Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Double standards applied to Irish republicans

Damien Kiberd:

Double standards are always offensive. The persistent application of double standards can bring about undesirable results.

An ex-prisoner, who happens to be a republican released under the terms of Belfast Agreement, has been reincarcerated for reasons that are still unclear. Parts of the security apparatus appear unwilling even to accept responsibility for his rearrest.

Leaks have been made to the media that Seán Kelly has been banged up because he had reinvolved himself in activities that run contrary to the terms of the Agreement.

Republicans say that the prisoner was involved in nothing of the sort and that, in fact, he was seeking to maintain order in his local community in the period directly before his arrest and during a time of high tension.

Last week, the most interesting theory in circulation was that he had been rearrested because the presence of his face on the footpath around July 12 would offend Orange marchers and loyalist bandsmen from the Shankill district.

We may never learn the full truth concerning this matter, though Peter Hain might condescend to offer some form of coherent explanation. He might also explain why it is possible to lock up republicans in completely unclear circumstances when members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Loyalist Volunteer Force are permitted to go around killing each other without any threat of official sanction.

Did the leadership of the UVF approve the recent killing of two loyalists in a feud? Was this in compliance with the terms of the Belfast Agreement?

If matters progress further, will Hain do anything at all about it? Where does the Progressive Unionist Party stand in all of this?

Hain has a background as a sort of liberal, having involved himself in the anti-apartheid movement for some years in a most prominent way. He could, if he was bothered, ask the chief constable of the PSNI to forward to him files concerning the spate of attacks perpetrated by loyalists of one hue or another against ethnic minorities in south Belfast, Antrim and north Armagh in recent times. (I’m not talking about Irish Catholics here, just harmless Chinese and Portuguese and the rest.)

Are these attacks in keeping with either the spirit or the letter of the Belfast Agreement? Either way and simply by reading these files, Hain might begin to develop a better understanding of the beast with which he will ultimately have to deal.

The problem, of course, is that the whole history of the last 30 years has been a massive example of double standards in operation.

While British and Irish ministers preened themselves in public as moral exemplars, routinely denouncing republican acts of violence, the British establishment directly involved itself in promoting loyalist acts of terror.

That is why at least four paid informers and members of a paramilitary force were induced/permitted/ assisted in the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. That is why agents of the British state were involved in assisting the bombers who killed 33 people in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974 in a series of no-warning explosions.

Given the degree of complicity that Britain has in the activities of loyalist paramilitary groups, it is no wonder that there appears to be a minimal level of concern in the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Office or London when loyalists begin to kill each other in sporadic feuding.

It is logistically convenient for the British that people who have been active participants in a prolonged process of collusion should be wiped out. Dead men tell no tales.

Future historians may be able to trace how the majority of those who carried out so-called deniable operations on the urging of securocrats have simply been rubbed out, some even dying while held at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

This is also why it is very difficult for anybody with an ounce of logic in their heads to accept or understand the basis of the current propaganda and public relations campaign being directed against parts of the republican community by those same securocrats.

The current “fresh thinking” in Whitehall appears to be that they can coerce nationalists and republicans by claiming that a small coterie of semi-feudal chiefs based close to the Border have enriched themselves as a result of “the Troubles”.

In tandem with this, the other arm of the PR campaign seeks to portray nationalists and republicans as criminals. This line is being spun out through the usual supportive channels in the Dublin, Belfast and London media.

As an adjunct to the campaign, the Dublin Department of Justice is promoting a hokum worthy of J Edgar Hoover himself — namely, the bizarre theory that republicans are attempting to create a “state within a state” in the 26 Counties.

Many of the fantasies planted with curiously supportive hacks in the media appear to be predicated on the old British belief that the quality of democracy in the 26 Counties is most fragile and that Britain itself must shoulder responsibility for maintaining stability on “these islands”.

At one point some years ago, a serious British broadsheet actually published a story suggesting that there was about to be a military coup d’état in Dublin. The story enraged the Taoiseach of the day, who had been trying to develop a good working relationship with London.

A thorough analysis of the propaganda war needs to be made. Some of the more lurid recent contributions to the anti-republican campaign show neither any care in attention to detail nor any concern that facts should be reported accurately.

The timing of this concerted media/publicity campaign is difficult to fathom, too. It is seven years since the Belfast Agreement and almost 11 since the commencement of the ceasefires. Why now?

It may be that there are elements within the Blair administration who want to implement the Belfast Agreement fully. But it may be that there are other elements in Whitehall who are pursuing completely different goals.

Republicans have been asked in recent weeks if they are prepared to move forward, to make leaps of faith or not, but nobody else involved in the process appears to be asking themselves the same questions.

Why embark on a campaign of ludicrously inaccurate imperialist coat-trailing, of provocation, of smearing, if you genuinely want progress to be made?

People who act with good authority should be trying to solve problems.

There will be plenty of ranting and raving in the future from the guiding lights of Free Presbyterianism.

One might imagine that the British and Irish governments and their agents who adopt a problem-solving approach in many spheres would try to behave more constructively.

Government called to explain Shankhill bomber's detention

Cynical move


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