09 April 2006

Terminated with extreme prejudice

Sunday Business Post

By Eamonn McCann
09 April 2006

Donegal Catch is Ireland’s leading frozen fish brand.

Hence the joke that has been whizzing in text messages around Northern republican circles: ‘‘Donegal Catch dish of the day - Cottage Spy.”

The fact that the quip is relished as much by members of the mainstream Provisional movement as by so-called dissidents highlights the difficulty that Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fe¤ in leaders face in dealing with the issues emerging from Denis Donaldson’s death.

Most members of Sinn Fein in the North follow their leaders in observing that the killing was carried out by people unconcerned, at the very least, about the fate of the peace process to which the party is wedded. But most say, too, that it was no more than Donaldson deserved.

The expressions of sorrow for the plight of the Donaldson family may be genuine. But so, too, is the sense of vicious satisfaction that a traitor has got his just desserts.

In the republican perspective, Donaldson was a soldier who went over to the enemy at time of war, for which the mandatory punishment everywhere is death. Whoever battered down the door of his whitewashed hovel and blasted his face with a shotgun was asserting the legitimacy of the armed struggle of the last 35 years and defending the honour of the army.

It is for this reason that, while Adams and others can sincerely deplore the killing because of its political effects, they have not denounced those responsible in the terms they felt able to deploy in relation to the murderers of Robert McCartney, as ‘‘lowlifes’’ and ‘‘thugs’’.

This is despite knowing from the outset, which they cannot have done about Donaldson’s killers, that the men who knifed McCartney to death were well-established members of their own movement.

Donaldson had to be killed for the same reason as each of the dozens of IRA ‘touts’ who faced the ultimate punishment over the course of the armed struggle.

Some are remembered because of the circumstances or the significance of their deaths. Franco Hegarty was lured home and then slain in 1986 for having revealed the whereabouts of the Eksund arms shipment. Paddy Flood was horribly tortured before being put to death in 1990. Aidan Starrs, Gregory Burns and Johnny Dignam were British Army agents tortured by the IRA before being executed in 1992, after they had murdered Burns’ girlfriend, Margaret Perry.

Others were routinely dispatched, and soon forgotten other than by members of their own families, whose grief will have been the more intense for the fact that it could be shared with so few.

Seamus Morgan, an election worker for Donaldson’s friend Bobby Sands, was executed in 1982; James Young in 1984; Kevin Coyle, 1985; David McVeigh, 1986; Robin Hill,1992; and there were two dozen or so others who met their end as a thud and a bundle on lonely roads.

Some deaths may return to haunt the executioners. There are questions to be asked of the Garda, the IRA and individuals about the murder of a Kerry IRA man in 1985, almost certainly to maintain the cover of informer Sean O’Callaghan, whose direct relevance to the killing of touts went strangely unmentioned in television interviews last week.

The families of a number of victims are convinced that their loved ones, too, were murdered either in error or in order to protect British agents, and continue to press the IRA for answers - James Kelly killed in 1993 and Anthony McKiernan in 1998, for example.

In a small number of cases - such as Anthony Braniff in 1981 - the IRA admitted killing the wrong person, and apologised.

In all of these cases, republicans hold that the killings were carried out in good faith as far as the movement itself was concerned, and were justified by the ordinary rules of war.

This belief is rooted in the core republican idea of the IRA as the legitimate army of the Republic proclaimed at Easter 90 years ago, and of its armed struggle as a defensive war to protect the Republic.

This is not a view which can easily, or at all, be reconciled with unequivocal endorsement of the multiparty agreement of Good Friday 1998 which leaves the North constitutionally within the UK and makes any future vindication of the Republic conditional on the support of a six-county majority.

Sinn Fe¤ in leaders have managed to appear to dissolve this contradiction by advertising the agreement to their rank and file, not as a settlement but as a means of undoing the purported settlement of 1922.

Thus, demands for the full implementation of the agreement are accompanied, sometimes in the same sentence, with pledges to press on without delay the vindication of the Republic, sometimes anticipated as being accomplished by the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016.

The Donaldson killing came at a moment when time may be running out for this sharply contradictory presentation. On Thursday, as most commentary concentrated on the difficulties faced by the Democratic Unionist Party in the face of the Blair/Ahern deadline for restoring the agreement, Sinn Fein leaders were repeating their commitment to joining the Policing Board when/if this happens.

It is when they endorse the PSNI, accepting the legitimacy and becoming part of the arm of the machinery of the partitioned state, that republican rhetoric will collide with reality and crumble.

It will then no longer be possible to maintain the view which provided moral justification for the armed struggle and enabled Sinn Feiners last week to take pleasure in the death of Denis Donaldson.

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