South Armagh village of Camlough, where I grew up,
made news recently when a young man found himself
at the business end of an iron pipe. Twenty-two-year-old
Kieran Toner had both arms and a leg smashed and flesh
torn from his back before his car was taken to the
family home and torched.
claims the assault followed his refusal to pay protection
money to the IRA. Local scuttlebutt instead suggests
Toner led a vandalism spree in the village on Halloween.
The unspoken codicil is that he got what he deserved.
is a series of ongoing antisocial behavior. We have
had people complaining to us bitterly about what has
been happening," said Sinn Fein's man in Camlough,
Conor Murphy, who angrily rejects the extortion story.
"I think people got to the end of their tether."
antisocial behavior to which Murphy refers is that
of the alleged miscreant and not of the self-appointed
guardians of the public weal who battered him senseless.
He does not suggest that people have reached the end
of their tether with punishment attacks. A decent
and amiable guy in person, Murphy does not deny republican
involvement. To do so would raise gales of laughter
in the local hostelries, where teens running amok
are considered more objectionable than Talibanesque
vigilantes exacting their pound of flesh on Main Street.
euphemism for such paramilitary beatings is "community
policing," which casts the assaults as a necessary
civic response in the absence of a trustworthy police
force. Even in neighborhoods that are rife with petty
crime, rejection of the police is understandable given
its sordid history of roadside executions, casual
brutality, intimidation, and collusion with loyalists.
(A cynic might submit that a litany of summary murders,
intimidation and brutality ought to render the IRA
equally unwelcome, but I digress). However, the fact
that citizens are entitled to jeer the cops does not
mean that Sinn Fein has a right to encourage or demand
the RUC was renamed a year ago -- a product of the
Good Friday agreement -- Sinn Fein has refused to
join the new Policing Board and issued edicts to constituents
against any cooperation with the new Police Service
of Northern Ireland. Presumably this wariness goes
beyond fears of competition in the brutality business.
As a point of principle, I side with those who are
suspicious of law enforcement. Sinn Fein no longer
has that luxury. Having accepted the bona fides of
the Northern Ireland state and spent four years as
an enthusiastic participant in its administration,
it is farcical for Sinn Fein to insist that nationalists
continue to reject the state police as illegitimate.
the RUC was rotten to the core, but opponents have
long said this of the republican movement too. If
Sinn Fein can chuck every vestige of what it once
represented for the good of the peace process, should
its leaders not consider the possibility that the
police might be capable of the same metamorphosis?
Surely dealing with the cops could not be that much
more unsettling for republicans than having their
leaders administer the queen's writ at Stormont.
embracing the modest reforms of the new policing structure
would not be anathema to the Sinn Fein leadership.
The practiced veneer of resistance has little to do
with the welfare of nationalists and everything to
do with the party's need to massage and manage its
grassroots. From the outset of the peace process,
each private watering down of principle has been preceded
with a public display of mau-mauing militancy choreographed
to mollify the faithful and outflank dissenters. Eventually
Sinn Fein's stance on policing will be revealed as
more tactic than principle, as were its policies on
internal settlements, abstentionism, and decommissioning.
day is approaching when Sinn Fein will declare the
PSNI reforms workable, join the Policing Board, and
encourage its own enforcers to enlist for a badge.
This is, I suppose, only fair, since many demonstrate
considerable mastery of the one historical requirement
for a police career in the North: a stomach for extrajudicial
brutality. As for the treatment dispensed to recalcitrant
members of the nationalist community -- or, for that
matter, to dissident republicans -- only a uniform
now distinguishes the IRA from the RUC. As Yeats observed,
the horse changes riders but the lash goes on.
is really the last hurdle on Gerry Adams's long journey.
When he clears it, and he will, the IRA will have
come full circle back to what it was 30 years and
3,000 lives ago: a Hibernian rump defending Catholic
neighborhoods against transgressors. Both history
and the nightly sectarian battles in Belfast show
there is no shame in fighting for your streets. But
while claiming to have entered a new phase in its
war of liberation against the British, the reality
is that the IRA is now engaged in little more than
a territorial scuffle with hooligans, fought in alleys
with baseball bats and iron pipes.
may constitute community defense of a sort, and many
nationalists clearly tolerate or welcome it as both
necessary and justified. But it is not republicanism.
Perhaps when that fact is acknowledged we will be
spared the now-familiar spectacle of Sinn Fein conducting
a chorus of "A Nation Once Again" when they
know the band is actually playing "Rule Britannia."
opinions expressed represent those of the writer,
not necessarily those of the Irish Echo.
This article was published with the permission
of the author
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