Tuesday, September 8, 2015

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What The Provos Can, And Cannot, Do

Pete Trumbore discusses the reasons behind the continued existence of the Provisional IRA. Professor Peter Trumbore blogs @ Observations / Research / Diversions.



Official acknowledgment that the Provisional IRA still exists, albeit in a form distinct from the years when it was engaged in armed conflict with the British state, has led to calls for the resurrection of an independent group, separate from the PSNI, to once again monitor Northern Ireland’s paramilitary ceasefires.


Alderdice

Lord John Alderdice, one of the four commissioners of the Independent Monitoring Commission, established in 2003 by agreement of the British and Irish governments to do just that in an effort to build trust and confidence between parties as the peace process moved forward, last week threw a bucket of cold water on the idea, telling the BBC that “the IMC was appropriate for the time and it worked but I don’t think it would be an appropriate thing to bring it back.”

I first interviewed Alderdice in early 2010 as part of the research that I have been doing on the maintenance and durability of the peace process. One of the issues I was interested in understanding was how the Provisional Movement had managed to bring so many of their volunteers along as the transition was made from armed struggle to constitutional politics.

What Alderdice argued to me helps put the recent revelations of the continuing existence of elements of the Provisional IRA into context. Keeping intact a command structure, he contended, was essential to keeping volunteers on side even as the military structures that had prosecuted the war were being wound down.

One of the observations we made was even when they’d got to the point of standing down the military operations and not recruiting, engineering had gone south and all these kinds of things, there still was a necessity – there was a little bit of debate about this when we said it – still was a necessity to keep a kind of Army Council and structures in place as you brought it down because that exercised what you’d call a degree of moral authority, to tell people to “stop it.”

And people stopped, not necessarily because they immediately thought somebody was coming into the back door but because there was that sense of authority.


Alderdice was essentially arguing two things:

First, that the Army Council carried sufficient authority that when they ordered volunteers to stand down from a military posture and transition from being members of an underground army into above-ground political workers, those orders could be expected to be obeyed.

Second, that the volunteers that made up the ranks of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were sufficiently disciplined that they would, on the whole, follow the orders passed down from their leadership. They followed orders not out of fear, but out of loyalty.

This squares with one of the points that Tony Catney made when I interviewed him in 2013:
In 35 years of armed struggle, the membership of the IRA never let the leadership down once. Anything that the leadership asked for they got. They might not have got it to the degree or as quickly as they wanted but they got it to the best of the ability of the volunteers within the IRA. What happened from 1994 onwards was a failure of leadership not a failure of the IRA. It was a failure of the people who made the decisions as opposed to the people who were prepared to honor their commitment to the liberation of Ireland and were quite prepared to do it in a different fashion.

The important point in this context is one that Catney did not make. The discipline within the ranks of the PIRA was powerful enough that when told to stand down, the overwhelming majority of volunteers did. Catney characterized that moment this way:

In August 2005, all volunteers were informed that they were to report in to the chair of their local branch of Sinn Fein, and all their future activity would be directed by Sinn Fein.

Some who disagreed with the decision simply walked away. A few, like Catney, became critics of the Provisional Movement and the political direction its leadership had taken it. And a smaller fraction subsequently threw in their lot with one or another of the armed dissident groups.

Crucially, what those armed dissidents haven’t done is go after the leaders that they accuse of betraying Republicanism. If the IRA had gone away, as so many chose to believe, why hadn’t the dissidents moved against those leaders whom they charge with selling out the cause of Irish freedom in exchange for the Queen’s shilling?

I interviewed Alderdice a second time in 2011, and I asked him specifically about the relationship between the dissidents and the Provisional Movement:
These are people that fell out in a very, very bitter way with Adams and McGuinness. … What happened was they absolutely didn’t agree with Adams and McGuinness, and every time you came to a key moment when something was moving forward, these were the losers. And some of them dropped out, packed it in. Some of them dropped out and said, “Well, we’ll still be here when they’ve betrayed everything.”

He then made two points, that while at first glance appear contradictory, actually make a great deal of sense now given what we have learned about the current status of the PIRA. As much as the dissidents brand the leaders of the Provisional Movement traitors, Alderdice said:
They haven’t the guts to take the Provos on, because the Provos will put them to bed. And in fact, it is ironic. It is because the Provisional IRA is effectively over in a meaningful sense that these guys popped their heads up. Because otherwise they’d have got their heads cut off.

What Alderdice seemed to be arguing back in 2011 was that the PIRA retained enough military capability to defend itself were it to be challenged directly by the dissidents. What it had given up, however, in standing down from its wartime footing, was an ability to prevent open challenges to its authority.

This, added to what we have learned after the last several weeks, seems to me to offer a compelling explanation for the current landscape of “alphabet soup” IRAs and their apparent unwillingness to move against a leadership whom they have branded the worst kinds of traitors.

The Provos can still “put them to bed” if they try it.

25 comments :

DaithiD said...

Thank Peter,I think that should read ?

What it hadn't given up, however, in standing down from its wartime footing, was an ability to prevent open challenges to its authority.

Well it seems coincidentally before every election on the Island, that the alphabet groups seems to find the requisite guts to take one of Adams or MMG out. But on a serious note, Republicans of a certain vintage hold/held Martin McGuinness in a certain awe, this own sites author once wrote :

...Many years ago I looked up to Martin McGuinness. Most within the ranks of the Provisional IRA did likewise. When we were moving into our teens, he was the republican Adonis strutting the streets of Derry with martial airs, putting it up the military might of the British with whatever armed prowess he could muster...

Similarly Keiran Conway had said :

...Martin was a natural leader, a very impressive individual who cut a striking figure. I respected him hugely and looked up to him, everybody did...

Thats just two examples that spring to mind out of many kind words. But for younger generations, they dont cut any more impressive figures than a pair of crusty old jugglers. Adams imparticular and his supposed nude tampolining is a joke figure.

Dixie said...

Mention McGuinness's name now and outside of the Queens own Shinners Republicans will practically spit back at you in a rage. He was clearly and beyond doubt the safest Republican in Ireland throughout the War.

Cue Bono said...

Another spot on assessment Peter. I think that if the various dissident groups felt strong enough they would indeed challenge the Provos in their own areas. What this tells us is that they have neither the ability, the wherewithal, or indeed the courage to do so. If at the end of what is going on now the Provos are left impotent that might change and they might find themselves going through a bit of what they put the SDLP through. If the Provos remain in place the Sinners will remain out of government. A bit of a dilemma for them.

Simon said...

Cue Bono, "this tells us is that they have neither the ability, the wherewithal, or indeed the courage to do so".

Maybe it tells us they have learnt from past internecine feuds- that they are mutually destructive hence the word "internecine" and that bad blood can last for decades. Maybe you'd have to have a certain level of stupidity to start a feud no matter who you are, what "side" you're on, or how strongly you feel about things?

Exacerbating bad feeling and scarring society for possibly a half century or more. You'd have to be a fool.

Cue Bono said...

Simon,

Internicine feuds take place between people who are on the same side. As far as the dissidents are concerned the Provos are on the same side as the British. In that respect they are a worse enemy than the British because they are traitors guilty of betraying the cause and backing up the British forces in Ireland.

Simon said...

There have been other Nationalist parties over the years that have supported the police over the decades and condemned the killing of police and British Army. For example the SDLP.

I can't see how joining a partititionist parliament, supporting the police etc makes you worse than the British themselves. That is a blinkered viewpoint even if you discount their enthusiastic central roles in keeping the IRA going for so many years.

If it wasn't for their previous efforts no-one knows where we'd be now. Would it be a better or worse place?

How can the fact that you support someone in any shape or form be worse than being the people themselves? If people don't have the political right to change their views or stances you are entering into fascism.

If, as you say the dissidents and the Provos are not on the same side how can the Provos be traitors? Surely you need to be on the same side for any betrayal to be meaningful.

When Martin McGuinness called those who killed the British soldiers traitors he was talking about traitors to the people of Ireland who voted for the GFA.

If people are traitors purely because of what Sinn Fein did you'd have an awful long list of traitors. Are you seriously suggesting Republicans want to kill all those who changed their minds? That's the implication as if one is guilty they all are. It's a nonsense.

I understand your argument but refute it as not only would a feud harm all sides and bolster only Loyalists who would love to see an old fashioned Republican feud it would create division within the Nationalist/Republican community that everyone can see would last for decades.

They support the police and tell people to go to the police. Big deal. The SDLP have always done so. There is still bad blood from the feuds of the early to late 1970s. No-one in their right mind would want a repetition.

We can quibble over the definition of "internecine" but my Oxford English Dictionary gives it as "destructive to both sides in a conflict" particularly relating to 'conflict within a group or organisation'. It's origins may be the mid 17th century but we all understand the meaning of the word. Were the feuds between the PIRA and OIRA or between the OIRA and INLA not internecine? Your definition is correct but it's not complete.

Although few people from a Republican perspective have tried to talk up a feud it is unnecessary from any point of view other than the loyalist one. The most enthusiastic voices for a feud are coming from Loyalism. People try to bait it. Even down to simple name-calling.

Cue Bono said...

Simon,

Actually iirc the SDLP did not support the police during the Troubles. They sleekedly opposed terrorism, but refused to back up the forces of law and order. The Sinners on the other hand have fully backed the PSNI (trying to pretend that they changed them into an acceptable British police service). From the perspective of a truly pure republican the Provos are traitors because they were on the same side as republicans, but betrayed their republican roots and became British lackeys worse than the SDLP during the Troubles.

I recommend that you read Anthony's book on the subject. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Friday-Death-Irish-Republicanism/dp/1932982744/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441922097&sr=1-1&keywords=the+death+of+republicanism

Simon said...

Cue. I have read Anthony's book. Neither the SDLP or Sinn Fein give the police a blank cheque but the SDLP consistently said if you had information to go to the police. They didn't support them in every instance, for example in collusion, etc. but they did support them.

In any case I fear we are going away from the central argument which is a feud is always a bad thing.

You seem to think dissidents would start a feud if they had the "ability, the wherewithal, or indeed the courage to do so". I am saying it would be such a bad idea for the reasons above and others that only a fool would want one.

For practical, logistical and strategic reasons a feud would be a bad idea. I am saying a lack of feud may not be down to ability, wherewithal or courage. Perhaps they just don't want one.

Simon said...

According to Murray and Tonge in the book "Sinn Fein and the SDLP" the SDLP's position was the consent principle; a United Ireland could only come about with the agreement of the majority in Northern Ireland and that a political settlement must come before full support for policing services. This meant that the party did not take its seats on the Policing Authority but did support the RUC in upholding law and order and in tackling paramilitary violence.

It may not have supported law and order in the way Unionists did with support for the British Army as well as their mostly unequivocal support for the RUC. However, with plastic bullets, collusion, extra-judicial killings, torture, etc. what self-respecting party would?

The fact stands that the SDLP supported the police in criminal and paramilitary matters.

I get your point about a change of attitude with Sinn Fein but as I said if people aren't allowed to change attitudes or are fettered in their political decisions that is close to fascism. This change of attitude purely puts them on a level the SDLP have been at for decades.

Henry JoY said...

Woooah, wooah up there Simon ... get a grip of your reins before you fall off and make a clown of yourself.

The SDLP don't have and never did have enforcers in the background. I feel you do a disservice to the honourable men and women of the SDLP when you attempt to create parity between SF/IRA and them.

Simon said...

Purely talking about policing.

Henry JoY said...

In the context of your exchanges with Cuey I can see the overall logic of your argument Simon and I can also see in particular an illogical disparity in your equivocation about levels. The SDLP have had a consistently peaceful path. There were never, nor are there currently, inherent ambiguities and inconsistencies in their policies. They were consistent and have remained consistent in their positions with regards to partition and with regards to the use of violence.

On the other hand we're asked by Sinn Féin to swallow whole, their statements distancing themselves from continuing violent events regardless of the fact that they were unequivocal in their support of the most gratuitously violent acts in the past and regardless of the fact that their party president continually lies about his past.

Whatever criticisms we may have of the SDLP your equivocations are unjust. Please clarify or withdraw.

And maybe PUL's and indeed some nationalists too have every right to check Sinn Féin's commitment to totally constitutional means.

Simon said...

My argument is that as a reason for a feud, as suggested by Cue Bono, that Sinn Fein betrayed Republican values by supporting the police in upholding law and order and in tackling paramilitaries is not a weighty enough reason. Why is it not of sufficient weight? Because during the troubles the SDLP supported the police in upholding law and order and in tackling paramilitaries. It shouldn't be a reason to attack anyone as support for the police is a political decision, one which has a precedent in which the supporters weren't attacked for so doing.

If Sinn Fein were inextricably linked to the PIRA during the Troubles then of course they are different than the SDLP but intrinsically the SDLP of the Troubles and the Sinn Fein of today are in the same boat by supporting the police in upholding law and order and in tackling paramilitaries.

I am simply discussing reasons against having a feud. I don't know enough about the current violence to suggest that Sinn Fein are up to their necks in it. The police say they are committed to peaceful means and say only that IRA members were involved. I can't see that if IRA members were involved Sinn Fein are necessarily to blame. I only have knowledge of what's in the public domain. It is an ambiguous situation. Murder is never a good thing but exactly what happened is not completely clear.

In saying that, your last point was a different point and one with which I would have no problem with.

"And maybe PUL's and indeed some nationalists too have every right to check Sinn Féin's commitment to totally constitutional means."

Ozzy said...

Wrong Again Henry.
The SDLP haven't "always" been on the peaceful path.
After Bloody Sunday..John Hume said words to the effect that he could recruit volunteers for the IRA..and the inference by him that it would be acceptable thing for him to do.
Good auld Bole Henry and his revisionist history.

Henry JoY said...

Simon

that SF claims to support the police may put them in a similar boat to the SDLP. However its certainly not the same boat. I'm not even sure they're on the same sea. The men and women of the SDLP held and honoured a moral stance on justice issues and on the use of violence. Whereas most intelligent people surely see the SF machinations on policing, as with much of what they do and say, as merely tactical.

Attempting to put Sinn Féin at a similar 'level' to the SDLP, even in the context of supporting the police, is an offensive and disingenuous equivocation.

Ozzy

Your boat is sinking ... you're surely clutching at straws when you attempt to demonise St. John!

Simon said...

Henry JoY, We were talking about reasons for violently attacking Sinn Fein. One of the reasons put forward is their support for the police. My argument is the SDLP supported the police during the Troubles and they weren't attacked.

I am not arguing equivalence in quality of support or in moral stances purely the bottom line of supporting the police. The argument of hypocrisy is a different one and every party has some level of that.

The argument about Sinn Fein hypocrisy or tactical machinations in supporting the police has never been put forward as a reason why dissidents should attack them.

Henry JoY said...

Simon

Let me if I may bring you back to the opening line of one of my earlier posts; In the context of your exchanges with Cuey I can see the overall logic of your argument Simon and I can also see in particular an illogical disparity in your equivocation about levels.

I am broadly in agreement with your rebuttal of Cuey's stance. I'm certainly not suggesting that SF's tactical machinations are a reason for them to be physically attacked. Nowhere do I suggest any justification for physical attack on either SF nor IRA members. I see your response merely as an attempt at building a 'straw-man'.

What I'm taking issue with is your minimalisations of differences between the SDLP and Sinn Féin in positionings taken for by far the greater number of years during the conflict (and remember in the bridging of that gap it was SF who did all the moving). This point is totally separate to your exchanges with Cuey about whether or not the disso's ought attack the Provo's.

Ironically you yet again repeat the same minimalisation tactic "The argument of hypocrisy is a different one and every party has some level of that."

I don't know if you'll agree with me on this Simon, but I'm of the opinion that if we were to have some market research polling carried out on the 'hypocracy' of political parties, their policies and leadership, the SDLP would poll fairly well and Sinn Féin rather poorly.

That all of that may seem pedantic to you, and perhaps many others, it still seems to me an unfair and grave distortion of how those parties differed in their performance and behaviours.

I reject your minimalisations and wonder as to your motives.

Simon said...

Henry JoY, "What I'm taking issue with is your minimalisations of differences between the SDLP and Sinn Féin in positionings taken for by far the greater number of years during the conflict (and remember in the bridging of that gap it was SF who did all the moving)."

I did nothing of the kind. My point was purely that the SDLP supported the police during the Troubles and they weren't attacked so there is no good reason for Sinn Fein to be attacked on that basis.

"I'm certainly not suggesting that SF's tactical machinations are a reason for them to be physically attacked."

I know that and never said you did. I separated that point to show your entire argument about the fault in my supposed equivalence or my lack of mention of the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein is unfounded as it has nothing to do with my central argument:

I wasn't comparing the SDLP and Sinn Féin save the fact that the SDLP supported the police during the Troubles and Sinn Fein support them now. That is the only comparison I made and your taking offence at that is your prerogative but please don't drag me down the garden path with your bogus debate.

Henry JoY said...

Simon

your original comment to Cuey that I questioned

"The fact stands that the SDLP supported the police in criminal and paramilitary matters.
I get your point about a change of attitude with Sinn Fein but as I said if people aren't allowed to change attitudes or are fettered in their political decisions that is close to fascism. This change of attitude purely puts them on a level the SDLP have been at for decades."


This appears to me as a covert attempt to 'piggy-bag' Sinn Féin on the consistently decent position on justice matters and on the use of violent means for political change as voiced throughout the years of the conflict by the SDLP. That clearly is both a fabrication and a manipulation of the narrative.

If the nuance of such observation is lost on you so be it. At this stage I'll leave it to the more discerning reader to evaluate our positions.

Simon said...

"This change of attitude purely puts them on a level the SDLP have been at for decades."

The change of attitude is in Sinn Fein supporting the police on law and order and paramilitary matters. Your point is valid, Henry but you brought it into the argument not me. I wasn't trying to piggy-back Sinn Fein on to the SDLP.

My point about levels is that both support the police in dealing with law and order and paramilitary matters. I wasn't using the word 'level' to denote quality of support simply the support in and of itself.

My argument was wholly to do with what Cue called betrayal regarding Sinn Fein supporting the police. I even pointed out the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA in the first post in which I mention the police. I wasn't trying to equate Sinn Fein with the SDLP.

If you wanted to make a point about Sinn Fein's ambivalence or dishonesty so be it.

However, don't accuse me of something I didn't say or even intend to say.

You took offense at something you thought I said so asked for clarification. I clarified by explaining again and again that I don't equate Sinn Fein and the SDLP but have purely pointed out that they both supported the police at different times. Then you harp on about the fact that I equate Sinn Fein and the SDLP despite the fact I don't and have explained that I don't. That is why it is a bogus debate.

The substance of your argument is valid but not the direction in which you're aiming it.

Henry JoY said...

Thank you Simon for taking time to clarify your position about 'levels'.

Your use of the adverb 'purely' though added somewhat to my confusion about your intent.
One strand of the 'Provisional' project is the project for 'Memory'. As it pushes forward in the 26 counties it must sanitise its past. In both states there's a whole lot of younger voters out there who weren't even born when Sinn Féin spokesmen were still making their unequivocal declarations of support for the IRA campaign in the aftermath of the latest atrocity. Now their spokespeople must distance themselves from that sordid past. As its tries to secure a greater share of the younger and middle-ground soft left vote it must represent itself in a softer and more favourable light. Hence the project for 'Memory'.

I hope you will accept my apologies for mistakenly taking your comments as part of that revisionism.

Simon said...

No worries Henry.

AM said...

There is something admirable and endearing in the way this debate was concluded. Strong positions held yet a willingness to be tolerant at the end of it all. Something we might all learn from. Fair play to both of you.

Simon said...

AM, It was Henry JoY who was magnanimous. I was still spoiling for a fight but my fighting talk is so tame it looks as if I am being tolerant. Ho Ho! Thanks for that last comment Henry.

Henry JoY said...

Thank you for the affirmative feed-back AM.

Yes the exchanges, though robust and trenchant, were fair and measured ... no descent into juvenile name calling. Indeed fair-play all round.

Relating this to some other reading and reflection I was doing earlier this morning I'm reminded that the fastest path to unhappiness and the greatest obstacles to 'in the moment' contentment is demanding that somebody else behaves (acts or thinks) in a way we'd like them to. Perhaps I need to prioritise contentment over my need to be right more often ^_^? That said though there's also a qualitative difference in in our desire to be right which is often curtailed to the degree we feel heard.

As the exchanges progressed and with each subsequent response I felt better-heard by Simon.

My exit, me thinks, was as much an act of enlightened self-interest as it was of magnanimity.