of the certainties in politics is the certainty of
egg on your face if you believe in too many of them.
What certainty could be built on the founds of a politicians
word? It is a safer bet to find wisdom in the old
joke that you can always tell a politician is lying
when you see his or her lips move. Yet in spite of
this there are some trends which have such consistency
that they resemble the gravitational pull applied
to Newtons apple. And nothing is more certain
than that the pull of the RUC structure will prove
irresistible to Sinn Fein which will fall like an
apple right into the rotten barrel it for so long
railed against. The choice for the party merely lies
in which model to opt for - Peter Mandlesons
RUC or Chris Pattens RUC. Hardly a life or death
choice that will cause party leaders serious hand
wringing or deep soul searching into the small hours.
Morrison writing in the Sunday Tribune shortly
after the Patten report was published rightly contended
that the RUC had not been disbanded, although he did
not dismiss Patten, urging republicans to move with
caution after deep reflection before making decisions.
In the intervening period as Patten has been diluted
we are left even further short of anything vaguely
resembling a disbanded RUC.
is really no need to pursue an academic or philosophical
discussion about what a police hat means as a method
of testing the extent of change. 749 stitches rather
than 750 stitches across the peak may serve as a indication
for both the terminally clueless and the incurable
gradualist that a stitch-up is less likely to happen
and that it heralds improvement, albeit it of a transitional
kind; but those on the streets who have to deal with
stitched heads as distinct from stitched hats know
instinctively that the RUC has not been disbanded
and that the baton and boot of Seamus and Padraic
are just as unpleasant as those of Mervyn and Samuel.
every single core issue negotiated since the peace
process began republicanism has lost out; from no
consent principle, no Stormont, no
British declaration of intent to stay, no
internal settlement, no decommissioning
ad infinitum. It would be both futile and a bit late
in the day for Sinn Fein to make a principled, rather
than a verbal, stand on no RUC. Toothpaste
just doesnt go back into the tube.
by the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that the experience
of nationalists, in particular those living in the
interface areas, meant that there was no chance of
Sinn Fein signing up to the new RUC (Mr Adams for
reasons of tactical preparation of the grassroots
prefers to call the not disbanded RUC the PSNI
or simply police) were mere wool pulling
not designed in the slightest to thwart the momentum
that is taking the party toward the RUC. Our
position on this is very clear, Adams said.
Someone not disabled by an ill-equipped memory might
claim that it is as clear as it was when Martin McGuinness
outlined the stance in relation to a ceasefire. His
position too was very clear and would
never, never, never change - it would
simply not happen this side of a British declaration
of intent to withdraw. The first ceasefire was called
8 years ago - and the Brits, well they havent
gone away you know.
Fein will become part of the structure of the RUC.
Whatever change is made between now and the point
at which they sign up, no matter how minimal - and
described, no doubt, as a transition to
Patten - will be heralded as some qualitative improvement
which caused a change of heart within the party; in
effect the smokescreen used to camouflage a decision
already taken. Declan Kearney speaking at the John
Joe McGirl Commemorative Weekend made that much clear:
in time, if and when the legislative, political
and practical conditions are fully met, we will have
to assume roles in the oversight of the Six-County
policing service. Mitchel McLaughlin too, in
what was naively described by the Daily Telegraph
as a direct challenge to Tony Blair (when
really it was the party chair responding to calls
of your time is up Sinn Fein, you are coming
in), was engaging in a bit of kite flying when he
said of the British Prime Minister when and
if he gets round to making these necessary amendments
to the legislation, and producing and delivering on
his commitment to Patten, then Sinn Fein will step
up to the mark. We will not shirk the very difficult
challenge that will pose for us. In other words
the party is about to be courageous and imaginative
equal significance to what Gerry Adams had to say
was the location chosen in which to say it - Ardoyne.
That area served as a window on the political fulcrum
upon which pivots the Provisionals ability to
ease themselves into embracing the RUC. Two current
obstacles were geographically distilled into one location
or test site for republican population management
strategies: Orange marches and interface tensions.
North Belfast enclave - an interface from the first
day of the conflict and long before the term became
part of the political lexicon - situated at the top
of the Crumlin Road was the site of serious disturbances
in July as an Orange parade passed it. Earlier, Belfasts
RUC supremo, Alan McQuillan, in what the Observer
described as a pre-emptive propaganda strike
had warned that the IRA was planning a "major
attack", as marchers passed along the Crumlin
Road on the 12th Of July. Gerry Kelly complained that
it was an outrageous piece of black propaganda,
which has criminalised and demonised a whole area.
Why preparations for an aggressive defence of an area
should be either criminal or demonic was left unexplained.
The demonisation of the Official Republican Movement
became a central plank of Provisional mythology on
the grounds that the behaviour of the Officials was
criminal for failing to prepare adequate defence.
Equally puzzling was party colleague Martin McGuinnnesss
claim that McQuillans allegations represented
the agenda of unreconstructed RUC elements
within the PSNI. The only surprise here is that anyone
should be surprised that within an unreconstructed
RUC there are to be found unreconstructed RUC members.
our Orwellian little world of organised lying, where
adversaries battle to have their own lie accepted
as the truth rather than actually believed
per se, the only course to tread for those
keen to interpret matters for themselves is to ignore
both Sinn Fein and the RUC, neither of which would
pass the lie detector test with any aplomb. Fortunately
one Ardoyne resident agreed to be interviewed by The
Blanket. A professed long time supporter of the
Republican Movement, he so feared for his safety that
he insisted on not being identified.
are afraid to speak out. I am only talking to you
on the understanding that you wont sink me
by letting them know who I am. You know what them
boys are like. They dont like it if they think
you mightnt let them shove their views down
your throat. I dont want any comeback from
them. Is that okay?
grim reminder that Kanan Makiyas book The
Republic Of Fear had no reason to confine itself
version of what happened in Ardoyne would exonerate
Provisional republicans from the allegations levelled
by Alan McQuillan, but would indict them in the eyes
of many within working class communities who, like
Michael Ignatieffs cynic, have a healthy awareness
of the gulf between what Provisional republicanism
practices and what it preaches.
his account, nationalists were physically beaten off
the Crumlin Road, not just on the 12th, but in the
days coming up to it also. Tracing this type of behaviour
back to last years Holy Cross dispute he claimed
that some nationalist youths were beaten by
the IRA as their mothers cried in despair.
the controversial statement by Alan McQuillan he claimed
whole of Ardoyne was prepared for a riot. We had
been putting bricks, bottles and stones - anything
that could be thrown - on the roofs of buildings
for almost a week. We had no intention of using
the anti burglar devices which the cops showed on
TV but we had to move them in order to get on to
the roofs. The IRA knew what was going on and while
they were not involved in it they did nothing to
then the sudden republican turn on people if they
were so indifferent to the matter before hand?
statement changed the whole atmosphere in the area.
The minute he opened his big mouth and said what
he did the RA turned on the people. On the
day of the march lots of RA from all over
the city were drafted in to control the situation
on the road. The peoples blood was boiling
at the idea of these Orangees walking up the road.
There was a massive RUC presence but it wasnt
needed. When the Orangees were only five minutes
away many republicans could be seen walking about
using walkie-talkies. When the Orangemen were walking
by the RA turned on us. Young people were
beaten on the Crumlin Road, behind the Star and
in Balhome Drive. The RUC seen it all happen. They
didnt have to draw their batons as republicans
did it for them. There were digs to the head and
some of us were kicked like dogs.
asked to quantify how robust the IRA policing of Ardoyne
on the 12th of July was, he alleged that about 30
to 40 people were beaten by republicans, assaults
which ranged from shoving and slapping to punching
threat we are supposed to stand with our hands in
our pockets. The RA want to wind it up when
it suits them but turn on the people if it doesnt.
Now there is a major division in Ardoyne at the
minute. The area has always felt the need for defence.
But people are talking of being let down. It is
no good. Sinn Fein come over at election time and
then forget about us. There is whispering that they
will not get as many votes next time they come round
at election time. People have been sickened by what
happened. We are now back to a situation like the
1970s where defence groups have to watch the area.
People in West Belfast dont know how safe
they are. It is very vulnerable over here.
account of the resident would appear to be consistent
with other reports. Supposedly senior IRA members
named by the Observer were clearly seen
defusing tension, pushing Catholic youths away from
police lines and the loyalists
according to the Guardian, praised leading
members of the IRA. The leading RUC figure was
reported as having said Very senior members
of the Republican Movement, Provisional IRA, were
clearly involved in marshalling the protest. And when
some young people did begin to throw missiles they
moved in to stop it. Mary Holland writing in
the Irish Times claimed that PSNI
officers privately admitted the Provisionals
part in stabilising the situation.
reflecting on the behaviour of the Provisional IRA
in all of this, the words used by Amanda Platell to
describe some in the Tory Party spring to mind:
every crude attempt to appear normal and nice, these
people become more ludicrous. Their pursuit of niceness
is like Michael Jackson's pursuit of whiteness:
everything they do to try to become that which they
are not makes them slightly more grotesque.
sense of a community being ill at ease with some aspects
of Provisional behaviour was also indicated by a report
from Suzanne Breen who claimed that Provisional
IRA and Sinn Féin activists who arrived at
Rosapenna Court after a Catholic man was shot in the
thigh were given a hard time by some residents who
claimed the Provos had left them undefended.
continuing tension in the area has further manifested
itself in tensions between the Provisionals and the
INLA. The Irish Echo reported that prominent
members of the INLA were seen, in one case remonstrating
with prominent members of the Provisional IRA who
were restraining riotous youths. Two writers
who co-authored a book on the INLA and who obviously
have sources within the organisation wrote separately
in the Observer and Irish Echo that
a meeting took place between the IRA and the INLA
over the situation in Ardoyne. The Provisionals were
allegedly furious at INLA involvement in the conflict
which they felt was destabilising the district. A
major change in outlook for the Provisionals given
that Ardoyne was at the forefront of a ruthless sectarian
war prosecuted by the Provisional IRA over a two year
period from the end of 1974 to the beginning of 1977.
reports from Ardoyne suggest that Gerry Kelly was
verbally harangued at a public meeting held in one
of the local clubs. Some people allegedly went as
far to demand that he be removed from the platform
journalist privately posed the question what would
the cops do if the IRA were to disband - who then
would keep rebellion off the streets? In the view
of one Provisional republican it is the streets which
are the key. The leadership is aware that it
is from street confrontations that any alternative
leadership may emerge. In his view before the
leadership can embrace the RUC it needs to ultimately
manage and defuse both the conflict at the interface
areas and the problems that arise out of Orange marches.
is these two issues that bring nationalist youth
into conflict with the RUC. We may see the leadership
trying to take the heat out of matters by organising
street parties or cultural events within the areas
to coincide with these marches. They would tell
us some nonsense that this was a new form of protest.
interface areas seem to be moving toward joint republican-loyalist
management, already germinating from the Sinn Fein
meetings with the Loyalist Commission which knit the
managerial strata from each camp closer together.
The Provisional republican continued:
leadership need to be able to show the Brits that
they alone are the power within their communities
and that their ability to deliver cannot be undermined
by others. There are no circumstances in which they
would allow any challenge to take place.
reasoning would appear to go to the heart of the matter.
The nature of the Provisional relationship to the
nationalist community has evolved from one of loosely
defending it to a position of tightly controlling
it. Non-stifled and porous community self-expression
whether on the streets or in print is treated as an
anathema that needs to be blocked. Those who see republicanism
as being something other than the property of a social
climbing leadership clique maintaining itself through
the power of patronage and crass nepotism, and eager
to simply emulate those whom republicanism traditionally
stood four square against, could do much worse than
ask who shall liberate us from our liberators?
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