FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

IRA’s Bum Rap


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 The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
Christopher Brauchli
Banking, Wells Fargo-Style
Jeff Mackler
After Week-Long Strike, Oakland Teachers’ Contract Falls Short
Chuck Collins
Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism!
Binoy Kampmark
Grounding Boeing
James Munson
Why Are We Still Sycophants?
Jill Richardson
Politicians Are Finally Catching Up on Marijuana
Warren Alan Tidwell
Disasters Don’t Discriminate, But Disaster Recovery Does
Robert Koehler
Artifial Morality
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Goodenough Island in MacArthur’s Wake
Alex McDonald
U.S. Iran Policy: What is Great?
Tracey L. Rogers
Stop Making Women Apologize
John Sarbanes – Michael Brune
To Clean Up the Planet, Clean Up DC First
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail