For a short while last night I thought that Gerry Adams might have finally grasped the nettle and had begun to prepare the way for the final chapter in the life of the Provisional IRA, with a tweet which proclaimed: ‘Time to put the boys to bed’.
It was only later that I realised this was a reference to a photo of Mary Lou McDonald, who I think, for economy’s purpose, we can call MLM from now on, holding two baby-sized figures of Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin:
So, with significant elements of the media now ready to put the IRA question on the back shelf (I have just heard a reporter from Politico‘s European edition pronounce on the BBC World Service that the proof the IRA no longer existed or had influence on SF was the latter’s presence in a power sharing government with the DUP! I kid you not) both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are likely to come under growing pressure to just drop the issue.
The problem for them is that the IRA has not gone away, most certainly in the North, where its continued existence as a smaller but none the less lethal force is seen as a deterrent to Loyalist violence, especially at this time of Unionist uncertainty and anxiety.
The Provos most certainly would not like to see the dissidents step into the breach should Loyalist paramilitaries re-activate. After all they came into being in 1969 as the defenders of the Catholic community, that was their raison d’etre. They are not about to hand that laurel over to anyone else.
There is another reason the IRA has not gone away and that is the financial nest egg – estimated a few years ago at some 400 million euros by the Irish government – that the IRA accumulated during the the peace process years (when the war was raging the IRA was always broke, but not after 1998).
That money was invested in apartments, hotels, bars and businesses in Ireland, Europe and elsewhere around the globe. That includes the £30 million or so stolen from the Northern Bank.
The IRA is also involved in the private security business, something that was midwifed by Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness and current Gardai Commissioner, Drew Harris in his PSNI/MI5 days, and which provides regular income for many of their ex-Volunteers.
That money, the properties and businesses all belong to the IRA and no-one else (and God help the person who thinks otherwise). Someone has to look after it and to provide an income for retired or semi-retired Volunteers.
So there is a well-funded structure there which could, at reasonably short notice, be expanded in an emergency. In the meantime the managers of this apparatus can be seen at work in the corridors of Stormont and Leinster House, an arrangement that was described at some length, though with some discretion, by former SF TD Peader Toibin in this recent article.
(A spoof photo doing the rounds on the internet captures the mainstream parties’ nightmare)
As the negotiations to form a new government begin do not be surprised to see the IRA question re-emerge and even dominate. Micheal Martin in particular cannot avoid it and nor can Leo Varadkar afford to be seen as softer on the question than his FF rival.
It might also suit Sinn Fein to force a second election out of such a deadlock in which they can then field a full slate of candidates and get close to the magic 81 seats by themselves, or with the help of some tame TD’s from one or other of the smaller parties.
The IRA hasn’t left the stage just yet, and it could play a significant role in the coming days. As Gerry Adams himself once proclaimed: ‘They haven’t gone away, you know!‘