North Ireland Peace at Last--Or is it?
From the January 30, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times
January 31, 2007
by John O'Sullivan
Peace finally broke out in Northern Ireland Sunday when Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, voted to support the reformed Police Service of Northern Ireland and to join local police boards by a lopsided majority of 9-1. That removed the last obstacle -- the refusal of Sinn Fein ministers to support their own government's police -- that stood in the way of the March 7 elections for the "power-sharing" Northern Ireland Assembly.
If the elections go as planned, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness will be sworn in as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland in a government headed by First Minister Ian Paisley on or around March 26. Sunday's news threw up some minor obstacles to this outcome, but because most people on all sides want the re-establishment of a power-sharing government in Belfast, these obstacles will be overcome. It's peace!
But who has lost and who has won? That is a matter of debate on both sides of the Irish border. Vincent Browne, a Dublin journalist of broadly progressive views, lists the numbers of people murdered by the IRA either directly or indirectly:
"They killed a total of 1,771 people (almost half of all those killed in the Northern conflict) and of these, aside from the 190 police officers they murdered, 149 were their own members. ... In all, they murdered 832 Protestants, including 350 Protestant civilians -- and they wonder why the elected representatives of the Protestant community are reluctant to go into government with them."
Browne asks what did these victims die for -- and, more pointedly, what did the IRA kill for? Not certainly for what it has ended up getting. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. Ireland is divided by partition. All the Irish nationalist parties, including Sinn Fein itself, have abandoned their claim that the Northern Protestants have no right to opt out of a united Ireland. All now accept the legitimacy of Ulster's union with Britain under the Good Friday Agreement.
What really sticks in Browne's craw, however, is that Sinn Fein-IRA has finally accepted the legitimacy of the police force only days after the PSNI ombudsman published a report accusing senior policy officers of colluding with Protestant "paramilitaries" in their murders of IRA members and ordinary Catholics. What seems to have happened is that senior detectives covered up the fact some of their paramilitary informants had taken part in murders.
As the historian Ruth Dudley Edwards said, however, "The British establishment has done nothing to put those findings in context, to point out such simple facts as that the [police] killed only 50 [mostly in gun-battles], while they lost 303 to terrorists; that they saved innumerable lives through the use of loyalist and republican informers, while having to make up the rules while they went along; and that while bad things happened and deserve investigation, most loyalist killings were carried out by loyalists without police collusion of any kind."
All of this serves to strengthen Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein politically in elections both North and South. He is able to present himself and the IRA as the victims of official crimes. He glides smoothly over the fact that official actions, whether legitimate or criminal, were reactions to the terrorism of his own group. And he conveniently forgets that his own justification for the IRA's "armed struggle" undercuts his current complaints.
Adams has consistently argued that the Ulster "troubles" of the last 40 years were a legitimate war. If that is so, then the IRA has no legitimate complaint against the British government. London's soldiers, police and civilian agents would then be perfectly entitled to identify, hunt down and kill enemy soldiers.
On the other hand, the British government argued that the troubles were simply criminal terrorism. That is why it threatens prosecution against police who have colluded with loyalist paramilitaries -- and why it has earlier charged and imprisoned British soldiers for causing wrongful deaths, using excessive force, etc.
What Adams wants is to wage a war in which his army has full civil rights while the enemy forces are treated as criminals if they shoot to kill as the IRA shot to kill.
This absurdity -- a kind of legal manifesto for al-Qaida terrorism -- would be of purely historic interest if peace really has broken out in Northern Ireland as Browne believes. But has it? Where Browne sees the IRA's embrace of the PSNI as a humiliating betrayal, Adams seems to envisage it more wolfishly as a great opportunity. With Sinn Fein people on the police boards, another kind of collusion might be in prospect. In Adams' own words: "So, my friends we cannot leave policing to the unionist parties . . . or the Irish government. We certainly cannot leave it to the British government."
Sinn Fein is likely to be entrenched in government in Belfast more or less permanently. The agreement requires, in effect, that the two largest political parties from the Catholic and Protestant communities must share power in government. Not only will that freeze Ulster politics in a sectarian mode indefinitely, but it also will create a government composed of parties that stay in power indefinitely. And if Sinn Fein is also supervising the police, it is highly doubtful that the coppers will inquire too closely into the widespread corruption and intimidation on which the party rests.
While operating from a secure political base in the North, it also enjoys growing political influence, rising opinion polls and generous party financing in the South. Sinn Fein-IRA is Ireland's own Hamas or Hezbollah, a "party" that adds violence and thuggery to democratic politics and that accordingly often enjoys greater prestige than ordinary democratic parties because "it gets things done." It is a continuing threat to Irish democracy on both sides of the border.
One obstacle suddenly stands in its path, however. After years of discouraging Catholics from joining the police in Northern Ireland (and killing many of those who tried), Sinn Fein is now urging "Catholics" to do so. Catholics are indeed signing up in large numbers. Unfortunately for Sinn Fein, however, they are Polish Catholics -- immigrants who have joined for good pay and better conditions. They have no particular affection for republican terrorists in sheep's clothing.
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.