Some interesting news just in from Ireland. Observers of Northern Ireland politics may remember the massive bank raid last December, where the thieves netted UKP 26.5 million. The dogs in the street knew that the IRA were responsible, but when the UK and Irish governments, as well as the body charged with monitoring the ceasefire said as much, they were met with vociferous and indignant denials from both the IRA itself, and from Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing. Now, Irish police have arrested seven men who appear to have been in possession of large quantities of Northern Ireland banknotes; it appears that those arrested include two Sinn Fein members, one of whom is a former elected representative. As the leader of the Irish Labour party, Pat Rabbitte has noted in a statement:
even at an early stage, it appeared that today’s events were particularly significant in the context of the Northern Bank robbery and subsequent denials by IRA and Sinn Féin.
At this stage, one hesitates to make any definitive pronouncements – the possibility exists that these jokers had a perfectly legitimate reason to be carting around UKP 2.3 million in Northern Ireland and British banknotes. But if it does indeed turn out that this is some of the missing cash, it puts Sinn Fein in an extremely awkward position. Everybody knows quite well that they’ve been lying through their teeth about IRA involvement in the bank raid – but there hasn’t been any smoking gun evidence that would put the lie to them. It’s clear to even a casual observer that the IRA and Sinn Fein are organically linked, and there’s very strong reason to suspect that Sinn Fein’s electoral successes in the Republic have been bankrolled in part by the proceeds of crime in the North. This has been having an extremely damaging effect on democratic politics in the Republic. It’s long past time for Sinn Fein to decide whether it’s a normal political party in a democratic system or the political wing of a particularly nasty private army that even during its supposed ceasefire has consistently demonstrated its keenness to maim and cripple innocents.
If the US government is willing, it has a very easy means of signalling how drastically Sinn Fein/IRA’s political options have narrowed. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parties at the White House have been an integral part of the peace process. When Sinn Fein leaders started getting invites as well as democratic politicians, it signalled the US government’s willingness to underwrite Sinn Fein’s role in the negotiations, and any subsequent political arrangements. The gossip around Washington has been that the entire occasion is going to be cancelled this year because the US government doesn’t want to meet and greet terrorists – but also doesn’t want to single them out for disfavor for fear of offending Sinn Fein’s friends on Capitol Hill. If the government wants to send out the right signals it should go ahead and hold the function – but invite only representatives of those political parties that are committed exclusively to democratic politics. This may sound like diplomatic niceties – but it would send a quite powerful signal, and, I suspect, have a substantial chastening effect on a group of people who are in sore need of chastening.