I have a vague memory of first hearing
Robert McBride speak in the mid-1990s. A friend of
the nationalist politician, Gerry Kelly, the former
ANC prisoner was in Belfast, it seemed, to allay considerable
republican grassroots concerns about where the peace
process was taking republicans. The Sinn Fein leadership
had earlier called on republican turkeys to celebrate
Christmas, and after initial bouts of orchestrated
flag waving and victory cavalcades through West Belfast
in August 1994, it was beginning to dawn on greater
numbers that one fate alone awaits a turkey at the
dinner table of its foe.
McBride has the credentials. Once on death row in
Apartheid South Africa for his involvement in a botched
1980s ANC bomb attack that killed three women on a
crowded Durban beach, he was released in 1992 by the
government his movement, crucially, would come to
replace. There is no parallel here for that. The ANC
succeeded in its battle to end white apartheid; the
Provisional IRA failed in its struggle to end British
rule. The whites dont rule in South Africa,
but the British rule in the North of Ireland.
personal authority McBride brought to his task coupled
with whatever oratory powers he opted to employ would
prove a formidable weapon in the armoury of a Sinn
Fein leadership determined to abandon opposition to
the Northern state and become part of its administration.
If a successful revolutionary could proclaim
the peace process as the way to go then who were the
denizens of working class Belfast to say otherwise?
For the leadership, the value of bringing Robert McBride
over lay in an awareness that it is much easier to
make an icon of someone few know personally and who
is involved in a struggle not many more know much
about. In the mind's eye our mentors seem to acquire
mystical status when we don't see them boozing, brawling
and chasing skirt every other night in Belfast clubs.
It helps charisma usurp reason.
the years it has become clear that such interventions
in the North were part of a broader pattern which
would see ANC representatives shuttled here at different
points in Sinn Feins jettisoning of republicanism.
Their task was to help grease the leadership constructed
slope taking republicans to where they swore never
to go. The not an ounce not a round chant
was stripped away consonant after vowel once the millionaire
Cyril Ramaphosa, arrived and proclaimed that decommissioning
was what revolutionaries did. Although it seemed as
absurd as being told the pope was a Protestant, many
suddenly believed him.
his latest visit to the North only last week, Robert
McBride, now a South African cop responsible for policing
two million people, appeared as a guest of Coiste
na n-Iarchimi, a Sinn Fein ex-prisoners' association,
which was holding a four-day summer school under the
theme, Leadership in a time of change.
It is what Coiste seems to do these days. Committees
are appointed to sit in rooms devising grandiose titles
and concepts - 'new sites of struggle' is another
one - to rhetorically mask the slaughter of more sacred
cows. Charges from within its own ranks of junketeering
completely miss the point. Coiste sponsored events
are not junket driven but are strategically designed
to massage the ex-prisoner community into remaining
on message in relation to leadership machinations.
They serve to deaden any awareness that might arise
suggesting the politics of the ex-prisoners and the
prisoners they once were have nothing in common.
the Coiste summer school Robert McBride expressed
the view that 'at some stage Sinn Fein members
will get involved in policing, it is going to happen
and republicans must start preparing themselves for
that. He then administered the jab - adding
that while wearing a uniform was initially anathema
to him, his distaste was soon overcome as a result
of the ANC being in power. Decoded - being a peeler
on behalf of a black elite was palatable in a way
that was unthinkable under a white elite. Although
in fairness to McBride his struggle did overthrow
the system of white apartheid rule which was its stated
objective. Here the only rule being administered is
the very one republicans fought to replace
rule by the British. A republican choosing to wear
the uniform of a British police force is as incongruous
as wearing the prison monkey suit/criminal uniform
during the H-Block/Armagh struggle for political status.
ex-prisoners who refused to wear the prison uniform
to now kit out as British cops would help sweeten
the pill for a grassroots not as enamoured to the
RUC as its leadership. It makes the mantra they
are our RUC too you know sound less ridiculous.
McBride hit the nub when he pointed out that political
prisoners are important to the process, they command
respect and have influence in their communities; if
you want anything to happen you need to include those
with influence. This is consistent with a well-established
leadership practice of neutralising potential key
opinion formers, particularly those from within the
ex-prisoner community. Such people, were they to have
followed the course they ostensibly committed themselves
to while in prison, could not have avoided becoming
focal points for resistance to the leaderships
creation of an alternative to republicanism, dubbed
the peace process. But this option was traded in for
incorporation into the plethora of salaried bureaucracies
which have mushroomed as an essential component of
Britains counter insurgency peace process. Once
in the message is clear - keep silent and keep your
job, power, prestige and your new friends who held
their noses when you were in prison. The radicalism
of the H-Blocks is as extinct as the lives of the
hunger strikers who died trying to keep it alive.
McBride over telling us to join the cops, and Gerry
Adams meeting with John Stevens as a certain forerunner
to sitting down with Hugh Orde. The road to the future
is well signposted. Unlike the title of a Gerry Adams
booklet from the 1980s, it is not leading to independence
and socialism. Sinn Fein now openly advocate the disbandment
of the IRA and reform of the RUC somewhere, something
went horribly wrong.
Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews +
Letters + Archives