Patrick Murphy
Irish News

It looks like the end of the road for the Provisional IRA.

Founded in 1969 on the incongruous twin principles of defending
Catholics and pursuing pure republicanism, the organisation
flourished for three decades through a combination of its own daring
ingenuity and a series of monumental blunders by a succession of
British prime ministers.

Established on a policy of 'Brits Out', the PIRA now seems willing to
disband in return for office in Stormont, thereby governing Northern
Ireland – the state it so fervently hoped to destroy.

So, are we about to witness a serious outbreak of history in which
the IRA will formally disband without having achieved its goal of a
united Ireland?

Or are we witnessing not the end of the IRA – just the end of an IRA?

Many republicans take exception to the distinction.

Like Christians, they believe that only one body can inherit the true

Republican debate and division has often been fuelled by claims of
unblemished succession back to the holy grail of the Republic.
Throughout a history of splits, schisms and splinters, the 'real'
republican movement always emerged in the royalist spirit of
continuity exemplified by "The king is dead – long live the king".

The last republican survivor of the second Dail, Thomas Maguire of
Leitrim, was often seen as the man who had 'inherited' the Republic
and it was in his power to decide who among the competing factions
was its rightful successor.

It was as if the Republic was something he had in a glass case on his

Blessed by Maguire, the PIRA's formation was also a reaction to the
growing political awareness of the then IRA.

This had emerged from a re-assessment following the unsuccessful 1957-
61 IRA campaign.

The new thinking ultimately challenged the north's record on civil
rights and the south's neglect of social and economic development.
The simplicity of the PIRA's 'Brits Out' policy proved a welcome
respite to both governments at the time.

Its accompanying violence was more grandiose, more spectacular,
bigger and bolder than any previous Republican campaign but the PIRA
also eventually reached the point of re-assessment: what were they
fighting for?

They had merely arrived at the same point that other republicans had
reached 25 years earlier.

Whereas the first generation of thinkers sought a solution in
socialism, the second generation analysed the situation almost
exclusively in a Northern Ireland context and drew their political
inspiration – and their language – from the United States.

Out went the political debate on the ownership of wealth – a key
issue in the 1916 Proclamation – and in came the sociological concept
of community.

The 'community' in this case was defined in a sectarian context as
northern Catholics, a theme which carried through to the Good Friday

Unionists were seen as the enemy rather than in Tone's inclusive
context of Protestant and Dissenter.

There have been recent republican references in this direction but 30
years of killing working-class Protestants, in and out of uniform,
has knocked the shine off the rhetoric.

So the hard men who set out to write Irish history began instead to
rewrite the English language.

What would previously have been disarming and disbanding became the
peace process. When a volunteer gave information which led to the
destruction of a weapon he was called an informer and usually shot
(sometimes, it appears, by a higher ranking informer).

Now, when the army council gives information leading to the
destruction of a whole arsenal, they are called heroes.

It is all down to language and communication.

The current Sinn Féin leadership are excellent communicators who do
not just master the English language – they mould it in a way which
few in Irish history have done before them.

They leave the British Labour Party far behind in this respect and
they leave unionists stranded.

If Pearse's oration at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa marked the
beginning of modern physical force republicanism, the speech by Gerry
Adams at Joe Cahill's grave marked an attempt to end it. A betting
historian might well put his money on Pearse's analysis because,
rightly or wrongly, Irish history has shown that each new generation
produces its own IRA.

There is a fair chance that the current republican leadership will
imprison the next generation of IRA men and women through control of
the PSNI. Whether this is good or bad depends on your politics.

But good or bad, right or wrong, reasonable or treasonable, it is
part of our historical process.

The IRA is dead – long live the IRA?

August 16, 2004

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