electorally hard-bitten Ulster Unionists may have
been ironically handed a magic hat by the Provisional
IRA following the republican movement's decision
to withdraw from the decommissioning process.
the first time since its formation in December 1969,
the Provisional republican movement finds itself
in what could be termed a 'political planetary alignment',
namely both the Dublin and London governments as
well as the North's constitutional political parties
and the Bush administration in Washington are lined
up against the IRA.
financial sanctions against Sinn Fein over the pre-Christmas
Northern Bank heist, which Police Service Chief
Constable Hugh Orde steadfastly maintains is the
work of the Provos, as well as a never-ending list
of republican criminality are not likely to put
a massive dent in republicans' electoral hopes for
the longer the 'blame game' continues to bog down
the peace process, the bigger chance there is of
the IRA being hemmed into a corner where it reacts
in its traditional manner - a return to the bomb
senior Ulster Unionists are privately worried Provo
hawks are preparing a 'terrorist spectacular' on
the English mainland as an 'Up Your's, Tony' after
both governments publicly dismissed two recent IRA
republicans have pulled back from the peace process
as a tactical manoeuvre before, it has always been
part of a strategy to try and maintain the moral
high ground in any negotiations. But this time it
is different. The two IRA statements confirming
the republican movement was deadly serious about
this specific withdrawal is primarily concerned
with saving the Provisionals from splitting rather
than putting a political gun to the negotiations.
its original ceasefire in 1994 and especially since
the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998,
Provisional republicanism has been able to keep
a firm control on the movement, thus preventing
large scale defections to the Real and Continuity
IRAs and the INLA.
David Trimble's ruling Ulster Unionist Council,
there have always been troublesome dissident hawks
within the IRA's ruling Army Council. From time
to time, these IRA hawks have flexed their muscles,
sabre rattled, and even beaten their chests. But
for the sake of overall republican unity, they have
not wielded their talons in the form of a concerted
return to violence.
now the republican hardmen want to have their day
again. They feel they are being 'retired' by the
well-educated, smartly dressed up and coming 'trendies'
in Sinn Fein. For the hawks, the time has come to
reel in the political wing before Sinn Fein transforms
into a carbon copy of the Scottish National Party
and tells the Army Council - please go away, you
are embarrassing our political image.
for the Paisley camp, in spite of all it's posturing
calling for the IRA to surrender, it must be really
messing itself at the thought of another February
1996-style London bomb which ended the August 1994
an IRA blast in London might be the tonic to save
Trimble's leadership. At least when Trimble was
First Minister and leader of unionism's largest
party, he managed to get a fully legislative devolved
power-sharing Executive up and running at Stormont.
unique brand of closet and clique leadership also
managed to secure three separate tranches of decommissioning
- to use Provo speak - on 23 October 2001, 11 April
2002 and 21 October 2003.
just a terrible pity Trimble lacks the advisers
to help bring unionism's grassroots with him. That's
why he's lost so much support within the party to
the extent that even the once loyal doves on the
Assembly party are plotting his downfall.
only reason the DUP stalled on a pre-Christmas deal
with Sinn Fein was because the Paisleyites thought
they could stall the process until after they had
killed off the UUP in the expected May elections.
Paisley party was working on the now false assumption
Sinn Fein doves would remain in firm control of
the republican movement. Seems now like the hawks
within the IRA's Army Council - and certain IRA
units based in rural republican heartlands - are
fed up with being the whipping boys of the peace
the Paisleyite rant of being able to achieve in
six months what Trimble could not obtain in six
years would be in tatters if the Provos decided
on a short, selective terror campaign of 'spectaculars'
massive Provo blast in London could tip the unionist
electorate back into the UUP camp. Under the UUP,
IRA decommissioning moved at a snail's pace - but
with the DUP as unionism's negotiator, it could
provoke the IRA to return to a 'limited war'.
republican hawks are fed up with Sinn Fein taking
centre stage in deciding the movement's future direction
and have decided to teach the doves a sharp lesson.
the condemnation of the Provo statements by the
ultra conservative, anti-terrorist Bush administration
in Washington, is it any wonder the IRA pulled off
the pre-Christmas £26.5 million bank heist?
Bush seems determined to crack down on cash aid
coming from Irish America to the Provos.
Fein is almost certainly facing financial sanctions
because of the heist and the Army Council's rhetoric
of the past week. In spite of the abstention policy
at Westminster, Sinn Fein is reported to have netted
around £800,000 in allowances.
Brits are talking about cutting this cash flow.
The only tactic which Sinn Fein MPs can adopt to
prevent this is to formally take their Commons seats.
a perfect political world, Sinn Fein doves need
to come up with some way of structurally distancing
themselves from the IRA without sparking a bloody
INLA-style internal feud.
present crisis in the peace process is not so much
about the need to deal with IRA criminality, but
centres on who really runs the republican movement
- the Army Council or the Sinn Fein leadership.
the people who must feel really conned are the tens
of thousands of ordinary nationalist voters who
elected Sinn Fein candidates simply because they
didn't want to see any more IRA violence.
the Paisley camp demanding the IRA's surrender,
Trimble could pull a white rabbit from the tatty
magic UUP by talking directly with the IRA's Army
Council. His main plank would be to persuade the
IRA leadership to transform the organisation into
an old comrades' association - the Irish Republican
hard reality which unionists must face is that the
middle class doves of Sinn Fein no longer control
the republican movement. They must talk directly
to the IRA leadership itself if progress is to be
is not a suicidal policy. After all, members of
the Protestant Loyal Orders and nationalist residents'
groups representatives have held face-to-face talks
in the past to solve some of the North's contentious
parades. If some in the Loyal Orders can hold direct
talks, so can unionist politicians.
IRA bomb blast might save Trimble, but does the
Paisley camp have the courage itself to pull a real
flanker on everyone by negotiating directly with
the IRA's Army Council?
DUP did manage to spend most of last year indirectly
putting together a deal with Sinn Fein. If the DUP
doesn't want to be outflanked again by Trimble,
the Paisleyites have got to become involved in direct
negotiations with the IRA Army Council as soon as
only trouble for Ian Paisley is, he mustn't tell
his DUP's lunatic fundamentalist wing the party
has been supping soup with the devil! That would
place the DUP in the same boat the IRA now finds
itself - does it save the party or the peace process?