Driving Out the Snakes

by Henry Farrell on March 8, 2005

Via “Armed Liberal”:http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/006456.php, I see that George W. Bush appears to be on the verge of “taking action”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1516076,00.html to signal emphatically to Sinn Fein that they are _personae non gratae_, unless they get rid of the hard men in the IRA. I’d noted in a “previous post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/003252.html that there was a political controversy over whether Sinn Fein would be specifically singled out for exclusion from the St. Patrick’s Day party in the White House, or whether instead all political parties would be disinvited from the party, so as to make the snub less pointed. Now, according to the _Times_ it appears that no political party is going to get an invitation to the reception – but that the relatives of a recent victim of the IRA will be invited to the White House instead. If the _Times_ is right on this (the story seems to have some legs, but rightwing British papers are frequently unreliable sources on Northern Ireland politics), the Bush administration is sending about as clear and unambiguous a signal as one could possibly hope for. Interestingly, the signals from the North seem to suggest that Sinn Fein and the IRA recognize that they’re in real political trouble – not only because of the frost in their relations with the Irish, British and US governments, but also, more importantly, because of protests from natural constituency in the Catholic working class communities in Northern Ireland (where the murder in question has been highly controversial). For the first time in my memory, there’s a serious internal challenge to the IRA’s ability to control its own community, and to the frequently brutal actions of its hard men. Getting rid of them would be a considerable step forward for democratic politics in the North.



Steve LaBonne 03.08.05 at 11:33 pm

As an Irish-American who has long been ashamed of the financial support given to the IRA thugs and their “respectable” front men by too many Irish-Americans, and of the outrageous deference of so many American politicians toward them, I really, really hope you’re right.


John Isbell 03.08.05 at 11:36 pm

Unexpected good news, if so. Some of the hypocrisy of the War on Terra is shed.


Hektor Bim 03.09.05 at 1:13 am

I’d feel better about this if I thought it might lead to a general repudiation of all armed thugs in NI. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

I favor the IRA going out of business and Sinn Fein becoming a normal political party, but it seems like no one has an idea how to handle the loyalists, some of whom are still killing people.

After the IRA is shut down, what do people think should be done with the loyalists, who have extremely weak political arms but a “look the other way” attitude from the DUP?

So two cheers for this, but not three.


Hektor Bim 03.09.05 at 1:16 am

Two cheers for this. The IRA needs to be shut down.

What do people plan on doing about the loyalists? Their political wings are a joke, but they seem to have political cover to some extent anyway.


Hektor Bim 03.09.05 at 1:22 am

Man, the comment software is lousy. It took ten minutes to register my comment. Software like this is just asking for double posts.

Why are you using javascript and a cgi form to take care of comments? Couldn’t you do one or the other?

Is your hardware for this site just really slow, or is the cgi script you have running without mod_perl?


daithimacmhaolmhuaidh 03.09.05 at 2:15 am

It’s been pointed out in Slugger’s comments and elsewhere that the “Irish Americans” influencing a lot of the congressmen etc in the States are taking the line that the snowballing news stories, politicians, media, man on the street opinion etc at home are all just out to discredit poor innocent SF. I hope Bush’s harder line wins the day.


P O'Neill 03.09.05 at 2:25 am

The story about the McCartneys getting the WH invite seems to be correct, although it sounds like it broke 24 hours sooner than the WH wanted (http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0308/mccartneyr.html).

A more precise test of where SF & IRA stand in their bedrock constituencies will come with the UK election in May. And while it’s a well-intentioned gesture to invite the relatives, it can be characterised as a foreign policy that reaches over the heads of democratically elected politicians to the current media favourites.


Jonathan 03.09.05 at 4:47 am

A site with the amount of traffic and comments that this gets should be using scoop, I think. That would also allow you to implement handy features such as “hidden comments” and “comment ratings,” which would make this even more fun.

I would also like the opportunity to vote on stories.


ChrisPer 03.09.05 at 8:53 am

There are a lot of news stories over the last few years which indicate that the IRA is more of a criminal gang now. Bank robbery, organised extortion of businesses, all the features of organised crime.


kate 03.09.05 at 10:27 am

just for hektor’s edification, today, a member of DUP is complaining that the Criminal Assets Agency is seizing far more loyalist assets than Republican.If recent newspaper reports are true, its may be because loyalists don’t seem as sophisticated as the Ra when it comes to hiding its money.

However, the two groups of thugs present actually two different problems. Loyalism has no or little political voice and finds it cannot articulate its demands. It has become really just gangsters fighting other similar gangsters (which can have civilian casualties) over physical territory.

The IRA, with its ballot box in one hand, has a rather successful partner in Sinn Fein. What do you do when a party gets votes (quite a few) while still with a nod and a wink or sometimes with a five page statement believe that justice is administered down the barrel of a gun.

I suppose one is a groups of criminals that may (or may not) be in need of politics. The other is a groups of politicians that has some quite obviously criminals as part of its organisation.


Hektor Bim 03.09.05 at 11:30 am


My impression was that the loyalists also carry out targeted killings of people who are not “similar gangsters”, i.e. Catholics who happen to be around when they feel jumpy.

And this statement by the DUP is exactly the problem. If the DUP is really against armed groups, they shouldn’t care about the relative size of hauls, they should just want them all taken. But they still find the need to compare things.


strewelpeter 03.09.05 at 12:10 pm

Chrisper, The Provos have always been a criminal gang. The armed wing of a Nationalist Socialist political party (geddit), in their current incarnation they arose during the early 70’s in a political vacuum that grew out of a failure of British and Irish governments to deal with the sectarian Northern Ireland state.
Up to the 1970’s life was difficult for the Irish people of Northern Ireland as the British people held most of the resources and power. It was difficult in the way it is difficult for disadvantaged poor communities everywhere but not difficult like it was in Soweto under apartheid, Israeli occupied Palestine or even the Jim Crow South. By the early 70’s there were free and (mostly) fair elections and with the civil rights movement had taken hold of the consciousness of people all over the world and a growth in the confidence of the previously timid Irish state the time was coming right for change. In 1973 there was an agreement on the table that was to all intents and purposes the same deal that is close to being implemented today. The reason that it failed then is the same as it is failing now. A bunch of thugs the type of which are found in every society, find political justification from another bunch of pseudo intellectuals with adolescent Nationalist Socialist ideas. In a society where the police force is not trusted by large sections of the community they become the police and thus control all criminality. There is of course huge money to be made by being the police and the organising force behind all the crime in the community. Once you have established this kind of lucrative system it is very difficult to break it down.

As to what will happen next, well now it really is time for the provos to ‘sh*t or get off the pot’ as we say here. No matter what the result of the upcoming elections the time is coming fast where the inevitable split will happen. There will be those who will want to hold on to their lucrative little patches of power with the threat of violence (see today’s statement from the Fascists detailing how they offered to shoot those implicated in the murder of Robert McCartney) until the very end. It is inevitable that some of these Nazis will remain within the Sinn Fein establishment hoping to hold on to their power when they become part of the government and there will also be those who will want to continue with the types of activities that they won’t get away with in government, the protection rackets, drugs, fuel smuggling, money laundering etc. If we are optimistic we could think that Sinn Fein are in a process of trying to dampen as much of this activity as they can as a prelude to going into government, that perhaps they deliberately backed out of Government last November because they knew that the ‘hard men’ were not ready for it and that it would collapse at the first big criminal incident (the northern bank raid was being planned at that time). A pessimist would say that while there are some in SF who are on a political path the Nazis are in complete control of the republican movement and will only ever cover up and obfuscate their real position until they get into power and then get to do the things that Nazis do. As some of the politicians from the Unionist community might put it – the day of reckoning is at hand.


billyfrombelfast 03.09.05 at 12:44 pm

It has become really just gangsters fighting other similar gangsters (which can have civilian casualties) over physical territory

There seem to be a LOT of violent racist attacks in loyalist areas too.


John Bragg 03.09.05 at 12:46 pm

For what it’s worth, the reliability of rightwing British papers is not relevant here–they’re reporting on a US White House action, not something that you need to tell a stickie from a provo (I think) to do.


kate 03.09.05 at 2:01 pm

I don’t buy into the ‘loyalists are more racist than republicans’ argument simply because I am not convinced that any community in the North is particularly good at welcoming/living with anyone who is preceived as ‘different’. One of the points made about the racists attacks, which have predominantly been carried out by loyalists (who do have links with far-right parties) is that most of the ethnic minorities live in pre-dominantly protestant areas. This may be because of changing demographics where protestants have moved out of Belfast (and into places like Carrick) while catholic areas have a rising population. This means that housing and renting can be cheaper and more available in certain protestant neighborhoods. Doesn’t make it right. I am just not convinced that certain communities here have a higher ‘evil’ quotient than others.

And Hektor, while it is true that loyalists have been quite involved in ‘cleansing their neighborhoods’ whether it is of ethnic minorities or indeed catholics, it is much more likely these days, that if shooting breaks out, its a return to the Adair arguments over territory. They’ve actually had a few rough years of interneciene fighting which has again lead to people moving out of neighborhoods, property values perhaps plummenting, space for new residents…
I can accuse the DUP of a lot of things. Intolerant. Annoying. Slick. Fundamental. And yes, hypocritical. But I would not go so far as accuse them of tolerating loyalist criminality. I don’t think Nigel wants the police to stop seizing loyalist cash. I think he wishes they were more effective at finding the republican (alleged) ill-gotten gains. There was announcement yesterday of a seizure of £100,00 from a dead loyalist yesterday. With all the news about the Northern Bank, Nigel is wondering when some people are going to be asked to provide evidence of how they bought those holiday homes in Donegal.


Hektor Bim 03.09.05 at 4:05 pm


Are you actually claiming that the loyalists no longer carry out sectarian killings, especially since some of them are no longer on “cease-fire”? Do you consider them common criminals with no political angle or sectarian bent? That seems to be the point you are tryin to make, and as far as I can tell, it is completely wrong.

It appears that both the IRA and the loyalists commit non-sectarian killings, but the loyalists are the only ones still committing sectarian murders. So I don’t understand why this isn’t a big deal.

Why the police aren’t more effective at getting republican cash is an interesting question. I can think of several reasons, ranging from the widespread distrust of the police in the nationalist community (who would provide the tips) to the possibility that republicans are better at concealing their money. But those reasons might be completely wrong. I’m pretty sure Nigel doesn’t know the reason either, and is just approaching this from a purely sectarian basis.

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