Day By Day

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kevin Toolis on Gerry Adams' Speech

Kevin Toolis, writing in the Times, asks:

Is this really the end of the IRA?

The link on this has expired so I am reproducing the whole article:

SO, IS THE IRA going to disband, or not? Taken at face value, Gerry Adams’s appeal to the volunteers of Oglaigh na hEireann to hang up their guns is both revolutionary, and tantamount to republican treason.

The way forward, Adams said in his much heralded statement last week, is for the IRA to build “support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland.”

“I want to use this occasion therefore to appeal to the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann to fully embrace and accept this alternative. Can you (the IRA) take courageous initiatives which will achieve your aims by purely political and democratic activity?”

For the IRA faithful this is explosive rhetoric, echoing Eamon de Valera, who turned his back on the IRA’s gunmen in the 1920s and entered the Irish Dail. Even to hint that the IRA’s guerrilla days are over is heresy.

Adding insult on to blind faith, Adams’s words come just after the Easter Sunday IRA republican commemorations when legions of past and would-be IRA gunmen swagger in balaclavas, black berets and military-style uniforms through Northern Ireland’s streets to the graves of dead IRA volunteers to rededicate themselves to the 800-year-long unfinished historic business of removing an “alien government” from Irish soil.

But now, just a few weeks later, the man that republicans call “our President” is saying it is time to stow the marching drums and bury the AK-47s in concrete for ever. And however qualified his appeal might have been, it asserts the most unspeakable heresy of all — that all the sacrifice, all the bombing and killing, was a terrible, worthless mistake.

Adams’s statement is also interesting for what it left out. There was no mention of the forthcoming general election and Sinn Fein’s hopes of reversing the ignominious publicity over the Robert McCartney murder by “off-duty” IRA thugs. The Provos’ fabled PR machine has badly fallen apart. Nor was any mention made of the demands of the British and Irish governments that the Provisional IRA ceases to operate a paramilitary criminal empire. The understandable anger of Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, at being lied to over the Northern Bank robbery is simply dismissed as part of an anti- republican electoral conspiracy.

Another key element of the speech was not the words spoken but who was standing next to Adams, for the television cameras, when he said it. Although he invoked his own authority as the “President of Sinn Fein”, Adams was careful to gather his tribal chieftains around him. Standing wordlessly by his side was Martin McGuinness and at his back was Gerry Kelly, the Old Bailey bomber turned Stormont assemblyman. Adams’s carefully crafted speech was a staged presentation of a bloc position with McGuinness et al as the silent supporting chorus.

So, who are these leaders of Oglaigh na hEireann to whose good nature Adams has so passionately appealed and who now hold the key to future IRA disbandment? It is here that Adams’s rhetorical tirade begins to break down.

Common sense tells us that after 30 years at the top of the republican tree Gerry Adams should have a pretty good idea who is on the IRA Army Council. Why doesn’t he just call them up on the phone, rather than make a public speech? How can such a consummate political operator not have the number of each and every IRA gunman somewhere in his contacts book?

The truth is that for decades Northern Irish politics has been built around the lie that Sinn Fein and the IRA are separate entities. But the history books tell a different story. In 1991 Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly represented the IRA in secret talks with MI6’s head of counter-terrorism. Today they declare themselves to be mere democratic politicians.

For the sake of the peace process, democratic politicians turned a blind eye and let the IRA get away with murder just so long as the victims were pawns in the bigger peace game.

But this old dualism, the night-time IRA gangster and daytime Sinn Fein election worker trick, has been dangerously overthrown by Michael McDowell, the Irish Justice Minister, who has directly named Adams, McGuinness and Martin Ferris, a Sinn Fein MP in the Dail, as being the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann — by being members of the IRA’s Army Council.

The balaclavas that once masked the identities of the Provisionals’ hidden commanders have been stripped away and cannot be easily restored.

To his critics, Adams’s speech is just the same old Provisional lie dished up cold. Adams is the IRA and cannot therefore appeal to the IRA leadership any more than he can appeal to his own beard to grow faster. Other observers argue that Adams is seeking to persuade the last IRA diehards, the gunmen of South Armagh, finally to relinquish the gun.

In the past, when IRA gunmen fell out the shooting started soon afterwards. We will soon know how real or imaginary is this alleged republican division.

Either way, Adams is right about one thing. The IRA’s days in Ireland are over. The justification for murder and terrorism in the name of Padraig Pearse’s bloody mythic republic have long expired. But whether or not Gerry Adams, and the rest of the IRA leadership, heed their own words is another matter.

Kevin Toolis is the author of Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA’s Soul


1 comment:

Diarmid said...

A better question would be when are the loyalists going to disband?