End of Road for Provos
Danielle Ni Dhighe
danielle at irsm.org
Tue Jan 28 12:15:57 MST 2003
[Poster's note: this is just media speculation, but it won't surprise me if
it turns out to be true.]
28 January 2003
End of Road for Provos
By Suzanne Breen
They said it would never go away but it looks like it just might. It
was once the most dangerous guerrilla organisation in the world, set
up to over-throw the state. It killed more than 1,780 people in the
Its members faced prison and death but continued to believe they
could achieve victory. Yet, they didn't. The Northern Ireland state
is still going strong and the Provisional IRA, as we know it, seems
to be coming to an end.
Senior republican sources indicate a major statement, within eight
weeks, effectively saying the IRA is standing down its active service
units. The British government could then move to legalise the
organisation. The Provos would still exist but as a type of old boys'
association, concentrating on activities like unveiling plaques and
building gardens of remembrance to fallen comrades.
The destruction of a substantial amount of weapons is also expected.
The IRA might even agree to filming this in what is jokingly called
a "Steven Spielberg act of decommissioning".
It is also understood Sinn Féin could make the historic decision
of signing up to a partitionist police force by joining the North's
Policing Board. Sinn Féin leaders say the speculation is
"unhelpful" but, significantly, don't deny major developments are
afoot. While mainstream society would undoubtedly welcome such
momentous changes, the mood is more ambivalent in republican areas.
Among Belfast IRA members, there is caution, disbelief and some
resignation. "I've been in the Army (IRA) 19 years," says one
Andersonstown activist. "That's my entire adult life. It's very
difficult to believe it's just going to become a commemorative
committee or historical group.
"But the leadership knows best. They've brought us a long way.
Wherever they take us is good enough for me."
Another activist says he would reluctantly accept the changes. "If
I'm honest, I didn't think back in 1994 we would have ended up like
this. I would never have went along with the ceasefire if I'd
foreseen such little progress towards getting the Brits out.
"I thought we would be heading towards a united Ireland. I'd have
called anybody a liar who had suggested we would sit in Stormont or
disarm, let alone wind up. Things aren't the way I'd like but we're
too far down the road to turn back."
A disillusioned member in North Belfast says: "I won't be waiting to
be disbanded, I'll resign first and I'll tell the leadership exactly
what I think of them. They are lying bastards who have destroyed this
He will never support the Police Service of Northern Ireland: "The
PSNI are the renamed RUC. Sinn Féin can stand its own policy on
its head but it won't make any difference to the people of Ardoyne.
"How could we support those who tortured us for decades? A few
Catholics joining will change nothing." He claims the leadership
has "rigged the IRA, promoting its supporters and sidelining those
who are critical so now all at the top are yes men".
Another North Belfast member says it's unbelievable "at a time when
loyalists are attacking this community, we are even considering
decommissioning or saying the armed struggle is over for good. It's
A South Belfast activist disagrees. "The peace process is the way
forward for our community and new tactics are needed to save it.
Unionists don't want the IRA to be bold and imaginative. So when we
are, they will be the losers. They will be running around like
He would have no problem joining the police: "Maybe if Catholics had
joined in the beginning, things wouldn't have been as bad as they
were." Dissident organisations like the Real and Continuity IRA claim
the Provos have abandoned republicanism.
On the issue of decommissioning, they highlight General Order No 11
in the IRA's own rule-book, the Green Book, which states any
volunteer "who seizes or is party to the seizure of arms, ammunition
or explosives being held under Army control shall be deemed guilty of
treason". The penalty is "death".
Dissidents accuse the leadership of flouting the rules. Yet the
failure of both the Real and Continuity IRA to mount a sustained
armed campaign in the North has damaged their credibility among
republicans. "They are not seen as alternatives," says one
disillusioned Provo. "The only place for people like me to go is
Before the 1994 ceasefire, the IRA had around 300 members on active
service - that is engaged in shooting and bombing. It's reckoned up
to a further 1,200 people were involved in other activities -
intelligence-gathering, security, training, finance, education,
recruitment, engineering and the acquisition of arms.
Republican sources say the IRA has continued recruiting in recent
years, to maintain its strength and prevent an influx to dissident
According to the Green Book, supreme authority in the IRA rests with
the Army Convention. This is a meeting of around 70-150 delegates,
elected by the entire membership. It adopts rule changes and chooses
a 12-member IRA Executive which in turn selects a seven member Army
Council responsible for conducting the war.
However, during the peace process substantial power has been
transferred from the Army Convention and Executive to the Army
Council which now makes all major decisions. Three of its seven
members are Sinn Féin elected representatives from Belfast, Derry,
and the South.
Senior republican sources say the remaining members are also in
complete agreement with the Sinn Féin leadership's policies.
"There is no dissension at this level. What Adams and McGuinness
want, the Army Council delivers."
IRA grassroots meetings to discuss political strategy have been
ongoing for several months and more are expected in coming
weeks. "The views of volunteers will be heard but there are no
votes," says the source.
"Final decisions lie with the Army Council. Volunteers have aired
serious reservations. This is new territory for us all but we can
meet the challenges and remain united. Divisions only play into the
hands of our enemies."
Although in recent years, the IRA has ceased military activity
against the security forces, it has continued intelligence-gathering,
fund-raising, and procuring weapons as the Colombia, Castlereagh and
Stormont episodes highlight. Until now, the policy has been to keep
the organisation "ticking over" so members can be told a return to
armed struggle is viable if the peace process fails.
Since the ceasefire, the Provos have become increasingly profit-
oriented. They are still involved in traditional fund-raising
activities like taxi depots, cigarette smuggling, the illegal drinks'
trade, slot machines and video game and CD pirating.
They are also moving into legal businesses. Republican sources say
businessmen are approached with cash to buy property and legitimate
businesses in their name for the IRA.
In return for fronting the enterprise, they receive either 20% of its
profits or a similar share when it is sold. It's understood the IRA
owns several pubs in Belfast and Derry. These activities are unlikely
to stop regardless of other future changes.
While the IRA as an organisation is thriving financially, some of its
members also appear to benefiting on a smaller scale. "People who
have never had a legitimate job are now driving expensive new cars,"
says one Ballymurphy resident. "Nothing flash - like Mercs or BMWs -
because that would get up people's noses. Just top-of-the-range
While senior IRA members haven't moved out of their own areas, a taxi-
driver says changes to their homes are noticeable: "You know the
Provo houses from the big bay windows and the leather sofas in the
front room." Two Army Council members have built luxurious holiday
homes in Co Donegal.
Another senior IRA member, who is also an elected represented, owns
four houses - one in Co Donegal and three in West Belfast. "He has
never worked a day in his life," says a disgruntled republican.
Former IRA prisoner, Anthony McIntyre, who served 18 years in the H-
Blocks, opposes a return to armed struggle but is a staunch critic
of the leadership. "There is a huge gap between the lifestyle of the
leadership and the led which wasn't the case when the IRA was set up
in 1970," he says.
"We all wore denim and duffel coat backs then. Now they have their
summer houses and country villas across the Border. Very few ordinary
people in these estates live like that. Former prisoners, not fully
behind the leadership, earn a pittance as labourers and brickies.
There are a lot of people dissatisfied with the way things have
turned out. But the mood is more cynical than rebellious."
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