'As Ireland holds its breath', said an editorial in Daily Ireland, 'in anticipation of a positive IRA response to Gerry Adams [sic] appeal for it to take a wholly political path, the Independent Monitoring Commission is treating us to more scare stories. Surely, one of the great benefits of a new era in the peace process will be to rid us of this Idiotic, Misbegotten and Conceited body.'
When you realise that that's what passes for a joke in what unkind people used to call the Daily Provo, you can see why nowadays its circulation is so pathetic that it's being called the Daily Titanic.
Ridicule and smear are the tactics of those who find the IMC's dispassionate yet devastating home truths objectionable. That Holy Fool, Father Des Wilson, in his frequently hilarious column in a sister paper of the Titanic, places it among 'the foolish of this world' who tell people 'how they should behave in their own streets.' The ex-Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey explained that the IMC's information came solely from the British securocrats of which it is a tool, which is why it had 'little or no credibility and is neither impartial, fair, nor balanced.'
We should take a quick look at the composition of the IMC. John Alderdice, a psychiatrist, was leader of the Alliance Party and is now a Liberal Democrat peer and an elder in the Presbyterian Church; Joe Brosnan, former Secretary General of the Department of Justice, works for the independent Institute of European Affairs in Dublin; John Grieve's career, who was Director of Intelligence in the Metropolitan Police is now an academic; and Dick Kerr, a former Deputy Director of the CIA, now works in private industry as a security specialist.
Sure, there's an Establishment tinge to this quartet. What's more, the quartet have had an intimate knowledge of terrorism. That's why they were appointed. Yet, as they point out, they come from very different backgrounds with different perspectives, and challenge each other constantly in their determination to avoid bias. Their sources of course include people from law enforcement agencies in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere, but also academics, lawyers, journalists, ex-prisoners, victims, politicians, community groups and many more.
Their sober analysis spells out facts that are as unpalatable to the British and Irish governments as they are to the paramilitaries themselves - the Continuity, Real and Provisional IRAs, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association, and the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando. Because all these scumbag groups are still at it - shooting, assaulting, exiling, robbing, stealing, smuggling and so on in varying degrees, with the help of many ex-prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement. And as the report points out, there is 'a continuing web of intimidation' in parts of Northern Ireland, which (it doesn't add), is already being replicated in some areas of the Republic.
Sinn Féin are fearful snobs, who absolutely hate the IRA being spoken of in the same breath as less sophisticated terrorists and criminals. One can feel the fastidious shudder of the Army Council and its apologists at the suggestion that their activities can be compared with the low-life of loyalism. And, of course, one sees their point. Are the IRA not the crème de la crème among Irish terrorists proprietors of the biggest criminal gang in Europe?
The IMC was careful to avoid any such sensationalism in its detailed and gripping assessment of what we're up against in the island of Ireland, but it was trenchant. Why instead of bleating about hoping the IRA will say something cheering is Bertie Ahern not simply putting to Sinn Féin a few of the stark questions posed in this report. 'How does Sinn Féin now view the claim made by PIRA to be the lawful government and representative of the people in Ireland North and South? Does the party seek power in Ireland North and South by using paramilitary muscle to back its participation in the political process?' And so on.
What republican leaders are mulling over now is:
a) can they get away with a weaselly announcement about an end of IRA activity that won't actually mean abandoning criminality? or
b) will they have to announce a divorce between Sinn Féin and the IRA (while of course remaining shacked up)? And
c) can they seduce the SDLP into another pan-nationalist alliance? Mark Durkan seems to be falling into the trap already by calling for the re-establishment of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. You'd think he wants to be eaten by crocodiles.
d) will it help their case to foment street violence?
I suppose there's no hope that our politicians and media will read, ponder and act on the IMC's detailed and sensible suggestions for denying paramilitaries any legitimacy. No? I was only asking.