04 February 2006

No end insight for the other Irish war

Irish Examiner

By Harry McGee, Political Editor

WHEN you talk about the end of conflict, it depends what conflict you are talking about.

There is another war going on, the one that’s not being waged by diehard republican splinter groups or by drug-fuelled loyalist hoods.

No, this is a horse of a different colour. It’s the war on the ideological front. And for some of its generals, this war will never be over.

The film Magnolia has a recurring motif about outlandish coincidences.

One tells the story of the young man who decides to end it all by throwing himself off the roof of his apartment building.

At the same time, in the family apartment below, his parents are having a violent row.

His mother grabs a gun and shoots at the father but misses. The bullet passes through the window and kills the young man as he plummets towards the ground.

For some strange reason, I was reminded of that on Wednesday, when the International Monitoring Commission (IMC) report was published.

The IMC wasn’t yet ready to award any gold stars to the IRA. One of the negatives it dwelt on was money-laundering.

By a curious coincidence, the authorities on both sides of the Border chose that very day to make very public a series of raids they had carried out targeted at - you’ll never guess - IRA money-laundering.

Did Justice Minister Michael McDowell have anything to say about all that? Well, diligent reporters managed to coax a few words out of him.

“The good news from today’s story is that the battle to get those assets into safe hands and to deprive paramilitary and subversive people of their use for whatever purposes is ongoing and succeeding,” he said.

For some, the war will never be over. For McDowell and his predecessor in justice, John O’Donoghue, the republican movement will remain a threat to the State irrespective of its mode. The private army will remain the private army even if its arsenal is composed of ballot boxes and bulging war chests.

All of this shows up the internal imbalance in the Government’s response to republicanism and its journey away from violence.

Even a cursory study of the IMC report on Wednesday will have told you why Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair went to so much trouble the previous week.

You can’t expect everything to happen immediately, they said then. Look at the big picture - July 28 IRA statement and full decommissioning. You can’t deny that they weren’t significant, Blair said in his sugary-sincere way.

Preempting the IMC report did not fully soften its sting. The report was more negative than what Ahern and Blair had braced us for.

The IRA still held a “range of different kinds of weapons and ammunition” that should have been decommissioned, it surmised. It dwelt on money-laundering, on intelligence gathering, hinted that the Provos were exerting a sinister influence on community restorative justice programmes in some areas.

Ahern & Ahern did their best to gloss over these things. But the IMC itself did not seem as enthusiastic; John Alderdice pointedly said he was not as confident as John de Chastelain that the IRA had not retained guns.

And what were we to make of the CAB raids? Is the Government operating a dual strategy of simultaneously giving the IRA a slap on the back and a kick up the backside? Are the divergent approaches of the Aherns and McDowell all accommodated to coax republicans to peace, and tear them to pieces (morally and electorally)?

Yes, there needs to be accountability. And yes, republicans will have to fully embrace the democratic institutions and the rule of law. But what are people going to do about the big dark chasm that is the world of loyalist paramilitarism and criminality?

The most extraordinary - but seldom mentioned - statistics the IMC reports contain are those related to loyalist violence. There were zero republican shootings last Autumn. There were over 20 involving loyalists, who have carried out at least twice as many assaults as republicans since 2003.

Do the unionist parties, especially the DUP, have no responsibility at all in dealing with that crisis?

Or does the never ending ideological war have only enough room for one never-ending enemy of the people?

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