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Sunday 23 February 2003

So if it's really all over, what is it that we can hear in the distance?

The Provos saw the light and bought the suits, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards 

WITHOUT the contribution of poor, noble, foolish Patrick Pearse, the Easter Rebellion would have gone ahead anyway, but without his propagandistic genius it might not have exercised such a malign influence over the Irish psyche: "Who knows what's yet to come?' asked Yeats, "For Patrick Pearse had said/That in every generation/Must Ireland's blood be shed." 

And with that handy soundbite, Pearse gave generations of idealistic idiots the justification to kill and be killed for no reason worth a damn. 

Periodically, reality encroaches, sense dawns and the boys move on, buy a suit and get power the constitutional way and the fast stream deal with the slow learners with carrots, sticks and occasionally nooses or guns. Rory and Liam and Dick and Joe were executed in 1922 by their old comrades in arms, those who had fought alongside them duly shambled into the Dail in 1927 and looked the other way when de Valera had some old comrades executed during the war for being off-message. 

In the 1970s, the Official IRA proved to be fast learners, but did not have the power to see off the retards who formed the Provos. Nowadays, the Provos have seen the light of reason and bought the suits, but they're prevented by media intrusion from doing more to their dissidents than killing or maiming the more accessible if no one's looking. The Omagh bomb did for the Real IRA; the families' civil action has kept the pressure on and helped to split the organisation, the gardai and the PSNI give them no peace, the Provos intimidate them, and they attract only criminals and informers to their ranks. "It's all over," say the optimists. "Violent republicanism is dead." 

But hark! What's that sound in the distance but another fanatical patriotic rabble? Yep. The Continuity IRA is seeking our attention a bomb here, a shooting there and an interview given to The Times by Ruairi O Bradaigh, President of Republican Sinn Fein, its political wing. 

This is when everyone yawns and says "Dad's Army" and "Has-beens". "Old Ruairi's been around forever," say the well-informed. "And isn't his vice-president, Des Long, in jail charged with several others with membership of an illegal organisation? The Continuity has hardly any weapons, it has no young blood, and the cops are on top of it anyway." Sure O Bradaigh was interned in 1956 and became Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1958, but he's only 68. Compared to those who come and go as his opposite number in the 32-County Sovereignty Committee (the Real IRA's political wing), he's an intellectual giant. And he's intent on capitalising on the widespread disillusion. "We said from the start in 1986," he told The Times, "that [the Provos] would recognise the Free State and Westminster parliaments, that they would halt the armed struggle, destroy the weapons that had been given them for the freedom of Ireland and now they're in a position where they are going to join the British police to enforce British law on the rest of us." 

Most disillusioned republicans have realised that the constitutional people have won the long struggle; others are waiting for the next campaign. "There has always been resistance," O Bradaigh told The Times. The CIRA bombs "are indications that militant republicanism is not dead. Maybe you can say that these things are only a token and instead of a flame they are only a spark but so what, it is there. That is the lesson of history." Until the Brits are out, the bombs will go off.

RSF sees itself as the guardian of true republican principles, as explained in their Eire Nua policy document: "We've gone back to our roots which is the birth of Irish republicanism in the age of enlightenment." Interesting ideas, shame they emanate from people so rigid they still won't recognise the Dáil and so stupid they can't see that it is peace, not bombs, that will move British troops out. The dead, the dead, the dead, they have left us our Fenian fools.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards