One of the core problems faced by unionists is the IRA. Even though that organisation has quit the scene it’s still a problem – a problem that soon gives rise to a range of contradictions.
Unionist opposition to the IRA is often rooted in personal or family experience. It’s hardly surprising if your father or uncle or other relative has been killed by the IRA, you’ll think of them as a conspiracy of murderers. And even if you haven’t had that personal loss but have been used to seeing the unionist/Protestant people as the spine of this state, with Catholics/nationalist/republicans as comparatively feckless and opposed to the state’s very existence, it’s again not surprising if you take a dim view of the IRA. The fact is that there were at least four combative groups here during the Troubles: the IRA, the loyalist paramilitaries, the RUC/UDR and the British army. If you were a unionist, it’s easy to see how you’d view the last two as the good guys, the loyalist paramilitaries as misguided but provoked into defending their communities, with the IRA the sole source of the Troubles and, in a phrase, murderous scum.
If that position is held, and I think it is by many unionists, the question is, how do they regard Michael Collins, the anniversary of whose funeral was yesterday? How do they regard Tom Barry, who fought the RIC, the Black and Tans and the other forces of British rule in Ireland? How do they see Cathal Brugha? de Valera? Because all of these engaged in activities almost identical to those used by the IRA during our more recent Troubles in the north. If the IRA of the 1970s and 1980s were murderous scum, what were the people I’ve listed above? Were those who initiated the Easter Rising murderous scum, without a mandate from the people for their actions?
If you say yes, then you’ll see the centenary events for 1916 and after as honouring murderers with a contempt for democracy. If you see Collins and Barry and Brugha as patriots, how do you combine that assessment with dismissal of the more recent IRA and all its works and pomps?
And it’s not just unionists in the north that this presents a conundrum for. Many people in the south – most recently and memorably Dervla Kirwan , whose great-grandmother was Collins’s sister. She got herself in a terrible knot trying to applaud the heroics of her ancestors and the IRA of the time, while condemning the more recent conflict and all violence generally.
And to be bang up-to-date, I wonder what she thinks of the violence in Syria at present, and how she sees the proposed use of cruise missiles by the US and the British as contributing to the peaceful lives of those on whom they may rain down.
I am open to the opinion of others, even when I don’t like them and/or their opinions. But what has me near despair is when people risk a hernia trying to hold mutually-exclusive positions simultaneously.
ira..defenders……british….invaders…..so as im not british..who would I support. only i.r.a
Every side of the spectrum here will argue that, at some point, killing British soldiers is acceptable. Don’t believe me? Ask any unionist about the execution of British soldiers as Israel fought for independence. They will, I would assume from the number of Israeli flags flying in loyalist areas, view it as something that had to be done. My history books inform me this was not quite a gentlemanly stand up battle.
Similar awkward questions are thrown up at Twaddell. The Orangemen and women march under the Brian Robinson banner, who was executed by the British Army within sight of their Civil Rights camp. But the camp flies flags saying they are supported by serving troops and they support the troops. So, do they support the British Soldier who gunned down Brian Robinson? Or do they support Brian Robinson? Or both? Or none?
During Operation Banner six members of the UVF were killed by the British Army.
Likewise there was a visit to the Civil Rights camp by an Israeli delegation. Did they discuss (or agree) that Israeli attacks on men and women from the Shankill who served in Palestine (I assume there were some) were necessary? Perhaps they left that conversation for another day.
The argument then lies with how justified is your cause. That’s where the problems start. Israel? Justified. Ireland? Not justified. Who decides? because the tactics were very similar and resulted in British squaddies going home in boxes.
Great article, Jude. No doubt some of the wrigglers will be along soon to patronise.
as a young nationalist I think they had no other option, peacefully protesting with civil rights marches etc. only resulted in Catholics being beaten and murdered off the streets by the crown forces. use of arms meant they had to listen. obviously where innocents were murdered by the provos it was completely unacceptable. it is also a joke fianna fail condemning the provos when they done the exact same to achieve the 26 county state, complete hypocrites.
The IRA is brand name, used by everyone from Stalinists to Nationalists and recently by Ultra-Right Atlanticists.
Assuming we are talking about the Provisional IRA, then in their terms the campaign failed because it didn’t lead to a 32 County Socialist Irish Republic.
‘The broadening-out of struggle would not involve a dilution of republican aims: ‘we are not prepared to even discuss any watering down of our demands. We can see no future in participating in a restructured Stormont, even with power-sharing and a bill of rights. Nor certainly will we ever accept the legitimacy of the Free State. No! To even contemplate acceptance of either of these partitionist states would be a betrayal of all that Tone preached and died for.’ Delivered by Jimmy Drumm, written by Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison. Quoted in Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA By Richard English.
So that bit failed entirely!
The Civil rights aspects failed because we ended up with the large MI5 base operating completely outside accountability and not beholden in any way to voters inside Northern Ireland, the Republic, England or America. MI6 maintain backchannels with politicians in Stormont, presumably Five and Six are not at odds, even when they pretend they are, so we live under an Intelligence Services Dictatorship, sometimes benign, sometimes lethal, and never accountable. As you article yesterday proves.
We still have internment; we still have blacklists, just double the names because Sinn Fein has people they would rather didn’t have a voice to add to the State and Loyalist blacklists. My main objections to the Northern Ireland State are all still in place. If anything this will become worse because you can see the PR lead up to a new vicious county-insurgency campaign already starting to take shape in the media. Rumblings about dissident Loyalist Cells, soon the other side will reciprocate, thirty years from now we will find out, no doubt, all organized with loving care by HMG/USA to do a bit of ‘Peace Process internal housekeeping’.
Largely I think it was a fake war with a ‘top men’s agreement,’ and a waste of life, those people killed inside factions and outside factions died to put a puppet regime in power. The next ‘troubles’ will be exactly the same.
I doubt very much anyone involved cares what I think about that though!
Supporting an army is a simplistic pursuit.
It’s easy for me to say I support the IRA while in my head conveniently excluding their more excessive or unjustifiable actions. But I have awarded myself the luxury of adopting an ‘a la carte’ approach to the IRA – supporting the bulk of their operations while passing on the more unpalatable actions.
In my case I would conclude that I see the merit in their aims and most of their actions to achieve those goals – so I support them. Similarly those who wear their poppies with pride can support the British Army without condoning Bloody Sunday or the Ballymurphy Massacre. And Unionists can look back with affection on the good ole RUC without countenancing collusion, deaths by plastic bullets etc..
When unionists, the British or those in the 26 counties try to draw a distinction between the violence they support/supported and republican violence in the north of the country over the last few decades – its just a case of ‘My guns good. Your guns bad’ that is so transparent it hardly merits serious consideration in my eyes.
Great column. What i can not understand is the attitude of the southern government towards the North. there is a statue of Liam Mellowes in Galway City. He was 100% anti- treaty. He shot and bombed the forces of partition. What does Leinster House think of him, hero or villain? If they regard him as a patriot, how does that square with their attitude towards the PIRA who shot and bombed against the forces of partition. Do the people of Galway regard him as a hero or villain? What of the hurling club named after him, hero or villain? If you feel he was a hero and was justified to fight against partition, how can you not recognize the right of the PIRA to fight against the same forces and using the same methods? The answer is You can not.
What’s your personal view on the I R A,Jude?Are they heroes in your eyes?
I don’t really see why this is a problem for Unionists. No one who votes for Unionist parties is likely to care overly about their view of events in Dublin 100 years ago.
It is more likely to raise a problem for Sinn Fein in my view who may be asked why Pearse and Collins and the rest are revered along with Bobby Sands, Adams (though not an IRA member) and McGuinness; yet the most recent manifestation of physical force republicanism, in the ‘dissident’ groups is to be condemned.
A Rebel (not a revolutionary) group that sprang from a corrupt and bigoted State. A group that went on the become the world’s foremost guerrilla organisation. A group that was too slow at times to admit to its mistakes for fear of undermining a legitimate Cause. A group that moved into politics and allowed the expert diplomats of Britain to do something their army could never do – divide, control and ultimately defeat them.
What did Dervla Kirwan ever do to deserve your waspish comments?!
Heroes kill british army like islamic state