a number of years one of the more noticeable inflections
to emerge within the discourses on Provisional republicanism
has been that of criminality. It is nothing new
for republicans to be labelled as criminals. The
H-Block blanket protest which lasted for five years
and culminated in the hunger strikes of 1980 and
1981 was an act of major resistance to British attempts
to criminalise republican activity. The cost in
terms of human endurance and loss was immense. The
term criminal was obliterated in a sea of republican
blood. With the British having exacted such a terrible
price, we would expect nothing other than that republicans
would remain on eternal watch to ensure that the
sacrifices of their comrades were never besmirched;
that their legacy would burn like an eternal flame.
Yet the flame no longer burns as brightly and always
seems to be on the verge of flickering out.
are two essential differences that mark off the
republican as criminal discourses of today and those
from the period 1975-1981. Firstly, the discourses
of the state and the bulk of the media now describe
a certain type of republican activity. Whereas in
the earlier era overtly and unmistakably violent
political acts such as shooting British soldiers,
attacking military installations, carrying out campaigns
of economic sabotage, were the target of criminalisation,
today it is cigarette, fuel and alcohol smuggling,
thieving, extortion, counterfeit rackets and a host
of other activities. The type of thing that easily
elects itself as criminal in the societal mind.
Secondly, a discourse internal to the communities
of which republicans are a part now exists which
was virtually unheard of during the H-Blocks protest.
Then, those who had their differences with Provisional
republicans nevertheless did not view them as criminals.
Today much conversation in nationalist areas is
replete with allegations that republicans are on
the take, guilty of corruption, feathering their
own nests, running rackets and organising scams.
factor in today's discourse of criminalisation is
that unlike the first period there is now a total
lack of political representatives willing to put
their head forward and defend republican activity.
IRA volunteers are defended in the abstract. Sinn
Fein politicians have little difficulty mouthing
platitudes that the IRA are not criminals as long
as they are not asked to comment on a specific incident.
When pinned down to something concrete Sinn Fein
concede that the act is criminal but maintain that
no IRA volunteer was involved in it. Martin McGuinness
will argue, 'the IRA are not criminals, never were
criminals, and in my opinion never will be criminals'
as the same time as he contends, 'anything that
sees innocent people held hostage in their house
is a criminal act.' Which means if the IRA take
innocent people hostage it is a criminal act.
if Bobby Sands were alive today and was arrested
in a van and charged with possession of weapons
or holding the driver against his will, Sinn Fein
would have to say the act was criminal but Sands
was not a republican. Or alternatively that he was
a republican who was not guilty of any act and had
been set up by securocrats. Whatever way, the act
itself would not be defended.
there is no effective counter-discourse which can
challenge both state and media depictions of concrete
acts, it becomes all that much easier to depict
republicans as criminals. Less than a quarter of
a century after the death of Bobby Sands and nine
others, the party that soared to success fuelled
by the massive surge of power the hunger strikes
gave it, has totally ceded the ground won with
the blood of the hunger strikers.
current Provisional IRA is in real danger of becoming
criminal by consequence rather than intent. There
are very few IRA volunteers known to me who are
motivated by a criminal urges. But the organisation
to which they belong is heavily involved in the
exact same activity that it accused the Official
IRA of being caught up in three decades ago. One
of the Provisional IRA's stated reasons for purging
the Official IRA in 1975 was that it was involved
in a widespread criminal activity. The Officials
had recognised the legitimacy of the Northern state;
they had ceased to fight a war; their leadership
always mislead its membership. All of which allowed
the Provisionals to assign to them a criminal status
and subsequently kill and maim them.
Provisional IRA leadership would find it difficult
to tell its volunteers that what they were involved
in was criminal activity. Like the Official IRA
leadership it shot up for criminality, it has to
describe fundraising and its other nefarious activities
as being for the cause. The refusal to state that
the war is over is a useful fall back position in
the event of being faced by anybody suddenly having qualms
and thinking that extorting a building contractor
is far removed from the blazing guns of Frank Hughes
as he took on the British SAS in a South Derry field.
made the actions of the Provisional IRA political
rather than criminal was that partition was held
to be fundamentally wrong, anti-democratic and gave
rise to massive repression in order to sustain itself.
Now that the Provisional leadership has accepted
the consent principle it legitimises partition and
gives it a democratic basis. The British are merely
here now because the consent principle, which is
just, permits them to be.
signed up for this the Sinn Fein leadership has
stripped away any claim the IRA might have had for
violently resisting the state. It is not possible
to legitimately fight by armed means the existence
of the state you have just ordained legitimate.
After that the IRA has no more legitimacy than an
armed militia linked to the SDLP. The Provisional
leadership by its current actions is well on the
road to ensuring that the manner in which the IRA
moved into its final years is the prism though which
its entire existence will be viewed and interpreted.
The hunger strikers whose own voices were silenced
by death, are left with no one who can stand up
and defend current IRA activity.
volunteers should do the honourable thing and stand
their own organisation down and allow it to be remembered
as something worthy of the H-block hunger strikers.
As it stands now, allowing the integrity of the
IRA to be plundered, pillaged and sold off by the
Sinn Fein leadership for its own ends, is hardly
fitting of the H-Block struggle.
the midst of her madness Margaret Thatcher must
cackle with hate filled delight.