From Irish Political Review: April 2009

Editorial Commentary

Rejoining The Commonwealth?

Roy Garland has reported on a Dublin meeting held on 21st March (Irish News 30.3.2009).  It was sponsored by a new group which has been established to campaign for Ireland to join the Commonwealth.  Though small, it spans a wide range of Unionist opinion from members of the Progressive Unionist Party to the Alliance Party in the North and people around the Reform Society of Robin Bury and Eoghan Harris in the South.  Actually Garland's 'report' was really a piece to promote the proposition, as was all that he had say while supposedly chairing the debate.  He described the event as "outstanding"
This meeting, well flagged up to West Britain, was in fact a miserable affair.  This writer was one of only 26 people attending—most of whom had nothing at all to say. Speaking in favour was Geoffrey Roberts, one-time sidekick to Monty Johnson in the Communist Party Of Great Britain and now some kind of Thatcherite operating out of University College, Cork.  A newspaper letter heralding the advent of the Group gave its address as being the History Department of the University of Cork.
Garland claims in the Irish News that Roberts' case was "almost unassailable" but was being held up by "emotional baggage and misinformation".  This was how he explained away the case against joining the Commonwealth put by John Waters of the Irish Times.  Waters recalled his grandparents' origins in the Gaeltacht and said that he had made an effort to re-learn the Irish language and that his daughter had earned her Fainne. Essentially he was saying that, among most Irish people, who were more rather than less connecting with their roots, the whole thing was a no-brainer.  The proposition was also opposed by Martin Mansergh.  Garland wasn't a million miles from the truth when he sneeringly implied that Mansergh's opposition was about votes.  Rejoining the Commonwealth would be a non-runner in the South Tipperary constituency he represents.  He has stood in two elections there getting around 15% of the vote on each occasion but being elected on transfers the second time.
 A serious problem with this issue is that many Republicans, of all persuasions, seem unable to deal with it and shy away from it.  The fact is rejoining the Commonwealth would not help to bring about a United Ireland, although that is the disingenuous impression which has been created:  Unionism requires Ireland accepts the sovereignty of Westminster as the price of unity. The serious issue facing Ireland these days is not the question of a united Ireland, but what kind of a united Ireland. 
British policy since Partition has been to keep Northern Ireland in an unstable condition such as to constantly excite demands for a unity that can at any time be granted as a welcome home gift to 26 prodigal Counties.  The agenda is: Coming home to the United Kingdom; Coming home to the Empire; Coming home to the Commonwealth. Some difference in emphasis as time has passed, but the same strategy.
The Northern Ireland question is certainly still on the boil.  How long that will last, or how widespread it becomes no one can say.  But the rioters in Lurgan were the real thing.  One of the people charged with killing a policeman is only 17 years old.  Whether he did it or not, the PSNI believes that it is dealing with another generation of armed republicans and not just with so-called dissidents.  The police have also said there are "no more the 300" of these people.   Did they ever admit that there were even that many Provos?

Two Soldiers… were shot at their Army base in NI shortly before leaving to make war on the people of Afghanistan.  Presumably the particular targets were chosen by republican dissidents with that in mind, even though the motivation was to do with Northern Ireland.  It would have been understandable if Martin M'Guinness considered it politic to murmur some words of sympathy in line with his Assembly position and his support for new policing.  But he was over-simplifying when suggested that the perpetrators were 'traitors to Ireland'.  Gerry Adams took a more measured approach.
This column suggested some time ago that it was British policy to see  a return to a "state of nature" in Catholic areas in the absence of either IRA or acceptable (or even unacceptable) police patrols.  In the Lower Falls this process began very quickly and people, especially republicans, were being beaten up and shot on a regular basis.  The IRA, without ceremony, began patrolling again, and the place quietened down.
Late March was the first time in thirty years that this writer had been back to Ballymurphy and the first time ever to Whiterock and Turf Lodge.  These are well built estates at the foot of the Belfast Hills.  But they are barren.  Drugs are providing an escape for teenagers who might formerly have been learning the innards of the AK47.  The Agreement and all the rest of the baloney have given them nothing.  It is a credit to the community spirit that exists there that people haven't turned in on themselves. The position is different on the Falls Road, with community this and community that providing nice little earners.  And there's money to be made up at Stormont and in the various local authorities as well.
The absence of real politics corrodes society, so it ill behoves the Deputy First Minister to hurl abuse about the place.
 ICTU 'boycott Israel'

campaign gets underway.  The ICTU National Executive met on 18th March and discussed various issues in relation to Palestine. However, the plan to have the head of the Palestinian TUC  (PGFTU) address the next ICTU Biennial Conference (July 2009) will not be going ahead (it was countered by a call for "balance" by also inviting a Histadrut speaker—the upshot is that no-one is now being invited). On the other hand, Congress has established a high-powered committee to develop an active boycott strategy, based on a comprehensive proposal from Trade Union Friends of Palestine. The committee includes Patricia McKeown (Pres., ICTU), Peter McLoone (Gen.Sec. IMPACT), David Joyce (Global Solidarity officer, ICTU), Eamon McMahon and Mags O'Brien (TUFP), as well as Sally Anne Kinahan (Asst. Gen. Sec., ICTU).  A special conference of ICTU on Palestine (agreed by the last ICTU Conference)—planned for mid-June, with international speakers and to be opened by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin—is not now to take place in Dublin Castle and is in doubt. However, a special Congress appeal to members on Gaza collected an amazing €80,000.

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