Why “Equality under the law” is a prerequisite for a stable, long term and unprocessed peace…

It’s just too good not to reprint Ed Moloney’s latest headline in its entirity: ‘They Haven’t Gone Away, You Know!’ And That’s Okay With Us, Say Brits… Aside from the dark humour involved, he usefully points back to the IMC report of September 2008.

Now with regard to the pressure now mounting on Peter Robinson over a statement he made just prior to that report, this is all very pertinent. Here’s the guts of Robinson’s statement:

“There is no purpose for having a structure if you do not intend to act in a paramilitary fashion, so the requirement from the people of Northern Ireland is for the army council and any other part of the IRA’s structure to be completely disbanded.

I accept what the Chief Constable says, that they are not meeting for any terrorist purpose, but we require the removal of the IRA’s army council and we have always made that clear.”

That’s pretty clear. Robinson wants the IRA Army Council gone. Did he get what he wanted? Well according to yesterday’s report, no. But that’s not what the IMC told the world just afterwards:


In other words IMC did Sinn Fein and the IRA Army Council a huge service in telling the world they no longer existed (when in fact it seems they actually did). Moloney goes on to provide us with a verbal organogram of what, apparently, survives…

…it has experienced a Lazarus-style resurrection. It is back in action, no longer languishing in ‘disuse’, but back to being ‘operational’ and ‘functional’, albeit ‘in a much reduced form’.

But then we discover what this ‘much reduced form’ consists of. Well on top of the Army Council there is something called ‘a senior leadership’ – the PSNI/MI5 are coy about what this means but it sounds like a Chief of Staff to me – and below it some ‘departments’ whose functions we are not allowed to know and then something called ‘regional command structures’.

Could these possibly be Brigades, as in Belfast Brigade? We don’t know, because neither the PSNI, MI5 or the three wise monkeys chosen to endorse this report will tell us. If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it is basically the old Provisional IRA structure, albeit somewhat reduced: a Chief of Staff, an Army Council, Brigades and Departments.

Now sceptics, you do have a point. If the British said one thing the first time, and then something else this time, how on earth can we believe either version? The honest answer is that in absolute terms, we probably can’t.

But the only people who still wish to believe the IRA has gone are also the only ones with a vested interest in getting the rest of us to believe that they have gone. However, I think it’s important to make a distinction here.

How the party organise themselves is no one’s business but their own. The autocracy of a leadership now approaching its thirtieth always had to have resulted from immutable and subterranean structures. That’s a party choice and, as Vincent Browne said a few years back, no one should fear that.

But it becomes more than just Peter Robinson’s problem if a party of government finds that in the course of conducting its wider business that it indulges in criminality, covert intelligence gathering (remember the furore over the bugging of the Garda Ombudsman’s office), or murder.

The front page of the Belfast Telegraph today leads with the story of Breege Quinn of Cullyhanna in south Armagh whose son was murdered not in the course of a political conflict but, she alleges, by the IRA in the normal conduct of its business.

It has to be acknowledged that in terms of its wider danger from the actual  violence of the PIRA  is a shadow of that of dissidents and loyalists, many of whom control their areas under the threat of extreme violence. But it is a mistake to treat the two problems separately.

Equality under the law is a prerequisite for a stable, long term and unprocessed peace. As a principle cannot be used as a Trojan Horse in order to further the private political ambitions if the new customs of the peace are to (however slowly) displace the old customs (and principles) of war.

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  • Robin Keogh

    The problem then rests in conflict between the British and its citizens and has nothing to do with SF. Questioning the truthfulness and honesty of the British security services when it is expedient for selfish reasons and then choosing to believe them for the same set of reasons albeit under different circumstances doesnt sound like a credible position to hold, and certainly not conducive to agreeing a stable political roadmap. Sinn Fein have been calling on the governments to assign a cross border task for to deal with criminality for months. Now it seems FF agree with them at last. The Provisional Army Council ( whoever they are ) have been given a blessing by the British government as long as they support the peace. that is also an issue for the Britush gov to explain to those who are unamused. Those renegade members and ex members of the RA who are freelancing in the criminal world can only be brought to a sticky end by way of police investigation, arrest and conviction. So, lets get on with that rather than picking apart sentences in a report that do nothing but deflect from the real issues.

  • Granni Trixie

    Don’t pin your hopes on the British investing more than a minimum attention to us. Say what you like about Tony Blair but he gave proper attention to get to grips with NI problem unlike his predecessors who contributed neglect.

    Was surprisingly shocked however to note the visuals in Westminster when SOS was making her speech about the state of paramilitarism – Most MPs made immediately for the door and there was sparce audience to hear her in the chamber,

  • mickfealty

    It is at core a local problem Granni. We don’t need another Hain/Blair (Peter did the majority of the cracking of heads), just some human political presence…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Crucial questions have been asked though of SF and it can’t avoid answering them any more. If it continues to have a close relationship with the IRA, which it apparently does, what is its nature, how does it work, who is involved … and what is the timetable for that relationship ending? Given that they lied to us that this had already happened because the IRA had “left the stage”, it needs to be quick.

    In particular, if the IRA Army Council oversees the IRA and Sinn Fein, this needs to stop before normal politics is possible again, clearly,

  • murdockp

    Equality has many versions. for me correctly applied law and order is arresting people who build illigal bonfires and similar offences with the same enthusiasm as prosecuting a housewife for doing 35 in a 30 zone.

    two tier policing has to end

  • Pasty2012

    Maybe you missed the DUP racing past you back into Stormont yesterday, normal politics resumed.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we’re maybe differing in what we mean by “normal politics” here. The old broken politics, yes, that is resuming. We are missing the opportunity for a clearing away of the negative clutter that’s built up and getting some normal politics – or what ought to be normal. We’re like hoarders living amongst old newspapers, leftover dinners and festering germs.

  • Robin Keogh

    I think the report gave a pretty broad account of what the IRA is and does. The most important is the fact that it is supportive of Sinn Fein and the peace process. The IRA of the troubles are gone and never coming back, even if they wanted to they dont have capability. The dissidents that are engaging in crime are not republicans. Their actions exclude them from regarding themselves as such. Those people whomever they are, are criminals and clearly the police can identify them. Why no action is taken against them simply baffles me. The report never claimed that PAC oversees Sinn Fein. It stated that individuals ‘ believe’ so. The report itself did not agree with that assertion. A world of difference between the two.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But what is the IRA still doing here? It’s supposed to have “left the stage”; the IMC told us the Army Council was “no longer operational or functional” and now we discover it very much is, whether you think it’s in charge of SF or not.

    The phrase from the report was “Provisional IRA members believe” that the IRA Army Council oversees Sinn Fein. It is ambiguous and some clarification is in order, I’d say. It could mean that as few as two of them believe this; or it could have the more natural meaning of “Provisional IRA members generally”, so it is a belief held by most or all of them. But it’s not enough to say, oh well, it’s only a ‘belief’. Given their status as IRA members, it is presumably a well-informed belief. If it is a wrong belief, it is odd the report did not say that. Again, I think we need clarification there. If your interpretation is right, Robin, then someone inside the Republican Movement has been duping the IRA membership. Or how have they arrived at this wrong belief that SF answers to the IRA Army Council?

    The further question then arises, are IRA members now disputing that they think the IRA controls SF? What is the IRA itself saying? That would be interesting to hear, even if as usual we’d have to take it with a big pinch of salt and a post-graduate degree in semiotics, given it’s them. My sister-in-law calls my father-in-law The Riddler for his penchant for vague opacities, but compared to the Republican Movement he’s like a sign in a pre-school classroom.

    Ideally the clarification should really be coming from the Republican Movement itself, but as it’s incapable of calling a spade a spade (and its credibility is shot anyway) we need the report authors to provide some further information here. But I’m not persuaded of the ‘world of difference’ you’re reading into this, I’m afraid.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    not a big one but just to point out: careful when you say “the British”, it suggests “the British” are something purely external to NI, which we aren’t. Better to say ‘Westminster’ here? Or if you are using it, you need to
    also use “the Irish” when referring to the Republic, to be even-handed.

  • Granni Trixie

    Life’s too short. …….

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It is indeed. Northern Ireland is a linguistic minefield. But I do think language matters – parity of status and esteem matters, a lesson as a small ‘u’ unionist I have learned from unionism’s mistakes of the past.

  • Nevin

    “Now sceptics, you do have a point. If the British said one thing the first time, and then something else this time, how on earth can we believe either version?”

    Sceptics not only have a point; they are an essential component of a democratic society; questioning and verification are also important functions of journalism – not least in an age of spin.

    I’m not sure why London is being singled out as the IMC was a London-Dublin initiative and one of the five commissioners was an ex-director of the USA’s CIA.

  • Granni Trixie

    In certain contexts I think it is right to preempt inflaming passions by use of language. That said, I also refuse to ditch entirely language that comes ‘naturally’ to me – a form of resistance to language shaped by Sectarian consciousness. It’s a matter of getting the balance right. For example as someone from Belfast I tend to speak of ‘Derry – but should I be speaking to Protestants from Derry I would refer (consciously.) to Londonderry because it matters to them (.not t me).