Saturday 24 August 2019

Playing the game is the name of the game up North

Unless it's made to pay the price for its sins, Sinn Fein will actually be helped by this storm

ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness during their ‘Chuckle Brothers’ days
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness during their ‘Chuckle Brothers’ days

Eilis O'Hanlon

Gerry Adams is right. The decision by the DUP to seek the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the Northern executive in response to claims that the IRA is still in business is indeed "self-serving".

Watching the unionists stand in front of Stormont and tell the gathered media how appalled they were to discover the IRA hadn't retired was a bit like seeing Captain Renault shut down Rick's Bar in Casablanca. "I'm shocked to find that gambling is going on in here," he declares, before a man runs up to him with a handful of money. "Your winnings, sir."

There was William McCrea, the Gospel-singing reverend who once appeared on a platform with sectarian serial killer Billy Wright. There, too, was Nigel Dodds, minister for trade in the North when Paul Quinn was lured to a barn in Co Monaghan, and beaten to death by members of the IRA. His offence was to have had a "run-in" with local republicans; but did the DUP pull the plug on power-sharing then? Of course not. The late Ian Paisley was enjoying himself too much in his role as one of the so-called "Chuckle Brothers" with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness. And these are the great founts of moral authority now, purporting to be outraged because the IRA shot one of its former hard men, Kevin McGuigan, in Belfast? It's not as if they didn't know all along that the idea SF was now a wholly constitutional entity with no links to paramilitarism was a fantasy on a par with The Chronicles Of Narnia. The only difference being that this isn't so much The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe as The Liar, The Glitch And The Fake Probe.

The liar is every person from SF who opened his or her mouth in the days since McGuigan died to deny that the IRA still poses a danger to peace or that they know more than any other average Joe. The Glitch is the temporary little problem which has since dogged that dance of deceit known as the peace process, and the Fake Probe is the investigations which, don't laugh, are now under way on both sides of the Border to determine how active the IRA remains and how tightly SF is still tied to its blood-soaked apron strings.

So yes, Adams is right. It's all "self-serving". And Pearse Doherty is right. It's a "fake crisis". What they both fail to mention, however, is that SF is playing its part in this phoney drama too, and the final scenes have already been written and the actors are all busy practising their lines.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will say this… Alan Kelly will say that… Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers will deliver a speech announcing so and so … and then it will all blow over.

Everyone will pretend to be cross with SF for a few weeks, and SF will pretend to be infuriated at being "demonised", but they know they'll get off the hook - they always do - and then all will return to normal without the slightest recognition that this new normality, which involves turning a blind eye to murder, might be the cause of the problem.

SF pretending to be angry with the DUP has to be the biggest joke in this whole business. SF loves the DUP, because the DUP plays the game. That's why they were happy for the Ulster Unionists to be shafted by hardliners, just as SF had shafted the moderate SDLP, because then there was no barrier to the ultimate joint goal: You take the Prods, we'll take the Taigs, and together we'll run this place for ever.

Dublin and London are peddling the same fiction, that there will be consequences if it turns out the order to kill McGuigan came from on high within the IRA and that SF must ensure the IRA goes away and never comes back.

But that's all kinds of crazy. The order won't be traced to the Provo leadership. The IRA is ruthless, but it isn't stupid. That's what foot soldiers are for - to take the rap.

Likewise, it's not in SF's gift to make the IRA go away. The IRA will always exist in some form. It comes, it goes; it sleeps, it wakes; that's its history, and it would be meaningless guff even if Adams did pinky promise that the IRA's never getting out of bed again.

Of course he's said it, because that's his role in the game too; and some people are pretending to be reassured by it, because that's their role. But it doesn't mean a thing. It's not about the IRA. It never was. It's about SF.

Adams' party doesn't have the power to make the IRA vanish, but it does have the power to stop covering up for it, which is what it has been doing from the moment McGuigan was murdered. Indeed, to anyone who still doubts that the republican leadership would have closed ranks to protect its own when dealing with allegations of sexual abuse, simply look at how it dealt with this issue.

They kept their heads down and hoped the problem would go away, because they knew from the start who had killed McGuigan and why. Some probably knew that it was going to happen beforehand, and even the ones who were out of the loop would quickly have been briefed.

Going to ground was better than any alarm to alert people this was an IRA job.

This is where the political focus should be right now. Not on the existence of the IRA, but on what SF did as soon as McGuigan was dead. Namely the synchronised retreat into duplicity, distraction and outright distortion.

The Government surely means well. So does Micheal Martin, who came out strongly to challenge the poisonous consensus that the IRA must not be provoked. But it's not clear how aware they are of playing roles which have been laid down for them in advance by the peace process. It's been going on a long time.

When Dublin man Joseph Rafferty was shot dead by the IRA in 2005, the same game was played. The Taoiseach accepted it wasn't an officially sanctioned killing; SF urged anyone with information to go the gardai. But as Michael McDowell, Justice Minister at the time, later confirmed, when SF representatives did so, their cooperation only "extended to providing no more than an uninformative, perfunctory written statement, which has done nothing to progress the murder investigation". It was exactly the same in Mairia Cahill's case.

It's as the old adage has it: It's not the crime that causes the problem, it's the cover-up. Not least if the only purpose of the cover-up is to shield the IRA from the consequences of its actions, because, whilst it could be argued that it was a noble deed to cover for the IRA when it was involved in a war for supposed Irish freedom, if that organisation no longer exists, and is now no more than criminals enforcing gangster rule, then lying for them makes SF complicit in something far worse.

And unless they're actually made to pay a political price for that shameful complicity, then SF will actually be strengthened by this latest row, having been seen by its supporters to have come through the fire unscathed.

Sunday Independent

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