The politics of murder in Belfast

images (11)The murder of Kevin McGuigan on 12 August in East Belfast is widely seen as revenge for the former’s claimed involvement in the earlier murder of Provisional IRA leader Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have done their bit to protect the Provisional movement by claiming that although Provisional IRA members were involved there is no evidence that it was authorised by the leadership.  Since complete denial of Provo involvement would stretch credibility to breaking point and reflect on the PSNI as well as the Provos, this was as much as they could do.

Of course this makes no sense, although it was notable that some nationalist commentators were prepared to swallow it.  Much amazement was feigned by unionists that an IRA even existed, so ‘answers’ were demanded.  The British Government said that of course it knew the IRA existed but that what was important was what Sinn Fein said (i.e. not what the IRA actually did) and especially that it continued to express support for the ‘principles of democracy and consent”.

The Garda in the South had previously claimed that the IRA had no military structure but are going to look at it again and the PSNI claimed it was a lobby group for “peaceful, political republicanism”.  Sinn Fein spokesmen claimed that of course the IRA was not involved, that it had “gone away” and all allegations to the contrary were ‘palitics’.

So the Provos continue to support the police but not as far as allowing them to get in the way of taking revenge or protecting themselves and their enormous financial empire. Support for the police is therefore purely ‘palitical’.

In the hypocrisy and lying stakes each out-does the other.

So the British Government and PSNI are claiming that while a much slimmed-down ‘peaceful’ IRA exists there is no evidence that it sanctioned the murder of McGuigan; although investigations will continue, which means that if it suits the political purposes of the British Government such a judgement can be easily changed. And easily justified – a ‘peaceful’ IRA with guns, that murders its enemies, and which by its very reduced size and tightness makes inconceivable the idea that the murder was not approved from the top.

The meaning of this is obvious: the British state and its police force doesn’t care if the Provisional IRA kills people it doesn’t like.  It doesn’t care if loyalist paramilitaries kill people they don’t like. Round the corner from where McGuigan was killed a young woman was almost killed by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force but the PSNI refused to blame the UVF who were responsible.

Today it is reported that the murder of another Short Strand man Robert McCartney by the Provos was subject of a secret deal between the PSNI and Provos, with the cops offering not to go after those who cleared up the murder scene, in exchange for Provo information on the less important hands-on killers.  No one has gone to jail and the Provos kept their mouths shut.

The political import of the killing is the following:

The Provos can kill and the state will give them impunity but it will expect a price to be paid.  Anyone who thinks that the end of Sinn Fein’s meagre opposition to austerity through opposition to some welfare cuts will not form part of the price probably believes that everything that the British Government, police, unionists and Sinn Fein has said about the murder of Kevin McGuigan is 100% true.

A message has been sent to all enemies of the Provos, political or criminal, that they are willing and able to kill, no doubt under some new set of initials such as AAD (Action Against Drugs).

The slow crumbling of the architecture of the political peace settlement has speeded up and now threatens the current arrangements.  The Ulster Unionist Party has withdrawn from the all-party Executive, putting pressure on its supposed more rabid rivals in the DUP to follow its lead.

The DUP has now proposed that Sinn Fein be expelled from the Executive, although Sinn Fein can prevent it, and only the British Government can do this.  If the British do not support such a move the DUP would then be forced to either put its money where its mouth is and walk themselves, bringing down the Executive, or reveal themselves as joined at the hip to the Provos in the great gravy train on the hill.  It might then start losing support.

As the pro-settlement ‘Irish News’ editorial put it today, the Executive is so discredited most will not care if it remains or goes.  And as I have noted before, the current Stormont regime is so rotten it has little credibility left.

The peace process has been built on the lie that the rotten sectarian arrangement brought about the absence of widespread political violence.  In fact the defeat of the Provos and the ending of widespread violence preceded the creation of the rotten sectarian arrangements.  Again and again the sectarian political settlement has been defended by the claim its overthrow would bring us back to the troubles.

The recent killings demonstrate precisely the opposite.  The existence of the sectarian Assembly and Executive is now justifying collusion between the state, Provos and loyalist paramilitaries in violence, intimidation and large scale criminality.  The message from the British pro-consul has been explicit:  as long as Sinn Fein supports the sectarian settlement and police that is what counts.  What it actually does will be excused and glossed over if remotely possible.  The so-called peace settlement and its preservation is now the justification for allowing political and criminal violence.

Socialists must continue to oppose this rotten settlement.  They should continue to oppose the PSNI and expose its collusion with the Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitaries.  They should oppose the austerity imposed by the British Government and the Stormont parties, especially Sinn Fein and its phoney anti-austerity posturing.

It should likewise refuse to offer political support to any opposition by Sinn Fein to its exclusion from Government should this occur.  The Provisional movement is an obstacle to working class people in the North and South of Ireland identifying their own interests and defending them.

4 thoughts on “The politics of murder in Belfast

  1. Very good assessment. I agree with most of it, but that may be down to the fact that I never supported the new dispensation in the first place. I have one observation to make and one query to raise

    The observation is that if Unionist party electoral rivalry forces the DUP to bring down the Executive it is hard to see how they can get things back. They say that the price of Sinn Fein involvement in government is a commitment to non-violence and therefore the really real disbandment of the IRA . What counts as evidence of the real disbandment of the IRA? The IRA is on the ground because thousands of ex members are in regular contact with one and other and meet at commemorations and in the many social clubs that continue to exist. This informal IRA is not about to leave the scene. The difference between an informal and a formal IRA is a difficult judgement call to make and the Unionist say they are relying on the Chief Constable to make it, but in this case they only listened to half of what he actually said.

    The chief constable said IRA members assisted in the latest killing but there had been no official sanction. The problematic part of what he said was not that IRA members were involved but there was no official sanction given. In speaking about there being no official sanction he seemed to confide that it is his understanding that a formal IRA issuing commands still exists in some capacity. If this is the case why did he wait for a killing to occur to confide this knowledge to the public? It now transpires that it was well know in higher government circles on both sides of the border that a formal IRA continued to exist. Did they expect the withering away of the IRA over time or did they think a pro agreement IRA was required to police the anti-agreement strains of the IRA?

    My query or reservation concerns the arbitrary way the democratic right of the nationalist voters is still being traduced by almost every political party and interest. It is is taken for granted that if some members of the IRA happen to do something terrible the elected members of Sinn Fein have to be punished to the point of denying them their democratic mandate. I don’t vote for Sinn Fein or support them but a large section of the population does. Is it sound democratic policy to annihilate the votes of Sinn Fein on the basis of what some political criminals are getting up to in their spare time. In does not happen on the Unionist side of the political fence. It does not usually happen in the the South of Ireland or in Great Britain that if some people belonging to a political party are found to be mixed up in some criminal enterprise the votes of all the electors are immediately taken to be void. In short an arbitrary policy of non recognition is still applied to the nationalist voters whenever it suits the higher powers.

    Maybe this arbitrary discounting of the voters is a good thing in the sense that it shows up the monstrous side of politics resting just below the surface of things. You could make the point that it is a unstated requirement of normal bourgeois politics that ‘subversive votes’ are not recognised. That a way will be found for example by the higher powers to traduce and then DE-recognise the votes being cast for Jeremy Corbyn if he comes out on top in the party leader contest. So my query concerns the readiness to all concerned, including many political journalists to dismiss the political choice made by nationalists voters at the behest of the Unionist far right. This is not intended as an apology for Sinn Fein.

    • First on your observation – the difference between an informal IRA and a formal IRA. The latter has weapons, security arrangements to protect those weapons, and the ability to use them. We’re not talking here about old comrades having a pint in the Felons club. When they kill someone I don’t think the question of how you distinguish between an informal and formal organisation arises.

      On the query and the denial of the democratic rights of nationalists – why should Sinn Fein be punished for the actions of a few IRA members? It should not be necessary to point out that there is only one Provisional republican movement and it includes both Sinn Fein and the IRA. Everyone knows this although it is Norn Irn political correctness to mostly pretend the opposite or act like the opposite is the case. Even the majority of unionists have gone along with this, leaving Jim Allister to complain about it.

      Is there hypocrisy involved in unionists complaining about the Sinn Fein-IRA link? Of course there is – unionist parties have gone in and out of open alliances with loyalist paramilitaries again and again. They have however been duplicitous enough to maintain separate organisations which allows them to pontificate about the violence of republicans.

      You raise the question whether we should not nevertheless defend Sinn Fein’s right to be in the Executive because of their democratic mandate, which is the Sinn Fein argument. I explicitly rejected this argument.

      This argument might seem to be correct in an abstract sort of way but in reality it would amount to asking for the right to be in government and also have the right to kill those you don’t like and get away with it because you give political support to the official state forces. As the post says, the British Government is not exercised and nor is the PSNI by IRA actions unless they threaten by design or by side-effect their political arrangements. Today’s editorial in ‘The Irish Times’ records that both the British and Irish Governments were happy enough to leave an IRA in existence in order for it to deal with dissident republicans.

      Why would socialists defend the right of a sectarian, nationalist movement to collaborate in state structures with an imperialist occupying power in alliance with reactionary, sectarian fundamentalists whose combined agenda is the sharing of sectarian patronage and the implementation of austerity and pro-big business policies? Just what sort of right would that be that would command the support of socialists?

      What this shows is that the problem is not that the British and unionists do not treat Sinn Fein equitably but that the majority of nationalists vote for Sinn Fein. While socialists may be able to do very little at the moment about this, one thing they can do is refuse it and the whole settlement their support. To defend the rights of Sinn Fein to participate in the whole sectarian carve up implies defence and support for the rotten arrangements as a whole.

      As I noted in the post, more and more of the population regard Stormont with complete cynicism and see it as corrupt, incompetent and self serving. And they are right.

      • Interesting response. The feelings most people enterain about the Executive are more complex then is generally stated by them in short media interviews. I was talking to a few of my neighbors about it. The first thought is typically the one that says those sitting on seats up on the hill are all in it for themselves or if not they are darn right useless. But most peoples first thoughts about politics are nearly always just what they have read in yesterday’s newspaper. This is not unique to here. I watched the BBC Newsnight the other evening and they had a group of wavering Labour party members in to ask them about who should be the next leader and Corbyn got no positive sounding comments at all, his faults were trotted out like cuttings cut from last weeks Daily Mail or Guardian. Not one person made a perceptive comment of their own making.

        When I dig a little deeper by questioning them about the alternative, my neighbors turn out to be pretty steadfast in their support for the Executive staying in place. The main reasons the fear of going back to something worse and the fear of the Tories taking direct charge of all of social policy. The stuff in the Irish news is also ambiguous. The Irish News is an opinion sifter and former but it is also has a Business interest . A business pullout that is very much to the fore in the drive to lower the Tax on profit . The business lobby has become impatient with the failure of the Executive to get on with the conservative agenda of lowering taxes and cutting public spending. So the Irish News is merely expressing this business exasperation. Every Monday morning the news broadcasts are replete with complaints stemming from to the BBC’S weekend Business RADIO Programme as to the failure to just get on with implementing the austerity measures. Turn on your Teletext on a Monday morning to here the latest moans from the economists who work for the banks and accountancy firms etc. There are different reasons for being against the Executive.

        It is my view that the Executive is not in jeopardy of long term disbandment it is only facing a period of suspension due to mounting right wing opposition. Though you and I know that it is misguided, there is a strong opinion gathering force that says that Sinn Fein is not bending to the right quickly enough to fit with the conservative austerity policy agenda. It may even suit Sinn Fein to have a period of suspension and so avoid the onerous task of implementing all the unpleasant things they are being asked to do. We certainly agree that the recent revenge killing is not the real reason why there is a push for suspension right now. With this being the case we need to get to the actual reasons. I am wary of the thing falling to the right at this time. If I thought it was something more than just a temporary or tactical turn by the right wing I would be less caring. But I know this will not be the end or even the beginning of the end of the Good Friday process. It would be much better if the Process was believed to be failing due to bowing to a rising pressure coming from the Left than from the Right and I do think this matters. I don’t think another political jolt from the right is likely to be in our interest. And in fact Sinn Fein has been had to face up to some serious popular criticism for not being sure and principled in its opposition to the new austerity policy agenda. Maybe it would help us if they stayed on a bit longer if only to face the wrath of their working class base. I think we could follow the above tactical approach without abandoning a principled and abstract apposition to the Good Friday Agreement. That it is not as pure as your approach I readily grant.

      • I don’t disagree with a lot of what you have said, particularly that the majority of nationalists still support a power-sharing Executive. In other words they support an Executive but don’t care very much for the one they have actually got. ‘The Irish News’ you mention has smelled the coffee and is calling for the end of the current Executive and the creation of a new one but haven’t factored in the damage that will be done to their wishes by suspension and subsequent negotiations. With largely the same people involved in any new one it’s very hard for anyone to see how the next Executive will be any less venal and useless than the current one.

        I appreciate your point that the longer Sinn Fein stays in office the more it has the opportunity to discredit itself and it is my view that in the South a spell in office might go a long way to expose its credentials in a way that sectarianism protects it from such exposure in the North.

        None of this means we should defend or support Sinn Fein’s demand to stay in the Executive as if this were some sort of defence of democracy and latter-day demand for civil rights. In this way opposition to the Good Friday Agreement stops being abstract and we take a political position consistent with this opposition.

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