The ‘return’ of the IRA

The IRA have been back in the news, in the British papers, over the past few weeks and Henry McDonald in the Observer has a few interesting things to say:

Both the Major and the Blair government entered into a Faustian pact with the IRA. They signalled to the Provos that if they stopped bombing Britain and assassinating police officers and British solders they could do what they wanted in the areas under their control.

The Clinton administration also played its part in this policy. FBI officers investigating the Florida gunrunning plot, for instance, received phone calls from the White House during their inquiry urging them not to state that the IRA smuggling operation had been in any way ‘sanctioned’ by the organisation’s leadership. Even some human rights activists and progressives colluded in this arrangement. Like the governments in London and Dublin, they turned a blind eye to on-the-ground breaches of the cease-fire. Only now the photogenic McCartney sisters are beginning to take on the IRA are these transgressions beginning to be more widely challenged.

In a sense this policy was the Anglo-Irish version of the ‘white man’s burden’: in this case, the troublesome Paddies would have to be allowed a criminal phase in its democratic evolution as if there were never any democratic tradition rooted in Ireland. That policy has now rebounded both on the governments and the political ambitions of Sinn Fein.

If the IRA is allowed to exist then it cannot, to use its own words, remain quiescent. As long as it remains a player, the IRA has to remind its enemies that it can still shake things up. Last week I spoke to a senior IRA man who has served the movement for 30 years. He is convinced his former comrades robbed the Northern Bank in order to prevent something much more disastrous taking place – a bomb in Britain. The IRA leadership, under pressure from militants, chose the robbery as a message to the British rather than put at risk a decade of Sinn Fein achievements with a short bombing campaign.

It really is time to catch-up on Northern Ireland which has slipped off many radars, including mine, since September 11. And there really is no better place to start getting yourself informed than the outstanding blog Slugger O’Toole.