The Armed Struggle Ended – But The Malady Lingers On

Subsequent to the final decommissioning of IRA weaponry Taoiseach Ahern and Prime Minister Blair conferred together after which each of them separately the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Later this month the Independent Monitoring Commission’s report on paramilitary activities which, it is rumoured, will confirm that much of the incidents attributed to the IRA have ceased. Whether the same applies to those of the Loyalists is not yet so definite.

There will also be another report from the IMC in January 2006 at which point, if it indicates clear evidence that IRA compliance has been achieved, the efforts to get party agreement to reactivate devolved government will resume. The fact that the Loyalists may not have ceased activity should not stand in the way but that doesn’t mean that Unionist parties might not argue that this should precede the resumption and thereby create another hurdle to cross.

An indication of how difficult it will be to change minds can be seen in the spat between the Redemptorist priest, Alex Reid, who has not only been a witness to IRA decommissioning but a key actor in the peace process for many years and a Mr. Fraser, a representative of a Loyalist orientated organisation called Innocent Victims of Violence.

This occurred at a public meeting in Belfast (presumably aimed at bringing people together) when the priest referred to 800 years of oppression and compared the way Catholics had been treated in Northern Ireland to the way the jews had been treated by the Nazis.

However much he may have been provoked into this exaggeration it was injudicious in the extreme to make such a remark at any time but particularly so at this stage of the peace process. Although he opologised for the comparison quite quickly it gave the opportunity to the Unionist community, in the person of Mr. Fraser, to question his credentials and impartiality. This adversely impacted on his excellent record in the whole process for many years, including the ceasefire which the IRA has maintained since 1994.

Another indication of the issues causing dissension, which have to be faced, are arguments about alternative uses for the site of the now closed Maze Prison (‘Long Kesh’) where, during internment, Republican and loyalist internees were held in separate H blocks where they continued their organisational structures.

It was in this prison that the ten hunger strikers, including Bobby Sands (who also won a parliamentary election while imprisoned) died. They had also refused to wear prison clothes and spent weeks in cold cells with just a blanket for cover and carried out a dirty strike when they plastered the walls with their own excrement.

Nationalists / Republicans want some part of the now disused prison preserved as a museum or centre to commemorate their struggle while Unionists want the site devoid of any reminder of how their political dominance and attitudes had precipitated the reaction to it. They advocate the site’s future for the erection of a Leisure and Community Centre development.

While one cannot accept the comparison made by Alex Reid the history of Northern Ireland since the 1920 Act of Westminster under which it was established, was by any objective analysis, one of structured discrimination in respect of housing and employment etc., directly and indirectly through social organisations operating within industrial, commercial and public establishments not yet fully eradicated.

At Prime Minister’s Question time on Wednesday 19th October the member for North Antrim, Ian paisley, raised the objection that he had heard but had not been informed officially that the restrictions placed on Sinn Féin’s parliamentary finances were to be lifted, a move to which he was opposed.

In reply Tony Blair said that he understood why Unionists might be concerned, but the government had to recognise that with the IRA decommissioning conditions had changed and that this required the responsibility of responding. Sometimes they had to do things to which one side or the other might object, but so be it, they had to make progress and accept that it had occurred.

Paisley seems to think that each time the other community’s rights are met that he is entitled to have some additional ones granted to Unionists over and above those which all citizens should have equally.

I couldn’t help noticing that as Paisley was putting the question to the Prime Minister his deputy, Peter Robinson, sitting near him, was very po-faced, suggesting that he would like to succeed as soon as possible to the acting leader position he relinquished when Big Ian came out of hospital.

The ball seem now to have been passed over into the Unionist court and if they don’t face up to their responsibilities there will be many voices other than mine clearly putting the blame for the stalemate on their shoulders, particularly on those of the DUP.

The latest news I have heard today on BBC Radio 4 is that Sir Reg Empey, who took over from David Trimble as Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, has said, by inference, that he accepts the authenticity of the IRA’s destruction of their weaponry and their standing down from paramilitary activity as genuine and he has called on Loyalist paramilitaries to follow suit.

If he wants to pull back the support which his party lost to the DUP he should consider trying to construct an alliance with the other parties, including Sinn Féin, on a practical programme of reconstruction and reconciliation across the communities whereby the conditions of both might flourish, thereby underpinning the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

And if it should be the case in 2006 that that might be achieved it could fit in with the idea of a fresh mandate from a fresh election.

Perhaps I’m being too optimistic or pushing too hard but some lateral thinking is required and intelligent objective analysis if after the ending of the armed struggle the malady no longer lingers but is extirpated.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 22 October, 2005.

Samuel H. Boyd