An Irishman's Diary
Reading the rubric of republicanism is never easy. In that culture, words are plastic things to be shaped as needed. What makes this process all the more sinister, all the more powerful, is that the speakers embrace the new meaning of the word the moment they have framed it. This is Nescafespeak: instant belief.
Sinn Fein/IRA call the present Executive, formed from the most rigged election in Irish history, democracy. They genuinely believe that is what it is: democracy, and since even the Nescafe-speak version of democracy is better than the armed struggle, I will continue to sip at the pallid, bitter brew of the Good Friday Agreement, though killers are free, and unelected terrorist chieftains are government consultants. The people of Ireland consented to this deal. So be it.
So be it not, apparently. Ruairi O Bradaigh recently said that the Good Friday Agreement was made "under duress, like the Treaty of 1921 and as such is not binding any more than was the political surrender of 80 years ago".
No, don't ask me what he means by duress, only take my word for it: he is sincere. He has dedicated his entire life to The Cause: what riches might he have enjoyed if he had put his brain, his single-mindedness, his courage to the business of making money? How much unswerving devotion to a belief does it take that a man might spend half a century plotting and conspiring about a single politico-military object? He belongs to the unregenerate old school of republicanism, which traces apostolic authenticity from the 1916 Rising through to the one true election in Irish history, 1918. He speaks for the tradition of Republican Sinn Fein: Catholic, virulent, unrelenting, a ferocious, pagan world teeming with Fenian martyrs and righteous killers. It is a religion, full of the ambiguities which all religions employ, and which republicanism invariably has. Has not the implausible twin face of Sinn Fein/IRA, one face armed and lawless, the other unarmed and law-abiding, often both represented by the same individuals, curious resemblances to the equally implausible notion of the divine trinity?
The Real IRA is a more contemporary version of an old tradition: the Douai rather than the King James version. Its birth lies in more recent roots, yet invoking the same ancient divinities of the Continuity IRA, but in more modern, more accessible, but less colourful language. The Real IRA probably doesn't give a fiddler's about the 1918 election. What it wants is what the Continuity wants: Brits out, by force of arms, preferably. It has a stomach of tempered steel. Despite Omagh, despite the still staggering monstrousness of what happened there, it is sticking to its guns (Croat, as it happens: careful lads, Yugoslav mags are not interchangeable with AK mags). Its war continues.
We could have wrapped up the Real IRA after Omagh. Imaginative and unrelenting policing such as that which followed the murder of Veronica Guerin, could have closed the operational base of the Real IRA in Louth. That did not happen. Tragically, the political will to do so was absent.
Agreements will not make these people go away. They have seen ETA surviving a similar such agreement, seen how it is possible to conduct a ferocious war without any popular support. Indeed, terrorist purists find something reassuring in their sense of isolated, intransigent virtue. We cannot stop them feeling this murderous moral superiority; all we can do is to ensure they feel it in the cold of a prison cell.
We have taken a reactive policy to the Real IRA. We wait for them to move before we respond. This will not work. Nor will the promise of a deep kiss from the next First Lady if they start behaving themselves. They are busy recruiting. Both Continuity and Real IRAs were touring pubs in the Liberties last weekend, as brazenly as the Salvation Army clinking boxes.
This is ridiculous. These people were given the chance to come in to the light. They chose dark. Their decision. Let them stay there. Settlements, agreements, nor even a hecatomb of human misery can stay their hand or sway their beliefs. They are on the brink of war again, and this time we cannot wait for them to decide when and where the war should be fought; and certainly they cannot be allowed to wander the streets of a democracy, raising money to overthrow that democracy by force of arms.
In this perilous time, we should ask: who is South Armagh loyal to? Is it constructively ambiguous in its pledges, assuring both Real and Provisional IRAs of its devotion to the leadership, biding its time before deciding which dialect of Nescafe-language it will speak? In such uncertainty, which British commander in his right mind would surrender the militarily-vital watch-towers while the hedgerows there soon might seethe with furtive movement, as young wives in England dread the chaplain's knock on the door?
These terrorists neither respect us nor believe us; and they certainly don't fear us. Frankly, I don't give a damn about the first. But here in this State, they should be made to believe that unless they declare an unambiguously permanent ceasefire, they will come to understand what an amnesty-free future in prison means. They should start to fear us democrats very seriously indeed.
As a matter of interest, if Martin McGuinness were Minister for Justice in Dublin, what do you think he would do about the rejectionist IRAs? I think, for once, he'd agree with me. Someone should ask him.