From Irish Political Review: May 2007

Editorial Commentary

SDLP Hibernianism:

Mark Durkan has been increasingly returning the SDLP to its Hibernian roots—as opposed to the Civil Rights input of John Hume—in an effort to retain an electoral base. In January ex-Minister for Agriculture Brid Rodgers mischievously appealed to Sinn Fein "to reconsider their support for the entrenchment of MI5 in Ireland—a reincarnation of an unreformed Special Branch, a law unto themselves and answerable to no-one" (IN 17.1.07), while in April, Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly objected to a NIO incentive scheme to diminish Loyalist paramilitarism, and demanded an "end to grants solely for loyalist areas" (IT 13.4.07). Worst of all has been Kelly's further opportunist intervention over an impending SF/DUP deal over marches. The grapevine says that SF is negotiating concessions on marching—including allowing the Garvaghy Road Orange march in Portadown—in return for the DUP permitting implementation of the Irish Language Act, which SF negotiated at St. Andrews. SF denies it is negotiating with the DUP, but indications that such a deal is in prospect are the resignation from SF of Breandan Mac Cionnaith, spokesman of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition in Portadown (IN 10.4.07) and Hain's appointment of Paddy Ashdown (a former soldier in NI, ex-MP and servant of NATO) to conduct a general review of parading. Dolores Kelly's strident objection to such a trade-off was reported on the front page of the Irish News with the headline, SF Warned Not To Barter Away Residents' Rights. The right concerned is that the Orange Order should be forced to negotiate with residents: "Dialogue is a requirement of principle and it cannot just be traded away in some sort of secret, backroom deal" (16.4.07). But local dialogue has been superseded by dialogue in the Executive of the Assembly. Moreover, the most serious community commitment to Irish as a living language is in NI, and particularly W. Belfast—and the Irish Language Act would ensure significant State support to a unique Irish development, so confirming the new status of the Catholic community in the governance of NI. After calling its Ceasefire, SF pulled the Catholic Hibernian constituency in behind itself, with a strategy of forcing negotiations over marches through Catholic areas—which was also a tactic in the power struggle of the communities. Now, having forced the Protestant community to recognise it as a legitimate political expression of the Catholic community, it may be prepared to set Hibernianism aside, but the SDLP is mounting a rearguard action to maintain anti-Protestant attitudes as a tactic for electoral survival.

UUP Reincarnation: Funnily enough, the SDLP's counterpart, the Ulster Unionist Party, which now has only one MP at Westminster and did not have a single MLA elected on the first count in the recent election, is moving in the opposite direction. Sir Reg Empey is embarking on a "crusade" to re-invigorate the party, and says: "We must reach out to that growing number of people who do not classify themselves as either unionist or nationalist… by persuading them of our vision for Northern Ireland". And…
Lord Trimble…

has gone a step further by jumping ship and joining the Conservative Party (IT 23.4.07, IN 17.4.07). However, as noted last month's Commentary, the Conservatives in NI will designate themselves as "Unionist" in the Assembly, as Empey's UUP will continue to do. Roy Garland has pointed out the difficulties Empey faces if it is to be "more welcoming… to Catholics", saying "There are still too many tiny branch meetings insisting on singing God Save the Queen out of tune and in some cases starting meetings with Christian prayers…" (IN 16.4.07).
Speaking at a lecture commemorating the late Professor Antony Alcock at the University of Ulster, David Trimble revealed that, as a side-deal in 1998, Prime Minister Blair promised him that the British Labour Party "would organise in Northern Ireland" (IT 26.4.07), adding that the promise had been broken as the Party still did not organise in NI. (The current position is that the LP now accepts members in NI, but they are not allowed to do anything.)

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield …head of the NI Civil Service under Brian Faulkner, has suggested in a new book, A Tragedy Of Errors—The Government And Misgovernment Of NI (Liverpool University Press), that the Protestant community might be better off in a united Ireland if the new governing arrangements in NI prove too fractious. In any subsequent restoration of Direct Rule, the UK would be "increasingly cool", and reduce the NI subvention. Moreover:
"Nor can one ignore the fact that, amongst all the citizens of this supposedly United Kingdom, we alone have been afforded no opportunity to vote for a party now deeply entrenched in the government of our country.
"There are moments, I confess, when even I—the son of English parents, although born in Ulster, a graduate of Oxford University and a Knight Commander of the Most Noble Order of the Bath–wonder if we would not enjoy a more dignified position as a community within a united Ireland" (IN, 6.4.07).
Electoral Weight: John Robb has suggested that NI would have better representation in an Irish Parliament than it has in Westminster, with 33 seats out of 200, as opposed to 18 out of 646 (letter, IN 9.4.07). Certainly that would give approximately 1 in 6 representation, as opposed to 1 in 36. And, no doubt, Irish political parties would organise in NI and so offer the prospect of Cabinet representation. But Robb misses the point: it is not union with Britain, or good government, that political Protestantism wants, but simply to stay out of Ireland by whatever means come to hand.
PUP Reassured: After the DUP/SF deal, the PUP met Taoiseach Ahern: "We sought assurances that there would be no joint authority and the Taoiseach told us, as far as he was concerned, the constitutional question had been settled and is off the table. There is no Plan B and they'll not be working towards any Plan B. They're quite happy to work the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement and I am reassured by that", said PUP leader, Dawn Purvis (IT 26.4.07).
The UVF is reported to be now ready to 'stand down' its members, but not to decommission (IN 10.4.07).
"…without the Provos, Paisley would have remained just a two-bit provincial demagogue" …says Ruth Dudley Edwards (S. Independent 25.2.07). She adds "Those who turned the North into a hellhole are to be rewarded". This historian seems to be unaware that Paisley had stature well before the Provos came into existence, helping to bring about the downfall of Premier Terence O'Neill for the crime of meeting Taoiseach Sean Lemass and starting minimal inter-governmental cooperation.
Bertie Ahern …will be the first Taoiseach to address the two Houses of the British Parliament on 15th May: this fact was omitted by the Irish Times in its single-column front-page report of 28th April. What was not left out was a reference to the Quarryvale Two module of the Mahon Tribunal, which it pointed out was scheduled to start on 30th April, with the failure of Mrs. Hazel Lawlor to win a delay. (However, the High Court has allowed her to proceed with parts of her legal challenge to the way the Mahon Tribunal operates, including the practice of finding people guilty on the balance of probabilities, instead of on the basis of conclusive proof.) The Irish Times interest in the Tribunal lies in the evidence of Tom Gilmartin, an eccentric developer who has been given a generous legal immunity and who is expected to allege that developer Owen O'Callaghan gave Mr. Ahern IR£100,000 when he starts giving evidence on 1st May. Putting the two stories in the same report indicates that the paper hopes there will be a week of sensationalist allegations by Gilmartin to counteract the kudos for Ahern and Ireland in this unique address to both Houses of the British Parliament, which no other Taoiseach has ever won.
Irish Buses For UVF? In a deal brokered by a shop steward at Wrightbus and Peter Bunting of the ICTU, Dublin Bus has given a contract worth £7.8m for 48 buses to the Ballymena company, which was facing closure. Now something like 80% of its output will be for the South. The company has been a Loyalist stronghold down the years, yet now, after an anonymous tip-off, one of its employees has been charged with paramilitary-type offences, possession of documents likely to be of use to terrorists and 9mm ammunition "at the plant at Galgorm outside Ballymena, Co Antrim, between a date unknown and April 11." Darren Leslie Richardson pleaded "Definitely not guilty". Management has emphasised that it has "an active policy of promoting a neutral working environment for all its employees" (IN 14.4.07).
MI5 No Role-Model For FBI: …says former Director of the FBI Louis Freeh [sic], who worked closely with MI5 during his tenure. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Mr. Freeh has rejected Federal Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner's suggestion that MI5's methods should be adopted in the USA: "Establishing in effect a secret police to monitor, collect and keep under observation those whom a nontransparent agency believes to be a threat to the republic is a dangerous and dumb idea. Judge Posner's citation to England's MI5 is romantic enough but needs to be qualified by the long and painful history of its operations in Northern Ireland, which are still unfolding after decades of secrecy and nontransparency" (
Finian McGrath v. Michael McDowell: …the Minister for Justice has rejected the plea of the Independent TD for Dublin North that Stephen Birney, a convicted IRA man, be paroled to sit for an entrance examination for a music degree. Birney is serving four years for a 2002 offence of membership of an illegal organisation. (IN 16.4.07).
Mattie McGrath, Tipp North: FF HQ has finally ratified the candidature of the popular Clonmel Co. Councillor, after a dirty tricks campaign saw him charged for trying to quell some youth disorder in his home village of Newcastle. McGrath had been threatening a High Court action if he was kept off the ballot. The Councillor was FF's only poll-topper in the 2004 Local Elections, and joins FF's other two candidates—Martin Mansergh and Siobhán Ambrose—in the three-seat constituency. The sitting FF TD, Noel Davern, is retiring, and the other two seats are currently held by Tom Hayes of FG and Séamus Healy, a socialist Independent (IT 24.4.07).
Daniel Cohn-Bendit …the former extreme communist, is now on globalist message. He defined the issues in the French Presidential election as being:
"How to accept the market economy, but to make it social and ecological, not leave it in the hands of ultra-liberals…
"We must accept the market economy rather than central planning, the capacity of the market to create a dynamic, but at the same time the market must be controlled by laws so that the strong do not gobble up the weak" (Lara Marlowe, IT 26.4.07).

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