The blame game; yesterday’s winners and losers…

ONE of the recurring themes on Slugger yesterday was how far an organisation is to blame for the actions of individual members – whether they’re Provos robbing banks or Orangemen murdering Catholics. Are there any reasons why a group will cop the flak for one person’s actions in some instances, but not others? It might be worth comparing the IMC’s reporting on IRA activity, which was largely positive, and the Kennaway extract on Orange Order activity – largely negative – for a moment.

First of all, it might be worth considering the historical context of the organisations attitudes towards criminal activity.

The IMC notes the republican movement’s apparent shift towards peaceful and democratic methods to achieve its aims, having previously been involved in horrific acts of terrorism. The IRA still doesn’t get a clean bill of health, but because the IMC sees measurable evidence of change away from criminality, the perception is one that is increasingly positive about the movement’s intent.

Elsewhere, Kennaway notes the Order’s apparent reluctance to deal with criminals within its ranks, by turning a blind eye to wrongdoing, despite professing to be guided by Godly principles. If members have indeed been disciplined, it certainly hasn’t been made public knowledge. Therefore, there can’t be any public confidence that the Order is upholding the high standard it has set itself in the past, when disciplinary outcomes were made widely known.

There seems little doubt that the Orange standard has been a double standard on far too many occasions in recent years. Those in the Order who continue to uphold its law-abiding principles must wonder what crime a member has to commit to be expelled, if murder isn’t worthy of discipline. Many unionists are fond of describing themselves as part of ‘a law-abiding community’, or saying ‘justice must be done, and be seen to be done’, but outsiders will continue to see that as paying lip service to these values if Kennaway’s points are dismissed as rubbish.

Both groups, however, have a tendency to close ranks, protect ‘their own’, excuse their wrongdoing, blame others or engage in ‘whataboutery’. In a tribal society like Northern Ireland, I suppose these kinds of group dynamics are depressingly predictable, and were clearly illustrated by the duplicitous republican reaction to, for example, the McCartney murder, or the reluctance of the Order to expel killers in its ranks.

It’s worth noting the difference in how Sinn Fein reacted to McCartney and how they reacted to the vodka heist, and the IMC placed much stock in the public pronouncements of Gerry Adams and how these words matched ongoing trends within republicanism. Both the above incidents were very likely unsanctioned by the IRA leadership. The McCartney issue continues to be a millstone round Adams’ neck, but when the SF leaders placed clear blue water between themselves and those IRA members allegedly involved in the heist (rather than equivocating, as is the usual response), it ceased to be a problem. Odd that a life should be valued less than a few crates of Smirnoff, but perhaps that’s as much to do with the personalities involved as anything.

Public regard for both groups fell when they failed to abide by either the rule of law or their own standards. Which brings us neatly on to the issue of leadership. Unionists were quite happy with IMC reports when they highlighted ongoing IRA activity, as it took pressure of them re-entering government with Sinn Fein. Now that the IMC has noted a strong republican leadership’s apparently extensive efforts to shift and manipulate the movement towards a culture of lawfulness, will they be so willing to take it at face value?

On the other side of the fence, the Orange leadership appears weak and unwilling to face the challenges that face it. But since instransigence has got it nowhere on the parades issue – unlike the Apprentice Boys, whose image has benefited hugely from taking the debate on positively – something will eventually give. A spineless, lazy or beaten opponent is easily ousted, if positive risks by courageous challengers reap demonstrable rewards.

I think it’s interesting to watch how the DUP have attempted to inject a more dynamic form of leadership recently. Some Orangemen might be content to walk up to a police line at Drumcree every year and get no further, but that hasn’t got them anywhere, literally. Their new traditional route stops at a row of PSNI officers. ‘Not an inch’ politics translates directly into ‘not an inch’ further down the road.

Some unionists seem more willing to call their opponents’ bluff or attempt to bring about change from within, for example, by joining the Parades Commission – a strategy which will be mirrored when Sinn Fein joins the Policing Board within the next year or two. These unionists seem to realise that the days of ‘all or nothing’ generally result in nothing.

The question is though, will half a loaf be better than none?

Just a few thoughts to kick off debate this morning…

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