The Fresh Start Panel Report, Just More Of The Same

Remember the political and media outrage created last September by the murder of petty criminal, Kevin McGuigan, at his home in Belfast? His assassination was believed to be in retaliation for the shooting dead of Gerard Davison, a prominent republican activist in the city, which was itself blamed on McGuigan. Both men had formerly served as volunteers of the Belfast Brigade, (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, in the 1980s and ‘90s until the latter was dismissed from the insurgent movement in some disgrace. At the time of the killings demands were made for Sinn Féin to be excluded from the regional administration in the north-east, with walkouts by the UUP, and grandstanding declarations of disgust by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil. What a difference ten months and no looming general election makes. The aftermath of the deaths in Belfast saw the setting up of an independent three-person commission by the Irish and British governments to investigate “paramilitary” activity in the Six Counties, led by former liberal unionist politician John Alderdice. This so-called “panel” has just published its thirty-eight page report into the controversial subject, to be met with abject silence from the political and press classes in Dublin and London. No screaming headlines by the partitionist consensus, no neo-unionist newspaper columnists beating down the doors of radio and television stations to outdo each other in mock fury. Lighter than a flake of snow falling upon the ground in the depths of winter, the issuing of the document has stirred barely a hair.

This reaction may be not entirely unrelated to the panel’s perceived failure to live up to anti-republican expectations and single out the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army for censure. Indeed, they barely mention the organisation at all. From the publication, “The Fresh Start Panel Report on the Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland”:

2.6 We have encountered no desire among these groups to return to military campaigns but rather a clear understanding that any community concerns need to be resolved politically and criminality must be addressed. Former members of the Provisional IRA have been directed to become involved in political activity.

And that is pretty much that. The rest of the report is the usual, feel-good nonsense we would expect from the “Alliance-types” on the more enlightened wing of political unionism. Long on words, short on content, empty of meaning.

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