Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

IRA’s Bum Rap

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair


The suspension of the 10-week old coalition government in Northern Ireland has seen the stampeding of public opinion here in the United States into denunciation of the IRA, and into sympathy to the political maneuvers of the British government and of the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble. Naturally enough, this sudden tilt is being viewed with profound satisfaction by the British, not to mention the Ulster Unionists, who have chafed for years at the admirable refusal of the Clinton administration to take dictation from the British Embassy in Washington.

Tens of thousands of high-flown words have now been devoted to the IRA’s supposed flouting of the l998 Good Friday agreement, the IRA’s lack of good faith, Sinn Fein’s duplicity. Yet as Britain’s Secretary for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, finally admitted as he returned the province to direct rule, suspending its ten-week old coalition government the IRA is not in breach of that agreement, which stated that decommissioning of IRA weapons should occur “in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement”. This was what the IRA said once more on February 11 and its leaders may be forgiven for feeling somewhat baffled when they got some grudging praise the following weekend for merely reiterating a position they signed on to nearly two years ago.

As a practical matter the IRA could have only agreed to disarmament if such a process is mutual, part of the above-mentioned “overall settlement”. Though in fact there has been distinct lack of such mutuality, the IRA has indeed honored its commitment to peace, ensuring the longest period of tranquillity ? now in its third year — in the recent history of Northern Ireland.

Amid this tranquillity the capacity for organized violence remains overwhelmingly with the Unionists and with the British. Just visit south Armagh where IRA units are being asked to turn in their weapons. British forts dot the hillsides. British patrols still deploy. British helicopters fill the sky. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is still a standing, unreformed force with an awful history still vivid in Catholic minds. There has been abundant testimony that RUC officers were implicated in assassinations and bombings of Catholics, in conspiracies with other Protestant terror groups. Now many Ulster Unionists are insisting that the RUC never be disbanded and its name survive.

On one well-informed count last year there were about 135,000 legal guns in the north, 90 per cent of them in the hands of RUC and the British army. What army with the function of guaranteeing the safety of Catholic communities in the North could blithely lay down its arms amid these conditions? More precisely, what IRA commander could order such a course without facing the likelihood of mutinous dissent? In the view of many Republicans, only a beaten army unilaterally lays down its guns and only an antagonist acting in bad faith would try to force the decommissioning issue at this time.

There is no reason to believe that when Trimble accepted his slice of the Nobel peace prize he traded in his instincts and outlook as a Unionist, leader of a party adamantly opposed to power-sharing or anything other than absolute Protestant dominance. The truth is that Trimble was dragged to the negotiating table, and forced to accept the coalition cabinet with its two Sinn Fein members. After as short a time as ten peaceful weeks Trimble found this situation intolerable. His sudden flourishing of a previously non-existent decommissioning “deadline” overstepped by the IRA was a maneuver to destroy the coalition and in this tactic he was backed by Mandelson and Blair, who lost all room for maneuver by making it known that they were entirely in Trimble’s corner. Worse still, Mandelson chose to suspend the new coalition government in northern Ireland and restore direct rule, even though he was well aware that General John de Chastelain, the former Canadian officer heading the international disarmament body, was about to report that he was confident of the IRA’s good faith.

There are some signs that the British realised they had overreacted on Trimble’s behalf. Some vague noises were duly made about the possible withdrawal of some British forces. When the British did finally suspend the new power-sharing institutions they began to downplay the significance of the whole affair, insisting that suspension was not necessarily an epochal event. But by that time they had prompted the IRA to distance itself from a process in which its leaders thought they were being unfairly stigmatized.

If the British government wanted to settle the decommissioning issue once and for all, it would propose that the RUC be abolished in favor of a recomposed police force which would be evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants. 50 per cent of such a force could include decommissioned IRA volunteers. That’s actual reconciliation, beyond the level of high-flown speeches at Nobel prize-givings. The announcement of such a force would then be the green light for the IRA to decommission on a grand scale. Exactly this process happened in several decolonizations ? India, Kenya, Zimbabwe — pushed through by Britain. Today, members of the ANC’s armed wing have been recruited into the South African army in large numbers.

One can understand the British dilemma. Blair and Mandelson no doubt feel that if Trimble goes, there’ll be no Unionist they can deal with. So once again Trimble holds the old, ever-familiar Ulster veto. There’s no reason why the United States should be suckered into playing along with this veto too. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]