By John O’Mahony
The IRA’s Army Council has formally declared the organisation’s military campaign at an end, as from 4pm on 28 July 2005:
“The leadership of Oglaigh Na hEireann (the soldiers, or army, of Ireland) has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign… All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.
“All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and political programmes through exclusively peaceful means.
“Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.”
“They will “engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to… verifiably put [IRA] arms beyond use in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible…
“Every volunteer is aware of the import of the decision we have taken and all Oglaig (soldiers) are compelled [emphasis added] to fully comply with these orders.”
They “reiterate our view that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate.”
They say that these “decisions have been taken to advance our Republican and democratic objectives.” They remain “fully committed to the goals of Irish unity and Irish independence and to building the Republic outlined in the 1916 declaration.”
They believe: “There is now an alternative way [other than the ‘armed struggle’] to achieve this and to end British rule in our country.”
They do not declare the organisation disbanded. “We call for maximum unity and effort by Irish Republicans everywhere. We are confident that by working together Irish Republicans can achieve our objectives.”
The sentence after this one is quoted above: volunteers are “compelled to fully comply with these orders”.
They use the traditional Republican ceasefire term, “dump arms”, which has meant, store them away for future use, though “decommissioning” weapons beyond the possibility of future use is what they have commit ed themselves to.
In terms of the future, the most important passage is this: “The issue of defence of nationalist and Republican communities [the Catholics of Northern Ireland] has been raised with us. There is a responsibility on society [emphasis added] to ensure that there is no reoccurance of the pogroms of 1969 and the early 1970s.
Here they implicitly leave open the option that they will come back, if they think it necessary.
Their immediate political “demand” on London and Dublin is for “the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.” They accuse the British and Irish governments of not “ful[ly] engag[ing] in the peace process.” On that Sinn Fein will campaign.
Thus does the IRA leadership declare formally at an end an “armed struggle” which in fact ended in August 1994 (there was a brief resumption of bombing in England in 1996-7, but the ceasefire held in Northern Ireland).
In immediate practical terms, the declaration amounts to a promise to end “punishment” beatings, maimings and occasional killings in the Catholic areas over which the IRA rules; to carry out no more armed robberies; and to end smuggling, and other forms of racketeering.
The important question now is, how can a disarmed “Army Council” , which still speaks of people being “compelled” to do as it says, enforce its decrees?
How is an Army Council, some of whose members have done very well out of the “armed struggle” (Thomas “Slab” Murphy, the IRA’s Chief of Staff, is said to be a millionaire from racketeering) insist that others must now stop racketeering?
They can’t without implicitly proclaiming that an IRA still exists, now use beatings, maimings and killings to “compel” obedience.
The threat of death from a militarily strong IIRA has up to now played a big part in controlling the growth and limiting the activities of the splinter IRAs. The military-political ecology here is changed radically by 28 July.
Gerry Adams used to ask Dublin and London what sense would there be in the IRA-Sinn Fein leaders disbanding the IRA over which they had control when that would create the space for a “replacement” IRA, outside their control.
Now, how will the Army Council stop volunteers defecting to one of the splinter “IRA’s” , taking their guns with them?
That the IRA splinters will now experience an influx of Provos who disagree with disarming is virtually certain.
Is it possible that they could do what the Provos at the start did, bring Protestant-Catholic relations to the explosion point by a mixture of political agitation, attacks on troops and policemen, and indiscriminate bombings that would evoke from the British State the sort of heavy-handed response that alienated the Catholics in the early Seventies?
The Omagh bombing of August 1998, in which 29 people were killed, destroyed whatever possibility the “Real IRA” then had of supplanting the Provos just after the Good Friday Agreement. The odds against them being able to do it now are even longer.
Sinn Fein-IRA is an entrenched and powerful presence in the Catholic communities. The vast majority of Northern Irish Catholics support the Good Friday Agreement and will back the Sinn Fein agitation for its “full implementation”. This for now creates a bulwark against those who would now do what the Provos did at the beginning of the 1970s.
On the Protestant side, the small paramilitary groups present to the Unionist population the image of inter-warring groups of Chicago-style gangsters. They are generally discredited.
The Paisleyite DUP’s opposition to a resumption of power-sharing is far from absolute. Ian Paisley’s voice, politically as well as physically, is not as loud as it was.
The Protestant community is no longer the self-assured, “we are the people!”, entity it once was. The sustained hostility of the British establishment, the decline of Northern Irish industry, and the long battering of the Provo war have softened and diminished it.
Not immediately, but eventually DUP-Sinn Fein power-sharing may come to be “practical politics.”
In the south, where Sinn Fein now has five Dail deputies, the organisation’s leaders are hungry for government office. They want to join Fianna Fail, now uncongenially in coalition with a small “Thatcherite” party, the Progressive Democrats, as a partner in government. Fianna Fail Taoiseach Ahern is not, it seems, adverse to that prospect.
It will take time for the idea of a Fianna Fail coalition to become “practical politics”, but maybe not much time.
Right now, however, it is as well to keep it in mind that the IRA has not transformed itself, yet.
And to remember, too, that the structures set up under the Good Friday Agreement entrench an intricate bureaucratic sectarianism that works, and cannot but work, against the development of working-class socialist politics in Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole.