SOSperanto, a political variant of Esperanto, is a language invented by the parties and governments dedicated to keeping the Assembly and the peace process alive – irrespective of what is thrown at it, or how many inconvenient, unpleasant truths are uncovered.
It starts one step beyond David Trimble’s ‘constructive ambiguity’ and gallops towards Humpty Dumpty’s “when I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean –neither more nor less”.
So, while we are to accept that the Provisional IRA still exists, we are also to accept the Chief Constable’s assurance that “although still a proscribed organization, and therefore illegal, we assess that the continuing existence and cohesion of the Provisional IRA hierarchy has enabled the leadership to move the organisation forward within the peace process. Our assessment indicates that a primary focus of the Provisional IRA is now promoting a peaceful, political Republican agenda”.
That’s a classic piece of SOSperanto. An organisation that was supposed to have disappeared – indeed, its disappearance was trumpeted by the DUP as one of the reasons they could strike a deal with Sinn Fein in May 2007 –its members remain armed and active, but their primary focus (what’s their non-primary focus?) remains peaceful. So let’s not get too excited about the fact that a proscribed, illegal, terrorist organisation is still alive. Let’s not worry too much about the fact that it has weapons and reserves the right to use those weapons when and where it chooses.
The DUP and UUP have also been issuing SOSperanto statements in the past few days. My understanding of their positions is that they would not share power with Sinn Fein if in possession of information that it was still linked to a PIRA that remained armed and active. The Chief Constable has told them that PIRA still exists. Hasn’t gone away. Moreover, his line about moving “the organisation forward within the peace process,” suggests that Sinn Fein’s leadership is aware that PIRA still exists. So why, exactly, are the UUP and DUP still in the Executive?
That’s easy, they’re waiting for the Secretary of State to return from holiday and give her assessment: also couched in SOSperanto. Her assessment will be based on information from the Chief Constable and intelligence services and will be precisely the same as we know now. She will conclude that punishing Sinn Fein by excluding them from the Executive will only antagonise PIRA –the terrorist group that isn’t supposed to exist anymore – and risk plunging us back into instability and violence: a violence orchestrated by that very same PIRA and some of its alleged connections within dissident republicanism. The DUP and UUP will huff, wheeze and babble in SOSperanto, then wipe their sweating brows and continue as if nothing had happened.
There’s something else we need to know: at what point did the PSNI realise that PIRA still existed? I find it hard to believe that last week’s assessments from the Chief Constable and Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes were based on evidence gathered over the last few days. George Hamilton’s assessment, in particular, is so detailed that it must represent a gathering together of intelligence already possessed and analysed. So why weren’t Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness informed? Why wasn’t the Policing Board informed? Is the Secretary of State aware of it?
And what about Sinn Fein? What are we to make of their faux outrage and spin-dried denials? If the Chief Constable is correct in his statement about PIRA still existing and still active at a number of levels, then it’s a pretty safe bet that Sinn Fein is aware of it, too. The two organisations have been intertwined since the birth of Provisional IRA/Provisional Sinn Fein in 1969-70, so it beggars belief that McGuinness, Adams, Kelly et al could have been blindsided by and ignorant of the continuing existence of PIRA. These are men who know their own turf and who know what’s happening on that turf. Put bluntly: if PIRA exists then Sinn Fein’s leadership know that it exists.
So, what happens now? Well, it’s when you get to this sort of “you say eether and I say eyether” territory that SOSperanto comes into its own. None of the political parties want the Assembly to collapse and the British and Irish governments don’t want responsibility for running the place. Everybody will believe what they want to believe, or need to believe. The DUP don’t want to be viewed as “Trimble-like suckers” for having been lied to by Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein don’t want the shadow of the gunman hanging over election campaigns due north and south of the border in the next few months. The UUP/SDLP/Alliance don’t want to lose the profile and cash flow that comes from the Assembly.
So prepare for all sorts of fudge and torturously semantic twaddle. Prepare for zebras that are just black or just white. Prepare for snowfalls in an oven. And prepare for some collectively agreed all-party SOSperanto: “Yes, we acknowledge that there are huge ongoing problems and enormous obstacles to cross. We know that the hopes and potential of the peace process have been squandered.
“We accept that we have failed to do much that makes a difference to the everyday lives of people here. But we all agree that it would be much worse without us – so keep our offices open and the paychecks coming.”