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Why republican 'scissor theory' cuts no ice, but SF share dissidents' DNA

The renegades and Sinn Fein are as far from bedfellows as can be imagined ... but their murderous tactics had to come from somewhere

By Henry McDonald

During the Cold War, Right-wing conspiracists in America developed a concept known as "The Scissors Theory". It concerned the global strategies of the two communist states opposed to the USA - the Soviet Union and China. "Scissors Theory" argued that the acrimonious Sino-Soviet split after Stalin's death and Mao's drive to become the world leader in exporting communism was a ruse to con the Western world.

The theory appeared to fly in the face of the facts, such as the one where the USSR and China almost went nuclear on each other after a series of border clashes along the Amur River in the early-1970s. Or that Moscow and what was then known as Peking backed rival proxies in the Third World wars stretching from Indo-China to Africa.

The Soviets supported Vietnam, for instance, when it invaded Cambodia to topple the genocidal Pol Pot regime. The Chinese continued to support the Khmer Rouge even after the Vietnamese drove them out of power and helped them wage a vicious guerrilla war in alliance with monarchist and Right-wing militarists.

The rival heirs to the global leadership of Marxist-Leninism also exchanged brutal verbal insults through their propaganda organs and even in world forums, such as the UN. Their fear, mistrust, hatred of each other was all too real, contrary to the fertile imagination of the "Scissor" theorists.

There is an Ulster version of the "Scissors Theory" that still kicks around the edges of political unionism. In this one, the argument goes that the violent republican dissidents are, in fact, in secret league with Sinn Fein and the IRA. The "logic" goes that the mainstream republican leadership effectively uses the threat of the armed anti-ceasefire republicans to pressurise and extract concessions from the British and Irish governments.

So, in this mental universe, the recent rise in so-called "punishment attacks" in areas such as west Belfast are a useful tool for Sinn Fein to exploit and to tell Dublin and London that if you don't give us more, then we will be displaced by this other nasty lot. However, this Ulsterised "Scissors Theory" is as outlandish and counter-factual as the old Cold War one.

On July 12 last year, in the evening to be precise, there was hardly any sign of covert co-operation taking place between the political representatives of the republican dissidents and senior Sinn Fein figures at Ardoyne shops. Quite the reverse, in fact.

We journalists gathered witnessed the once-unthinkable sight of Northern Ireland police officers rescuing Old Bailey bomber and Maze escaper Gerry Kelly from a group of recalcitrant republicans. They were furious with Kelly and his party for agreeing to a deal that allowed two local Orange lodges to return from the main Twelfth demonstration in Belfast, up the Crumlin Road, passing by Ardoyne shops and up to Ligoneil. The group gathered were baying for Kelly's blood, but thankfully the PSNI intervened and spirited him and his colleagues away from what could have been a very dangerous scenario.

The Crumlin Road was again the scene of another dangerous situation on Sunday night, when armed republican hardliners opened fire on two police officers, wounding one of them in the arm. Those responsible for the shooting also risked the lives of civilians who were filling up their cars with fuel and also potentially the staff who work at a garage, which was the scene of a blatant IRA murder back in the 1970s.

Gerry Kelly was one of the first out of the blocks to condemn the murder bid on the police officers. Kelly is quite right when he states that the community of Ardoyne doesn't want this kind of thing.

Sinn Fein representatives have been busy of late condemning those from the ranks of republicanism who still bring guns onto the streets either to challenge the state, or "solve" social problems in their own areas. The recent upsurge in "punishment shootings" in west Belfast drew the condemnation of the likes of Pat Sheehan, who warned about a new hit-list drawn up by the dissidents.

He - quite rightly - condemned the shooting of the Dorrians at their home in Turf Lodge. Yet this particularly horrific attack raises more questions than answers.

This writer took at face value security and republican sources who hinted strongly that the dissident grouping, Oghlaigh na hEireann, were behind the attack on the Dorrian family. Others in west Belfast beg to differ and now claim that the couple were targeted as a result of a fallout with a man from Ballymurphy reputed to be the commanding officer of the Provisional IRA. It is alleged that he ordered men under his command to attack the entirely innocent Dorrians in their home - with revolting consequences.

Even if this attack was the work of a gang under this man's control, even if it wasn't "sanctioned" by the mainstream republican leadership, it raises serious questions about discipline, control and continued access to weapons by an organisation that was meant to have flown away like a butterfly.

It is undoubtedly the case that the overwhelming majority of "punishment" shootings and beatings are now the work of the New IRA, Oghlaigh na hEireann and others as they seek to present themselves as an alternative "police" force with a menu of "instant justice" for those concerned about heroin dealing, joyriding, or house-breaking in their communities.

What, though, is an even greater challenge to mainstream republicans - even graver than one posed by a number of indisciplined former volunteers with continued access to weapons - is the legacy of the Troubles itself. These internal attacks within the nationalist community, just like the murderous assault on a police patrol on Sunday night, have their DNA traced all the way back to the strategies and policies of the Provisionals.

They "minted" these stratagems on the streets during the Troubles. The dissidents are merely copying those tactics in a bid to build support as well as remind the world that they still exist when they try to shoot dead policemen and women going about normal policing duties. It is hardly a "Scissors Theory" operation; these are two sets of rival republicans that in many cases hate each other (witness some of the terrible things written on social networks by the hardliners about Martin McGuinness's illness of late).

Most of us know these tactics never worked in the past and will never work now in a 21st century of mass surveillance and states with a technical edge never dreamt of during the Troubles.

Will the new leader of Sinn Fein ever turn to the dissidents and admit this core truth about the conflict? Or will Michelle O'Neill continue with the fiction that the atrocities, the carnage, the wasted lives, the brutalised generation of "punishment" victims was somehow the inevitable by-product of what happened to the civil rights movement?

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