More Northern Ireland

Light is shone on the IRADaily Telegraph

This piece (h/t Tim Worstall) uses the McCartney murder to criticise the Northern Ireland peace process, and the British and Irish governments for supporting it.

I had an argument over at US blog Captain’s Quarters with a commenter making a similar point.

The peace process obviously makes no sense if you believe that the IRA was on the verge of comprehensive military defeat anyway. While British forces had achieved a number of operational victories in the years prior to the first cease-fire, I don’t think that was the case. Indeed, the current situation demonstrates that that was not the case.

The IRA could not be eliminated so long as they retained a measure of support in Catholic areas of Northern Ireland. It might be possible to contain or suppress them under those conditions, but not to finally defeat them. Furthermore while it might be theoretically possible to carry out this containment without increasing resentment of the British forces and sympathy for the IRA, in practice it is unfeasable to do so. The daily routine of army patrols, house searches, and checkpoints (Iraq is not the only country where non-terrorists get shot at checkpoints) is enough to reinforce perception of the British as an occupying force.

The McCartney affair is at once a demonstration that the Provisional IRA retains a degree of legitimacy in its community, and the greatest blow to that legitimacy in its history. The line that the PSNI can take is: “Any time you want us to police your streets instead of these murderers, we’re ready to do the job”. If the murder of Robert McCartney (and the Northern Bank job) are enough to win the PSNI sufficient help to solve them, then this is the beginning of the end for the IRA. If they are not yet enough, the government will have to wait.

Kevin Myers in the Telegraph article says that, in return for the police reforms, Sinn Fein have given precisely nothing. Here I disagree. The fact that the government no longer has to police nationalist areas of Northern Ireland as an occupying army, as it previously needed to in order to protect the mainland and the rest of Northern Ireland, means that it can start to establish its own legitimacy to challenge that of the IRA. The fact that the IRA no longer has an enemy to fight, but is only an organised crime syndicate, simultaneously eats at its legitimacy. Unless the government overplays its hand, there can be only one long-term outcome.

One clarification: when I say that the IRA maintains its grip over its areas by the consent of the population, that could be interpreted as saying that those populations have chosen — and therefore deserve — to have the IRA rule them. That of course is not the case. The IRA does not need 100% local support, or even 50%. It may be as low as 10% or 20%. The rest are simply its victims, and deserve sympathy — especially when they show the courage of McCartney’s sisters. But it is an unfortunate fact that a liberal democracy is not able to function in a population where even a significant minority support armed resistance. There can be no quick victory, but I believe the slow victory is being won.

Update: via Slugger O’Toole, a piece from The Independent, with actual reporting, describing in detail the source of IRA’s legitimacy and the decay of that legitimacy.