume are not sanctioned, are going to continue to be a difficulty. That is something that has to be addressed.”

Mr Ahern also agreed with the assessment of former minister for justice, Michael McDowell, that the Irish and British governments allowed the Provisional IRA to continue as an “unarmed and withering husk” rather than risk a dissident group filling the void left by its disbandment.

Seemingly from Ahern’s comments there was (in his view anyway) a worry about how a possible power vacuum could be filled by dissident republicans;

“The bigger picture is the ongoing peace process,” Mr Ahern said. “It is always delicate. Cool nerves, think this through. It is terrible there are atrocities, but are those atrocities being done [by people] who might have been on the inside but are now long since on the outside?

“Unfortunately, there are always fringe players in the organisations,” he said. “People should keep it calm. We should never get lax about the bigger picture, and we should just keep that to the forefront and not talk ourselves into crisis. There is a bigger picture; the bigger picture is the ongoing process.

“These peripheral things, which I can only assume are not sanctioned, are going to continue to be a difficulty. That is something that has to be addressed.”

Mr Ahern also agreed with the assessment of former minister for justice, Michael McDowell, that the Irish and British governments allowed the Provisional IRA to continue as an “unarmed and withering husk” rather than risk a dissident group filling the void left by its disbandment.

We have not heard anything from Tony Blair to see if Ahern’s view of how the Provisionals would operate post Good Friday Agreement fits in with the British government’s approach.

Full article available here

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs