Anthony McIntyre reflects on Gerry Kelly's support for British state prosecution strategies against former IRA activists.
On occasion I relay the story of having received George Orwell’s Animal Farm from Gerry Kelly in the cages of Long Kesh in 1978. For Kelly there was something of the self-fulfilling prophecy to the book, which I had first been put through in primary school but then thought it was about animals. The politics of it all had not yet been imparted to us. By ‘78 I knew the story was about political animals who were much worse than the normal ones.
As nine-year olds we still believed in Santa although by the age of nineteen we had grown up and replaced one make-believe being with another who delivered as little as the first - revolutionaries. Kelly, alert to those who would abandon radicalism for a jaunt on the parliamentary gravy train, was keen to forewarn people to the shallowness and opportunism of those who set out on their activist odyssey full of revolutionary bombast just to end up standing on their hind legs, squealing like pigs and more closely resembling those they fought against than those they fought alongside.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.Gerry Kelly was widely regarded by many – although not by Brian Keenan – as a capable and effective IRA commander. While not of the school of thought which prefers a ballot box in one hand and an armalite in somebody else’s, as a senior leader he would have overseen activity conducted by IRA volunteers on the ground, Even Keenan could hardly dispute his personal courage.
It might be difficult for the same former volunteers to listen to one of their erstwhile leaders now endorsing their arrest by the British police, their prosecution by British authorities and their subsequent trial in a British juryless Diplock court, followed by a spell in prison. If they are perplexed by Kelly’s willingness to see them jailed, it is only because they have not yet come to accept the distance that Kelly has covered in the course of his political career. From Provo to Pigo, an upright citizen in so far as he has learned to stand on his hind legs.
In a contribution to a radio documentary, Drawing A Line Under the Troubles, produced by Peter Taylor, the first of many Provos to bomb London expressed his opposition to an amnesty for former combatants. He disputed claims by ex-British service personnel that the British government’s comfort letters to OTRs were tantamount to an amnesty, insisting that if new evidence emerges the British should be able to charge former IRA volunteers.
This comes at a time when his party is waxing angry about British police attempts to extradite John Downey to the North so that he might go through the process Kelly endorses. The basis for Sinn Fein’s opposition is therefore difficult to comprehend. Gerry Kelly believes former IRA members should be prosecuted by the British if new evidence emerges. If in the case of Downey there is new evidence, there is little for Sinn Fein to gripe about, having got what they wished for. Stand by to be shafted John Downey.
Party members will be instructed to believe that while the British have every right to arrest, prosecute and jail people for past IRA activity, the real manners are being put on the PSNI. If they continue to fall for that Benjamin Franklin’s response is appropriate: “we are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
The corner British state strategies of legitimation have painted Sinn Fein into is one where if the PSNI or MI5 find new evidence about the IRA activities of the republican generation of Bobby Sands, Kelly et al have no position to take other than argue that they should be pursued and prosecuted by the British, including those MLAs who were on hunger strike in the H Blocks. Having died protesting this deferential strain of logic, Sands has been spared the agony of being witness to the wholescale upending of everything he strived to assert. In the politics of the Pigos, his death permanent, his ideals a temporary expediency for themselves.
Given Kelly’s conversion to British justice standards, his media interlocuters may consider probing him on what his advice is for people who have information about past IRA operations that might constitute new evidence or at least open lines of investigation that could lead to new evidence. Should they give that information to British police or on what grounds should it be withheld? Kelly has previously expressed his enthusiasm for informing to the British police, but that seems to have been in respect of the current crop of republicans. Now that he is signalling the green light to the British pursuit of the men and women volunteers of the Sands generation, some clarity around his position on assisting the PSNI via informing is needed.
Moreover, he could also be invited to explain his stance on Operation Kenova, being managed by the British police officer John Boutcher. The investigation into Scappaticci prompted Britain’s then chief prosecutor for the North, Barra McGrory to say that it is not the state but IRA volunteers who carried out the associated killings “who have most to fear from the Stakeknife investigation.” This could lead to some of Kelly’s fellow Sinn Fein leaders being prosecuted, those who as army council figures perhaps signed off on the execution warrant. Might we witness the very strange spectacle of Bobby Storey, in deference to party policy, thundering how dare they not arrest his leader?
Kelly’s delegitimization of the Provisional IRA armed struggle is significant. Hypothetically placing him in the 1960s and 1970s, it is not counterintuitive to imagine him calling for volunteers who fought in the War of Independence or the Easter Rising some four or five decades earlier to be prosecuted by the British based on new evidence. As hopelessly pro-British as Liam Cosgrove, Paddy Donegan, Conor Cruise O’Brien or Paddy Cooney were, there appears to be nothing that would show them having called for the British to prosecute and imprison survivors from the Rising.
Gerry Kelly is too fluent in the language of flip-flop, failure and fiasco to begin learning a new tongue or to acquire a politics of his own. He is left only with the politics of what Gerry Adams thinks. He can never comprehend that it is immeasurably more radical to be the prosecuted than the prosecutor. Being able to stand on hind legs is no guarantee of farsightedness.
Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.
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