The Fenian Way ✒ continues his exchange with Anthony McIntyre on the inferences to be drawn from John Crawley's book which detailed systemic shortcomings within the IRA.

AM: One of the more salient points from your end of the exchange has been the absence of strategy on the military front. You make the case that such strategic frailty could only but have a knock-on effect rippling into the political front. The IRA ended up not getting bangs for bucks at negotiations with the British. A weak military strategy arguably gave it a poor bargaining hand in political negotiations. We have seen the result in the internal solution that the Sinn Fein negotiators agreed to. While I not precious about the historical parallels and line of continuity that one school of thought sees as defining the post-1969 IRA, I think it is a legitimate point to make that the leadership’s embracing of an internal solution has lifted it out of the republican anti-Treaty camp and placed it firmly in the Treaty camp that accepted partition a century ago. The recent leaders just agreed to the continuation of that partition. In that respect there are obvious parallels to be drawn between the two eras.

TFW: In Tim Pat Coogan’s biography of Michael Collins, Robert Barton - one of the Treaty delegates - made the following prescient observation: ‘Once we conceded that we were not representatives of the Irish Republic we were on the road to disaster.’ In other words, the Irish side allowed the British to define their status in the negotiations and by default allowed them to define the parameters of any possible settlement.

AM: Which is exactly what the British did with the leadership of Adams and McGuinness. It got them to agree to negotiations which were ringfenced in by partition. To borrow a description you used in offline conversation, the IRA had effectively accepted its status as the protector or guarantor of the Sinn Fein electorate and little more. Under such circumstances, the only outcome was going to be partition no matter how many shamrocks were painted on the partition wall.

TFW: In not bringing the stance of the army’s constitution to negotiations the IRA leadership fell into the same trap described by Barton. At that point the British Government looked upon Irish republicans as a regional political grouping in the UK looking for improved status within that region. As did the Dublin and US Governments also.

AM: That was entirely consistent with the outworking of an internal solution predicated on an internal conflict model in relation to the North. In fact, Brandon Sullivan in the comments after the last exchange asked the question if the entire war was little more than an armed negotiation that concluded with an agreement to improve the lot of Northern nationalists without impacting on the question of partition and sovereignty. I'm thinking about how the army constitution might have protected the negotiators. What was in the constitution that if adhered to would have acted as a safety rail for the negotiators to hold onto as they navigated choppy waters?

TFW: The constitution was a safety rail for the army and volunteers themselves. All leaderships are fallible so they should be replaceable. There is an onus on any leadership to pursue political contacts with friend and foe alike, but the process has to be predicated on the fundamentals of the IRA’s constitution and stated objectives. I applaud any leadership that has the courage to pursue strategic ideas but if those ideas fail it’s that leadership which should fall on its sword and not the army itself. Now, having seen the negative impacts the irreplaceable mindset had on armed struggle, that same mindset was now being brought into a negotiations process commencing with British Security personnel, the same personnel who were on top of their brief where the IRA’s campaign was concerned.

AM: The British had the measure of the leadership. I shared a panel at a book launch in London in 2008 with the late John Chilcott. He told the audience that by the early 90s the British government no longer regarded the IRA as being in the top tier of its concerns, they knew where it was heading. On hugging the army constitution, sometimes when republicans raise these matters they find themselves accused of being hooked on technicalities or unthinkingly theological. Unfavourable comparisons are made with those who continue to preach that the Second Dail is the legitimate government of Ireland and the army council of whatever IRA they favour is the de jure government until such times as an all-Ireland election is held. All that can sound arcane and archaic to the modern ear. I think you see the army constitution as vastly different from republican purist theology and are inclined to view it as a necessary checks and balances mechanism to protect the volunteers from a wayward leadership, and also to protect a leadership from getting sucked into talks with enemy negotiators where the risk of having the safety tether deliberately sliced is substantial. This is to be considered in the context of certain army leaders wishing to exempt themselves from the army constitution so that they would have a free hand in talks. I am interested in pursuing in our next exchange how this played out, and the arguments presented by those seeking exemption as to why they should be granted it. For now, what exactly was in the army constitution that was being breached?

TFW: The basis upon which the IRA engaged in armed struggle in the first place was being breached. As was the role and functions of the Army Council, the Army Executive and the Army Convention. That leadership treated the IRA as a militia and negotiated with the British on that basis.

AM: Why I am considering the question of the army constitution is that key army figures who were doubling up as Sinn Fein negotiators might have seen the constitution as inhibiting their freedom to behave in a certain way during negotiations; that they may have been working to an agenda very different from what the army constitution would allow and did not want constrained by it. This opens up the line pursued by many of the leadership’s critics that the negotiators had long been seeking to wind down the armed struggle well short of the army’s objectives and planned to negotiate accordingly. However it is measured, compared against the IRA’s demands for a British declaration of intent to withdraw, the negotiators settled for a British declaration of intent to stay on the very terms the British had given for remaining in Ireland – the consent of a majority in the North. Which wholly inverts and subverts the logic of the armed struggle.

TFW: The strategic approach they brought to the negotiations table was the Hume/Adams document, a document few have seen. At its core was the acceptance of the principle of consent in return for governments adopting a persuading position regarding unionists and unification. What role could armed struggle possibly have in such a process?

AM: Yet, when Seamus Mallon slammed the 1994 stalling by the leadership on the pretext of seeking clarification of the Downing Street Declaration, insisting that there was no appreciable difference between Hume/Adams and the Declaration, they denied it. They mumbled and muttered, nodded and winked,  but would never produce Hume/Adams so that we could make an informed opinion. I made this very point at a public debate in West Belfast on a panel I shared with a close friend and confidant from the jails, Pat McGeown. He disputed what I was saying but did not produce Hume/Adams to allow the matter to be settled. The lesson to be drawn was that the Brits at least were not hiding something in the Downing Street Declaration. They put it in the public domain. Not so with Hume/Adams. 

TFW: To my knowledge Hume/Adams was never published. To return to your point on the army constitution, it is not about viewing it as rigid orthodoxy, but it does lay down clear principles that allows us to move forward with the do’s and don’ts mapped out for us. And the first thing you don’t do is enter a so-called conflict resolution process by abandoning the legitimate foundations that led you to become engaged in that conflict in the first place.

The furtive nature of these matters doesn’t lend well to any sort of detailed analysis and may well depend on the release of State Papers in God knows when. But from what is in the public domain, and set against the final settlement, a credible picture can emerge of the catastrophe that these negotiations were for republican objectives.

Whether you ascribe to the idea of a deliberate wind down of armed struggle, or military illiteracy, or leadership apathy in favour of the constitutional approach, or any other theory, the net effect on the bargaining power of armed struggle remained the same. And the best guide to gauge the level of that bargaining power is to look at what the British were prepared to put on the table, or more to the point, what the British would allow at that table. National self-determination for the people of Ireland, the sole objective of the armed struggle, was not there.

Negotiations were championed as a ‘new area of struggle’, and they came with some new buzz words to give them a veneer of sophistication. But when you think that the main promoters of this approach, who were asking for a British withdrawal in the mid-seventies, were now asking for peace - on British terms - the omens did not bode well.

AM: It was crystal clear from the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993 that the British terms for remaining in the North had not changed in the slightest. When I was looking at what was happening during the negotiations, the leadership’s position was so far removed from what it had waged the war for, it made me think that they were like trade union leaders who had just negotiated a six-day week and lower wages. It sought to mask that by obtaining the endorsement of high profile former prisoners and prisoners who were still serving their sentences. It also took to bringing in people like Cyril Ramaphosa to not only anoint the decommissioning of IRA weapons but also to tart up in revolutionary mysticism what was in effect a retreat from any revolutionary stance in favour of piecemeal reformism.

TFW: There were attempts to justify the strategy by making comparisons with other contemporary struggles. I remember a political cartoon captioned booklet from the ANC was introduced at a meeting and the central point of it was that the ANC had called a ceasefire from a position of strength and as a result that strength would translate into negotiations with the South African government. The comparison was delusional on many fronts not least the nature of both conflicts and the military abilities of the IRA leadership.

All this was backroom stuff with an extremely slow drip-drip feed of information to volunteers and in all cases the information given referred to a fait accompli. Approval was never sought. Everything had to be taken at face value.

AM: It has been fashionable in some circles to promote the myth that the prisoners played a crucial role by making a serious input into the peace process. Knowing the prison situation as I do, this always prompts a raised eyebrow. The prison leadership at all times was effectively an extension of the IRA leadership into the ranks of the prisoners. It was not elected by the prisoners but appointed by the outside leadership. The emphasis was on loyalty rather than ability, although many prison leadership people had great ability. But ultimately the role of the prisoners was to legitimise the dominant power centre within the movement and to place their imprimatur on decisions already made. Prisoners were briefed after the decision was taken rather than consulted prior to it. And this mirrored the relationship between leadership and grassroots on the outside. The academic Dieter Reinisch has just published a book about the input of prisoners to the peace process. It will be interesting to study his take.

TFW: No one was consulted, least of all prisoners. The sophistry of the process coupled with the dangling carrot of potential early release was all they were afforded. We’ve covered the irreplaceable mindset and how it inspires a self-serving loyalty, and the language of that deeply flawed premise was at play here. But there were also glaring holes in that language. The concept of ‘The Integrated Strategy’ was introduced which was nothing more than an updated soundbite for the Armalite and Ballot Box. Except there was no military strategy to integrate.

The Tactical Use of Armed Struggle, the TUAS acronym which was mistaken in the media as the Totally Unarmed Strategy, but the armed struggle was devoid of coherent tactics. At a time when the armed struggle needed to be turned up to a more proficient level here was a strategy focused on thinking it could be turned on and off like a tap.

AM: Ed Moloney early on identified a trait of the leadership. It had an ability to play the same note but have it heard differently by governments and its own base. TUAS is a good example of this.

TFW: TUAS was the proverbial mercury and fork. It gave the impression there was a role for armed struggle, but the secretive Hume/Adams ruled that out. But the main political plank of this approach was the baseless belief that in return for fundamental compromises by the IRA and a ceasefire, the Dublin Government, Constitutional Nationalism and Westminster would begin persuading Unionists towards Irish unity. The question now remains, at what point in these pre-ceasefire negotiations did republican negotiators become convinced of this and what happened in post-ceasefire negotiations that proved the belief to be utterly delusional?

AM: You know my view on this. As far back as 1982 around the time of the assembly elections Adams and McGuinness stepped aside from their official army positions in the GHQ in order to run in elections, but remained on the army council. Ideas were being floated internally by Adams - which if implemented, according to those who considered them, would have resulted in a military cessation and a political outcome not vastly different from what exists today, in effect some form of internal solution. In my view a key leadership element, the hegemonic one in fact, had its eye on the complete abandonment of IRA objectives barely a year after the end of the 1981 hunger strike, and in its place agreed to an internal solution.

TFW: And again the veracity of that assessment can be gauged against what was settled for, despite the sophistry and spin. Where was the evidence that Dublin had any interest in pursuing a unity agenda given that they abandoned any notion of doing so when the Boundary Commission drifted into obscurity? Did those leaders really believe Albert Reynolds and his guff about taking risks for peace? When you think of the immense sacrifices and hardships undertaken by republicans and our communities for this struggle ask yourself this: who ever died or served time for Fianna Fáil (other than for corruption)? What are their republican credentials? The same people who sold us to the Catholic Church and brought over the English Hangman, set up the Special Criminal Court and encouraged the heavy gang, hijacked the body of Frank Stagg and censored us with Section 31; don’t go my friends, our new friends will lead us to the Republic.

AM: At the 1986 Ard Fheis McGuinness was denouncing those who called ceasefires and insisted he would lead us to the Republic. He didn’t, and if we ever get there, John Hume would have led us to the same place just as quickly and on the same British terms.

TFW: If the strategy was to make the ending of the ceasefire leverage on Dublin to become persuaders for unity it fell at the first fence when John Bruton stated that governments were not persuaders but facilitators for agreements. In trying to bring Constitutional Nationalism to the republican position they actually brought republicanism to adopt theirs.

AM: I have never believed at any point that the Adams camp gave any credence to the fanciful notion of the Dublin government becoming persuaders for unity. It knew that like the British, Dublin was only ever going to facilitate Irish unity if it was agreed on British and unionist terms: with the consent of a majority in the North. The persuaders language was simply subterfuge to wipe the eye of the rank and file.

TFW: The selling point to Volunteers was a mixture of belief in the abilities of the leadership being up to the task in these negotiations but also their use of the endorsement by high profile republicans to promote the unquestioning position ‘if it’s alright for so and so it’s alright for me’. A clear example was Brian Keenan’s public statement that the only thing that republicans would accept was the decommissioning of the British state in our country. Fantasy stuff!

In John Crawley’s book he recounts two high profile republicans doing a tour about the Long Kesh prison break, stalwarts of the leadership’s strategy, with the underlying message of destroying the system from within. It was all meant to deflect criticism of the strategy by inferring that to question the strategy was in some way questioning the integrity of the individuals involved. To reduce such a significant event in republican history as that escape to a grubby sideshow pedalling the leadership line was reminiscent of poor Geronimo, reduced to selling tales and trinkets to the tourists after his surrender.

All the debriefs were portrayed as positive and progressive: the Brits will climb down, Trimble will be back, decommissioning is a red herring etc. But there was unmistakeable choreography in selling this and the apocryphal ‘the war is over but we need your help to bring it to an end’ was clearly at play.

AM: This is a theme I would like to pursue further next time around. There were leaders who were not political careerists but who nevertheless bought the pig in a poke. I think it will be beneficial to explore how they acquiesced in it. As you often point out, there is little clarity to be gained from laying everything on the shoulders of Martin McGuinness. 

 
⏩ The Fenian Way was a full time activist during the IRA's war against the British. 

⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

In Quillversation 🎯 IRA Treated As A Militia By Its Leadership

The Fenian Way ✒ continues his exchange with Anthony McIntyre on the inferences to be drawn from John Crawley's book which detailed systemic shortcomings within the IRA.

AM: One of the more salient points from your end of the exchange has been the absence of strategy on the military front. You make the case that such strategic frailty could only but have a knock-on effect rippling into the political front. The IRA ended up not getting bangs for bucks at negotiations with the British. A weak military strategy arguably gave it a poor bargaining hand in political negotiations. We have seen the result in the internal solution that the Sinn Fein negotiators agreed to. While I not precious about the historical parallels and line of continuity that one school of thought sees as defining the post-1969 IRA, I think it is a legitimate point to make that the leadership’s embracing of an internal solution has lifted it out of the republican anti-Treaty camp and placed it firmly in the Treaty camp that accepted partition a century ago. The recent leaders just agreed to the continuation of that partition. In that respect there are obvious parallels to be drawn between the two eras.

TFW: In Tim Pat Coogan’s biography of Michael Collins, Robert Barton - one of the Treaty delegates - made the following prescient observation: ‘Once we conceded that we were not representatives of the Irish Republic we were on the road to disaster.’ In other words, the Irish side allowed the British to define their status in the negotiations and by default allowed them to define the parameters of any possible settlement.

AM: Which is exactly what the British did with the leadership of Adams and McGuinness. It got them to agree to negotiations which were ringfenced in by partition. To borrow a description you used in offline conversation, the IRA had effectively accepted its status as the protector or guarantor of the Sinn Fein electorate and little more. Under such circumstances, the only outcome was going to be partition no matter how many shamrocks were painted on the partition wall.

TFW: In not bringing the stance of the army’s constitution to negotiations the IRA leadership fell into the same trap described by Barton. At that point the British Government looked upon Irish republicans as a regional political grouping in the UK looking for improved status within that region. As did the Dublin and US Governments also.

AM: That was entirely consistent with the outworking of an internal solution predicated on an internal conflict model in relation to the North. In fact, Brandon Sullivan in the comments after the last exchange asked the question if the entire war was little more than an armed negotiation that concluded with an agreement to improve the lot of Northern nationalists without impacting on the question of partition and sovereignty. I'm thinking about how the army constitution might have protected the negotiators. What was in the constitution that if adhered to would have acted as a safety rail for the negotiators to hold onto as they navigated choppy waters?

TFW: The constitution was a safety rail for the army and volunteers themselves. All leaderships are fallible so they should be replaceable. There is an onus on any leadership to pursue political contacts with friend and foe alike, but the process has to be predicated on the fundamentals of the IRA’s constitution and stated objectives. I applaud any leadership that has the courage to pursue strategic ideas but if those ideas fail it’s that leadership which should fall on its sword and not the army itself. Now, having seen the negative impacts the irreplaceable mindset had on armed struggle, that same mindset was now being brought into a negotiations process commencing with British Security personnel, the same personnel who were on top of their brief where the IRA’s campaign was concerned.

AM: The British had the measure of the leadership. I shared a panel at a book launch in London in 2008 with the late John Chilcott. He told the audience that by the early 90s the British government no longer regarded the IRA as being in the top tier of its concerns, they knew where it was heading. On hugging the army constitution, sometimes when republicans raise these matters they find themselves accused of being hooked on technicalities or unthinkingly theological. Unfavourable comparisons are made with those who continue to preach that the Second Dail is the legitimate government of Ireland and the army council of whatever IRA they favour is the de jure government until such times as an all-Ireland election is held. All that can sound arcane and archaic to the modern ear. I think you see the army constitution as vastly different from republican purist theology and are inclined to view it as a necessary checks and balances mechanism to protect the volunteers from a wayward leadership, and also to protect a leadership from getting sucked into talks with enemy negotiators where the risk of having the safety tether deliberately sliced is substantial. This is to be considered in the context of certain army leaders wishing to exempt themselves from the army constitution so that they would have a free hand in talks. I am interested in pursuing in our next exchange how this played out, and the arguments presented by those seeking exemption as to why they should be granted it. For now, what exactly was in the army constitution that was being breached?

TFW: The basis upon which the IRA engaged in armed struggle in the first place was being breached. As was the role and functions of the Army Council, the Army Executive and the Army Convention. That leadership treated the IRA as a militia and negotiated with the British on that basis.

AM: Why I am considering the question of the army constitution is that key army figures who were doubling up as Sinn Fein negotiators might have seen the constitution as inhibiting their freedom to behave in a certain way during negotiations; that they may have been working to an agenda very different from what the army constitution would allow and did not want constrained by it. This opens up the line pursued by many of the leadership’s critics that the negotiators had long been seeking to wind down the armed struggle well short of the army’s objectives and planned to negotiate accordingly. However it is measured, compared against the IRA’s demands for a British declaration of intent to withdraw, the negotiators settled for a British declaration of intent to stay on the very terms the British had given for remaining in Ireland – the consent of a majority in the North. Which wholly inverts and subverts the logic of the armed struggle.

TFW: The strategic approach they brought to the negotiations table was the Hume/Adams document, a document few have seen. At its core was the acceptance of the principle of consent in return for governments adopting a persuading position regarding unionists and unification. What role could armed struggle possibly have in such a process?

AM: Yet, when Seamus Mallon slammed the 1994 stalling by the leadership on the pretext of seeking clarification of the Downing Street Declaration, insisting that there was no appreciable difference between Hume/Adams and the Declaration, they denied it. They mumbled and muttered, nodded and winked,  but would never produce Hume/Adams so that we could make an informed opinion. I made this very point at a public debate in West Belfast on a panel I shared with a close friend and confidant from the jails, Pat McGeown. He disputed what I was saying but did not produce Hume/Adams to allow the matter to be settled. The lesson to be drawn was that the Brits at least were not hiding something in the Downing Street Declaration. They put it in the public domain. Not so with Hume/Adams. 

TFW: To my knowledge Hume/Adams was never published. To return to your point on the army constitution, it is not about viewing it as rigid orthodoxy, but it does lay down clear principles that allows us to move forward with the do’s and don’ts mapped out for us. And the first thing you don’t do is enter a so-called conflict resolution process by abandoning the legitimate foundations that led you to become engaged in that conflict in the first place.

The furtive nature of these matters doesn’t lend well to any sort of detailed analysis and may well depend on the release of State Papers in God knows when. But from what is in the public domain, and set against the final settlement, a credible picture can emerge of the catastrophe that these negotiations were for republican objectives.

Whether you ascribe to the idea of a deliberate wind down of armed struggle, or military illiteracy, or leadership apathy in favour of the constitutional approach, or any other theory, the net effect on the bargaining power of armed struggle remained the same. And the best guide to gauge the level of that bargaining power is to look at what the British were prepared to put on the table, or more to the point, what the British would allow at that table. National self-determination for the people of Ireland, the sole objective of the armed struggle, was not there.

Negotiations were championed as a ‘new area of struggle’, and they came with some new buzz words to give them a veneer of sophistication. But when you think that the main promoters of this approach, who were asking for a British withdrawal in the mid-seventies, were now asking for peace - on British terms - the omens did not bode well.

AM: It was crystal clear from the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993 that the British terms for remaining in the North had not changed in the slightest. When I was looking at what was happening during the negotiations, the leadership’s position was so far removed from what it had waged the war for, it made me think that they were like trade union leaders who had just negotiated a six-day week and lower wages. It sought to mask that by obtaining the endorsement of high profile former prisoners and prisoners who were still serving their sentences. It also took to bringing in people like Cyril Ramaphosa to not only anoint the decommissioning of IRA weapons but also to tart up in revolutionary mysticism what was in effect a retreat from any revolutionary stance in favour of piecemeal reformism.

TFW: There were attempts to justify the strategy by making comparisons with other contemporary struggles. I remember a political cartoon captioned booklet from the ANC was introduced at a meeting and the central point of it was that the ANC had called a ceasefire from a position of strength and as a result that strength would translate into negotiations with the South African government. The comparison was delusional on many fronts not least the nature of both conflicts and the military abilities of the IRA leadership.

All this was backroom stuff with an extremely slow drip-drip feed of information to volunteers and in all cases the information given referred to a fait accompli. Approval was never sought. Everything had to be taken at face value.

AM: It has been fashionable in some circles to promote the myth that the prisoners played a crucial role by making a serious input into the peace process. Knowing the prison situation as I do, this always prompts a raised eyebrow. The prison leadership at all times was effectively an extension of the IRA leadership into the ranks of the prisoners. It was not elected by the prisoners but appointed by the outside leadership. The emphasis was on loyalty rather than ability, although many prison leadership people had great ability. But ultimately the role of the prisoners was to legitimise the dominant power centre within the movement and to place their imprimatur on decisions already made. Prisoners were briefed after the decision was taken rather than consulted prior to it. And this mirrored the relationship between leadership and grassroots on the outside. The academic Dieter Reinisch has just published a book about the input of prisoners to the peace process. It will be interesting to study his take.

TFW: No one was consulted, least of all prisoners. The sophistry of the process coupled with the dangling carrot of potential early release was all they were afforded. We’ve covered the irreplaceable mindset and how it inspires a self-serving loyalty, and the language of that deeply flawed premise was at play here. But there were also glaring holes in that language. The concept of ‘The Integrated Strategy’ was introduced which was nothing more than an updated soundbite for the Armalite and Ballot Box. Except there was no military strategy to integrate.

The Tactical Use of Armed Struggle, the TUAS acronym which was mistaken in the media as the Totally Unarmed Strategy, but the armed struggle was devoid of coherent tactics. At a time when the armed struggle needed to be turned up to a more proficient level here was a strategy focused on thinking it could be turned on and off like a tap.

AM: Ed Moloney early on identified a trait of the leadership. It had an ability to play the same note but have it heard differently by governments and its own base. TUAS is a good example of this.

TFW: TUAS was the proverbial mercury and fork. It gave the impression there was a role for armed struggle, but the secretive Hume/Adams ruled that out. But the main political plank of this approach was the baseless belief that in return for fundamental compromises by the IRA and a ceasefire, the Dublin Government, Constitutional Nationalism and Westminster would begin persuading Unionists towards Irish unity. The question now remains, at what point in these pre-ceasefire negotiations did republican negotiators become convinced of this and what happened in post-ceasefire negotiations that proved the belief to be utterly delusional?

AM: You know my view on this. As far back as 1982 around the time of the assembly elections Adams and McGuinness stepped aside from their official army positions in the GHQ in order to run in elections, but remained on the army council. Ideas were being floated internally by Adams - which if implemented, according to those who considered them, would have resulted in a military cessation and a political outcome not vastly different from what exists today, in effect some form of internal solution. In my view a key leadership element, the hegemonic one in fact, had its eye on the complete abandonment of IRA objectives barely a year after the end of the 1981 hunger strike, and in its place agreed to an internal solution.

TFW: And again the veracity of that assessment can be gauged against what was settled for, despite the sophistry and spin. Where was the evidence that Dublin had any interest in pursuing a unity agenda given that they abandoned any notion of doing so when the Boundary Commission drifted into obscurity? Did those leaders really believe Albert Reynolds and his guff about taking risks for peace? When you think of the immense sacrifices and hardships undertaken by republicans and our communities for this struggle ask yourself this: who ever died or served time for Fianna Fáil (other than for corruption)? What are their republican credentials? The same people who sold us to the Catholic Church and brought over the English Hangman, set up the Special Criminal Court and encouraged the heavy gang, hijacked the body of Frank Stagg and censored us with Section 31; don’t go my friends, our new friends will lead us to the Republic.

AM: At the 1986 Ard Fheis McGuinness was denouncing those who called ceasefires and insisted he would lead us to the Republic. He didn’t, and if we ever get there, John Hume would have led us to the same place just as quickly and on the same British terms.

TFW: If the strategy was to make the ending of the ceasefire leverage on Dublin to become persuaders for unity it fell at the first fence when John Bruton stated that governments were not persuaders but facilitators for agreements. In trying to bring Constitutional Nationalism to the republican position they actually brought republicanism to adopt theirs.

AM: I have never believed at any point that the Adams camp gave any credence to the fanciful notion of the Dublin government becoming persuaders for unity. It knew that like the British, Dublin was only ever going to facilitate Irish unity if it was agreed on British and unionist terms: with the consent of a majority in the North. The persuaders language was simply subterfuge to wipe the eye of the rank and file.

TFW: The selling point to Volunteers was a mixture of belief in the abilities of the leadership being up to the task in these negotiations but also their use of the endorsement by high profile republicans to promote the unquestioning position ‘if it’s alright for so and so it’s alright for me’. A clear example was Brian Keenan’s public statement that the only thing that republicans would accept was the decommissioning of the British state in our country. Fantasy stuff!

In John Crawley’s book he recounts two high profile republicans doing a tour about the Long Kesh prison break, stalwarts of the leadership’s strategy, with the underlying message of destroying the system from within. It was all meant to deflect criticism of the strategy by inferring that to question the strategy was in some way questioning the integrity of the individuals involved. To reduce such a significant event in republican history as that escape to a grubby sideshow pedalling the leadership line was reminiscent of poor Geronimo, reduced to selling tales and trinkets to the tourists after his surrender.

All the debriefs were portrayed as positive and progressive: the Brits will climb down, Trimble will be back, decommissioning is a red herring etc. But there was unmistakeable choreography in selling this and the apocryphal ‘the war is over but we need your help to bring it to an end’ was clearly at play.

AM: This is a theme I would like to pursue further next time around. There were leaders who were not political careerists but who nevertheless bought the pig in a poke. I think it will be beneficial to explore how they acquiesced in it. As you often point out, there is little clarity to be gained from laying everything on the shoulders of Martin McGuinness. 

 
⏩ The Fenian Way was a full time activist during the IRA's war against the British. 

⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre

29 comments:

  1. " the constitution was a safety rail"? Jesus Christ. The militarists among the provisionals had no fucking qualms about slaughtering prods as per when the time dictated. If thon was a safety rail I'd be checking my footwear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve - I think you miss the point about the IRA constitution and the points being made by TFW. Do you think it was militarists who gave the green light to Enniskillen and the Shankill or was it from those who steered the peace process?

      In my view a mindless militarist is the last thing I would characterise either John Crawley or TFW as. Both are politically astute individuals who rather than advocate a return to war ask why was it ever waged when it achieved so little. The implication appears to me that the IRA had neither cause nor justification for killing people in pursuit of something obtainable by other means. That is far removed from a militarist position.

      Delete
    2. Seems a stretch for the careerists to give the nod for teebane, Skintown or the shankill?

      Delete
    3. Steve - its arguably a bigger stretch to think they didn't given that they were the increasingly hegemonic element. Who do you actually think was running the show by 92-93? One of the criticisms levelled is that where they were not giving the specific green light they were setting the parameters of what was permissible yet at the same time planning their political future. I doubt very much the militarists as you term them were by this stage doing anything other than they were permitted to do. Certainly after Gillian Johnson and Harry Keyes, you can see a curbing of local initiative and autonomy. Think about it this way - do you really believe the anti-peace process lobby was responsible for the human bomb or the peace process lobby?

      Delete
    4. Interesting point. Still a cold blooded psychopath to give the nod for patsy Gillespie either way

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  2. The prisoners were used as a leverage to convince folk who were doubting the GFA etc, on the streets to toe the line. Inside the jail the carrot of early release was dangled so as to not rock any boats. Despite that there were plenty of instances in long kesh, were prisoners called out the bullshit and objected to endorsing relevant policies by the leadership.......despite their objections it was often followed the next day in the press with announcements such as 'IRA prisoners fully endorse' or 'fully committed' to the provisional leadership. I.e the decision to 'fully endorse' was already determined even before any meetings/discussion prisoners were having amongst themselves. Mere optics was all it was.

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    1. That's a good point Mick O. The camp leadership always toed the line and the voices of those objecting never made it through.

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  3. "Whether you ascribe to the idea of a deliberate wind down of armed struggle, or military illiteracy, or leadership apathy in favour of the constitutional approach, or any other theory, the net effect on the bargaining power of armed struggle remained the same."

    I'm not sure that this is true. Arguably UKG manipulated the IRA into calling the 1975 ceasefire and took advantage of negative effects that it had on the IRA's morale and capacity. The IRA was arguably more militarily effective (in terms of inflicting casualties on the security forces) in the mid-70s than the mid-90s, but also more susceptible to defeat in traditionally Irish rebellion suppression terms.

    UKG had the upper-hand and knew it. The IRA's involvement in feuding with the officials, sectarian attacks and other criminality, along with political uncertainty among the rank & file (the chaos surrounding "structures of disengagement"), and the rancour about calling a ceasefire, would have been causes for optimism within UKG. The threat of armed struggle, at that point in history, would not have been hugely potent - UKG could accept the 50ish military deaths, and would not have been troubled by RUC killings, let alone the many scores of politically uninvolved citizens murdered by sectarians on both sides. I think the British would have been far more concerned about the attacks on the mainland: attacks finessed and greatly increased in terms of economic impact in the 90s.

    I think the deliberate wind-down theory is most accurate, and that the ensuing application of military power was probably the most effective way of bringing about A/ a durable republican ceasefire with no splits, and B/ in the very long-term, allowing conditions for UKG to disengage in Ireland when it was politically acceptable to do so.

    Had the Libyan arms kicked off large-scale offensives across the North, with significant British army losses, UKG would have been able to draw on significant resources and experience to suppress/oppress armed republicanism.

    Having said all of that, I was reminded of Ed Moloney’s thesis (supported by IRA members he interviewed) who bluntly stated that UDR men were killed in large numbers to prevent an internal settlement. That might have been the case with the rank & file, and maybe the leadership allowed it because to have tried to stop it would have been hugely controversial.

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    1. Brandon

      " The IRA was arguably more militarily effective (in terms of inflicting casualties on the security forces) in the mid-70s than the mid-90s,"

      I think that is a true statement as the Conflict ended as it did.. I remember the frustration expressed by men who were directly or indirectly involved in perfecting the 1 ton+ bombs and getting them into England. Previous attempts at detonating large home made bombs failed because only some of the explosives detonated and the rest was blown away in the blast -the full potential of these large bombs was never utilised --I share their view that detonation of 1 of these bombs in England -with preferably no loss of life would have been worth more than any number of dead soldiers. They were a game changer that only got a chance in the last minutes of the game so to speak-the ceasefire put them out of commission before the IRA strengthened its position with a more sustained use of these bombs. The infrastructure of major cities in England could not cope or function properly had the IRA carried out several more attacks -I am not a miltary expert but but I do think those bombs could have broken the stalemete and given the IRA the upper hand even in the face of ruthless backlash. And the men who constructed and placed them saw it that way. I think the Brits repeatedly told the truth throughout the 1970s about containing the IRA within an acceptible levels of violence. While they might not like seeing dead soldiers returning home, soldiers have a limited value -how much time and money to train, maintain or replace and that is all they are worth to those in power. Whereas repeated bombs in London would not have been an acceptible level because destruction to infrastructure and economy would have been less sustainable than maintaining boots on the ground.

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  4. With due respect to all the parties concerned; the two in dialogue and the commenters, what was to most all under the water stuff was available to those with periscopes.
    Alas the ship has sailed. Now it's sunk and will never sail again. The post-match discussion above has the ring of an old man's lament, somewhat like regrets about missed sexual exploits (if only you could have maintained a hard on).

    Others might say belated references to adherence to the army constitution came way too late, and reflections at this way too late stage are but irrelevant posturings, vain attempts at blame and essential attempts at avoidance of individual & collective responsibility; attempts in some way of mitigation or redemption?

    I know this may seem a somewhat harsh critique, but as the late Malachy O'Reilly once reported about a situation in the 70's where he and the late Denis Downing were were leaving a spot outside John Joe McGirl's in Ballinamore with several of cwt's of fertiliser, the local passing Guard sarcastically commentated, 'you've a good load on tonight lads ' as he continued by,

    Likewise, I've a load on tonight, this is a first attempt at reading at what seems an apologia but will review again over soberer moments.


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    1. Not many had periscopes, unfortunately.

      The ship has sunk, never to sail again, as you say. The fact that the same may be said of the Titanic does not make the Titanic something of interest only to those who lament its passing and have a hard on for blaming the captain. Your own view while as useful as the next view and well-articulated sits on a range of diverse views. I guess that is the essence of discussion. And we rarely learn from those who say the same thing that we are saying.

      On the army constitution what you might find irrelevant posturing others see as informed opinion. We all taste things differently.

      I don't think it is a somewhat harsh critique made by you. I think the discussion is all the better because of it.
      I do think it is worthwhile bearing in mind that this discussion came on the back of a very good book written by John Crawley which lead to an equally good review. There is a context which is either alibi or enlightening depending on our perspectives.

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    2. Firstly I agree with you, Crawley's account is a ripping good read and adds to the record. However it's a retrospective account of but one man's experience, albeit fairly unique.

      Life, as they say is best lived forward and best understood backwards. Reflection and review is worthwhile but only to the degree which it informs the future.
      Life of itself, and particularly so when conflict arises, is generally experienced as a fast flowing and dynamic unfolding. Under such circumstances time for reflection becomes scare. Previously held values and principles become prone to watering down; watered down to then become abandoned. Only then does a space arise for opportunists to seize their moment.
      That's the repeating narrative of the old sow of Irish Republicanism and yet some people will insist on putting lip-stick on the pig!

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  5. 'Whether you ascribe to the idea of a deliberate wind down of armed struggle, or military illiteracy, or leadership apathy in favour of the constitutional approach, or any other theory..." How much of a hand do you think the British had on the tiller? Is there any possibility that members of the A/C were MI6 agents? Or is it more likely that they were agents of influence, with both parties steering the conflict in the same direction?

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    1. Peter - it is something that should be discussed over the course of the exchange. TFW thinks it is an over simplification to reduce the matter to agents while acknowledging they played a role.
      The British had an objective in mind - bring republicans to the strategic opposite of their own stated position: that of accepting unity only by consent of a majority in the North. That flipped the logic for the IRA campaign of coercing the British out on its head. How the British got there, I imagine, was through a multiplicity of methods including agents.

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    2. I'll look forward to that. I have so many unanswered questions regarding the troubles. First among them is the Adams/MMG relationship with the British. There clearly was one, but was it coercive or did they just use each other to get what they both wanted? Was political power the goal or a reward? It'll be interesting to hear your discussion.

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  6. Cam Comments

    There are other issues I believe that had detrimental effects on the IRA’s capacity to continue to wage a military campaign. The continual availability of seasoned volunteers, the consequential effect of the Brits informant policy, and the Brits determination to cut off the physical support of the nationalist people. These all had serious effects on the IRA’s ability to wage a war of attrition and on the psyche of the civilian population in supporting that campaign.

    A volunteer’s time tended to be of a very short duration before they were killed, captured or arrested or sent on the run. Plus very, very, few returned to active duty on release from prison. This led to a serious lack of available military experience. The constant threat of the informer was really everywhere and at times I often wonder at how the IRA ever carried out any successful operations at all. Volunteers were told they had 3 options that were inevitable – death, prison or on the run. Most simply accepted that as part of the game. I never once met one volunteer who asked why was that so.

    Arrests lead to those who hadn’t the experience or know-how being thrust in to positions far too soon which in-turn lead to frequent operational mistakes. The arms capacity was there but the experienced volunteer wasn’t.

    The frequent arresting of civilians in connection with IRA operations and the severe punishments accompanying those arrests greatly impacted on those willing to help the IRA. People became extremely reluctant to open their doors and although they supported the armed campaign they were at times terrified to become involved because of the consequences coupled with the perception of the informer and also fear from being marked for loyalists as targets.
    The Brits were quite successful at this.

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    1. Cam - a lot of sensible points there. On the lack of experienced volunteer, John Crawley made the point that efforts to counter that by skilling up were rebuffed.

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  7. Pete Trumbore comments

    The whole series of conversations has been very interesting indeed. How many more installments do you expect?

    I'm wondering about the thinking of some senior figures (thinking specifically about Tony Catney here) who stayed with the leadership until relatively late despite their misgivings. Surely some of the issues that you and TFW are raising were visible to some higher up the ladder than the volunteers in the field?

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    1. Pete - I am not sure. Maybe the same again. I guess as long as it is interesting for readers. From page views and comments it has not exhausted itself yet.

      I am not sure what TC thought on the specifics of the matters raised in relation to training and operational capacity not being utilised fully. He had wide knowledge of the country in a way that many Belfast people did not. In terms of operational perspective he obviously felt more could be done. At the same time his thinking on it might have been moulded by the difficulties people in Belfast had when carrying out operations. I'm thinking in particular of the February 1994 capture of volunteers in East Belfast en route to a substantial operation. One of his closest friends was caught on that and he took it very badly that his friend was back in jail for a long stretch. TC later commented that the volunteers who were sent out on that had been given an undertaking that there would be no ceasefire for at least five years. That view finds resonance with John Crawley and TFW - who both ask why volunteers were ever treated with such disregard. They had an awful lot to lose for absolutely no political advantage. What possible difference could that operation have made when the decision to stop the war had already been taken?

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  8. " the experienced volunteer wasn't there". Maybe not outside of bandit country you mean. How big was the difference in opinion between the clannish border volunteers compared to the urbanites?

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    1. depends on what part of the country they were in and what era. There was a consistency to South Armagh that was lacking elsewhere. And then one part of South Armagh was regarded as much more capable than another.

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    2. Steve, I recall having a converstaion with a member of the Tyrone Brigade about why Belfast men were prohibited from taking a deal but country men could. He told me that it was to get skilled people out sooner his view was that Belfast men could be trained in a day --it was as basic as point and shoot or look before throwing --whereas, a lot of countrymen had a wider range of experience/skills. I dont know how true that was but it did make sense when you consider why most Belfast men were in jail -mostly lob and run attacks. But then consider the likes of the Derryard attack Cloghoge Checkpoint attack that is estimated to have involved around 50 volunteers who all got away.

      I dont fully agree with John Crowley because volunteers were all said to have a certain livespan before capture or death -they would pick up whatever experience they needed in that time, only to be replaced by a newbie. Whereas, if the IRA increased its specialist units and moved away from attacking impenetrable fortresses for higher yeild softer type targets that might have made a difference, it certainly would not have changed how they were being portrayed in the media in any event. I dont think extra formal training on an AK or something would have made all that much difference other than increase the risks of loosing men and weapons at training sessions.

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  9. Christy, I was under the impression that the countrymen were largely all related and harder to turn so larger ops had more chance of success. Think derryard had an ex Para leading it too? But even these attacks didn't use a lot of common-sense.

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    1. Peter, I heard the same thing. These attacks took a lot of co-ordination and thats where experience and team work mattered. I read the Derryard Brit statements, they were in total disarray -the footpatrol (the professional army) that arrived on the scene turned and ran away in every direction and it took their corporal about 30minutes to find all his men again.

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  10. @ AM

    "depends on what part of the country they were in and what era. There was a consistency to South Armagh that was lacking elsewhere. And then one part of South Armagh was regarded as much more capable than another."

    I think in terms of casualties inflicted on the security forces, 2nd Batt Belfast Brigade were probably most effective.

    It's difficult to measure, as Belfast Brigade members died and went to jail far more often than South Armagh, but in the early 1970s, North and West Belfast were extremely dangerous places for soldiers.

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    1. That could be accurate although without looking at the data, I am not certain. I think consistency is the issue and the short sharp shock from Belfast was just that - and ultimately unable to sustain itself.

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  11. I found this in Thomas Leahy's book The Intelligence War Against the IRA interesting and relevant to this discussion:

    "In Belfast, the decline in the number of IRA in particular periods was attributable to infiltration, surveillance and electronic intelligence. Nonetheless, there was also a decline in attacks because of a change in British army equipment and the need to avoid civilian casualties on a regular basis to sustain Sinn Fein's vote.

    By the 1990s, the Belfast Brigade had recommenced a commercial bombing campaign that caused extensive damage ... [in Derry City the decline in IRA attacks was because] the SDLP had begun rebuilding the city for nationalists. If the IRA recommenced bombing the city, they risked the wrath of the nationalist electorate, and a decline in electoral support."

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  12. I was on the march to Belfast City Hall in the mid nineties. The march was huge and the main speaker was Gerry Adams. A voice from a lad perched on a wall cried out "bring back the IRA" to which the eminent speaker replied, "they haven't gone away you know". Adams said this knowing full well the provisional republican movement were embarking on the road of defeatism and that the IRA had already, in all but dotting the I's and crossing the Ts had already to all intents and purpoese "gone away".

    Secondly the GFA (the F could stand for Friday or farce, make your own mind up) achieved nothing of any relavence that was not there in the British "Ulserisation" carrot and stick stratergy back in 1977. Ulsterisation was a carrot and stick policy the carrot bit being the "IRA will cease their campaign"in return for a place at administrative level, and "accepting Northern Irelands" place within the United Kingdom. Can anybody explain to me what is in the GFA which fundamentally differs from that on offer 21 years previous?

    Caoimhi O' Muraile

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