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I don't understand why we let extremists set agenda

The town of Westport in County Mayo came to a halt for the funeral of Royal Marine Robbie McKibben. Shops closed, and the cathedral was full to overflowing.

Some 50 of his fellow Marines, many in uniform, were present, and one of them played the last post over the grave of this fine young man, killed in action on UN duties in Afghanistan.

Twelve years ago, a young Irish soldier killed while serving with the British armed forces on a UN-mandated mission would have been accorded no such farewell in Ireland. Indeed, the last time that I can remember an entire town in the west coming to a halt for a military-style funeral was in 1994, when Sligo buried IRA man Joseph McManus, who was shot dead by the off-duty UDR he was trying to murder in Fermanagh. Which is not quite the same thing, you know.

Now people often use the term "don't understand" as a form of disapproval: as in "I don't understand how you could leave your bedroom in that condition," or, "I don't understand how you could stay in our round, and never buy a drink all night." And to be sure, in what follows, that particular interpretation could apply. But what I actually mean by the term "I don't understand" is no more than that. I simply do not understand.

So I do not understand that merely because the Provisional IRA says it's all right for people to mourn a British soldier who was also an Irishman, it then becomes all right for the rest of us. Or on the other hand, I don't understand why, if the IRA says that's it's unacceptable to have a public funeral for a British soldier in Ireland, then for a very large number of people, it not becomes merely wrong, but outrageous.

We can use that kind of event as an example of a far broader phenomenon. Thus: I do not understand why is it acceptable for nationalists to join the police force administering British law in Northern Ireland today, for which duty they would have forfeited their lives a dozen years ago or more. After all, the essence of that law has not changed so very much; for it was not the nature of the police force which the IRA objected to, so much as its application of British rule, a duty to which the police service of Northern Ireland still performs.

I don't understand how the entire IRA leadership which supported the war now supports a peace which has copper-fastened British rule in the North. I don't understand why all the IRA fifth-columnists in the Irish media who used to pillory me for my opposition to the IRA campaign, calling me Colonel Myers for my efforts, now support the IRA's acquiescence in British rule over the North.

I don't understand why it was not nationalist rage at so many IRA atrocities, for decade after decade, which brought the IRA campaign to an end, but a combination of Sinn Fein and MI5 real-politik.

I don't understand how the consequence of the Mullaghmore atrocity, in which a boat load of old people and children were blown asunder in this Republic, and Warrenpoint, in which terrorists operating from this Republic murdered 18 soldiers in a double-bombing (half of them while giving first aid to colleagues wounded in the first explosion) was not the extirpation of the IRA in this Republic.

I don't understand why the actual consequence was the overthrow of Jack Lynch, who wanted to take sterner action against the IRA, and the elevation of Charles Haughey into office.

I don't understand, so much.

So. Does it generally come down to this? Does the nationalist psyche fundamentally acknowledge the moral right of an armed and extremist minority to establish political and cultural norms far beyond those created by the democratic majority?

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Is the nationalist agenda always to be set by a minority with access to guns? To be sure, that minority has to be substantial: but if it is, will it always wag the dog?

Thus the tail NOW permits Croke Park to be used by "foreign codes". Thus the tail NOW permits the Government to honour the Irish dead of two world wars. Thus the tail NOW permits Irishmen to join the Northern police and the British armed forces. Thus the tail NOW permits British military funerals in Ireland.

But I don't understand why the rest of the dog tolerates the rule of the tail. I don't understand why it is so lacking in self-confidence that it implicitly acknowledges the moral authority of the minority to set the agenda for the rest of society.

I don't understand why it is so lacking in resolution that it even tolerates the existence of an alternative source of law and compulsion, the IRA army council, in its very midst.

Most of all, I don't understand why all this submission to the will of an assertive minority is achieved in a virtual silence from the majority. I don't understand why no-one in Dail Eireann ever asks, "Why?"

So much, so very, very much, that I just don't understand.