made the Great Train Robbery of 1963 pale into insignificance.
It was as meticulously planned and as methodically
executed as anything put together by Chopper Knight
and his chainsaw gang of London armed robbers in
the 1970s. The Brinks Matt gold bullion robbery
of 1983 failed to register beside it in terms of
political fallout. It came within weeks of Northern
Ireland being, in the view of many media pundits
and political actors, on the cusp of a solution
to the seemingly interminable political conflict.
all bets are off, for the time being at any rate.
What possessed those who transferred £26.5
million of the Northern Bank's funds to a dual account
somewhere near Sevastopol Street - Sinn Fein's Belfast
HQ - to engage in a little pre-Christmas currency
the public can do little but speculate as to the
reasons behind that. The only people who really
know are those who carried it out. And they are
not for parting with their secrets. The chief suspect
is the Provisional IRA. Efforts by its leaders,
who many people believe also run Sinn Fein, to dispute
the public assertion of the North's chief constable
that the IRA was responsible have been universally
senior Sinn Fein politician, who only a matter of
weeks ago was being treated with the deferential
respect reserved for men sombrely engaged in weighty
matters of state, is now being openly ridiculed
as Coco the Clown in a national newspaper. Lying
rather than dying for Ireland is the new form of
republican martyrdom in the era of the peace process.
Fein charges that Police Service of Northern Ireland
Chief Constable Hugh Orde has not produced one iota
of evidence to substantiate his claim against the
party's militia. He certainly has not produced any
courtroom standard evidence, otherwise people would
now be facing charges. It is a bit much to expect
that the cops are keeping their powder dry on this
matter; it is more plausible to believe that what
they possess at present is insufficient to haul
suspects before the courts.
is a damning indictment of Sinn Fein's track record
in the truth stakes that its plausible contention
that there is 'no evidence', has so far failed to
produce from outside its own ranks many willing
to swear the party is remotely worthy of belief.
The totalitarian arrogance of party president Gerry
Adams, in demanding that because the IRA has said
it was not responsible this should be good enough
for everyone, has been met with utter contempt.
the peace process a binding rule was that of creative
ambiguity. There was an institutional acknowledgement
that the IRA, although on ceasefire, would be permitted
to engage in a little 'internal housekeeping'. The
governments would look the other way when a mutilation
was inflicted, a dissident republican murdered,
kidnapped or disappeared. The unwritten agreement
was explained to IRA members by their leaders. A
policy of 'no claim no blame' would apply to all
IRA operations; if arrested, the one thing volunteers
must not do is admit that they were on 'IRA business'.
'plausible deniability' as cover, the IRA in recent
years has taken to carrying out major robberies.
Like its Direct Action Against Drugs killings of
1995 and 1996, it relied on the quiescence of government
and a compliant media.
year, the International Monitoring Commission (IMC)
pointed the finger at the organisation for a £1
million heist at the Makro store in Belfast. The
robbers came, went and disappeared like thieves
into the night. There were no arrests and the British
government was not immediately snowed under with
demands that it take punitive action against Sinn
Fein. The authorities treated the event like foul
wind, held their noses and went about their business.
By the time the IMC reported, the stink had moved
February, when the chief constable accused the IRA
of kidnapping a man his force rescued from a vehicle
in Belfast city centre, Sinn Fein was fined by the
IMC. Later in the year one of the party's election
agents was arrested, after allegedly being electronically
recorded making extortion demands of a businessman
in the name of the Provisional IRA; Sinn Fein screamed
it was a 'securocrat' plot to wreck the peace process.
Things, nevertheless, always moved on.
a result the Republican Movement had every reason
to feel it could do as it wished. If caught, wash
its hands of those arrested. If only accused, shout
'securocrats.' The hullabaloo would soon blow over
and it would be back to peace processing as normal.
other words, the IRA robbed the Northern Bank because
it could. And because the governments were hooked
on the peace process, the price to pay would be
minimal. Sensing too that a substantial element
of the DUP was hungry for a deal, the Republican
Movement calculated that the condemnation from that
quarter would be short lived; the only sanction
a longer period of quarantine rather than any serious
attempt to move matters on sans Sinn Fein.
first glance it would appear that the dishonesty
which lubricated the peace process has now clogged
it up. The response to the robbery has dwarfed anything
previously hurled Sinn Fein's way. Yet, the party
only has to sit it out and its fortunes will turn
around. The British general election will take place
this year. A fresh approach will be taken with the
peace process. The Irish leader, Bertie Ahern, will
lick his wounds caused by what he feels is a lying
Sinn Fein leadership. Tony Blair will behave as
Tony Blur. Things will be cobbled together again.
Fein knows this: knows it does not have to reach
a deal; knows the governments cannot conceive of
doing business without it. The party's strategic
goal is to expand throughout the country as a whole,
not to conclude a deal in one part of it which would
deny the party president the enormous political
capital he has amassed from the process and which
he invests in the party's expansionism throughout
the governing class, getting rid of the IRA is what
the peace process is about. Their engagement in
it will stop once the IRA goes. For Sinn Fein that
moment has to be postponed for as long as possible.
Without the piper of the IRA there are no tunes
to be called.
a present reading, there is no reason why the IRA
cannot continue to exist as part of the political
landscape here for another five years. If Sinn Fein
can smuggle the IRA past the electorate in the Republic
next time round and expand its share of the vote,
then it can trade them in at the general election
there in 2010. The following year would see its
president, Gerry Adams, well poised to make a bid
for the presidency of Ireland.
makes all of this an attractive proposition to Sinn
Fein is the governments' adherence to a peace process
which is more about process than peace. As the governments
are seemingly programmed to continue with the farce
of the peace process, wider society, including republicans
concerned at the manner in which the Sinn Fein leadership
has hijacked their struggle in the naked pursuit
of power, should consider the need for a democratic
alternative to it. This would involve pressurising
the governments to disengage from the peace process
altogether; to put an end to all summitry, perennial
negotiations, and stopping Tony Blair coming to
Northern Ireland for a 35th time.
order to facilitate a totalitarian party, society
has assumed a totalitarian value to truth and transparency.
Consequently, as described in Village magazine
by Suzanne Breen, Ireland is rapidly acquiring the
characteristics of a mafia state. Peace can no longer
be secured through the process.