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Sunday 21 September 2003

None of them has gone away

The Real IRA are happy this week, having drawn upon themselves outraged condemnations from what they regard as the Establishment: Martin McGuinness, Mark Durkan, unionists, the British and Irish governments and innumerable right-thinking people everywhere have denounced RIRA for their campaign of intimidation against Catholic members of policing boards in Northern Ireland. Like all terrorists everywhere, notice is what RIRA look for. 

If I had any pity in my heart for the republican leadership, I’d feel it now. RIRA are forcing their hand and pushing them towards endorsing the PSNI sooner than they had wished and before they’ve wrung every possible concession out of two malleable governments. 

Until very recently, a bit of intimidation was part of Provo strategy. As Mark Durkan disobligingly reminded us last week, Gerry Adams enjoined republicans to treat anyone involved in the PSNI as they had their RUC equivalents. That was alarming for those who knew Gerry’s role in an organisation that murdered 273 members of the RUC – the last two shot in the head in June 1997. But New Gerry didn’t mean the PSNI should be killed or wounded: ostracising and intimidating would do nicely. Peace-loving Mitchel McLaughlin agreed. Last year he refused to condemn those who booby-trapped the car of a young Catholic police recruit, but there’s no doubt he’d have been vexed had the lad been blown up. 

The trouble is those pesky dissidents are a very unsubtle crew – poor old plodders who know only how to do what Gerry and Martin now pretend never happened. So not only are they doing their level best to murder and terrify people, but they’re ready to sacrifice some of their own for the sake of winning popular support. That strategy had a setback the other week when the British government announced it would segregate paramilitary prisoners in Maghaberry. Fearful of allowing the prisoners to take over the prison, as happened in the Maze, policy had been to insist on integration, but faced with a long-running dirty protest and the threat of an imminent hunger strike, the government caved in. 

Support for dissidents may be insignificant at present, but atavistic passions can always be reawakened if the circumstances are right. In 1991, Sinn Féin trailed their victims’ roadshow around Ireland in a successful attempt to brainwash a new generation into believing that the IRA and INLA terrorists who starved themselves to death in 1982 were innocent heroes. Now, only two years on, there was a hideous prospect of RIRA and CIRA (Continuity IRA) prisoners seizing the mantle of Bobby Sands and co. Whether the danger is over remains to be seen: it is already clear that republican prisoners are looking for new grounds for confrontation. And Bobby Sands’s sister, Bernadette, presently hacked-off that her husband Michael McKevitt is in prison for directing terrorism, is brilliantly placed to exploit a RIRA hunger-strike. 

These people are no different from the Provos in the 1970s, before a few of them grasped that murdering unionists and Brits was not bringing a United Ireland closer. RIRA are corrupt: the lads feather their own nests as well as building bombs to destroy the lives of fellow citizens in the name of Irish freedom. So what’s new about that? There’s a certain millionaire Provo baron in South Armagh who is an icon for many as he industriously double-jobs as mega-smuggler and IRA Chief of Staff. 

Politically, RIRA and their CIRA mates are, as McGuinness says, ‘a shambles’: stupid, narrow, visionless fundamentalists who can’t understand either their history or the world around them. And they may be, as he also says, ‘militarily useless’. Yet they’re dangerous. Sure, the garda and the PSNI have had many successes in stopping RIRA and CIRA bombs, but – as the IRA put it so sweetly years ago – they ‘only have to be lucky once’. These are the people who brought us Omagh. 

The truth is that none of these bastards has gone away. Not RIRA. Not the Provos, who are still killing (Gareth O’Connor, a dissident, was almost certainly murdered in May in Armagh because he annoyed friends of the baron), still beating, shooting and mutilating those of whom they disapprove and still running huge rackets which handsomely subsidise Sinn Féin (indeed, in Cookstown, a few locals have done a bit of DPP-intimidating themselves). And not CIRA, some of whom were arrested in June manufacturing a 1,100 bomb. The grim truth is that the cancer of republican terrorism is still in our body politic. 

What do we do? Throw the resources of the state into protecting DPP members for one thing. Bear down ever heavier on paramilitaries for another. What emphatically we should not do is encourage the IRA to use violence against the dissidents even more than they do already. Democratic societies have no business asking fascists to do their dirty work. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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