As threatening as the British Legion

Liam O Ruairc is a comrade from the republican socialist tradition

On Thursday 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA issued an important statement, declaring that its war is over: "The leadership of à“glaigh na hÉireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4pm this afternoon. All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms." For the first time since 1922, an organisation claiming to be the IRA has publicly declared that there is no need for an armed campaign, as it believes that "there is an alternative way" to achieve its objectives: namely "the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement". This goes much further than a cessation and dumping arms, which the IRA had done a few times before - in 1922, 1945 and 1962 for instance. "All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever." In other words, "Now they promise to be nothing more than an old boys' club for former volunteers. As of 4pm yesterday, promised republican Danny Morrison, the IRA will be about as threatening as the British Legion" (The Guardian July 29). Consequently, the statement confirms the Provisional leadership's intent "to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible" and informs that they "have invited two independent witnesses, from the protestant and catholic churches, to testify to this" (IRA statement An Phoblacht/Republican News July 28). It will thus complete the destruction of its arsenal. Prime minister Blair welcomed the IRA announcement as a "step of unparalleled magnitude ... The statement is of a different order than anything before." But how significant is the Provisional statement? "This morning's headlines should read, 'Excitable hacks go orgasmic over IRA statement.' But such headlines are 'not helpful to the peace process' and therefore long suffering readerships will have to endure the guff about seismic shifts, historic developments and whatever else takes the fancy of the scribbling class. Yesterday's statement by the IRA on its future merely formalised what we have known for quite some time - that the organisation's armed campaign against Britain ended in failure. The British are still here, the consent principle is safely enshrined and partition entrenched. Commentators can openly speculate on current IRA volunteers eventually becoming British bobbies. Hardly the heady stuff of revolutionary success" (The Daily Mirror July 29). That is why the 32 County Sovereignty Movement is correct when remarking the Provisional statement is "neither surprising nor historic": "If Provisional Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, who supported them at every turn, truly accepted the terms of the GFA, then today's statement cannot be viewed by republicans as surrender, but rather as the final act of a surrender that started many years ago" (press release, July 28). After all, the Provisional IRA had been on ceasefire since 1997, had accepted the legitimacy of the institutions it was supposed to destroy and decommissioned its weaponry. Therefore it was useless: "An army is an entity licensed by the state for one purpose: to fight ... When it denies itself the option of force it becomes irrelevant" (Belfast Telegraph July 29). Why was this statement issued? In the short term, it is to regain political initiative for the Provisional movement. In the wake of the Northern Bank robbery in Belfast, the money-laundering scheme that was then uncovered in the south, the killing of Robert McCartney and the subsequent attempt to cover-up Provisional complicity, Sinn Féin's advance in the 26 counties had stalled. Mr Adams's own personal rating - the key to their advance - had dropped. The Provisional leadership hopes that their statement should contribute to reverse that trend and increase their electoral appeal. The new move is also intended to put pressure on the Democratic Unionist Party to restart the executive alongside Sinn Féin. But, more fundamentally, Sinn Féin's aim of taking part in power-sharing in the north and of forming a coalition government in Leinster House made such a statement inevitable. There is a basic contradiction between accepting the legitimacy of a state, of its laws and institutions, the constitutional system and the rules of parliamentarism and agreeing to operate within their framework; and armed insurrectionary politics dedicated to overthrow them. One cannot accept that the state has the monopoly of legitimate force and at the same time have links to an illegal army refusing to recognise the legitimacy of two governments and ready to kill the servants of both. There was no chance that Fianna Fáil or the Democratic Unionist Party would ever consider having Sinn Féin in government as long as they retain links to an illegal organisation carrying out unlawful activities. That is why sooner or later the Provisionals had to make such a statement. Back in 1986, Ruairi O Bradaigh issued a blunt warning: "The armed struggle and sitting in parliament are mutually exclusive," he said, as he forecast that those who followed the Adams strategy would be "signing their own extinction as revolutionaries". "The O Bradaigh prediction finally came true last week," concluded the Sunday Tribune (July 31). Incidentally, there is consensus amongst allies and critics that the statement was the logical outcome of the Provisionals' gradual transition into parliamentarism and constitutional nationalism: "How Adams, the president of Sinn Féin, and McGuinness, his chief negotiator, succeeded in taking an armed revolutionary movement and placing it on a road to peaceful political activism is an extraordinary story," writes Niall O Dowd, the Provisionals' main ally in the US. "The IRA decision to abandon its armed campaign was an inevitable outgrowth of the long-held plans of Adams and McGuinness" (Los Angeles Times July 29). The same conclusion is reached by former IRA chief of staff and president of Sinn Féin Phoblachtach, Ruairi O Bradaigh, for whom the Provisionals' statement is "the logical outcome of the change of direction they made in 1986 when they deserted the revolutionary road and started out on the constitutional path through the partitionist institutions north and south. As Republican Sinn Féin has forecast, they are being slowly and steadily absorbed into the English system in Ireland ... Eventually they will be unrecognisable. The Provisionals should discard the trappings of the Republicanism they once served. Like Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Workers Party, they have betrayed it. They are no longer Republicans (Ruairi O Bradaigh, statement, July 28). Interestingly, historians do not just agree with Kevin Bean that "the soldiers of the legion of the rearguard follow the soldiers of destiny", but point out that Adams actually outdid De Valera (see Brian Feeney, The Irish News July 29). Eamon Phoenix writes that the Provisional movement "has opted for the de Valera path of purely constitutional means but, crucially, it has surpassed the Fianna Fáil founder by carrying the IRA with it" (The Irish News July 29). What now? Logically, once the Provisionals agree not to oppose the armed forces of the state, they will have to explicitly accept the state's monopoly of armed force and agree to observe its laws. In practice, this means supporting the police forces north and south of the border. There is a contradiction between Sinn Féin being involved in a Stormont executive and making laws for Northern Ireland, but withholding support for the police service which enforces those laws. "It would be a massive step. It's even bigger than going into Stormont. Policing is what it's all about - it's what we fought a war against," declared a former high-ranking member of the IRA, Dan Keenan (The Irish Times July 30). The question of the Provisionals backing the Police Service of Northern Ireland is not a question of 'if' but 'when'. This is a necessary preliminary to Sinn Féin going into a power-sharing executive and a coalition governmen.