Justifying the IRA’s ‘long war’
Sir, – As Stephen Collins (July 19th) rightly points out, Mary Lou McDonald’s recent claim that the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland was “inevitable” must be challenged.
While she is right that nationalists in Northern Ireland experienced blatant injustices and discrimination, this in no way legitimises the armed response of the IRA. In fact, opposition to those injustices was led not by the IRA but by the leaders of the peaceful and democratic civil rights movement. As a result of their work, major reforms were achieved in housing allocation, employment, the electoral franchise and policing. They also negotiated the reform of the governance of the Northern Ireland state in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, which included power-sharing between unionists and nationalists and the establishment of all-island institutions.
The IRA, however, completely rejected this agreement and demonised those democrats who negotiated it. Instead, they embarked on their own “long war”, with the stated aim of making Northern Ireland ungovernable under a crude “Brits Out” strategy – without reference to reform, civil rights, or ending discrimination and injustice. This caused thousands of deaths and countless atrocities and saw Northern Ireland caught in a bitter sectarian conflict between the IRA, loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces.
Only when the IRA belatedly came to the conclusion that they could not win did they begin to seek a way out. This came at the expense of many lives and a deeply divided society in Northern Ireland that remains divided in the more peaceful era enjoyed today.
Sinn Féin leaders have received credit for finding a way out of the bloody cul-de-sac into which the IRA should never have gone. Their party has entered the political mainstream and achieved success. But any credit is tarnished when they try to rewrite history and claim that the IRA campaign was in any way justified.
Sir, – Gerry Adams, in his recent response to Prof John A Murphy, seems to have missed his most important point, which was that nationalists in general should “face up to the unpalatable historical truth that some form of partition ... was necessary to deal with the two conflicting nations in Ireland”.
Similarly, some form of “partition” is necessary to deal with the same two conflicting nations in Northern Ireland. But not according to Prof Murphy: “At this stage in Northern Ireland, surely what is needed most is a long period of peaceful community relations and the slow building of reconciliation.” But he had actually dismissed this kind of talk from Gerry Adams: “But this is no more than aspirational waffle ... Orange has shown no interest in any ‘accommodation’ with Green.”
To quote unionist columnist Alex Kane, writing in the News Letter: “Or – and I did say we had a choice – we keep going as we are and accept the most difficult truth of all: which is that we really don’t like each other, don’t want to work together and won’t ever have a common agenda or purpose. I suspect the latter represents the unvarnished truth of our situation.”
What we need to understand and accept is that the Ulster Protestant people do not want to be part of a united Ireland, full stop. The main “republican ideal” is to coerce those people into a united Ireland by force of numbers. To quote Gerry Adams, “a peaceful path to Irish unity”. – Is mise,
North Queen Street,