The Secretary of States acknowledgement that the Provisionals still exist in a formal structure hasn’t really come as a surprise. It has been suspected since the sign off from P O’Neil, but those who dared mention the possibility were immediately demonised as being anti-peace process. So now it’s openly acknowledged that they exist what exactly could they be doing? Foremost amongst their activities will be the standard Republican action during periods of reduced violence, ensuring that enough pikes are stored in the thatch for the next generation. Of course this will mean weapons or the means to procure them but it also means establishing the intelligence networks and the training of the next generation to initiate violence if required.
These actions meet two objectives, the military preparations can mirror and be rationalised as the insidious infiltration of civic society by a political movement, the fund raising, legal or illegal, the intelligence gathering, the recruitment and training can all be excused as the political activity of a well marshalled organisation. Except the Provisionals can and will reserve the right to up the ante, to change the dynamic, return to limited violence and demand more and greater concessions. They are a challenge to peace in Northern Ireland, yes, but a threat to the establishment in the Republic of Ireland as well. The romantic notion of Irish Republicanism must be challenged in the Irish Republic, the Ireland Provisional Sinn Fein want to create has more in common with a socialist caliphate than a modern democratic society.
For unionism our desire to create a peaceful society means that all our children should grow up in a society free from violence and the threat of violence. We too have a challenge, 20 years from the so called cease fires paramilitaries are not just a republican issue, in many Unionist areas paramilitaries hold sway. Some have moved on and seek to contribute to society but too many remain wedded to using organisational structures to advance personal criminal gain. In truth the confirmation of the existence of the Provisional military structures reinforces the rhetoric within other paramilitaries that they too should remain. Our children grow up under flags of war and a romanticised notion of what happened over 20 years ago. This is not a peace process; it is a temporary cessation of violence process. Our choice is to make it a peace process by taking hard decisions and challenging terrorism wherever it resides or do we survive in meek subjugation in the knowledge that our children will face the inevitability of the pikes from the thatch.