From Irish Political Review: June 2008

Editorial Commentary

Dr. Ian Spellar…

is teaching a course on military matters at Maynooth University's Department of Modern History. He was interviewed on Radio Eireann's Today With Pat Kenny on 14th May. He spoke about mistakes made in Iraq and successes and failures in countering guerrilla warfare. (He included Mao's campaign in China and the war in Vietnam as guerrilla wars. The revolutionary war in China can hardly be so described and the Vietnam War had ceased to be a guerrilla war shortly after the Tet Offensive of 1968.) Spellar clearly meant wars against the enemies of Britain (and America). And he was clear that this was the context of his course. It is open to school leavers, adults, and members of the Defence Forces.
Spellar 's expertise is in naval warfare, but that is not what he will be teaching at Maynooth. He also teaches at Irish Defence Force Command and Staff School. Unsurprisingly, he previously taught at King's College London and the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College. There does not seem to have been much of a take-up, as the RTE programme was very much in the form of an advertising exercise and applications were to be in by 31st May.

John Major… is to be made a Freeman of the City of Cork, along with Albert Reynolds, for their part in the Northern "Peace Process". Both the Labour Party and Sinn Fein opposed the honour. (Irish Times 14th May)
Labour's Michael O'Connell said: "My argument is that we must put into context what John Major's overall contribution was to the peace process. I would prefer it if history judged his performance, rather than Cork City Council awarding him the city's highest honour, which I feel he doesn't deserve." Jonathan O'Brien of Sinn Fein added: "I don't think Major was as willing to get involved in the peace process as people think today. This is a guy who wouldn't even sign the George Mitchell Principles of Non-Violence—it was actually Tony Blair who signed them."
Indeed we remember that Mr. Major said it would make him "sick to the stomach" to deal with "terrorists". It was this attitude that led to the breakdown of the first IRA ceasefire and a situation which produced one of the most vicious assassination of Catholics by British undercover forces in the whole of the war.
Dublin & Monaghan Bombings:

The civil case into the Omagh bombings going on at the moment is being given daily coverage in the British and Irish media. But no one is demonstrating that the Real IRA, which claimed responsibility, intended the civilian deaths on that day. It is regularly described as the largest loss of life in "the troubles". It wasn't. The largest loss of life was caused by the car bombs exploded in Dublin and Monaghan on the 17th May 1974. And there is no doubt that this bombing was meant to kill as many people as possible.
The responsible party, the British Government, has certainly not admitted responsibility. On the 34th anniversary, the relatives of those killed have again called on the Irish Government to press the British for the information they are concealing. They have also called for an international inquiry. The bombs were designed, successfully, to intimidate the Irish Parliament. There was a special powers Bill going through the Oireachtas with every chance of it failing. The bombs ensured that it succeeded.

Ian Paisley… visited St. Patrick's Bearnageeha school on May 16th. It was here that the late Eamon O'Kane, a contributor to this magazine, taught, or "Piggy" as he was known to his pupils. He went on to become General Secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers. The notion of Mr. Paisley visiting and taking questions from the pupils makes the mind boggle. Asked about abortion, he denied that he agreed with the position of the Catholic Church. "They agree with me", he said. (Irish News 17.5.08)
Parades and Marches: It is proposed that the powers of the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on political parade routes, should be transferred back to the Local Authorities. Republicans understandably oppose the idea that, for example, solidly Unionist Portadown Council should determine whether Orangemen should be allowed to march down Catholic Garvaghy Road. There is a public fiction that the Parades Commission applies its rule to "all sides". But everyone knows that the only problem is the Orange Order and it was always the only problem. Republicans don't ever march near Protestant areas. And no one cares where anyone else marches. The Orange Order was at its most benign during the War under Martin Smyth. It seems that it then reverted to its normal bigoted self. It is there to annoy Catholics, and neither gimmicks nor grants have yet managed to change that.
Tourist Attacks? Some time ago we reported that open-top tourist busses were attacked in West Belfast. This followed Rangers supporters using one of them to throw bottles at the IRA War Memorial on the Falls Road. Now the Irish News, 15th April, reports further attacks on tourist buses. This time it is on minibuses. These are painted green with the word Paddywagon painted orange on the sides. They are an open invitation for any spirited person, Catholic or Protestant, to throw something at them.
Community Policing: The above is not to say that there is no problem with hooliganism. This has been a particular problem in the Lower Falls with drunken or drug-crazed louts assaulting people, breaking into their neighbours' homes, and littering the area with broken bottles. Two men have been killed in their homes. The Northern Ireland Office has funded a new body called the West Belfast Community Safety Forum. According to the Irish News on May 13th (and in other issues) Gerry Adams said the scheme had "the potential to make a real difference to people's lives". Opening the scheme, NIO minister Paul Goggins said: "My proposal aims to build a strong partnership between public agencies, voluntary groups, and the people who live in the area". PSNI Chief Superintendent, Gary White, stated: "The challenge is to take what is a very positive approach and ensure we deliver what people would expect".
Presumably the scheme might do some good. Adams warned against "penny pinching" in its funding. So it 's going to be another one of those things. It is difficult to see any substantial difference happening without the regular presence on the ground of dedicated and motivated people. A policeman occasionally cycles quickly around the place and there is the odd police landrover—usually after an event. But then there is usually little or no police presence anywhere in Belfast and still some areas are peaceful and some are not. The assumption that the PSNI are terribly interested needs to be challenged. They are interested in not being victims themselves and so they rarely are. But why should they care if areas like the Lower Falls disintegrate? Many in the police would be only too glad to see this happen. Thankfully, there are some concerned, and certainly unpaid, people who are trying to keep some kind of order, without being too heavy-handed. The area has improved over the recent period.
There is still the regular interface battle at weekends in Ardoyne. At its heart is territory. Catholic Ardoyne is bursting at the seams while the neighbouring Protestant areas are being deserted. Mostly this has been local, but now the Protestant side is being reinforced by groups from Woodvale. The Official IRA seems to have been involved in punishment beatings in Derry. It is to be hoped that they do not extend this to their stronghold in the Lower Falls. They can be relied upon to get things drastically wrong.
Donegal Celtic… is the only Catholic-based soccer team in Belfast (though Catholics tend also, for reasons few can explain, to support Cliftonville). It was formed in Lenadoon in 1970. In 2002, along with Lurgan Celtic, it was refused entry into the [Northern] Irish League. This was reversed after the clubs took the Irish League to court and the matter was settled out of court. This year Donegal Celtic came 13th out of 16 in the Premier League. But the League has been reduced to 12 teams and so Celtic have been relegated. This may all be down to the petty-minded bureaucrats that run the League. But the memory is fresh of Derry City being kept out of the League in the past for blatantly sectarian reasons. It is now possible that Donegal Celtic will follow Derry into the [Southern] League of Ireland. The club is so called because many of the streets in the area are called after places in Co. Donegal.
Myself Alone: Catriona Ruane, Sinn Fein's Education Minister at Stormont, is attacked daily in the press over her plans, or lack of them, to abolish the 11-plus examination for selection to secondary schools. She and her DUP opponent, Sammy Wilson are no chuckle siblings! Her main problem has been that no one can quite work out what she is proposing. Her latest plan seems to be to phase out the 11-plus over three years and introduce a selecting exam at fourteen. But there seems to be nothing to stop Grammar Schools from opting out of the system and many have threatened to do so. The pro-selection stance of Unionists is difficult to understand since Catholics do better than Protestants. The Belfast News Letter recently had a full front page picture of Ruane with the headline Myself Alone. There is now speculation that she may be replaced by her deputy, John O'Dowd, whose public performances are impressive. However, she is Sinn Fein's hope to take the Westminster seat of South Down from the SDLP when Eddie McGrady retires. Her opponent there will be Margaret Ritchie. Ruane is from Galway and it would be considered a good thing in nationalist circles to have a Southerner in the Stormont Government. But she is also seen as a a protege of the late and unlamented Denis Donaldson.
"Anti-Terror" Laws: In April the House of Commons passed the Second Reading of the Counter Terrorism Bill. This, according to the Irish News, 12th May, will allow the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to exclude juries and coroners from inquests "if it is judged to be in the public interest, against state security or would damage relationships with another country". British Government officials have given verbal and private assurances the the Act will not be extended to Northern Ireland. This, going on past experience, is not believed. Leader of the SDLP, Mark Durkin, said: "There is a completely new provision in this legislation. It's not confined to terrorist cases, whereby the Secretary of State will be able to appoint a special coroner to hold a secret inquest in relation to any death where they think that's in the public interest. If they get it through in this Bill, they will very quickly then extend it to Northern Ireland. That has huge implications for the outstanding cases in which there have never been inquests held."
Sinn Fein's Alan Maskey said: "It has been shown time and time again that the British Government will use anything in its powers to block public inquiries and inquests from getting at the truth. I have no doubt that the British Government will try to use this draconian legislation to help cover up the collusion that has gone on in the North for the last 40 years." This is borne out by the rushing through of emergency legislation in London in 2005 to allow the British Government to withhold information from inquiries into the deaths of Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright.
The British Link: On March 27th, the Irish News had an interesting editorial on the link with Britain:
"Gordon Brown 's latest pointed attempt to define the UK as comprising nothing more than England, Scotland and Wales may have caused some upset among Unionists in Northern Ireland but they should not really have been surprised... Back in January of 2006 he raised eyebrows by proposing the introduction of a special day to promote a sense of British identity and even encouraged every householder to fly the Union flag in their garden. As the Irish News noted at the time, it was abundantly clear, despite half-hearted denials, that Mr. Brown had no intention of extending his initiative to cover the divided community in Northern Ireland... Well placed reports from London earlier this week confirmed that legislation authorising this move would not be applied to Northern Ireland... The effective message from Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron is that the concerns of Northern Ireland unionists were fully addressed by the Good Friday Agreement and the final set of negotiations at St. Andrews... The relationship between northern nationalists and the main parties in Dublin is considerably more complex and may yet take further twists. However, the days when Margaret Thatcher could confidently declare as UK prime minister that Northern Ireland was as British as Finchley would appear to be gone forever."

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