Three accounts out today worth highlighting. All of them treat with the murder of Kevin McGuigan and explore the ramifications. Each seeks to put it in a wider context. All reach different conclusions in varying degrees.
The first is a well researched piece from Ed Moloney, who has been re-reading Mary Alice Clancy’s 2013 Peace Without Consensus (the title hints of those poisonous foundations Peter Preston spoke of back in 2007) to good effect.
Moloney’s hobby horse for much of the latter part of the Peace Process™ period has been the defective reporting of the many inherent problems in the settlement that have arisen. His recapitulation reveals material that seems somehow to have eluded our collective memory.
The whole thing is worth reading from top to bottom, not least his illuminating timeline. But Moloney also usefully recycles a hard to get ball (buried towards the bottom of an extremely tangled ruck) by quoting George Bush’s then special envoy Mitchell Reiss:
In July 2005, the IRA had finally agreed to decommission all its weapons. At the last minute, [Gerry] Adams called No 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed.
The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Powell told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned.
This may explain McDowell’s recent account in the Irish Times, in which he described the IRA as an unarmed husk of its former self. Husk maybe, but recent events suggest it remains anything but unarmed.
As Moloney notes of this disclosure, Mr McDowell did not explain how an unarmed IRA could counter armed dissidents. Over on the Pensive Quill, Professor Peter Trumbore (via Lord Alderdice) provides one possible answer from 2011…
As much as the dissidents brand the leaders of the Provisional Movement traitors, Alderdice said:
“They haven’t the guts to take the Provos on, because the Provos will put them to bed. And in fact, it is ironic. It is because the Provisional IRA is effectively over in a meaningful sense that these guys popped their heads up. Because otherwise they’d have got their heads cut off.”
What Alderdice seemed to be arguing back in 2011 was that the PIRA retained enough military capability to defend itself were it to be challenged directly by the dissidents. What it had given up, however, in standing down from its wartime footing, was an ability to prevent open challenges to its authority.
This, added to what we have learned after the last several weeks, seems to me to offer a compelling explanation for the current landscape of “alphabet soup” IRAs and their apparent unwillingness to move against a leadership whom they have branded the worst kinds of traitors.
The Provos can still “put them to bed” if they try it.
A sort of night watchman role for the Process™, you might say. At the time of Alderdice’s speaking this was a latent assumption. Now it may be much more than that.
The last piece is from Professor John Brewer who views the reaction from Unionism as…
…comedy [which] has been ably provided by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which has withdrawn its one minister from the executive – the last hurrah of a party that has already made itself largely irrelevant to the peace process by its lukewarm commitments to working with Sinn Fein.
Under Mike Nesbitt, the UUP has tried to out-DUP the DUP in its appeal to traditional unionists – but the DUP is rather good at doing that itself.
What’s more, the UUP managed to let the DUP off the hook by allowing its leader, Peter Robinson, to appear relatively statesmanlike with his suggestion that withdrawal from the executive was the last rather than the first resort.
It is a ‘comedy’ which may yet prove resonant with the home audience. For the professor the core matter is little more than a “confected IRA threat”. That, of course, depends on what precisely you consider to be a ‘threat’.
On the pragmatic reality of the Stormont powerplay Brewer concludes:
The DUP’s goal is less delivering a shared, united community than trumping the UUP – and the spectre of the Provisional IRA serves wonderfully the purpose of reproducing the identity politics of the past. Those who want a better future, it seems, can go hang while the battle over sectarian unionist loyalties rages on.
Herein is Sinn Féin’s problem. The party has not sufficiently convinced enough people that the war is over, which it needs to do if it wants to squash the farcical idea that the Provisional IRA wants to return to war.
The DUP and Sinn Féin need each other, because there is nowhere else for each to go. But even as they both recognise this, they will not admit it. Ethnic tribal divisions still triumph, and prop up a paradoxical status quo – at the cost of a better future for all. [Emphasis added]
In fact very few unionists still consider a return to war a likely (or even practical) prospect for the vestigial remains of the Provisionals. But some may have good reason to consider McGuigan’s murder, and the message it sends other (Loyalist) paramilitaries, unnerving.
It’s not the prospect the return of war that may exercise the plain
unionist people of Ulster, but an odd tight-lipped tolerance for criminality. Not to mention the severely delayed arrival of the peace.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty