Eilis O'Hanlon: Dissidents can kill, injure and threaten us... the one thing they can't do is stop us laughing at them
Sinn Fein has called on the farcical Irish Republican Movement to disband, but it's hard to take anything they say seriously either, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
Sometimes words get used so often that one can be fooled into thinking that they actually mean something. Consider the term "dissident republicans". Obviously, there needed to be a phrase to distinguish the recalcitrant rump of the republican movement from others who'd decided to give the peace process a go, but calling them "dissidents" gives the diehards far more credibility than they deserve.
There were already plenty of words in the dictionary which better sum up so-called "dissident" republicans. Some of them are even printable.
Eejits, for example. Halfwits. Dunderheads. Nasty little bird-brained savages. The list is endless. All would do the job just as well without flattering them with a title held with honour by genuine dissidents, such as those inside the Soviet Union during decades of communism.
The latest pronouncement comes from a group calling itself the "Irish Republican Movement", apparently an offshoot of the officially on-ceasefire Oglaigh na hEireann, which has demanded that drug dealers in the nationalist community "cease immediately" or face death, as well as threatening other criminals and "Crown forces".
It was accompanied by pictures of, ahem, some fine specimens of Northern Irish manhood in combat gear, brandishing weapons, standing behind a table on which a tricolour was draped, because nothing does greater patriotic honour to one's country than using the national flag as a tablecloth while threatening to kill people you don't like.
Twitter responded with swift and admirable contempt to the release of the pictures, touching them up to replace the muppet who read out the statement with the knitted sock monkey from the PG Tips ads, or Zippy from Rainbow, and giving them new, sarcastic captions.
Social media's influence on public discourse is often maligned, but it comes into its own at such moments, lampooning the stupid and violent so that we can scoff at them, rather than being alarmed. Bullies fear being laughed at more than anything else, because, once they become figures of ridicule, their power evaporates.
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Terrorists may be able to kill and injure people, which is no great achievement to begin with, but the thing they can't do is demand that we take them seriously.
One advantage of these numpties insisting on their anonymity, of course, is that the usual rules of fair comment don't apply. Normally, if you say something derogatory about people in the newspapers, or on social media, they can get quite snippy about it. They might even run to a sympathetic lawyer and dash off a legal letter, demanding apologies, retractions - even damages.
With simpletons wearing balaclavas, no such caution need apply. One can say absolutely anything about them and they can't do much about it, because, in order to complain, they'd have to reveal that they are, indeed, the persons pictured, which is tantamount to admitting a criminal offence, since belonging to a terrorist organisation was, last time we checked, illegal. So, all bets are off.
Take that one standing at the back. He's what my son would call "a bit of a chunky monkey".
He definitely looks like he'd benefit from joining a gym, rather than the so-called "Irish Republican Movement". He might say that what he most wants to see is an end to British rule, but that belly suggests his greatest desire is for another Ulster Fry or Occupied Six Counties Fry as he probably calls it.
Things have come to a pretty pass when Irish freedom is now dependent on a man who can't climb the stairs without getting out of breath.
No doubt these insults are terribly hurtful to his feelings, the poor thing. But what can he do about it? Run bawling like a baby to the Independent Press Standards Organisation?
The one sitting down isn't even wearing a combat jacket. He's just thrown on a fleece, as if it was Dress Down Day in "dissie" ranks.
Maybe he's not actually a member of the group. Maybe he's the only one in their immediate social circle who can read, so he was dragged in to do the honours.
Even if his face was visible, what's the betting that it would bear a puzzled expression, like this was the first time he'd had to read anything since putting in a false claim for disability allowance and it's hurting his head pretending to understand what all the big words mean.
As for the one to his left, there's a picture which shows him tucking a pistol away in the crook of his arm, as if trying to hide it, in case his mum walks in, sees it and tells him off.
They've all got matching lilac gloves, too, having presumably held a meeting at which it was decided that an all-out offensive against the British war machine was all very well, but they really needed to accessorise first.
Not that this attention to detail has extended below the waist, since the group are all wearing jeans.
Denim is not regular Army uniform, lads. Soldiers go out into the field of operations kitted out in full combat gear, they don't muck around in fancy dress with the curtains drawn.
What do these dipsticks do for an encore? Dress up in their wives' frilly knickers and take saucy Polaroids of one another? They haven't even bothered finding a suitable location for the announcement. They just filmed it in someone's living room, complete with a bare bulb (are light-shades considered colonialist in republican circles?) and a leather sofa, which they doubtless picked up in the sales after firebombing the local furniture store.
Just out of shot, some bored teenager is surely slouched in the doorway, saying: "Could you hurry up, dad? I want to watch Britain's Got Talent."
Terrorist movements are already parodies of real armies. Splinter groups in turn become parodies of the parody.
They might mimic the structures of legitimate military organisations, giving themselves absurdly conceited titles such as commanding officer and quartermaster general, but in practice they have all the discipline of a bunch of P1 pupils on a visit to a bouncy castle. The only thing they're fighting is reality.
Sinn Fein has called on this "new" group to disband, but it's hard to take that demand seriously either.
Their longstanding Supreme Leader was no sooner out the door than he was again publicly defending the use of violence as a political weapon, while the IRA itself murdered numerous alleged criminals under the far-fetched auspices of Direct Action Against Drugs. This pop-up group is simply following in their Provo predecessors' footsteps.
It's just a pity social media wasn't around back then to cut Gerry Adams and his comrades down to size, as well.