THE wool has been well and truly torn from smiling Irish eyes this past few weeks and we should all be very, very grateful. Not only is it at last dawning on the Southern populace that the leaders of IRA/Sinn Fein are inveterate thieves and liars, but because of six brave women, we also at last have clear evidence of what life is like when the republican thugocracy rules.
When Bert McCartney was knifed to death, his killers, their commanding officer and their accomplices saw it merely as business as usual: terrify witnesses, clean up bloodstains, rip out CCTV film, organise a bit of rioting, get the local Sinn Fein representatives to condemn subsequent police activity as "heavy-handed". And then have the whole hideous event written off as a pub brawl. And they'd have got away with it - again - if it hadn't been for the women.
Now the republican movement is good at manufacturing Stepford Shinners like Caitriona Ruane and Mary Lou McDonald, but they get into difficulties sometimes with real women. As Ann McCabe has proved to be the Provos' worst enemy in the Republic, mothers and daughters of the disappeared have been seriously troublesome in Northern Ireland.
And though they were from a Sinn Fein family, McCartney's sisters would not be silenced when their brother was murdered and rapidly they became spokeswomen for a hitherto bullied and silent community. Their Aunt Margaret - another toughie - told the Irish News that the intimidation and threats to onlookers had come "from the highest level of SF and the IRA," and she talked on the radio about psychopaths.
So the lid is off, the press swarm around the Short Strand and not even hard-eyed killer Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein's justice spokesman, can stop us from seeing what goes on there. We should pay attention, for it is a world that SF/IRA would make us all live in if they could.
In the Short Strand, and ghettoes like it, you do what you are told by the local IRA. Complain, and you are denounced as a pro-British enemy of the people, and beaten, shot, exiled or - if you're lucky - just ostracised. In such a climate, the wicked thrive. "You know yourself he is a sadistic scumbag and has been so all his days," said one republican to the dissident republican commentator, Anthony McIntyre, apropos one of those alleged to have knifed McCartney. McIntyre, who spent much of his young life in jail for the cause, gets angry at the suggestion that most members of the IRA are criminals, but - an honest man - he admits "that a strain of vicious criminality does lurk within the IRA, a parasite feeding off the legitimacy that association with the IRA provides. Its one attitude toward the community it feeds upon is that of the emperor Caligula, 'Oderint dum metuant': 'Let them hate as long as they fear'."
Provoworld came into being because republicans united their communities against threats from without the walls. While they were seen as defenders against loyalists, Brits or whomsoever, their excesses were tolerated.
Adams, McGuinness and the boys are trying to whip up anger against the latest enemies - democratic Irish politicians - but even the dimmest footsoldiers know that Bertie Ahern and Michael McDowell are not the enemy. Bullied and manipulated people, trained over decades to confront authority, are beginning to look about them and realise that their oppressors are not outsiders, but the insiders that claim to protect them.
Davy Adams, once on the political wing of the UDA and now a victim of the loyalist thugocracy, wrote recently that the events in Short Strand illustrate "the extent to which paramilitaries wield almost total power and control over those they live amongst. A control based not on support, loyalty or admiration, but on an acquiescence bred from abject and well-founded fear. Where there is power without any measure of accountability, and . . . where it rests in the hands of those least qualified to hold it, it is wielded endlessly and . . . with more and more brutality."
That happens in little communities all over Northern Ireland and in some parts of inner cities down south: have a good look at Finglas, for instance. That is the Ireland SF/IRA have in mind for us all. We owe the McCartney family a great debt for forcing us to confront this hideous truth.