Provisional IRA exploded on the Irish political
stage in 1969 and within two years was involved
in a full-scale guerrilla war against British rule
in Ireland. By the third year of its existence it
had forced the collapse of the Northern Ireland
government. British rule continued, only now it
was directly administered from London and not through
any subsidiary parliament in Belfast. The IRA's
war against that rule continued for an additional
22 years but ultimately failed to overcome it.
a 16-year-old, I succumbed to the magnetic lure
of battle. The British army enraged rather than
subdued me; IRA funerals inspired rather than deterred
me. Phoenix-like, a people's army had arisen from
the ashes of blazing Catholic homes to fight and
die in the face of overwhelming odds.
so as a young man not even out of my teens, I entered
the ranks of this steely republican fighting machine.
Within days I was pitting both my wits and my seriously
inadequate sniping skills against the might of the
British empire. I came through. Many others did
not. Among those who died were the 10 hunger strikers
knew some of those hunger strikers from prison,
where I spent 18 years for killing a loyalist paramilitary.
I joined them in a prison protest after being informed
by prison management that I was no longer a political
prisoner but a common criminal. What transformed
my status was simply the act of trying to escape.
was in an army - the IRA - not a criminal gang.
There was no way I would wear the prison uniform
of the criminal. For the next three years I stayed
naked, alongside hundreds of my comrades, our only
cover prison blankets.
British government never did succeed in forcing
us to wear the criminal uniform. We forced it to
concede to us the right to wear the clothes we waged
war in: our own everyday apparel. Such was our collective
determination to resist the label of criminality
that we withstood everything the British state could
throw at us, from deprivation to death. We were
a world removed from the type of criminality that
saw Robert McCartney stabbed to death Jan. 30 outside
a Belfast bar by psychopathic thugs belonging to
my release in 1992, I made my way back into the
organization to which I had given my most productive
years. But it had changed. The totalitarian grip
of its foremost leader, Gerry Adams, smothered any
serious internal discussion. Adams surrounded himself
with head-nodding lackeys rather than critical thinkers.
Suffocated by mindless sycophants and hounded by
thought police, I broke with the IRA completely
political timing for my departure was right. The
IRA leadership had embraced defeat in its acceptance
of the Good Friday agreement. That "solution,"
with its built-in guarantee of continued British
rule, enshrined everything I had spent a lifetime
opposing. I could accept defeat. It happens all
the time in wars. I was not, however, prepared to
then, things have only gotten worse. Under the leadership
of Adams, the IRA has lost its way and is now bereft
of legitimate purpose. Without any strategic framework
for securing the withdrawal of the British state
from Ireland, the IRA is now little more than a
fundraiser and enforcer for its political wing,
the IRA no longer involved in a war to expel the
British, a checklist of its activities suggests
it is more like a national crime syndicate than
a national liberation army: extortion, robberies,
mutilations, intimidation and the occasional murder
of members of its own community.
the murder of McCartney, the vast bulk of IRA volunteers
are not motivated by criminal intent. But they are
victims of a leadership that has stained republicanism
by using the tradition, legitimacy, heritage and
ethos of yesteryear for a radically different project
that enhances the power and prosperity of republican
leaders but does nothing to further the republican
objective of a united Ireland.
IRA started out as a guerrilla army. It has since
changed into an armed party militia, and is now
in danger of becoming a gang. Republicanism still
has a role to play. It has the capacity to remain
faithful to its original promise to perform an emancipatory
function without resorting to armed force and certainly
not criminality. But it cannot do so under the autocratic
leadership of Adams and his coterie of martial politicians.
The project they continue to oversee has led to
the IRA being termed the "Rafia" - a hybrid
of IRA and Mafia. Adams et al have one contribution
to make to republicanism: They should stand aside
and clear the way for others from within Sinn Fein
to divest the cloak of criminality that has enveloped
a once honourable fight for freedom.