For the IRA, the new ceasefire is a promising tactical innovation, within a strategy that remains altogether unchanged. The immediate objective remains the destabilisation of Northern Ireland, with a view to its elimination as a political entity and its incorporation in a Catholic-dominated united Ireland.
The 'armed struggle' of the IRA over the past quarter of a century has seen considerable progress towards this goal. The 'unarmed struggle' (aka 'unarmed strategy') will dominate the period of the ceasefire, and is intended to speed up the destabilisation. According to Tuesday's Irish Times: 'The elements of this are expected to include street protests, civil disobedience, agitation over the closure of Border roads and community self- help against loyalist attacks'. Those who expect the ceasefire to usher in a new era of peace and harmony in Northern Ireland are in for a rude awakening.
The IRA can reasonably hope to reap a number of advantages from the unarmed struggle. First and foremost, they can expect to consolidate their authority throughout the Catholic areas. These will become 'no-go areas' again, though the term will not be used officially. This means that the people of these areas will be under the absolute arbitrary rule of the IRA. Terror will be a matter of routine. The foundations can be laid for an eventual resumption of the armed struggle, on a more solid base than existed before the ceasefire. While consolidating its base in homogenously Catholic heartlands, the IRA (aka Sinn Fein) will move out to challenge and provoke the Protestants, in mixed areas and city centres.
For 'street protests' and 'civil disobedience', Catholic teenagers will provide many enthusiastic volunteers. 'Street protests' (in Northern Ireland on both sides) have a long tradition of violence, including the use of large rocks, paving blocks, railings and crowbars - none of which would involve a breach of the ceasefire. 'Civil disobedience' could involve mass sit- ins, paralysing traffic in Belfast and elsewhere for hours, and perhaps days, on end.
Faced with these disruptive but non-lethal activities, the security forces will intervene or they will not. Either way, the IRA stands to gain. The security forces are in for a media hiding if they intervene against 'peaceful demonstrators' during a ceasefire, many of whom will be women and children. Dublin will protest loudly against the 'insensitivity' of the security forces 'endangering the ceasefire and putting the whole peace process at risk'. Washington will make known its concern. All bad medicine for Britain, and therefore good medicine for the IRA.
On the other hand, if the security forces do not intervene while Catholic demonstrators rampage down Royal Avenue and similar thoroughfares, then Protestants will attack those demonstrators. The security forces will be called upon to protect the demonstrators and this will produce what the IRA most wants to see: serious and prolonged confrontations between the security forces and the loyalist paramilitaries.
The IRA, one of whose main objectives is British disengagement from Northern Ireland, believes that that is likely to occur after British forces have come under fire from both communities. The IRA will then defend the Catholic areas against the Protestant violence it has itself provoked, and then use the ceasefire to go on provoking such attacks. And it will use its street protests to draw the security forces into conflict with the Protestant community.
For a time, therefore, the security forces and the IRA would appear as if in paradoxical alliance against the aggressions of the Loyalist paramilitaries. But when the ceasefire breaks down, as it certainly will, the IRA will put the entire blame on British perfidy, and resume the armed struggle, preferably with some well-planned spectacular.
The IRA hopes by that time Britain will be fighting a war on two fronts: against the IRA, securely based in the Catholic community, and against the loyalist paramilitaries, equally securely based in the Protestant community. The IRA calculation that this double confrontation would result in British withdrawal, within a fairly short time, is probably well- founded. The IRA (aka Sinn Fein) has done well out of the peace process, even when combined with the armed struggle, and it seems likely to do even better out of the even more plausible phase of the peace process now opening.
Politically, the IRA (aka Sinn Fein) is in better shape than ever. The extraordinary cosiness of its relations with the Dublin government is attested by the charmingly convenient timing of this ceasefire announcement, from the point of view of Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring.
The coalition government faces the most damaging and embarrassing debate of its career this week, over the report of the Beef Tribunal. When Spring and Reynolds were on opposite sides, Spring had made damaging allegations against Reynolds over shady transactions in connection with the beef industry. The tribunal's findings, showing that certain of these allegations are well-founded, are at least as embarrassing to Spring as to Reynolds, now the two men are partners in government.
But the ceasefire announcement was given precedence over all other news this week, and took Spring and Reynolds off the hook, as regards the media at least. This is the best government in Dublin the IRA has ever had, and it wants to keep it there.
The IRA (aka Sinn Fein) has now also good access to Washington, through Bruce Morrison and Nancy Soderberg. These people will be the link between the Nationalist agenda for Northern Ireland and the American mid-term Congressional elections. None of this bodes any good at all for peace in Northern Ireland. Except, of course, in the Orwellian sense: Peace Means War.