(first published on Marxmail listserv)
A political crisis has been created in the space of 48 hours in the North of Ireland. First two British soldiers were shot dead outside their base just outside Belfast on Saturday night, with a further two injured along with two civilians, while tonight (Monday, local time) a policeman has been shot dead in Craigavon, County Armagh.
The Real IRA, who’ve claimed responsibility for the attack on the British base on Saturday night, and who, I’m taking an educated guess, were also responsible for the operation which resulted in the death of the police officer in Craigavon tonight, have just announced in emphatic terms that the war has resumed in the North after 12 years of relative peace and devolved government in the province.
All across the TV news networks and in the newspapers revulsion has been the response to these attacks from the British Government and all political parties in the North of Ireland, including Sinn Fein. The message being drummed home is that this organisation of dissident republicans has no popular support in republican communities and that the peace process will not and cannot be derailed.
Unprecedented has been the public statements of denunciation of both the attacks and the people who carried them out by the leadership of Sinn Fein, specifically Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, both former key members of the leadership of the Provisional IRA. Indeed, Sinn Fein has called for the perpetrators to be apprehended by the security forces.
The Real IRA, said to be currently around 100 strong with perhaps twice that number of sympathisers, as yet do not enjoy mass support in republican communities in the North, nor have they emerged organically from a mass struggle. However, this does not mean they won’t gain that support. Their intent with these attacks seems twofold. Firstly to provoke a major response from the authorities in the form of troops and checkpoints back on the streets, security measures that hopefully will have the effect of alienating republican communities. Secondly to undermine and hopefully isolate Adams and McGuinness, the republican Old Guard, by placing them in the invidious position of either collaborating with the authorities, and risking the ire of many among their own ranks, or else refusing to cooperate with the authorities and face being ostracised by their unionist partners and the British government.
Thus far Adams and McGuinness have opted for the former of the aforementioned options, which could well result in deep resentment within their own ranks amongst those who would view such collaboration as treachery to republican ideals.
This thing is obviously at its very early stages, but even so already the RIRA have succeeded in creating a political crisis in reminding all involved that the contradiction in the North of Ireland that lay at the root of the original Troubles – partition – has still not been resolved. As with South Africa post-apartheid, the peace process in the Six Counties has merely succeeded in creating a new political class, which has arisen on the back of huge UK government subsidies in a clear attempt to buy the acquiesence of both the loyalist and republican communities. Belfast city centre may be booming, but travel out to the working class communities on the outskirts and you enter a different world. Here the old divisions are as entrenched as they were during 30 years of conflict.
The Adams leadership has clearly been shaken by these events, as have the British Government, which is precisely the impact the RIRA intended.