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Ed Moloney and the IRA ceasefires… July 6, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Uncategorized.
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Reading the Irish Times yesterday I noticed that Ed Moloney has uncovered yet another piece of information from his one size fits all theory that the roots of the IRA ceasefires were planted many many years before 1994 (incidentally his rather interesting work A Secret History of the IRA on just that topic is reprinted in a new and updated edition this month). A theory that implicitly ascribes a level of devious manipulation to the Adams leadership which, so it is purported, went over the heads of the ordinary decent members of the IRA and Sinn Féin to deliver a deal which led ultimately to the establishment of Stormont Mark II.

The piece of information that slots yet another brick in that wall is a leetter from Father Alex Reid to Charles Haughey which outlines – or so it is said – Adams ‘terms for an IRA ceasefire seven years before it happened’.

According to Moloney “within those terms it is possible to discern the principles – and compromises – that underlay what became the Belfast Agreement. The other point of significance is that it reveals that Mr Adams was actively contemplating a ceasefire and a wholly political strategy at a time when the rest of the IRA leadership was committed to intensifying violence. The letter serves to strengthen the view that Mr Adams has for many years been working to a pre-cooked agenda not necessarily shared by all his colleagues”.

Hmmm. Well we’ll return to these ‘points of significance’ in a moment, but what does the letter suggest are the outlines?

Fr Reid wrote: “These principles as I understand them may be set out as follows:

“1. The aim of ‘the armed struggle’ is to establish the right of all the Irish people to decide their own political future through dialogue among themselves. The establishment of a 32-county socialist republic is not therefore the aim of this struggle. From the Sinn Féin point of view this is a political ideal to be pursued and achieved by political strategies only.

“2. The British must in some formal and credible way declare their willingness to set aside the claim enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 that they have in their own right the power of veto of the democratic decisions of the Irish people as a whole. In practice it would be sufficient for them to declare their willingness to set aside the Government of Ireland Act, 1920 in view of any agreements that the representatives of the people of Ireland in dialogue among themselves might make about their constitutional and political future.

“Such a declaration would set the scene for a ceasefire by the IRA.

All fair enough. It continues:

“This principle relates only to the right of veto which the British authorities claim in Ireland on the basis of the 1920 Act. It should not therefore be taken to mean that Sinn Féin want the British to withdraw from Ireland at the present time. On the contrary they accept and would even insist on the need for a continuing British presence to facilitate the processes through which the constitutional and political structures of a just and lasting peace would be firmly and properly laid by the democratic decisions of the Irish people as a whole.

“Once the representatives of all the Irish people, nationalist and unionist, could meet together in accordance with the principle of independence outlined in (2) above, all options for a settlement of the national question, for organising the constitutional and political structures of a just and lasting peace would be open for dialogue and decision.”

Moloney suggests that:

All this, of course, is exactly what happened: the British publicly declared their neutrality in Northern Ireland, allowed the local parties to make their own deal unhampered, and eventually amended the 1920 Act. On the republican side, the IRA called the promised ceasefire while Sinn Féin has accepted a continuing British presence and no longer talks about “a 32-county socialist republic”. In the shape of the Belfast and St Andrews’ agreements the party also made good its promise to embrace “all options” for a settlement and the implied principle of consent.

Yet, perhaps it is me, but isn’t there a touch of retrofitting the past to fit the thesis here? A number of thoughts strike me. Firstly it was hardly unreasonable to detach the ultimate ‘political’ goal of a 32-county socialist republic from an end to the armed struggle. Indeed one might argue that within the broad coalition of SF and the IRA which had socialist and nationalist wings (I use the terms advisedly, but I hope their sense comes across) this was only logical. Not all were wedded to the socialist Republic. Not all were entirely wedded to armed struggle. One could be detached from the other because ‘armed struggle’ (whatever some in Éirígí seem to believe) was never the absolute touchstone for the ‘socialist’ contingent.

Secondly, the overwhelming issue of pushing Britain to the sidelines, or as close as was possible, would account for (2.). And this would to some extent deal with the Gordian knot that was ‘consent’ and the Unionist veto. Now, however unsatisfactory for purists the GFA by running parallel referendums on both sides of the Border (albeit not quite on the same question) did provide for at least some measure of all-island validation for subsequent structures, and clearly significantly more than had ever been presented in the past, or more than dissidents could ever hope to garner particularly while they remained in a mode where they would not participate in any meaningful way in political contests. Whether all this could be foreseen by anyone in 1987 is a moot point.

Consider again when Moloney suggests that: The other point of significance is that it reveals that Mr Adams was actively contemplating a ceasefire and a wholly political strategy at a time when the rest of the IRA leadership was committed to intensifying violence. The letter serves to strengthen the view that Mr Adams has for many years been working to a pre-cooked agenda not necessarily shared by all his colleagues

There is a very different interpretation possible. This was during a period where there was continuous violence. There was clear indications of a stalemate between the security forces and PIRA, but a stalemate can continue indefinitely, that’s the point. This was during a period when Britain had one of the most intransigent administrations of modern times under Margaret Thatcher. This was a year after the Anglo-Irish Agreement where Unionism had been faced down – to a limited degree, and Republicanism had been yet again sidelined as irrelevant. Sinn Féin was far from the monolithic presence it became in the 1990s in the North.

Isn’t it possible to suggest that this was kite flying. A means perhaps of lifting the pressure to even a limited degree. Because…who in 1987 would seriously believe that an Irish government, much less a British government would deal with Sinn Féin, let alone the PIRA, that ceasefires were possible with an organisation so clearly engaged in prosecuting an armed campaign, that that organisation could compromise to the point of disbandment?

So perhaps this was just good politics. Throw out an idea. See if it comes back, and all the while continue with the campaign. There is no reason to impute Machiavellian motives (although whether this presents us with a better or worse picture of Adams et al is a different question entirely), no reason to see some grand strategy which was planned down to a detail and bore fruit along a predicted and predictable path by those arch-manipulators. Simply a situation where PSF sought to ‘broaden the battlefield’, engage with everyone it could and see what came up.

But then that wouldn’t sell books, nor would it serve a mythology of omniscience that recent political events south of the Border have brought into some question. Nor, and here is the curious part, also feed those who find the GFA anathema and who consider this analysis to be pretty much the truth. Their resentment at a resurgent PSF dwindles not a bit despite their (thankful) inactivity. And all this is grist to their mill.

But then conspiracy and betrayal are always more attractive prisms through which to interpret the world and events than the banality of mistake and misinterpretation.

Comments»

1. Wednesday - July 6, 2007

Oh God, Ed Moloney. He’s almost too easy a target, but here goes.

Sinn Féin has accepted a continuing British presence and no longer talks about “a 32-county socialist republic”.

Funnily enough it’s right there in the very first section of the Introduction page on our website.

http://www.sinnfein.ie/introduction

The party leadership, up to and including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, also continue to refer to it at Ard Fheiseanna. Not that Moloney would know, since he hasn’t been invited to one in about 15 years.

isn’t there a touch of retrofitting the past to fit the thesis here?

Yes, well, that’s his stock in trade. Recall how he “proved” in A Secret History… that the (admittedly horrific) Cristín Ní Elias incident occurred as a result of her getting on Adams’s bad side. What was the evidence? An “inside scoop” that she had said something that ruffled his feathers at an Ard Chomhairle meeting… three years earlier.

Nor, and here is the curious part, also feed those who find the GFA anathema and who consider this analysis to be pretty much the truth.

Yes. Of course most of them wouldn’t believe the first thing out of Moloney’s mouth about whatever organisation they support.

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2. Worldbystorm - July 6, 2007

All, very true Wednesday. I’ve always found it curious that Moloney takes the line he does. Is there a specific reason?

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3. Conor McCabe - July 7, 2007

Moloney’s book is simply shit. It reminds me of Kevin K. Kearn’s oral history books of inner city Dublin – both have taken at face value an awful lot of bullshit and have been seduced by it.

As far as Reid’s letter goes – it it simply bad research to take one letter out of a series of letters that relate to setting the context for a final statement and say “well this one is the key one.” No. The final one – the actual prepered statement is the key one.

This is what happens when reporters bring their gumshoe methods to historical research. And God, it’s only history that seems to suffer from these bloody idiots.

One letter out of a series of letters that relate to trying to find an agreed set of words for a statement – and Moloney says this one letter is the ACTUAL key to it all?

journalists. Always looking for the EXCULSIVE! historical writing, however, is all about context. Moloney should be force-fed Braudel’s Mediterranean a la Clockwork Orange – eyes prised open for seven days until he gets it.

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4. splinteredsunrise - July 7, 2007

Yes, I’ve never been convinced by Ed’s thesis that Gerry had everything planned out years in advance. Gerry is a smart guy, but often it seems to me like he’s been navigating without a compass and looking to see what comes up.

Now hindsight is a wonderful thing. You can quote Billy McKee to the effect that he never trusted Gerry and always basically thought him a covert Stick. I believe Billy on that, but I don’t think his subjective reaction to Gerry explains the peace process.

A few years back Jonathan Neale of the SWP wrote a book on the Vietnam War where he says, literally at the start, that the VC set out to build state capitalism. That may be Jonathan’s theoretical view of how Vietnam turned out, but you can only explain why the VC fought if you concede that they were fighting for national liberation and socialism, or their version of it. It’s the law of unintended consequences.

Well, as somebody who isn’t keen on the GFA process, I find Ed’s history (and dissident demonology) a bit like that. I don’t think it’s necessary to believe that Gerry set out to renounce republicanism, which he hasn’t ever formally done. It makes more sense to see people going in with republican goals and getting caught in the logic of the process.

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5. WorldbyStorm - July 7, 2007

That seems a fair point splinteredsunrise about the logic of the process, although whether Adams was a covert Stick…hmmm. I’m presuming you mean that in the sense that he would have broadly been a socialist Republican rather than in a literal reading…

Conor, completely agree. Moloney’s work is presented as an ‘historical’ account and yet it is so far from an historical methodology that it’s laughable…

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6. splinteredsunrise - July 7, 2007

Well, I should probably have made it clearer that I believe Billy McKee believed that he tended that way. Billy of course always having been a strong traditionalist republican.

I think a lot of this comes from the well-sourced story that Gerry was an Ard Fheis delegate in 1970 and didn’t walk out. I believe Ed got that from the late Jim Sullivan, and I’ve heard it separately from Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dessie O’Hagan. In itself that doesn’t really prove much except that Gerry is a cautious bloke and was slow to pick his side. Probably also that he was never as dogmatic as the Ó Brádaighites.

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7. Wednesday - July 7, 2007

I’ve always found it curious that Moloney takes the line he does. Is there a specific reason?

I lean towards the “desperate for attention” theory, although for whatever it’s worth, a close comrade of mine claims to have seen him pished out of his skull in a pub once, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, banging on about how there was still a need for an armed struggle.

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8. ejh - July 7, 2007

Neale’s book on the navy’s good fun. The bit that sticks in my mind is the one about rolling cannonballs along the deck at night to try and bring down an officer.

Also the bit about how much the rum ration was….

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9. franklittle - July 9, 2007

I think Splintered’s suggestion is correct. What happened to Sinn Féin in the North was going in to a process with honestly-held republican objectives, having realised military success was not possible, and then being caught up in the political logic and structures designed to institutionalise the Republican Movement, which it has largely succeeded in doing. I’ve always believed that however smart Adams is the ‘success’ of Sinn Féin (Depending on how you define success) was more because of the dearth of talent or thinking in ‘Dissident’ republicanism, than because he is some sort of infallible political genius.

As for Moloney, it’s clear that for whatever reason he carries a very bitter torch for Adams in particular. I’ve always thought that to an extent, much like there are people in British Intelligence and the IRA who miss the ‘good old days’ and the murky intrigue, there are journalists who might feel the same way, like Moloney. Or Breen whose addiction to marginal aspects of republicanism is increasingly bizarre.

I also think part of the reason goes back to what Wednesday said about him not being invited to Ard Fheiseanna. A friend of mine, who would be in a position to know, said that reading Moloney’s book it was clear the only people he had talked to in any substantial way were the Anti-Adams faction. His understanding was that the Adams side simply refused to talk to Moloney. If a journalist, already carrying a grudge, only hears from the side reinforcing his prejudices, what surprise if the book ends up that way.

That said, his mistakes, grudges and spin doesn’t make everything he has written incorrect. Just that they should not be accepted with the gospel like reverance they are currently received.

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10. Ed Hayes - July 9, 2007

Moloney comes from the far left, having been in PD in his QUB days. I would guess that at least part of what informs his views is that he was once quite supportive of Adams and co, in the late 1970s, when they seemed to be turning the movement distinctly to the left. He grew disillusioned and more bitter about them as the years went on. This informs and weakens his book, although I would not go as far as to say it is ‘shit.’ Compared to what exactly? Kevin Rafter, Brian Fenney, Richard English? A sense of proportion would not go astray here. Moloney is a journalist, complete with prejiduces. As is S. Breen. Gerry Adams refuses to even admit ever being a member of the IRA despite being a leading figure in an organisation that waged war on my and yours behalf for 30 years, killing more Catholics than the Brits and achiveing bascially fuck-all in my humble opinion. At least nothing that was worth killing 1,700 people for. There is a crying need for a serious study of all this but given that all of us are coming down with our own baggage its difficult to see how it could be written. Moloney’s work is deeply flawed but given that the Provos were telling people not to talk to him and in effect saying he was a tout, who else was he going to talk to? I wouldn’t believe a word Danny Morrison and Jim Gibney say anyway. Thats my prejiduce. After listening to lies from them for years I’m entitled to it!

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11. WorldbyStorm - July 9, 2007

Ah, PD you say Ed. Interesting. I’d always thought he was of the left, and that would explain why he emphasises some people in the story more than others whereas others who have taken on this topic seem to ignore them. I do tend to agree, on reflection, that his work has some interesting aspects, although English is in purely factual contexts better.

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12. Redking - July 10, 2007

Now now Ed, we all know that the Provos were not actually resposnible for all that stuff-it was all the Brits fault of course.
I recall Martin McGuinness being interviewed on the radio a few years back at one of the stalled junctures in the peace process and he was expounding the usual provospeak- “move the situation forward… the reality of the situation is this,….republicans have suffered as well you know blah blah etc.
McGuinness said he would take the latest government proposals back to “senior IRA members” for consideration, the interviewer interjected “More senior than you Mr McGuinness?” Martin was apoplectic-he huffed and puffed about what an outrageous allegation to make, etc. Made me laugh.

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13. franklittle - July 10, 2007

*lol* I hadn’t heard that story.

That said, from everything that’s now in the public domain Adams & McGuinness did have difficulties bringing the IRA with them, at least at one or two junctures. Whatever internal opposition there was has long since dissipated of course, or formed the new revolutionary vanguard in RIRA or CIRA.

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