TOPICS : IRA: My only emotion is indifference

Whatever one may think of Seanna Walsh’s views or his management style, there can be little to quibble about when it comes to his courage and stamina. A fully committed IRA volunteer who lasted the distance and mastered challenges faced by few others, he was leader of the H-Blocks (prison) IRA in 1982 as it made the transition from prison protest to accommodation with the regime. It was an accommodation that benefited the IRA much more than it ever did the prison authorities. In a twilight zone where the old certainties had crumbled for many of us, Walsh had the necessary vision to set the IRA on course for some of its most remarkable achievements in prison. At a critical time he provided crucial leadership. When I watched him read the IRA statement announcing a formal end to its armed campaign against the British, my only emotion was indifference. Better, no doubt, that he read it than some career-bent politician who had shunned republicanism when association with it came bearing a hefty price tag. It is difficult to work up the energy required to feel something when formalities are all that we are left with. It is comparable to receiving a death certificate many years after a loved one has died. The raw emotion was vented at the time of the event rather than at the point of its much-delayed announcement.

I have long come to accept that the IRA lost its war with the British state. Whatever way it seeks to camouflage last week’s statement in the garb of ongoing struggle, it has effectively settled for an internal Northern Ireland solution. Having Walsh read out the statement was an attempt by the Provisional leadership to smuggle into the subtext the imprimatur of Bobby Sands - the IRA prisoner who died in a hunger strike. We have no idea what Sands would have thought today. But at the time his death was an act of defiance against everything the Provisional IRA movement has come to embrace today. Throughout the peace process IRA volunteers were treated with contempt by their own leadership; allowed no input, the end game was always withheld from them. Volunteers were commanded to stay mute while the leadership sold off republican assets in exchange for political careers as establishment politicians. The British were never in any doubt where it was all going. They assiduously aided the Sinn Fein leadership in its slow strangulation of the IRA, which saw Western Europe’s most formidable guerrilla army degenerate into a new Official IRA - the Sticks - an alternative republican body, regarded as traitors and despised by the men of the Bobby Sands era. Sands once famously remarked that our revenge would be the laughter of our children. Our children, if they are generous, will not laugh at us for fighting a futile war, merely for pretending that it was somehow victorious. From his grave Sands may ruefully ponder, ‘for what?’ From his own, Cathal Goulding, long-time chief of the Official IRA, will smugly say: ‘We are all Sticks now.’ —The Guardian