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When One Doesn't Mind Being Called a Provo
rights, freedoms and repression |
Thursday September 07, 2006 11:53 by Danny Morrison - Daily Ireland 6 September 2006
Dissidents more renowned for attacking Sinn Fein than for attacking the Brits
When the IRA split in December 1969 the dissidents set up a
Provisional Army Council until a proper IRA convention could
re-constitute the organisation. That convention took place in
September 1970 but by then the name 'Provisional' or 'Provo' had stuck
and was used as shorthand by both supporters and the media, despite
the distaste some veterans in the Movement had for that term.
The organisation which the dissidents had left initially enjoyed
being called the 'Official IRA' and 'Official Sinn Fein' because those
sobriquets suggested authenticity and legitimacy.
Years ago, although I consciously refrained from using the term
'Provisional' in press statements and when an editor, I never had any
problems with it. Neither did the grassroots, among whom, "Say Hello
to the Provos" and "The Provo Lullaby" were extremely popular if
you'll excuse the adverb!
Different periods have seen republicanism undergo various name
changes: the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the
Invincibles, the IRB, the IRA. Republicanism, militarily and
politically, continually renewed itself and adapted to changed
And so, the unionist pogroms of August 1969 and the subsequent
repressive behaviour of British troops triggered a violent and
sustained republican response and on the walls was written: "Out of
the ashes of Bombay Street/Arose the Provisionals".
During the conflict the IRA survived everything that was thrown
at it because it enjoyed popular support, was resilient, could renew
itself, and was fighting against a background of political and
constitutional crisis. In the 1990s, with the IRA undefeated but with
a military stalemate having developed, the republican leadership took
a mature and courageous decision to cease fire and to negotiate. That
decision transformed the dynamic of politics, north and south. And
today, nationalist morale is high and its mood buoyant, despite the
slow pace of the peace process.
People who were once members of the mainstream Republican Movement,
either up until the split over abstentionism at the 1986 ard fheis or
until the ceasefire and peace process, continually refer to Gerry
Adams and the republican leadership as "Provisionals".
You'll see it in their statements. In fact, you'll see it in
almost every statement. It is a pretty infantile attempt at
disparagement especially when one doesn't mind being called a Provo.
I can understand why dissident republicans bristle at being
called 'dissidents'. After all, it inescapably defines and anchors
them as being dissident relative to a much larger, successful
republican organisation with which they disagree. But they only have
themselves to blame given that they are more renowned for attacking
Sinn Fein than for attacking the Brits.
Only when the IRA called a ceasefire did a group called the
Continuity IRA pop up. When it first bombed a hotel or two in County
Fermanagh it didn't initially claim responsibility and so the media
started to talk about "dissident republicans" because it had no other
name to go on.
The name stuck: they should get over it.
Later, the Real IRA announced itself. A fair degree of activity
indicated that some former IRA Volunteers alienated from the peace
process sometime after 1996/97 had become involved. If ever an
organisation was obsessed with trying to embarrass the republican
leadership this was it. If Gerry Adams was due to go to Downing Street
or meet Bill Clinton a car bomb would appear in some town in the North
to coincide with his plans.
In fact, it often appeared to be a car-bomb campaign against the
Republican Movement rather than against the British presence,
especially when no or few British army units or police patrols were
ever attacked. Objectively, the Real IRA as guerrillas were hopeless
and aimless and eventually it all ended in tragedy with the Omagh
bombing which itself continues to raise major questions about agent
Presumably a proper warning was meant to get through. The bomb
would have exploded, damaging buildings only. The Real IRA would have
been pleased to spread gloom and confusion. And the securocrats, who
facilitated the explosion, would have been exploiting and playing out
the explosion from every available angle to undermine the Good Friday
Agreement and Sinn Fein's involvement in the process.
But the warning didn't get through and the initial RUC
investigation into Omagh, aimed at covering up Special Branch
involvement, is slowly being exposed.
There is a certain irony in dissidents shouting sell-out and
accusing Sinn Fein leaders of being British agents. How do we know
the leaders of dissident republicans aren't agents? I read their
speeches and often wonder who is pulling their strings.
Those involved in armed activities appear heavily infiltrated
with informers, going on the number of their operations that are
After Omagh, Real IRA activity ended – at least for a while. Two
weeks ago the organisation claimed responsibility for firebombs in
Newry. Again, an isolated incident – a pinprick in real terms, however
costly to the locals - which only highlights the desultory nature of
their campaign. They will never get off the ground. There is no
comparison to the type of oppression and brutality which gave rise to
the IRA campaign. When we fought we had support within the community.
Dissidents can never hope to replicate the tempo of the IRA campaign.
Today nationalists are glad the war is over, feel that a political
solution is available and have rejected the SDLP in favour of Sinn
IRA Volunteers fought in the North; risked their lives bombing
England and attacking those British politico-militarists responsible
for war; operated in Europe; internationally sought and organised the
importation of weapons; went to jail, died in jails and died on the
streets and in the countryside. Many thousands of supporters – in
Ireland and further afield – also suffered for the republican cause.
Now, you would think that this would entitle them to some say,
the right to approve a strategy even if it meant adopting an imperfect
peace process. But not according to dissidents who are completely
elitist – despite not being able to muster numbers. They cannot
sustain a propaganda newspaper or magazine. They have not produced a
programme. They have not offered a compelling analysis or even a
woeful one. Their spokespersons have been spectacularly unimpressive
and inarticulate. They cannot even organise a meeting.
But, still, they are former comrades who maybe even once sang,
"The Provo Lullaby"! They cannot all harbour that sense of personal
hatred – a throwback to some perceived slight in the past, no doubt -
which seems to motivate some of their more public spokespersons. If
there is space for debate and discussion, even in private, it should
be pursued. It would never be a waste of time.
Despite the early release of prisoners under the Good Friday
Agreement there are still political prisoners in jails, north and
south: many of these as a result of dissident or alleged dissident
activity. They are entitled to be treated as political prisoners. It
would be difficult to mobilise public opinion for an amnesty until the
organisations to which they owe allegiance declare ceasefires but the
situation here will not be normalised until all political prisoners
The sincerity of those dissident republicans who believe that
the strategy of the Republican Movement is wrong is easily tested.
Leave aside the personal attacks and explain what the alternative
strategy should be. I don't believe there is one. But I am prepared to