Countdown to Murder

The recent resumption of violence by the IRA has brought forth the predictable, worn-out denunciations and justifications. For socialists, the twin ‘issues’ of nationalism and political violence are surrounded on all sides by capitalist hypocrisy and nonsense

Some time before the 9th February, the Army Council of the IRA met somewhere in Ireland. These seven people, representing the minuscule Irish Republican Army, decided to recommence their war with a massive bomb in London. Effectively, this decision resulted in the death of two men and the injuring of scores of people none of whom had any power of decision in relation to the political situation in Ireland.

The seven members of the Army Council based the legitimacy of their right to kill other human beings on the result of elections held in Ireland in 1918 when, with a minority vote of the people of Ireland, Sinn Fein won a decisive electoral victory and an endorsement of its claim to speak for all the people of Ireland. Even the name that the 1996 Army Council used in its statement ending seventeen months of ceasefire was a throw back to the twenties and as fictious as the historical myths on which tlie IRA and Sinn Fein base their claim over the lives of others.

According to the IRA and Sinn Fein the results of the 1918 election remain valid today — more than three quarters of a century later — because the British government of the time used violence to frustrate the establishment of a politically independent Ireland by Sinn Fein who, in accordance with the peculiarities of what passes for democracy in capitalism, had been given a mandate to establish an Irish republican state.

Transfixed in time

Based on this logic the IRA and Sinn Fein see the changing population of Ireland as transfixed in time without the right to waver from the decision of its dead generations. Those dead generations were essentially conservative and reactionary; largely Catholic, they would have bitterly opposed womens’ rights, abortion, divorce and many other issues that Sinn Fein supporters currently espouse.

As for Sinn Fein itself, in 1918 a primary object of its vision of independence was the legislative right to afford trade protection for a fledging southern Irish capitalism. Again and again, from its establishment in 1905, Sinn Fein leaders had reiterated the importance they placed on the question of protecting the south’s nascent capitalist industries. Indeed it was the implications of this very policy for the northern capitalists, whose highly developed industries were dependent on the British home market and Empire Preference that fuelled much of the conflict and which was translated by the politicians into nationalistic and religious bigotry.

Sinn Fein might still emphasise its national capitalist credentials for its American backers but at home it uses the lexicon of the Left. In essence, its strategy for employment, housing and education is to demand — ironically, from what it sees as the British occupying power in Ireland — massive financial intervention. In other words, it has reserved the right to change completely the policies on which it fought the 1918 elections and yet insists that the people of modem Ireland have to abide by the electoral decisions of their grandparents!

The Army Council

Given the power which the IRA reserves for its Army Council, the power over life and death for anyone on these islands — or indeed, further afield, if these mysterious seven people so decide — it is fair to ask who are they and how did they come by their awesome power.

The secret lies in the interpretation Sinn Fein and the IRA put upon the results of that famous election in 1918. Sinn Fein became the government of a mythical Irish Republic, a new 32-county independent Irish state and the IRA became the army of the Irish republic. The new ‘government’ reserved the right to delegate its powers to the army’s controlling body, the Army Council of the IRA. With the luxury of perpetual power without the inconvenience of accepting any of the subsequent electoral verdicts of the people of Ireland, north or south, the IRA, which, at some points in its history has numbered only a score of largely inactive members, can elect seven people, unknown to the general public and even to republican supporters, who have power over the lives of people and power to repudiate any democratic decision of the people.

It is the current Army Council, seven people who can seriously believe they have rights over and above the whole people of these islands or of Ireland alone, who have decided to revert again to the bomb and the bullet. That people who can accept such nonsense can wield such power is frightening but, despite the selective and blinkered condemnations of politicians and opinion formers — whose grossly undemocratic powers are, also, frightening — what passes for freedom and democracy in capitalist society has usually been founded on force and, always, capitalist peace is, at best, an accommodation between conflicting interests.

John Major and his pompous representative in Northern Ireland, Patrick Mayhew, were indignant about the decision of the IRA Army Council to end the ceasefire. Both pointed out, as we have so often done in the past, that the Provisional IRA have no democratic mandate to wage war. This, of course, can not be challenged but when Major and Mayhew make the claim it is on the back of the assumption that Britain has a democratic right to wage war in Ireland — for, of course the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland has been to resist a challenge to British power in Ireland. When, it is reasonable to ask, did a British government seek a mandate from the people of Ireland, or, even, the people of the UK, to rule Ireland and to wage war in pursuit of that rule?


Pressed to a defence of its violence, the IRA draws analogies with its opponents and, of course, the British and the Unionists have been as ready as the IRA to use violence, or the threat of violence, when it suited their interests. To the socialist, however, the claim that you are no worse than your opponents seems a poor defence!

Britain’s role over the centuries has been brutal in Ireland and at times almost genocidal. Neither the Irish nationalists nor the unionists have been shy about using violence and in the present century it was the threat of illegal armed violence by the Unionists and their friends in the British Conservative Party that presaged the nationalist violence of 1916 and 1919/22.

The ceasefire broke down because of the utter hypocrisy of the British Government and the Unionists and the absurd strategy of the seven people who form the IRA’s Army Council. The argument that they will not negotiate with men of violence used by interests that are themselves no strangers to violence is hypocritical and when viewed empirically, shown to be nonsense. When Unionists use this form of cant it simply means that they see the IRA as militarily defeatable; if they envisaged the IRA as having the potential for a military victory, ‘common sense’ would gain a new fashion within Unionism!

Unfortunately the politicians in Northern Ireland have learned little over the past twenty-five years, especially the Unionists — apart from ‘loyalist’ spokespersons thrown up by the paramilitaries. Paisley was rabble-rousing and Trimble was looking over his shoulder and trying to compete with Paisley and both were intent in translating the IRA ceasefire into a victory for old-style Unionism. Ironically, Unionism’s potential victory was in the willingness of the IRA, for the first time ever, to discuss the establishment of agreed and stable institutions in Northern Ireland which the whole of nationalist Ireland had traditionally proclaimed to be an ‘unstable political unit’.

Decommissioning of illegal weapons became the peg Unionism decided to hang its policy on — as though the problems that created the desire for weapons would disappear if the guns were out of the way. There was no ‘decommissioning’ of angry tongues; Paisley bellowed the sectarian nonsense which is his political stock-in-trade and, when wiser council was called for, Trimble was competing with Paisley at Drumcree!

Of course the IRA are murderers; killers of innocent men, women and children. But they are not alone; they are part of a grand conspiracy against real peace and democracy in Northern Ireland and the components of that conspiracy are the self-interested politicians who see in the possibility of peace the eclipsing of their squalid political careers.

And after the recent killings by the IRA, the predictable reaction — indeed the nearest thing the IRA may have had to an excuse — was the latent hatreds which its actions re-awakened especially among prominent politicians and journalists. It was hard to believe that the baying voices with the quite proper accusations of senseless slaughter and challenges of right were around a few years ago when Major and his ‘army council’, without any recourse to democratic consent, undertook the slaughter of the innocents of Baghdad.

Behind all the ideologies and conflicts that underlie all wars and all violence are the contradictions created among peoples by the divisive interests of capitalism. It follows that the only real ‘peace process’ is the struggle to end capitalism and institute a democratic system of social equality in which such interests could not exist.

Richard Montague