From Irish Political Review: October 2008

Editorial Commentary

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC)…

has declared that the IRA Army Council is no longer functioning—or words to that effect. This has meant that both the Irish and British Governments have been able to say that there is no possibility of a resumption of IRA activities (Irish News, 4th September). The dogs in the street know that this is the case. The Democratic Unionist Party expresses doubts, though it is likely that it does not have any doubts. The dogs in the street can be believed, even if the IMC can not. The IMC is not independent. Its sole source of information is MI5 (the police no longer have a "security" role). MI5 tells the IMC what the British Government wants to hear and the IMC repeats this back to the British Government!

British Army "homecoming": civic receptions for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been given the go-ahead by Belfast City Council by 26 votes to 20, thanks to the Alliance Party, which holds the balance of power. There will be a parade to St. Anne's (C of I) Cathedral on November 2. A British Army spokesman said that there are discussions with Councils throughout the province about ceremonies, but, apart from Belfast, only Ballymena has made a decision. It will hold a ceremony granting the soldiers the freedom of the town (Irish News, 2nd & 3rd Sept).
Sinn Fein Councillor…

Paul Maskey said: "The idea that there should be a civic reception for those taking part in a war which is internationally accepted to be entirely unjust is entirely wrong.  This proposal has been put forward for no other reason than to create division within the city of Belfast.  I think it sends out the entirely wrong message of what Belfast is supposed to be about."  Sinn Fein's Lord Mayor, Tom Hartley, said he will not be attending the ceremony (or perhaps is not being permitted to do so by his party?).  The Royal Irish Regiment's very recent origins in the Ulster Defence Regiment and the B-Specials does not seem to have been an issue.  Nor has the role of the British Army generally in Ireland and the world. 

DUP Councillor… Ian Crozier, said that Sinn Fein was using the occasion as a "mantle of convenience for people who hate British soldiers". He went on: "I'm sorry to say there is a yawning chasm in this Council on particular issues which are important to the unionist community. Mutual respect can not be found here, which is something which causes me great sadness." He claimed that SDLP was being "led by the nose" by Sinn Fein.
The SDLP response… was made by Councillor Tim Attwood: "I think unionists have been genuine in their calls for this civic reception and that should be respected. But it should also be equally respected that there are those, including the SDLP, who are opposed to this war. The SDLP has always been a part of non-violence since its inception. We recognise that there have been 176 British troops among the 4,400 allied forces killed. But there have also been 655,000 Iraqi civilians killed and that should be remembered."
Alliance Councillor Naomi Long… said that her party also opposed the War but supported the homecoming parade: "It's not fair to hold the armed forces responsible for the poor decisions of the politicians who started this war." Ulster Unionist Councillor, Jim Rodgers said: "I don't want to see this issue causing division on a council which has shown great maturity over the last number of years. It would be wrong to turn this into a slanging match."
The 30 Years local war…

is increasingly being treated as at best a tragedy and at worst an unnecessary saga of criminal violence. On the 11th September (the anniversary of the Twin Towers attack in New York) the editorial of the Belfast Telegraph stated: "The sacrifice of the men and women killed during the Army's service in the Northern Ireland Troubles was fittingly remembered in St Paul's Cathedral in London yesterday". It catalogued at length the great deeds performed of the British Army over 30 years as it policed the violent Paddies—Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. The only concession to reality was that "mistakes were made".

"Mistakes were made, but in general terms, the Army's role was to hold the line against terrorists from all sides. And ultimately the Army won that battle, not in the conventional manner of defeating the terrorists, but in convincing republicans that their murderous campaign would not succeed. Effectively, the Army and RUC paved the way for the peace process by demonstrating that continuing violence was futile." This seems to be the agreed interpretation of events. There is no sign that Sinn Fein, outside of their Northern enclaves, and often not even there, are doing anything to counter this. It is certainly not being countered by them across the North, in the South or out in the rest of the world. The default position is becoming that expressed by people like the Editor of the Belfast Telegraph. For example Canon Ian Ellis, Editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, can say that prior to the devolution of policing in the North, ex-Provos "must make clear and adequate expressions of regret for their past crimes"!

The day after war "broke out": "Yesterday a British Territorial soldier was shot in a struggle with armed men in Belfast. Other soldiers were stripped by armed men and their uniforms burned in the streets. In the Kashmir district another British soldier was stopped by men and stripped of his uniform which was then burned in the street. In the Markets area of the city another Territorial was stopped by armed men and taken into Turnley Street where they stripped him of his uniform and burned it" (Irish News, September 5th, 1939).
Mark Durkan's somersault: This is how the Irish News of 6th September reported a speech in Oxford made by the SDLP leader the previous evening: "SDLP leader Mark Durkan last night called for an end to enforced power-sharing between nationalists and unionists at Stormont. In a major speech at Oxford University Mr. Durkan said that his party believed the time was approaching when rules introduced to protect nationalists in government should be removed. The SDLP has for decades argued for power-sharing as the only way to prevent unfair unionist domination but now Mr. Durkan has said that a strong bill of rights could prove sufficient protection for minorities."
Chatham House rules… obtained for Mr. Durkan's speech. This means that what is said or who says what cannot be divulged by anyone without the subject's permission. Nobody leaked anything on this occasion—they never do. Mr. Durkan briefed the press himself. He did not refute the Irish News story printed on the Saturday nor its follow up story on the Monday (8th) entitled Unionists Welcome Durkan Comments. Here Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP said: "I welcome Mr. Durkan's comments. I think we should be looking at how we may move beyond the artificial arrangements which are in place at present. We want to normalize politics in Northern Ireland". His remarks were also, more guardedly, welcomed in the Ulster Unionist Party. (Chatham House is the continuation of the Round Table. A secretive forum where the British Establishment thrashes out policy.)
Councillor Pat McDonald… SDLP group leader in Omagh, echoed his leader in the Irish News letters page on the 8th: "We are doomed under the present system to a 'lowest common denominator' state. We are not living in the primitive insulated world of 1960s Stormont—a bill of rights, an alert media and vigilant observation from Westminster and Dail Eireann would make any such reversal to old-style discrimination a non-runner." It's a funny kind of "state" that needs to be supervised by two other states. But a separate form of rule is insisted on for the Six Counties. Better that this was not the case. But, so long as it is, then it will be entirely sectarian and it is best that rules which take account of this are applied. Of course, the SDLP would be quite happy with the present set-up if things had worked out as they had planned and they and the UUP were the biggest parties.
A Bill of Rights… was also central to the Durkan speech. Such a proposal has been debated for ten years as part of the Good Friday Agreement and a new forum was set up after the St. Andrew's Agreement. It involves almost everyone and has got precisely nowhere. It will never get anywhere and that is no bad thing. Some Sinn Feiner reasonably pointed out that running to the courts every time a Catholic was given a hard time was no way to do things.
The Sainted Monica Mc Williams… formerly the Women's Coalition, and now the chief Human Rights Commissioner—whatever that means, is more optimistic about a Bill of Rights (we think!): "The content of the methodology poses a series of questions which are neither sequential nor hierarchical, but to which due regard may be given when considering whether a case can be made that the need for a proposed right arises out of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland." (Irish News 6th Sept. Not available on a gable wall near you!)
The Irish News letters pages… and Columns are tightly controlled. It is a highly political paper. Its politics are Devlinite. By Wednesday 10th September it had had enough of Durkan. It did not think its readers wanted the SDLP going 'off message'. It printed a hard hitting letter by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond MacCartney who quoted a lot of SDLP policies back at them, and concluded: "…the SDLP website informs us under the title of 'Major Achievements': “More than any other party the principles of the Good Friday Agreement are the principles championed by the SDLP for over 30 years—power sharing, equality, human rights, north/south cooperation, east/west links. 'That is why we will not renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement. ''We will not weaken its protections. For the SDLP, the agreement is a covenant of honour between two legitimate traditions on this island. 'We believe that its principles and provisions must prevail for all.” Oh, a week can be a long time in politics, particularly if your politics are weak."
Similar letters followed… though one supporting Durkan from the Alliance Party appeared on 11th. (Presumably one of their members found a copy of the Irish News on the Bangor train!) But it was on the 10th that senior columnists, Brian Feeney, delivered the coup de grace: "It might have been better for Durkan if he had availed of the full protection of the Chatham House rule. The naivete of his remarks is equalled only by his lack of political nous. What did he say? That compulsory power sharing between nationalists and unionists could be ended. That in future there would be no need to designate parties 'nationalist', 'unionist' and 'other'. That in Durkan's Shangri-La, decisions could be taken by majority voting as in Westminster or the Dail. How could this wondrous change come about? There would be a 'robust' bill of rights to protect people from decisions damaging to their interests, that's how. In the immortal words of John McEnroe: 'You cannot be serious'." That did the trick. Both Durkan and the SDLP have backpedalled and even claimed that they were wrongly quoted. But they were not.
The Northern Propensity? Breidge Gadd, weekly columnist in the Irish News, has been bemoaning the exclusion of the wee North from the radar of the United Kingdom, especially in matters relating to tourism. On September 9th she moaned: "It is not a good experience to …realize that this small place of ours only mattered when we were hitting the headlines because of our propensity to kill each other… We are a small country… We urgently need our own separate Northern Ireland brand which may symbolize our close links with the rest of the UK and separately with Ireland (sic) but which also celebrates our distinctly different image." That is the Irish News for you.
Strabane Trades Council has supported a worker at the local DHSS office who was "offended" by the presence on another worker's car of a Tyrone GAA flag in the lead up to Tyrone's All Ireland football final against Kerry. Ryan McNulty of the Trades Council said that the Flags and Emblems Act was clear on the issue. Meanwhile Culture Minister Gregory Campbell has opened the new St. Brigid's Gaelic Football grounds in South Belfast. You couldn't make it up!
Educating Sarah: Sarah Palin is being introduced in New York to the leaders of Georgia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia, Ukraine, and various other dignitaries, as part of her induction into foreign affairs. Among those she will meet is Ireland's own international statesman, Bono. People complain about her ignorance of foreign places: she did not have a passport until last year, but wouldn't it be nice if more American politicians had no idea where the rest of us live?
UDA leader Jackie McDonald… was due to speak at a meeting at Sarsfield's GAA Club in Andersonstown in late September. On the 18th the Club announced that it was cancelling the meeting as it had realised that the UDA man was to be there, plus a lot of other back-up reasons. Never mind that his presence was all over the papers for days. Mr. McDonald said afterwards:
"We very much appreciate the fear and hurt still being felt by many people in the Nationalist/Republican community… This is also very true for many in our own community… There are also many, in both communities, holding on to their understandable anger and there are still many who continue to nurture blatantly sectarian attitudes and behaviour. The vast majority of all our people, however, seek a way forward and we believe this can only be achieved for us and our children by open debate, joint action around our common needs and an honest exploration of our own feelings and perceptions…" (Irish News, 19th September).
42 Victim's Support Groups… got a sympathetic hearing from Justice Minister Dermot Ahern on 19th September. No further comment!
Ulster Scots… seems to bring out the sectarian worst in nationalist sectarians. Brian Feeney, in the Irish News on 17th September says: "Since its appearance on the political radar at the time of the Good Friday Agreement millions of pounds have been thrown away on this nonsense language". This is the least of the almost daily carping and whingeing in the nationalist press. But what harm is there in this Ulster Scots language, dialect, or whatever, except that it embarrasses some Protestants. It is how English was, and is, spake in some rural parts of the North and its promotion, along with traditional music, brightens up everyone's lives. It is more pleasant than listening to the "kick the pope" bands. As to money—funds are still pouring into the most dubious of projects sponsored and lauded by nationalists.
The Hammer and Sickle… was the emblem of the Hearts of Steel organisation of tenants in Co. Antrim in the 1760s and 70s. The Irish News for 17th September 1939 said: "They were men of the tenant farmer, artisan and labouring classes… who found that—without vigorous organisation in the interests of the people—the rack-rent dissolute landlords would lay year by year heavier burdens on their shoulders and drive them into poverty." Burning landlord houses and houghing (maiming) farm animals were their main tactics. Their motto was "Necessitas non habet legem" (Necessity Knows No Law).
Fermanagh By Election… first preference results: Foster (DUP) 1,925. Coyle (Sinn Fein) 1,816. Johnson (UUP) 1,436. Flanagan (SDLP) 739. Kamble (Alliance) 231. McHugh (Ind. Republican) 158. Turnout was 50.89%. Arlene Foster, DUP MLA, was declared elected after the eliminations of the four lowest votes.
Welcome Parade for Imperial troops: In addition to the church service at St. Anne's Cathedral mentioned last month, troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will also parade through the streets of Belfast on November 2nd. The Belfast Telegraph, 22nd September, reported:
"Around 40 soldiers from the Republic serving in the British army will parade in uniform in Northern Ireland next month—for the first time in over 60 years. The news comes as Belfast prepares to play host to a home-coming parade for members of the Royal Irish regiment, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The parade—scheduled to take place in the city centre on November 2—will be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland since World War II, when 14,000 men from the Republic were joining the ranks each year. The procession is intended to celebrate the safe return of British servicemen and women from Afghanistan and Iraq.The soldiers from the Republic who fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan will march through Belfast, before taking the salute from a senior military figure at City Hall."
The Belfast Anti-War Movement was contacted about this some weeks ago, but no reply has been received.
Fianna Fail… now appears to have no further interest in organising in the North but says nothing about the numbers it boasted of recruiting in Belfast and Derry less than a year ago. The matter was to have been part of the party's strategic review but "We haven't actually proceeded with it. A number of other issues arose since then in terms of the North itself" said Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. (Irish Times, 17th September) This may give Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, the excuse not to permit the Labour Party, which already has an organization in the North, to contest elections there.
Crazy Politics In Cork City: Northside community activist Jackie Connolly has joined the Workers' Party and is vying for the nomination to represent the party in Cork North Central in the forthcoming local elections. Ms Connolly ran as a first-time Sinn Féin candidate in the 2004 local elections and came within 50 votes of taking the last seat. She has continued her community activism ever since. Ms Connolly turned down the opportunity to run as a Sinn Féin candidate this year when her husband Ed became ill. When his condition began to improve some months ago, Jackie decided to run on the Workers' Party ticket, saying:
"I have today joined the Workers’ Party and I would be delighted to be selected as the candidate for the party in 2009 and to continue to chase that seat I lost out on in 2004. The people of Cork North Central know I am dedicated to being a public representative, and the issues that were there in 2004 still exist today."
Ms Connolly, the chairwoman of the Gurranabraher Residents' Association, has five children (Evening Echo, Cork).

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