Belfast Telegraph

Behind the alphabet soup, dissident republican micro-groups still pose a threat to the peace process here

ONH had little choice but to announce a ceasefire. Gerry Adams' response, on the other hand, was a masterpiece of sheer historical revisionism, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Don't believe the headlines. Oglaigh na hEireann has not announced a ceasefire. Oglaigh na hEireann is the Gaelic name of the actual Irish army, and it doesn't need to call a ceasefire, because it's not at war with anyone.

The terrorist organisation which, with an inflated sense of its own importance, calls itself Oglaigh na hEireann might have announced a cessation of activities against "the British state", but that's a sick joke too.

It's like a man with a face that resembles the back end of a bus and all the charm of a crocodile with toothache suddenly announcing that he's decided to stay single.

ONH didn't have much choice in the matter either way.

Most of these dissident republican factions consist of little more than three men and a dog, and they're so internally splintered that they spend their days squabbling in secret meetings with fellow fanatics over whether the 32 county socialist republic should start next Monday morning or Thursday afternoon.

Their political analysis has all the intellectual rigour of a toddler scribbling his name on the nursery wall with a crayon.

Which isn't to say that they're not dangerous. Tiny groups of stupid, cruel people can cause plenty of damage. Amongst other atrocities, the ONH has, in its short, inglorious history, detonated a 200lb bomb outside a police station in Derry, and attempted to murder police officer Peadar Heffron in a car bomb in 2010, causing the PSNI constable to lose both his legs.

No one doubts the capacity of lunatics on either side to inflict misery on their fellow human beings in the name of their sectarian fantasies.

If they've now decided to knock it on the head, the best that can be said on their behalf is that it's better than the alternative.

But they shouldn't get any brownie points for promising to no longer do what they had no right to be doing in the first place.

Nor should they expect to be treated any more seriously as a reward.

This ceasefire is simply a long overdue recognition of reality.

The activities of ONH had dwindled in recent years because, like fellow paramilitary headcases on both sides, they were totally compromised.

Many were in jail, and even more were informers. Security services knew exactly who they all were, including the dog. And the dog was probably barking out information on his owners in return for a few extra tins of Pedigree Chum too.

What ONH said and did was increasingly irrelevant, and it was never very relevant to begin with. Sinn Fein is a different matter.

That's why the statement from outgoing President Gerry Adams, welcoming the ceasefire, rings so hollow.

"There can be no excuse or justification for the continued existence and operation of armed groups, either unionist or republican," he said.

There never was.

"Their continued existence leads only to hardship, loss, bereavement and imprisonment."

That was always the case.

"There is a peaceful and democratic way forward to resolve political differences and to work towards an agreed and united Ireland."

Indeed. Just as there was during the entirety of the armed campaign by the Provisional IRA, another organisation which stole and sullied the official name of the Irish army. Surely even Adams, deaf to subtlety as he is, can hear the hypocrisy in criticising dissident republicans for not seeing sense, when, for decades, he led a movement which couldn't get these basic truths through its thick skull either.

Dissident republicans did not spring into being from nothingness.

At their core was the straggling tail end of a violent ideology which Adams enthusiastically promulgated.

That's why comedian Patrick Kielty once famously referred to the Real IRA and Continuity IRA and their ilk, as "I Can't Believe It's Not The IRA", after the famous butter substitute.

RIRA… CIRA… ONH… The acronyms proliferated like letters in a bowl of alphabet soup, but younger people were drawn to these factions, not because they were particularly glamorous in their own right, but because they kept alive the last dying glimmers of Provo mythology.

It was this folk memory which deluded them into thinking that, just because you call a bunch of wasters down the pub a "Battalion" or a Brigade", you're part of a real army which deserves respect, rather than the derision of everyone who actually has a proper job.

It was also the Provisional IRA which bred in them the fanatical belief that a united Ireland might be just around the corner if only you kill a few more people. That's the thing about terrorists. It's not that they're willing to die for the cause. Die away. Be our guests.

It's that they're happy for many others to die for it as well, whether they like it or not. This was the IRA's delusion too, and it was one which dissident republican splinter groups such as ONH embraced with fervour.

If the Provisional IRA could not "win", despite drawing in thousands of willing Volunteers over the course of the Troubles, then a handful of die hards were hardly likely to get the desired result either. But when republicans say that there will always be "resistance" to British rule ("Ireland unfree shall never be at peace", and all that), they're dead right. There's no guarantee that this idiocy is at a definitive end.

In its statement announcing a cessation of activities, ONH only says: "At this time the environment is not right for armed conflict."

In other words, it might be the right time to take up arms again next month, next year, next generation. Significantly, it has also not disbanded, or said what it will do with its weapons. They're still not giving up on daydreams.

And why should they when Sinn Fein doesn't either?

God always welcomes a repentant sinner. If the purveyors in their time of a United Ireland through force have finally seen the error of their ways, that would be great news. But they haven't.

They simply don't think violence is right "at this time".

It would carry much greater moral weight if republican leaders of Adams' generation were to say to those younger republicans: "You know what? The IRA was wrong to do what it did in the past. Don't repeat our mistakes. The cost was too high."

That's not what they say, however. Far from it.

They continue to insist that they were right.

Michelle O'Neill openly revels in IRA hero worship.

Martin McGuinness was buried with those very words - Oglaigh na hEireann - on his headstone.

What this says to younger hotheads, drunk on misdirected anger and bad politics, is: "The armed struggle was a glorious enterprise.

"But don't you be doing it too, lads, yeah?"

There's no logic in this hypocrisy, much less conviction.

Belfast Telegraph

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