26 March 2005

Daily Ireland

Agreement is the greatest threat to unionism

Anthony McIntyre deserves to be heard when he speaks of politics. As he explains in some detail in an article in the LA Times recently (‘The IRA is Morphing into the “Rafia” ‘ LA Times, March 10) he was a member of the IRA, was imprisoned for killing a unionist paramilitary and took part in the prison protest against criminalisation of political prisoners.
Mr McIntyre, it could be said, has paid his republican dues and his claims in the article merit a hearing. Unfortunately, most of the claims appear to be built on air.
Claim 1. Gerry Adams smothers internal discussion in his party and surrounds himself with head-nodding lackeys. Evidence for this charge: none. How could there be? Like most political parties, Sinn Féin presumably doesn’t invite its most vocal opponents to sit in on internal discussions.
Claim 2: By signing the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin committed themselves to ‘celebrating’ the defeat of republicanism. Evidence: some. Gerry Adams’s party did indeed sign the GFA in 1998. Since then, support for that party has grown with every election. Two weeks ago, amid the media firestorm, the Sinn Féin candidate in the Meath by-election increased his vote share by 25 per cent. Over 300,000 people now vote for Sinn Féin, making it the third biggest political party on the island. Irish republicanism hasn’t been this strong since the 1920s.
Claim 3: Republicans have no strategic framework for securing the withdrawal of the British state from Ireland. Evidence: none. On the contrary, when the IRA called its ceasefire in the early 1990s, the Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux declared that the union with Britain was now faced with its biggest threat since the foundation of the state. Ian Paisley has repeatedly said words to the same effect, pointing to the GFA as evidence. Mr McIntyre may see no strategy for reunification, but Jim Molyneaux then and Ian Paisley today clearly do.
Claim 4: The IRA exists to enhance the power and prosperity of republican leaders. Evidence: none. Few political parties anywhere in the world have their accounts scrutinised with the rigour those of Sinn Féin receive, yet no accounting irregularity or figure manipulation has been detected.
Much sound and fury from Mr McIntyre, then, signifying not a lot. Of course his voice is not alone in attacking Mr Adams’ party. For months now, a blitzkrieg of criticism has been unloaded on Irish republicans.
In the pre-Christmas weeks, the outcry focused on the robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast. In the absence of any evidence then or since that the IRA had conducted the robbery, the British government has docked some £180,000-worth of Sinn Féin parliamentary allowances. Voices in the media, normally quick to detect injustice and cry ‘Foul!’, were silent.
Since the end of January, attention has switched from the bank robbery to the murder of Robert McCartney. Sympathy among Irish nationalists for the sisters of the dead man was and is strong. But there is a growing suspicion, in some cases hardened into certainty, that many in politics and the media expressing compassion for the sisters are in fact using the family as a club with which to beat republicans.
As many nationalists see it, international sympathy for the McCartneys is selective. They ask why the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989 or of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in 1999 or of the dozens of Catholics killed by loyalist paramilitaries down the years did not provoke the sustained outrage elicited by the death of Robert McCartney. They wonder why the McCartney sisters received acclaim throughout the US while Geraldine Finucane, also visiting over the same period, was virtually forgotten. Resentment deepens each time they see another politician appear on television to applaud the sisters, denounce republicans and call for the IRA to decommission and disband.
Of course IRA decommissioning and disbandment could have been secured months ago. Some weeks before Christmas, that organisation offered to destroy all its weaponry in the presence of General John de Chastelain plus two clergymen representing the Catholic and Protestant churches, and to stand down all IRA volunteers. Faced with the prospect of an IRA-free Sinn Féin, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party hastily demanded more: there must be photographs, there must be ‘sackcloth and ashes’, there must be public repentance. The British and Irish governments pandered to Paisley’s fresh demands and the deal fell apart.
So yes, nationalist Ireland is united in sympathy with the rest of the world for the McCartney sisters and does hunger for an end to violence. But it is getting increasingly fed up with those like Mr McIntyre who stand on the coffin of Robert McCartney and indulge in finger-pointing unsupported by evidence.

Email me: judejcollins@gmail.com
Website: www.judecollins.net

Jude Collins is an academic, writer and broadcaster. His latest novel is ‘Leave of Absence’ (Townhouse, £6.99)

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