By Annie O’Keeffe
When Mary Robinson knew she had been elected the first woman President of the Republic of Ireland in 1990 she famously began her first speech with praise and thanks to the “Mná Na h-Eíreann” — to the “women of Ireland” who had rallied to her. Sinn Fein/IRA shogun Gerry Adams might attribute the depth of the present Sinn Fein/IRA crisis to the “Mná”, not of Erin but of the McCartney family.
The campaign by the sisters and parter of Robert McCartney, murdered by members of the IRA in their guise of ghetto bully boy gangers has drawn strength from the sympathy of politicians, press and TV turned suddenly hostile to Sinn Fein/IRA. But brave, articulate, clear-headed, sincere, politically sure-footed, they have emerged as account-settling voices of the “ordinary” people in the Catholic ghettos where the IRA rules.
The voice — and this should be kept in mind — of the people who have long supported the IRA, and see it turn into racketeering gangs and ghetto political bosses looking after themselves while policing the Good Friday Agreement on behalf of the Sinn Fein leaders and of London and Dublin governments.
For many, including traditional Republicans, IRA ghetto control, with its physical punishment beatings, killings and maimings, even for “small offences”, makes less and less sense.
McGuinness and Adams are signalling that they are having a hard time “controlling” the IRA. That has been their line all through the Good Friday Agreement — we need “concessions” if we are to control the IRA, they say. Even so, it may now be true. The most plausible explanation for the events since the Belfast Bank robbery in December 2004 remains that the IRA, or sections of it, has wanted to sabotage the “peace process” whose continued development demands an end to the IRA.
Yet, though opinion polls show a falling away of “soft” political support from Sinn Fein, their vote held this month in a by-election. Indeed, a low poll made the Sinn Fein vote a higher proportion of the votes than last time out. Adams, McGuiness and their supporters remain unlikely to break under the pressure and obediently split the IRA at the bidding of Dublin, Washington and London. But they may not be able to keep control of events in what is for them politically unknown territory.
The propaganda onslaught on Sinn Fein/IRA has stripped away the thick mists of “constructive ambiguity” on which the “peace process” of the last seven years has depended. All the lies and half-lies — Adams was never in the IRA, Sinn Fein and the IRA are separate organisations etc — have been hosed away in blasts of angry denunciations and ttruth-telling. Things can never got back to what they were three months ago.