Sinn Fein or Sinn Feign?


Amid the oversized plastic leprechaun hats it’s easy to think of New York’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day as totally devoid of political content, especially any discussion of the political struggle over Northern Ireland.

That’s particularly noteworthy this week, with the McCartney sisters making headlines and visiting the White House as part of their quest to bring their brother’s killers to justice. And it’s too bad because the story is more complicated than the press usually conveys. That’s partly because pieces about Northern Ireland rarely get enough space to detail the intricately complicated twists and turns the story has taken since the 1998 Good Friday accords. It’s not an easy story to tell in 500 words.

Whatever the reason, the recent coverage the McCartney killing and the bank robbery in which the IRA is suspected might paint an inaccurate picture, says Irish Voice editor Niall O’Dowd. “The way they presented here it looks like the killing has been going on but in fact Ireland now is extremely peaceful,” he tells the Voice, giving most of the credit for that change to Adams because “he has moved the focus from the military wing to the political wing.”

The U.S. press is not joining Adams’s fan club, however. The Boston Globe has editorialized about “The Bankrupt IRA” while the New York Post has bemoaned “The irrelevance of the IRA.”

There’s no arguing with calls for the IRA to disband. The problem is the misconception that, even assuming Adams is on the IRA’s commanding Army Council, a simple majority vote will disband a militia that has existed in some form, on and off, since at least 1916.

When Adams pushed the IRA into its first real cease-fire in 1994, some hard-line elements split off into the Continuity IRA. The later and more permanent 1997 ceasefire spawned the Real IRA, which carried out the 1998 Omagh bombing—the bloodiest single incident of the Troubles. Only a handful of the dozens of articles devoted to the McCartney sisters’ courageous quest have mentioned the threat of further IRA splintering.