Blood and Ink
Author Note: The following is strictly a brief summary to bring the reader up to speed on the historical background that gave way to the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As an impartial observer, I’m only summarizing my research on the net. Should it come off as one-sided that is certainly not the intent, knowledge is the only goal here. While the clear history of one side’s suppression becomes evident, the violent agenda by the other in retaliation is hardly justified in my mind. The first part of the article delves into Irish history: the partition, the Catholic versus Protestant conflict, and the IRA. The second part of the article covers the recently announced disarmament by the IRA and its implications for the future.
In 1920, with the British Empire slowly dismantling in the rest of the world, the British government decided to pull out of Ireland. The stumbling block for Britain was the reluctant Protestants who lived in what is now referred as Northern Ireland. The Protestants, the majority, believed they were British based on their history (refer to “Plantation of Ulster” ) and were willing to fight for their right. Feeling obligated to the Protestant majority, Britain could only come up with the partition as a solution. When the island was partitioned, with the northeast becoming Northern Ireland and the rest of the country a separate entity under British jurisdiction, discontent was breeding. Catholics in Northern Ireland felt shortchanged and robbed out of their heritage, while the Protestants felt entitled to control Northern Ireland. With both sides claiming to be victims and heeding a select version of history, conflict was imminent.
Sinn Fein, the governing body of Ireland at the time, split on the partition decision. The majority of Irish favored the partition, but the minority didn't. The minority wanted nothing short of Irish unity and wanted no British influence whatsoever. This internal conflict led to a civil war that ironically killed more Irish than those killed by the British during the War of Liberation.
A militant minority had always been present in Ireland since the partition. With Catholics increasingly feeling alienated and discriminated against by the Irish government, a civil rights movement began in Ireland mirroring Martin Luther King Jr.’s successful movement in the U.S. When the non-violent protests with simple demands like the right to vote for Catholics netted no results, the militant minority swelled in ranks and the IRA came into existence as a reckonable force. Events like the Bloody Sunday massacre and the worsening living conditions for Catholics spread the divide further and gave root to the violent campaigns by the IRA and other factions (to read more about the different factions of IRA, the CIRA, and the PIRA, check here.). This is the historical backdrop that fueled the IRA to wreak havoc all over Ireland and Britain for the last three decades of the 20th century.
On Thursday, the IRA called for all of its volunteers to disarm, officially ending a 36-year guerilla campaign against the British government. Politically, Tony Blair has a flair for the propitious spotlight. Just when his luck hit a wall, drawing unfavorable eyes to his alliance with Bush in the wake of the London train bombings; just when widespread restlessness over the investigations is set to ripple his calm, lands the IRA disarmament news like a parachuted barrel of gifts.
Though this calculated peace had been years in the making since the cease-fire in 1997, the favorable news arrives just when a rankled public desperately needs it. The IRA fought not only to renounce British rule of Ireland, but also to re-unify the 32 counties of Ireland. Viewed by many as a necessity, the power-shared government between IRA leaders and the British government is a less-than-ideal solution for both sides. Meanwhile, that other cause about unifying the 32 counties seems far-fetched based on the proposed agreements.
Ed Muloney, respected Irish journalist and author of “The Secret History of the IRA”, remains skeptical of what this portends, “…the I.R.A. leadership, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, will keep the I.R.A. going as a sort of semi-criminal type organization which has the potential to cause instability to the peace process. And out of that instability, Sinn Fein builds electoral support. So this has become a story which is less about the achievement of Irish unity or Irish independence and now is more really about, …how Sinn Fein grows into a major political party.” Doesn’t this sound similar to the blown peace treaties by Israel-PLO or Sri Lanka-Tamil Tigers? Every time a peace treaty was on the table, some unsanctioned rogue faction (on either side) conveniently disrupted the peace signings with a callous attack on an unsuspecting target; only to have the respective leaders bemoan the killings and walk away from the treaty as if it hurt them to retreat from peace. Blood and ink will never flow together.
Perhaps leveraging their motives politically will prove far more successful for Adams and McGuinness by winning them admirers on all fronts. But the new IRA is allegedly involved in racketeering, pushing pirated DVDs and CDs from China, and selling stolen cigarettes door-to-door, accounting for the sudden wealth among some of its Army council members. While we all welcome peaceful negotiations and the prospect of World Peace (beauty pageant finalists included), it is disenchanting to see a once righteous struggle that was emboldened by the blood and fury of patriots now receive a lukewarm compromise. But what is more shameful, some robber barons will take their well-proven path to political power, trading years of resolve by others for aisle seats; burying yet another earnest cry for emancipation in bureaucratic fodder.
Sources:--“The IRA and Sinn Fein”. Frontline Online. Frontline/BBC Interview with Paul Arthur.
--“Irish Republican Army Announces End to Violence”. By Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now!
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