Brian Rowan: The IRA war is over and old soldiers really do fade away
The IRA Army Council still exists but, as Brian Rowan hears from a pioneer of the peace process, it poses no threats.
The IRA Army Council that Brendan Duddy first met in the dark of the early 1970s was a different body altogether — a different leadership in a different place at a different time.
It was a time of conflict, of violence — and Duddy’s peace mission had only just begun.
Back then, he will admit, there was little chance of him being heard above the sound of the gunfire.
For more than two decades the Derry businessman was the secret link in a ‘back channel’ running between the British Government and the republican leadership.
Duddy has watched the IRA change — has seen one Army Council become another as one leadership was pushed aside and Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams emerged as the public faces of the republican movement.
“The Army Council’s activities peaked probably in the mid-1980s,” Duddy said.
“And from that moment on they have been moving away from a war movement to a peace movement,” he added.
What Duddy means is that the beginnings of the peace process in that period of the mid-1980s was the beginning of the end of the IRA — a long end after a long war.
It was an end in which the killing continued into the ‘90s.
If you know the inner workings of the IRA then you will know the role of its seven-member Army Council.
It has the authority to ‘declare war’ or ‘conclude peace’ — the latter requiring the sanction of what the organisation calls a General Army Convention.
The last time the IRA met in that secret forum was over two days in January 2007 to clear a path for the republican endorsement of policing.
That decision was part of a trend — alongside ceasefires, decommissioning and the formal ending of the armed campaign and it is evidence that the Army Council has concluded peace.
Yes, the IRA is still out there and showed itself on the streets of Belfast at the funeral of Brian Keenan — an IRA in white shirts and black ties, some in berets, but none in masks and there were no guns. This is the changing IRA — an IRA that will remain with a quiet leadership somewhere in the background.
But the Independent Monitoring Commission is convinced and the police are convinced that the IRA’s war is over — that its ‘terrorist capacity has effectively disappeared’.
Brendan Duddy is also convinced:
“They do not wish to be in business because the war is over and that is fully accepted, but like old soldiers it takes time to move out of the scene.”
The latest assessment from the IMC is surely not about convincing the DUP that the IRA war is over and that the Army Council is no longer a danger to the peace.
Would Ian Paisley have taken the DUP into government with Sinn Fein if he believed there was the slightest hint of an IRA threat?
And would Peter Robinson — now in charge — keep his party in that Executive?
We know the answers to those questions.
This report is about policing and justice and the next phase of the political process and trying to get the DUP over the line — against the will of its internal and external critics.
It is the British and Irish governments trying to create a context with a report that tells us what we already know. Yes, the IRA is still out there — but not the IRA of war.
“No one in the IRA membership or the IRA Army Council is going back to war,” Brendan Duddy said.
And then he poses a question:
“At what point can we move on?”
What he means, is when will the DUP believe that this is over and that the IRA is not going back?