Heady days for the IRA

Share
Related Topics
We have beaten the British Army. So Gerry Adams told a public meeting in Belfast last weekend. His claim derived a certain credibility from the place in which it was made. He was addressing an estimated 10,000 supporters outside Belfast City Hall. Sinn Fein had never been allowed to hold a meeting in the city centre before. Its presence there was an index of Sinn Fein's increasing acceptability to the authorities. And Sinn Fein means the IRA, a connection Mr Adams did not go out of his way, on this occasion, to discourage.

The concession about the meeting- place is a fruit of the latest stage of what used to be called the 'peace process'. That term became tarnished last month when Sinn Fein, on the IRA's instructions, dumped the Downing Street Declaration at its conference in Letterkenny. Nobody can now expect 'the permanent cessation of violence' on the basis of the Declaration that we were led to expect at the start of this year.

So what happens now? We were told that if Sinn Fein and the IRA did not deliver on that permanent cessation, there would be 'a major security clampdown'. The IRA has not delivered, but the response has been: 'Well, if you won't give us a permanent cessation, won't you at least give us a ceasefire? Please.'

The IRA will probably accord a ceasefire sometime this year - and probably before the mid-term Congressional elections in the United States in November. But first it is going to see what can be squeezed out of the pre-ceasefire situation. The message is that the IRA is prepared to consider a ceasefire, but that others - meaning the two governments - must 'help to create the conditions for a ceasefire'. 'Create the conditions' is the formula, in IRA-speak, that takes the place of the pre-Letterkenny formula of 'seeking clarifications' to the Downing Street Declaration. The obsolete 'clarifications' and the fashionable 'conditions' are euphemisms for concessions.

When the ceasefire comes, as it will, the word will be: 'What will you give us for an extension of the ceasefire?' and when the ceasefire breaks down, as it will, the word will be: 'What will you give us for another ceasefire?'

'The quest for peace' - the phrase currently in vogue - is a more subdued version of the tarnished 'peace process' and even more congenial to the IRA, since the governments are settling for less. Ceasefires, and the hopes and expectations they arouse, will be central, from now on, to the psychological warfare that accompanies the IRA's armed struggle.

Mr Adams's friends have not beaten the British Army, nor are they beating them. But they are winning the psychological war. They have established an ascendancy over the minds of their adversaries - the governments in Dublin and London.

This is not yet as obvious in London as it is in Dublin; but it is more obvious in Belfast, in the Northern Ireland Office, than it is in Dublin. A yearning to propitiate the IRA is evident in two statements by Sir Hugh Annesley, Chief Constable of Belfast and now in overall charge of security in Northern Ireland.

Last month, with the IRA's armed struggle continuing unabated, Sir Hugh paid tribute to the sincerity of those in the IRA whom he believed to be working for peace. Last week he indicated that an IRA ceasefire would be followed by a scaling down of the British military presence in Northern Ireland.

That last promise was contradicted this week by Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence. But the general tenure of Sir Hugh's statements and policies, including the authorisation for Sinn Fein's rally outside Belfast City Hall, is believed to have the approval of Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. So the British government appears to be speaking with two voices over Northern Ireland. More good news for the IRA.

In the US, too, the outlook is bright for the IRA. President Clinton, through his National Security advisers, has been sending signals to Sinn Fein. Formally, the message is unexceptionable: the President is asking Sinn Fein and the IRA to accept the Downing Street Declaration and accord a permanent cessation of violence. Actually, what is being discussed is a ceasefire, and there are the makings of a deal there: the IRA to accord a ceasefire and maintain it through the second Tuesday in November, and the President to send his peace envoy during the ceasefire.

From the point of view of the Clinton Administration, this would make sense. The President has his mind fixed on the mid-term elections, in which many Democratic candidates are in dire trouble. A breakthrough for peace in Northern Ireland could be the answer to their prayers. A ceasefire, followed by a visit by a peace envoy, could easily be made to look like such a breakthrough. It would hold the 'Irish' vote in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles and would make a fine impression throughout the nation.

For the IRA, also, such a deal would be most attractive: a vision of a ceremony on the White House lawn would begin to heave in sight. In the meantime the peace envoy would be a reliable ally for Sinn Fein-IRA in pressing for whatever concessions can be squeezed out of hopes for extension of the ceasefire.

There is so much to be gained by both sides that it would be surprising if the deal is not concluded. The ceasefire will be an episode within an armed struggle that is being conducted by the IRA with increasing political and psychological sophistication. The IRA believes British withdrawal is around the corner, and is preparing for the Bosnia-style civil war between Catholics and Protestants that will follow. It has indicated that it will continue to 'defend the Catholic population' against the loyalist paramilitaries. In so doing, the IRA will be consolidating its power over the Catholic areas in preparation for the next - and, it believes, decisive - round with the British. The now discredited 'peace process' has been a political bonanza for Sinn Fein-IRA. The 'quest for peace' looks even more promising.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam