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Behind the great Northern Bank Heist

John McAnulty

11th January 2005

What does it mean when the chief police officer in a state holds a press conference and implicates the second largest party in a massive bank heist?

What does it mean when the chief constable presents no evidence for his claim?  The statement is based on a hunch, intelligence, the direction of a number of lines of enquiry.

What does it mean when the police force involved shows massive incompetence, failing to prevent the bank robbery even when alerted by members of the public, then going on to stage indiscriminate raids in nationalist areas, having a weapon and ammunition stolen from them in the process?

What does it mean when the police force involved is the RUC, a criminal sectarian force with decades of involvement in state death squads and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, recently rebadged as the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

What it means is that the process following the £26 million robbery of Belfast’s Northern Bank on the 20th December is totally innocent of any policing function and is instead a political statement restructuring yet again the framework aimed at restabilising the Northern Irish statelet. The political nature of police chief Hugh Orde’s statement is underlined by the recent decision by the British authorities to recognise a ‘ceasefire’ by the sectarian gangsters of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association in defiance not only of their own monitoring committee, but of daily headlines in the newspapers. In earlier times the IRA were able to kill alleged drug dealers without the British noticing, but that was then and this is now. The demand for immediate and unconditional surrender and disbandment of the IRA has moved from being insane ranting by the right wing of unionism to being the united demand of the British imperialists and of all the parties of Irish capitalism.

The whole political process has to move a lot further to the right to make it more attractive to the Unionists. One straw in the wind is a recent British announcement that halls belonging to the sectarian Orange Order are to be excused rates. State subsidies for sectarian hatred are a glaring signpost towards the sort of society Irish workers are expected to suffer under.

Sinn Fein have reacted to the changed situation with incoherence. Their automatic response to the Orde statement was to blame ‘securocrats’ – elements of the bureaucracy who, according to Sinn Fein, continuously sabotage a political settlement despite the best intentions of the British. As on so many other occasions, this explanation was demolished when both the London and Dublin governments supported and amplified the police allegations. A confused emergency conference led only to a statement that they would not be deflected from the peace process – that is they have no alternative to supporting a process that placates loyalist sectarians and constant political attacks on their own organisation!

There may be a great deal more to this incoherence than meets the eye. The fact is that the original Good Friday agreement involved the IRA halting attacks on British forces, but did not prevent the other routine activities of a guerrilla army. There is evidence for a sizeable number of IRA members, lacking in politics, who are totally loyal to the leadership but take seriously their claims that they have won a stunning victory over the British and are calling the shots. That would make it somewhat difficult to announce that disarmament and disbandment are immediate and real.

One other factor to take into account is the almost unreported military campaign by the Real IRA. In the run-up to Xmas and following into January they mounted an extensive firebombing campaign across the North, causing millions of pounds worth of damage. Two bomb attacks were launched on police stations.  Three Orange halls were burnt – an activity that increases tension without any attempt to build a political opposition to sectarianism. Most striking of all is that all these activities have not involved any arrests, indicating that the militarists have recruited a sizable cadre of new young activists, unknown to state intelligence.

Of course these activities draw attention to the fact that the militarists have been unable to build any political alternative. The campaign has no real military significance and is best understood as the Real IRA, while remaining part of the republican family whose militarist strategy led to the current defeat, are now issuing invitations to the rank and file of the larger republican army to respond to the constant political retreats of the Provo leadership.

The British and their Dublin allies are well placed to beat the Provos about the head and demand further concessions. All the signs are that this will do nothing to aid their strategy to stabilise the ramshackle process to stabilise partition. There are in fact increasing signs of internal pressures within republicanism which could hasten the day their core support in the working class ghettoes bids the current leadership farewell.



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