Judging by the relatively muted media coverage of last weekend's brutal murder of Paul Quinn near the border with Northern Ireland, few people in the Republic actually care whether the IRA remains an active force on parts of this island and even fewer are prepared to hold Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to account for its activities.
Sinn Fein, we were told by one Irish Times columnist last week, is now a normal political party and cannot be deemed responsible for the actions of its former foot soldiers. Words, however worn, however empty and however disingenuous, are enough.
Adams and his Sinn Fein colleagues were quick to condemn the murder and characterised Quinn's killers as criminals, not 'republicans'. They asked people with information about the murder to co-operate with the police forces on both side of the border. What more, you were left to wonder, could a normal political party do? Front page news for a couple of days, and then it started to fade away as our momentary outrage switched to pay increases, provisional licences and dodgy solicitors.
Adams' assurances of republican innocence were accepted with predictable alacrity by Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, who does not anticipate any fallout for the peace process in Northern Ireland and who seems oblivious to any potential fallout in the state which he governs.
The investigation into the murder will now be hampered by silence, both sullen and fearful. Conclusive evidence of IRA involvement in the murder will be impossible to gather -- neither police force is likely to stumble across the meticulous minutes, proposed, seconded and signed off, of an Army Council meeting at which Paul Quinn's murder was sanctioned -- and politicians of all parties will leap through semantic hoops to justify the continued tolerance of a political party that is anything but normal.
In a few short weeks, Quinn will be quietly forgotten by all but his family and friends and the men who beat him to death will continue to go about their business. There will be no sustained political pressure on Adams from Dublin, London or Washington, no demands that he and his colleagues do their utmost to bring Quinn's killers to justice, no renewed assault on the criminal networks spawned by the 'republican movement' that pollute the border counties.
It will not be long, either, before Adams accuses the Police Service of Northern Ireland of 'political policing' if it gets too close to his beloved, crime-free 'republican movement'. In his parallel universe, republicans cannot be criminals and criminals cannot be republicans, and to suggest otherwise is to persecute the avowedly innocent for political purposes. Remember the persecuted bird-watchers in Colombia? Or the non-criminal killers of Garda McCabe? Or the lies, distortions and collective amnesia that followed the murder two years ago of Robert McCartney outside a Belfast bar or the murder of Joseph Rafferty outside his Dublin home?
It is a sick world that Adams inhabits, but it is one that we have allowed him to create. Throughout the long running negotiations for a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland, the governments in Dublin, London and Washington turned a blind eye to the criminality of the Provisional IRA.
It was a shabby trade-off that made it impossible for the police to pursue the criminals without being accused of interfering in the political process and which made Adams and his fellow travellers believe that they were above the law. History will judge whether it was a necessary compromise, but it was undoubtedly a dangerous one. Organised crime on both sides of the border has grown exponentially since the peace process started and is now, apparently, beyond control. Not all killers, of course, are members or former members of the IRA and not all gang leaders have held spurious military titles in the secret terrorist 'army', but the rot has been exacerbated by the political decision to tolerate Provisional criminality for fear of upsetting the peace cart.
The men who beat Paul Quinn to death may no longer take their orders from the IRA's Army Council, but they use the IRA's brand and its methods. According to locals, they style themselves as an Active Service Unit, they smuggle fuel and cigarettes in the style of the previously active IRA and they are self-evidently prepared to kill people who get in their way or who offend their sensibilities.
Shutting them down should be at the very top of Adams' agenda and not just because it is the right thing to do. When he sits and ponders his party's dismal performance in the last general election in the Republic, he can choose to believe that Sinn Fein suffered because of a squeeze on all small parties by the big two. Or he can choose a reality check, and recognise that Sinn Fein's fading popularity in this state can be traced directly to his own failures to excise the thuggery within his party and his 'movement'.
The murders of Robert McCartney and Joseph Rafferty and the Northern Bank heist took their toll here, and the sense of unease was heightened by Adams' own inept performance in the election campaign. His failure, thankfully, put the brakes on Sinn Fein's advance south of the border and it may never recover its previous momentum. It bumps along in the polls and its councillors defect as the nouveau Sinn Feiners realise that the party no longer offers a surefire route to political advancement.
If Adams is the committed democrat he purports to be then he has no choice but to shut down the Provisional IRA and disband the absurd Army Council, a nasty anachronism that is an affront to our democracy. The Provisionals serve no future purpose for Adams. He was able to use them to great effect during the negotiations for a settlement in Northern Ireland, forever reminding us they hadn't gone away and dangling the prospect of a dissident breakaway whenever the three governments would not concede his latest demands, but that time is long past. Dissident republicans have nowhere to go, and have not had anywhere to go for some years.
On a more tangible level, Adams can make a direct contribution to bringing Paul Quinn's murderers to justice. He could turn to Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, his longtime friend and colleague on the Army Council. Murphy, you might recall, was investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau and by Northern Ireland's Assets Recovery Agency, who raided his farms and businesses last year in an attempt to unravel the IRA's multi-million pound money laundering rackets.
Their investigations prompted Murphy to issue a press release in which he denied all allegations against him and said: "I have been a republican all my life and fully support the peace process. I will continue to play whatever role I can, to see it work."
Adams supported Murphy, saying "he is not a criminal. He's a good republican . . . Tom Murphy was one of the supporters of this peace process."
Good republicans -- who cannot, by Adams' definition, be criminals -- have a duty, surely, to root out the people who besmirch their name and who, by their actions, threaten Sinn Fein's advance. Will Slab Murphy, a good republican and worker for peace, a man whose empire spreads along the border and on whose patch Quinn was murdered, help the police hunt down the killers? Will he persuade his colleagues in the republican movement to co-operate? Or will he and Adams continue to believe -- and be allowed to believe -- that words are enough.
Their response matters to us all, and not just to Sinn Fein. If we continue to tolerate the lies and the deceit, if we continue to pretend that Adams is sincere when we know he is not, we allow the pollution to spread.The IRA, with all its false imagery and ludicrous propaganda, has to be put out of business along with all the criminal creatures it has spawned.
Adams and Murphy could lead the clean-up, but they will not. They want to rewrite history so that the Provisionals are remembered not as sectarian murderers and criminals, but as glorious freedom fighters. They want to make real the parallel universe where republicans cannot be criminals because only republicans can determine the crime.
We have been complicit in their scheming because we have failed to challenge their duplicity.
Until it is disbanded and discredited, until the revisionist mythology is stopped in its tracks, the IRA remains a real and present threat to this state. Sinn Fein is the public face of the organisation that carries the responsibility for the murders of Paul Quinn, Robert McCartney and Joseph Rafferty. If we now think that Sinn Fein is a normal political party the damage to our society and our democracy may already be irreparable.