Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Sinn Fein

More on Sinn Féin

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 5 2020

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/53506

 

In my previous article I reported that the recent general election in the Republic Ireland saw Sinn Féin winning a majority of the popular vote. Because of the vagaries found in many democracies this did not automatically give them a place in government. Let us not forget that in the US presidential election in 2016, Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than Donald Trump. The loser of the popular vote won two out of the last five US presidential elections.

Sinn Féin did not run enough candidates in the general election to secure a majority of seats in the legislature. The nature of the Irish proportional representation system is such that the government is always a coalition. Today, we have the peculiar situation that because of various obstacles in the way of forming a coalition, the self-confessed loser of the election, Fine Gael’s leader Leo Varadkar, continues to serve as prime minister. Fine Gael finished third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. Fianna Fáil have 37 seats. Sinn Féin received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 seats. There has been much clamour to deny any chance of either of the main parties forming a coalition with Sinn Féin.

The leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, rules out any chance of his party going into government with Sinn Féin on moral grounds. He says that there has never been any contrition for the atrocities carried out by the Provisional IRA. “Sinn Féin’s justification for the IRA’s war is a continuing one… In the peace process we all had to make compromises in order to achieve the peace, but Sinn Féin need to come some distance too and they haven’t.”

Sinn Féin’s success in the election was because they attracted young people to whom the violence was not even a memory. According to 2017 data from the Central Statistics Office, Ireland has the highest number of young people in the EU and the second lowest number of old people. These young people are concerned about current issues like health, housing and homelessness rather than history.

Today’s Sinn Féin would have us believe that they have no links with the violence of the past. Part of the Provisional IRA army council strategy for making itself invisible has been to push media-friendly ladies like Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill to the fore. I have referred to this as a monstrous regiment of women; another commentator has used the term “skullduggery of skirts”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the IRA had “gone away” and that no one directs the party other than its membership or leadership. “The IRA will not be returning. The days of conflict are past.”. Many do not believe that. Garda (police of the republic) Commissioner Drew Harris said he agreed with a 2015 report by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) assessment that the army council still oversees the IRA and Sinn Féin. Leo Varadkar has called on the Sinn Féin leader to disband the IRA Provisional Army Council.

Newton Emerson wrote in the Irish Times “It is tempting to say, only slightly facetiously, that southerners lack experience in the nuances of the peace process but will soon acquire the necessary sophistication.” Emerson argues that the intent of the 2015 report was to save the devolved Stormont government by asserting that a murder of a prominent republican in Belfast was not the work of the Provisional IRA. Two 2015 murders have not been solved and a murder attempt took place in the same area last month. Last November a new paramilitary monitoring panel reported without mentioning the Provisional IRA at all.

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was mainly dependent for funding in its early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports and other documents and also engaged in human trafficking. The Provisional IRA funded its terrorist activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. The IRA’s counterfeiting operations extended to fake football strips, designer clothes, power tools and a well-known brand of washing powder. A bottle of counterfeit perfume seized at a market was found to contain urine as a stabilizer. About half of Northern Ireland’s filling stations sold fuel smuggled from the Irish Republic, where duty was considerably lower, at a cost to the Treasury of about £200 million a year. Fuel smuggling, much of it organized by the notorious South Armagh brigade, was probably the IRA’s single largest source of income.

Martin McGuinness was the IRA Commandant for Derry. He and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. As a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland, McGuinness   visited Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation.  Harris’s predecessor, Nóirín O’Sullivan, noted that the IRA remained heavily involved in organised crime in the Republic, with €28 million recovered from more than 50 individuals by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Like the LTTE, the Provisional IRA made a lot of money from dubious enterprises for its “noble” cause. Fiachra Gibbons, in the New Statesman, described Sinn Fein as “a kind of cross between Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church, but with extra guns, paedophiles and front businesses.” In 2005, the Department of Justice estimated the IRA’s global assets at €400 million. Where did that go? It has been privatised, with individual IRA members holding property portfolios and businesses in Ireland, Britain, Europe and the US.

The dissident groups are also into “ordinary” crime. The Real IRA is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The Real IRA have taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The dissidents are also believed to be selling bombs to criminal gangs including elements within the Travelling Community.

It is understandable that the ‘respectable’ parties are anxious about allowing Sinn Féin into government, whatever the voters might want, and giving them access to the internal workings of the security of the state. Fintan O’Toole writes: “What Sinn Féin has to confront, sooner rather than later, is that it can’t continue to legitimise the “armed struggle” of the Provisional IRA without giving exactly the same legitimacy to every other gang that puts a different adjective before those three sacred letters: continuity, real, new. “

Hello, Mary Lou

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on February 25 2020

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/52944

Sinn Féin’s monstrous regiment of women

After the general election of February 8, the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament, was scheduled to reconvene on Thursday, February 20th.  As I write, the Irish prime minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar is about to hand in his resignation to President Michael D Higgins. Although Varadkar concedes that his party, Fine Gael, lost the general election and has clearly stated his wish to be opposition leader, he and his Government will continue to govern in a caretaker capacity.   Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told a meeting of his parliamentary party that it could be two months before a new government is formed.

This kind of confusion is partly because the Irish system of proportional representation (by single transferable vote with multi-member constituencies) rarely gives one party a decisive number of seats to enable them to form a government. Politicians and voters are well-accustomed to a sometimes-unseemly haggling and deal-making to cobble together a coalition that will be able to govern.

What made this election different is that the party that came out on top was a sworn enemy of the state it was now attempting to govern and within living memory was killing civilians in an attempt to achieve a united Ireland. Elections have usually been about switching power between the two major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This time, Sinn Féin received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 seats. Fianna Fáil finished with 38 seats, including the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker), which brings them to level-pegging with Sinn Féin.  Fine Gael finished third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. The three largest parties each won a share of the vote between 20% and 25%.

CNN inaccurately described Fianna Fáil as left-wing and Fine Gael as right-wing. Both parties are centre-right and their origins lie back in the fight for independence from Britain when they both evolved out what was then called Sinn Féin. The current iteration of Sinn Féin was the political face of the Provisional IRA (much as the TNA was the political face of the LTTE). Back in 1998, the Provos and the British government finally accepted that no-one was going to win the war of attrition that had been going on for 30 years, claiming some 3,000 lives. The then president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, and Martin McGuinness were successful in persuading the Provisional Army Council to cease hostilities and eventually surrender their arms.

The current Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, is very different from Adams and McGuinness who maintained a stance of “constructive ambiguity” about the issue of their personal roles in Provo atrocities. She grew up in a privileged background in Rathgar and went to a fee-paying convent school, Notre Dame des Missions in Churchtown.  In 1998, Mary Lou was a promising 29-year-old member of Fianna Fáil living in the pleasant middle-class suburb of Castleknock in Dublin West. She had an MA in European Integration Studies from the University of Limerick. She was seen by some as a possible future cabinet minister or even leader of Fianna Fáil. Strange that by 2004 she was a Sinn Féin candidate for the EU Parliament and was attending the funeral of Seán Russell as chief of staff of the IRA during the second World War, who supported the idea of an armed campaign to establish a German puppet state in Ireland in direct collaboration with the Nazis. One might never know why Mary Lou switched to Sinn Féin but the funeral was clearly a test of her loyalty to her new masters., including the hard veterans of the “armed struggle” who were sceptical of her conversion. She rose so rapidly within that according to Fintan O’Toole she must have “been able to convince the old IRA cohort that she was utterly ‘sound’ on the legitimacy of the armed struggle.”

Mary Lou and Gerry

After the Good Friday Agreement, there has been a long peace in Ireland. There is still a border whose existence has been made worrisome by Brexit. We don’t have a united Ireland which was ostensibly the raison d’être of the Provisional IRA. There have been terrorist incidents but these have been the work of splinter organisations whose diehards have been condemned by Sinn Féin. It is bizarre that Sinn Féin did not mention a united Ireland in their election campaign. However, there is a good reason for this. Their surge has been a result of their taking on the issues that bother people today – affordable housing, health, homelessness and the economy. The economy recovered eventually from the 2008 downturn but people were angry with the centre-right duopoly for allowing corruption and the casino culture to get out hand in the first place and then imposing austerity on ordinary blameless individuals so that the EU troika could rescue the banks. Irish voters have noticed that Ireland has one of the most expensive health systems in the world which people cannot access when they need it. During the boom times, housing estates were built which are now empty but homelessness is increasing and people are dying on the streets.

My poet friend Simon Wood commented, “The young want somewhere to live. I mean a house, not a country. That is why they voted Sinn Féin “. Sinn Féin won almost 32 per cent of the votes of young people aged between 18 and 24 and a similar proportion of those between 25 and 34. Fine Gael won only 15.5 per cent of the votes among the age 18-24 age group and 30.2 per cent of those aged 65 and over. Fianna Fáil won 13.6 per cent among the 18- to 24-year-olds and 29.7 per cent among the over 65s.

The JVP murdered her husband but CBK still courted them for her coalition. Sinn Féin now have elected representatives in both parts of Ireland, Westminster (although they don’t take their seats) and the EU parliament. Sinn Féin did very badly in the local elections and were not confident enough to put up candidates in all constituencies in the general election. This meant that although they convinced 25% of the electorate to vote for them, they did not get enough seats to form a government.

There are many who abhor the idea of Sinn Féin having any part in the governance of the state without renouncing their past. Even before the election Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil raised a moral objection to coalition with Sinn Féin, citing IRA links, refusal to condemn violence and the malign influence of “shadowy figures”. The memory of the IRA campaign of violence was a defining experience for many older voters but housing is more important to the young.

It may at first sight seem abnormal for Sinn Féin to be so close to being in government but Fintan O’Toole sees it as a new normal. The duopoly of the old civil war parties was only interested in maintaining some kind of normality through continuity and absence of change.  “The terrible secret of the Irish has always been that we don’t want to be colourful, crazy, exceptional, anomalous people. We want to be ordinary. That’s why we have emigrated in our millions – to flee from our own strange and irregular circumstances. Gradually, Ireland has in fact been achieving this bliss of privileged European ordinariness. And what we are seeing now is the political system struggling to catch up with the transformation of a tragical and eccentric place into a post-Troubles, well-to-do society whose citizens expect what they perceive to be realistically achievable Western European standards.” Young people are looking to the great disruptors, Sinn Féin, to provide this.

Easter 1916 Part Two

This article appeared  in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 29 2016.

Colman's Column3

This  year  marks  the  centenary  of  the  Easter  Rebellion  in  Dublin.  The Rising failed miserably so why is it still remembered? A settlement involving a good measure of Home Rule had been likely even without the Rising. The conspirators achieved their aim of reversing the movement towards Anglo-Irish reconciliation.

pic of executed

The British reaction to the Rising was extreme and incompetent and made martyrs of those who had previously been regarded as clowns. As WB Yeats wrote in his poem “Easter 1916”:

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn

Yeats and his friends had mocked the rebels but the Rising and the British reaction to it changed everything. Yeats had particular reason to loathe one of those executed, John MacBride  – “a drunken, vainglorious lout” – who had married and mistreated the poet’s muse Maude Gonne.  A “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week, which marks the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice. The Easter Rising is both crucifixion and resurrection.

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

In a series of courts martial beginning on 2 May, 90 people were sentenced to death. Fifteen of those were executed at Kilmainham Gaol by firing squad between 3 and 12 May. James Connolly had been seriously wounded during the fighting and was shot by firing squad while strapped to a chair. Some of those executed had not played a significant part in the violence. Not all of those executed were leaders: Willie Pearse described himself as “a personal attaché to my brother, Patrick Pearse”.  John MacBride had not been aware of the Rising until it began. Thomas Kent did not even join in the Rising—he was executed for the killing of a policeman during a raid on his house the week after. Éamon de Valera, Commandant of the 3rd Battalion, escaped execution partly because of his American birth.

 

A total of 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested, although most were subsequently released. 1,480 men were interned in England and Wales many of whom, like Arthur Griffith of Sinn Fein, had little or nothing to do with the Rising. Camps such as Frongoch internment camp in Wales became “Universities of Revolution” where future leaders like Michael Collins and Terence McSwiney planned the war for independence. A new revolutionary elite formed in detention and a sentimental cult of veneration for the martyrs developed outside. Throughout 1917, the Irish Volunteers invited arrest and martyrdom and tried to disrupt the prison system by hunger strikes in pursuit of “political status”.

 

If the situation had been handled better by the British, the Sinn Féin movement could have received a severe setback.   As an aftermath of the rising, about 50,000 British soldiers were stationed in Ireland which deprived England of much-needed men and equipment.  Recruitment for the First World War in Ireland practically stopped. The threat of conscription further alienated the Irish.

In the years after 1916, terrorism was slow to develop and was mainly precipitated by brutal British methods of repression which forced Volunteers to band together for protection. There were no more than 4,000 armed activists and they had no hope of military success. Internment was introduced in 1920. The Black and Tans and Auxiliaries were also sent into Ireland in that year. Their reprisals included beatings and killings; they destroyed 53 creameries and ransacked many towns; in December 1920 they set fire to the centre of Cork City; on November 21, twelve football supporters were slaughtered at Croke Park in revenge for the assassination by Michael Collins’s men of fourteen alleged spies.

Former comrades turned viciously against each other after the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty established the Irish Free State – still owing allegiance to the UK and without six counties in the north. Historian David Fitzpatrick wrote in 1989 about the civil war: “The  violent  challenge  to  the  state  then  degenerated  into  a dolorous  sequence  of  murders,  robberies,  burnings  and  kidnappings  which  has  not  yet  ceased.  So  the state survived its painful baptism into a faith whose first article was the consolidation of state authority rather than the welfare of the nation. The  Free  State  government  responded  with  draconian  measures  such  as  summary  execution  without trial. Ex-comrades carried out seventy-seven such executions adding to the litany of republican martyrs, and thousands of imprisonments created abiding bitterness.”

 

Éamon  de  Valera  led  his  party,  Fianna  Fáil,  to  adopt  conservative  social  policies,  since  he  believed devoutly that the Catholic church and the family were central to Irish identity. De Valera died in 1975, a blind 93-year-old.

I am old enough to remember the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Rising in 1966. The drama of the thing spread even to the UK with BBC2 screening Irish TV’s dramatization of the events. That year was a turning point however. The idea of the rising being carried out by martyrs and saints was furthered by literature until the 1960s. With the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, a flood of books were released, and for the first time voices of dissent were heard. The violence in Northern Ireland and the Provisional IRA claiming to be the ideological sons of the Easter Rising also contributed to a change in public opinion. John Waters wrote an article in the Irish Times to mark the 95th anniversary of the Rising. Readers’ comments were instructive. “Dublin is a poxy little city of about a million people sitting on a small island which happens to have one of the worst climates on the planet, and is now broke. Nearly 100 years ago a bunch of boys with more imagination than common sense fought for its independence. 100 years later it speaks English, shares common laws and rules with most of Europe and the same money.”

 

Another reader commented about Easter 1916: “This tragic and misguided terrorist action started off with the cold-blooded murder of an unarmed policeman. No amount of rationalization can transform that first murder into an act of heroism and the misleading euphemism of the War of Independence for the subsequent terrorist campaign is dishonest and a travesty of the reality of those years. The warped so-called principles embraced by the terrorists of those times continue to be adhered to by the likes of the Real IRA.” He continued: “Dishonour was the hallmark of the Easter Rising and the consequences emanating from that appalling action. The murder machine was well and truly set in motion from that point onwards and the IRA became the role model for terrorists on a worldwide scale.”

 

Conor  Cruise  O’Brien  pointed  out  30  years  ago  that  Pearse  and  his  colleagues  believed  they were entitled, although they were but a small unelected  group of conspirators   in a democratic country, to stage  a  revolution  in  1916  in  which  many  innocent  people  were  killed –entitled    because  their judgement was superior to that of the population at large. For generations afterward, the IRA used the same argument, seeing themselves as the heirs of Pearse. Why was it right for the 1916 martyrs, O’Brien asked,  yet  wrong  for  the  Officials,  the  Provisionals  and  now  the  Continuity  and  Real  IRA  to  emulate them?

 

Charles Townshend wrote that the Easter Rising was: “A manifestation of violence as politics. It was not the  prelude  to  a  democratic  national  movement  which  led  in  turn  to the  establishment  of  a normal constitutional  national  polity.  It  was,  rather,  a  form  of  politics which  may  be  called demonstration politics,  the  armed  propaganda  of    a  self-selected  vanguard  which  claimed  the  power  to interpret  the general  will.  Cathartic action  was  substituted  for  methodological  debate;  ideal  types  replaced  reality; symbols  took  on  real  power”.

 

Revisionist historians like Ruth Dudley Edwards and Roy Foster have undermined the myths and criticized the physical force tradition. Rebel leaders like Pearse, Bobby Sands and Prabhakaran might have the right to choose martyrdom for themselves but they also kill innocents. Where do you draw the line between national consciousness and deadly myth-making, between fighting for freedom and brutal murder?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter 1916 Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 22 2016

Colman's Column3

This  year  marks  the  centenary  of  the  Easter  Rebellion  in  Dublin.  This provides opportunity for reflection on the meaning of the event. What kind of modern nation emerged from the Rising? Although I am endlessly quoting my own adage –“the road to hell is paved with false analogies” – I will attempt to draw some parallels between Ireland and Sri Lanka.

59983A

The Rising failed and was followed by a war of independence and a bitter civil war developed out of the ensuing treaty. The Republic of Ireland has just had a general election in March 2016 in which the two parties which developed out of the civil war reached a stalemate and Sinn Fein increased its seats. Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) was the anti-treaty party of De Valera.  Fine  Gael  was  the  pro-treaty party  of  Liam Cosgrave,  Michael Collins  and  the  Free  State  government.  Éamon De  Valera  fought  against  the  treaty because  it  left  Ireland  divided,  part  of  the  Commonwealth  and  owing  allegiance  to  the  Crown. Ireland now owes allegiance to the European Central Bank rather than the Crown and  is still divided.

 

The aim of the 1916 Rising was to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was occupied with World War I. “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Joseph Plunkett travelled to Germany in April 1915 to join Roger Casement in a bid to recruit Irish prisoners of war to the rebel cause. The two men met the German Ambassador in Washington to seek German support for Irish independence. Plunkett and Casement presented a plan which involved a German expeditionary force landing on the west coast of Ireland. That plan did not work out, although Casement brought guns into Ireland from Germany.

Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has a new book just out – The Seven. This refers to the seven men who made up the Military Council of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood. Following the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, whose purpose was to resist Home Rule for Ireland, by force if necessary, the IRB were behind the initiative which eventually led to the inauguration of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. The IRB intended to use the Volunteers to seek a republic, recruiting high-ranking Volunteers into the IRB, such as Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, and Thomas MacDonagh. These men, together with veteran Fenian Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, constituted the Military Committee. It was just these seven who decided to wage war on the British Empire. On the morning of Easter Sunday 1916, they met in Dublin’s Liberty Hall. By noon, they had printed and issued the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which they declared themselves to be the provisional government of an entity that claimed the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman, even though the people had not been consulted.

Patrick Pearse was a poet and playwright who founded schools to which the Gaelicist intelligentsia sent their offspring to be raised in the high tradition of mythical hero Cuchulainn and to learn the Irish language: “better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour”. Pearse developed an unhealthy obsession with blood sacrifice.  “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”.

Though not obviously a fighter, Pearse was enthused by the sight of armed Ulster loyalists and wanted to emulate them: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”. He developed a messianic and sacrificial notion that his cause was, through a symbolic loss of life, comparable with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pearse expressed an ecstatic view of the energising force of the sacrifice of death in the First World War. He frequently celebrated the beauty of boys dying bravely in their prime, before the shoddy compromises of adult life corrupted them.  Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote: ““It would be frequently remarked of Pearse that he had no understanding of the mundane day-to-day concerns that precluded others from showing the same fanatical dedication to his successive causes: he lived and died for a people that did not exist.”

James Connolly was more hard-headed, a socialist and trade unionist who responded thus to an article by Pearse: “We do not think that the old heart of the earth needs to be warmed with the red wine of millions of lives. We think that anyone who does is a blithering idiot”.

Nevertheless, Connolly did sacrifice himself. The rising was planned as a “blood sacrifice” for a society that had become apathetic. There were disagreements among the rebels. Eoin McNeill, chief of staff of the Irish Volunteers, wished to proceed only on a basis of realistic hope of success rather than staking everything on a gesture of moral revivalism. He thought the blood- sacrifice option intellectually flaccid. Many, however, like 18-year-old medical student, Ernie O’Malley, who had no previous record of nationalist involvement, were strangely stirred by Pearse’s peculiar theology of insurrection. O’Malley became a key organizer and leader in the later guerrilla war as well as one of its most prominent literary chroniclers.

 

The Rising began on Easter Monday, 1916, and lasted for six days. Only about 1,600 rebels turned out in Dublin, with activity in the rest of the country limited to parading. There were isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, but the orders for a general uprising were countermanded by Eoin McNeill. He had no role in the planning of the Rising, which was carried out by IRB infiltrators. He found out that Pearse had duped him and placed a last minute news advertisement advising Volunteers not to take part. McNeill was supported by Bulmer Hobson and The O’Rahilly but O’Rahilly joined in the rebellion and was killed in action.

By the time Pearse surrendered, only 64 rebels had been killed. In the World War, 25,000 Irishmen died fighting as members of the British Army. The British Army in Dublin that Easter reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded and nine missing. Sixteen policemen died, and 29 were wounded. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. All 16 police fatalities and 22 of the British soldiers killed were Irishmen. The majority of the casualties, both killed and wounded, were civilians. British and rebels shot civilians deliberately on occasion when they refused to obey orders. There were at least two instances of British troops killing civilians out of revenge or frustration, at Portobello Barracks, where six were shot and North King Street, where 15 were killed. Most of the civilians killed were victims of indirect fire from artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells. The British seem to have caused most non-combatant deaths. One Royal Irish Regiment officer recalled, “They regarded, not unreasonably, everyone they saw as an enemy, and fired at anything that moved”.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British army quickly suppressed the Rising, and Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender. Most of the leaders were swiftly executed following courts-martial.

The Rising had no popular support. As the rebel prisoners were marched away under arrest, they were attacked by working-class women, who pelted them with rotten vegetables and emptied chamber pots over them. In his eyewitness account, The Insurrection in Dublin, James Stephens (poet, novelist and short story writer) wrote: “Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable, but actively and viciously hostile to the rising. This was noticeable among the best-dressed classes of our population; the worst dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed a like antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was ‘I hope every man of them will be shot’.”

 

Next week – how things changed.

Omagh Part 3 An End to Terrorism?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on October 13 2015.

peace process

On 15 August 1998 at 3.04 p.m. an explosion in Omagh killed 31 people and injured 220. This was done in the pursuit of a united Ireland by dissidents objecting to the Good Friday Agreement signed earlier that year. Although the police knew who the culprits were, the families of the victims were frustrated that no one was prosecuted and they raised funds to bring a civil action. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness expressed their support but refused to give any information that would help bring the bombers to justice. The case was not concluded until 2009. Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? The authorities believed the actions of the families were unhelpful to the peace process. Compromise and forgiveness were the order of the day with their corollaries of impunity and surrender.

Good out of Evil?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real IRA into giving up the “armed struggle”. With arms being decommissioned in 2005, we were told that the war was over and the Provisional IRA was no more.

McGuigan Murder

kevinmcguigan

On August 12th, 2015, former Provisional IRA member Kevin McGuigan was shot dead outside his Belfast home. It is believed that he was killed in retaliation for the killing in May of IRA leader Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison. PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) Chief Constable, George Hamilton said  that the Provisional  IRA still exists and IRA members may have been involved in the McGuigan murder.

mcguinnessstorey

Bobby Storey was arrested. Storey is a close ally of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and has an office at Stormont. Stormont Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, said he was “surprised” to learn about Mr Storey’s arrest. “Bobby Storey is a valued member of Sinn Féin’s core leadership. He has played a leading role in the development of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy and is a long-standing and loyal supporter, defender and advocate of the peace and political processes.”

coffin

Terrorists and Ordinary Decent Criminals

 

Before the Good Friday Agreement, the Provisional IRA enjoyed links with organized crime in the same areas of the Costa del Sol where many of Dublin’s top “ordinary” criminals, the “Murphia”, lived. The Murphia became the wholesale suppliers for parts of the UK drugs markets. The Provisional IRA funded its terrorist activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. Martin McGuinness, former IRA Commandant for Derry, and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. As a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland, McGuinness   visited Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation.

 

The Real IRA has been responsible for murders and pipe bomb attacks in the Republic and has taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The group is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The dissidents are also believed to be selling some of these bombs to gangs including criminal elements within the Travelling community. In 2009, the Irish Army Ordnance Corps dealt with 61 live bombs and 140 hoax bombs. In 2010, they dealt with 40 live bombs, mostly in Dublin.

 

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE was mainly dependent for funding in the early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports, other papers, and also engaged in human trafficking.

Real IRA Still in Business

According to Forbes, the Real IRA is currently the ninth richest terrorist organisation in the world, with an income of around £32m, (ISIS is top of the league with £1.3bn) largely generated from smuggling and organised crime. The Real IRA remained active immediately after Omagh. A car bomb exploded at midnight on March 4 2001 outside the BBC’s studios in London. British authorities suspected the Real IRA had planted the bomb as retaliation for a Panorama programme about Omagh.  There was also a bombing in Ealing on 3 August 2001 and an attempted bombing in Birmingham city centre on 3 November 2001.

Did the Provos Really Lay Down Arms?

There has been informed speculation recently that the Provisional IRA did not fully decommission its arms as officially announced in 2005. According to Mitchell Reiss, former US special envoy, during negotiations on decommissioning, Gerry Adams asked that the IRA be allowed to keep guns to counter dissident threats – a request that was accepted by the Blair government but rejected by Dublin. Arms  that Adams wanted to keep as a defence AGAINST  dissidents disrupting the peace rare now available TO dissidents to disrupt the peace process. Reports, issued by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) acknowledged that the IRA had retained weaponry. Did the retention have the approval of the British, Irish and US governments? Neither the IMC nor the IICD ever specified the precise nature of the weaponry, although there is a hint that high-powered weapons, such as automatic rifles were held back. Neither body reports that the withheld weaponry was recovered or destroyed, or explained what happened to it. Kevin McGuigan was killed with an automatic rifle.

Arms Caches Still Being Found

In July 2013, Gardaí uncovered the largest ever dissident republican arsenal buried on land at the Old Airport Road in north Dublin. It included explosives and guns that the Provisional IRA should have decommissioned years earlier. The haul included 15kg of semtex that the Gaddafi had supplied in the 1980s. The buried weaponry also included handguns, shotguns, an Uzi submachine gun, electronic devices to disrupt mobile phones and more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition. In September 2013, Gardaí in Meelick, County Clare, seized weapons, explosives and circuit boards that could be used to trigger massive bombs.

In May 2015, when the Republic’s security forces prepared for a visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, six republican dissidents from two hard-line factions were arrested. Irish Defence Forces’ bomb disposal teams were sent to Courtown in Wexford and Dundalk, Louth. Bomb components were found in the security operation near the border with Northern Ireland.

Terrorists Could Govern in Dublin

Sinn Féin, formerly the proxy of the Provisional IRA, is confident of winning enough seats in the next Dáil to lead the Opposition in the Republic of Ireland, with a chance of being the leading party in the election after that. A scenario can be imagined in which the governing party in the Republic of Ireland is influenced by someone who has been questioned about the IRA execution of Kevin McGuigan.

 

Could the LTTE Rise Again?

For nearly 20 years, we have been hopeful that peace would endure in Ireland. Perhaps we were too complacent. Following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, there have been no terrorist incidents in Sri Lanka. Lower level cadres were rehabilitated and senior figures like Karuna, Pillayan, Daya Master and KP entered the mainstream. In the 2015 parliamentary election former LTTE fighters contested (unsuccessfully) for parliamentary seats. Currently the TNA, which during the war was the proxy of the Tigers, is now the official opposition party in the Sri Lankan parliament.

Does this mean that separatist militancy has been absorbed into the mainstream Sri Lankan polity or is it lying dormant? There is plenty of funding available from the diaspora and many people who still long for Eelam.  Could a reduction of military presence allow a resurgence of violence?

 

Omagh Part Two

Colman's Column3This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday September 14 2015

Mandy2

The Law’s Delay

 

On 15 August 1998 at 3.04 p.m. a 500lb bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, killing 31 people (including unborn twins) and injuring 220. This was done in the pursuit of a united Ireland by dissident republicans who were against the peace process. There had been a warning call to Ulster Television in Belfast at 2.29 p.m. saying there was a bomb timed to go off in 30 minutes outside the Courthouse on Main Street. There was another call at 2.31 to the Samaritans in Coleraine. That caller said the bomb was about 200 yards up from the Courthouse on High Street. There was another call to UTV at 2.31. The callers used a code word associated with the Real IRA.

Warnings and Hoaxes

Perhaps the various brands of IRA terrorists might seem more “civilised” than the Tamil Tigers – they do tend to give warnings before they slaughter civilians. That is of small comfort to the thousands of people affected by their tactics. At Omagh, the first of three confused warning calls came less than half an hour before the car bomb went off. Superintendent William Baxter told the inquest in September 2000 that since August 15 1998 there had been 68 hoax bomb alerts in the town. Although many thought the warnings on August 15 were a hoax, the police took them seriously and immediately went into action with well-established procedures. The duty sergeant, Phil Marshall, was pleased that they managed to clear 200 premises in the short time available. “My initial thought that it was perfect, that we couldn’t have done better. Omagh was like a ghost town, I thought, if anything goes up now, it’s buildings only”.

There is no Main Street in Omagh. The courthouse is roughly 400 metres from the spot where the car bomb was parked in a stolen maroon Vauxhall Cavalier. It seems that the courthouse was the intended target but the bombers could not find a parking space and left the car outside SD Kells’ clothes shop in Lower Market Street, on the southern side near the crossroads with Dublin Road. The police had, in effect, been evacuating people towards the bomb rather than away from it. The bombers claimed it was not their fault and that they had given adequate warnings. If they had been concerned about loss of life they would have triggered the bomb at 3 a.m. not 3 p.m. on a public holiday when the streets were full of people.

Civil Action

On January 20 1999, Mo Mowlem, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief constable of the Royal Irish Constabulary, pleaded with the MP Andrew Hunter not to use his parliamentary privilege to name six suspects in the Omagh bomb murder inquiry. They told Mr Hunter, chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland, that such action would prejudice any prosecution.

Frustrated by delays, the families took action. On 28 October 2000, the families of four children killed in the bombing – James Barker, 12, Samantha McFarland, 17, Lorraine Wilson, 15, and 20-month-old Breda Devine – launched a campaign to bring a civil action against the suspects named in a BBC Panorama programme. On 15 March 2001, the families of all twenty-nine people killed in the bombing launched a £2-million civil action against RIRA suspects Seamus McKenna, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.  The civil action began in Northern Ireland on 7 April 2008.

Jason McCue

Human rights solicitor Jason McCue fought the case for the families over many years. He has been described as a “rock ‘n roll lawyer” – he married TV celebrity and journalist Mariella Frostrup (her father was Norwegian but she was brought up in Ireland) and they hang out with George Clooney. He wrote of the families: “Their achievement is important for Ireland and for the UK. It is a happy irony that their civil action did more to unite Ireland than the murderers that killed their families. But more than that, the Omagh civil action drew support from across the 32 counties and when the verdict came in, households throughout Ireland raised a toast to their achievement.”

Peace, Compromise, Impunity

The case was not concluded until 2009. Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? They had, as historian Ruth Dudley Edwards puts it, “to take on not just a terrorist organisation, but most of the Dublin, Belfast and London police, justice and political establishments, who for varied reasons thought their actions misguided, counterproductive or unhelpful to the peace process”. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness expressed their support but refused to give any information that would help bring the bombers to justice.

Peter Mandelson

Former Northern Ireland secretaries Peter Mandelson, Tom King, Peter Brooke, Lord Hurd, Lord Prior, and Lord Merlyn-Rees signed up in support of the plaintiffs’ legal fund. Mandelson took the lead in coordinating this.

In 1999, Peter Mandelson had succeeded Mo Mowlem as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mowlem was popular with the British media and public; her willingness to speak her mind, often without regard to the consequences, was seen as strength. Mandelson was regarded as a cold Machiavellian manipulator. However, the campaigners warmed to him and he to them. Mowlem wanted to do everything to avoid undermining the peace process which was her monument.

Ruth Dudley Edwards was heavily involved in the campaign and wrote a book about it. She had worked in the British civil service, and was impressed that, soon after taking office, Mandelson had taken the unusual step of writing to her, commending her article in the Telegraph. He wrote that such articles “play an important part in changing the environment in which the terrorists operate”. “I agree with you entirely that everything possible should be done to try and bring those responsible for the Omagh bomb to justice”. He was distancing himself from Mowlem, who had seemed, according to Edwards, more comfortable with ex-terrorists than with victims and whose seeming indifference to the Omagh relatives had been “scandalous”.

Mowlem had discouraged ministers and civil servants from meeting the families and wanted to play down expectations of bringing the bombers to justice. Mandelson insisted on meeting the families. He was so affected by an exhibition of children’s art work. One of the relatives said: “Peter Mandelson is the nicest man, the best man…He cried, he cried in there and he put everyone out of there, even his Private Secretary. All politicians want to do is look after themselves. They don’t care about anything, but Peter Mandelson did care”. The Mail published a picture of his grief-stricken face. He said: “I feel a tremendous sense of loss every day I wake up and find yet another day has passed without these prosecutions taking place”.

Mandelson continued to offer practical help after he ceased to be Northern Ireland Secretary. He played a very active role behind the scenes and with the media. He also contributed generously from his own money.

An End to Terror?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes, flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real IRA into giving up an “armed struggle” that was killing unborn babies.

Unfortunately, the Real IRA are still in business. Recent events indicate that the Provisional IRA might also still be active. Eternal vigilance is essential. Could the LTTE also rise like a Phoenix?

More next week about the unraveling of peace in Northern Ireland.

 

Reconciliation Ireland Part 6

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 7 2012

On April 27, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), an intergovernmental regional security structure comprising 56 states including all EU countries, Russia, the US and Canada, held its annual conference in Dublin. Ireland had a good story to tell about how peace was achieved.

 
On the same day, a Catholic mother on the Creggan housing estate, took her 18-year-old son to an appointment with Republican Action Against Drugs, to be kneecapped for drug dealing.

 
My friend the Rev. Harold Good, together with Father Alec Reid, played a vital role in the Northern Ireland peace process. It was Harold who announced to the press that the IRA had decommissioned their arms. If the IRA had given up their arms, the ‘long war’ waged by the IRA was definitively over. Or was it?

The peace process itself was endangered on many occasions by bombings and shootings which, despite their great stature within the Republican movement, McGuinness and Adams were powerless to prevent. In 1997, Michael McKevitt, the then IRA QMG (Quartermaster General) , who was also a member of the 12-person Provisional IRA (PIRA) Executive, broke away from the Provisional IRA to form the Real IRA (RIRA). His wife, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands and a founder of the RIRA’s political wing, the 32 County Sovereignty movements, spoke out against the peace agreement: “Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state”.

The RIRA takes violent action against the British military and police and other targets in Northern Ireland, including civilians. The 1998 Omagh car bombing claimed 29 lives and injured hundreds. Dissident groups remain a threat today, fourteen years after the peace agreement. Another ‘new’ IRA was announced on July 26.
To RIRA it is Sinn Fein who are the dissidents for their apostasy in accepting a divided Ireland. In the May 2011 elections, not a single dissident won an Assembly seat, and their combined vote was less than one percent. Republican Sinn Fein (the RIRA’s “political” wing) spokesperson Cait Trainor told Channel 4: “We have a mandate stretching right back to 1798. We really don’t need the public to rubber stamp the republican movement.”
Dissidents have little hope of ‘winning’ in the sense of achieving a united Ireland by force. Meanwhile, they are content to disrupt the liberal consensus and show that the Good Friday settlement has not produced the peace that was promised.

Terrorists often inhabit a murky borderland with organized crime. Part of the RIRA plan is to gain legitimacy as a community police force by acting against drug dealers, thieves and those involved in anti-social behavior. This is hypocritical as they are heavily involved in crime.
In the Republic, police chief Martin Callinan rejected criticism of his officers for failing to intervene when shots were fired by masked paramilitaries at the funeral of murdered RIRA member Alan Ryan on Saturday September 15. Any rational assessment of Alan Ryan would assess him as a hoodlum and extortionist. The RIRA planned to turn him into their very own Bobby Sands.

RIRA godfathers exploited Ryan’s funeral as propaganda despite the fact that they had themselves recently admonished him for his erratic behavior. Ryan threatened tortured, bombed, shot and murdered. His security company was a front for a protection racket targeting legitimate business people and organized the murder of drug dealers for other drug dealers. A foreign hit man was paid €100,000 to terminate Ryan.

Another dissident plan is to agitate in contended situations, particularly during the marching season, to prompt over-reaction by the security forces. North Belfast is a complex patchwork of republican and loyalist districts. For three consecutive nights in early September, embittered loyalists clashed with police, resulting in injuries to more than 60 officers. A planned republican procession had attracted loyalist protesters. Tensions have simmered over trouble close to a Catholic church. North Belfast was the scene of serious rioting earlier this year when republicans attacked police following a loyalist parade through the Ardoyne on July 12. North Belfast resident and writer Daniel Jewesbury said: “There are some groups dedicated to taking offense, but there are some who are dedicated to giving it”.

Belfast-based journalist Jason Walsh writes: ”Sectarianism is built into the very fabric of the peace process that brought the war in Northern Ireland to an end… in elevating parity of esteem and respect for cultural difference above all else, it also turned demands for community respect into the political currency of the New Northern Ireland”. The fear is that this nurturing of difference will explode again into open war.

See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/11201-peace-

today?.html#sthash.PHjbaxzS.dpuf

 

 

Reconciliation in Ireland Part 5

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday September 23 2012

Peace comes dropping slow

There were too many twists and turns in the road to the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement to be covered satisfactorily in 800 words. Readers wanting to follow the detail should read Great Hatred, Little Room by Jonathan Powell for an inside view by a British government participant. Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, followed the negotiations on a daily basis and interviewed key people. In his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favorite quotation in the book is from a republican asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Why did it end?
The 30-year war had reached a stalemate. Peter Taylor, in his book Brits, provides convincing evidence to show that British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were savvy enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Behind a facade of British refusal to talk with terrorists and the IRA refusal to contemplate anything short of a united Ireland, both sides were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The actors
De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.
PMs Blair and Ahern grew in stature because of their dogged efforts on Northern Ireland before, respectively, Iraq and corruption destroyed their reputations.
Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party sacrificed his health throughout his adult life representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.
De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the fire-breathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grassroots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As the leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.

 

Constructive ambiguity
Many regarded the peace process with scepticism concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. To carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.
To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993 after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister.
The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable nay-sayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/focus/item/10734-peace#sthash.MLLs7DLt.dpuf

 

Casuistry of Blood: Fighting for Freedom?

“I am not made for politics because I am incapable of wanting or accepting the death of the adversary.” Albert Camus, Notebooks 1945.

Recently, I seem to have been often discussing, with contacts in England, Ireland and Sri Lanka, moral issues relating to the use of violence. Some of the comment following the death of Nelson Mandela heightened this.

A friend in suburban England frets at what he sees about Sri Lanka on Channel 4 News. My friend made a token knee-jerk to the idea that people should make life bearable on this lonely rock in the vast universe by just getting along nicely together and not fighting. However, he also set up some kind of dichotomy between “so-called” terrorists and the “self-righteous” governments that try to put them down. My friend also trotted out that old trope about “state terrorism”. Pity the state that does not have the monopoly of violence. One would hope that a democratically elected government would exercise violence proportionately.

Albert Camus was conscious of the dilemma faced by the pacifist. He wrote in 1948: “I merely say that we must refuse all legitimacy to violence, whether it comes from raison d’état or totalitarian philosophy. Violence is both unavoidable and unjustifiable.” In his native Algeria, both the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) rebels and the French colonial forces used torture. By September 1956, it was official FLN policy to attack civilians. One of the FLN leaders, Ramdane Abane, said, “One corpse in a jacket is always worth more than twenty in uniform.” Urban bombings became widespread. Camus wrote: “Each side thus justifies its own actions by pointing to the crimes of its adversaries. This is a casuistry of blood with which intellectuals should, I think, have nothing to do, unless they are prepared to take up arms themselves.”

 

A Sri Lankan contact justifies the use of violence by the IRA, who, he claims, were “fighting” to throw off 800 years of British oppression. Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president, recently made a pathetic attempt to steal some of the respect granted to Nelson Mandela. As Irish historian, Ruth Dudley Edwards, put it: “As any aspiring starlet knows, it helps to be seen with people more popular and famous than yourself.” Kader Asmal, the organiser of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement for three decades and later a minister in Mandela’s government, spoke of the help the IRA gave its military wing in the bombing of an oil refinery in 1980.

Yes, Mandela was associated with violence. Mandela was one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe – Spear of the Nation – the ANC’s armed wing. In his statement at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  Mandela did not die then and neither did the vile racists governing the country. Mandela did not object to attacks on burger bars and amusement arcades and refused to repudiate the armed struggle in 1985 when he was offered his freedom. As with the Provisional IRA, Hezbollah and LTTE attacks, most ANC victims were not politicians or military but women and children.

In the real world, there are some situations where democratic processes are not available to an oppressed population and violence seems the only option. Apartheid South Africa and occupied Palestine might fit this description. However, what kind of violence was appropriate?

Sinn Fein spokespeople declare that, like the ANC, they reluctantly adopted violence because there was no other route to equality for nationalists. However, Northern Ireland was not like apartheid South Africa or occupied Palestine. The Catholic minority did suffer discrimination. There were peaceful non-violent movements whose objective was to redress these wrongs. The Provisional IRA, whose main concern was not civil rights, hijacked them. Although they assumed for themselves the role of protectors of the Catholic population, their agenda was to emulate the republican martyrs of yesteryear and to fight for a united Ireland. This degenerated into atrocity and criminality. Historian Marc Mulholland thoroughly researched documents from the 60s and struggled to believe how the issues of that time were worth 30 years of murderous mayhem.

The majority did not support the 1916 rising. It was a conspiracy within a conspiracy; a secret plot by seven IRB members. Catholics in the south did have the vote and the General Election of 1918 was essentially a nationalist vote against conscription. It was a mandate for political struggle but not for the murder of Irish policemen, loyalists and ex-servicemen. The majority of IRA actions were simply assassinations.

Fintan O’Toole has written: “There is a place beyond civility and morality, beyond compassion and sympathy. There are circumstances throughout history in which many otherwise ordinary people come to inhabit that place. They find within themselves a capacity, not just to do terrible things to other human beings, but to be thrilled and exhilarated by those acts.” The Sinn Fein IRA position seems to be that even when they murdered  children, it was always someone else’s fault. The IRA men are heroes and the only victims are themselves. What kind of violence was appropriate to achieve civil rights for the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland? What kind of violence was appropriate to achieve a united Ireland? How should “freedom fighters” combat an oppressive state?

Jennifer McNern was 21 when she went with her sister, Rosaleen, into Belfast for an afternoon’s shopping in March 1972, finishing with coffee in the Abercorn Restaurant. A bomb exploded. She woke up a week later, missing both her legs. Her sister lost two legs, and an arm.  Fourteen limbs were amputated that day and two girls died. More than 130 people were injured. A policeman said:  “All you could hear was the moaning and squealing and the people with limbs torn from their bodies”.  McNern is once again afraid that unelected dissident republicans will set off street bombs in Northern Ireland.

Gerry Adams very publicly carried the coffin of Thomas Begley during his funeral in Ardoyne. Perhaps he had to do this to maintain the credibility that enabled him to carry forward the peace process. Begley’s own bomb killed him on 23 October 1993. The IRA intended to assassinate loyalist paramilitary leaders, who were to be meeting in a room above Frizzell’s chip shop on Shankill Road, Belfast. The blast killed nine other people and 57 were injured. Raymond Elliot helped shovel the unrecognisable flesh into brown bags. “There were body parts stuck to the wall, blood and guts. People’s insides were lying there. I saw somebody’s scalp. Adrenalin kept me going. I was no hero. These people, my friends and neighbours, were reduced to that.” Twenty years later, he takes 19 tablets a day. He still sees a psychiatrist.

Martin McGuinness has called for information about undiscovered remains of the Disappeared. He said that The IRA’s secret killing and burying of victims accused of passing information to the British security services was cruel and unjustified: “What happened to those families was totally and absolutely wrong. I believe it was cruel, I believe it was unjustified. Of course the IRA were responsible.” McGuinness could not put his IRA past behind him when he sought to be elected president of the Republic of Ireland. Although he has committed himself to peace and democratic politics, people on both sides of the border, Protestant and Catholic, found it hard to forget his role in the IRA.

Isaiah Berlin warns us to be sceptical when governments violate rights, ostensibly in pursuit of freedom. We should resist those sea-green incorruptibles, whether they are dictators or dissidents,   who self-righteously claim a monopoly of virtue. Berlin is against those who crave certainty, simplicity, and uniformity and who treasure the conviction of their own righteousness. He is against those who argue that the ends justify the means, that what you suffer during a revolution, what you suffer under a totalitarian dictatorship is worthwhile because of a good outcome in the future.

Despite the undoubted if not definitive success of the Good Friday Agreement, a handful of unelected die-hards do not want peace. They want to create new martyrs for Ireland. Is there an inevitable regression from Northern Irish Catholics suffering discrimination, to innocent English (and Irish) people being blown to giblets while enjoying a drink with friends?

Camus wrote: “we must refuse to justify these methods [reprisals and torture] on any grounds whatsoever, including effectiveness. Once one begins to justify them, even indirectly, no rules or values remain.” He addressed the FLN: “No matter what cause one defends, it will suffer permanent disgrace if one resorts to blind attacks on crowds of innocent people.”

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