Posted By: March 01, 2014

Patrick Murphy. Irish News( Belfast). Saturday, March 1, 2014.
THE most surprising thing about “on-the-run-gate” is that so many people were
apparently surprised by it.

While few were privy to details of the secret negotiations between Sinn Fein and the
British government, the existence of a deal was obvious to anyone who has the
slightest understanding of Republican history, the most elementary appreciation of
British colonial politics and the basic observational skills of everyday life here.
Apart from the fact that Sinn Fein secured the deal in writing (a sensible move on
their part) this week’s revelations contained nothing we did not already know, or
could not have reasonably guessed.

With due respect to the feelings of victims and their families, anyone in Stormont
who did not realise that a deal had been reached for on the runs (OTRs) was
politically negligent.

It is that negligence, as much as the deal, which sparked Stormont’s phoney crisis.

Republican history shows that failed military campaigns were normally followed, both
here and in the South, by the release of prisoners long before their sentences were
due to end.

The authorities also turned a blind eye to those who had been on the run, allowing
them to gradually filter back into normal life.

After the 1956-61 IRA campaign, for example, no one was subsequently arrested or
tried in connection with it. The 1994 PIRA ceasefire, however, was different.

They declared victory, which was innovative, but ultimately untrue.

The dishonesty was exacerbated by subsequently claiming that the war had been for
equality, not Irish unity.

The victory processions held the organisation together long enough for it to enter
Stormont, but the splits soon emerged.

From the beginning, Stormont failed to deliver significant social or economic
reform, a failing often disguised by flags, rhetoric and Irish language tokenism in
the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the PIRA decommissioned all its weapons and ultimately disbanded. The
splits grew as Sinn Fein more overtly accepted what they used to call British rule,
even to the point of meeting the Queen.

For the first time in modern republican history, there was a new category of
post-campaign volunteer – the disaffected. While released prisoners knew the risks
to their liberty of going down the dissident road, some OTRs had a different
perspective. They were already being hunted for their past.

Being hunted also for their present would matter little. So the deal for the OTRs
had two aims. One was Sinn Fein’s attempt to look after them as they had done for
prisoners. In republican terms, that was honourable and to be expected.

But as Sinn Fein moved into constitutional nationalism, there was another
imperative. Some OTRs could potentially assist militant, anti-agreement republicans.
So it was in Sinn Fein’s and Britain’s interests to neutralise as many OTRs as
possible. Britain then adopted its standard tactic of colonial rule by offering what
we might call Geronimo letters to the OTRs: Indians who agreed to live on
reservations would not be arrested. Those who remained at large would be hunted

Peter Hain wrote on Thursday that Sinn Fein “needed to get all active republicans
behind the peace process”. That is why the Conservative government continued with
Labour’s scheme of issuing entrance tickets to the reservations. It was an easy way
to cut off a potential source of personnel, expertise, and training to
anti-agreement republicans. Even today Sinn Fein complains only about the (usually
rare) arrest of its supporters. Non-reservation Indians are on their own.

In return, the British government secured not just an end to the PIRA campaign, but
an end to the PIRA.

For them, that was worth 200 letters. Sinn Fein is right to say that everyone knew
about the principles on which the deal was based (although, remarkably, some appear
to have genuinely missed its underlying motives).

So Stormont’s phoney crisis was not really about the OTRs. It was about covering up
the failure of the other four parties to acknowledge the obvious.

It was also a convenient opportunity for the DUP to claim back some of its sectarian
heartland through a process of threat and bluster, which now makes the first
minister look silly. He did not get the type of inquiry he asked for. He merely
received an investigation into the scheme’s operation, not its ethos. However, this
week’s events will impact deeply on disenchantment within Protestant working class
communities. The IRA leadership in 1963 said that the way ahead for republicanism
was through non-sectarian progress on social and economic issues, including civil
rights. They had learned the sectarian consequences of failed militarism. The
present leadership just learned to look after its own.