Tag Archives: Provisional 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.

The McGuigan Killing: Has The PSNI Chief Constable Given The IRA A Green Light To Kill?

In my view the most significant but alarming paragraph in the statement issued to the media yesterday by PSNI Chief Constable, George Hamilton comes about halfway through the text and reads:

Although still a proscribed organisation, and therefore illegal, we assess that the continuing existence and cohesion of the Provisional IRA hierarchy has enabled the leadership to move the organisation forward within the peace process. 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.

Translated into ordinary English this says:

The IRA is good for the peace process although there are some bad apples in the ranks who do bad things and have their own agendas. The leadership though has nothing to do with these bad apples who are essentially doing their own thing.

This means that the next time people are killed by Action Against Drugs or whatever fictional group the Provos set up to do their dirty work, the PSNI will have a ready-made response:

Nothing to do with Gerry, or Martin or Big Bobby. It’s just that they have got some bad apples in the barrel and there’s not really a lot they can do about that. These people are really hard to control. Sorry, folks! Now, can we please move on!

Now if you are stupid or naive enough to believe the nonsense that the control freaks who have run the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein for more than two decades would allow freelance murder, robbery and other criminality to happen without their knowledge and/or approval, then you should apply for a job with the PSNI. A stellar career awaits you.

If, on the other hand, you live in the real world, and can remember what someone like IRA veteran John Kelly once said of the Sinn Fein President, that ‘not a single sparrow can fall from a tree without him knowing’, you will have an entirely different view.

You will recognise the Chief Constable’s statement for what it is: a piece of verbiage that effectively is a licence to murder.

From now on, the IRA leadership can decide to kill this or that opponent, confident that the PSNI will have a ready-made excuse waiting to issue to the media:

It was IRA members who did it, but they were not acting under orders.

And if it is you or one of your loved ones who gets killed, well that’s just tough.

The consolation is that they will have died to preserve the peace process.

Now, isn’t that just great! We have ended up with a peace process in which the police service tells barefaced lies and devises forms of words to permit murder.

The McGuigan Killing: Just What Is Wrong With RTE?

I turned on the RTE iPlayer on my iPad last night to watch the nine o’clock television news to see what coverage the national broadcaster was giving to the political crisis caused by the PSNI admission that the Provisional IRA had been involved in the slaying of Kevin McGuigan.

To my surprise, nay shock, there was not a single word or picture devoted to a story that has the potential to bring down the power-sharing government at Stormont and imperil not just the Good Friday Agreement but the peace process itself.

If proper news values had been applied, the story should have led the broadcast. But instead it was appallingly and completely absent.

So, last night I wrote to RTE public affairs to ask why and this morning the nice lady there sent me this reply:

We did not feature a report on the story on last night’s Nine O’Clock News but it was carried on our website from earlier in the day and featured on Drivetime. We don’t comment on individual editorial decisions as general policy. The story and related developments have featured throughout our news coverage today.

In the absence of a coherent explanation for what is at the least a devastatingly poor editorial decision or at worst blatant censorship, I am driven to wonder myself what the real reason was.

There is, and has been a tendency in Irish journalism, which has been around as long as I have been in the business – and which has probably intensified in the peace process years – to believe that ‘if we don’t report it, then it didn’t happen’.

The decision to pretend that the PSNI statement was just not newsworthy enough to put on the main national television news programme smacks of that type of thinking.

The arrogance behind that attitude is staggering. When journalists believe that by manipulating the news they can shape events then a door is opened to all sorts of horrors, distortions, fictions and outright lies.

Thanks to Denis O’Brien and his grip on the media, Ireland has enough problems on its journalistic plate without going down that road.

Someone needs to get hold of RTE news and give it a good shake. And I know where I would start.

The McGuigan Killing: PSNI Say IRA Did It But Didn’t Do It – Go Figure!

UPDATE ONE

In an updated statement from PSNI headquarters, Det Supt Kevin Geddes adds one significant sentence, which does little to clear up confusion surrounding his first statement.

The sentence is: ““Our assessment is that Action Against Drugs (AAD) is an independent group which is not part of the Provisional IRA. But it is also our assessment that some members and associates of AAD are, or were, members of the Provisional IRA.”

One possible translation: AAD is a group composed of dissident republicans and Provisional IRA members who may or may not still be members of the IRA. But the Provisional IRA itself has nothing to do with AAD or vice-versa. Confused? You bet.

The only thing we can be sure of is that the PSNI believes the Provisional IRA still exists, hence the sentence: “….some members and associates of AAD are, or were, members of the Provisional IRA.”

The verb “are” is damning. (This is beginning to sound like a Bill Clinton press conference on Monica Lewinsky!)

Go figure.

UPDATE TWO

PSNI close in on Kevin McGuigan murder suspects

PSNI close in on Kevin McGuigan murder suspects

UPDATE THREE

Thanks to a simple misunderstanding and a communications foul-up, I was under the impression that there were two statements from PSNI Det Supt Kevin Geddes, when in fact there was one. My apologies for that.

This means that Mr Geddes was all along trying to say that while Provisional IRA members were involved in the McGuigan killing, the Provisional IRA was not. Square that circle if you can.

At the same time his statement clearly implied that a) the Provisional IRA does still exist and b) its members happily co-operate with dissident republicans opposed to the peace process and the ceasefire in an organisation that targets people accused of killing senior IRA members, viz one Jock Davison.

In other words determined opponents of the peace process work with and do favours for republicans whose leadership they abhor.

This is all so full of unasked and unanswered questions, as well as simply unsustainable propositions, not to mention the massive implications for the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement that it is difficult to know where to begin.

All that one can say with confidence is that Det Supt Geddes, and his press office advisers, have made a bad situation very much worse. Anywhere else and heads would roll. But that will not happen.

In a move that, intentionally or not, will rescue the power-sharing government from an immediate crisis over responsibility for the killing last week of ex-IRA activist, Kevin McGuigan, the PSNI has, as was widely predicted, claimed that ‘former members’ of the IRA were responsible for the slaying.

In a statement to the media this afternoon, the PSNI’s Det Supt Kevin Geddes said that members of a group calling itself ‘Action Against Drugs’, composed of dissident and former mainstream IRA members – and separate from the IRA – were responsible:

It is my assessment that Action Against Drugs are a group of individuals who are criminals, violent dissident republicans and former members of the Provisional IRA. They are dangerous, they are involved in violence and extortion of the nationalist and republican communities.

My assessment is that this is a separate group from the Provisional IRA. I have no information at this stage to say whether [the killing] was sanctioned at a command level or not.

The PSNI claim that the group ‘Action Against Drugs’ is a front for dissidents and ex-Provos is a new twist on the story and will be greeted with considerable scepticism on the streets of Belfast.

Not least of the questions Mr Geddes’ claim prompts is why on earth dissidents would want to do the mainstream IRA a favour by exacting revenge against the accused killer of one of their esteemed colleagues, Jock Davison who was allegedly killed by Mr McGuigan.

This suggests that the PSNI may next insinuate that the killing of Mr McGuigan was actually a plot to embarrass and cause political difficulties for Sinn Fein and the peace process by creating circumstances in which the mainstream IRA would get the blame..

In a place well used to conspiracy theories this one is in a place of its own.

One question that demands a fuller answer is Supt Geddes’ unexplained reference to “a command level”, as in: “I have no information at this stage to say whether [the killing] was sanctioned at a command level or not.”

What command level? Action against Drugs’ command level or the Provisional IRA’s command level or the dissidents command level? He doesn’t say. But he need to clarify this asap. If it is the Provisional IRA’s command level then this is an admission the IRA still exists, when it was supposed to have disappeared a decade ago.

One thing is for sure, the story ain’t over. Why, The Irish Times may soon be obliged to put its own staff reporter on the story!

So, Was The IRA Defeated, Or Not?

IRA_undefeated

For understandable reasons, Gerry Adams chose the 10th anniversary of the end of the IRA’s campaign against Britain – on July 28th, 2005 – to repeat a claim that the IRA was never defeated.

Adams was also responding, according to press reports, to recent remarks by British premier, David Cameron that, “British resolve saw off the IRA’s assaults on our way of life”, i.e that Britain defeated the IRA.

So, who is right?

In one sense, both men are right.

When a war ends with victory for one or other side, the event is usually marked by a formal surrender ceremony and the signing of a surrender document in which the defeated side concedes their military failure.

No such ceremony happened in 1994, 1997, 1998 or 2005. There is no piece of paper on which P O’Neill concedes with his or her signature the IRA’s defeat.

So, in that sense, Adams is correct.

But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is wrong either.

Defeat or victory at the end of a conflict is also measured in other ways.

For example, if one party to a conflict surrenders its weapons, that is, disarms itself at the insistence of its opponent while that opponent holds on to their weapons, then there is no doubt that the former lost and the latter won. IRA decommissioning happened at the insistence of the British and by agreeing to it signaled that it would no longer defy the British with force or arms. It may have taken a long time to happen but happen it did.

Then there is the question of war aims. The Provisional IRA set out to enforce the Irish people’s right to national self-determination, last expressed on an all-island basis in 1919 with a vote in favour of Sinn Fein, a party that advocated complete Irish independence. In other words the IRA’s war aim was to reverse and destroy the affront to this democratic principle inherent in the existence of Northern Ireland, an entity that came into being within two years of that vote in 1919.

In Unionist and British eyes, Northern Ireland existed and was a legitimate entity because the people of Northern Ireland had the right to consent, or not to consent to a united Ireland. The IRA disputed this right on the grounds that it offended the larger principle of national self-determination and through its war set out to overthrow this principle.

So, how did this pan out? Well not only did the IRA not succeed in overthrowing the principle of consent, its political leadership has accepted the principle and agreed to participate in political institutions based upon that principle and given its support to state institutions like the police force also created upon that basis.

It is rather as if the US and Europe ended up not only accepting the right of ISIS to exist but went on to embrace Islam as their state religion.

The other clue about how a war or conflict ended up can be seen in the treatment of the losing side’s leaders.

In May 2014, the PSNI arrested Gerry Adams and held him, like a common criminal suspect, in a holding centre for four days and questioned him repeatedly about his alleged part in a murder committed by the IRA during the course of its war against the British. It is clear that if they could have, the PSNI would have charged Mr Adams, put him on trial and see him sentenced to a jail term.

In the end, how one side treats the leader or leaders of the other side after a conflict has ended carries the real clue as to who won and who lost.