Never exactly popular in the British media, the IRA and Sinn Féin have complained of a “sustained campaign” being waged against them. The IRA was blamed for the £26.5m Northern Bank raid. Members of the IRA/SF were accused of killing Robert McCartney, as well as removing evidence in a cover-up and intimidating witnesses. Because of the various rackets it runs and the violence it uses in punishment beatings and shootings the IRA has been branded a criminal gang of thugs. Sinn Féin has been told by politicians from Britain, Ireland and the US to get rid of its “private army” if it wants to take any further part in the institutions of democracy.
What’s different about these attacks is that they’ve not only come from the expected British sources, but also from the Irish government, leading Irish Americans, and from ‘nationalist’ areas and SF supporters in Northern Ireland.
Leftists support nationalist gangs
In the context of this media barrage, the leftist groups have, in their different ways, come to the defence of Irish nationalism. Workers Power (March 2005) issued a straight “Hands off Sinn Féin!” against the “filthy attempt by the unionists and the British and Irish governments to isolate and intimidate republicanism”. The British Socialist Worker (26/3/5) said “Don’t fall for the politicians’ campaign against Sinn Féin”.
The Irish Socialist Worker (No 237), more critical of the IRA, felt that its “conspiratorial methods mean that the IRA has come to act as a power over their neighbourhoods” and that “the desire to seek power over communities means that IRA men also act like a local police force.” They criticise Sinn Féin for accepting money from Coca Cola, SF Ministers at Stormont for presiding over cuts and privatisation, SF councillors in Derry for attacking absenteeism and low productivity, and SF councillors who’ve worked with Paisley’s DUP to push budgets and targets. At root they see the IRA/SF as coming from a different tradition that is ‘elitist’ and ‘conspiratorial’: undemocratic rather than anti-working class.
The World Socialist Web Site (7/3/5) thought that “power sharing” had been ”translated into an agreement on the part of Sinn Féin to police the Catholic population”. The Weekly Worker (25/2/5) ridiculed SF’s craving for respectability and its transition into a proper constitutional party.
There is an idea here that the IRA once defended ‘nationalist communities’, but, for various reasons, it has degenerated. The Irish Socialist Worker said that “Robert McCartney’s sister put her finger on a real problem when she talked about a New IRA and an Old IRA”. Catherine McCartney compared the “struggle” of the past with the “criminal gangs” of today. Gemma McCartney saw “parallels between the current generation of IRA thugs and the Nazis”.
IRA – force for social control
At the end of the 1960s, in the demonstrations, riots, bombings and the driving out of thousands of people from their homes, the IRA’s role was initially limited. It had next to no weapons and was heading for a split between Officials and Provisionals in December 69. Not surprisingly “IRA – I Ran Away” appeared on walls in Belfast and Derry.
When the Provisional IRA did start acquiring finance and weapons it was in pursuit of their nationalist goals. They wanted to make Northern Ireland ungovernable and assumed that a continual campaign of disruption and destruction would create turmoil which would force Britain to withdraw. Some of the Provisionals’ first leaders were influenced by the success of the Irgun terrorist group against British targets in Palestine in the 1940s. As well as military targets, the Irgun bombed market places, cafes, hotels, banks and other ‘soft’ targets. These would be the means adopted by the IRA in the battle for a United Ireland – terrorist means are completely in keeping with the pursuit of a nationalist goal.
At the level of the ‘nationalist community’, the IRA behaved as a military force right from the start. The example of Ballymurphy (where Gerry Adams comes from) in Belfast shows the dynamic of republicanism at war. By January 1971 rioting had been regularly going on there for 6 months. The IRA thought it was no longer serving their interests. One night they succeeded in limiting disturbances by putting some of the participants under armed arrest. The next day the British army contacted the IRA. “The military were appealing to the IRA for help in controlling Ballymurphy”. One of the IRA men at the meeting said “If you get out of Ballymurphy, we can control it without your assistance”. By the end of the meeting “the British army seemed happy enough to allow the IRA to keep order in Ballymurphy” (Ballymurphy and the Irish War, Ciarán De Baróid).
Although this particular arrangement was only temporary, it’s a formal expression of the understanding there has been ever since between the British army and paramilitaries in both loyalist and republican areas. Against petty crimes, as well as more serious ‘anti-social’ behaviour, and in defence of their various business ventures such as drug dealing, paramilitary gangs have served as judge, jury and executioner – with punishments from beatings and kneecappings to exile or death. The IRA have not suddenly started policing neighbourhoods; it’s been going on since the Provisionals first emerged.
IRA and US imperialism
When the McCartney sisters met George Bush during their American visit they heard that “there are people going on the radio back home saying that we’re visiting the world’s biggest terrorist”. Martin McGuinness warned them of the danger of being used as political pawns. That was the grossest of hypocrisy. Sinn Féin has been openly consorting with US presidents since 1994 when Clinton gave Gerry Adams a visa, and then lifted the ban on the group so that they could legally raise tens of millions of dollars from American supporters. In the talks that led up to the Good Friday Agreement SF were in round-the-clock contact with the White House, not able to take a step without the approval of US imperialism.
Even after his recent snub in Washington, Adams remained convinced that the basic position of the US administration had not changed. Although if it did “I would be very, very perturbed”.
US manipulation of Sinn Féin and the IRA against Britain has greatly increased since the end of the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ in the early 1990s. Britain is no longer a loyal lieutenant in a US imperialist bloc against the USSR. It has tried to forge an independent imperialist policy, which the US has used every means to try to restrain. In Ireland Britain has used everything from demands for decommissioning, allegations of IRA spying, and now the charges of murder and robbery to limit the role of Sinn Féin
The loyalty of Irish republicanism to the US comes from a whole historical period in which an independent Ireland is impossible. As Trotsky said after the Easter Rising of 1916 “an ‘independent’ Ireland could exist only as an outpost of an imperialist state hostile to Britain” (Nashe Slovo 4/7/16). Because of this Irish nationalism has always courted powers that could take on British imperialism, particularly Germany and the US. The famous proclamation made in front of the Post Office in Dublin in 1916 refers to the support of “exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe”. This is not just a topical reference to the abortive attempt to use American money to get arms from Germany, but an acknowledgement that no nationalist movement can make advances without becoming a piece in greater imperialist conflicts.
If US rebukes to Sinn Féin prove to be more than passing it will not be because of what Edward Kennedy calls “the IRA’s ongoing criminal activity and contempt for the rule of law”. It will be because US imperialism is using other means to pursue its interests. Car 28/3/5