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.
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