Sinn Fein comes under pressure in America

news: Sinn Fein comes under pressure in America

POLICE and security services have warned that renegade Irish republican dissidents could be preparing an attack on mainland Britain. Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorist section has warned businesses in London of the threat from breakaway groups such as the Real IRA, responsible for the Omagh bombing in 1998.

The renewed possibility of terrorism comes after the family of murdered 33-year-old Belfast resident, Robert McCartney, held a meeting with President Bush. McCartney’s family has blamed the IRA for his killing, as well as subsequent tampering of evidence and intimidation of witnesses. McCartney’s sisters and partner apparently handed Bush a dossier detailing their claims that IRA members murdered the father-of-two on January 30.

The family also held talks with Senator Edward Kennedy, who refused to meet Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, during his habitual St Patrick’s week trip to America. A spokeswoman for Senator Kennedy said he had cancelled the meeting because of the IRA’s “ongoing criminal activity”. Senator Kennedy also said the McCartney family’s presence in Washington “sends a very powerful signal that it’s time for the IRA to fully decommission, end all criminal activity and cease to exist as a paramilitary organisation”.

Despite the 1997 ceasefire, recent events like the murder of McCartney and the 26 million pound Northern Bank robbery would indicate that sections of the IRA are still in business. In particular, the wall of silence that surrounds IRA criminality is still in place. Robert McCartney’s sisters made just this point. “What happened to Robert is a clear indication that, although peace may have been achieved behind closed doors, the reality on the streets of Belfast is that, when you are murdered, people are not being held to account for it because of who (the organisation) they belong to,” they said in a statement.

Attacks by the IRA killed dozens of people in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain between 1972 and 1997.Those of us who lived in Britain throughout that period, particularly London residents, grew used to the threat. We were vigilant, particularly in the busy run-up to Christmas in and around West End stores, but I cannot recall one instance when we refrained from visiting a place because of the IRA threat.

We did not panic and start imagining that every Irishman we bumped into in a pub was a potential terrorist. Neither did the IRA campaign trigger a wave of anti-Irish feeling. All this is in marked contrast to the fevered atmosphere in post-9/11 America.

In Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a garage hand in a small hillbilly town memorably articulated this paranoia when he said: “You can’t trust anyone, man, not even those you know. You could get hit from anywhere!”

My recollections of the IRA campaign are, inevitably, of those events that occurred on the mainland – not that this diminishes atrocities elsewhere or those perpetrated by Loyalist terrorists. I remember the murder of Lord Mountbatten, the Queen’s uncle, in 1979, the Harrods Christmas bombing in 1983 and the attack on the Conservative Conference at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984.

But one memory is more indelible than the others. In March 1993, an IRA bomb hit shoppers in the small town of Warrington. Two children, 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Jonathan Ball, were killed. The utter senselessness of that act and its evil banality triggered fresh revulsion against the IRA and may have been a key moment in convincing its high command that it was losing the propaganda war.

There was one particular phrase used by the IRA in the aftermath of that attack – “The Lord moves in mysterious ways” – that struck the nation as particularly odious. Even those sympathetic to the cause of Irish unity were appalled by the events in Warrington.

After each atrocity, there would be the familiar condemnation from establishment figures and a conspicuous silence from the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness because, they said, they did not believe in “selective condemnation”. During this period, the IRA continued to be funded in America by Noraid, the group set up in 1970 to support Republican prisoners and a united Ireland. Its rhetoric spoke of a fight against the “evil British Empire”.

But there was also more general support from some ordinary Irish-Americans – gullible people who were ignorant of the conflict and European history, manipulated from across the pond. The same people, who would now be fretting if they saw a Moslem on a plane reading the Koran, were bankrolling the IRA.

Thankfully, one of the repercussions of 9/11 has been less tolerance of terrorist violence in the West, whether committed by the IRA, al-Qaeda, Eta or any other group. It’s unlikely, even if a splinter group did renew its campaign of violence, that it would find much support in America. And that is one of the few blessings of the post-9/11 world…