for the restoration of a power-sharing executive in
Northern Ireland now depend upon Sinn Féin
and the Democratic Unionist Party, after the two parties
emerged as the dominant forces at the assembly elections.
to widely-expressed pessimism about the possibility
of the two parties striking a deal to restore devolution,
the reality is that agreement is entirely feasible.
deal which emerges for the resumption of power-sharing
will have deeper roots than the executive dominated
by Trimbles Official Unionists and the SDLP,
which spent more time in suspension than in operation.
the DUP nor Sinn Féin will have to fight debilitating
rearguard actions, in the way that Trimble had to
continually look over his shoulder at both the DUP
and supporters of Jeffrey Donaldson within his own
party. Apart from politically and militarily insignificant
dissident groupings on the Republican side, there
simply are no parties more extreme than
the DUP and SF to cry sell-out.
deal is possible for the simple reason that the gap
between the two sides is really not that wide. Paisley
is no longer the dominant force within the DUP that
he once was, while the more astute politicians within
the party, such as Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds,
are eager for a return to ministerial office and recognise
that a deal with the Shinners is the only way to achieve
position of the DUP has been to demand the complete
disarmament and disbandment of the Provisional IRA
before they will discuss sharing power with SF. In
this regard, they are effectively pushing at an open
door. The question is not whether the IRA will be
effectively disbanded (it will), but whether the DUP
can bring themselves to sit in government with Republicans
even after the IRA has ceased to exist.
Adams has repeatedly stated his intention to bring
about a complete end to physical force Republicanism
and the demise of all armed groups, including the
IRA. Cynics may wish to reflect on the fact that Adams
has a history of delivering what was previously regarded
as undeliverable e.g. two ceasefires, a Good Friday
Agreement that fell far short of Republican aims and,
most difficult of all, decommissioning.
Provisional leadership decided long ago that the future
lay in politics rather than armed struggle. Whatever
the public praise heaped upon the IRA by the SF leadership,
the reality is that the paramilitary organisation
has frankly become an embarrassment to them and an
electoral liability of which they are keen to divest
themselves at the earliest possible opportunity.
only reason why the IRA has not already been completely
disbanded is not because of a lack of will to achieve
this at leadership level, but because to push for
this before now would almost certainly have precipitated
a major split within the organisation. The Adams leadership
has always been characterised by a supremely cautious
approach to the management of the Provo rank and file.
down, both members and supporters of the IRA know
that the game is up and that the organisation is effectively
finished. Disbandment is no longer a question of if,
merely of when and the IRA will be traded
in return for concessions, as soon as the SF leadership
believes it is politically advantageous to do so.
This has been the consistent pattern from the very
beginning of the entire peace process.
Provisional IRAs war is very clearly over and
has been so for years. A formal declaration of an
end to the war may require the authorisation of the
rank and file at an army convention, but
there is little reason to doubt that the leadership
will be able to achieve this. Having persuaded its
grass roots to accept a ceasefire significantly short
of a British withdrawal, followed by decommissioning
of weapons, the Adams/McGuinness leadership is unlikely
to encounter significant opposition to a statement
which amounts to little more than a recognition of
the war over and the bunkers emptied of matériel
under the supervision of General De Chastelain, the
IRA would to all intents and purposes have ceased
to exist as an organisation. After all, what is the
role of an army without weapons, especially when its
leadership has already publicly endorsed a commitment
to the use of exclusively peaceful means?
was no turning-back for the Provos from the moment
when their ceasefire was restored in 1997. Certainly,
since 2001, when the IRA began to put its weapons
beyond use, they have been locked into a process with
only one ultimate destination, which is the organisations
extinction. Once the position of not one bullet,
not one ounce was abandoned and the organisation
began to disarm, the IRA had taken an irreversible
step towards its own demise.
Provisional leadership will pursue the peace process
to its logical conclusion because they simply have
nowhere else left to go and have banked everything
upon its success. The corner into which they have
painted themselves is partially the result of a conscious
decision on their part to pursue the constitutional
path and partly the result of their own political
ineptitude, since they have been consistently out-negotiated
by their political opponents. At every alleged crisis
(yawn) in the process, it is the Provisional leadership
which has caved in time after time.
return to armed conflict is no longer an option. Not
only would it consign Sinn Féin to political
purdah, it would destroy the Adams/McGuinness leadership
in the process.
it is well-nigh inconceivable that the IRA could return
to war, even if it wanted to, irrespective of how
many guns it may yet have lying in rural bunkers.
There is simply no appetite among the organisations
grass roots for such a course, still less among the
broader public, as the dissident groups continue to
discover to their cost.
of the IRAs short-lived and militarily disastrous
return to war in 1995, combined with ongoing evidence
of the shambles of a campaign still being pursued
by elements of the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, are
enough to convince most of the rank and file of the
redundancy of armed struggle as a viable option.
the time of its 1994 ceasefire, the IRA was quite
simply a busted flush. It did not have the capacity
to advance a British withdrawal through its campaign,
while Sinn Féins electoral growth was
being seriously hampered by its association with an
IRA which continued to kill civilians in botched operations.
may be true that the IRA was, as Sinn Féin
put it, undefeated, in the sense that
it had the personnel and weapons to continue its campaign
indefinitely. However, while the war may not have
been lost by the Provisionals, it was very clearly
in the process of being lost.
the evidence suggests that the organisation had been
thoroughly penetrated by informers at all levels.
Journalist Ed Moloney, in his book A Secret History
of the IRA, estimates that 80-90% of planned attacks
were being called off, for fear that they had been
IRA was leaking like a sieve and was being slowly
rolled up in both N. Ireland and Britain,
while the campaign in mainland Europe had ended with
the capture of the active service units involved.
for the first time in the conflict, Loyalists were
killing more people than Republicans with the active
support and direction of the British state.It is certainly
the case that the futility of continuing with a war
that was slowly being lost was a major factor propelling
the IRA towards peace. There would have been no peace
process if the Provos thought military victory was
longer the ceasefire has lasted, the less likely it
has become that the IRA could resurrect its campaign,
even if it wanted to. Organisations like the IRA are
progressively degraded by a lengthy ceasefire, as
security slackens, volunteers drift away and supporters
grow to like the peace.
the IRAs war is over not simply due to the military
futility of a resumption, but also because of the
political character of the outcome to the conflict.
troubles have largely been understood
as being about sovereignty over Northern Ireland,
but they can also be seen as fundamentally a contest
between constitutional and revolutionary methods of
this paradigm, the conflict was not just between unionism
and nationalism, it was also between revolutionary
politics, as espoused by the IRA on the one hand,
and all shades of democratic and constitutional politics
in Britain, the Republic and Northern Ireland on the
to this contest was the issue of unionist consent.
Did the Unionists have the right to opt out of a united
Ireland, or could Irish unity be imposed upon them
in the absence of their agreement? This is the key
question which has dominated the national politics
of Ireland for over a century.
the constitutional political parties in the north,
the Republic and Britain have explicitly accepted
since at least the early 1970s that any change to
the status of Northern Ireland could only be brought
about with the agreement of a majority of its predominantly
IRA, however, fought for over a quarter of a century
to overturn this consent principle, which they scathingly
dismissed as the Unionist veto. In their
world-view, the armed struggle would deliver a British
withdrawal and, in the absence of British support,
Unionist opposition to a united Ireland would crumble.
outcome of the troubles represents an
unequivocal defeat for the Provos, since they signed
up to a Good Friday Agreement which has the consent
principle as its cornerstone and they were forced
to accept the legitimacy of both states on this island
as the price to be paid for their entry into democratic
core issue of consent has now clearly been settled
in favour of constitutional politics, since nobody
apart from an isolated handful of dissidents is any
longer arguing that an agreement on the future of
Northern Ireland can be made to stick in the face
of Unionist hostility.
soon as this principle was conceded by Sinn Féin
with Gerry Adams signature to the Good Friday
Agreement, the war was already effectively over and
the IRA and its arsenal became redundant, except as
bargaining-chips to be traded away in negotiations.
Since the purpose of the armed struggle was to force
Britain to withdraw and compel Unionists into a united
Ireland, the game was up once the Provisionals accepted
that Unionism had the right to say No.
Consent and compulsion cannot coexist.
and his allies had pushed for an end to the IRAs
campaign in 1994 on the basis that Sinn Féins
involvement in negotiations could republicanise
the political process. A decade on from the first
ceasefire and with a united Ireland no nearer, the
most significant outcome of the peace process has
in fact been the constitutionalisation
of the Provisionals.
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