In spite of unpalatable truths report facilitates resumption of the political process

Uncomfortable picture ‘21 years after the first ceasefires and 17 years after the Belfast Agreement’

 

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams developed the template for the party’s approach to unpalatable questions, outright denial: of his own one-time membership of the IRA and its army council in particular, and of the continuing existence of the IRA in the wake of the August killing of Kevin McGuigan. Though damaging to his and the party’s plausibility, it’s easier than engaging with nuanced truths, like those set out with great plausibility in yesterday’s report on the continued existence of the North’s paramilitaries.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s insistance for the party yesterday that “Sinn Féin is now the only organisation involved in the Republican struggle and in Republican activism” is more of the same. And to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It’s easier for Sinn Féin simply to deny all, however implausibly, than explain the continuing existence of an army council, or explain exactly how that council “oversees both PIRA and Sinn Féin with an overarching strategy” – how do you explain to party members and supporters that that organic historic connection remains, and that the army council still “oversees” their organisation in some way? How can one explain and justify its continued “access to some weapons” though it “has not conducted organised [sic] procurement of new weaponry .... since 2011”. To explain how in this notoriously disciplined army’s “lower level”, “some activity takes place without the knowledge or direction of the leadership”.

Of course, if one acknowledged the existence of the IRA one could make a virtue of the fact that “there are different levels of cohesion in the structures of these groups. However, none of the leaderships has complete control over the activities of its members; there is regular unsanctioned activity including behaviour in direct contravention of leadership instructions”. And criminal activity.

“The structures of PIRA remain in existence in a much reduced form,” the report insists. “This includes a senior leadership, the Provisional Army Council,” it added. But it is an organisation and leadership committed to legal/peaceful means, the report accepts, endorsing PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton’s assessment. That is a conclusion that should be sufficient to put the North’s talks and faltering institutions back on the road.

The report written by British Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, retired senior Northern Ireland civil servant Rosalie Flanagan, and lawyer Stephen Shaw, draws an uncomfortable picture of what, as Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers puts it, “21 years after the first ceasefires and 17 years after the Belfast Agreement” is clearly an unacceptable reality. One that we, for a long time, prefered to pretend to ourselves had gone away. We are reminded of the messy, morally dubious, but necessary compromises on which the peace deal has been built and must go forward.

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