Eilis O'Hanlon: Words are now deemed more deadly than bullets
The latest murder in Belfast isn't a threat to the peace process, but the natural result of the twisted logic of the peace process, says Eilis O'Hanlon
There are only a few months to go before the start of 2016, and, bang on cue, the shooting starts again in Northern Ireland.
From fatuous re-enactments of past violence to real-life reconstructions in one fell swoop. The victim this time was former IRA hard man Kevin McGuigan, gunned down by two masked men in front of his wife as he returned to his home in east Belfast.
The killing comes only a few months after another one-time IRA hard man - there are a lot of them about in the North - was killed in similar circumstances not far away.
There has been some speculation that the killings may be linked, which is hardly unreasonable considering that the two men were comrades in arms for so many years; and even that this latest killing may have been carried out by the Provisional IRA - or former members of the Provisional IRA, as we're now supposed to call them, because of course the new rule is to pretend that there's no such thing as the IRA any more and that everyone involved is a 'former' this or an 'ex' that.
Members of the dead man's family have publicly blamed "IRA scum" for the murder.
Such speculation is, however, "unhelpful". We know this because everyone from the police to Sinn Fein to the British and Irish governments keeps saying it, as if saying it often enough will make it true.
This is where we're at now. Gunning people down in the street is just one of those things, but making connections about who pulled the trigger is the real subversion. Words, not bullets, are now the enemy. The PSNI even called such speculation "reckless" and "potentially dangerous", while Sinn Fein has urged anyone with information about the killing to fully assist the police investigation.
Not that they personally have anything to add in that department, needless to say. When the bullets are flying, Sinn Fein representatives tend to turn en masse into Manuel from Fawlty Towers, spouting the mantra: "I know nothing".
And if this killing does turn out to have been carried out by the IRA, then no doubt they will tell everyone to claim they were in the loo at the time, as they did when Robert McCartney was beaten and stabbed to death at a bar in the city in 2005. Now that really is unhelpful.
What's mad is that you can't say the IRA might have been involved, but Sinn Fein representative Alex Maskey is not chided for asserting: "I have no concerns about any IRA involvement in this whatsoever".
Er, isn't that speculation too?
Kevin McGuigan was no innocent bystander in Northern Ireland's conflict. Nor was Gerard 'Jock' Davison. The latter was a suspect in Robert McCartney's murder. Both men also took part in a group called Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD), an IRA front that murdered a number of drug dealers while purportedly on ceasefire, despite the IRA making money from handouts from the same drugs trade.
Speculation as to who was behind those deaths was also condemned at the time as unhelpful. Seeing a pattern yet?
In a way, the rationale behind the murders of McGuigan and Davison was the same one that informed their own crimes. DAAD picked targets whose deaths wouldn't cause too much of a fuss. No one likes a drug dealer, after all.
Similarly the IRA, if it is behind this latest shooting, is banking on the fact that few in the political establishment will really want to collapse the institutions over a former gunman whose death can be much more easily dismissed as internal housekeeping or the result of a "personal" grudge.
Instead, the politicians will express shock, condemnation, then quickly forget all about it, until the next time. Because there's always a next time.
McCartney was butchered in 2005. Denis Donaldson - a Sinn Fein representative who, like so many senior republicans, was working for British intelligence - was killed at his home in Donegal in 2006, an act which was conveniently put down to "dissident" groups.
The following year, Paul Quinn, a 21-year-old Catholic, was brutally beaten to death at a farm in Co Monaghan. Ceasefire monitors placed the blame squarely at the IRA's door, but nothing was done.
Bodies are barely cold before everyone starts insisting that nothing must be allowed to derail the peace process, because the process has its own inner Orwellian logic which states that, even when violence happens, it must not be treated as "real" violence because real violence would obviously threaten the peace, and we can't be having that.
So just pretend the peace hasn't been threatened at all. Hey presto, problem solved.
First Minister Peter Robinson insists there will be "repercussions" if the IRA is found to be behind this latest murder, but in truth there'll be no more repercussions than there were the last time there were supposed to be repercussions, because, far from being injurious to the peace process, this is what the peace process is actually all about.
It's predicated on repeatedly turning a blind eye to what's going on, and that understanding was encoded into the deal right from the start. Yet still we're supposed to swallow the myth that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were brilliant negotiators for managing to do a deal with the IRA, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the deal they negotiated could only work if it was accepted that terrorist criminality might continue.
The return of violence to Belfast doesn't exactly help Sinn Fein's argument that the IRA's violent campaign post 1969 was on a continuum with the Easter Rising, and that its foot soldiers are the true inheritors of that same tradition. No one wants to think of 1916 as being composed of the sort of squalid backstreet thuggery that is the IRA's stock-in-trade.
As Sinn Fein continues to hijack 1916 for its own sinister ends, they'd no doubt warn us not to speculate about that either.