On the same UTV spot referred to in an earlier piece that featured Declan Kearney and Ciaran Cunningham another figure to put in an appearance was the former blanket man and IRA leader in the H Blocks, Seanna Walsh.
As can be gleaned from some recent comments on TPQ Walsh is not without his detractors. Yet it seems indisputable that while he was in the IRA he did forego the cushy number, put the gloves on and went back to prison for a lengthy third time. Not easy to do no matter whom you or what your pedigree is: even harder when you are married with young children. It would seem remiss of his critics to fail to acknowledge that much. Something like 22 years spent inside and, unlike many whose circumstance was a fait accompli and irreversible, he had choices and did not merely make a virtue out of necessity.
In Barney Rowan’s UTV slot Walsh was filmed as he walked across the tunnel beneath the Crumlin Road that would lead prisoners from the jail to the courthouse. Those who came back in the evening the same route they had gone in the morning were the unlucky ones. Watching him there I could almost smell the atmosheric greenhouse odour that the dank bunker type structure always seemed to emit. It was not unpleasant, just sufficiently tenacious to linger in the mind long after it had dissipated in the nostrils.
During his discussion with Barney Rowan, Seanna Walsh was asked if it was not a bit inconsistent for people like him to be speaking out against today’s armed republicans when he had done pretty much the same as today’s activists are doing. His response was interesting in that it was plausible. Rather than take the party line and talk bollix about the great strides that had been made to bring us forty years closer to a united Ireland than we were forty years ago, he simply said that it was criticism the party would have to live with. Then he cut to the chase and explained his reasoning. When the Provisional IRA was fighting its activists at least believed there was a chance of success. Nobody today seems to believe there is the remotest possibility of winning.
While Walsh didn’t elaborate, there was enough in what he did say to permit the inference to be drawn that the Provos failed, had the nous to realise it and opted to quit even if their subsequent trajectory saw them veer away from anything republican and into the administrative camp of the British. Carried a step further the logic suggests that in trying to use the same failed methods to achieve the same unattainable goal today’s republicans, the armed contingent at any rate, are on the road to nowhere.
This seemed to be to be the most convincing explanation yet from a Sinn Fein member of the difference between the former IRA and today’s batch of IRAs. Because it was disarmingly frank, something we are not used to with the Provos, Walsh, given his track record, might be better placed than most others to represent the Provos in any possible dialogue with the physical force element of republicanism rather than the bluster and blowhard bamboozlers who use the symbolism of Easter to parrot the Thatcher line that republicanism is criminal.
What armed republicanism, the ostensible target of Sinn Fein's dialogue suggestion, needs to hear are some hardnosed truths that might just impact on its thinking rather than self serving tripe designed to hoodwink. As Barney Rowan terms it, a ‘reality check’ might have some traction. They must definitely don’t need to be told the rubbish that what is in place today is some great victory; they need convincing that the Provisional project was defeated rather than cheated, that as self serving and other-sacrificing as key leaders were and are, what is in place today is not the result of them having contrived to snatch an avoidable defeat from the jaws of certain victory. This is why somebody who walked the walk, and walked the tunnel to be sentenced on three separate occasions as a result of it, is better placed to make the demarche than one of the party blow-ins or somebody from its its phalanx of serial liars.
Would Seanna Walsh make a difference if he were to make the opening gambit? Probably not. The gulf is most likely too wide. But if someone with his track record coupled with a seeming intellectual plausibility is unable to make a robust case as to the futility of armed campaigning there are none from the Provo camp who will.