SINN Féin’s insistence, in the wake of the murders of two former activists in Belfast, that the Provisional IRA ‘has gone away’ is being seen as pure political expediency by opponents of the strident republican party who are wary of its successes at both sides of the border.
The more it seems that Sinn Féin leaders try to distance themselves from their Provo past, the more the parties who fear them, north and south, try to take advantage of their resurrected discomfiture with cheap political point-scoring, claiming that the denials of Gerry Adams and his party are lacking in credibility.
They point to previous denials, such as the Sinn Féin president’s longtime insistence that he was never a member of the IRA, which few people find credible, and his denials in the wake of the Northern Bank robbery of any republican paramilitary involvement in the massive heist or in the cold-blooded killing of Det Gerry McCabe in Adare. So, when he made the statement about the Provos being gone ‘and not coming back,’ people were dubious about it and opponents were quick to attack his credibility.
It is difficult to see how the Provisional IRA could just have disappeared any more than the UVF or other loyalist paramilitary outfits either. It is quite common for those who placed little or no value in human life when going about their militaristic aims to be lured subsequently by the easy pickings of crime in communities where they are feared.
Over time, former members of paramilitary groups on all sides may mellow and perhaps become useful community activists, however those who continue to live by the sword after getting involved in criminality tend to die by it. Strict command structures still have to be obeyed until deposed by more ruthless newcomers and there tends to be a culture of omerta, fuelled by fear of the consequences of informing the authorities.
While the governments of Britain and Ireland would like to believe that paramilitary groupings on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland have ‘gone away,’ the fact that there are still pockets of members, or former members, with access to arms – all of which were supposed to have been decommissioned – would indicate that they have not really gone anywhere. They may not be used anymore in paramilitary activities, but their very existence is unsettling and who is to know what they could be used for in the future.
In the South, An Garda Siochana seems to have satisfied itself, in conjunction with the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), that the so-called ‘military departments’ had been disbanded and that the former terrorist capability had been lost. Significantly also, however, the IMC has not indicated at any time that the Provisional IRA had ceased to exist, which contradicts Gerry Adams’ contention.
The suspicions of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) of Provo involvement in the murder of Kevin McGuigan need to be taken seriously as they are the people with the intelligence network on the ground up there. This has led to a situation where the unionist parties are now looking to have Sinn Féin expelled again from the forced power-sharing executive at Stormont, however creating a political vacuum in the North could lead to potentially-dangerous instability and nobody wants a return to the bad old days.
In the South, the political and moral pressure being put on Sinn Féin is manna from heaven for their many detractors, who are both jealous and fearful of the party’s burgeoning electoral successes in recent years. Indeed, Sinn Féin-bashing has become the fixation of all the mainstream political parties down here, especially with the next general election being only a matter of months away.
Sinn Féin members are holding the line that the Provisional IRA is history and senior figures remain unabashed about telling people to report any knowledge they have of criminal wrongdoing by former paramilitaries to the PSNI or An Garda Siochana. As if!
They are in for a rough few months of political turbulence. However, as with many recent controversies they have been embroiled in, the Sinn Féin leadership will ride this one out with brass-neck resoluteness and possibly end up looking more like they are the ones that are being sinned against.