On Aug. 8 The Post printed a well-marshalled denunciation of Irish Republican Army violence by the Irish Republic's minister of foreign affairs, John Kelly. The telling quality of his remarks was matched only by the perfect righteousness of his tone. Who could object to his call upon the IRA to end "the shooting and the bombing and the intimidation . . . the wicked cruelties that have shamed and disgraced the name of Ireland and its flag?"
No one--except that there is a certain irrelevance about his remarks. He knows that the IRA, even more sure of the rightness of its cause, will continue to invoke the long-established "physical force" tradition in Irish history, and the real-world injustices of the Northern Ireland regime, to justify its resort to ruthless guerrilla war.
Implicitly, too, he concedes to the IRA an extraordinary power; his plea suggests that it, and not the British and Irish governments, will decide whether Ireland is to have peace or not. A small and in many ways discredited band of fanatics appears to have the initiative. The question is: why?
One answer is that the British and Irish governments have not lived up to their obligations, have not acted decisively to do justice, and thus to remove the causes of violence. Not so much acts of oppression as abdication of responsibility in admittedly difficult circumstances has been involved.
As the single most powerful actor in the drama, Britain has much to answer for. What, other than disaffection and endemic violence, could have sprung from Parliament's original creation of an artificial state with a rigged majority predisposed toward religious bigotry and a supremacist attitude toward its Catholic neighbors?
Beyond that, Britain for 50 years looked the other way while its Loyalist clients ran "a Protestant State for a Protestant People" based on massive discrimination and intimidation of the Catholic minority. That Britain finally took steps to end the worst aspects of the regime is a tribute less to that government's sense of fairness than to the embarrassment occasioned by the exposure of Northern Ireland's indefensible reality as a result of the civil rights protests of 1968-69.
From the early 20th century until now, Britain has manifested a clear unwillingness to firmly discipline its Irish Loyalists in the interest of achieving a just and lasting peace in Ulster. It has given them a guarantee, in law, of a British presence in Ireland so long as they desire it. In 1974, it allowed them to sabotage a power-sharing arrangement which might have provided a way out of the Northern impasse. It has undertaken no serious political initiative since. Military suppression of the IRA, with attendant abuses of civil rights and other departures from the usual norms of Anglo-American democracy, have been Britain's preferred method of procedure. While British soldiers invade Republican homes in a constant search for IRA suspects and weaponry, the Orangemen are reassured of Britain's commitment, and left to threaten Armageddon at the slightest hint of political change. The Loyalists' 100,000 guns are in no danger of confiscation.
That Britain indulges the well-armed and determined Orange faction is understandable. That does not make it laudable, or functional in the search for lasting peace in Ireland. Like wise, one can readily understand the wish of the Irish government, and many of its people, that the North would go away. That the Irish government would put first emphasis on stability and prosperity in the 26 counties, and thus on good relations with Eire's principal trading partner, Great Britain, is wholly comprehensible. There is little doubt, too, that the Dublin regime's strictures against the IRA reflect a genuine compassion for the sufferings of the North's population.
Yet Eire's government appears willing to settle for sweeping the whole thorny business under the nearest political rug, and to leave the Catholic population to its fate. This would be more acceptable were it not for the fact that the Irish Republic lays claim to the whole of Ireland, and that it is the de jure heir to the dream of an all-Ireland Republic, a dream shared by the IRA and the great majority of Ireland's inhabitants.
In the North, it confronts a situation tragic by any standard, unjust at the core of the political and economic system, and intolerable to any who share the dream of self-determination for the Irish people. Its response, till now, has been mild and sporadic denunciation of the worst aspects of the North, and a remarkable willingness to echo British reassurances to the Loyalists that nothing will happen without their consent. This, of course, only confirms the Orangemen in their intransigence.
In short, the Irish government does not lead its natural constituencies, north and south, on the national question, even though it knows that failure to confront and resolve that question has the potential to disrupt all of its other efforts entirely. It also leaves the way open for the IRA to seize the initiative, to supposedly lead the way to the goal of the Republic. In the ghettos of West Belfast and Derry, and in more other parts of Ireland than Dublin and London would care to admit, that is what counts. The means may be reprehensible, but the end justifies much, especially since in the North the apparently anachronistic rhetoric of Irish nationalism is in reality the form taken by the expression of substantial political, economic and social grievances.