"The arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA’s arsenal."
With those words, spoken by Canadian general John de Chastelain today at a press conference in Holywood, Co Down, one phase of Ireland’s Troubles seemed to draw to a definitive conclusion. Alongside the general and his fellow members of an independent international commission overseeing paramilitary disarmament, two aged clergyman in black suits backed up his account.
"We have spent many long days watching the meticulous and painstaking process," Harold Good, former president of the Methodist church in Ireland, said in mellifluous ministerial tones. "Beyond any shadow of doubt, the arms of the IRA have now been decommissioned." He hoped it would mark "the dawn of a new era of peace".
That remains to be seen. Although the men were prepared to say they saw a huge amount of weapons, ammunition and explosives "put beyond use", they can’t reveal the inventory, nor is there any photographic evidence. De Chastelain was bombarded with questions about how he could be sure these constituted the full Irish Republican Army collection. He said the amount was consistent with estimates that British security forces had prepared; he said he had information that IRA members had been "scouring the country for this stuff"; he said, in the end, he believed the IRA were "sincere".
"They told us they believe they have given us everything they have, and we believe them."
That element of "belief" is likely to be seized on by some unionists who don’t want to restart Northern Ireland’s power-sharing process. At one point the Canadian said: "Could we be wrong? I suppose. But I don’t think we are."
De Chastelain admitted he would have preferred a more transparent disarmament, but the importance of "decommissioning" not looking like "surrender or defeat" was paramount. That didn’t stop the Northern editor of Ireland’s State broadcaster, RTE, from stumbling over his words on television on Sunday evening, referring to the IRA’s "surrender of all its weapons uh, the handing-in of all its weapons". He grinned as he corrected himself, but the IRA would insist it was neither a surrender nor a handing-in, but a process carried out by itself and simply verified by de Chastelain and company.
Nonetheless, it’s a long way from the oft-graffiti’ed catchphrase, "Not an ounce, not a bullet!" The IRA has studiously avoided "disbanding", nor has it stated that its devotion to peaceful means is permanent–either action would be an invitation for someone else to take up the mantle of military struggle for an end to the British presence in Northern Ireland and for Irish unity. But while, so far, it has deftly avoided a fatal split, it has gone further in the direction of disappearance than many of its supporters, and enemies, thought possible.
And it has effectively done so unilaterally, though this decommissioning is based on a model put forward during multi-party talks last year. This time there are no talks, loyalist paramilitaries have still not disarmed, and there remain other potential problems for the IRA–for example in the unfolding of the investigation into last December’s massive Northern Bank robbery.
As Irish republicans took this demonstrable step away from armed struggle, there were other reasons to wonder about the movement’s future political direction. Many believe it jettisoned its socialism long before it got rid of its arms, as its leaders strode the international stage and it moved toward electoral respectability south of the Border, in the Republic.
On Saturday, the day that de Chastelain tells us the IRA was finishing the process of putting its weapons beyond use, its political wing, Sinn Fein, was hosting a "rally for Irish unity" in Dublin. Ostensibly to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Sinn Fein party, the event was partly an historical pageant of 20th-century Irish republicanism: teenagers in 1916 vintage costumes handed out leaflets to passers-by, while others in the parade wrapped themselves in old blankets to recall the hunger strikers of a quarter-century ago. Some media outrage was generated by the replica guns being waved around, but the message of the event was clearly that political violence belongs to a rather undifferentiated past–a past to be honoured, surely, but no longer to be imitated.
Indeed, it was hard to argue that Ireland has not changed utterly–not when the parade started in Parnell Square, on the edge of what is rapidly becoming Dublin’s Chinatown, and around the corner from Moore Street’s collection of east-European and Nigerian shops. O’Connell Street, where the historic General Post Office squats in columned solemnity, is largely a construction site, full of Polish builders, as city planners awash in Celtic Tiger cash transform it into somebody’s notion of a sleek 21st-century boulevard. In this city, and even among some of these immigrants, Sinn Fein is the party with political momentum.
But of course the last phase of the IRA campaign was never about Dublin, but about Belfast, Derry, Armagh, Tyrone and other parts of the North, still ruled by Britain. Once the most industrialised and developed part of the island, it now looks backward and dilapidated; and the relative privilege of the Protestant working-class there has slipped so far that loyalist communities are seriously (if unsustainably) described as "disenfranchised". The summer of violence from loyalists, including a murderous internal feud, spectacular rioting and attacks on Catholic people and property, must have made some republicans hesitate over decommissioning, despite the IRA’s July promise to do it, because it could leave nationalist areas "undefended" in the event of a further loyalist upsurge. After all, it was neighbourhood defence that is said to have given rise to what became the Provisional IRA in 1969-70.
Mind you, in light of the latest writings from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, it appears the IRA had another dilemma. It was either decommission those weapons now, or become the armed wing of the Hillary ’08 campaign. Adams, who was briefly the IRA chief of staff in the 1970s, is now a bearded visage for the global Clinton brand, an instant signifier of ex-President Bill’s status as an international statesman and totem of racial, ethnic and religious reconciliation. Ten days ago Adams was a guest, speaking on "religion and conflict", at the inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. (Funny, republicans always used to insist the Northern struggle was not about religion but about imperialism.)
Adams’s account of the three-day meeting appears in Ireland’s Village magazine, under the fitting headline, "Clinton shows way towards elimination of poverty". Adams tells readers that the $15,000-a-head "action-orientated" conference was attended mainly by "people committed to multilateralism and collective action in global affairs". Ah, well, that’s all right then: thanks to Gerry we now know such a (totally meaningless) commitment is apparently shared by Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, George Bush Sr, Shimon Peres and Condoleezza Rice, along with Mrs Bill, George Soros and their "liberal" like. Adams oozes empty anti-poverty platitudes like he’s been sharing a pint with Bono and Bob Geldof. (The only thing remotely edifying about his article is the photograph, from the conference floor, of Angelina Jolie’s intent, collagen-enhanced profile. Let’s hope she’s truly committed to multilateralism and collective action in global affairs.)
Perhaps now we know why the IRA doesn’t need its weapons any more. The people running the global agenda to which Gerry Adams has signed up have all the firepower they could ever need.
HARRY BROWNE writes for Village magazine and lectures in the school of media at Dublin Institute of Technology. email@example.com
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005