Irish gifts - sales benefit the Newshound

Worth More than Just 'Fags'

(by Tommy Gorman, The Observer)

In the beginning - 'from the ashes of 1969 arose the Provisionals - and they fought.' And so started the war. Now that most of the political prisoners have been released, the war, for this republican leadership at least, is over. Having convinced former enemies of its constitutional credentials it now has to maintain the organisational integrity of the IRA in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical membership who are inclined to ask if the thirty years of struggle was all about getting prisoners out? In short is the integrity of the organisation now worth more than the integrity of the struggle?

The real 'seismic shift' of the Republican Movement saw it move from the revolutionary edge to the comfort and conformity of the constitutional centre-right. It has been facilitated by a combination of censorship, spin-doctoring and outright vilification of those activists with the temerity to voice concern at the unseemly haste with which deeply held principles have been abandoned in pursuit of 'democratic respectability'.

In the recent past humiliating climb-downs have been heralded as 'brave, imaginative initiatives'. One well-known IRA leader described the opening and compromising of three arms dumps as a 'brilliant coup which completely wrong footed Jeffery Donaldson and company'. On that logic, the movement could deal a mortal blow to the "no" camp of unionism if Gerry and Martin joined Harold Gracey on Drumcree hill.

In the midst of such nonsense the Irish Republican Writers Group (IRWG) has attempted to stimulate serious debate to offset dangerous and bland conformity. The group comprises individuals who believe in the unfettered right of everyone to express their views. Some, like myself, are former IRA prisoners.

Recently, four of us, all former blanketmen, two of whom were on the 1980 hunger strike for 53 days, were invited to speak to students from Queen's University's Sinn Fein Cumann about the hunger strikes and blanket protest. A local Sinn Fein councillor directed that we be denied the opportunity to speak. Despite his attitude, we affoirded him space in our magazine Fourthwrite, in the hope that he would present a robust and analytical defence of his party's attitude toward the Good Friday Agreement. Rather he used his space to vilify those who did not agree with Sinn Fein, claiming that they were the 'darlings of the British media'. Consequently, he missed out on the opportunity to subject our critique to serious examination.

Such behaviour suggests that the republican leadership will again cede ground, this time on the critical issues of policing and equality when faced down by the British/Unionist axis and spin another defeat out as a victory. Subsequently, attempts shall be made to suppress those republicans intent on lifting the lid on what is essentially a British driven process.

This forms the crux of our argument against the GFA and Sinn Fein's part in it. It is not an honourable agreement amongst equals. It is British government led and driven. Decommissioning only became an issue in the context of the British narrowing down all the options to the GFA. The fact that IRA weapons have been singled out for special treatment through that agreement and the subsequent acquiescence to British demands by the Republican leadership has served to criminalise IRA weapons and therefore the struggle for social and national liberation.

When IRA volunteer and hunger striker Frances Hughes engaged the foreign SAS in his native South Derry in March 1978 was his weapon less legitimate than the guns used by the British Paras to gun down Irish Civil Rights marchers in January 1972? This is the great imponderable for those republicans who facilitate special attention for Republican guns. While the guns should never again be used previous usage should not be criminalised to facilitate the emergence of a Northern Fianna Fail.

While some war materials may be put beyond use, Republicans show no sign of decommissioning the secret 'lines' through which all of the IRA weapons were shipped into the country. It seems more likely that this IRA Ho Chi Minh trail is cluttered with cartons of contraband Benson & Hedges rather than with crates of Heckler and Koch rifles. The just struggle has degenerated to the point where the sale of cheap cigarettes is the raison d'être for the IRA volunteers of 2000. The spin-doctors of course will sell the whole sordid affair as part of the economic war, as it deprives the British exchequer of money it would have received through import duties!

'From the ashes of smuggled cigarettes arose the Professionals and they profited.' - The end.

August 8, 2000

Tommy Gorman is a former IRA volunteer who escaped from the Maidstone prison ship in 1972. He was also on the blanket protest. He now works with the Irish Republican Writers Group.

This article first appeared in the July 31, 2000 edition of The Observer.