The war is over, the real peace has yet to begin
WEDNESDAY night in West Belfast’s Ballymurphy estate: the intimidating crowd stood outside our front door. Directed by members of Sinn Fein they howled and spat venom at my partner Carrie who is six months pregnant while my daughter and her friends remained in an upstairs room. It was the second such picket on my home. At the time I was at a conference in Co Tyrone, promoting free speech. There is to be no free speech in Ballymurphy. The crowd were infuriated that I, a life long republican who had served 18 years in prison for republican activities, had accused the Provisional IRA of the murder of Joseph O’Connor in the same locality two weeks ago. They alone in West Belfast pretend to disbelieve me.
Meanwhile, O’Connor’s murder has raised the terrifying spectre of a republican feud. A couple of miles across the city in Rathcool estate, the UDA were busy murdering a man allegedly associated with the UVF. He was the fourth to die in days. The fifth, shot yesterday, is fighting for his life.
At first glance it would seem that without the traditional enemies to fight against, the North’s armed militias, have been hurled into a tailspin of self-consuming proportions. Such analysis is superficial. This internecine warfare is more coincidental than mono-causal. On the Loyalist side there has been a concerted attempt made to curb the increasing radicalism of the Progressive Unionist Party. A loyalist drugs cartel which contains numerous killers opposed to the Good Friday agreement has been flexing its muscles. It does not want any sort of radicalism or community accountability. The PUP is rapidly losing its own radicalism as one of its chief spokespeople, Assembly man, Billy Hutchinson, seemingly endorses the murderous UVF response to the UDA’s narcotic militiamen.
In the republican camp the bloodletting, while not as plentiful, has a much more strategic rationale. The Provisional leadership are set to move on the question of decommissioning and accept a ‘Continuity’ RUC. Trimble and the UUP have effectively trounced them on strategic and philosophical matters pertaining to the nature of the conflict.
In a sense Trimble’s seeming weakness is his strength. He has got the measure of Sinn Fein and knows how desperate the party is to save the Stormont regime. Weren’t the IRA arms dumps opened for inspection shortly after Trimble had faced the biggest threat yet to his leadership in May with a vote of 47 per cent against him? At last Saturday’s UUP conference he avoided further dividing unionism while at the same time not being overly aggressive to the point where it would unite nationalism on any solid anti-Trimble platform. Dublin and the SDLP are telling Sinn Fein it is time to pay for the lunch.
And pay they will. They never intended to do anything else. Always eager to avoid a split within its own ranks, the IRA leadership moved to deal a fatal blow to those who had already split from them – the Real IRA. The tension now existing between the two groups is so palpable that when the lunch is paid for those in the Provisional ranks will have little place to go but home. The murder of Real IRA member O’Connor was meant to curb the haemorrhaging.
The irony of it all is that republicans like myself who seriously question the politics of the peace process seem to be among the few who genuinely support the peace. Those who would claim to be the architects of the peace process appear to have little difficulty with the peace being violated so long as the process stays in place.
It is time to face up to reality. Why continue to pretend to fight a war that has effectively ended? The war is over. The real peace has yet to begin.
Anthony McIntyre is a former IRA life prisoner and co-editor of the Fourthwrite magazine, critical of Sinn Fein’s support of the Good Friday agreement.