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Rape, the IRA and the politics of vengeance

J McAnulty

29 October 2014

One could almost feel sorry for Sinn Fein as they become the target of a storm of criticism, initially that they had mishandled a rape allegation, then that they had put IRA interests above those of the victim, then that their position was identical to the criminal conspiracy within the Catholic church. Particularly difficult is the fact that the complaints are not actionable. They should say sorry. They should say sorry again. They should produce non-existent IRA records. Individual public apologies should be made.

What limits one's sorrow is the knowledge that Sinn Fein have spent the last 20 years depoliticising oppression. All the crimes of the British state, the ongoing crimes within the sectarian state in the North, all forms of repression, all have been reduced to the issue of psychological damage to the victims that is to be resolved by "closure."  

And they have been staggeringly successful. There has been an absolute collapse of the anti-imperialist and class consciousness that drove resistance. What was the basis of the bar on approaching the police? In Mairia Cahill's account only an order from the IRA. There is no acknowledgement that IRA membership was illegal or that the RUC had been part of a dirty war involving shoot to kill strategies or collaboration with loyalist paramilitaries in sectarian murder.

Mairia asserts that the road to justice is through the police, even though her own interaction with the police did not bring justice and in fact involved manipulation by the PSNI that made her a prosecution witness in IRA membership trials and an eventual double cross that she believes derailed the rape trial.

She seems unaware that few victims of either republican or loyalist violence have had any satisfaction from the police, that state crimes are still subject to a mass cover-up or that routine collusion with the unionist far right and Loyalist paramilitaries continues today.

In the zig-zags since her interaction with the IRA - first as secretary of a republican group, then working on a campaign with the far right to bar former republican prisoners from employment at Stormont, it becomes quite clear what represents closure in the absence of class consciousness - vengeance.

Vengeance may bring satisfaction to the victim. It is usually destructive for society. That is the case here. The ousting of former republican prisoners from Stormont represented a serious erosion of the political settlement to the right and has been followed by Unionist mobilisation to reestablish full-blooded sectarian triumphalism.

Tours of the Dail and Stormont to meet Enda Kenny and Peter Robinson help drive the knife into Sinn Fein, but also legitimate Fine Gael and the DUP and their truly horrifying record on the issue of abortion, women's rights and workers rights generally.

Generally Irish leftists have behaved badly, individuals have joined in the scrum to see if they can damage Sinn Fein and boost their own organizations, while ignoring the wider right-wing offensive. One anarchist writer, showing a patronising ignorance of West Belfast and of the history of both the republican and feminist movements there, dismisses decades of struggle against British imperialism as about identity politics and whole history of the Irish struggle for self-determination as an obsolete diversion between Irish and English rulers.

A similar process involving the Socialist Workers Party took place in Britain. Allegations of rape cover-up should have led to a critique of the bureaucratic culture within the party and its dismissal of politics in favour of a relentless opportunism. Instead many left the organization and abandoned the idea of a disciplined revolutionary party in favour of alliances with right-wing feminists who downplayed class struggle as the central element in the struggle for a new society.

Behind many of today's criticisms lies a very strange view of the IRA. The IRA was a revolutionary nationalist army. In the course of an armed campaign it committed “collateral damage” against civilians and on occasion atrocities. When it tried to operate as a police force it committed injustices which involved killings and mutilations. Its justice was particularly suspect when its own members were accused. The idea that it could effectively investigate rapes is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the idea that the police would not pervert any investigation to serve the interests of the state.

Justice is a need. To become a right it has to be asserted. It can only be asserted by the self-organization of the working class and oppressed. A military organization cannot substitute for the working class, as is shown by the IRA's eventual capitulation to imperialism, but we have to bear in mind that the IRA only became the dominant force when the British militarily suppressed a mass revolt. Even then, right up to the Good Friday Agreement, there was a wide range of views within nationalist areas and open criticism of the IRA.

To win justice we have to rebuild the self-organization of the workers, not give backhanded support to the state and the mechanisms of class oppression.

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