Haunted by Collins'ghost; since Secretary of State Peter Mandelson Suspended the Legislative Powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Re-Introduced Direct Rule, the Media Has Been Dominated by Blame and Counter Blame. JOHN COULTER, a Part-Time Research Assistant at Stormont, Assesses the Mood on the 'Hill' and the Challenges Now Facing Opposing Parties

Article excerpt

Cut away the party political rhetoric of the 'blame game' and one fact is glaringly obvious - it is not the Ulster Unionist Party and David Trimble in particular who have betrayed the peace process and the fledgling power-sharing Nor-thern Ireland Executive.

It is the IRA's Army Council's blunt refusal to show that it supports its political wing Sinn Fein in implementing all the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Constitutional nationalism in the shape of the SDLP along with right- thinking unionism and loyalism, spearheaded by David Trimble, have both jumped and landed safely on the riverbank of a workable, legislative government in Northern Ireland.

Even constitutional republicanism in the shape of the Sinn Fein Assembly party was playing its role in making Northern Ireland democracy work as a political entity.

Only one player in the game of democracy has still to jump - militant republicanism in the shape of the IRA Army Council.

Just as moderate unionism has had to face down the taunts and jeers of its No camp, so too will the Army council have to face down the hawks within its own Provisional movement and the "wild men" of dissident republicanism.

The Omagh bombing in 1998 is a clear lesson of what dissident republicanism has to offer the Northern Ireland community, no matter what the political and religious persuasion.

The refusal of the Army Council to clearly signal even a token gesture on arms decommissioning has sent out a series of confusing messages to both the constitutional republican and moderate unionist communities.

Firstly, are the Army Council and Sinn Fein beginning to go their separate ways in the peace process? Is the Army Council afraid that if it does order decommissioning, it will spark large scale or significant defections to either the Real or Continuity wings of the IRA?

However, more significantly, the question being asked by many unionists and nationalists is: does Gerry Adams still speak for the republican leadership? Of course, he does speak for the Sinn Fein leadership in the Assembly. That does not mean he has the power to order the Army Council to hand over its weapons.

For republicanism, history is now repeating itself. In the 20s Michael Collins could not deliver IRA decommissioning in the wake of the signing of the Treaty, just as Ireland's modern-day Collins, in the form of Adams, cannot deliver IRA decommissioning as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Is it a case that republicanism is more interested in preserving unity within its ranks rather than becoming a truly modern democratic movement?

The Irish Civil War in the 20s, the Provisional/Official feud in the 70s and the INLA's blood-letting in the 80s are very graphic examples of the consequences of republican turning on republican.

Perhaps modern constitutional republicans fear the physical outcome of having to go head-to-head with the Real IRA, Continuity IRA or Provisional IRA "hawks".

For the first time in almost three decades, unionism is at the summit of the moral high ground. For the first time since the formation of the Northern Ireland state itself in the 20s, world opinion - and especially Irish America - supports the maintenance of a power-sharing executive at Stormont. The future credibility of republicianism rests in the hands of the Army Council. …