Another ‘Pathetic Grubby Little War’

Parliamentary Brief December 2009

The decision of the Sinn Fein leadership to become part of the British administration it had earlier unleashed the IRA against was supposed to herald an end to all republican political violence. Gerry Adams, the alpha and omega of Provisional IRA political violence, would be allowed to dig deep into British pockets in return for getting rid of the IRA. His party would ensure that the British state got the protection it paid for. No more armed attacks on its forces or trespassing on its property.

Things haven’t quite worked out that way. Both Sinn Fein and the British state could have learned something from Harold MacMillan when he said ‘events, dear boy, events.’ And it is those pesky things termed events that are causing concern within the wider British establishment in Northern Ireland including Sinn Fein; on average one armed event a day.

One PSNI member speaking to a Belfast newspaper in November claimed that ‘nothing about the real threat on the ground comes out to the public, but the reality is that it is very, very high.’ Many times throughout the period when Hugh Orde led the PSNI the threat was also said to have been very high. But up until March it was a threat that never quite proved effective. Then in the space of a few days two of the remaining IRAs between them killed three members of the British security services. Since then they along with others have kept their state adversaries busy to the point that there are some areas where the police dare not enter without ballistic body armour. There are other regions into which they fear intruding at all as was made manifest when a PSNI patrol turned back rather than confront a Real IRA team manning a roadblock in South Armagh.

According to Suzanne Breen, one of the North’s better informed journalists currently commenting on the ‘dissident threat’, republican activists of both the military and political variety, are being targeted at a level surpassing that seen during the Provisional IRA campaign.’ Stop and search procedures under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act are on the increase with 10,265 people having been subjected to the measure in one three month period compared to 1,657 for the same period a year earlier.

A matter of weeks ago Belfast police were under instruction to carry out surveillance on ten republicans suspected of being of a military disposition. Now that number is said to have trebled. If surveillance reflects the rate of recruitment to the armed dissidents groups throughout Northern Ireland, where there are said to be 200 republicans attracting the attention of the intelligence services, then the active IRAs are signalling their intent to stay in the game. Belfast, Derry, South Armagh, North Armagh, Fermanagh – the picture is the same; all hotspots that regularly made news features when the Northern conflict was at its height are again grabbing the headlines. It was reported in the Sunday Times that ‘MI5 devotes 60% of its electronic surveillance operations and 15% of its manpower to spying on the dissidents.’ All of which uses up a lot of resources on a problem the Sinn Fein leadership was supposed to have sorted out for the British.

The Northern Irish columnist and historian Brian Feeney is not alone in saying that the strategic objective of armed republicans is to bring the British Army back on the streets so that they can have more targets, as well as causing Sinn Fein embarrassment by a troop presence the party was also meant to have saw the back of. But it is difficult to discern such a strategy amongst a disparate group of activists who belong to at least three different organisations. If there is no organisational unity it is hard to imagine a strategic unity.

The dissidents are not stupid people and it seems unlikely that they are trying to force a greater British military presence which will curb their room for manoeuvre even more than it is at present. They appear to mount operations whenever and wherever they can. They are aware that their campaigns will not force the British to up and leave Northern Ireland. Resisting rather than winning seems to be their raison d’etre. They feel an obligation to put up resistance to what they view as British occupation in Ireland.

Strange as it may seem to many who do not share their republican outlook, in reality all they are doing is following the course of action once prescribed by Gerry Adams the Sinn Fein president who told his followers that while British forces remained in Ireland armed struggle was a necessary and morally correct form of resistance. Adams unleashed a genie from its bottle which no one has been able to squeeze back in.

Nevertheless, it is important to place the ‘dissident threat’ in context rather than blow it out of proportion. The reason it looms large is unrelated to its scale but rather to it being viewed against a backdrop of a much promised peace process dividend: an end to all republican political violence. The performance gap between promise and delivery is amplifying the noise of dissident blasts and gunfire.

In terms of its overall efficacy the current campaign is roughly on the same scale as the Provisional IRA’s own armed struggle in 1997 before it called the ceasefire that led to the Good Friday Agreement. A leading figure in the RUC described that phase of Provisional IRA violence, in which the lives of policemen and soldiers were lost, as ‘a pathetic grubby little war.’

Observers, commentators and politicians could do worse than temper their alarmism.


  1. A lot to digest here Antony,

    There seems to be a high level of tension up there at the moment. The next marching season is going to stress test the Good Friday agreement like none before.


  2. Rory, the failure of Unionism to agree to the deal on policing and devolution is going to have people well switched off by the time the marching of July is upon us. They are basically happy to cut off their own nose to spite the Taig face. No change there. So sad SF have bent over so far backwards to accomodate the Union they can see their own tonsils up their own arse. But that's not enough for the Unionists.So needless too, that's the sad part.
    On the Liam Adams story, any truth he was last seen in Cambodia with Garry Glitter?

  3. The Belfast Agreement is the rock on which radical Irish republicanism has floundered. It not only helped destroy PIRA resistance to the occupation but allowed Sinn Féin to adopt the same mistaken strategy as Fianna Fáil and the Worker’s Party had in the past. That constitutional politics would yield Irish independence and unity. As a result, the Six County State and Unionism were strengthened.

    To paraphrase James Connolly; ‘If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the socialist republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you, she will rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country watered by the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs’.

  4. good morning anthony

    i know i'm a off the subject, but
    i'm wondering if you know why the
    rushlight forum isn't up

    let me know if you have any
    information, will you?
    tony donovan

  5. Republican Network,

    I think republicanism is alive and well and re-grouping after the Good Friday sell out.

    The problem is there are many disparate groups each following it's own agenda.

    The RIRA faction seems to be gaining confidence, this could lead to an escalation of violence in the near future.

    I don't know who you represent, but I think it is time for a 'broad front' of anti-Good Friday Agreement Republicans with some kind of agreed co-ordinated agenda.

    Factional violence and terrorism will lead back to the horrors of the troubles, in unity there is strength.


  6. Mackers, on a brighter note, solved the riddle of Marty. A lot of people were saying that, he had crossed over to the dark side! not true, internet problems. Yep he is experiencing serious problems with his hard drive.

    Loved this piece "grubby little war" certainly gives plenty of food for thought. All those "dissidents" must be heartened by the fact that "Big Pompous" (who no doubt is beating his way up to communion as we speak) will be praying for their black republican souls.

    Also thought the input by "Republican Network" was brill!

  7. Nuala, good news about Marty. He is much missed. Hope we get him back online soon.

  8. 'The IRA in the twilight years'
    good book,lot of food for thought in there too....similar story!

  9. Does anyone really believe that these dissenters so to speak, are really threatening Gerry & Co? It just seems every time they land themselves in a quandry, which is practically every day, a new death threat emerges. I recently asked a member of Sinn Fein, why we never get to hear which organisation actually threatens these people?
    She answered, "Is it not enough peoples' lives are being threatened without giving you's the gory details" I explained I was asking because, I thought it was all hot air and scare mongering. To which she replied, "typical".

  10. Nuala, I never believed it. But when Mitchell's home was attacked with petrol bombs I began to wonder. I still don't think it is anywhere near what SF say it is but I have met one or two republicans with a visceral hatred of the Shinners that the thought struck me it would not take much for them to harm them. I imagine that wiser heads prevail and talk the nonsense out of them. Some in the republican community have an outlook that borders on fascist. I recently watched the bile they heaped on the head of Tommy McKearney because he spoke out about the uselessness of the Masserene killings

  11. "Another ‘Pathetic Grubby Little War’"

    I don't think it is. To me it's the same 'grubby little war' that's been going on since the start of the 80's. Some of the players are different but the untouchables remain just that untouchable...Like Susan Breen's article about Gerry McGeough when he said . 'Why am I on trial and not McGuinness?'

    On your friends problem with his HDD ask him to try to download from this link...
    Burn it on to Cd and try to boot his PC's a more forgiving OS than windows. He can boot form it with out installing...

  12. This a very relevant quotation of Connolly, thank you Republican Network. The same does apply to the Basque independance, the independantist movement is very clear on that: The basque independance is worth to be achieved provided its establishes a socialist society. If it it deals with repeating the neo liberal ideology, better forgeting about it.
    And yes, even from a foreign perspective, it is high time a united anti GFA front started to appear.

  13. Read the article in the Irish News today about Gerry Mc Geogh. It's probably true that anyone anti GFA will be picked off and either scandalised or stitched up.
    THEY HAVEN'T GONE AWAY YOU KNOW the R.U.C. that is. Why is Gerry Adams not in jail on charges and how can Eamon Mc Cann be chastised for suggesting if Adams were a Bishop he'd have resigned by now?
    Watched his speech at the RDS on RTE and the party MLA's were like wee kids getting a pat on the head from the teacher in P3 when he mentioned them by name in the speech. Quite embarrassing.When he goes SF are gone with him. That's why he hasn't for the charges issue over protecting and promoting Gary Glitter [ sorry I meant Liam] well that's anyones guess.