It was a different republican Easter at the graves of their dead at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast; different because this time there was no statement from the IRA leadership, no words penned by P O’Neill.
“So you have a powerful statement in the sense of a non statement,” a senior police officer commented.
It is all part of the transition — part of the IRA fading away, the IRA of the ‘Long War’, and the IRA that has bought into the peace and the Adams-McGuinness strategy.
At Milltown Cemetery the IRA leadership statement was replaced with a Sinn Fein leadership statement, read by Eibhlin Glenholmes, who in the 1980s was on Britain’s wanted list.
She and Gerry Adams were the main speakers and part of what both had to say was directed at the other IRA groups, the dissidents who oppose the peace.
“Irish unity remains Sinn Fein’s primary objective,” Glenholmes said.
“We have a strategy to achieve that objective. Others disagree, but they offer no alternative.
“We are right to resist those who have attacked the peace process. This includes those in the British Establishment who would seek to use recent events as an excuse to rush back to the days of militarisation and the abuses that flow from that,” she continued.
“In Ireland today there is an alternative to armed struggle. A small number of militarist factions oppose Sinn Fein’s policies and strategy. Let us be clear many of those are involved in criminal actions and, moreover, they have no political programmes or strategies.
“There is no feasible alternative to Sinn Fein’s strategy for a united Ireland. Our objective now must be to consolidate the peace process,” she said.
The other IRA organisations — Continuity and Real — spoke up in an attempt to be heard this Easter, adding their words to the bullets fired recently at Massereene Barracks and in Craigavon.
This Easter the dissidents believe they have a more prominent place on the republican stage — achieved by killing two soldiers and a police officer.
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune, the Real IRA also claimed it killed Denis Donaldson, once Sinn Fein’s Assembly group administrator at Stormont, who admitted being a British agent within days of the collapse of the so-called Stormontgate intelligence gathering case.
He was shot dead in Donegal in April 2006.
In that interview with the Sunday Tribune, the Real IRA said its strategy is not a sustained campaign of violence but to “engage in tactical use of armed struggle”.
“Secure 32 counties by the odd murder. That’s a real clever strategy,” a senior police officer commented.
The dissidents in all their different forms continue to speak in a military language — to talk with their guns, but what is it that they want to be heard?
Is this really about Brits Out or is it about something else, something much more personal and raw within the republican community?
Is it about trying to prove Adams and McGuinness wrong?
Some suspect it is about trying to bring the IRA “back onto the battlefield” — the IRA that did not speak at Milltown Cemetery this Easter.
The dissidents are goading that IRA.
They are also trying again — as they did in a secret IRA Convention in 1997 — to unpick the Adams-McGuinness strategy.
Those recent killings at Massereene Barracks and in Craigavon did not break the political process.
But bringing the IRA back into play — back onto the battlefield — would.
The mainstream republican leadership is not going to walk into that trap.
At Milltown Cemetery, Adams had this to say: “Let me say a few very short words about so-called republican dissidents.
“I uphold the right of everyone to dissent from Sinn Fein’s point of view.
“But no-one is entitled to hijack our proud republican history and our republican future and to abuse it for narrow selfish interests or self gain.”
In its silence the IRA spoke loudest this Easter.