The Irish have made peace but have the British? That is the question asked by veteran journalist and author Ed Moloney in light of ongoing efforts by Britain to pursue legal vengeance against former insurgents of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and those who represented or supported them. Moloney argues that these actions:
“…amount to a British default both from the spirit of the peace process and the commitments given during good faith negotiations with Sinn Fein and the IRA.
That the British intention to continue to pursue IRA suspects, try them in the courts and then imprison them amounts to an act of war against the IRA is undeniable in the context of the conflict since 1969.
Whereas the IRA’s campaign was characterised in the main by the shooting and bombing of British targets, the British response in the main took the form of trying to put as many IRA members as they could behind bars, using the police and the courts to do so (while the British also shot and killed many IRA members the greater part of their energies was spent trying to imprison them).
…the British now trumpet their resolve to keep putting former IRA activists behind bars whenever they can, highlights an unspoken and unacknowledged reality: the IRA has ended its war against the British but the British have not ended their war against the IRA.”
This is something that many (Provisional) Republicans who had supported the peace accords of the late 1990s and early 2000s are now coming to acknowledge, albeit with evident reluctance. Indeed it seems that the central tenet of the Belfast Agreement of 1998, that through negotiations there would be neither winners nor losers to the conflict, has been all but abandoned by Britain.
“This latter commitment was the defining principle of the peace process, the oil that greased the wheels: no-one came out and said ‘We Won!’ and by not doing so this enabled the already difficult process of making and demanding concessions to happen.
Implicitly and in an unspoken way, at least in public, the Troubles ended in a draw with every participant agreeing on ways of enabling each other to withdraw from the field of battle. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time to happen but without that agreement it probably never would have.”
Instead the British are now pursuing a form of retroactive victory over a foe that they had previously proved incapable of defeating, either militarily or politically. In doing so the UK is risking everything on a foolish, tribal grudge against Irish Republicans that risks undoing all the progress of the last two decades. Some long-time observers have suggested that the inherent flaws and contradictions of the Belfast Agreement, coupled with the iniquitous nature of the continued British occupation of Ireland, whatever its rump nature, means that we are simply in a “pre-conflict period”. A second (or third) round of “Troubles” is likely (quite possibly leading to a British humiliation equal to that of the Irish-British Treaty of 1921). It is apparent that the Tories and “establishment Britain”, from the Labour Party opposition to the metropolitan press pack, are intent on making at least part of that suggestion a reality.