The political wing of the illegal Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) put on its annual show of solidarity here Sunday -- but there has been a shift in the party's leadership, Monitor contributor Philip Whitfield reports. The president of the officially tolerated Provisional "Sinn Fein," Ruairi O Bradaigh , presented his report to his party's annual conference without mentioning an apparent escalation of the IRA's bombing campaign in Northern Ireland. Moreover , he made only scant reference to an internal policy struggle within the Provisional IRA. The more Marxist "young tigers" from Belfast are trying to turn the old IRA movement into a modern-day popular revolutionary army, a difficult task in such a conservative Roman Catholic society.
In recent months it has become apparent that the IRA's Belfast leadership has taken over policymaking from the Dublin members. While southern delegates have wanted to discuss the social and economic problems of Ireland, the Belfast membership has stuck to IRA dogma: the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland, and the disbandment and disarming of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the locally recruited military unit, the Ulster Defense Force.
The Provisional IRA generally ignores other elected politicians' statements and actions, and this conference meant no exception. It spent no time discussing the current political initiative of Humphrey Atkins, Northern Ireland Secretary of State, who has managed to get some elected politicians to talk about possible new forms of government for Northern Ireland.
The one hope the Provisionals seem to hold dear is that they could, in some form, be included in an ultimate peace conference. Observers say that if Britain's Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, becomes involved in a Northern Ireland peace conference, she may find the prospect of another Rhodesia-style powwow irresistible. And the precedent of including all the protagonists has been set.