Sinn Fein must not equivocate about the rule of law

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The Independent Online

If the scriptwriters of The Sopranos offered up a plot line as bizarre as the one playing out for real in Northern Ireland, it would be rejected as far-fetched.

If the scriptwriters of The Sopranos offered up a plot line as bizarre as the one playing out for real in Northern Ireland, it would be rejected as far-fetched. It beggars belief that the IRA's godfathers imagined that anybody would appreciate their obscene offer to shoot those members of the organisation suspected of Robert McCartney's murder. Clearly, it was lost on the IRA's public relations strategists that what the McCartney sisters want to see is their brother's killers in court, not lying in a Belfast gutter.

The statement, with its farcical suggestion that the IRA does not tolerate crime because it will shoot the culprits, suggests that the IRA has lost its tactical cunning. If there is comfort to be drawn from that, the implications are on another level deeply disturbing.

The gunmen have, on this evidence, not yet got the message that what is required is for them to destroy their weapons, not strut around issuing death threats. Their statement also exposes the extent to which the IRA still sees itself as a legitimate dispenser of "justice". Despite supposedly undergoing political transformation, key sections of the republican leadership still reject the police, the criminal justice system and the rule of law. They do not, it seems, understand the grammar of democracy. After years of careful, and successful, effort by Sinn Fein to gain respectability with voters, the IRA has ripped off the mask, confirming its continued involvement in violent criminality and intimidation.The US administration is right: Sinn Fein cannot pick and choose the bits of democracy and the rule of law that help it to win elections.

The most worrying aspect of the latest twist in this crisis is the question it raises about who controls the IRA's guns. If Tuesday's statement is indicative of a new volatility or immaturity in the ranks, then it augurs badly for the peace process. The London and Dublin governments are right to pursue an inclusive return to devolved government. But they need interlocutors from the republican side who can be relied upon. They need to hear from Gerry Adams that Sinn Fein fully embraces the rule of law and that he too believes it is time for the IRA to go out of business.

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