Yet again the British and Irish newspapers are filled with expressions of loathing and hatred towards Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (the IRA). In a cacophony of deceit virtually all are united in echoing the British government’s tendentious condemnation of the Northern Irish nationalist community’s political representatives and the IRA. What they are endeavouring to do is to claim that Sinn Fein is unfit to be involved in the power-sharing government that the Good Friday Agreement envisages because it is nothing but a criminal gang. In particular, it is alleged that Sinn Fein and the IRA were responsible for a bank robbery that took place in Belfast last December, which is supposed to have netted them some £26.5 million. Although not a scrap of evidence has been produced to suggest that the IRA were responsible, Tony Blair is stating that they definitely were, and the Irish premier, Bertie Ahern, goes even further, claiming that the leadership of Sinn Féin were complicit in the robbery.
Her Majesty’s loyal communications media are dutifully all screeching from the same hymn sheet handed out to them by the British ‘Labour’ government. According to the Irish News of 07 February, which tries hard to appear ‘objective’, while 100% espousing the Unionist cause, “the only significant barrier to progress is the IRA itself. Whatever progress republicans have made, their fully armed militia still exists. It is not therefore government action or inaction that inhibits people’s freedom, but the armed strength of the IRA and its predilection for criminality …” The Sunday Telegraph of 06 February proclaims in melodramatic fashion: “The vaults of the Northern Bank and the seats of the Northern Ireland Assembly have one big thing in common: the IRA has managed to empty them both.” And in another article in the same newspaper we hear that “Sinn Fein possesses an entirely autonomous system of moral values, and its mandate does not come from those deluded dupes who vote for it, but from its possession of guns”. The Sunday Times of 30 January, while also taking it for granted that the IRA committed the Northern Bank robbery in December, states that “We now have a party whose popularity only suffers at the margins when its allies rob banks and shoot people in the hands, a party that has been shown to lie consistently but that is beyond reproach. Much of this has come about because of the indulgence with which it has been treated by other parties in the past, an indulgence that has eroded public distrust of its intentions.” And the so-called Independent on Sunday of 06 February, demonstrating above all its independence of truth, states that the IRA “has been linked to bank robberies [plural] including the raid that netted £26 million in Belfast in December. Both the British and Irish governments have blamed the IRA for the robbery. They also believe it carried out an abduction and robbery in September at a bank in Strabane, County Tyrone”. [So far, there is only reporting of what others believe, without, however, casting any doubts on the truth of such ‘beliefs’, but this ‘independence’ soon changes:] “The IRA has in addition become a major player in the lucrative black market for cigarettes, hijacking a number of large consignments and smuggling them across the Irish border … A raid on a Belfast supermarket last year yielded more than £1m worth of goods, when armed men spent four hours loading a lorry with electrical devices.” .
What lies behind this prevaricatory chorus of imperialism’s “free” press, echoing the outrageous lies emanating from Downing Street? Could their allegations possibly be true, as surely the quadraphonic repetition in a thousand different chords and pitches is intended to make us believe? Would either Sinn Féin or the IRA in the circumstances that prevail at the present time have taken a decision to rob a bank of £26.5 million? Of course, they certainly have the capability of doing so. After many years’ hard armed struggle, they are not short of people of courage and ingenuity who could turn their talents to the successful pursuit of crime. But is it really at all possible that they have done so? To anybody who has even a passing acquaintance with recent Irish history it is obvious they cannot possibly have perpetrated this robbery.
The first point to note is that Sinn Féin and the IRA are not short of money, and are well known to be very effective indeed in their fund-raising. They have no need to resort to robbery.
The second point is that no charges have been brought. If the evidence as to who perpetrated this crime is so overwhelming, then why has nobody been brought to trial, so we can all see what this evidence is? It is obvious that there is no evidence as to who committed the crime, a fact that Chief Constable Hugh Orde openly admitted initially, although he has since been brought on message.
The third point is that Sinn Féin and the IRA are fully committed to the peace process and would do nothing to endanger it. The bourgeois press tries to claim that it is only the IRA holding up the peace process. Actually it is only the IRA and Sinn Féin who are pushing forward the peace process. In a Statement issued on 03 February on behalf of the IRA, P O’Neill of the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau listed the significant initiatives taken by the IRA during the 7 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement to “develop or save the peace process. These included:
Engaging with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning;
Agreeing that independent inspectors could inspect the contents of a number of IRA dumps, allowing regular re-inspections to ensure that the weapons remained secure and the reporting of what they had done both publicly and to the IICS;
Setting out a clear context for dealing definitely with the issue of arms;
Acknowledging past mistakes, hurt and pain the IRA has caused to others and extending our sincere apologies and condolences for the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us;
Agreeing a scheme with the IICD to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use;
Implementing this scheme to save the peace process by putting three separate tranches of weapons beyond use on: 23 October 2001, 11 April 2002 and 21 October 2003; and
Seeking to directly and publicly address unionist concerns”.
It will be seen that the IRA have made concessions to the point of leaning over backwards to placate both the British government and the unionists. Many of these concessions would have been controversial within their own ranks and bordered on humiliations, particularly in view of the fact that precious little was being done on the British government side to implement its undertakings. They are not at all concessions that it would have been easy for the republicans to make. But they were made – in the interests of peace. But it has been to no avail. Nothing satisfies the British government; nothing satisfies the unionists behind whom the British government is hiding.
Why is it, then, that the British government is so anxious to pin this crime on the IRA and Sinn Féin?
The main reason is that they wish, as we have seen, to exclude Sinn Féin from participating in the northern Irish government. At the time that the Good Friday Agreement was signed, besides the fact that Britain found it impossible to defeat the nationalist armed resistance by force, one of its major purposes was to attempt to forestall the growing influence of Sinn Féin among the nationalist population. This influence had been growing at the expense of the Social Democratic Labour Party, a party which was opposed to armed conflict as a means of securing justice for northern Ireland’s nationalist population and which, therefore, of necessity never managed to achieve even the slightest step forward in this regard. It was a suitably malleable party, and British imperialism, wanting an end to the armed struggle in the 6 Counties, was very happy to see it share power with the unionists. It was prepared to put pressure on the recalcitrant unionists, who wanted to maintain their monopoly on power and privilege, to accept nationalists in government and the police, and, in the expectation that the nationalists to be brought in would be pliant and spineless, the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Of course, nobody thought that Sinn Féin would be entirely sidelined – they, after all, had the armed men behind them. It was hoped, however, that they would just be an insignificant minority, who would be prepared to call off the armed struggle in return for a few government posts.
What happened of course was that Sinn Féin’s influence, following the Good Friday Agreement, has increased still further as the nationalist population has seen that its leaders are not the bogeymen that they had always been painted by the press and the pulpit, but people who put forward in a cogent and persuasive way the interests of the people of the province. Their policies won people over by their cogency, consistency and courage, to the extent that it was fully expected that in the next election Sinn Féin would emerge as the largest party in northern Ireland – not at all what the architects of the Good Friday Agreement had in mind. In the words of the Daily Telegraph of 4 February, “Mr Blair’s peace process has had some terrible consequences. It has marginalised the moderate parties …” The Sunday Times of 30 January 2005 recognises Sinn Féin’s achievements – which does not prevent it fulminating apoplectically at the thought of them. Referring to the way in which Bertie Ahern had been claiming he had smoothed the path for Sinn Féin, the Sunday Times comments:
“It was like Dr Frankenstein’s recounting of his generosity to the monster he could no longer control. Sinn Fein now has a huge mandate in Northern Ireland, it may even emerge from the next election as the largest party, and its strength is growing in the republic. It is generous to nobody; it gives nothing that is not in its own interests and, as a result, it has plenty of options.
“Sinn Fein has also managed to get its ideas accepted. It has made such a shibboleth of ‘inclusivity’ that a devolved government in Northern Ireland seems to be unthinkable without its involvement. ‘Exclusion’, even in the wake of robberies and shootings, is such a dirty word that the SDLP dare not form a coalition without Sinn Féin.
“The result is that all parties will, unless the SDLP has a change of heart, be excluded from taking part in a power-sharing executive and the Northern Ireland assembly may be wound up. …”
In other words, if the majority nationalist party is Sinn Féin, then parliamentary democracy is unthinkable. The Sunday Times, without a blush, is demonstrating the nature of bourgeois parliamentary democracy: it is available only if it produces the results desired by the ruling class. If it consistently produces opposite results, then it will be disbanded – and, one might add, this will be done by force if necessary.
That being so, it can readily be seen why the British government is so anxious to force the IRA to decommission all its weapons. Certainly decommissioning was envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement, but it was supposed to be a process that would take place alongside the democratisation of Northern Ireland, which included the disarming not just of the IRA, but also of the unionists and, most importantly, removing the British Army from Ireland. It was not a precondition to democratisation, but a part of the process. From the very start, however, the British government has acted as though it were a precondition. If it can disarm the IRA then it can cut out any real representation of that section of society that was so long marginalised – and still largely is! The British government does not want the former underdogs to have any real say in how the police force is run, for instance. Nor does it want them to have any real say as to the raising of taxes and allocation of public funds, for if they do have a real say, clearly things will have to change – vested interests will inevitably be divested in order to create equality between the two communities – and none of the powers that be want that to happen.
Recently there has been a spate of articles that claim that Sinn Féin is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement because the IRA is – so it is claimed – involved in punishment shootings. Thus the Independent on Sunday of 6 February says that:
“In Belfast’s brutal backstreet humour, the IRA practice is known as a ‘Padre Pio’ – an ironic reference to an Italian Catholic priest who had stigmata on his hands.
“But there is nothing godly in this practice, for it refers to paramilitary gunmen carrying out ‘punishments’ on their victims by shooting them through both hands …
“Gunmen on both sides of the divide regularly use the technique [funny how nobody suggests that this is a reason for excluding unionist parties too from the power sharing executive] after years in which unfortunates said to be guilty of ‘anti-social activities’ have been kneecapped, beaten and sometimes shot in the elbows…
“This type of punishment is inflicted on young men with a reputation as brawlers, to curb their ability to fight. …
“Such attacks often generate little sympathy in Belfast’s tougher ghettos, where many see them as a form of rough but effective justice against those regarded as habitual burglars and joyriders.
“However, it is not clear whether the present wave of hand injuries was begun by loyalists or republicans. According to Dr Fisher [a consultant in emergency medicine at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital]: ‘It is occurring on both sides of the divide …’
“… He finds that some of those shot actually feel relieved not to have received even more serious punishments. ‘They’re often relieved to get away with a simple injury,’ he noted.”
It is of course barbarous to cause people permanent physical impairment as a response to crimes they have committed. However, on the one hand there is no evidence that IRA are involved in these activities, and on the other hand, it would not be a breach of the Good Friday Agreement if they were, since the Good Friday Agreement had nothing to say on the matter – even though punishment shootings and beatings were as much regular events in northern Ireland then as now. What in effect we are being told is that, never mind the Good Friday Agreement, people who mete out punishments in this way should not be involved in government or policing.
We would suggest that, whoever it is who inflicts these punishments, the reason for them is the policing situation in the 6 Counties. The police simply do not address the needs of ordinary people to be protected from petty criminals, and so the community takes the necessary steps to protect itself. None of the newspapers mentions the question of drugs. In Britain too it is notorious that the police do little or nothing to stop drug trafficking, for instance. Drugs keep rebellious youth in a state of stupefied docility – just the way the bourgeoisie likes them to be. If the police are not prepared to deal with drug dealers and other petty criminals, so that they cause misery for those affected by their activities, what are we to do about it? Are we to condemn the Irish for taking matters into their own hands? If the reforms to be effected to the northern Irish police force are actually implemented, and if these then lead to the state taking over the disciplining of the lumpen, no doubt punishment shootings could legitimately be outlawed. In the circumstances, however, to attribute these punishments to Sinn Féin can only increase the latter’s popularity among ordinary people.
As it is, however, little progress has been made towards making the police force more representative and accountable. It is still a hotbed of loyalist sympathy – a sympathy which includes collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, and it works hand-in-glove with Special Branch, which has a long history of attempting, in the complete absence of the slightest shred of evidence, to implicate Sinn Féin in criminal activity, including the Castlereagh break-in and the allegations of a Stormont spy ring. It protects the provocative Orange marches, but does little to protect the Catholic community at these times, when hyped-up Protestant yobboes go on the rampage against Catholics.
As P O’Neill went on to say: “The progress and change promised [by the Good Friday Agreement] on political, social, economic and cultural matters, as well as on demilitarisation, prisoners, equality and policing and justice, has not materialised to the extent required or promised.”
The ordinary people of northern Ireland want the peace process to work. Even the majority of Protestants want it to work and to be able to live in peace. Sinn Féin, despite all the provocation, lies and malevolence on the part of the British government – aided by the Irish government, which is alarmed at the rate at which Sinn Féin is picking up electoral support in the Republic – is still looking for a way forward. The IRA, for its part, has announced an end to decommissioning but has not suspended its ceasefire. Both represent the hearts and minds of the northern Irish nationalist community and wish to bring about their deepest desire for peace, justice and equality. All they are demanding is democracy and human rights – demands which the British imperialists are forever claiming other countries are denying (i.e., those which have mineral resources that imperialism wants to control). Let people look at northern Ireland to see the full scope of the British government’s complete contempt for democracy and human rights!
We have no doubt that the people of northern Ireland will not be misled by British imperialism’s Goebbelsian attack on Sinn Féin. They have heard it all before, and this has not prevented the growth of Sinn Féin’s popularity and electoral success. If Blair et al are hoping that his current propaganda barrage will sway the northern Irish electorate towards the ‘moderate’, compromising, parties, we think it probable that he will be disappointed. Following the election he will either have to implement Good Friday and restore the Stormont Assembly, with full participation of Sinn Féin, or he will have to tear up the Good Friday Agreement and re-ignite the civil war. The decision, and the responsibility for it, will be that of the British government and nobody else.
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