It’s proving to be an historic St. Patrick’s Day for Ireland, whose big wigs are obviously stateside where the real celebrations are: nobody would dye an Irish river green like they do in Chicago. And a good thing for Ireland that is too: the PM gets the ear of the US president at least once a year.
Traditionally, it winds-up certain Brits who choke on Sinn Fein’s presence, unable to understand how so many Americans can regard the IRA as freedom fighters. Ignorance plays a major role in that, of course, combined with America’s traditional anti-colonialism (a position that’s increasingly difficult for them to maintain, but that’s off-topic). This year, there’s some cheer on this front with Gerry Adams snubbed by Bush and cold shouldered by Ted Kennedy.
Yet Americans aren’t the only ones who don’t get it. Not many Brits understand the dilemma the Republican Movement finds itself in. Take three types of IRA member. Foot soldiers; hard men, who drink in dodgy Belfast pubs, get into fights and occasionally kill people. Robert McCartney was no one off, after all. They currently operate above the law, effectively policing their communities and enjoy status and power they could never attain in any other environment. A world apart are the highly effective guys who’ve skilfully managed multi-million pound fundraising operations for many years, have the capacity to launder that money and have built international networks for trafficking arms. Some people have become wealthy on the back of these operations and that’s difficult to give up. Holding it together are politicos, who give the IRA political respectability and an ideology.
And the IRA’s raison d’être – key to everything – is that Britain is an occupier and the Police Service of Northern Ireland is, like the RUC before it, an occupying force. Republicans are unable to call upon the police, so they must police themselves. And they do by, amongst other things, shooting petty criminals. It’s by this logic that the IRA offered to shoot McCartney’s killers as for them it was the most honourable course of action. McCartney’s murder has pushed this argument well beyond sustainability and provoked an inevitable crisis for the movement.
The Republicans’ handling of the McCartney murder is a symptom of a much deeper intellectual and practical crisis. The politicos may want to embrace a commitment to a united Ireland through totally democratic means, but they have to persuade the rest to surrender the power, perks, status and privileges that only war can offer.