Adams lays down the law to republican dissidents
It was one of those moments when Gerry Adams wanted to be seen and heard.
His statement last week on the “unacceptable criminal actions” of dissident republicans was not your routine Adams political commentary.
The statement was highlighted in advance and more detail on the specifics of the criminal actions may well emerge now the Sinn Fein president has returned from Washington. He was there to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Mr Adams named and shamed the dissidents — the Continuity IRA and the groups who operate under the titles Oglaigh na hEireann, the Real IRA and the INLA.
He linked them to extortion and intimidation and claimed they were protecting drug pushers. And he urged support for the PSNI “in ending criminality in our community”.
The last time mainstream republicans had a similar problem with dissidents the IRA was used to crush the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation (IPLO).
That group, a splinter of the INLA, was shot and threatened out of existence — a tactic no longer available, something that in the era of the peace process would not be tolerated.
So this time, we have the Adams’ approach — the most public and prominent of republican leaders, the man with the electoral mandate, urging the community to “reject these groups”, to “repudiate these (criminal) actions”, and, significantly, to help the PSNI. This is important as moves continue towards the devolution of policing and justice powers to a new Stormont department.
There is no doubt that Adams will have thought long and hard about his words.
Despite some suspicion in the unionist community that elements of the IRA still assist the dissidents, the reality is different.
There is an enemy relationship. That is obvious. The dissidents see Mr Adams and Martin McGuinness as traitors — as men who sold out.
In the past, Sinn Fein leaders have been warned by the police that they are under threat from within their own community and from those who Mr Adams chose to name and shame several days ago. So the Adams statement will unquestionably add to that tension.
He made clear that he has no problem with those who “dissent from the mainstream republican position” or “oppose the Sinn Fein strategy”.
But he said there could be “no political tolerance” for the criminal actions he was highlighting.
The dissidents — added together — are not an alternative IRA. They do not have the firepower to re-create the ‘war’ — there is not the necessary military wherewithal or community and political support. And behind sporadic, and often failed attempts by dissidents to attack the security forces, there is this other world — a world of extortion and intimidation and crime. One source pointed to a recent incident when guns were found alongside ‘E tabs’, and linked that find to a known dissident.
“These people are giving armed cover to criminals in our areas,” he said.
So the Adams intervention is designed to do a number of things: to highlight the criminality; to say to the republican community: it’s ok to help the police, and to challenge the police to do more and do better in how they deal with all of this.
One source commented: “The PSNI are not just up to the mark at this stage — (they are) very seriously under-resourced.”
Mr Adams will also have spoken on the basis of knowing the community mood and knowing that people want something done.
Is there another IPLO-type situation developing, where a group or groups present themselves as republican organisations only in an attempt to disguise criminal actions?
How is the current situation dealt with, and who deals with it? And what is the dissident reaction or response? The Adams intervention raises many questions.
And, now that he has said what he has said, the challenge is to do something in a police and community response.