Chapter two: troops out: Sinn Fein has bought approval from the South. Now, argues Conor Cruise O'Brien, the pressure is all on Downing Street

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The Independent Online
NEITHER war nor peace - that was Leon Trotsky's slogan during an early phase of the Russian Revolution. It matches the IRA's policy in the phase of its revolutionary struggle that opened with its announcement on 31 August of 'a complete cessation of military operations'.

The IRA is still an armed force. Its weaponry is intact and being updated. It will be able to resume operations at any time when it judges that such resumption is in the interests of the attainment of its objectives. Those objectives remain revolutionary.

Gerry Adams reaffirmed them last weekend, after the announcement of the IRA cessation of military operations: 'We want to see an end to British jurisdiction in our country and the end of partition,' he said. He also defined an essential component in the Sinn Fein-IRA policy of demilitarisation. 'The IRA have taken an enormous step, the first step in the demilitarisation process. The British must reciprocate: that means the British Army back where it belongs.'

By 'where it belongs' Mr Adams does not mean barracks or bases in Northern Ireland. He means back in mainland Britain.

With the British out of the way, the IRA could then get on with its programme of ending partition by fighting the Protestants. The IRA hopes that the Irish Army would come to its aid at that point. As Mr Adams basks in the sunshine of the approval of Albert Reynolds and of pan-nationalist feeling generally, that long-standing hope has turned into a firm expectation.

The IRA's confidence in its ultimate triumph is greater than ever as a result of the political dividends it has won in Dublin and Washington after the August announcement. These dividends are considerable. This weekend, Gerry Adams became the first president of Sinn Fein to be received by a Taoiseach in Government Buildings, Merrion Street, Dublin. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are now an alliance.

John Hume took a bow, along with Mr Adams and Mr Reynolds. He was there for the historic photo call, but is not really needed any more. Mr Hume was the matchmaker in the political courtship between Mr Adams and Mr Reynolds. But when a wedding takes place, who needs a matchmaker? Mr Adams will now be in regular, direct consultation with Mr Reynolds. He will see every important communication the Dublin government receives from the British Prime Minister and the President of the United States, in connection with Northern Ireland, and his advice will be sought. Mr Adams thus becomes minister for Northern Ireland in pectore in the present Dublin government.

Both through Albert Reynolds, and other intermediaries, Mr Adams will be in touch with the Clinton administration which can be expected to endorse any proposals that Mr Reynolds (advised by Mr Adams) may make to Mr Major. Gerry Adams knows that Bill Clinton needs him, more than he needs Bill Clinton, for as long as the ceasefire holds - because if it lasts up to 8 November and the mid- term congressional elections, 'peace in Ireland' would be a much-needed feather in the cap of the Democratic President.

But Mr Clinton is aware that the IRA could, at any moment, shoot that feather right out of his hat, by announcing a resumption of military operations. The person best fitted to advise him on how to avoid that disaster is Mr Adams.

It is safe, therefore, to predict that Mr Adams will get an unrestricted visa for the US, where he will go in October, and that he will be photographed with the President, probably towards the end of his visit, provided his multiple televised interviews are judged to have been helpful to the Democratic campaign. It is highly probable they will be very helpful indeed.

In these circumstances, the IRA ceasefire seems likely to last at least until 8 November. I do not mean by this that it will last because the US limelight will be gratifying to Mr Adams's personal vanity. Great matters are at stake, and trivialising hypotheses are to be avoided.

The fact is that the ceasefire provides the IRA with unprecedented international leverage over the next two months. This will be used to obtain from the British (and Irish) governments a number of tactical concessions. These include: release of all IRA prisoners, in both jurisdictions; new policing measures; downgrading the RUC, and - most important of all - turning all the Catholic areas into no-go areas, in which the IRA will consolidate its control over the Catholic population.

This is the immediate tactical agenda of the IRA, intended to prepare the way for the eventual attainment of the strategic objectives: Brits out, united Ireland. Every item on the IRA's tactical agenda will have the support of Dublin and Washington. And every item will increase the anger of the Unionist population, and the probability of violence on the part of the loyalist paramilitaries. Mr Major will then be under pressure, from Dublin and Washington, to crush the loyalists, who will be seen as the only barrier to peace.

It seems likely that Mr Major's government will wish to comply with as much as possible of the nationalist agenda. Some scaling down of the security presence in Catholic areas is already happening. But the total cessation of patrolling in those areas would probably precipitate a breach between Mr Major and James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Such a cessation, combined with a downgrading of the RUC, would certainly precipitate that breach.

Such a breach could bring down the Government, if the Official Unionists took to voting against the Government and if some of Mr Major's own followers supported them. In this connection, the change in emphasis imparted by Tony Blair to Labour Party policy over Northern Ireland must be exceedingly interesting to Mr Molyneaux for it enlarges the options open to him.

Mr Blair has supported Mr Major in resisting the pressure to give the IRA announcement an unconditional seal of approval. On all previous form, Labour would have denounced the Government over this issue. Until now, Mr Molyneaux has supported the Tories, whom he distrusts, because of a conviction that Labour would be even worse. But Mr Blair has just sent Mr Molyneaux a coded message: Labour would not necessarily be worse. Paradoxically, Labour's support over the ceasefire issue renders the Government's position less secure than it would have been if Labour had attacked it.

These things being so, the IRA's tactical agenda will probably be blocked by British resistance. Mr Major's parliamentary situation will probably bring him to a sticking point over whatever item on the IRA agenda Mr Molyneaux defines as marking the parting of the ways.

The IRA will not resume military operations simply as a result of a hitch in the tactical agenda. Its alliances with Dublin and Washington are too valuable to be thrown away so soon over such issues. What it will do is develop its 'unarmed strategy': mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, disruption of traffic.

Even this will be kept within bounds up to 8 November. After that, the unarmed strategy will escalate in the direction of reducing Northern Ireland to anarchy, until the British agree to depart. Neither the British government nor the public yet seems to understand this new condition of 'neither peace nor war'. It will be better understood by the end of the year.

(Photograph omitted)