Interregnum Limbo

In my previous article I expressed doubt that an agreement could or would be reached to enable an early phased return to devolved Northern Ireland government, headed by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

My doubts, unfortunately, were confirmed and subsequently compounded by the mind boggling £26 million raid on the Northern Bank in Donegal Square, Belfast.

This turn of events reminds one of old saying, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…”. In this case, unfortunately, it produces a serious adverse, or ebbtide effect, on the peace and political process.

Many other expressions also spring to mind, such as, “There’s many a slip between cup and lip.” or, “Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.” There are many in similar vein.

I have struggled in the last few weeks to conceive what sort of logical reasoning was used by the perpertrators to authorise the robbery if, as the Chief Constable Hugh Orde, both governments and others believe that the Provisional IRA was responsible. Orde has now said (whether it is a sign of confidence or lack of it is arguable) that if he is wrong in his assumptions he will resign.

For the past ten years or so it has seemed that politics in the republican movement was in the ascendant and that armed struggle, and actions to fund it, was just part of its historical past.

But now, perhaps because of the apparent failure to bridge the gap in the recent negotiations, their stratagists have concluded that politics isn’t working, that the politicians have been pushed aside. Hence their angry disclaimers and despite the universal indications in Ireland that the old theories failed in the past they have been revived and politics has been relegated to the sidelines.

Sinn Féin’s President, Gerry Adams, has said that he believes the denial by the Provisional I.R.A. that they were involved in the bank raid. The IRA has now issued a written statement, signed in the traditional manner by P. O’Neil, that they were not responsible for it.

It does seem very curious that at the crucial moment when strong, and apparently well founded rumours were circulating that the IRA were about to stand down their paramilitary activities that, if the Chief Constable’s view is right, someone in the organisation mounted the Northern Bank raid.

Hugh orde’s conclusion, in the absence of any direct evidence from him, appears to be based on the argument that only a well disciplined organisation such as the Provisional IRA could have the nerve and ability to succesfully carry out such a well planned and audacious action.

It is alleged that Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA are one and the same organisation. If that were true then either both organisations are lying about the raid or the military wing didn’t let the political wing know about the raid, as presumably they would have opposed it. On the other hand, perhaps they are both telling the truth.

If the latter is true some other political or criminal group has mimicked their modus operandi on the basis that the police, who claim to be operating 1000 lines of investigation, will concentrate on the IRA leaving a clear field for the actual perpertrators to stache away the lot.

Although both governments and most political parties north and south assume that the Provisionals are behind the raid negotiations to construct a political settlement are to continue, for as yet no actual evidence to confirm the IRA’s involvement has been published.

The Taoiseach is to meet Sinn Féin leaders this coming week and contacts are continuing with all political groups and Northern government officials.

However, it is most unlikely that anything concrete will be established as the momentum for the Westminster election gathers pace – the whole Northern Ireland scenario will have to await its outcome.

The DUP will concentrate on trying to increase its representation at the expense of the Ulster Unionists while Sinn Féin will endeavour to increase its support at the expense of the SDLP.

And the Good Friday Agreement will have lost its potency in the armoury of the British Labour Government’s campaign for re-election in May if that is the month of voting.

POSTSCRIPT: 25 January, 2005.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness today when the Sinn Féin leaders demanded that the statement that they had prior knowledge of the intended bank raid should be withdrawn.

This seems to be a tacit acceptance that the IRA was involved and may be the two leaders are angry that someone had authorised the raid behind their backs, which had they known beforehand, because of the obvious weakening of their standing in the political process, they would have opposed. Could their positions in the Republican movement be under threat?

The Irish government ministers have said that they stand by the view that Sinn Féin has to prove that all paramilitary criminal involvement must cease before Sinn Féin can be supported in or be involved in any governing machinery in the North or South.

The British government seems to be taking the same sort of view in respect of Sinn Féin’s joining the Assembly’s Executive.

The general view now prevailing is that only subsequent to the results of the Westminster general election and the local elections in the Republic this year and the finishing of the marching season by the autumn can there be any chance of putting the Humpty Dumpty political process together again.

© : Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran.

Samuel H. Boyd