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Ulster - Now What's Happening?

(Written in February 1996, just before the first PIRA ceasefire broke down with the Canary Wharf bomb). 

Third Way has been sceptical about the course of the so-called peace process in Ulster since it was launched jointly by the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and that living saint, John Hume, the leader of the SDLP. It has been obvious to us all along that the Provisional republican movement is willing to keep its military campaign in abeyance only so long as it sees political advantage to be gained.

The IRA have been involved in a process to align the Dublin government and the SDLP in a pan-Irish nationalist bloc to negotiate for British withdrawal. As the Guardian journalist explains in his recent book. Rebel Hearts, the IRA's political leadership wants an 'historic handshake' with the Crown similar to that between President De Klerk and Nelson Mandela. As in South Africa the theory is that "power would at first trickle, then flow, from the Crown into nationalist Ireland until the balance of power was so weighted in the nationalist/republicans favour that a section of the Unionist community would break away and strike apolitical deal with the ancient enemy. "However, not everything has gone according to plan,. The first major blow to the Provos was the removal from office of Albert Reynolds' Fianna Fail party in a row over a sex scandal cover-up involving a priest. Another problem is John Major's weak position in parliament. He relies on support from the Official Unionists which may not come so easily now that his recently knighted good friend Jim Molyneaux is no longer the party leader. Poor old Major finds himself doing an incredible high wire balancing act, trying to spin out the 'peace process' for as long as possible.

The cease fire is still holding because the IRA still think that there are concessions to be gained by maintaining it. However, they will not give up their arms as they may be needed to put down resistance from Ulster patriots and others who oppose them. By maintaining their cessation of military operations since September, 1994, the IRA have demonstrated that they are a disciplined political force rather than a bunch of mindless criminal thugs motivated solely by bloodlust. We in Third Way have always recognised this however much we may despise them for their methods and disagree with their world view.

But as Gerry Adams reminded us last summer, "They haven't gone away you know". During the period when their colleagues in Sinn Féin are out politicking, the IRA volunteers have not been idle. They still have to keep in training and their list of potential targets is being kept up to date. Known IRA players have been seen driving and walking around loyalist areas and even conducting 'dry runs' on potential targets. The IRA still has to raise funds and to maintain its own version of law and order in republican areas. Volunteers are kept busy collecting 'republican taxes' from shops, businesses and from sub-post offices. Those deemed guilty of 'anti-social activities' are given merciless beatings and sometimes maimed by IRA punishment squads. Towards the end of 1995, the IRA was too embarrassed to kill persons alleged to be drug dealers in its own name. It did not want any of its new friends to ask too many questions about how such killings fitted in with Sinn Féin's avowed commitment to peace. Because of this, a group calling itself 'Direct Action Against Drugs' sprang up fully formed to murder the alleged drug dealers. Interestingly, at some of the murder scenes, Sinn Fein councillors were present who were able to brief journalists about the criminal records of some of the victims including impending court cases involving some of them. What a coincidence! Naturally, Sinn Fein spokesmen deny any knowledge of DAAD, as if organised armed groups spring up in their areas every other day without them hearing about it.

The other main republican paramilitary group, the Marxist INLA, has never been anything like as disciplined as the Provos. Anyone joining it or its stable mate the Irish Republican Socialist Party might just as well take out a funeral pre-payment plan. It has suffered from murderous factionalism from its inception 21 years ago. Not too many of its founding members are still here to celebrate. Most died, not at the hands of the UVF, UFF or the British, but from bullets fired from the guns of their own comrades. It is not yet known whether the murder of the INLA chief of staff Gino Gallagher in January was committed by estranged comrades or by the IRA which once threatened to 'take out' the rival body as it did to the IPLO in 1992.

Little has been heard from Arm na Poblachta, the Irish National Republican Army -the armed wing of the traditionalist Republican Sinn Féin which is very critical of Gerry Adams and the Provisionals' strategy - since the arrest of some of its leading members last year. It is unlikely that the Provisional IRA's leadership would permit this group to undermine their own organisation. Sinn Fein have kept up the political pressure on the British government to coerce The Protestants and unionists to a negotiating table which will have the odds stacked against them. Their cause has been taken up enthusiastically by most of the parties in Leinster House, the Dublin press, Irish America an the Clinton regime in Washington. At present the British government can't give in to this demand but there is no doubt it would like to.

At the same time, at local level in Ulster's towns and cities, Sinn Féin and a plethora of assorted front groups are keeping up a strident campaign of vilification against the Protestant community.

How things will work out remains to be seen. One thing is sure - there is not yet true peace in Ulster. There is merely unarmed conflict.

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Copyright © 1996 Third Way Publications. All rights reserved.



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