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The conflict in the north and ‘international backers’… May 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
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Yasssamine Mathers writes in the CPGB Weekly Worker, which can be read here, about the arrest of Gerry Adams and she asks the following:

So why is Sinn Féin still supporting the peace process and why did it not ask for firmer guarantees at the time of the deal?
The reality is that at the time of the Good Friday agreement Sinn Féin/IRA had lost its international backers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The party had little choice but to accept the conditions imposed by the UK government: it was not winning the war, and ambitions of office also played their part. Ironically SF’s current electoral success is based on nostalgia for that period and respect for the martyrs of the war, yet in seeking legitimacy and electoral success Sinn Féin keeps tripping over its past.

That’s an interesting thesis as regards Sinn Féin and the IRA losing ‘international backers’ but I’m trying to think of any that would have affected them substantially by 1998. Their support appears to have been not from the USSR or Eastern bloc (at least to any great extent) but instead from individual states, one thinks of Libya, or organisations like the ANC (and the history of those links is already very interesting and one would wonder is more yet to come on that score) that tended to plough their own furrow.

The USSR itself was notably circumspect about engaging too fully in the conflict. Tangentially this has been mentioned on the CLR in relation to the North before.

What do people think of the argument?

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Comments»

1. CL - May 15, 2014

The United States played a key role in the GFA.

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2. EamonnCork - May 15, 2014

Yep and I don’t really think the Weekly Worker argument holds much water. The republican movement always depended far more on the likes of Noraid than they did on the Soviet Union. Though speaking of international considerations I always think it’s a good think the GFA was wrapped up long before 9/11 and a Bush government with its ‘war on terror,’ which I’d imagine would have been extremely hostile to armed republicanism over here.

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CL - May 15, 2014

It took a while after the GFA to surrender weapons etc.
Richard Haass was in Dublin on 9/11. He was then the special envoy to N.I. All planes being grounded he couldn’t get back to the U.S. He went to Belfast and met Adams and McGuinness. And told them never again would they find any support in the U.S for violence, even from their traditional supporters. A few years later the IRA gave up its weapons which led to the power-sharing arrangement.

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eamonncork - May 15, 2014

The deaths of the firemen at the World Trade Centre probably finished off most of the lingering Irish-American support for armed struggle alright. Funnily enough I remember a leaflet from my local SF rep at the time coming in the door a couple of weeks later, pointing out the wider context in which the attacks had occurred, unusual I thought.
And being in a pub the day all the pubs in the country were supposed to have closed down which was full of people who were making a point by coming out for a drink. It was around that time too that Niall O’Dowd was berating the ingratitude of Irish people who weren’t sufficiently sympathetic.
I think the attacks were an abomination myself but I also agreed with Susan Sontag’s line, “Let’s by all means grieve together but let’s not be stupid together.”

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shea - May 15, 2014

it is bold claim on haass part though, that some irish americans built networks for the provo’s in the states was not with that states blessing or approval i would presume. The support or lack of support for violence at any time amongst the irish in the states or Britain or Australia has more to to do with the weight of support or lack of support for that tactic at that time in Ireland or the north of ireland at that time surely?

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CL - May 16, 2014

Right. But what Haass is saying to McGuinness and Adams is that now with the destruction of the twin towers there is such a revulsion against terrorism that it is time for the republican movement to renounce the use of violence and for the IRA to decommission, otherwise there will be no political support for Sinn Fein in the U.S. Obviously the peace process had been set in train years before 9/11, but there was no inevitability that the IRA would disband. I think its safe to say that 9/11 hastened that dissolution.

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doctorfive - May 16, 2014

Think I’ve mentioned before about Irish kids growing up associating ‘republicanism’ with three lads in balaclavas walking through the woods. Thanks to RTÉ using the same clip for ten years. ‘Guerilla’ all but disappeared from news reader’s vocabulary after 2001. I remember a kind of imagery that went with it for most of the nineties and then it just vanished. All non-state actors are now boxed under ‘terrorist’ but ‘freedom fighter’ made a surprise come back when western journalists were deciding who to arm in Syria last year.

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3. eamonncork - May 15, 2014

Actually, I also remember some crowing in the English media along the lines of, “now Irish-Americans, serves you right,” at the time which seemed to me in much worse taste than anything which was said here.

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CL - May 15, 2014

Obama is in NYC today helping to dedicate the memorial museum at Ground Zero.

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Starkadder - May 15, 2014

“Actually, I also remember some crowing in the English media along the lines of, “now Irish-Americans, serves you right,” at the time which seemed to me in much worse taste than anything which was said here.”

The Sunday Independent ran an article about the Oklahoma
bombing by Conor Cruise O’Brien which basically went
“at least this will discourage Americans from supporting
Sinn Fein”.

They also had a piece from Mary
Ellen Synon about how Clinton was going to use it
“to take away guns from white working class Americans”.

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EamonnCork - May 15, 2014

The sheer classiness of it all.

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4. Garibaldy - May 15, 2014

Is it just me, or is this utter nonsense?

“Ironically SF’s current electoral success is based on nostalgia for that period and respect for the martyrs of the war …”

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EamonnCork - May 15, 2014

It’s not just you. ‘Nostalgia for that period.’ Jesus. Ironically, sentences which begin with the word ‘ironically’ are more likely to be stupid than ironic.

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CL - May 15, 2014

Ironically enough, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

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5. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) - May 15, 2014

The end of the conflict had everything to do with war weariness in Ireland and Britain and nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’ve heard the Cold War argument before but always in Right-wing British circles and usually for an American audience (the evils of the “communist” IRA). Odd to hear it on the Left.

On 9/11 American and Irish-American support for SF’s strategy was locked away well before then. SF had spent years laying the groundwork for that. Again it is an argument from BritNat sources trying to create a false analogy between militant Irish Republicanism and militant Islam for an American audience (and themselves as well).

The late unlamented Doris Lessing was a good example of the British obsession with evil Irish-Americans with her claim that the (P)IRA campaign in Britain was worse than 9/11. More recently Paul Thorux made several nasty statements in relation to the Boston Marathon bombings and Irish-American communities in the city. When it comes to Irish-America the British are trapped in a mythical 19th century worldview. The very thing they accuse others of.

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CL - May 15, 2014

9/11 probably did accelerate IRA disarmament. Richard Haass thinks so. But there is still unfinished business. And Haass is reported to be returning to Ireland soon.

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Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) - May 15, 2014

Haass may think it but that doesn’t make it true. Something along the finally agreed lines was always going to happen once the BFA was signed up to. It was all about timing. Irish-American support was grossly exagerated for political/propaganda purposes, mainly by the British. Libya contributed more munitions to (P)IRA in two years than Irish-America did in the previous twenty years. Out of 40 million Irish-Americans the number of active Republican supporters was in the hundreds not the tens of thousands. They were important but more for their political muscle than financial or military.

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CL - May 15, 2014

Today as the 9/11 memorial is being dedicated I just heard someone on the radio quote the IRA statement after the Brighton bombing: ‘we need only be lucky once, you need to be lucky all the time’.

9/11 had a profound effect on American public opinion.

After 9/11 if Sinn Fein wanted to continue to rely on U.S political support armed struggle was no longer an option.

And Haass’s conversation with Adams and McGuinness immediately after the attack on the twin towers probably did have an effect.

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Kevin Bean - May 15, 2014

Mark Ryan wrote an excellent account of the international dimensions of the Irish peace process in his ‘War and Peace in Ireland’, published in the mid-1990s.He argued that the collapse of a number of national liberation movements, the decline of radical politics in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and the evolving peace process model , involving the United States as an external ‘guarantor’ were all significant external factors in shaping Irish republicanism some time before the September 11th attacks.To me the main external factors were those that established a climate of opinion and sense that there was no alternative to the peace process rather than simple funding and ‘support’ as conventionally argued.

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CL - May 15, 2014

9/11 was of course only one factor. But that “climate of opinion and sense that there was no alternative to the peace process” was substantially strengthened by 9/11, and led eventually to IRA demommissioning and the power-sharing arrangement.

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Starkadder - May 15, 2014

” I’ve heard the Cold War argument before but always in Right-wing British circles and usually for an American audience (the evils of the “communist” IRA). Odd to hear it on the Left.”

Ah, the old “Ireland will become Europe’s Cuba!”
argument.

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6. Brian Hanley - May 15, 2014

Has anyone here actually read what NORAID said after 9/11? There was nobody who actively supported the Provos in America who thought- ‘oh no, we are doing just the same as these Al Qaeda guys, we’d better stop’. As Kevin and others have pointed out above things had shifted massively well before that. NORAID were won over to the peace strategy in 1994-96 and Friends of Sinn Féin set up to harness the new money and support (that would not have been forthcoming without the ceasefires). Niall O’Dowd emerged as a key figure in relations between the Clintons, corporate Irish America and the republican movement and a whole new course was being charted.
On support from the US I would disagree with the Libyan comparison- the Libyans sent vast quantities of arms to a movement that may already have been on the road to a ceasefire. The money and guns sent from the US between 1970-72 were vitally important to a movement that thought it was on the verge of victory.

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CL - May 15, 2014

Yes but Adams had still to carry the majority of the republican movement with him and avoid a split, especially over decommissioning,-an unprecedented step effectively ending the IRA as an army. In this the fallout from 9/11 surely helped. Looking backwards from the end result it is easy,-too easy-to see the end result as inevitable. But the various actors in the process, as they made decisions, probably did not see the process as predetermined.

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Dr.Nightdub - May 16, 2014

Wasn’t half the problem for the Provos that while the Libyans sent loads of stuff, a lot of it didn’t actually arrive?

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