When Sinn Fein claim that the arrest of Gerry Adams is a political act they are clearly correct. The arrests of former IRA leader Ivor Bell and Adams on the basis of tape recordings that cannot possible be the basis of prosecution in relation to a killing whose evidential base is buried 42 years in the past, all on the eve of election where Sinn Fein hope to establish themselves as a major party in the 26 county Irish state, poised for entry into coalition government in the next general election, is clearly political and could not have taken place without the knowledge of the British government. The failure of Sinn Fein to follow the logic of this analysis shows just how helpless the Shinners now are in the face of a new offensive.
Yet the British went to great lengths to telegraph this policy. On April 16th British secretary of state Theresa Villiers, in a major speech, drew a line in the sand and indicated there was too much emphasis on state killings and collusion and not enough on the evil of the paramilitaries. As the loyalist paramilitaries operated as an auxiliary arm of the state forces and as the majority of the state atrocities involved collusion with the loyalist paramilitaries, this was in effect an announcement that all investigations of British crimes would cease and, at the same time the police would continue to press Sinn Fein on republican military actions despite the fact that they had surrendered decades before and fully supported the current Northern state.
Within weeks the first part of the policy was implemented with the announcement that there would be no further investigation of a massacre by paratroops in Ballymurphy in 1971. The second part of the policy was implemented with the arrest of former IRA leader Ivor Bell and then Adams.
The unstated political reality behind this change is that the vast majority unionist parties, rather than some small groups from the lumpenproletariat, have been in fullscale revolt against the constraints of the peace process since the flag riots began last November. Over the same period the British, conscious that unionism is the foundation of their presence in Ireland, have striven to placate them. When the Haasse talks failed they adapted by simply accepting the unionist programme.
And this is not a matter of symbolism. State collusion with loyalism is alive today in the form of widespread impunity for loyalist mobs, impunity for loyalist paramilitaries operating openly on the streets, and UVF representation on policing boards. A local judge recently found the police guilty of perversion of the law to give loyalism free rein.
Sinn Fein have no defence because they have signed up to a settlement drawn up by the British and there is no way back. They complain of political motivation, but are unable to point the finger at a British state that, they have assured their supporters, is committed to a democratic settlement. In the past they invented the word “securocrat” to say that the police and security services were acting in defiance of the British to sabotage the peace process. McGuinness, having embraced the police and urged his supporters to back them, is now reduced to clearing the British and the police of blame and go on to point the finger at a shadowy “dark side” of the police.
Political stability in Ireland today rests on sectarianism and injustice, on collusion between the British state forces and far right paramilitary forces. The matrix that holds things together is Sinn Fein’s willingness to bow down before a corrupt settlement even as their leaders are sacrificed to satisfy Orange reaction.
This article was written for Socialist Democracy.