Willie Kealy: 'Is it unreasonable to say a vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for a Provo godfather?'
The Peace Process keeps on giving in to Sinn Fein's insatiable demands, but delivers no lasting peace dividends, says Willie Kealy
It's often good to look for the positives. But equally it can be dangerous to ignore the negatives. Last week's review of the Provisional IRA was a case in point.
It was understandable that Peter Robinson would seek solace in the conclusions so that he could go back into "government" in Northern Ireland because he realises more than most that he doesn't really have much alternative in a political entity that has not yet achieved full democracy.
His argument was that there was nothing in the report he didn't already know - that the IRA still exists; that it has an Army Council which, IRA members believe, oversees PIRA and Sinn Fein with an overarching strategy, and it has a military structure with brigades; that they still have guns - hundreds of them, according to another report last week; that many of their members are engaged in all manner of criminality on both sides of the border - Louth is still in the Republic; and that IRA members are directed to actively support Sinn Fein in electioneering and information gathering. But none of the above could be seen as positive, so what is? Well, apparently the Provos leadership remains committed to the Peace Process and its aim of achieving a United Ireland by political means. They have not been procuring new weaponry.
They are only keeping the weapons they have to prevent them falling into the hands of dissident republicans; and while PIRA members are involved in criminality ranging from murder to large scale smuggling, and the intimidation of whole communities, some of these activities are unsanctioned (by the Army Council) because the leadership does not have complete control over the activities of its members. However, the big positive seems to be that the PIRA is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the British state or its representatives. And there you have it in a nutshell. The Provos have ended their campaign of bombing in Northern Ireland and in Britain and shooting British soldiers and PSNI officers in the North. That's a massive prize and the rest is just the price you have to pay for it.
That is how the Peace Process works. From all of the above you would be tempted to believe, as apparently the Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan does, that this is a Northern problem and not really anything to do with those of us who live in the Republic. You couldn't be more wrong. Commissioner O'Sullivan has been consistently behind the game on this issue. Last February she told a Sinn Fein TD, Padraig McLochlainn, that there was no evidence to support a claim by Jim Cusack in this newspaper that the PIRA continued to exist but was now limiting itself to fuel-laundering, cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting. Then when the PSNI linked the murder of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast to the PIRA she was again exposed. Now she has provided the Government with an updated assessment - updated because the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, obviously thought that the Commissioner's position needed some updating. But it was wishy washy stuff about how former PIRA members had been brought before the courts for membership, and an acknowledgement that there was some criminality, but there is no evidence this is directed by "the leadership".
Which would seem to suggest that there is a leadership. Which would suggest that there is an existing PIRA. But no contradiction here, the Commissioner says.
It had never been the Force's view that PIRA had disbanded and accordingly, ceased to exist. Well, last February you would have been forgiven for believing the Commissioner had a different view. But look, the Commissioner says, this matter is inevitably complex. Why? Because some of those previously associated with PIRA are now part of "a wider movement which includes a political party". (That's Sinn Fein, by the way). But it's not Commissioner, it's not complex at all. The belief of IRA members that the Army Council oversees PIRA and Sinn Fein means it is not unreasonable to suggest that a vote for Sinn Fein could just as easily be a vote for an anonymous Provo crime godfather. The IRA were allowed to maintain their structure as a bulwark against dissidents filling the vacuum. But they were not supposed to retain their weapons. (Why were these weapons not decommissioned if they are only being held to keep them out of the hands of dissidents?) Can the Commissioner be so naive as to believe that every time an ex-Provo engaged in criminality, they only took to the bad after completely severing their links with the Provos; or that every Provo who went over to the dissident side, handed in his arms to the Provo quarter master before departing?
And how can she use the excuse that it is virtually impossible to draw a clear line between the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein? Those who terrorised these islands for 30 years have been rewarded for their efforts with a Peace Process which has now dragged on for nearly 20 years. It appears to be an unending process, not because it is so difficult to tie up loose ends, but because it is of immense and continuing benefit to Sinn Fein. It allows them to keep making demand after demand while the people of the North and the Republic still wait to see lasting peace dividends. It is unending because Sinn Fein are insatiable in their demands. And the Peace Process is the gift that just keeps on giving. In the meantime the mafia-like Provisional IRA are allowed to continue reaping the rewards of organised crime. Small wonder that the Army Council "remains committed to the Peace Process".