Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tiocfaidh ar La? Can It Ever Be?

While all of us Irish Americans were pleasantly self-absorbed with our own St. Patrick's Day plans, hard life and tough reality continued to build again "back at home."

Rather than many links to the stories surrounding Gerry Adams and his visit, the McCartney murder and the continued emperiling of the peace process, read the "Northern Ireland" pages at the BBC. For a more republican perspective, check either Sinn Fein's website or the Irish republican weekly An Phoblacht.

Ever since the December bank heist that was blamed on the IRA by the PSNI and the British authorities, the withdrawl of the IRA's offer of decommissioned weapons in February and now the murder of a man in Belfast that the IRA offered to avenge (leading to the dismissal of several Sinn Fein members), the situation in the North of Ireland has been getting progressively worse.

Questions that were seemingly solved are now being called into peril once again. What is the division between Sinn Fein and the IRA? Why do the British elements in the North insist on blaming the IRA for everything as they did in the 1970's and 1980's? Can Gerry Adams (or Martin McGuinness or the party as a whole) be a part of a legitimate political process?

Can there be any negotiating with stonewalling British officials or militant Protestants like Ian Paisley and the DUP? Was the IRA responsible for the bank robbery and are there elements in the Republic of Ireland that were involved in laundering the money? Who killed Robert McCartney and why did the IRA offer to avenge him while Sinn Fein released several members at the 2005 Ard Fheis?

All began to look better when Gerry Adams met with then President Bill Clinton in 1994. The Good Friday Accords were signed in 1998. In 2000, the IRA agreed to have the U.N. oversee the process of decommissioning weapons forever, ending the IRA as a force in the political process. Sinn Fein had been starting to reframe itself as a legitimate political force in the North and in the Republic. It has been within the last few months, however, that the situation has deteriorated and the chances of real change or devolved government for the North again seem a distant hope for the people of the North.

What can be done? Hard to encapsulate in simple suggestions, but the political process must be central to any discussions. The IRA has clearly outlived its original purpose. The same goes for the Protestant militias like the UVF or UDA. The people want peace, not your selfish motives and internal politics and continued violence. If violence happens for its own sake, it is utterly indefensible. You have devolved into near-criminal organizations with no ideological cache left. Lay down the arms and become part of the process.

A big issue was made by the BBC and the American press that Ted Kennedy refused to meet with Gerry Adams, calling into question the suppport of Irish American for the republican movement (refer to the above web pages for the particular stories). The Irish Americans who even care (the "non-secular" Irish in America) I imagine still buy into the image of the IRA as freedom fighters (with our history, can you blame us?), battling for their lives and the glory of Ireland. This is simply not the case and the events of the last decades bear this out.

The only answer is the political one. Is it frustrating? You bet. Might it fail before it succeeds? I think that we are going through this right now. Is it better than robbing and killing? It has to be or then the whole idea of politics and diplomacy can be called into questions. All must be involved, and Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein must distance itself from the IRA. Don't make it seem as if you are so chummy; you are politicians despite what the loony Unionists want to show. All must come to the table and think of what is best for the people, not some percieved history of injustice, terrorism, nationalist violence and bloodshed.

"Tiocfaidh ar La" literally means "our day will come." I believe that it will but it will be a hard and telling road. I close by remembering the immortal words of Robert Hunter:

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

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