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10 October 1996

Bombs for Peace

The IRA's return to action in Northern Ireland is a cynical ploy, says Mark Ryan

The IRA double bomb at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn has prompted yet another flurry of speculation as to what is going on within the secret world of Irish republicanism. All sorts of extravagant theories were aired: that Adams had been overthrown and a new 'hardline' leadership had taken over; that an 'Irish Continuity Army', led by some grand old relics from the Border Campaign of the 1950s had somehow managed to pull off what was a fairly spectacular operation; most bizarre of all was John Hume's dark suggestion of complicity with the security forces, speculation which could yet land him a job scripting the X-Files.

As it turned out, the IRA did do it, while all the talk of Adams being under threat proved once again to be pure fantasy. Because it is the first major IRA attack in Northern Ireland since the ceasefire of August 1994 (the bombing of the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen in August this year was never claimed, though it was most likely the work of the IRA), it marks an escalation of the IRA campaign. So what is really happening?

The first thing the attack does not indicate is a return to the old days of bombing the Brits out of Ireland. A lot of the confusion about the peace process and the actions of the IRA stems from the belief that the peace process and violence are incompatible. In Ireland, as in the Middle East, every outbreak of violence is accompanied by hand-wringing over the fate of the peace process. But there is never any need to worry because violence in itself can never derail the peace process. In fact the more violence there is the stronger the peace process becomes since it heightens fears as to what may happen if the peace process ever collapsed. In the case of the recent bombing, the IRA is hoping to advance the peace process by ensuring that Sinn Fein is allowed into all-party talks, thus making the talks fully inclusive. Such actions have nothing to do with a war for freedom, but are an attempt to save Sinn Fein from the self-inflicted ignominy of its peace strategy.

As for the speculation that Adams' position is in jeopardy, the more pertinent question would be how the man has managed to stay on top for so long. There can be few organisations on the face of the earth which would continue to support a leader who had presided over the sort of disaster for which Adams is responsible. It is worth recalling that Michael Collins, currently undergoing beatification in Hollywood and Ireland (fast becoming the same place), got 26 of the 32 Counties of Ireland from the British in the 1921 Treaty. Six months later he was shot dead for his troubles by the IRA. Adams on the other hand, despite the fact that he has got nothing at all, has not faced even the mildest of criticism. Two years after the ceasefire he has not even got himself into anything resembling negotiations despite following a 'peace strategy' which is now nearly 10 years old.

The most extraordinary thing is that this abject failure does not appear to be held against him. He certainly does not hold it against himself. Rather than hang his head in shame, he seems quite pleased with himself flying around the world launching his autobiography as if the peace process is the culmination of a lifetime's achievements. The fact that the rest of Sinn Fein/IRA is prepared to go along with this shows not only the depth of political torpor within the organisation, but also a widespread acceptance that the leader should not be held responsible for his actions.

Adams himself has used the whole language of the peace process to evade any responsibility for what he or the IRA do. In response to the bombing, for example, he said such events were inevitable as long as the vacuum left by a stalled peace process was not filled. In other words, although the IRA planted the bombs, it was not they that were really responsible, and certainly not him, it was the vacuum. By upholding the welfare of the peace process, Adams can deny any responsibility for the actions of his own organisation, and for his failures as head of the organisation. The IRA, like everybody else, is victim of the 'lack of dynamic in the peace process'.

The IRA campaign is likely to continue until such time as Sinn Fein is allowed into the talks that even Martin McGuinness now admits are a farce. The campaign has nothing to do with ideals of freedom or independence. It is a petty, dishonest affair whose only purpose is to save Sinn Fein's leaders from the obloquy which is their due.
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