July is marching season in Belfast, a season of Protestant protests and papist petrol bombs. In the dog days of summer, you usually can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but these days it seems that you also can’t let sleeping dogs lie.
Ireland’s prime minister Bertie Ahern and Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein, are entering into increasingly friendly relations and despite immense skepticism that the IRA can put its old ways of violence behind it, it seems the group will finally make honest efforts for disarmament and disbandment.
In the wake of September 11th and the London bombings, the Irish are beginning to empathize more strongly with the victims and victims’ families of these brutal attacks and see the IRA in a much less favorable light.
It is true that the paramilitary Irish Republican Army has served a historic purpose both in the formation of the free republic of Ireland in the south, and in protecting the vulnerable Catholic minority from the Protestant-dominated government and police force of the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland.
But, these days Catholics in the north have a lot to gain from politics and everything to lose if the IRA were to carry out another horrific bombing or attack. Resistance to disarmament at this point is probably more about pride than a genuine concern for security. In most people’s minds the days of oppressive rule by the British are over. The days of self-pity are gone. British Oppression? Don’t make me laugh. It’s hard for the Irish to engage in debilitating self-pity when their Celtic Tiger economy is the most ferocious beast in Europe.
As Britain and the continent struggle to reach abysmal GDP growth rates of around 1.5%, Ireland surges forward, unstoppable. The Tiger’s expected economy-wide growth rates are around 6%, and disposable income, the money in people’s pockets, is expected to grow by close to 10% this year. The Irish have a higher standard of living than Britain, and in terms of purchasing power parity, have the fourth strongest economy in the world. Such economic success is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Even as Ireland’s economy grows rapidly and healthily each year, the Irish have maintained strong interpersonal connections between family and friends, and according to one study are the second happiest nation in Europe. With such success the Irish truly have little use for self-pity. With these facts in mind, it is not surprising that The Economist magazine reports that more Irish have been to London than to Belfast.
A people proudly focused on the future have less patience for those, like the IRA, who seem stuck in the petty struggles of the past. Despite initial skepticism that it would ever happen, the importance of this summer’s agreement for the IRA to finally disband and give up its mammoth supply of guns, ammunition, and explosives cannot be ignored. In the coming months and years the world will see if one old Irish fighting dog can learn some new tricks.
If the IRA does change its stubborn ways of guts and glory, it will be more because of the changing notions of what its master, the Irish people, think it needs to do to get treats. If it is finally made clear that violence is no longer an acceptable means to the end of political gains, the IRA really might give up its old ways and embrace politics for good.
The IRA is finally trading the sword for the pen, the bomb for the ballot-box, but don’t expect cries of betrayal from the people.
With priorities shifting, the recent split of IRA and Sinn Fein and the decision to disband and disarm could not have come at a better time. It seems the old warriors of the IRA have finally accepted the truth of one street philosopher’s claim that “Cash Rules Everything Around Me. C.R.E.A.M! Get the money! Dollar, Dollar, Bill Y’all.”