Army council `matters less'

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The Independent Online
The question posed by those who live in hope of another IRA ceasefire is the same posed by those journalists now playing the game of "hunt the army council" - or, who calls the shots in the republican movement?

Until a few years ago the answer was clear-cut: the IRA army council made the final decisions. Sitting at the top of the republican movement, appointed by an "executive" of honoured old-stagers, it arrogated the decision on who should live and who should die.

It would keep an eye on general republican opinion, and would often consult with Sinn Fein before reaching decisions, but it called the shots. For one thing it was the controlling body of an army, and thus had the right to command. In a more mystical sense it regarded itself as a kind of government in waiting, keeping the flame alive until Ireland could be united.

Speculating as to who is on the army council has long held a fascination. As far back as 1971 a British army generalnamed five republicans as leaders of the IRA, including two relatives of Gerry Adams.

In the intervening years many newspapers have tried to update the list, concentrating allegations on Joe Cahill, Martin McGuinness and, more recently, Gerry Kelly. What is striking, however, is how security sources are always so much less confident than journalists as to who exactly is on the army council and what precise positions individuals occupy.

The reality, as reflected in last week's strong election endorsement of the Adams approach, is that the republican movement is becoming more and more above board; that the grassroots are opting for negotiation rather than warfare; and that it is coming to matter less and less who is behind the masks of the army council.