Editorial from Irish Political Review, April 2005
Republicans One And All!
We're all Republicans now—except the Republicans. So says Michael McDowell, and so say they all. And there's an element of truth in it. Provisional Republicanism was essentially a Six County phenomenon. It was a product of the Northern Ireland state. It was not a continuation of what the revisionists now call "romantic nationalism". It was not anti-Free Statism. It was not inspired by Emmet's speech from the dock. It was not an outcome of the way history was taught in the 26 Counties. It was not caused by a yearning to complete the unfinished revolution. It was caused by the experience of life under the perversity of 'the Northern Ireland state', to which Edmund Burke's description of the Penal Laws might well be applied:—
"a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, and as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement, in them, of human nature, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man" (Letter to Hercules Langrishe).
There were Catholics who were prepared to live quietly under the Penal Laws, especially after 1760 when the worst was over, which was when Burke wrote that description of them. But Burke—even though he has been made an icon of West Britishism by Conor Cruise O'Brien and Mary Robinson—did not think it was human to live quietly under those conditions.
Most Northern Catholics, likewise, were living quietly under 'the Northern Ireland state', even though it had no democratic politics in which they could participate, and they knew very well that they were not part of it. There was a mere handful of Republicans in Belfast and Derry in the Summer of 1969. By the following Summer the Catholic North was bubbling over with Republican sentiment, and there was enough earnestness within that sentiment to launch a war and sustain it for a quarter of a century. What Republicanised it was not the propaganda of 'romantic nationalism', but the pogrom of August 1969. That event made it impossible for Catholics in the North to drift along quiescently in the old way. It precipitated them into political action. There was no form of democratic politics open to them within the structures of the state. All that was available to them was the Republicanism which they had all but forgotten. It was then, after the event, that they took the traditional Republican position on board, and linked up with the Southern Republicanism of rejection of the Free State.
At the time of the establishment of the Free State the Catholics of the Six Counties were in the process of being subordinated to the UVF and they had little time for what is called the Civil War in the South. Collins offered them support and they supported him. They were Free Staters, as they continued to be for close on half a century. the 'Free State' was not a pejorative term in the North, as it quickly became in the South. And it remained the name in common use amongst Northern Catholics long after the Treatyites declared the state to be a Republic in 1948.
The Northern Catholics started Republicanising in the Autumn of 1969, under the impact of the Unionist pogrom, and the process has continued ever since. But the ground of their Republicanism remains, for most of them, the experience of life in the 'Northern Ireland state'. That is what has given the Provisional movement its staying power. It does not depend on memory and idealism, but is continuously reinforced by experience.
A few become outright idealists. Anthony McIntyre appears to be one of these. He wanted the war to continue. He declared that the Ceasefire was a defeat and demanded that the leadership should admit defeat and give up. And, because it has not given up, he now declares grandiosely that "Sinn Fein contaminates the moral universe in which we live" (BBC Radio 4, 24.1.05). He has become a British media personality and a Queen's academic and is always useful on anti-Sinn Fein programmes. Outright idealists have always been putty in the hands of the British State.
In the Republic all politicians are, as they say, Republicans. But for the past generation they have been Republicans for want of anything better to be. They are Republicans in the sense that they do not owe allegiance to the British Crown—or at least do not take an Oath of Allegiance to it, and do not have its ceremonial favours bestowed on them. It is just a drab part of political life for them that they make their careers in a state which has been disconnected from the Crown and the Commonwealth. Being an independent republic in the world no longer has any sense of virtue or purpose associated with it for them. Some eminent public figures have accepted OBEs (which means that they have joined the British Empire), including a retired elder statesman of Fianna Fail. The Empire, or its ghost, is looking for citizens of the Republic to bestow MBEs on. A Dublin busman was recently enrolled in the Order of the British Empire for collecting memorabilia of the Dublin Fusiliers—a regiment which helped Britain to enlarge the Empire. But nobody who is active in political life has yet joined the Empire (or its ghost). That is a sure sign that it is felt it would not go down well enough with the populace not to endanger a political career. But the path back is being carefully prepared with various British Embassy, British Council interventions and Royal visits, the latest being the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester to Cork for St. Patrick's Day.
One would have expected Garret FitzGerald, on the basis of many of the things he has said, to sign up for the Empire. He was against the Fine Gael policy of formally resigning from the British Commonwealth. And his career as a practising politician is over. But he declined to lead the way back to the Empire. And he appears to have done so out of a sense of principle, or at least of incongruity, under the enduring influence of his anti-Treatyite Presbyterian mother.
The extraordinary development of recent times is not the durability of Republicanism in the North. Nobody who understands what Northern Ireland is would be surprised by that. The surprising thing is the extension of Northern Sinn Fein to the South. This is not a revival of the residue of the old Sinn Fein that was left behind after the secessions of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and Clann na Poblachta. That residue, after a spate of lunatic warfare as the Stickies in the early 1970s, became thoroughly anti-Republican, and joined the Irish Labour Party without decommissioning. The Sinn Fein presence in the Republic today is not a revival, but an arrival.
The politicians in the Republic failed utterly to handle the 1969 crisis in a way that was conducive to any kind of settlement. The Taoiseach of the time, Jack Lynch, made an inflammatory speech in mid-August, made various military arrangements following on from that speech during the next seven months, and then under pressure from Whitehall brought criminal prosecutions against an officer in his Army, Captain Kelly, for carrying out his orders; against a representative of the Northern Citizen's Defence Committees, John Kelly, with whom his Minister had previously been in negotiations over the matters which were now decreed to be criminal; and against the senior member of his Cabinet, Charles Haughey, with whom he had made the military arrangements which he now prosecuted as criminal. And, while doing these things, he did not cease making anti-Partition speeches, which in the circumstances were inflammatory.
The actual course of events in the North was heavily determined by Lynch's erratic conduct during the year following August 1969. And so was the collapse of national morale in the South, which set in a few years later.
Lynch's most ardent defender today is Bruce Arnold of the Irish Independent. He even defends the prosecution of Captain Kelly, despite the indisputable evidence that Kelly was acting on the instructions of his Army superior, who was himself acting on the instructions of the Government. But here is Arnold's perceptive and accurate summing up of Lynch about twenty years ago:
"His primary objective was to hold on to the centre. In the wake of the Derry and Belfast riots it was very difficult to know where that centre was eventually going to be" (What Kind Of Country?, 1984, p62).
A more damning judgment of the leader of a state in a crisis which he himself helped to bring about is hard to imagine.
The leadership of the 'Official Republicanism' of the seventies (who are now to be found in the leadership of the Labour Party and writing in the columns of the rabidly anti-republican Sunday Independent) circulated an anonymous pamphlet thirty years ago asserting that Fianna Fail created the Provisional IRA as a sectarian diversion from the social revolution which the Officials were making. This is part of the Stickie fantasy. The Provo IRA created itself in the ferment of the Catholic North after August 1969. But Lynch certainly contributed to the conditions in which the Provos created themselves by making inflammatory speeches and setting up military arrangements with leaders of the Defence Committees in the North (which included ex-servicemen of the British armed forces), and then aborting this course of action in the most damaging way possible, while continuing to make inflammatory speeches. He could not let the North be, and yet he had no Northern policy.
All parties in the Dail supported the Constitutional claim on the North, which was a profound form of interference with it. Fine Gael and Labour refused to put an amendment of the Constitutional claim to referendum in 1974 when, by doing so, their Government might have saved the most viable form of power-sharing there has been. But not one of them could devise forms of actual politics to give effect to the claim. A new Republicanism, specific to the Northern situation, was generated independently of them in the North. They banned the expression of that Republicanism from the Southern broadcasting media during the generation in which it went from strength to strength in the North. New Republican songs were written, and banned, and spread around the country outside the media of the state, and some of the old songs were banned as well. The effect of this was to hand the Republican heritage of the state to the Provos. Dictionary republicans like MacDowell had no use for it.
And then, all of a sudden, the Republic found that it had a real Republicanism in its midst—a battle-hardened political movement produced out of the realities of another state, whose leaders had coped with difficulties that were unimaginable to the routine careerists in Leinster House. This was a political movement that was not disabled by fetishes from 26 County history. Its members sat in the Free State Dail and recognised the Courts and accepted the State as legitimate and independent insofar as it is at all realistic to do so. But it differs from the other parties in that it is not Republican for want of anything better to be, and because it takes in earnest the ideals which the other parties retain as empty pretences, and because it has an active presence in the community, and among the dispossessed, as well as on the media and in the Dail. It is, in short, what Fianna Fail used to be.
The Dublin establishment washed its hands of the North back in the 1970s and is now suffering the consequences. The washing of hands can have spectacular effects.
Michael McDowell has perhaps been unfairly singled out. He is certainly no worse than Enda Kenny. And John O'Donoghue and little Willie O'Dea are certainly no better—not to mention Bertie. Indeed, why bother to mention Bertie, who has acquired a puppet-master?
All pretend that they are dealing with a case of atavism—with the inexplicable revival of something that should be dead—something they are all familiar with because it is something they all came out of in one way or another. They dare not understand what Provisional Republicanism is because they dare not understand 'the Northern Ireland state'. And they dare not understand Northern Ireland because that would bring them face-to-face with their own conduct in 1969-70.
Their implied position today is that the Provisional IRA is a conspiracy of criminals, and always has been. But they dare not spell it out—McDowell must be given the credit for going farthest towards doing so by saying that Bobby Sands was a criminal. If they spelled it out, they would have a problem accounting for the Good Friday Agreement—does one make Constitutional agreements with criminals?
The implied position of the Agreement is that the Provisional IRA was a legitimate body in a situation in which there was no Constitutional democracy. Only Albert Reynolds took that position squarely, and holds to it. (There was a noticeable distance between him and Martin Mansergh on a Vincent Browne programme a couple of months ago.) And, as far as we know, Reynolds was never much of a Republican. He was a successful businessman, who took the realities of the Northern situation as they presented themselves, with none of the epistemological difficulties of lapsed Republicanism.
The others would seem to have averted their minds from what they were agreeing to in the Agreement, and now that Paisley has put the Agreement out of the misery into which Trimble dragged it, they are inclined for another bout of hand washing.
Some of them now plead guilty to having indulged in duplicity—in "constructive ambiguity"—since 1998 by pretending that the IRA was not a conspiracy of armed criminals in the hope that this would somehow induce it to go away. And, during the past month, this duplicity has been widely referred to as "appeasement".
This is a borrowing from British foreign policy of the 1930s. It was a misnomer in its time, and its application to the Provos is absurd.
Appeasement is synonymous with 'conciliation'. In the British usage it describes a situation in which Nazi Germany is supposed to have become a Great Power in Europe and the British Government, instead of confronting it, conciliated it in the hoping of soothing it and making it content with what it had. But Nazi Germany did not become a Great Power independently of Britain, and Britain did not conciliate it. Britain collaborated with Nazi Germany and helped to make it a Great Power. It could not have become a Great Power without British help. It was a virtually unarmed state, bound by the conditions of the Versailles Treaty, in 1933, while Britain had never disarmed. It did not become a substantial military power until Britain gave it the Czech Sudetenland in 1938, having enabled it to break other Versailles conditions during the preceding years.
The Dublin Establishment, neither collaborated with the Provos, nor conciliated them. They only came to terms with the fact that Provisional Republicanism had developed as a strong political force despite them. And what they are trying to do now is retreat from those terms.
A situation of public hysteria was worked up against Sinn Fein for the Meath by-election. And the Sinn Fein candidate increased his vote, not only as a proportion, but inabsolute figures.
We are now waiting for the British election in the North where the McCartney Card is hoped to be a winner.
What seems to have happened is that Robert McCartney and a mate got involved in a row with another group in a pub across the river from the Short Strand. McCartney's mate was armed with a knife and he stabbed one of the opposing faction, who was taken to hospital. The row continued. One of the opposing faction got a knife from the pub kitchen. The brawl continued outside the pub, where McCartney was stabbed and died. When the police came, nobody admitted to having seen what had happened.
This kind of thing happens regularly all over the place. It might be described as a feature of British working class culture. Deaths do not usually occur, but neither are they so rare as to be sensational, but they are always a possibility of the situation.
The McCartney incident hit the world headlines because it was seen to be advantageous in a campaign to break Sinn Fein that was already being waged by Bertie Ahern's Government and the SDLP. That campaign began when the IRA in early December, during the negotiations to set up a mainly DUP/Sinn Fein administration in the North, refused to agree to an additional measure insisted upon by the Democratic Unionist Party for the declared purpose of "humiliating" the Republicans, and the negotiations broke down. It would seem reasonable that, when two parties are negotiating to form an administration and one of them insists on a measure which is outside the protocols governing the negotiation (the Good Friday Agreement), and says its purpose is to humiliate the other party, the party which insists on that measure is held responsible for the breakdown of the negotiations. But Bertie came to the opposite conclusion. He held the Republicans responsible for the breakdown because they would not submit to the DUP requirement of humiliation. (And it is a virtual certainty that, if they had submitted at that juncture, the DUP demand would have been extended until it reached a point at which the republicans could not submit. Paisley was not going to go into the British General Election in alliance with Sinn Fein and with Trimble in a position to play the Loyalist Card against him, and perhaps with the rumour circulating that in old age he had fallen prey to the Lundy complex. Lundy is one of the archetypes of Ulster Protestant mythology. In 1690 he wanted to open the gates of Derry to Brother Tadgh.)
The campaign to hold Sinn Fein responsible for the breakdown in negotiations had already been launched when the Northern Bank robbery happened. The British Chief Constable in the North said he thought the IRA did it. Bertie said he knew the IRA did it, and that the source of his knowledge was not the Chief Constable. And he said that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had organised it. Adams said that, since the Taoiseach claims to have evidence that he did it, he should be arrested and charged and put on trial. Bertie's aides put it about that the obligation was on Adams to sue the Taoiseach for defamation. Adams replied to this Smart Alecry by explaining that his (undoubtedly correct) legal advice was that, since he would not be defamed in the eyes of his peer group if it was established that he had done the robbery, he could not win an action for defamation, regardless of the facts. A Smart Alec barrister dismissed Adams' demand for arrest and trial as outrageous on the grounds that the purpose of criminal trials is not to prove the innocence of the defendant—which is true enough under the British legal system which operates in Ireland. But neither is the purpose of defamation law to uphold innocence.
There was some brief concern on the margins of official society in the republic that 'due process' was being ignored altogether by the Taoiseach and his Justice Minister. A Fianna Fail politician appeared on Radio Eireann to explain that 'due process' could take years and was therefore not relevant.
There is another explanation. If Adams was put on trial and the charge against him could not be brought home, that would be the end of Bertie. And, at this juncture, Bertie is concerned with nothing but survival. His Government has been hijacked by the miniature PDs. Fine Gael is reviving. And the internal Sinn Fein vote is holding up against all that his propaganda apparatus can do against it. And he would be glad to ditch the Peace Process without disadvantage to himself.
A robbery was carried out in Dublin on 14th March by methods very similar to those used on the Northern Bank. Bertie immediately said that this bore all the hallmarks of a paramilitary crime. But a few hours later the Garda Commissioner said it didn't. Some papers had already carried Bertie's statement. The Irish News gave it the front-page treatment, Republican Link To €2m Robbery And Kidnap (15.3.05). It did not subsequently correct the story after the Garda Commissioner contradicted it. The Irish Times simply did not report Ahern's remarks.
The Northern Bank robbery was becoming brittle as a bludgeon for use on Sinn Fein as week after week passed by without an arrest, and no circumstantial evidence of any kind was made public. Then the McCartney incident appeared as a godsend. It was seized upon, cosmetically enhanced, misrepresented by RTE, and broadcast to the United States, where it induced the hero of Chappaquiddick to issue a declaration against the Republicans. (The climactic event in Senator Kennedy's life was when he drove a car over a bridge at Chappaquiddick and walked away leaving a girl with whom he was having an illicit affair to drown. The Kennedy millions and the Kennedy influence minimised the effects of 'due process', but the incident brought an end to the prospects of a Kennedy dynasty in the White House.)
Sinn Fein was not invited to the White House for St. Patrick's Day. That fact was well reported. It was not so clearly reported that neither the SDLP nor the Unionist Party, nor the DUP were invited either. The only Northern Ireland political presence amongst the conquerors of Iraq were Robert McCartney's sisters, who by this time had been raised to the status of icons by the British and Irish media—though the American media had some difficulty in understanding what they were about.
Gerry Adams had to be content with addressing a meeting at the National Press Council. He set out the details of the Pat Finucane case, and read out the letter from Judge Cory, a Canadian who had conducted the official prelimarny investigation into it. He urged the Canadian judiciary to take no part in a further British Inquiry because the terms under which it was being set up would not allow the truth to be discovered. It has hardly been reported that Judge Savile (of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry) has joined him in this stance.
The fracas in which McCartney was killed was judged to be politically usable against the Republicans because a couple of members of the IRA were involved in it. His killing could therefore be misrepresented as an IRA operation, though it was so clear that it was not that the Chief Constable said it wasn't—and his words which were taken to be gospel in the case of the Northern Bank, were completely ignored.
The incident was merely a pub brawl in which some people who were involved chanced to be members of the IRA. The first person to be stabbed, by McCartney's mate (who has a charge of manslaughter against him over another stabbing) was a member of the IRA. This fact was taken completely out of the news by the British/Irish media in an operation reminiscent of Dr. Goebbel's policy of Gleichschaltung.
The Short Strand, from which many of those concerned came, is a small Catholic community on the wrong side of the river, closed in by a surrounding Loyalist population. The incident happened near a pub across the river in the area known as The Markets. The Short Strand and The Markets are areas in which 'Official Republicanism' (the Stickies) and its IRSP offshoot held their ground long after the Provisionals (the new post-1969 Republicans) had become generally dominant elsewhere. (One strand of Official ancestry now controls the Irish Labour party. And the Official IRA, which fought a lunatic war in the early 1970s, still exists in residual form as far as we know. At least we never heard that it disbanded, or even decommissioned, and people associated with this publication were threatened by it in the 1990s.)
We mention these things as environmental circumstances without suggesting that they had any direct bearing on the incident.
The possibility of exploiting the incident politically was first seen by the SDLP (which facilitated the trip to the United States). It was then taken up by the Dublin Justice Minister. And in no time at all it was all over the British/Irish media.
The McCartney sisters became international figures on the instant. One of them, a Queen's Politics graduate, teaches history and handled public relations with considerable skill. And there was an added human interest fact that their other brother killed himself a couple of years ago and they felt guilty about it and were determined that there should be justice for the second brother.
In pursuit of justice they went to the leadership of the IRA. The IRA is an army, and it offered to shoot the guilty people, even though the killing was done in a civilian capacity. (In fact it said in a statement on 8th March: "the IRA was prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney… the family made it clear that they did not want physical action taken…".) This was represented as an offer to kill him. But shooting is a kind of rough justice which has been routinely administered to criminals for many years, in areas where the policing system of the state is inoperative, and usually at the demand of the community. Shooting is kneecapping. Killing is something else. Every journalist and politician who has had dealings with Northern Ireland must know this very well. And yet they all let 'shoot' by understood to mean 'kill'.
Of course the IRA has no more lawful authority to shoot than to kill criminals—or, for that matter, to make war on the forces of the state. But it is an army which is on Ceasefire under terms of an Agreement made with two Governments, neither of which has much influence in large areas of Northern Ireland. And, as an Army on Ceasefire, it is required to maintain discipline. But then some opportunist like the Justice Minister (and now the Taoiseach) will represent enforcement of discipline as a breach of the Ceasefire.
The IRA also said that people who witnessed the killing should convey information to the police if they felt it appropriate, and in the way they thought appropriate. The sisters claim there were 70 witnesses and the media have gone along with that claim. But for there to be 70 witnesses, the thing would have had to be done on a stage, whereas it was done in a side-street around the corner from the pub.
An attempt was made to implicate a Sinn Fein candidate in the affair just because she had been in the pub (which is a fashionable pub for most of the day, while the Law Courts are in session) but it has come to nothing.
The SDLP (chiefly in the person of Alban McGuinness) maintains that Sinn Fein is obstructing the investigation (even though it says people should give information about it) because it does not urge people to go directly to the police with evidence. Sinn Fein replies that people would not go to the police regardless of what they said, and that this is a fact recognised by the police authorities (as distinct from the Police Authority, on which Alban McGuinness sits), who therefore urge people to take information to the Police Ombudsman or the Pat Finucane Centre.
The latter point brings out the actual situation most vividly. Pat Finucane was a solicitor who was murdered by Loyalists acting in collusion with the British State. An official investigation was set up which, surprisingly, actually did investigate, but its Report is being withheld by the Chief Constable and his Government. And the Chief Constable refrains from expressing an opinion about the Finucane killing, about which there is ample evidence, while expressing a strong opinion about the bank robbery though producing no evidence.
This point was made to the Justice Minister by Mitchel McLaughlin on Questions And Answers. McDowell could only cope with it by pretending not to be able to understand it.
And now the Centre set up to indict the police, and which continues that work, has been accepted by the police as a medium through which people who have a legitimate distrust of them might convey information to them about another killing.
The Police Authority might have been such a medium if it had done its job. But it hasn't. And the SDLP is in the difficulty of having gone onto it prematurely and failed to carry the populace with it. And it now hopes that sensationalist treatment of the McCartneys will have enough shock effect to enable it to recover ground. (The Unionist members of the Police Authority show no sympathy for the SDLP position. They recently over-ruled that party in voting to authorise the use of a new form of plastic bullets by the police, who have not used the weapon at all for a few years. They didn't even leave it till after the election!)
The Justice Minister (who at the start of the war in 1970 distinguished himself by supporting the Irish tour of the Apartheid South African rugby team against the Anti-Apartheid movement) wants a short and sweet criminalisation of the Provisional IRA from start to finish. It was put to him, and to Fianna Fail Ministers, that the IRA which brought about the State in which they hold office robbed banks, and shot soldiers, and punished informers, and they were asked to explain the ground of distinction. That would have been no problem in De Valera's time, and it would not have bothered Charles Haughey. But they blustered and floundered. The ground has been cut from under them by the history taught in their Universities for the past generation in which the IRA of the War of Independence is depicted as criminal, murderous, genocidal, and of course illegal. It was an instructive sight to see John O'Donoghue, a Kerryman, disorientated on this ground.
(Haughey kept his bearings, not because he was a Republican, but because he was a man of the State, with Free State origins, who understood the ground on which the State stood. In the late seventies, as Minister for Justice, he broke the IRA. And it is too often forgotten that the IRA campaign which he snuffed out was a product of the massive Anti-Partition campaign launched by Fine Gael in the late 1940s, following its return to office, in a Coalition, after fifteen years in the political wilderness.)
Republicans One And All!
Ireland And The Pope.
Is Bolkenstein Dead?
In The Mire.
Radio Five Interview With McCartney Sisters.
The Future Of Europe.
Iraq: Divide And Rule!
Professor Hart Prattles On.
Down In Paddy's Political Slum.
Ulster Unionism's Masterpiece—Northern
Propaganda During The War Of Independence.
Loyalties (review of Danny Morrison's play,
The Wrong Man).
A Nation And A Bit.
One And A Bit Nations: A Comment.
The French EU Referendum.
The Clonbanin Column (Confiscation; Rising & Larkin; Browne: End of Paisley).
The Royal Irish Garda
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