Sinn Fein’s self interest more than pressure over the IRA, will keep the Assembly in being

So the pressure is mounting on Sinn Fein North and South to do – what exactly?  Agree to accept or at least put up with a revival of the International Monitoring Commission and  dissociate  themselves from the IRA? This would require a new  political calculus all round. Still, the Irish government may have made a move in that direction. Will the British follow?  The Sunday Times (£) reports a revival of pressure in the Shinners over the IRA’s ill gotten gains in good time for a build up to the election campaigns.  But the history of such pressure is not encouraging.

JUSTICE minister Frances Fitzgerald  is the most senior member of government to raise questions about an estimated €70m cash pile raised by republican paramilitaries each year. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Fitzgerald said the gardai had enjoyed significant successes against republicans involved in organised crime rackets which had resulted in the seizure of cash and contraband.

The justice minister said she could not comment on any specific case but said any support offered by Sinn Fein to people involved in crime was “indefensible” given the size of the criminal operations responsible for fuel and cigarette smuggling. “Any democratic society cannot tolerate this or show the slightest tolerance to it. Any law-abiding citizen would be concerned about what is happening.”

Asked about Sinn Fein’s denials of IRA involvement in crime, she said if there were legitimate questions being asked about the issue everyone, including Sinn Fein, had a duty to be clear about it and respond.

But what response will the two governments require Sinn Fein to make? That is the big question for the next several weeks.

In the Sunday Times former Irish Times editor Conor Brady has the background  which prompts the question ..

Every government since 1923 has accommodated an ambiguity about the existence of an illegal, unelected, armed cabal whose members persuade themselves that they have a legitimacy going back to the first Dail.,,

Both administrations on this island have had to manage this reality down the decades…

t is “live and let live”. It has little to do with morality or principle. It is utterly pragmatic. It suits nobody to have it disturbed or even to admit of its existence.

Thus a tolerable, pragmatic balance is struck. The garda Crime and Security Branch is pretty well on top of the dissidents. That suits both the state and the remnants of the mainstream IRA very well. There is little need for the authorities to worry about that mainstream. Many of them are living well on ill-gotten gains, on fuel smuggling or on laundered funds. But they are not engaged in hostilities against the state or its agencies. From time to time, individual members engage in criminal activity. But it is not “sanctioned” and can be attributed to individuals — mavericks — rather than to the organisation.

By pulling the UUP out of the Executive UUP leader Mike Nesbitt can claim credit for provoking this new surge of pressure to jolt IRA criminality back onto the political agenda,  as Newton Emerson nicely argues in both the Irish News and Sunday Times. But why should pressure succeed this time when it has bounced off Sinn Fein time and again?  Sinn Fein may decide to ride the pressure out and either call unionist bluff or leave them with the ignominy of bringing down the Assembly.

The possible game changer would be if the two governments and the SDLP supported political sanctions against Sinn Fein, leaving them isolated . Would they take the risk of linking them directly with killings and support their suspension from the Assembly? Could they do so legally, as legal challenge wold be expected? And whether they could or not, would the electorates north and south be impressed?

Up to now in the north, support for Sinn Fein has been measured  more by voters’ view of unionist behaviour than that of the residual  IRA. Nationalists still  do not feel secure in their gains and fear unionists are trying to undermine them. Sinn Fein’s reactions to pressure exploits this sentiment.  The most recent analysis of it comes from Fionnuala O’Connor in the Irish News.

The most lasting problem, from the start, has not been IRA guns under the table, nor an IRA structure that became a freeze-dried husk, in the words this week of the most anti-republican Dublin minister involved in negotiations about decommissioning, Michael McDowell. The problem that has hobbled progress most is, and has been, the state of unionism.

I don’t  entirely agree with Fionnuala.  By invoking the  long ago days of Jim Molyneaux, she discounts the distance  covered in  the  journey the unionist parties have taken since. She also underestimates the unionist commitment to the  institutions, however grudging.  Bending in their turn to the political forces which created power sharing, the DUP are the trimbilistas now. Ironically it’s now his own old party who are the new sceptics if not professing wreckers. They can afford to be as they are not the lynchpin of the system. All the same she rightly identifies the reasons why nationalists will be cynical  about the impact of the latest UUP  withdrawal from the Executive.

Like UU leaders before him, Nesbitt is quick to sign up to pan-unionism, rubbishing Parades Commission curbs on loyal order marches, splitting hairs to deplore flag-protest rioting while blaming the Alliance party for provoking rioters. His is not a leadership that inspires hope of genuine power-sharing. But he had a good Westminster election, installing a liberal and an Orangeman as MP, re-instating the old self-image of Ulster Unionism as a broad church. By pulling his party’s single minister off the executive, Nesbitt can further destabilise a Peter Robinson leadership whose authority has long since departed.

In the same move, he has thrown the SDLP into further disarray, and will stroke a Protestant communal instinct to be done with devolved arrangements that require continuing compromise.

If unionists stIck to “pan unionism “ so will  the other side cling to pan nationalism,  which has  favoured Sinn Fein for the past decade and more. We can only rely on the self interest of all parties  to keep the Assembly in being. Contrary to some assessments of Sinn Fein’s political interests, this will probably be enough.


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  • MainlandUlsterman

    A lot of sense in that. I agree that O’Connor like many nationalist commentators it seems, underestimates unionist commitment to the GFA structures. There is always huffing and puffing, because having to deal with SF day in day out is unpleasant and there is a sense of the time being out of joint. Unionists tend to be glass half empty people and focus on the negatives, so that’s what you’ll hear. But it doesn’t mean we don’t know how much water there is in the glass.
    I do customer research work with supermarkets sometimes and when you’re analysing shoppers, it’s important to look not just at their grumbles about the shop but the fact they still go back to that shop and how much they are spending there. Indeed, you can’t understand really the meaning of what they say without reference to the behavioural data. So it is with unionist attitudes to the Assembly. Unionists are moaning shoppers at that store – but it’s precisely because we see it as a store we belong in; we want to see improvements in that store because we expect to continue shopping there, we’re not about to switch to another store.
    At the risk of stretching the analogy, what Nesbitt has done is write a stiff letter to the store manager. He wants the store to keep the aisles tidy like it used to. He’s not buggered off to Aldi. But the aisles do need tidying.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Nice analogy, but I don’t think Nesbitt would be seen dead in Aldi.

  • Khead8

    No he is more of a Dunnes Stores man.

  • Brian O’Neill

    For some reason we don’t have Aldi in NI (anyone know why?). A pity as some of their stuff is quite good.

  • tmitch57

    I always thought of Aldi’s (the U.S. version) as purely an American store. I guess it is in the UK as well?

  • tmitch57

    It should be kept in mind that long before the latest crisis with the IRA broke, Nesbitt had been thinking about alternative strategies for his party and one of these was to go into opposition in the Assembly by withdrawing from the Executive. To be successful at this strategy he now has to convince either the SDLP or Alliance to follow. He may find that the chances of that occurring are about the same as the IRA following after David Trimble jumped back in 1999-2000.

  • Steve Larson

    I jusr can’t see the 2 Govts throwing out everything they have said, that the PSNI and Guards have said about SF being 100% wedded to the peace strategy and PIRA not being active just to suit the needs of Unionist backwoods men.

    Charlie Flanagan, a stridently anti republican man, called it car crash politics today.

    If Unionism crashes the assembly over this charade then it will have to answer to a very pissed off London and Dublin on why.

    You must remember that the 2 Govts know about Unionism’s links and association to Loyalist groups as well who are unlike the IRA actively recruiting, organizing and using violence for political gain.

  • Steve Larson

    There is a case to be made that Unionism collapsing the assembly in an one up man game between the UUP and DUP would suit Sinn Féin very nicely, so very much in their interest.

    It would be back in 6 months with both the DUP and UUP bottoms black and blue from Cameron smacking them.

    It is such a spectacle at the moment that it may well benefit SF in the polls whatever happens. Like the raving anti Republican Min. Charlie Flanagan said it is “car crash politics” if that is what Unionism’s strongest allies outside of themselves are saying ….

  • Sliothar

    That’s the sole thing missing from ALL the accusations, speculations and downright lying among the posturing and knee-jerking. Nobody has mentioned if the IRA are recruiting – unlike the recent posters put up by Loyalist paramilitaries. But, of course, THEY are not in Government. Hmmm…

    You’d like to think that some of the mud slingers would have at least raised the matter with the CC, SOS, etc. Strange no one has ever mentioned it. Maybe they didn’t like the answer they might have received – or did.

  • kalista63

    What journey has unionism (freely) taken?

  • willieric

    Surely Aldi is Lidl?……Always thought Lidl could have made capital on the Ulster accent…..”Every Lidl helps”.
    Problem is you go in for a bottle of Merlot and leave with a sand blaster or lawn mower.

  • Steve Larson

    Nice analogy, illuminating.

  • Granni Trixie


  • chrisjones2

    Perhaps all those oil plants are just a job scheme for the over 50s

  • Pasty2012

    Maybe some of the Journalists should be asking Mr Nesbitt Why he didn’t bring withdraw from the Assembly until he got answers to why the DUP asked the UVF Not to call a Ceasefire and what they expected a UVF Not on Ceasefire to continue doing?
    Does anyone know what Terrorists not on Ceasefire do that they DUP don’t know ?

  • james

    An estimated €70million pa?? That is certainly much more than the average industrial wage…

  • Sliothar

    You can be as cynical as you wish, Chris, I’m just looking for clarity in these muddied waters. If they’re not recruiting, there’s no young blood coming in and, imo, pensioners don’t pose too great a threat. That’s a simple fact of life.
    However, in this whole scenario, there’s too much smoke and too many mirrors to believe anyone. And that’s another fol.

  • Zig70

    Tidy? As in the Irish are making the place untidy? 😉

  • Paddy Reilly

    My theory is that Ian Paisley was presented a long list of his illegal activities over the decades plus the number of years he could be sentenced to for them (way in excess of his expected life-span) and made an offer he couldn’t refuse: “How would you like to be First Minister?” That is the reason why, despite all previous assurances, he caved in and allowed power sharing.

    Someone else on this site recently opined that it would not be in Peter Robinson’s interest to go out of government, as the prestige which the post of 1st Minister gives him allows him to pressurise government bodies not to ask inconvenient questions.

    The DUP has, so far, not indicated an intent to leave government. This leads me to at least consider the possibility that HM Government has sufficient on all parties to ensure that the Stormont regime will not collapse.

  • Brian O’Neill

    They are German, setup by two brothers. It is a really interesting story.

  • barnshee

    Given the limited Conservative majority Cameron will be very careful about selecting bottoms to be smacked.

  • Sliothar

    Not Ulster – ‘Mehican’, as in Speedy Gonzales. Every ‘leedle’ helps is how the ads pronounce it.
    And, if you know of a car boot sale, I have about 3000 tools which were ABSOLUTELY necessary when I bought them. The boxes alone would make a terrific bonfire!

  • murdockp

    prestige? eh. Ni first minister is like being voted best looking man in the burns unit at the city hospital.

    a job were doing nothing and leading others to do nothing is order of the day.

  • murdockp

    you make it sound like a kitchener WW1 recruitment poster.

    watching teenagers born after the GFA throwing petrol bombs reminds us all that there is a disaffected youth which has been ignored by the assembly who will do bad things if asked to do so in the name of Irish freedom / loyalism and in their of efforts to out republican / out loyalist each other.

  • murdockp

    was watching a documentary on polish communism and it was interesting to see the propoganda used to promote the importance of work and production in the communist system

    imagine then the SF philosophy of communism where the majority of its followers are on benefits, black market incomes, and state funded incomes who believe the whole system should be funded by others.

    not only is it a nightmare for unionists it is a nightmare for anyone who works for a living.

  • murdockp

    yes I know. the irish loyality to the family owned Mace and Spar franchised petrol stations cannot be broken.

    as well as that too many players and too small a population

  • murdockp

    amazing what german brothers can do. addidas and puma. who would have thought

  • Sliothar

    In relation to the ‘disaffected youth’ you refer to, this problem is common to all sides – whether it be ‘recreational rioting’ or orchestrated. The main thing about that problem is that it’s under no one’s (absolute) control and can grow of itself.

    My point is that, if there is no recruiting into the IRA, the command structure, assuming it still exists, cannot exercise discipline, control and, most important of all, omerta over these loose factions. Irrespective of the morality or justification of an illegal armed force, PIRA ran a tight enough organisation for several decades – until, of course, informers and more sophisticated security tactics started to hurt.

    In his statement, the CC did not once refer to recruitment on which he would have obtained first hand info from his own and MI5’s spooks. So, if no intake, oldies will become increasingly irrelevant. Result: atrophy.

    That, I imagine was the intial hope from the ceasfire and, I’m also convinced, EVERY single player on the political stage would have been aware of this fact.

    However, if the dissidents continue to harrass and even ‘take out’ old ‘comrades’, who knows where it will end? And, if we’re into score settling, will the Loyalist paramilitaries, who have never disarmed and who are still recruiting, enter the fray as well?

    Gesture politics and posturing is all very well for the ‘optics’ to wrong-foot political opponents but, on the street, nothing could be more dangerous.