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25 April 2016

Driven by hate, intransigent offshoots of republicanism just cannot be reasoned with

Dissidents see themselves as the true keepers of the united Ireland flame
Dissidents see themselves as the true keepers of the united Ireland flame

Dissidents see themselves as the true keepers of the united Ireland flame. It took the Provisionals 30 years to come to heel. Don't expect their successors to be quick learners, says Ruth Dudley Edwards.

Academics are not famous for plain speaking so I was as surprised as I was delighted by recent comments from Dr Jonny Byrne, a lecturer in criminology at Ulster University.

Commenting on the shooting of Harry Boyle in the Creggan last Monday, he said such activities had "no ideological or political rationale" and were not "about informal summary justice... in the interests of the community".

They were "about power and the promotion of self-interest: it's gangsterism and criminality rolled into one".

I was less-impressed by the language of local priest Father Joseph Gormley.

"Who do they think they are?" he asked in his condemnation of unjustified "paramilitary-style attacks" that solve nothing and only bring "more pain" to society.

"They only represent their own narrow-minded selves."

I struggle to understand what he means by "narrow-minded". I'd have suggested "cruel" or "sadistic" might have been better words.

Not to speak of "indifferent to the consequences of their actions", for they shot Mr Boyle in the legs only three days after Michael McGibbon died in Ardoyne after a similar assault.

But I guess he's trying to convey the idea that these are republicans who haven't moved on.

To be fair, Fr Gormley has to live in the Creggan and he's trying his best to persuade his parishioners that, even if they think the Provos had legitimacy, the latest crowd of thugs terrorising them don't.

Martin McGuinness seeks to do the same with republicans in general, but the likes of Creggan resident Gary Donnelly are no more susceptible to reason than Mr McGuinness was in his younger days.

And, after all, though a former Real IRA prisoner and a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, in May 2014 Mr Donnelly was elected a member of Derry and Strabane District Council.

In an interview with New York-based Radio Free Eireann in March 2014 Mr Donnelly described Messrs McGuinness and Adams as having "bought into the British system and, basically, they're puppets for that system".

The PSNI, he explained, was "not welcome in our community" for it is "the armed wing of the British Establishment, which is fronted by Stormont".

Many of us recently laughed when Gerry Adams' response to being kept out of a White House party by security staff because he had turned up late was that Sinn Fein "will not sit at the back of the bus".

But, in fairness, he's less paranoid than Mr Donnelly, who has explained that "to speak out against the Belfast Agreement" should be equated with "standing outside the Kremlin during the Stalin era with a placard denouncing Stalin's human rights abuses".

Which is why "it won't be long till you end up with all the internees in the gulag" that is Maghaberry.

This is where Fr Gormley's adjective "narrow-minded" is more relevant.

For decades the Provisional leadership assured their followers that they were indeed MOPEs (the Most Oppressed People Ever) and grotesquely claimed that Catholics in Northern Ireland were treated like blacks in South Africa. Small children were taught to chant "SS RUC".

And the killing and torture of people in their own community were justified as "punishment" of "informers", or "anti-social elements".

It suited them eventually to compromise, but it hasn't suited Gary Donnelly or community leaders like him, such as Dee Fennell of GARC (Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective), who still defends an "armed struggle" and still uses the anti-Orange rhetoric of the Sinn Fein-created 1990s residents' groups.

Essentially, intransigent and violent republican Provo spin-off groups are retro. They hanker after the uncompromising simplicity of the past.

Groomed to hate unionists and police, many believe that the murder and torture of British and Irish people who get in their way can be justified if claimed to be carried out in the name of a united Ireland.

They see themselves as the true keepers of the republican flame who will so be recognised some day.

It took 30 years to get the Provos to come to heel. To borrow Dr Byrne's language, don't expect their power-seeking, self-interested, criminal, gangster successors to be quick learners.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards