In the eyes of the IRA

Article published on Nov. 22, 2002
community published
Article published on Nov. 22, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A few weeks ago control of Ulster was returned to London but images of a recent film also come to mind...

A few weeks ago institutional control of the six counties of Antrim, Ulster, Londonderry, Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh was returned to the administrative control of London instantly putting an end to the victories of the 1998 treaty of Belfast and to the hopes which were born out of the recent disarmamant of the IRA. The obstacle on the path to peace came when two Sinn Fein ministers were accused of being spies by the IRA. Perhaps the decision by Downing Street was inevitable: it is unacceptable for members of Parliament to have terrorist links. Like so many times before, the years of effort it took to get round a table were swept away in the blink of an eye. It just took one second, an explosion in which blood took precedence over reason and years of work was turned to ashes. More or less at the same time in the darkness of a cinema another choice made by English authorities came to light. Derry, 1972, 24 unarmed and defenceless protestors, guilty only of requesting freedom of expression, of wanting to be represented in their own right by whomsoever they wanted, of wanting to choose their childrens school and having secure homes to sleep safe at night were assassinated by English special forces who thought that this basic request was absurd and on that godforsaken day decided to open fire. The queen rewarded this decision with a medal for bravery most admirable; it was Sundays such as those in Derry out of which the IRA grew, found approval, converts and desperate men with their backs against the wall ready to spill blood because of all the times their fathers had cried tears in the fight to get their country recognised and to reclaim their trampled dignity and to win basic rights. The English occupation of Ireland started in 1171with the Norman invasion and since that time humans have witnessed people grow old, grow bitterly disillusioned by the constant inability of the most powerful species on earth to confront the negative consequences of their own actions where the squalor of existence is real and not caprice which only exists in a film world. Occupation of land, stripping of rights, Cromwellian massacres, partisan laws, widespread famine, conscription, partition, segregation, hunger strikes, the introduction of martial law - these were all real life, flesh and blood occurences. At the outset of the 1800s the British Parliament debated the terms home rule and self rule. I mention it because it is indicative of the way in which too often the events of Ireland are tackled from the English perspective and hardly ever from that of the people of Ireland. This perspective cannot be sidelined. "Self determination of peoples is not simply an expression. It is a principle obligation. One common law for nations great and small - founded on the will of the nation - to ensure conflict is a rare event." These words were pronounced by Woodrow Wilson in 1918. "If that were his aim, God would have extended a hand and placed him among the great people of history" was the response from Eamon de Valera from through the bars of Lincoln Prison. Self determination remained a word which statesmen selling a dream used in the illusory hope of self agrandisement. 1921 sanctioned Irish independence, but also signalled the partition which deprived six counties (the paradox is that three years previous a referendum had shown the inhabitants of Antrim and Down in favour of independence from England) of their freedom and the outbreak of civil war from whose poison chalice Ulster would sip and be bloodied in the future.

In terms of international relations, after 9/11 we came up with a definition of terrorism. I honestly believe that it is important that we should not define terrorism in a label or a post-it note. The civil rights campaigns in 60's Northern Ireland didn't ask for the annexation of the protestant counties of Ulster, but asked for rights, asked for recognition of their human dignity. They asked for democracy. The most precious gift human beings have ever won , and defended at the cost of who knows how many lives over the centuies, was not 'exported' from England. These voices were not been heard, they were muted in the blood and shameful hidden violence and all that which foments the terror in which the IRA flourishes. The roads which led to hell were this time paved with bad intentions. Terrorism opens the door to big questions the answers to which have not yet been found. To guarantee a people's freedom of expression and to live in accordance with such is seemingly a fundamental right, but sometimes violence is needed to gain recognition. Is recourse to violence legitimate if the cause is "good"? Can one use force as a means to gain liberty? What is the most extreme measure one can take to stand up to an unjust power? What methods can we use to stop the violence and build a new democratic state?

What pushes a man to become a terrorist? These are questions we ought to reflect upon. It is necessary to understand this so that we should not have to defend good causes and win liberties. This would reduce terrorism to a refuge for a few fanatics, exponents of mad ideals in the name of hatred and most importantly to isolate and beat it. This goes for belfast, Bilbao, Grozny and the Gaza Strip. Each situation is different and happens in its own way and cannot be categorised in the same manner.

Mine is not a defence which promulgates death or the evil justifications of a cowardly suicide bomber but an invitation to understand the shades of grey in every real life situation to not get confused by only regarding the consequences in a blinkered fashion. From this point of view to define and to confront means both conflict and agreement, competition and collaboration, protest and celebration, change and conservation, learning and forgetting, and above all dialogue to prevent, with the aim of buildling a society where the fruits of democracy, of the nobiility of humanity, on earth and beyond become the foundation of justice and peace.

Today, with the restitution of administrative control to London, many point out, in this case with reason, that the blame for not finding peace lies with the IRA. Many historians agree that without terrorism Ireland would have probably achieved total independence under some form of self rule. "If God or nature had conceded to a nation or a people possession of the earth , and some other prince or people invades or conquers it, depriving it of a great part of its land, imposing laws, government and officials on it with or against its consent, this can be seen as nothing but theft on part of the invader. Is it not the just right and due of whoever is invaded and conquered to oppose their enemies to regain their liberty?" These are not the words of the IRA but the protest of some English soldier of the New Model Army which refused to be sent to Ireland to suppress a people in 1649. History is not made of 'what ifs', but if one wants to play this game I believe that few could disagree with me that if others had had the courage of the unknown soldier who condemned the deception and denounced the injustice of the victor's right we would perhaps be recounting the history of a better England and Ireland.