Friday 13 March 2009

Between Scylla And Charybdis

I have seen a variety of comments regarding the recent deaths of British soldiers in the six counties.

And I find it interesting that most of the comments made have missed the point.

The comments have tended to be regarding the reaction of Sinn Fein, specifically, the reaction of Martin McGuiness.
Over whether or not he was forthright enough in his condemnation of the killings.

For the benefit of non- UK readers- and perhaps a few UK readers too- British soldiers and a pizza delivery man were killed outside an army base in the six counties, by the Real IRA. A few days later, a Police officer was also killed by the Continuity IRA. These are both splinter groups of the group known as the Provisional IRA, an organisation who have now largely disarmed and whose political wing, Sinn Fein, now forms part of the power sharing executive in the six.

Why so many commentators are missing the point is in their turning their eyes to Sinn Fein to see what Sinn Fein were going to say.
To do so, is to fail to understand just WHO these messages were aimed at.

These soldiers and PC Carroll were not killed to send a message to the British government.
The message is from the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, to Sinn Fein. And to the hardline loyalists.

These killings had two purposes; firstly, to incite a loyalist response. Secondly, to force Sinn Fein into condemning them. The hardliners deliberately wanted to put the Sinn Fein leadership between a rock and a hard place.

They seem to have failed in the first objective- for now. But the second has partly been achieved. Most people seem to be nodding with approval at the round condemnation Sinn Fein leaders gave to these killings, though some seem to think that their condemnation did not come soon enough and wasn't sincere enough.

I don't think many people realise the tightrope Sinn Fein leaders have to walk with this one, the gauntlet that has now been thrown down. A situation like this looming into view must have been the one thing they have always dreaded.

Because how can they, as a part of the Executive of the six counties NOT condemn the killing of those who serve the state whose institutions they themselves are now part of?
And yet, in doing so, they threaten their own legitimacy in Republican legality.

Republican theory states that in 1918, the majority of the members elected to Westminster in that year met in Dublin and seceded from the United Kingdom, becoming the legitimate government of the Irish Republic. The first Dail.
In 1920, the UK passed the Government of Ireland Act setting up separate Home Rule parliaments for the six and the twenty six. The Sinn Fein members elected to both of these, met as the Second Dail. In Republican theory, this body remained the legitimate government of an all Ireland republic. The treaty signed in 1922 was therefore illegal, because it handed over six counties to an illegal occupying army. And Republicans refused to recognise any successive governments north or south of the border.
Of course, things changed. De Valera entered the Dail in 1927, with his new Fianna Fail party and Sinn Fein became a disaffected rump, only a minority of hardliners containing to recognise the remaining dissident members of the second Dail who had not made peace with the 1922 settlement. And in 1937, those few remaining Sinn Fein TDs signed over their authority as the legitimate government of the Irish Republic to- the Army Council of the IRA.

Now this might seem rather arcane, but it actually does matter. Because whilst very few south of the border would question that their government is indeed, the legitimate government of the Irish Republic, north of the border the question of what country one LEGITIMATELY lives in, matters.

Loyalists believe that the six counties are in fact, a separate country to the south, with their own right to self determination. And their choice as a separate country, is to be a part of the United Kingdom.

Nationalists accept that this is so, but would seek to change that. Republicans are a section of the Nationalist community who do NOT accept that argument, that believe that the occupation by Britain of the six, is illegal, in defiance of the sovereignty of the Irish Republic. But the Irish Republic in question is NOT the entity south of the border, which is itself an illegal government. The legal government of the Irish Republic, is the Army Council of the IRA.

But which IRA? The Provisional IRA split from the Officials in 1969, partly over mooted proposals by the Officials to recognise the southern government. The Provisional claim was to actually BE the provisional government of a united Irish Republic.

So the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA are actually forcing them to show the situation. From the point of view of the hardliners, the Provos have now become Quislings. Collaborators. They have stood up and condemned soldiers fighting in the name of the government of the Irish Republic who have assassinated soldiers of an occupying power.
The hardliners can now hold them up as no better than Petain and the Vichy regime.

It is the mantle of Michael Collins that is at stake. McGuiness and Sinn Fein know well that Collins won by compromising, that Collins knew when to play ball, knew when to stop fighting and make peace with the British. It is the Collins that shook hands with Churchill that McGuiness emulates today.

But the real IRA and the Continuity IRA remember the Collins that sent the Cairo gang round Dublin taking out British Secret Service operatives.

And after all, Collins died at the hands of those who thought he'd sold out.

But most people in the six counties want peace, people say. They are proving that.

Yes, they are. the peace dividend. Ten years of peace have been good. So good that most people feel the fighting wasn't worth it. OK, so most Nationalists might feel in their gut that they should be part of a united Ireland. But the chances of that happening are slim. The loyalists will not back down. It can't be achieved, not without violence and bloodshed and it's not worth it. Not when peace is possible, peace without inequality and discrimination.

But it is an unsteady peace. It depends on prosperity. The hardliners know this. What happens when months and months of unemployment start to grind down on young working class males of both communities?
Then old hatreds may resurface. Angry loyalist gangs may start torching Catholic churches again...

Make no mistake, hardline loyalism is not dead. Paisley may well have turned into Papa Smurf in his old age and the DUP started to look a little less like a Cromwellian version of the old Afrikaner National Party, but one looks at this Jim Allister character and one sees the same rhetoric that once propelled Paisley to become the force of negativity he once was. And no, most loyalists seem to think the 'Traditional Ulster Voice' is yesterday's story. He won't win his Euro seat again. But it looks like he may get ten thousand odd votes. And that shows that even in times of peace, there are still enough loyalists who believe that peace that involves shaking hands with Catholics is a dirty peace.

There is peace in the six, but it's foundations are in sand. One gust of wind and...well.

Peter Robinson may now be standing in the middle hand in hand, the face of peace in the north, but one the edges, the Traditional Ulster Voice stares across at the hardline Republicans and both of them feel inside their jackets for their pistols.

The Real IRA and the Continuity IRA know what they are doing. All they need to do is to provoke the loyalists, which is never hard to do and force the ex-provos to disavow them.
Then, when the loyalist community gets polarised further and starts to listen once more to its drum banging fanatics, they can turn to the Nationalist Community and say 'Peace was a lie. Just a ruse to disarm us. To bring back the old days when the Prods had their jackboots on our neck'.

And if peace is now felt by the Nationalist community to be collapsing, no longer delivering, well then, what is to be gained by this uneasy alliance with the occupier?
If Peace couldn't work, not even with all this commitment, then, the Nationalist community might feel, it really is true that this will only ever be solved when they FORCE the loyalists to accept our Republic and they drive out the invader.

And that they certainly don't trust the Quislings of the Provos to do that- they were part of the sell out.

The Real IRA and the Continuity IRA do not care how many Nationalists revile them today for opening old wounds.
What they care about is striking a claim to be the voice of Nationalism in the future.
They believe that the conflict CAN be started again and that when it does- they are ready. Ready to take on the torch of Republicanism that the provos cast aside.

The next of generation of gunmen are preparing.

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