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Spurs & The Transfer Window: MoPo Grows Clay Feet…..

You don’t have to be a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, as I have been most of my life, to know that a storm of criticism has engulfed Daniel Levy, Chairman and CEO of Spurs for the last 14 years, in the wake of a transfer window which ended with Levy’s failure to secure the transfer of Saido Berahino from somewhere called West Bromwich to White Hart Lane.

Daniel Levy, brings an accountant's approach to soccer

Daniel Levy, brings an accountant’s approach to soccer

Levy, who has steered Spurs to only one trophy and a single season in the Champions League during his entire tenure, has a name for watching the pennies and for leaving his transfer deals to the last minute, an approach which his critics say is deeply flawed: it limits the choice of available players to those left on the shelf at the end of the window and costs the team points since the new players are not available for vital early games. This season Spurs have so far secured just two points – that is two draws – out of a possible nine, from three games and scored just two goals.

The challenge facing Levy was to recruit a striker to supplement Harry Kane in case of injury or bad form, as seems to be the case in the first three games. Hence the targeting of Berahino. The haggling with West Bromwich was fierce and has ended with the two teams offering widely differing accounts of the negotiations.

West Bromwich claimed that Spurs had offered to pay £6.5m in cash and the remaining £18.5m of the £25m fee in add-ons which would be paid if Berahino achieved certain results, such as international caps. In other words there was no guarantee that the full fee would ever be paid.

Spurs counter claim that an offer of £25m cash was made but rejected by West Bromwich’s pugnacious chairman, Jeffrey Peace, who maintained that Levy had left his offers far too late and they fell far short of what was necessary.

Spurs fans are in little doubt that Peace is giving the more truthful version. Levy has a track record of negotiating like this and too many in the media have been willing to credit the Spurs boss with qualities that are arguably quite stupid and counter productive. As usual the hacks have got the story wrong, some possibly in an effort to ingratiate themselves with Levy.

The sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid raised real questions about Levy’s knowledge of soccer and his eye for talent spotting. He used the £100m from the Bale sale to buy seven players, most of who have now been sold off for a loss after failing to deliver. Soccer pros say the difficulties of integrating seven new players in a pre-existing squad are almost insuperable and by going down this road, Levy made a basic amateurish mistake. He hired Franco Baldini to do the deals for him and clearly that proved to be a bad choice. Baldini has now been retired.

The real power at Spurs lies with a reclusive currency speculator and billionaire called Joe Lewis, a tax exile who spends most of his life on a luxury yacht somewhere in the Caribbean. Lewis, who owns a majority stake in ENIC, a holding company that owns Spurs, seems to regard Spurs not as a football team whose job is to win trophies or bring glory to the owner but as an investment vehicle. So transfers are scrutinised more for their implications for the Profit & Loss account than for the impact on the field.

Joe Lewis makes a point to Daniel Levy: 'Where's my money, Daniel!?'

Joe Lewis makes a point to Daniel Levy: ‘Where’s my money, Daniel!?’

To get back to the need for a new striker, which was the background to the drama.

During his 14 years in North London, Levy has hired ten managers and fired nine of them. His latest acquisition, Mauricio Pochettino, an former Argentine international and manager of Southampton, looked as if he was going to make a difference.

Mauricio Pochettino: His Master's Voice?

Mauricio Pochettino: His Master’s Voice?

But to judge from the reports in the wake of the Berahino fiasco, it seems Spurs’ new manager is made of poor stuff, content to follow obediently in Levy’s path.

Compare and contrast the two stories below, the first that appeared about ten days ago, the second which appeared today. Very disappointing. Bodes ill for the season:

This is what Pochettino said on August 20th

This is what Pochettino said on August 20th

Echoing Daniel Levy, this is what he said today

Echoing Daniel Levy, this is what he said today…..

....and here's more

….and here’s more

Syrian Refugees: Cameron’s Shame!

There will soon be, apparently, a debate in Britain about whether to leave the EU. The two stories reproduced below surely suggest that the wrong debate is planned. The EU should be debating whether to expel Britain, not the other way round! A country which voted into power a politician with the heartless views described below does not deserve to be included in any civilised forum.

A Turkish policeman discovers the drowned body of young Syrian refugee, presumably drowned as his family tried to flee the war

A Turkish policeman discovers the remains of a young Syrian refugee, presumably drowned as his family tried to flee the war

Cameron

In The Shadow Of The Butchers: Loyalist Paramilitaries On Film

The Broken Elbow:

‘Balaclava Street’, one of the most thoughtful and well-written of Loyalist blogs on the net (but not the only one), has an interesting, if somewhat overlong, look at the depiction of Loyalist paramilitaries in the movies.

Originally posted on Balaclava Street:

titlepicsmall

EXT. OCCUPIED IRELAND – DAY. Aerial shot flying over the rugged Irish countryside. Livestock, tractors, buildings below zip through our view as if in a model railway set. The drumming of the bodhran and mournful uilleann pipes. Cut to A VILLAGE CROSSROADS. Angle on our hero, Fergus O’Reilly (Mark Wahlberg), an IRA volunteer. Jaw set, handsome with his combat jacket and blonde sweepback ¾-length mullet. His eyes narrow as a British Army Land Rover heaves round a corner in the middle distance. Hands tighten around the command wire detonator in his hands. One press of the button will complete the firing circuit, bring revenge upon the invaders who 20 years ago killed his parents, razed their cottage to the ground, and set fire to their sheep. But at the last moment the Land Rover slows unexpectedly, and Fergus accidentally blows up a car full of nuns transporting a piece…

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The McGuigan Killing: Claims of ‘Unarmed IRA’ Are Ludicrous

Claims this week, first by former Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell and now from former Taioseach, Bertie Ahern, that the British and Irish governments agreed to accept the continued existence of an unarmed IRA – “a withering husk” in McDowell’s words – to counter the threat from dissident republicans are so ludicrous they should be laughed out of the room.

Former Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell

Former Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell – “a withering, unarmed husk” of an IRA would stave off the dissidents

If such an impotent entity ever came into being how long would it have taken the Real or Continuity IRA, or any one of the multitudes of republican acronyms that have sprung up since 1997, to work out that the Provos had become, in that wonderful Belfast phrase, ‘a beaten docket’ and could be quickly taken out and sent scattering?

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Co-ordinated NI policy with McDowell and now claims that the IRA was to remain 'unarmed'.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Co-ordinated NI policy with McDowell and now claims that the IRA was to remain ‘unarmed’.

A few days, a couple of weeks, a month or two? I don’t know but it surely would not have been long before the dissidents gleefully realised their adversaries were weak and defenceless, as vulnerable as fish in a barrel.

The only way a rump Provisional IRA could see off a threat from the dissidents was to be at least as well armed, if not better armed. And both the British and Irish governments, and especially their security advisers, would have known that.

IRA Volunters on patrol. Ahern & McDowell say an IRA bereft of weapons would have countered armed dissidents.

IRA Volunteres on patrol. Ahern & McDowell say an IRA bereft of weapons would have countered armed dissidents.

But neither government could afford to be found with their dicks in the honey pot, so to speak. And so, admitting the truth is not allowed.

So here is what I reckon may really have happened and we must base the alternative theory on the account provided by Mitchell Reiss, Bush’s peace process ambassador who is more credible and reliable than the other players if only because he had no dog in the fight, or if he did, that it was only a very small and insignificant one.

Here is what he wrote in his now famous review of Jonathan Powell’s book, ‘Great Hatred, Little Room’:

“In July 2005, the IRA had finally agreed to decommission all its weapons. At the last minute, [Gerry] Adams called No 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed. The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Powell told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned.”

What I suspect really happened was that when Blair’s proposed concession to Adams was discovered in Dublin the shit hit the fan in St Stephen’s Green, but for a reason altogether different from the one understood by Mitchell Reiss.

If Dublin had agreed to allow the IRA to remain armed it would have created the ingredients for a political scandal that would have overshadowed the Arms Trial imbroglio of 1970 which almost sent Charles Haughey to jail.

Not least of the consequences of making such a pact would be that Gerry Adams would have the Dublin government and a key adversary, Michael McDowell over a barrel.

A judicious leak at the right moment to the effect that an Irish government had permitted the IRA to keep weapons would destroy McDowell and his officials and the ensuing scandal would envelop another Fianna Fail Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and perhaps other members of the Cabinet. The threat to the very integrity of the state could not be understated.

No politician worth his salt would leave themselves open to such a vulnerability and while Mr McDowell has, understandably, now dressed his refusal to countenance an armed IRA in moral propriety, I suspect the truth may have been more complicated.

Which still left the problem of the Provos versus the dissidents unresolved. And that is why I would, if I had one, give a fortune to have been a fly on the wall when Jonathan Powell and Gerry Adams met to discuss what to do when McDowell said no.

Reiss says: “Adams gave way”. If so, why? Did he just throw up his hands in surrender? Did he accept the inevitability of casualties on his side, colleagues, comrades and friends gunned down by dissidents who did have weapons? And how did he justify such a meek surrender to his colleagues on the Army Council? Or was he made another offer that he couldn’t and wouldn’t refuse.

Here, I am wandering into the realm of pure speculation, I freely admit – and critics can attack me for that if they wish – but it is hypothesizing rooted in common sense.

What if Jonathan whispered the following, or something like it, into Gerry’s ear: “Listen, Gerry. Here’s the situation. We can’t be seen giving your people the green light to be armed. If it ever got out, Tony would be destroyed and Dublin just won’t wear it. But if your people were to, let’s say, acquire, or even hold back the necessary, I don’t think any of our people would make a fuss. How does that sound?”

Now, call it what you will, but to my ear and eye that would still amount to a government consenting to the continued existence of an armed IRA, with Dublin a conveniently silent but consenting partner. But there would be no fingerprints at the scene of the crime.

And if that, or something like it, is what really happened, is this why the Kevin McGuigan killing has spooked both governments and police forces and got their proverbial knickers in such a twist?

Is it possible that the truth is horribly simple: that both governments knew, not only that the IRA would continue to exist, but that it would also, by nod and wink, have to be allowed to retain weapons because otherwise it would be unable to deal with the dissidents? And that the greatest fear in Dublin & Belfast therefore is that this truth, of which they were aware, will be exposed?

Postscript:

In two reports published following the September 2005 supposed full act of decommissioning by the IRA – one in February 2006. the other in April 2006 – the Independent Monitoring Commission reported that not all the IRA’s weapons had been put out of commission.

That was immediately denied by the decommissioning supremo, General de Chastelain and a rift was opened up between the two main bodies responsible for monitoring the ceasefire.

In its next report, its 12th, published in October 2006, the IMC had an explanation for the un-decommissioned weapons which got everyone off the hook:

  1. The weapons which we had previously said had not been decommissioned the preceding September had in our view been withheld despite the instructions of the leadership.

Donald Trump And The Mob: 21 Questions From David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston, the former New York Times reporter, has long been one of my favourite financial journalists. With his curious mixture of class politics and libertarian zeal, he is a journalist who can be relied upon to regularly put American society under an uncomfortable microscope.

Here he poses some very disagreeable questions to Donald Trump, the billionaire property magnate and casino boss whose mix of populist economic policies and an American nativism that borders on fascism, has propelled him to the top spot in the Republican race for the presidential nomination.

It is  clear that Johnston regards Trump as a liar and a phony but it is the links his questions suggest between Trump and the mob, especially in New Jersey, that stand out. When you come to think of it casinos, the construction business and the mob, they all go together.

Here is the article posing 21 questions to Trump which appeared in The National Memo way back in mid-July, just as ‘The Donald’ was beginning his primary race surge. We could do with a David Cay Johnston or two in Irish journalism right now:

21 Questions For Donald Trump

21 Questions For Donald Trump

I have covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years — including breaking the story that in 1990, when he claimed to be worth $3 billion but could not pay interest on loans coming due, his bankers put his net worth at minus $295 million. And so I have closely watched what Trump does and what government documents reveal about his conduct.

Reporters, competing Republican candidates, and voters would learn a lot about Trump if they asked for complete answers to these 21 questions.

So, Mr. Trump…

1. You call yourself an “ardent philanthropist,” but have not donated a dollar to The Donald J. Trump Foundation since 2006. You’re not even the biggest donor to the foundation, having given about $3.7 million in the previous two decades while businesses associated with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment gave the Trump Foundation $5 million. All the money since 2006 has come from those doing business with you.

How does giving away other people’s money, in what could be seen as a kickback scheme, make you a philanthropist?

2. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman successfully sued you, alleging your Trump University was an “illegal educational institution” that charged up to $35,000 for “Trump Elite” mentorships promising personal advice from you, but you never showed up and your “special” list of lenders was photocopied from Scotsman Guide, a magazine found at any bookstore.

Why did you not show up?

3. You claimed The Learning Annex paid you a $1 million speaking fee, but on Larry King Live, you acknowledged the fee was $400,000 and the rest was the promotional value.

Since you have testified under oath that your public statements inflate the value of your assets, can voters use this as a guide, so whenever you say $1, in reality it is only 40 cents? 

4. The one-page financial statement handed out at Trump Tower when you announced your candidacy says you’ve given away $102 million worth of land.

Will you supply a list of each of these gifts, with the values you assigned to them?

5. The biggest gift you have talked about appears to be an easement at the Palos Verdes, California, golf course bearing your name on land you wanted to build houses on, but that land is subject to landslides and is now the golf course driving range.

Did you or one of your businesses take a tax deduction for this land that you could not build on and do you think anyone should get a $25 million tax deduction for a similar self-serving gift?

6. Trump Tower is not a steel girder high rise, but 58 stories of concrete.

Why did you use concrete instead of traditional steel girders?

7. Trump Tower was built by S&A Concrete, whose owners were “Fat” Tony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, head of the Gambinos, another well-known crime family.

If you did not know of their ownership, what does that tell voters about your management skills?

8. You later used S&A Concrete on other Manhattan buildings bearing your name.

Why?

9. In demolishing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, you had no labor troubles, even though only about 15 unionists worked at the site alongside 150 Polish men, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site.

How did you manage to avoid labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections while using mostly non-union labor at a union worksite — without hard hats for the Polish workers?

10. A federal judge later found you conspired to cheat both the Polish workers, who were paid less than $5 an hour cash with no benefits, and the union health and welfare fund. You testified that you did not notice the Polish workers, whom the judge noted were easy to spot because they were the only ones on the work site without hard hats.

What should voters make of your failure or inability to notice 150 men demolishing a multi-story building without hard hats?

11. You sent your top lieutenant, lawyer Harvey I. Freeman, to negotiate with Ken Shapiro, the “investment banker” for Nicky Scarfo, the especially vicious killer who was Atlantic City’s mob boss, according to federal prosecutors and the New Jersey State Commission on Investigation.

Since you emphasize your negotiating skills, why didn’t you negotiate yourself?

12. You later paid a Scarfo associate twice the value of a lot, officials determined.

Since you boast that you always negotiate the best prices, why did you pay double the value of this real estate?

13. You were the first person recommended for a casino license by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which opposed all other applicants or was neutral. Later it came out in official proceedings that you had persuaded the state to limit its investigation of your background.

Why did you ask that the investigation into your background be limited?

14. You were the target of a 1979 bribery investigation. No charges were filed, but New Jersey law mandates denial of a license to anyone omitting any salient fact from their casino application.

Why did you omit the 1979 bribery investigation?

15. The prevailing legal case on license denials involved a woman, seeking a blackjack dealer license, who failed to disclose that as a retail store clerk she had given unauthorized discounts to friends.

In light of the standard set for low-level license holders like blackjack dealers, how did you manage to keep your casino license?

16. In 1986 you wrote a letter seeking lenient sentencing for Joseph Weichselbaum, a convicted marijuana and cocaine trafficker who lived in Trump Tower and in a case that came before your older sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry of U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, who recused herself because Weichselbaum was the Trump casinos and Trump family helicopter consultant and pilot.

Why did you do business with Weichselbaum, both before and after his conviction?

17. Your first major deal was converting the decrepit Commodore Hotel next to Grand Central Station into a Grand Hyatt. Mayor Abe Beame, a close ally of your father Fred, gave you the first-ever property tax abatement on a New York City hotel, worth at least $400 million over 40 years.

Since you boast that you are a self-made billionaire, how do you rationalize soliciting and accepting $400 million of welfare from the taxpayers?

18. You say that your experience as a manager will allow you to run the federal government much better than President Obama or Hillary Clinton. On Fortune Magazine’s 1999 list of the 496 most admired companies, your casino company ranked at the bottom – worst or almost worst in management, use of assets, employee talent, long-term investment value, and social responsibility. Your casino company later went bankrupt.

Why should voters believe your claims that you are a competent manager?

19. Your Trump Plaza casino was fined $200,000 for discriminating against women and minority blackjack dealers to curry favor with gambler Robert Libutti, who lost $12 million, and who insisted he never asked that blacks and women be replaced.

Why should we believe you “love” what you call “the blacks” and the enterprise you seek to lead would not discriminate again in the future if doing so appeared to be lucrative?

20. Public records (cited in my book Temples of Chance) show that as your career took off, you legally reported a negative income and paid no income taxes as summarized below:

1975
Income: $76,210
Tax Paid: $18,714

1976
Income: $24,594
Tax Paid: $10,832

1977
Income: $118,530
Tax Paid: $42,386

1978
Income: ($406,379)
Tax Paid: $0

1979
Income: ($3,443,560)
Tax Paid: $0

Will you release your tax returns? And if not, why not?

21. In your first bestselling book, The Art of the Deal, you told how you had not gotten much work done on your first casino, so you had crews dig and fill holes to create a show. You said one director of your partner, Holiday Inns, asked what was going on. “This was difficult for me to answer, but fortunately this board member was more curious than he was skeptical,” you wrote.

Given your admission that you used deception to hide your failure to accomplish the work, why should we believe you now?

The McGuigan Killing: Two Irish Times Articles To Read…..

Someone suggested to me that followers of this blog might be interested in reading two articles I wrote for The Irish Times on the continuing fallout from the Kevin McGuigan killing. One appeared last Saturday and the other today, Thursday.

Here they are. One is copied directly from the paper, the second is my unedited version sent to the paper on Wednesday (my ten free article limit having expired!) Hope you find them interesting:

Provisional IRA may have left stage, but not theatre

The year 2005 marked the end of the armed campaign but not the Provisional IRA

A mural in west Belfast from 2005, the year the IRA announced the ending of its armed campaign. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Getty ImagesA mural in west Belfast from 2005, the year the IRA announced the ending of its armed campaign. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Getty Images

Sat, Aug 22, 2015, 01:01

 The admission by Det Supt Kevin Geddes, the PSNI officer in charge of the Kevin McGuigan murder inquiry, that the Provisional IRA still exists, has access to high-powered weapons (one of the gunmen who killed McGuigan was armed with a semi-automatic rifle) and is so well organised that it has a command structure, has shocked the Irish political system, surprised many in the media and raised serious question marks over the survival of the powersharing government in Belfast.

But the revelation will have come as no surprise to two leading actors in the peace process drama at the time, in the summer of 2005, when the IRA announced the end of its armed campaign against the British presence in Northern Ireland, the point at which many people assume the IRA ceased to exist.

One was the then minister for justice in Dublin, Michael McDowell, and the other was George Bush’s ambassador to the peace process, Mitchell Reiss.

They were involved in an extraordinary spat with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his Northern Ireland adviser and chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, over precisely this issue, namely the retention by the Provisional IRA of an armed capacity and, presumably, an organisation to wield it.

Reiss recalled the altercation in a stinging review of Powell’s peace process memoir, Great Hatred, Little Room: “In July 2005, the IRA had finally agreed to decommission all its weapons. At the last minute, [Gerry] Adams called No 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed. The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Powell told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned.”

So we know that the Sinn Féin leadership wished to retain the ability to inflict and threaten violence and we know also that at least some in the British political establishment were amenable. We do not know for certain, but must assume that Blair and Powell consulted the security service, MI5 before agreeing to Adams’s demand and that they secured acquiescence at least from that quarter.

So important elements in the British system were favourably disposed to the view that the Provisionals needed to defend themselves against possible aggression from political opponents and, if there was a matter-of-fact quality to Det Supt Geddes’s acknowledgment that the IRA had not gone away, it can only sustain the suspicion that this has been an open secret in the security world for a long time, that notwithstanding the qualms of Dublin and Washington, new weapons were acquired from elsewhere and a blind eye subsequently turned to the whole business.

Circumstances

Indeed the circumstances of the Kevin McGuigan killing were a textbook example of the sort of fears expressed by Adams to Tony Blair a decade ago. In May, a leading Provisional activist, Gerard “Jock” Davison, was gunned down near Belfast city centre. Very quickly a former comrade with whom he had quarrelled was blamed and a week or so ago he was killed. To what extent were the killers, and those who ordered them, motivated by the fear that failure to retaliate would be seen as weakness and could invite further attacks against even more high-profile targets?

The need to defend its leaders and members is not the only reason an armed IRA survives. The IRA is enormously wealthy and continues to raise money in unorthodox and dubious ways. Some years ago, admittedly before the 2008 crash, its property portfolio alone – homes and businesses in Ireland, Europe, the US and even the Caribbean – was estimated by the Garda Special Branch to be worth over €200 million.

Someone needs to own, protect and administer all that wealth. Someone needs to provide protection to those who raise money in other ways. Money creates the need. What follows are guns and organisation. But there can be little doubt that fear of bloody feuding, a seemingly inevitable consequence of republican political shifts in the past, was the main factor in the Provisionals’ decision to retain an armed wing. The remarkable aspect of the last 20 years or so of the peace process is that despite a deep personal and ideological split with the Real IRA in 1997 and numerous splinters since, there has been so little internecine bloodshed.

Carnage

Compare that to the carnage that followed the Official IRA-Provisional IRA, or Official IRA-INLA splits and the peace process can be seen as an astonishingly calm affair. The Provisional-Real IRA split was, by comparison, almost a civilised transaction, negotiated in a businesslike way with no side taking too hard a line for fear of the consequences. Would it have been different had the Provisionals disarmed and disbanded? Most probably.

To be fair to the Provisional IRA, the organisation itself has never said that it has disbanded and the most that Sinn Féin figures will concede is that, as Gerry Kelly put it on Thursday, “The IRA has left the stage.” The stage perhaps, but not the theatre. The assumption that the IRA went away when it made its July 2005 announcement ending the armed campaign against the British is due almost entirely to an over-reading of the statement mixed with a large dollop of wishful thinking.

Nowhere in that statement did “P O’Neill” say that the IRA was disbanding. The precise words were: “All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.”

In a crucial sense this was no different from the statement which heralded the end of the 1956-62 campaign: the IRA is stopping its war, will begin doing other things but is not going away. Subsequent new year and Easter statements refer variously to “the commitment and discipline of IRA Volunteers”. The IRA did not go away, not entirely. But for a lot of people it was comforting to believe that it had.

Ed Moloney is author of A Secret History of the IRA

The Irish Times headline on this piece was:

IRA has sharpened claws in absence of monitoring commission

Either IRA has got new weapons or it was not truthful on decommissioning

By Ed Moloney

In the course of his informative essay in this newspaper yesterday, describing why the Irish, British and US governments agreed back in 2005 that the survival of an “unarmed and withering husk” of an IRA was vital for the good of the peace process, former Justice Minister Michael McDowell gave a clue as to why things have now gone so badly wrong.

“Sinn Fein pressed for the abolition of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC)”, he wrote. “Its abolition leaves us back where we were prior to its creation: dependant on the police forces and their ministers for an assessment of the existence of and responsibility for paramilitary crime.”

The IMC was set up in 2004 and survived for seven years, tasked with producing regular reports detailing the level of republican and loyalist paramilitary activity, including any committed by the Provisional IRA. Its four commissioners were drawn from the UK, US and both parts of Ireland and included, in its final years, a former deputy director of the CIA and the former head of the Metropolitan Police anti-Terror Branch.

It is worth revisiting the first substantive report it produced following the IRA’s July 2005 decision to end its violence against the British presence in Northern Ireland. Published in October 2006, it had this to say of the Provisionals: “We remain of the view which we expressed in our report six months ago, namely that the PIRA leadership has committed itself to following the political path. In the period since then we have seen further evidence to support this.”

The report went on to detail some of that ‘further evidence’, including the disbandment of the IRA’s Quarter Master department, responsible for acquiring weapons; its engineering department, which made explosives and bombs and its training department. Volunteers had been stood down and the weekly stipend paid to activists stopped.

It was meaty stuff. Contrast that convincing detail with the statement issued by PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton following the murder of Kevin McGuigan. His admission, first of all, that the IRA still existed came as a shock to a public which, in the absence of any other information, had been encouraged to believe it had gone away.

And then he seemed to say that while IRA members were involved in killing Mr McGuigan, the IRA itself wasn’t really responsible, conflicting words that arguably worsened an already vexed situation: “Some current Provisional IRA and former members continue to engage in a range of criminal activity and occasional violence in the interest of personal gain or personal agendas.”

The idea of the IMC was born in 2003 out of frustration with the slow pace of IRA decommissioning and a paucity of evidence that things were changing on the ground.

The brainchild of Michael HC McDowell, a former Irish journalist and now a US-based consultant, it won the backing of his namesake in the Irish Department of Justice as well as Mitchell Reiss, the former State Department official who had become George W Bush’s ambassador to the peace process. Both men were known to be almost apoplectic at the willingness of the Blair government to indulge Sinn Fein and the readiness of the British to minimise the consequence of IRA excesses such as the Northern Bank robbery or the murder of Robert McCartney.

The Northern Ireland Office opposed the idea, seeing it as impinging on their mandate. But the strongest resistance came from Sinn Fein. “They didn’t want it”, recalled Michael HC McDowell. “They were furious about the idea, complaining it would be dominated by spooks and securocrats. They wanted constructive ambiguity to continue unabated.”

It took seven years but eventually Sinn Fein got their way and the IMC was wound up. In the absence of regular reports about paramilitary activity and in the face mostly of reassuring silence from government and police services on both sides of the Border, the public began to think the IRA was a thing of the past, hence the level of shock at the revelation that not only had it not gone away but it had structures, guns and the personnel to use them.

It is also not beyond the bounds of possibility that in the absence of regular scrutiny by an IMC-like body the IRA has slipped back into bad old ways, taking advantage of the constructive ambiguity, not to mention personal ambition, that can also characterise the ways of senior policemen, civil servants and their ministers.

The problem with former Minister McDowell’s “unarmed and withering husk” thesis is that unarmed husks impress no-one, much less dissident republican opponents or a rank and file that needs constant reassurance that the peace process is not the biggest sell out since creation.

In that October 2006 report, the IMC made this bald statement about IRA weapons: “We do not believe that weapons have been acquired or developed”, and it went on to confirm its view that the IRA had destroyed its weapons arsenals in September 2005.

That, plainly, is no longer the case. Kevin McGuigan was killed with powerful weapons, one of them a semi-automatic rifle. Clearly, new weapons have been acquired or the IRA was not entirely truthful in September 2005.

On the question of IRA structures, Chief Constable Hamilton had this to say: “At this stage we assess that some Provisional IRA organisational infrastructure continues to exist but has undergone significant change since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998. Some, primarily operational level structures were changed and some elements have been dissolved completely since 2005.”

That tells the public next to nothing and is in dismal contrast to the compelling detail provided by the IMC.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IRA has taken advantage of the IMC’s dissolution to harden up its husk and to give it some sharp claws. The solution, and perhaps the key to salvaging the peace process, is thus not hard to figure.

(Ed Moloney is author of ‘A Secret History of the IRA’)

The McGuigan Killing: Written On The Barn

Thanks to Lin Solomon for sending this interesting piece from Belfast novelist Glenn Patterson which appeared on the London Review of Books blog. Enjoy:

I have recently had occasion to reread a piece I wrote in November 2007 following the beating to death of Paul Quinn in a shed on the southern side of the Irish border by – local people said – the Provisional IRA. I mentioned Gerry Adams’s categorical denial of IRA involvement, I noted that the British and Irish governments were reassured by his call for those involved to be brought to justice, and referenced the further calls, from the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin’s partner in the (then new) power-sharing executive to wait to see if there was evidence of ‘corporate’ IRA responsibility, a phrase whose ‘Blairite banality’, I suggested, masked ‘a volte-face to rival Orwell’s “four legs good, two legs better”’.

Substitute the name Kevin McGuigan for Paul Quinn and the piece might have been written yesterday. 

Last week Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the PSNI believed that Action Against Drugs – the gang that murdered Kevin McGuigan – included past and current members of the Provisional IRA. Cue the denials, not just of IRA involvement, but even of its existence. The IRA – Sinn Féin’s MLA for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, was the first to come out with it – had, in a phrase revived from 2005, ‘left the stage’. (The Irish Times, misquoting Kelly repeatedly, used the term ‘left the State’, which might be wishful thinking.) Cue the calls for caution until it is proved the killing was sanctioned by the leadership, the warnings against other parties making political capital from it. Pace Sinn Féin, it is not only or even mostly ‘Unionists’ who are blaming the Provisionals: the people in the streets where Kevin McGuigan lived are blaming them. One Ulster Television news report claimed the laneway down which the gunmen made their escape was referred to locally as ‘Provo alley’.

At the weekend the PSNI’s chief constable, George Hamilton, clarified Geddes’s statement. The Provisional IRA continued to exist, he said, but in a much altered form. It was not involved in the preparation or commission of terrorist acts. Its main purpose was to ensure that republicans remained committed to peaceful and democratic means.

This is what is known as ‘a line’ and everyone is sticking to it. If this was a Radio 4 panel show there would be klaxons and cheers from the audience at the end of every interview. And if it was a Radio 4 panel show the winner, this week, would undoubtedly be Theresa Villiers, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, who, while saying she was satisfied that all parties in the executive remained supportive of the principles of democracy and consent, blithely said she wasn’t surprised that the IRA continued to exist. We are surprised, Secretary of State, only because you and your predecessors have spent the last decade trying to convince us, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that it does not.

To return again to that 2007 article, I have a vague memory of feeling the Animal Farm allusion was perhaps overstating it. Nearly eight years on I don’t think it’s going too far to say the ladder is lying broken in the farmyard, the paintbrush and overturned pot of white paint beside it. And I really wouldn’t be surprised if, statement by statement, in the weeks ahead, we are asked to believe that what is now written on the barn is what we signed up to all along.