Radical media, politics and culture.

Irish Times

Since december two incidents have been fuel for anti-republican hysteria. The first, a massive robbery at the Northern Bank netting an estimated 40 million euros, has scandalized the political class who see it is evidence of Sinn Fein's 'criminality' and unsuitability for participation in 'respectable politics' never mind government.

Behind this lie the worries of several political parties threatened by the meteoric rise in SF support in southern ireland during recent years: Fianna Fail have lost chunks of their constituency in urban working class areas; Labour are challenged for their role as the main leftist organization; the Greens face competition in their market for sponging up the protest vote. As for the progressive democrats and Fine Gael, they have always hated republicans, representing as they do an arrogant middle class that takes umbrage at SF's working class character and redistributive demands: in fact the clash between these groups is scarcely concealed enactment of class war.

The level of organization ton the robbery led immediately to the presumption that only paramilitary structures, and probably only the IRA, possessed the necessary professionalism to be able to coordinate an operation involving allegedly more than thirty people. Predictably IRA denials followed, and SF insisted that this was enough to convince at least them of their 'non-involvement'.

A couple of weeks ago things took an almost burlesque tone, as stories proliferated first about people selling off stolen notes at a discount, then of individuals burning notes in back gardens. Eventually the police raided several houses on the southern coast and made several arrests both there and in dublin. In both instances large sums of cash were recovered, stuffed into washing powder boxes or packed into plastic bags hidden in garden shrubbery. In a surreal turn the next lot of swag to turn up appeared in the RUC sports club in Belfast! A small percentage of the money (2 million or so) has now been seized but politically the impact has been spectacular as the establishment go to town on ostracising SF. Several of those arrested are party members or have history as active republicans linked to the provisionals, everyone knows that it was the IRA (although the rationale behind it is contested), and an ex-Trade Union leader (and republican) has been accused or f running a laundering operation for their benefit.

The funny thing is that the bank robbery provoked much admiration when performed. The vast sum involved inspired awe, whilst the complexity of the operation's execution -- carried out in broad daylight in belfast city centre -- and the numbers involved give the whole affair the aspect almost of a work of art. Most republicans are working class and do not have enough money in the bank to be scandalized at its expropriation, others are fairly well inculcated with an idea of legality and legitimacy that such a job is viewed as simply another blow in the conflict. there are few places in europe where Brecht's comment" "What is the crime of robbing a bank compared with the crime of founding one. "

Ironically despite all the huff and puff about criminality and exhortations to legalism, there is only one party which has one former TD in jail (Liam Lawlor) and another who is about half-way on the voyage to the same destination (Ray Burke) -- that party is in fcat the party of government, Fianna Fail. ;-)