Comment: By Rian Whitton
On the 22nd of March, a terrorist was gunned down after stabbing a Police Officer and mowing down pedestrians in Westminster. There was no debate or nuance as to the justice served on this person. The day before, a terrorist with a far more extensive list of victims passed away to a chorus of adulation our nation usually reserves for the Chinese Communist leadership.
And why not. Though Martin McGuinness, the former IRA gangster turned Republican statesman failed to acquire Northern Ireland physically, the ‘peace’ process he engineered signalled a triumph over the British will which may very possibly lead to Irish unification.
Some of the eulogies were to be expected. Tony Blair and his team were clearly keen to trumpet their ability to accommodate McGuinness, as without the Good Friday agreement, New Labour’s legacy seems even more hollow. Upon signing the agreement, Blair claimed to have felt the ‘hand of history’ on his shoulders. These spasms of self-diagnosed divine providence would become a recurring feature of his career.
The Left were always resolute in their support of Republicanism, extending to Republican terror. Why should the IRA have a propaganda arm when the films of Ken Loach and other auteurs have done so much to lionise these gangsters, with virtually no reciprocal effort to humanise the Loyalists or those who never partook in the violence. Jeremy Corbyn is an avowed supporter of a reunited Ireland, and has stocked his creepy cavalcade with Sinn Fein’s former staffers.
Some have even compared McGuinness to Nelson Mandela. The fact that one represented a disenfranchised majority in an Apartheid regime and the other chose the route of violence in a free country with universal suffrage, is clearly a detail in the all-important narrative of reconciliation.
To have the supposedly unionist conservative prime minister kiss the dead hand of this torturer is quite something else. As Theresa May said, while you cannot condone this man’s early actions, he was apparently indispensable to restoring peace.
But what peace, exactly? The general view of the Good Friday agreement (never signed by the IRA) is that it was a victory for Blair’s statesmanship and kept the integrity of the United Kingdom.
However, there is precious little evidence to suggest the IRA has disposed of its weapons, and it maintains the right to muster arms again. When initial demands were made in 1996 for some disarmament, Republicans bombed Canary Wharf, killing two and injuring dozens. The demand was subsequently dropped.
James McArdle, though convicted of this atrocity, was among the many militants released under the Good Friday agreement. James Magee, responsible for the Conservative party conference bombing in 1984, was likewise granted his liberty. Does this really look like anything short of surrender? When the rule of law is subverted for the sake of a peace that can’t last without the eventual loss of territory?
Surveillance equipment was removed and Ulster thoroughly demilitarised. Should an event occur how likely is it that sending soldiers would precipitate a crisis? The Royal Ulster Constabulary was given the Blairite treatment, divested of any British characteristics and lost its effective special branch. To this day, Sinn Fein is the only party in the UK that can raise funds from abroad.
The agreement’s defenders seem to believe the best way to preserve peace is to part form from democratic tradition; making coalition involuntary and codifying sectarian division through defining a police-force’s effectiveness by its ethnic make-up. Apparently the progressive stance is to turn your country into Lebanon, fattening up a former enemy with a £100,000 salary he can then fund his cause with. This was the life McGuinness enjoyed as deputy leader of the power-sharing arrangement.
Then there is chance for continual referenda on Irish unification, showcasing the asymmetry we see in Scotland. Should, on the first go, Northern Ireland decide to remain in the Union, then there is a minimum 7-year waiting period before another one can be triggered. Should the vote come out for reunification, it is permanent. The Irish dream can wait, but under current provisions, the break up of the British union is a matter of demographics and time.
A Change of Tactics
No side was innocent in the Troubles. There were individual loyalists of similar disposition to McGuinness, and the Security forces blundered too often. But by any assessment, the bulk of the killing was done by the IRA, and their rampage set the tone for the conflict from the early sixties. If any public figure or social commentator expressed solidarity with a far-right group like Greece’s Golden Dawn, their career would be jettisoned. Ukippers and Le Pen supporters are considered to be Nazis and Trump is thought a monster, but McGinness, a leading figure of Europe’s most bloody post-war paramilitary group, deserves a swan song by no less than President Clinton.
But perhaps forgiveness is an important part of politics, and in our moral goodness, we should bestow such a gratitude to McGuinness. As Douglas Murray notes, it is those like Lord Tebbit (who’s wife was paralysed by an IRA bomb) who are considered ‘churlish’ for refusing to partake in this unpalatable capitulation. McGuinness never sought forgiveness, nor admitted any wrongdoing. He considered both terror and the peace process as complimentary phases to a political end, never renouncing the former but for the expectation of eventual victory. As his comrade Gerry Adams claimed in 2000….
And the words of IRA affiliate Brian Keenan post-agreeement in 2002:
‘We’ll use each and every phase of struggle to prosecute the revolution…Those who say the war is over, I don’t know what they’re talking about. What war? The revolution can never be over until we have our country, until we have British imperialism where it belongs, in the dustbin
By its compromise, the British state has accepted the imposition that the peace can only be made permanent by the ‘greening’ and eventual taking of Ulster.
There was no renunciiation of violence. It had taken the insurgency as far as it could, and would now be replaced by the combination of Republican dishonesty and Westminster’s craven acceptance in the form of ‘peace at any cost’. The IRA had codified this grand strategy in a little-known document titled ‘the tactical use of armed struggle’, or TUAS. The document stipulates that Britain’s lack of economic interest in Northern Ireland suggested to the IRA that a united Ireland was attainable by entering talks, and that the British could be nudged towards it with violence, as exemplified by the bombing of Canary Wharf.
As Michael Gove notes, the eventual agreement rested on the British belief that terorrism could be tamed by changing democracy to suit terrorists. Why would McGuinness, Keenan and Adams continue the violence when it had delivered their legitimacy?
Was it possible to militarily defeat the IRA? By most accounts, British Intelligence had penetrated the organisation to a high degree. the Royal Ulster Constabulary and SAS had suppressed activity in former strongholds like Belfast and Armagh. It is however difficult to know, considering the IRA had long received tacit, and then official support, from cynical Democrats in the US, putting immense pressure on Britain. The end of the Soviet Union and the replacement of Cold Warriors with Clintonites in Washington had clouded America’s judgement about who its allies were.
Perhaps following McGuinness’s departure, peace will last. However, Britain’s impending secession from the EU raises the question of a hard border, possibly instigating a crisis. As shown, the cause of Irish Republicanism has shifted from violence for practical rather than normative reasons, and rests on the perceived inevitability of reunification.
We have every reason to believe that should a hard border be instituted, or a referendum called, that tensions will rise again. At that point, we might wonder whether our agreement with McGuinness was a masterstroke of statecraft, or rather a veiled capitulation that allowed the problem to fester and metastasise, just in time for another generation to reap the consequences of acomadating terror.