Republican feuds and splits can be very destabilising, so even as a Unionist, I take no pleasure in listening to Provisional Sinn Fein representatives talking about warnings over checking their cars following threats from the dissident republican faction, the New IRA.
Having at long last got the Stormont institutions up and running after a three-year stalemate, the final straw which could potentially wreck the process again is another republican civil war.
Having interviewed a source from the New IRA during my time at the Irish Daily Star, I was left with the distinct impression that whilst small in number with no wide voter base within the republican electoral community, nonetheless, the New IRA was a fanatical faction capable of inflicting serious damage to the peace process in Ireland.
Unionists should most definitely not snigger when they hear of Sinn Fein representatives warning about potential attacks with the view ‘slap it into them after all the IRA bombs; they are getting a dose of their own medicine!’
Unionists should worry about the consequences of the Provisional IRA’s ruling Army Council taking the decision to physically take on the dissidents.
Given the Sinn Fein ‘protest vote surge’ in this month’s Dail General Election, and especially, the inability of the 33rd Dail to elect a new Taoiseach or form a new coalition government because not enough TDs want to ‘get into bed politically with the Shinners’ are also destabilising barriers to the long-term security of the peace process in a post-Brexit Ireland.
Ironically, we are only a few years away from the centenary of the first Irish Civil War in the 1920s when the anti-Treaty IRA turned on the pro-Treaty republicans. Indeed, during that conflict, more IRA members were executed by the Free State Army than were killed in the previous War of Independence against the British forces.
Feuding is as common in republicanism as so-called ‘recreational rioting’. A jibe often repeated is that when a new republican group is formed, the first item on the agenda is always ‘the split’.
Republican history, especially in the 20th century, is littered with feuds. There was the original fallout between the Official IRA and the fledgling Provisional IRA over the political direction of the republican movement.
Then there was the violent feud between the Official IRA and the newly formed Irish National Liberation Army. Move into the 1980s, and there was the bitter internecine fighting between the various factions within the INLA, with a number of significant terrorists killed by their own people.
When the Irish People’s Liberation Army (IPLO) faction emerged, the Provisional IRA launched a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ to wipe out that specific movement.
Perhaps this political bitterness goes back to the argument as to who are the true followers of the people who organised the failed Dublin Easter Rising in 1916. Put bluntly, which republican faction can legitimately lay claim to the legacy of Connolly and Pearse?
Is it an organisational claim, historical claim, or ideological claim? Provisional Sinn Fein would say Connolly and Pearse belong to that organisation as, historically, it was founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith.
However, when Sinn Fein abandoned its abstentionist policy of taking Dail seats in 1986, and sparked a walkout by supporters of Ruairi O’Bradaigh who then formed Republican Sinn Fein - which became the apologist for the Continuity IRA faction - surely RSF/CIRA is the genuine republican movement?
Or, is it by force of numbers? Provisional Sinn Fein has by far the greatest number of elected representatives in councils, Westminster, the Dail and the European Parliament compared to other Sinn Fein-type parties. Does that specifically make Provisional Sinn Fein the legacy torch bearers of Connolly and Pearse?
Ideologically, Pearse was a devout Catholic who believed in the concept of the blood sacrifice. Connolly was a staunch communist who had founded his own Hard Left political movement, the Irish Socialist Republican Party (Not to be confused with the Irish Republican Socialist Party - the INLA’s political wing).
So, is Hard Left socialism the cornerstone of the republican movement rather than a defence of Catholic nationalism? Could this be why current Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has been trying to form a Broad Left ‘rainbow’ coalition of parties in the Dail to create a new government (perhaps even an unstable minority coalition government) in Leinster House?
Then again, is Sinn Fein moving away from its apologist politics of the early 1980s and defence of Provisional IRA actions and the republican hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981?
Ideologically, does Sinn Fein 2020 more resemble the now defunct Irish Independence Party of the late 1970s once fronted by ex-SDLP Larne-based politician John Turnley, who was murdered by the UDA in 1980?
Reading Sinn Fein’s Dail 2020 General Election manifesto, does it read as if it was written by Marxist activists from the Communist Party of Ireland?
Sinn Fein was always a fringe protest movement in Southern politics, and until this month, had been unable to repeat the General Election successes of 1918 when it won over 70 of the 105 House of Commons Irish seats when Ireland was entirely under British rule.
Being morbid and not wanting to be seen to stirring the pot, but how will the Provisional IRA Army Council react when the media runs the headline: ‘Sinn Fein MLA killed by New IRA car bomb’?
Will the IRA’s Army Council sit quiet and allow the British Army and PSNI to combat the threat from the New IRA, or will the IRA Army Council ‘break cover’ and order IRA members to carry out an ‘IPLO-style’ purge of the New IRA?
Such a return to violence by the Provisionals would have serious consequences for the peace process generally and the Stormont power-sharing Executive and Assembly in particular.
Or, would we see an equally tense situation emerge, whereby the New IRA - like the IPLO - issues a statement stressing that it has disbanded, and then re-emerges as the Very New IRA?
Any physical action by the Provisional IRA against the New IRA because of attacks or threats on Sinn Fein members or elected representatives would also seriously undermine senior Sinn Fein claims that it does not have its strings pulled by the IRA Army Council.
What is beyond any shadow of a doubt is that the peace process will not benefit from a second Irish Civil War between the Provisional IRA and New IRA.
Are we looking at a situation whereby just as negotiators brought Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA in from the political cold, some negotiators will have to take the brave step of bringing the New IRA in from the same political freezer? Who will blink first?