Lessons of history

THE YEAR 2006 is one of important reflection. Irish people in Britain, Ireland and around the world will commemorate the anniversaries of the 1981 hunger strike against Britain's criminalisation policy and the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland.

Many will also be remembering 27-year-old IRA volunteer Diarmuid O'Neill, a native of west London, shot dead by the London Metropolitan police in disputed circumstances ten years ago this September.

Diarmuid O'Neill's death demonstrated that the will of the British establishment to execute Irish insurgents remained implacable, 80 years after they executed the leaders of 1916.

In the cases of 1981 and 1916, the sacrifices of Irish insurgents created an emotional dynamic and delivered a political context where the republican social revolution of achieving a free Ireland could be driven forward. They served to reveal the true nature of colonial rule in Ireland.

In the case of Diarmuid O'Neill, the sacrifice of the last IRA volunteer to be killed on active service, created anger at another 'shoot-to-kill' incident, but revealed as much about the nature of the republican leadership's Tuas document - the so-called Tactical Use of Armed Struggle - as it did about London's duplicitous role in Ireland. The two, many would argue, were at this stage inextricably linked. The tuas strategy had no tactical use in terms of political objectives other than of placating a militant armed constituency, while manoeuvring tit into into a position of working with what became the Good Friday agreement and the unionist "principle of consent". Two years after Diarmuid O'Neill's death and after assurances of a "no return to Stormont" and "no decommissioning", the agreement was signed.

Although there were logical reasons for going down the constitutional path taken by republican leaders, the role of British military intelligence in this process remains a disconcerting thought in the minds of many republicans in Britain and Ireland. This has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the means of manipulating the revolutionary collectivism of the movement employed by Sinn Fein leaders to pursue the peace strategy. Many will be remembering Diarmuid O'Neill with this in mind.

No one would attempt to seriously deny a merging of Sinn Fein short-term political strategy and British intelligence objectives took place during the period leading up to the agreement, mediated by British 'agents of influence' and high-level informers within IRA departments.

Evidence for this is emerging bit by bit. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Sinn Fein leaders were complicit in this coalescence it would seem beneficial for them to address the issue, particularly after the public support shown for the agent Alfredo Scappaticci.

In commemorating the past we must also seek to learn the lessons of history, so that mistakes made in the past are not repeated. While Britain and many unionists have perennially failed in this respect, republicans too must avoid doing the same. Our problem today is: how can we do so when so much of our recent history is shrouded in self-imposed secrecy? How can we build a British-based campaign to transcend a partitionist arrangement in Ireland when we are denied the facts concerning its historical precedents?

In this year of commemorating our dead, the fact is that the secretary of state for Northern Ireland Peter Hain and Irish taioseach Bertie Ahern have capitulated to DUP demands to form an institutionalised political vacuum in the north, allowing New Labour to further pursue its agenda of imposing neo-liberal reforms.

The social infrastructure of schools, hospitals - and with the introduction of business rates this month, even its private-sector industries - are being destroyed. Irish republicans can do little to strop it.

How did we reach this point? What roles did Alfredo Scappaticci and Denis Donaldson play in it? The two men were debriefed by republicans. A way of disclosing this information would not only be useful in addressing republican concerns and de-mystify the struggle between Britain and Irish republicans, it would be in Sinn Fein's best interests. If such information was to be disclosed selectively by those hostile to the peace process, the consequences for the party would be significant.

In the wake of Mr Donaldson's violent death in Donegal and the murky circumstances surrounding it, the need for disclosure has become even more apparent. The current situation, in the absence of armed conflict does offer real, positive opportunities for pursuing a radical programme towards Irish unity and, may be, democratic socialism in Ireland. The war is over and to the benefit of society in Britain and Ireland today. A new range of political opportunities have opened up.

However, it would be foolish to think that agents are not still affecting republican policy objectives in Ireland, and not only within Sinn Fein. Other Irish parties, the civil service, police and military have never been below the sights of British intelligence when recruiting agents.

There is as much need to protect the national integrity of Irish democratic institutions as there is to protect the integrity of a political movement. The exposure of informers is a welcome development. And in commemorating the death of Diarmuid O'Neill, it would be fitting for us to know more.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2006-05-26 11:04:33.
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