A road too far from the Bogside

Eamonn McCann, an expert on the republican movement, explains why the IRA abandoned Gerry Adams
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The Independent Online
If there is no change in British policy on the North, the leadership which held the republican movement to the ceasefire for 17 months is doomed. That's the view of republican and community activists to whom I've been speaking over the past two days. Many who deeply disapprove of Friday's bombing also put much of the blame on John Major.

The reasons for the resumption of IRA violence run deep. This was clear in reaction to the publication of the Mitchell report on 24 January. The report, because it urged that decommissioning be dropped as a precondition for admitting Sinn Fein to full-scale talks, was widely interpreted as tilted towards nationalism. But this is not how IRA activists will have seen it.

To them, it was a partitionist document. Its "principles" amounted to a new precondition: that all parties agree to abide by the terms of any agreement - and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of the outcome with which they disagree.

Given that all other parties had resolved that the outcome would be put to a referendum in the North, in practice this meant accepting the constitutional status quo and pledging to seek to change it only within the law. This challenged the republican leadership to move away decisively from the core belief of their tradition - indeed their very raison d'etre - that only an all-Ireland vote on an all-Ireland settlement would carry legitimacy.

All the indications on the ground are that Gerry Adams and his associates would have tried hard to sell the Mitchell principles. It would have been daunting task, and not without personal danger for those undertaking it, but the Adams leadership might just have pulled it off. When Major "binned" Mitchell and substituted the "election option" - the Ulster Unionist Party line - Adams was seen to be thwarted even as he readied himself for the effort to lead republicans down this stony, unwelcome path.

Nobody I have spoken to in the Bogside doubts that this sequence of events was a powerful factor in persuading IRA chiefs that there was no point following Adams any farther down the peaceful road.

Nobody doubts, either, that Major did it for reasons of parliamentary arithmetic which has no direct relevance to the desperate predicament of Northern Ireland.

Paddy Logue, a leading trade unionist and manager of the Pilot's Row Community Centre in the Bogside, says: "Every commentator in Britain is cynical about Tory motives in forming policy on crime, health, education, you name it. But there seems to be no scrutiny of the way they approach this place. We need a debate in Britain on the fundamentals of Northern policy, and quick."

The writer is a former leader of the civil rights movement, who now lives and works in the Bogside.