Imagine the world of a former provisional IRA terrorist (I call him “John X”).
He is somebody who is likely to be middle-aged. Following the ceasefire of 1994, he has not committed an actual terrorist attack. He may have still have been involved in some illegal activity, including some local vigilante action against drug suppliers but he will probably not have fired a shot in anger for 15 years or more. In the intervening 15 years, he has assimilated into normal life. He has become a tradesman, married and raised a family. His republican activities are now as a Sinn Féin activist carrying on voluntary work which helps to keep the party machine running and win elections.
John X is happy with the Good Friday agreement. When he was a terrorist, he did not think that democracy was the way forward. Now, he believes the propaganda which has been handed down by his leaders that one day, there will be a United Ireland because Catholics in Northern Ireland will become the majority religious community.
John X is happy with Sinn Féin’s electoral progress as it climbs higher and higher in the polls. He was uncomfortable with the fact that Sinn Féin finally came around to supporting the PSNI. His doubts were put to rest when he saw his party do so well in the Assembly elections of March 2007.
John X has a republican friend called Peter Y who also fought with the Provos. Every now and again, he meets up with Peter Y for a few pints. Peter Y never agreed with the Good Friday Agreement. Peter Y keeps telling John X that Sinn Féin “have sold out the memory of the hunger strikers”
“They sold out to give Adams & McGuinness a nice fat pension from politics”, says Peter Y. John X thinks Peter Y is an “asshole” but he respects his views and they remain friends. John X knows from sources inside Sinn Féin that Peter Y is an active member of the RIRA but John X does not let on to Peter Y that he knows this.
In May 2007, there is a general election in the Republic of Ireland. John X is very annoyed with the result. Sinn Féin went into it with 5 seats in the Dáil Éireann. They expected to be returned with 12 and only ended up with 4. He is re-assured when “Grizzly” (Gerry Adams) comes on the telly and tells the public “We will just have to up our game”. And John X knows that he will because there is nobody greater or cleverer than Grizzly.
By the summer of 2008, the Executive is has stopped its weekly meetings because the DUP is procrastinating on Police and Justice. John X is happy. Grizzly plays politics like a game of chess. There can only be one winner.
In the Autumn of 2008, John X gets a shock. A Sinn Féin activist tells him that he has to persuade Peter Y to stop what he is doing “otherwise he will soon be caught”.
It is the beginning of November 2008 and at last, John X is able to meet up with Peter Y for a drink. By this time, both men are aware of rumours that the DUP and Sinn Féin are on the verge of striking a deal to get the Executive back again. “The DUP have Sinn Féin by the balls” says Peter Y. “Sinn Féin have played their last card in the peace process. They know they’ll be unpopular if they dont get back to work soon. Look at stupid bitch Ruane? Do you think she’ll win votes for you”
John X is annoyed with Peter Y’s taunts. John X raises the subject of Peter Y’s involvement with the RIRA and tries to persuade him to get out of it “for your own sake”, John X tells him sincerely.
“Feck you. You’ve been brainwashed”
Peter Y downs his pint, slams the beer glass on the bar and walks out without looking at John X or saying goodbye. John X is amazed by Peter Y’s reaction.
A fortnight later, the John X watches Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness announce their agreement to re-instate executive meetings. Very little information emerges about when Police and Justice will be devolved. John X is perplexed. Later he hears from another activist, to his dismay, that SF had no choice but to cave in otherwise they would lose popularity. At this point, John X is dismayed. ‘Surely they dont think they’ll lose votes to the SDLP?’ He thought that party was a ‘dead duck’. For the first time, John X is made to doubt his party’s supreme position within the Catholic community.
Over the Christmas period, Mrs. X invites Peter Y and his family to John X’s house. John X is surprised by this and even more surprised when he sees Peter Y full of smiles as if their last meeting did not happen. As has happened often, the drink begins to talk and Peter Y is back to his taunting of Sinn Féin having sold out. As usual, John X tells him that the position is legitimated by everybody in Ireland voting in favour of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The will of the whole Irish people should be respected”, says John X but Peter Y has an argument for this point as well.
“the men of 1916 did not have a mandate from the Irish people at the time either. They got theirs later. We’ll get ours later”
The two men finished that day as friends again but it was the last time they met.
It is February 18th, 2009 and John X is at Sinn Féin’s Ard Feis (party conference) in Dublin. John X always enjoys the trip to Dublin. It is time for some backslapping with old comrades. The only thing John X doesn’t want is that they ask about Peter Y. His old comrades dont ask him anything. However, one party official singles out John X and pumps him with questions.
“Haven’t heard from him for months”, says John X who is, by this time, irritated by the man’s interest in his friend. On his way back from Dublin the following day, questions swirl around his mind about his friend Peter Y
On March 7th 2009, the news hit the television screens. On the previous day, Martin McGuinness angrily criticised Sir Hugh Orde for his decision to deploy special army intelligence forces. Now, two soldiers form the Massereene Barracks in Antrim were killed by gunmen. John X’s head is swirling. Pennies are dropping like the jackpot in the fruit machine. “So that’s why they were so anxious to find out about Peter Y”, thought John X. By this time, he is in fear that Peter Y will be killed by somebody within his own political organisation.
Wednesday March 9th and the man who was John X’s former high commander in Derry booms out his words “THEY ARE TRAITORS TO THE ISLAND OR IRELAND” With those words ringing in his ears, he walks to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. Hot tears pour down his cheeks.
John X could hardly sleep that night. McGuinness’s voice kept ringing in his ears
“THEY ARE TRAITORS TO THE ISLAND OR IRELAND”. In the middle of the night he goes to a store cupboard and seeks out a shoe box. He pulls down the box and opens it. He pulls out the revolver and feels it. Old urges come back to him ….
That is where I end this (entirely fictitious) narrative. The fear I have is that there are real John X’s out there who could be lured back into terrorism if things do not go right for them politically. It has already happened with one of them one report reveals in the Sunday Times. Times are very dangerous at the moment. Of one thing I am sure. This is an extremely difficult time for Sinn Féin. Many of their supporters will indeed be troubled by what Martin McGuinness said. Does this mean it is a good time or a bad time to make a dash for normal politics?
In the next few weeks, Conservatives in Northern Ireland will be asking themselves that question. At the moment, I do not profess to know the answer.
Filed under: Caitriona Ruane, Conservative Party, DUP, IRA, Normal Politics, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland politics, Security, Sinn Fein | Tagged: Caitriona Ruane, Conservative Party, DUP, Gerry Adams, Good Friday Agreement, IRA, Martin McGuiness, Normal Politics, Northern ireland, Northern Ireland politics, SDLP, Security, Sinn Fein, terrorism | Leave a Comment »