‘IRA’ bank raid: Hugh do you think you’re kidding?

The Northern Bank robbery couldn’t have come at a better time for unionism, which has been running out of excuses not to deal with Sinn Féin. As the IRA denies all knowledge, we ask – who stands to gain?

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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A selective but very generous Father Christmas seems to have come a week early in the north-east of Ireland when, on 19 December last year, a ‘daring’ and ‘meticulously organised’ raid on the Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast netted somebody a record £26.5m in cash.

The robbery was instantly dubbed by populist sections of the bourgeois press as “the crime of the century”, so Proletarian readers are fully entitled to ask whether the editors of these rags have already forgotten, among other imperialist outrages, the genocidal Anglo-American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. How criminal were they?

The relative magnitude of the Northern robbery is not, however, an issue for supporters of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) or, more importantly, for those committed to the longer-term vision of a united, genuinely independent 32-county Irish republic. The problem is that the ‘somebody’ in question is alleged by the British forces of occupation to have been the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The implications of this for Sinn Féin’s inclusion in the institutions set up by the agreement, not least of which is the Northern Ireland Assembly itself, are obvious – particularly with the odious ‘Democratic’ Unionist Party leader, the Neanderthal churchman Ian Paisley, cynically and disingenuously calling for the Good Friday process (which he has always opposed) to go ahead without a republican voice while taking full account of his own anachronistic, quasi-fascist views.

The fact that colonial police chief Hugh Orde has not yet been blessed with the knighthood ‘for services rendered’ granted to his predecessor, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, should not lead us to question his commitment to his imperialist masters, or theirs to him.

Guilty until proven innocent

After Orde –- Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the sanitised and rebranded RUC — claimed at a much-trumpeted press conference that the IRA had been the culprits in the Northern Bank raid, Tony Blair himself intervened to reassure the sceptical that no such accusation would have been made without evidence.

And 26-county Taoiseach (premier) Bertie Ahern revealed the supine, neo-colonial hypocrisy festering skin-deep beneath his nationalist façade by going along with the gist of the British ruling class’s condemnation of the IRA.

Whilst expressing token reservations about the unholy speed with which Orde’s conclusions had been drawn, he said: “The attribution of the Northern Bank robbery to the Provisional IRA represents a serious setback for the political process in Northern Ireland and is corrosive of the public confidence that we have been seeking to create.”

His solution? “Compelling commitments, both in word and deed, that the full spectrum of IRA paramilitary activities and capability has been brought to a definitive closure.”

In other words, when it comes to the IRA, Ireland’s leading ‘elected official’ is effectively saying ‘guilty until proven innocent’. Where is his declared commitment to holding the loyalist paramilitaries (and, indeed, the British state) to equal account?

Meanwhile, according to Hugh Orde’s own inept and unwitting admission to the assembled media (there goes the knighthood, old chap!), the PSNI is still continuing its enquiries and the assertion of Irish Republican Army responsibility is nothing more than his own personal view.

In my opinion,” he told journalists, “the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime, and all main lines of inquiry currently undertaken are in that direction. This is an operational decision. It is my decision. It is made because we need to get on with the investigation. The peace process is a matter for others.” (Our emphasis)

No evidence

There was, of course, an instantaneous – and understandably outraged – response from Sinn Féin, which is the most influential nationalist party in the six counties and which has just finished celebrating its centenary as the voice of Irish national liberation.

In the immediate wake of Orde’s accusations, Derry MP Martin McGuinness – Sinn Féin vice-president and the party’s chief negotiator during the talks leading up to the GFA – had this to say about the latest attempt by British imperialism to discredit the IRA and the broader republican movement:

“He [Hugh Orde] has not produced one scrap of evidence. Within days of the robbery at the Northern Bank, and following media speculation and PSNI briefings which suggested IRA involvement, I asked the IRA about this and was assured that they were not involved.”

In the face of continuing pressure from the British capitalist media, McGuinness then took his party’s case – and that of the IRA – to the British public via an early morning Sunday TV news programme almost a month after the robbery itself.

No, he said. Senior IRA commanders continued to deny involvement, and he believed them.

No, he said. He didn’t appreciate the collaborationist, pro-imperialist position of the Taoiseach.

No, he said. He couldn’t work out who else could have perpetrated the dreadful deed – although the list of suspect organisations seemed to have narrowed from five to one in the course of a month. Initially, crown forces had said that there were nearly half a dozen organisations sufficiently well organised to carry out the raid. Now it was just the IRA.

Yes, he said. Sinn Féin would continue to demand concrete evidence linking any given organisation – and especially a republican one such as the IRA – to the raid.

Yes, he said. Sinn Féin remained committed to the Good Friday process.

Imperialist manoeuvring

All of this reveals an unusually transparent attempt by British imperialism (aided by its traditional collusion with the unionists) to exclude Sinn Féin – via the IRA – from any resumption of the compromise ‘power sharing’ deal in the occupied north east of Ireland. Even in 2005, imperialism often can’t get its head round people who don’t like it and want to get rid of it. Instead, Britain’s imperialist bourgeoisie was going for the ‘soft option’.

That soft option, the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) – which entirely deserves both bits of its name, social democratic and Labour – would by definition have been far more pliable, not to say prostrate, but they keep losing seats to seriously anti-imperialist Sinn Féin candidates and they lack credibility among the nationalist working class.

A non-starter for the occupiers, but does this mean that the British state directly organised, or helped organise, the Northern Bank robbery and has been trying ever since to frame the IRA (which has been on ceasefire for more than a decade, let’s recall) as some are suggesting? It seems possible, but if the Irish national liberation movement itself doesn’t know, or is not prepared to comment, far be it from Proletarian to hazard a guess.

Proletarian internationalism and the interests of the British working class both demand continued support for the national liberation struggle in Ireland — whatever form it takes at different times and in different circumstances.

For more information on the position of the CPGB-ML regarding Ireland, read ‘Ireland in the spotlight’ (Proletarian No 2, Oct/Nov 2004) and ‘Britain out of Ireland’, the resolution unanimously adopted at our founding congress in July 2004 ( Proletarian No 1 Aug/Sep 2004).