Date: Sun, 7 Jan 1996 05:30:16 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
From: Eugene Mcelroy <>
from: Ireland_list (replacing IRL-NEWS)

On the verge of disaster (edited speech)

By Mitchel McLaughlin, An Phoblacht/Republican News, 27 December 1994

THIS ARTICLE is an edited version of the speech delivered by Sinn Fein National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin at a Prisoners' Day event in Roslea, County Fermanagh on 27 December.

IT IS BECOMING daily more apparent that the British government has no intention whatsoever of advancing, or, indeed, of maintaining the peace process in Ireland. Despite the demand for real and lasting peace from the people of Ireland, despite the best efforts of the political parties attending the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, despite the endeavours of the US administration, the EU, and a host of other countries, despite all the hope and optimism, it is clear that the British were never truely serious about the peace process.

They are sure that they have manoeuvred the IRA into a position of extreme vulnerability, into a position where any outbreak of hostilities would be a deluded and despairing short-lived fling, swamped by a ground swell of condemnation, rejection and disgust. In this scenario, the British are convinced that they could rapidly mop up any resistance within a fairly short space, and that even if their methods were more repressive and vicious than ever before, there would be a tacit acceptance of such necessity, both here and abroad. Such are the misunderstandings and historical antagonisms between Irish republicans and British governments that John Major appears to be prepared to surrender the chance for peace in a vain attempt to smash the Republican Movement forever.

We are, all of us, standing on the verge of a disaster created by another lethal British miscalculation, and it is vital that all those with the interests of the Irish and British peoples at heart should pause and reflect no what has been happening this past 16 months. Given that the British intelligence services are still recruiting informers and agents; given that Britain's vast military machine in Ireland, is in full operational capacity; given that there has been no movement on either the release or more humane treatment of prisoners; given that Britain has thrown up one blockade after another to slow any momentum that might develop in the peace process, there is little doubt that they are ready, and anxious, to go to war again.

But even the most cursory examination of Irish story reveals that British misconceptions and British misrepresentations have never solved anything, but have led to an intensification of struggle and resistance. All wars leave a bad taste in the mouths of their protagonists and hindsight has always been a great general!

This should have been done, that should have been tried. But wars can never be fought over again. Conditions change, strategies and tactics change. What was done last year may never again be attempted. And this is where the British militarist analysis breaks down because the paths of Irish history have seldom conformed to Britain's master design.

Not only the peoples of Ireland and England, but the intentional community too, know that Britain is spoiling for a fight. Peace was, and indeed still is, within our grasp, but that grasp is rapidly loosening. Intransigence, coupled with historical ignorance and an absolute lack of political imagination will lead us all, inexorably, back to war. If Britain, tragically, forces a resumption of hostilities in Ireland and Britain, it will not be the first time that the British go vernment has overestimated its position.


We have heard all their boasting and bravado a hundred times before. From Heath to Thatcher and Major, from Whitelaw to mason and Mayhew, they have all been sure that they had the IRA on the run.

According to every British prime minister and secretary of state, the IRA, down the years, has had its backbone broken, its fighting capacity smashed, been squeezed like tooth-paste, played its last card, thrown its last dice, and lost any support it ever had the IRA has been gangsterised, criminalised. Cubanised, Mafi a-ised, ostracised, demonised. And yet, when it declared a military cessation on the 1 September, 1994 it was stronger, better armed, better-trained and in better shape than it had ever been. That is an historical, and an undeniable fact. It is not a threat, nor is it belligerent posturing.

If, as is now generally recognised, there can be no outright military victory in wars of this nature, what is the rationale behind Britain's strategy? Why pose unrealisable demands that are guaranteed to smash an already fragile process? The IRA has not made any illogical demands. It has taken an unprecedented risk for lasting peace in Ireland.

Given the vindictive nature of British establishment politics, why should the IRA leave itself at the mercy of a government that is renowned, above all, for its cynicism, deceit, and insincerity. If the IRA were to demand that Britain disar m all its regiments and militias in the Six Counties, and that John Major announce, publicly, in a formal communique with binding international effect, that Britain intends to prohibit, in perpetuity, the use of force to settle disputes, their call would be treated with scorn and incredulous laughter. So why should the British treat Irish republicans with such disdain?


There can only be one explanation for such irrationality. The British want war and they want to force the IRA into ending its cease-fire, hoping that the IRA will then be blamed by all and sundry. And naturally, Britain is most anxious to appear the innocent, offended party in any such break down. But people are not stupid.

Apart from an unholy alliance of Tory ministers, establishment Neanderthals and a self-censoring British media, there is no demand, either here or abroad, for an IRA decommissioning prior to all-inclusive, meaningful negotiations. Everyone knows that Britain has not made one serious gesture for peace, and all the PR in the world cannot alter that stark reality.

If Major and Mayhew and the faceless advisors behind them believe for one instant that they can prepare for, and provoke, war, and still claim to belive in peace, they are again fundamentally misreading both the situation, and the resolve of Irish republicanism.

Britain has not won a war. The IRA has not surrendered. The conditions for peace are still present, but so too are the conditions for renewed war. If Britain is determined to prove its supremacy, then the whole peace process will explode, literally and figuratively. Sadly, recent Irish history provides cogent proof of Britain's inability to come to terms with Irish republicans. If there is ever to be peace in Ireland, Britain must stop seeking either military victory or the destruction of republicanism. Examine each instance of British intransigence and political ignorance, and yet will see that, rather than destroying Republican resistance, it has enhanced and deepened the struggle in Ireland.

In October 1980, after nearly four year of prison unrest, ranging from the blanket protest to the no-wash protest Irish republican prisoners embarked on a hunger strike. That hunger strike ended almost three months later on the 18 December, when the prisoners were promised, secretly, that their demands had been essentially accepted by the British government. This was a prison dispute that was both negotiable and resolvable, a dispute that could have been, and should ave been, settled across a table.

Republican prisoners showed their willingness to be flexible by calling off the strike when they received verbal assurances that the British intended to honour, substantively, their main demands. Within a week, however, it became clear that the British had again been playing civil service-semantics with the dying prisoners and their families and intermediaries. Furthermore, they believed that they had dealt a severe blow to both the IRA and to the wider nationalist population who had generally supported the demands of the Republican prisoners. By reneging on the settlement they had reached with Irish prisoners, Britain's true motive was exposed.

Their much flaunted search for ‘justice’ was simply a sham. Believing that they had effectively demoralised republican resistance, the British were again confident that they had broken the struggle for justice in Ireland, and this, sadly, seems to be the root of their present posturing as well. Tragically the British completely misread the mood of the prisoners. Within three months IRA prisoners under the leadership of Bobby Sands, embarked upon a second hunger strike that was to call into question all around the world Britain's very role in Ireland.

That hunger strike began on the 1 March, ironically, the proposed date for the beginning of the proposed twin-track talks process.

The British thought they had defeated the Republican Movement after the 1980 Hunger Strike and they know what happened then. They have convinced themselves yet again, that they have brought about a situation in which republicanism can be smashed. How many tragedies must now occur before Britain realises that victory is not in its grasp, that peace means peace and can never be interpreted, nor implemented, as a ploy to achieve the unachievable.

Peace is still available and peace is still possible. Even at this late hour John Major has the power to rescue both our peoples from looming disaster. A short statement of serious intent, a simple phone-call, can pull us all back from the brink. And whatever happens, the commitment of Sinn Fein to a strategy for peace will remain constant.

This British government, or, for that matter, any British government to come, will find that the nationalists of Ireland are not into the business of surrender.

What we are about is the release of Irish republican prisoners from Britain jails, the removal of British injustice and inequality from our midst, and the search for agreement among all the people of Ireland on how we govern ourselves in the days, months and years to come.