Time to end IRA's code of omerta

REGULAR readers may be interested to hear that that I am currently being described as "anti-republican scum" who should have been shot by the IRA years ago.

The mini hate campaign is being run by a number of posters on the

website IRISHREPUBLICAN.NET sub titled "for a thirty-two county

democratic socialist republic".

It is one of the areas of the blogosphere where supporters of Sinn Fein

and republicans who dissent from them, not always violently, meet to

do ideological battle.

It is hard to be sure, but the posters who would most like to see me dead seem to be mainstream republicans nostalgic for lost chances but presumably now committed to the paths of peace. Here's hoping.

During the troubles demonising somebody in graffti, pamphlets or latterly on the internet often become a prelude to attacks, so they can't be entirely ignored.

In my case, a serious security scare, when the IRA attempted to lure me to a meeting, was preceded by a period of verbal criticism in which I was accused of being too close to the police and British administration, a black propagandist.

Since then a number of former IRA members have told me that, in the cold light of day, the stuff I was writing was generally accurate.

That was the problem with it. Reporting the IRA's internal power

struggles damaged morale and once disputes were publicly aired they became more diffcult to resolve.

On the other hand, I was also arrested and injuncted for revealing details of British army and RUC undercover operations. I never felt that it was a journalist's job to give people in positions of power a quiet life free from scrutiny.

My more recent offences haven't been to reveal secrets but to express views which some republicans fnd distasteful, though others have stuck up for my right to express them.

Particular offence was taken at a column I wrote in which I accused

the UVF and dissident republicans of exploiting young people by

involving them in rioting. I argued that the police should be able to

publish the youngsters' photos as a child protection issue, before

their lives were "twisted" by the terrorists.

Another offending column looked at the way in which republican insiders who broke ranks from the official line, or spoke out of turn, were marginalised.

I referred in particular to Richard O'Rawe, a former H Block prisoner and Sinn Fein PRO who revealed that the 1981 hunger strike could have

been resolved on the basis of an offer which was not shown to the

prisoners.

Last week, he kindly invited me to speak at the launch of his second book on the subject, "Afterlives", which contains a searing account of the pressure he was put under. The invitation was largely because I had sued the Freedom of Information Act to uncover written details of the

offer and proof that it had been personally authorised by Margaret

Thatcher.

The documents, reprinted in O'Rawe's book, challenge the standard republican narrative that Thatcher had been implacable throughout the hunger strike.

Her position shifted in July 1981 after the frst three deaths. After

that, she used a secret channel of communication to Gerry Adams to float proposals which would have conceded most, but not all, of the prisoners' fve demands. The offer was declined, apparently for

political reasons.

Such secrets still stir deep passions. Former IRA members are still expected to abide by the republican omerta code, described by Martin McGuinness as "the IRA's honour code" at the Bloody Sunday Tribunal. O'Rawe suffered for breaking it; "H Block Traitor" was written up outside his home after he broke ranks. Before that he was visited by the IRA's adjutant who advised him not to go public.

Anthony McIntyre, another ex- prisoner, left Belfast following pressure when he wrote political commentary which contradicted the authorised Provo account of the troubles. A few weeks ago, Gerard "Whitey" Bradley was found dead in his car, he had been ostracised for writing a memoir which was not authorised by the republican leadership.

It is long past time we were free of this heavy hand, this atmosphere

of threats and intimidation for anyone who tries in a serious way to shed light on the Provisional IRA's campaign. After a conventional war history is written, former combatants tell their story and inevitably some will question the decisions of the generals, even the rationale for fighting in the first place.

The Provisionals must accept that this will happen to them, too.

Responding to any sign of informed debate about their past with threats, boycott and intimidation leaves them with little moral ground to challenge the dissidents who, in the end of the day, are simply copying their example.