article (Voices March 05) captures well the
limitations of republican politics, but as an Irish socialist, who has lived in
England for over 30 years, what strikes me most about recent coverage of the
“republican crisis” in the British media is the complete inability, or
unwillingness, to understand what is happening in Ireland. The innate
superiority of British justice is taken for granted. In particular, there is
absolutely no perception of why many Irish people are unwilling to cooperate
with the legal system in Northern Ireland.
There is no doubt
that Sinn Fein faces real problems, in relation to both the Northern Bank
robbery and, much more significantly, the murder of Robert McCartney. The first
of these would probably have caused no long term damage to the republican
leadership; on a recent visit back home what stuck me was the grudging
admiration for the way the operation was carried out. “Not something the
loyalists could have pulled off”, was said to me more than once, with a certain
amount of pride.
murder is different. Nobody doubts that members of the IRA were responsible,
though even the Republican movement’s most vociferous political foes accept it
was not an IRA operation. However, the killing of a member of a staunchly
republican family, followed by the attempted cover-up, and almost drip-like
concessions by the Sinn Fein leadership, highlight the problems this has
caused. The fact that at least some of those involved in the killing had just
returned from a demonstration in Derry, demanding justice for those murdered by
British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday, has only added to the anger.
Yet the experience
of Bloody Sunday, and the repeated cover-ups of other killings, either by
British forces directly or by their agents in the loyalist paramilitary groups,
illustrate just why it is so difficult it is for republicans, or anybody from a
non-unionist background, to co-operate with the justice system in Northern
Ireland. The RUC may have been replaced by a “reformed” PSNI, but some things
don’t change. The announcement by the chief constable, Hugh Orde, that he was
convinced that the Northern bank robbery was an IRA operation, without bothering
to provide any evidence, indicates that old habits die hard. Imagine the
reaction if Orde were to make a similar claim about the murder of Belfast
solicitor, Pat Finucane - “I am absolutely convinced that this murder was
sanctioned by the British security forces at the highest level” – more evidence
exists for this than for IRA involvement in the Belfast robbery.
Nor is this an
isolated incident. How many people in this country are aware of the report by
the former metropolitan commissioner, Sir John Stephens, into allegations of
collusion between British intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries? Why has
this not been published? Who remembers the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings
which resulted in over 30 deaths? To this day the British government refuses to
cooperate with the Irish government’s investigation into this outrage – maybe
the evidence of British involvement is something best left hidden.
Yet this same
government can penalise Sinn Fein for its alleged involvement in the Belfast
bank robbery. Double standards abound. As Danny Morrison asked (Guardian,
March 5): “Would you support the salaries and expenses of all members of the
Labour party being withdrawn because British soldiers were alleged to have
murdered or tortured Iraqis?” Not something I expect to see a Guardian or
Independent editorial writer taking up.
In reality Adams
and McGuinness have gone as far as they can in expelling IRA members, asking
witnesses to provide evidence to the police ombudsman, and calling on the
perpetrators of the McCartney killing to hand themselves in. Irish republicans
remain officially committed to ending British rule in any part of Ireland, yet
if devolved government is restored in the north of Ireland Sinn Fein ministers
may find themselves administering “British justice”, rather than ending it.
Then the real problems will begin.