Thinking the Way Ahead

On Sunday 27 March I watched Jonathan Dimbleby on ITV as he interrogated Martin McGuinness about the killing of Robert McCartney and statements by the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin./ McGuinness made it clear that he and Sinn Féin supported the efforts made by the sisters and fiancée of the murdered man to bring his killers to justice.

Dimbleby persistently tried to get McGuinness to condemn the IRA for the killing but he maintained that according to all the information available they had not, as an organisation, ordered it. Although some of its membership, as well as Sinn Féin members, may have been present in the pub at the time he repeated that those who were responsible should give themselves up and that those who had any information should make it available in a number of ways in order that charges might be possible.

Dimbleby is an experienced journalistic inquisitor, but he should realise that it would serve no useful purpose to get a condemnation of the IRA from Sinn Féin's senior negotiator. Such a statement would negate his role as one of the main players, along with Gerry Adams, in trying to further the peace / political process.

It is in itself a cheap sort of way for Dimbleby to enhance his own standing in the public eye, knowing full well that his objective could not be achieved and that if it were the damage to the peace process would be considerable.

According to a recent opinion poll in the Republic Sinn Féin's standing there is down a percentage point, but of course this is not directly transferable unto the Northern Ireland situation.

Looking objectively at the Robert McCartney murder, and of course condemning the brutal killing itself, it is not unusual these days for incidents of this kind to occur in or around public houses. Here in Newport, south Wales, a similar murder has been committed in recent weeks and the police are appealing for witnesses to come forward. Some individuals, however, have been arrested and charged.

Allegations of efforts to cover up the evidence have not made, as was the case in the Belfast pub. What the main argument seems to be is that members of the IRA and Sinn Féin should have a higher standard of behaviour and sense of responsibility, even in a pub, than in one frequented by the general public. Surely, it is thought, they should be better disciplined and self controlled.

Yet it has to be accepted that in well disciplined military forces in many countries around the world there are violent confrontations between their members and the general public when intoxicants have been consumed. However, it is a disgrace and a stain upon an organisation purporting to have a just cause and a sense of justice that the individuals who did the killing and those who destroyed the forensic evidence should not come forward for trial.

It is not an excuse or a justification but a simple statement of fact that the vacuum created by the suspended Assembly's lack of political competency makes such incidents more likely. The state of the parties after the Westminster election and the local elections in Northern Ireland will have a bearing on future developments.

Those who want to see a diminution of Sinn Féin's representation should ponder whether this would reduce or enhance the prospects of the peace process. I fear it would reduce it.

The latest call to the IRA from Gerry Adams to accept that an alternative to armed struggle to advance the Republican movement now exists and to fully embrace democratic political action as the way forward has been cautiously welcomed by some but cynically rejected by both the Ulster and the Democratic Unionists.

It seems that each time a forward step has been taken by Republicans more hurdles are raised in the way of reconciliation by fundamentalist Unionists and others. While it is advisable to cautiously accept that Sinn Féin is making a serious effort to kick start the peace process, pending a response from the IRA, we should remember that some cynical Unionists have not really been committed to the full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The IRA have now responded initially to the call from the Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, saying that they will give his request due consideration.

The statement from Adams may in some respects be related to the impending elections but it certainly does seriously indicate a real effort, over and above electoral considerations, to advance the peace process. ©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 7 April 2005.

Samuel H. Boyd