Sunday Business Post

The IRA war is over but nobody noticed

By Vincent Browne
Last Tuesday morning, the IRA said the war was over.

Nobody noticed. Gerry Adams and the IRA also clearly signalled that not alone was the war over, but the IRA was over. Again, no one noticed.

Sure, General de Chastelain made a mess of his press conference, and his coyness over what arms had been decommissioned overnight was infuriating for unionists, but that was a side game. By far the most important message of the day was what Adams said and what the IRA said in response.

In a wordy and characteristically intricate speech on Tuesday morning, Adams said: "Sinn Féin's position is one of total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences."

Nothing new in that. Sinn Féin was required to sign up to this principle in the Good Friday Agreement, and he has said this repeatedly over the last five years.

However, on Tuesday morning, he went much further.

"We are opposed to any use or threat of force for any political purpose," he said.

Now, as far as I am aware, Adams has never said this before. Sure, he has said that Sinn Féin was committed to solely peaceful means, but to say that it was opposed to the use or threat of force? Never before.

What it means is that if the IRA were ever again to use force or threaten to use it, then Sinn Féin and Adams would disown it.

That in itself was a seismic development, but the earth moved again on Tuesday morning. The IRA could have made the usual bland assertions of its wish to support the peace process and gone on to claim credit for decommissioning an unspecified amount of weapons. It could simply have ignored what Adams said, signalling that it was prepared to allow Sinn Féin this latitude, but that it reserved its position on the future use of force.

Instead, it said: "The leadership of the IRA welcomed today's speech by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, in which he accurately reflects our position."

The IRA welcoming a speech that opposes the use of force or the threat of force for political purposes? And then going on to say that this "accurately reflects our position". And no one notices or pays any attention?

The raison d'etre of the IRA has been to use force and/or to threaten force for a political purpose, that is, a united Ireland.

So if Adams and the IRA agree to oppose the use or threat of force for any political purpose, isn't that saying the IRA is no more? At least, if not immediately, then certainly in the medium and longer terms?

It might be argued that it is far-fetched to read such significance into a political speech and a generalised endorse-ment of that by a linked organisation.

But this is not so in the case of Adams and the IRA. They are Jesuitical in their use of words, especially in the area of the use or threat of force for political purposes.

The Adams speech would have undergone several drafts, and its minutiae approved by the IRA army council. The brief general endorsement would have been entirely deliberate.

This is a very significant development. It is on a par with the acknowledgement in 1993 in the Hume/Adams state-ment at the beginning of the peace process that peace could be secure only with the agreement of all sections of the people. T hat sig nalle d a republican acceptance that a united Ireland could not be secured over the heads of unionists.

There was a further development in the background last Tuesday. It was the willingness of the republican movement to support the new police force in the context of the implementation of proposals which everyone else agrees to and in the context of a promise of devolution of responsibility for policing and security.

The engagement of republicans in the police force is the crucial last part of the jigsaw in copperfastening peace in the North.

With an agreed police force, there can be no paramilitary organisations and no private hoardings of illegal arms. It is a further signal that the game is over and done with.

However, all that was overlooked last Tuesday, and the hapless, exhausted general made it worse in that disastrous press conference. Now, the whole house of cards may come tumbling down - well, not the whole house, but the peace process part of it.

The elections now set for November 26 can hardly be called off. Following the debacle of last Tuesday, it seems certain that unionist voters will return a majority of antiagreement members to the Assembly, with the DUP being the biggest party (Sinn Féin could be the biggest party overall!).

This means there will be no power-sharing executive or assembly in the North for years, and perhaps the British will capitulate and back off the Good Friday Agreement.

From the beginning of this peace process, there has been a failure to convince the unionist community of the major gains the agreement represented for it.

Unionists have never perceived how nationalist Ireland capitulated in that agreement by acknowledging that the constitutional position of the North could change only with the agreement of a majority in the North - the core of Irish nationalism was always that it was the people of Ireland as a whole that had the right to decide the future of the island.

That cognitive distortion has been compounded by the failure to perceive the mega change signalled by Adams and the IRA last Tuesday.


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