Friday, March 11, 2005

Is it only the IRA that kills?

Jude Collins adds a little historical perspective on the current crisis in the peace process:

The IRA offer to shoot the people responsible for the killing of Robert McCartney has set off a tidal wave of protest and has raised the question ‘What kind of world are these people living in?’ It’s a good question, and like many others here, rooted in history.

For decades, unionist leaders have been denouncing the IRA as a murderous conspiracy, intent on wiping out the Protestant population of the north of Ireland. When the British Army ambushed and killed IRA members, unionist leaders queued up to congratulate the forces of law and order on a job well done. Even judges got in on the act, congratulating the British armed forces for bringing these murderers to ‘the final court of justice’ by shooting them dead. So it’s safe to say that unionist politicians and members of the British and Irish establishment know the nature of the IRA (they kill people) and what should be done about such murderers (they should be killed).

‘But what’s proposed is real murder’ I hear you protest. ‘There’s a difference between the clashes that occur between armed groups or armies, and the intention, clearly stated, of the IRA to kill two civilians.’

Well actually, from the IRA’s point of view, these aren’t two civilians. They’re two members of their army – the Irish Republican Army. It’s that fact which has moved the IRA to make its offer in the first place. But let that go. Let’s consider the people in question civilians – and innocent civilians at that, since they have yet to be convicted of any crime. Had the IRA carried out their threat against these innocent civilians, they could have pointed to precedent in plenty.

They might have pointed to Bloody Sunday, when the British Army killed fourteen innocent civilians in Derry. Or they might have pointed to the case of Pat Finucane, killed by the British army in collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Or to the case of Rosemary Nelson, or the several hundred cases represented by An Fhirinne, which campaigns for victims of state collusion in a range of crimes, including murder. Had the IRA carried through on its offer to shoot these two men, it could with justification have spoken of sauce and geese and ganders.

But - and it’s possible to forget this in the present brouhaha – the IRA didn’t shoot those who murdered Robert McCartney. Instead they asked the McCartney family how they would respond to such an action and the McCartney family, quite rightly, said they wanted no such thing to happen. But you may be sure the offer didn’t shock or surprise the McCartneys. From an early stage in this affair the family made it clear they didn’t want IRA justice in this matter. What they wanted was that the IRA encourage or pressure those responsible to hand themselves in. (And yes, there is a note of ambiguity here. It’s safe to assume that the McCartneys, like most other people, didn’t expect the IRA to rely solely on the force of argument in persuading the killers to give themselves up. Armies do tend to be less than kid-glove in their handling of those who have brought disgrace on them. So maybe some violence, but not too much, to bring the killers before a court?)

OK - so what conclusions can we draw from this latest twist in the McCartney case? Well, two main ones.

First, that those loudest in their horror at the IRA offer to shoot the murderers - the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and Ian Paisley were both early on the airwaves yesterday morning with their disgust – these same people could have prevented all this. Some weeks before Christmas, the DUP and everyone else was offered a one hundred per cent, no smoke and mirrors, official and full destruction of IRA weaponry and the standing down of that particular army, with the IICD officially witnessing, along with a brace of clergymen observers for those who like to think that God is on the decommissioning side. In short, an end to the IRA before Christmas was on offer. Unfortunately Nigel and Ian and the DUP once again said No. If we can’t have photographs and cameras and sackcloth and ashes, they said, we don’t want it. At which point the British and Irish governments should have come in and said ‘Nigel and Ian, take a running jump at yourself – this is too good to let go’ and grabbed the offer. But they didn’t, and so here we are with the IRA threatening to do what armies everywhere do best – kill. Who’s to blame? A lot of people.

And second, we can conclude that the question ‘What kind of world are these people living in?’ is indeed a good one. Except that ‘these people’ are not so much the IRA as those who appear to think that armies exist to be nice to people, and that it’s more important to please Ian Paisley than it is to secure a definitive end to republican violence.

And let us not forget that if Robert McCartney had been killed by a loyalist then this would have been a minor story for the world media.


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