The IRA is frightened of women

The IRA is frightened of women

Had it not been triggered by the atrocious murder of yet another blameless young man, there would be something thoroughly delicious about the predicament that Sinn Fein-IRA are now in. For this is the moment many of us have been hoping for since the ignoble compromises of the peace process became a full-time industry. This is the crisis which shows the true reality of Sinn Fein-IRA.

Faced with the unmitigated wrath of the sisters of Robert McCartney, who was beaten to death by a Sinn Fein-IRA gang five weeks ago, the movement is behaving like an android whose wiring has gone wrong. For Sinn Fein-IRA do not have the moral circuitry that the rest of us have. They inhabit an autonomous moral planet whose ethos is defined by the IRA: even if the IRA does something wrong, the very fact that the IRA did it makes it lawful in Sinn Fein eyes.

Now they face this perplexing situation in which a gang of senior IRA men murdered a defenceless man and intimidated all witnesses, as usual, yet this time it is deemed to be unacceptable by just about everybody. This, plus the still breathtaking £26 million Belfast bank robbery, has changed everything. For once, the two governments in Dublin and London, which had hitherto been in an appeasement contest with one another in their willingness to overlook IRA criminality, suddenly agreed: this was a crime. Worse, still, even working-class Catholics said the same thing.

Baffled, the android's wiring began to splutter and fuse. The careful software programme which enabled the Shinners to appear to behave like ordinary humans could not cope. Gerry Adams began to comport himself in public more like Gerry Adams, IRA leader, rather than Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein habitué of Chequers and Downing Street. He unilaterally suspended seven Sinn Fein members, without the slightest pretence at due process, thereby dramatically confirming what Sinn Fein-IRA have always denied: that theirs is a single military organisation which obeys direct orders from the top.

He publicly instructed those men to present themselves to the authorities, which they duly did. (Can you imagine any other party political leader commanding such obedience?) There they presumably followed his private orders, and behaved like dedicated terrorists, staying utterly silent: the name, rank and number rigmarole in which all IRA members are routinely indoctrinated.

But the issue won't go away, as every other uncomfortable issue has gone away in the past, because Sinn Fein-IRA are not dealing with the wretched worms that are Blair and Ahern, but with the sisters of the man they butchered. One working-class Belfast woman can be a formidable enough force; but five is in violation of the Geneva Convention. No wonder the poor little android is looking baffled, with smoke emerging from its artificial brain.

The McCartney sisters do not want to see the Sinn Fein-IRA version of justice, in which everyone agrees something wrong happened, but boys will be boys, and after a charade of IRA men appearing to conform with the strange requirements of the peculiar planet the rest of us live on, they return to their lives, as per usual. No. They want to see these men in jail for life, and this almost unprecedented demand has the backing of a powerful force in Northern Irish life: nationalist women.

While working-class Catholic wives and mothers either backed or were ambivalent about republican terrorism, the IRA could be confident about its hold over its ghettoes. But once such women, with impeccable family credentials, turn on the IRA, they present the terrorist leaders with a painful dilemma. Much as they would love to settle the problem with a few killings – five would be a nice round number – they know they cannot. Not merely would this cause an unbearable revulsion in nationalist areas, but at the very worst, it might even prompt Tony Blair not to invite them to join him and Cliff Richard in Barbados this year. And that would be unbearable.

But on the other hand, they cannot allow a handful of women to bring about the imprisonment of at least 10 IRA men for life for murder. Oh, who would be a terrorist leader these uncertain days, when no one seems to know their place any more, and worse, some people even expect them to be accountable to law? But why now? No one has before.

Sinn Fein-IRA have their annual conference this weekend, which will probably be conducted in tongues, as the baffled delegates try to work out what the hell is going on. However, they will probably be able to draw reassurance from Bertie Ahern's stated willingness to continue dialogue with Sinn Fein-IRA, even though he admits they were planning the Northern robbery during their last top-level meetings. Which, at bottom, was why Robert McCartney was murdered: his killers thought the magic wand of the peace process would conceal and exonerate them of their crime. And in the longer term, notwithstanding the ire of the McCartney sisters, they might well be proved right.

By Kevin Myers
(Filed: 06/03/2005)
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