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August 01, 2005

Response to Requiem For the IRA

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WASHINGTON, D. C. 20003-4303

August 1, 2005

Letters Editor
Boston Globe
Requiem for O'Malley

Dear Editor:

We welcome Professor O'Malley's commentary ("Requiem for
the IRA" 8/1) on the Irish conflict and the IRA,
particularly if there is any chance it will be his last.

Who would have thought that internment, State-sponsored
murder, the extra-judicial killing of elected officials by
the government, schemes for promoting religious
discrimination and hatred, censorship, conveyor belt
injustice, and the slaughter of innocence in Derry and in
the shopping centers Dublin and Monaghan all were mere
figments of the imagination of IRA leaders and made
lyrical, according to the academic, by a poet who never
lived to see any of it? Contrary to O'Malley's belief,
which he alone shares amongst op-ed and editorial writers
across the nation, the Irish government and the Nationalist
community have needed a peace partner. In Britain they
have had only an antagonist and an incompetent cruel one at
that. President Clinton and Irish Taoiseach Albert
Reynolds had the courage to break the cycle of violence.

The professor displays an unusual bitterness, even hatred,
of those men and women who throughout the 20th century
chose to set an example of unarmed protest of British
violence and injustice by refusing the food of their
jailors. In fact such protests were deeply rooted in
Celtic culture. We viewed their actions as full of courage
and commitment as unselfish as they were idealistic. It
was the tactic of Ghandi who no doubt would be despised by


Michael J. Cummings, Member
National Board
12 Marion Ave, Albany New York 12203
518-482-0349, 518-447-4802, 1-800-947-IAUC,


Requiem For The IRA

By Padraig O'Malley August 1, 2005

FOR THOSE with their ears to the ground in Belfast, the
news that the IRA decided to abandon its armed struggle
came as no great surprise. The end was a long time coming,
a reluctant inevitability since the Good Friday Agreement
opened the way to Northern Ireland's uneasy peace in 1998.

Whatever illusions the IRA might have harbored about
another generation of ''freedom fighters" stepping forward
to sacrifice in the name of a united Ireland were buried in
the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9/11, the day on which
Irish America put the business of guns for the cause behind
it once and for all.

Few, other than republican hardliners, will argue that the
IRA's prevarication for seven years added one iota to
furthering the peace process. On the contrary, its
intransigence strangled every effort at accommodation in a
power-sharing government, increasingly polarized Catholics
and Protestants, and today, as pundits talk of the
prospects of a lasting peace, the two communities are more
apart than ever, represented in elected bodies by their
political extremes that have yet to face each other across
a negotiating table.

The years of uneasy peace have not brought integration or
even a modicum of reconciliation, but bitterness and
increasing segregation of everything -- from housing, to
schools to sports -- and in the Protestant community the
assumption of a mantle of marginalization that will take
generations to erase.

And in these seven years, the IRA, perhaps slightly
discombobulated with the loss of one enemy (the Brits),
found another -- the people it purported to protect.

Assuming to police republican areas, especially in west
Belfast, it arrogated to itself the power to apprehend,
prosecute, and adjudicate for offenses defined by the IRA
itself, which, not surprisingly, mostly consisted of
offenses against the IRA.

Yes, all the old shibboleths will now be dusted off and
eulogies of the struggle of 100 years will fill columns of
print, paeans to the oldest ''liberation" movement in the
world calling it a day. But whatever terrible beauty there
was died with the hunger strikers. . And when one day some
historian writes the history of the IRA, he or she will
have to balance the competing dispositions that inhabit the
Irish psyche: the eternally renewing spirit of the
sacrifice of self for a facile and sentimental nationalism
with a disparagement of the same. ''Out of Ireland have we
come," wrote W.B. Yeats, ''Great hatred, little room/Maimed
us at the start."

The IRA does not stand for a united Ireland, freedom from
British oppression etc. It stands for the triumph of
fanaticism and the beliefthat landscapes of bloody violence
are holy pictures, because blood spilled for the holy cause
is a sacred thing. But the once-upon-a time holy Ireland
has lost her holiness and thus her need for holy martyrs.

In 1981 10 young men committed suicide in Long Kesh prison
to advance their cause. They died blessed by their priests
and the sacraments of their church. Did we dare call them
fanatics? Never! Rather, we praised them as idealist young
men, entrapped in their own sense of victimhood, their
reasonable demands thwarted by a vengeful woman, former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

When the IRA subsequently nearly blew her and half her
Cabinet to smithereens in 1983, it issued a statement:
''Mrs. Thatcher, we have to be lucky only once; you have to
be lucky always" -- sentiments that find an eerie resonance
among passengers in the bowels of London's mass transit
system today as police frantically hunt for those who have
to be lucky only once.

Does fanaticism have a scale of balance? Should we weigh
the fanaticism that inspires the suicide of self of an
Irish republican nationalist with the fanaticism of a
jihadist suicide bomber in the name of holy Islam?

Like a virus, fanaticism has a life cycle. At some point it
peaks and its infectiousness declines. What is happening in
London today is simply a variation on the theme. One team
of fanatics (IRA) is calling it quits after a long time at
bat; another, more enthusiastic lot (jihadists) is stepping
up to the plate.

We fool ourselves with looking for the differences.
Fanaticism does not fight injustice, it creates injustice.
Accrued grievances or perceived oppression are used to
explain fanaticism, but they do not cause it. A fanatic
having no sense of self is incapable of having a sense of

And thus, when we look at the legacy of the IRA across a
span that touches three centuries and encompasses one, we
find a legacy of blood, not freedom.

But have we learned anything?

Padraig O'Malley is a senior fellow emeritus at the
McCormack Graduate School at UMass-Boston.

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