Peace: The prize and the price

Windsor Castle
Image caption The two neighbouring states set aside ancient quarrels with a state visit which included a banquet at Windsor Castle

A jarring juxtaposition on our screens - news bulletins providing striking images of the glittering prize after so many years struggling for peace - the union flag and the Irish tricolour fluttering side by side and two neighbouring states setting aside ancient quarrels to concentrate on a hopefully productive and harmonious future.

Then the excellent Spotlight investigation by Mandy McAuley providing us with an insider's account of IRA gun running in the 1990s when Sinn Féin was - on the surface - talking peace.

If the avowed gun-runner Mike Logan's testimony about being told to ignore two ceasefires and a peace agreement is to be believed, it is a case of perfidious Irish republicanism.

But there also seems to be plenty of evidence of perfidious Albion and perfidious Washington on display.

Sean "Spike" Murray told Spotlight the allegations about him were "without foundation".

But those claims surfaced 14 years ago, and yet both the British and the US governments appeared to share a determination to treat the Florida gun-running as the unsanctioned activities of a few rogue Irish republicans.


The former security minister Adam Ingram told Spotlight the then government in no way condoned the IRA's "self regulation".

However the only logic - if it is correct that the US prosecutor was dissuaded from joining up the dots - is that London, Dublin and Washington had their eyes on the bigger prize.

Certainly, I covered similar alleged IRA gun-running plots for Spotlight in the USA in the early 1990s and found little reluctance on the part of US prosecutors to give me chapter and verse on the cases they covered.

Whilst the programme focussed on gun-running that apparently ended 15 years ago, it prompted questions still valid today.

Does the Provisional IRA still exist?

What was the long obsession with decommissioning all about?

'Clean guns'

Given that dissidents did gain access to Provisional IRA arms, do the security forces have a reliable estimate about the proportion of its arsenal that remains in circulation?

Where are the Provisional IRA's "clean guns" now?

But the evidence of Machiavellianism revealed by Spotlight does not simply apply to the government's dealings with republicans.

In recent weeks we have had evidence of the South East Antrim UDA attacking homes in Larne and the police blaming the UVF for orchestrating racist attacks in east Belfast.

UVF elements have also been blamed for the horrific shooting of Jemma McGrath.

Despite this, senior police officers told the Policing Board it was not their role to determine if the loyalist ceasefires have been broken.

There is no sign of the Northern Ireland Office rushing to clarify the situation.

Just as in the late 1990s, maintaining a degree of "constructive ambiguity" about this kind of paramilitary activity appears to be the price the government is willing to pay to keep its eye on the prize of peace.

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