Editorial from Irish Political Review, August 2003

Governing Certainties

Tony Blair and his sociology Doctor, John Reid, made a mess of their Northern Ireland political process last Autumn, and they now seem to be making a mess of their successful war to destroy the state in Iraq, being apparently intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Last October Reid and Blair arrested a number of Sinn Feiners and gave press briefings against them, but they have as yet failed to bring charges against them. The arrests were high profile publicity events. The failure to follow up the arrests with charges has scarcely been mentioned. This is called the Rule of Law.

In mid-July a Republican who went to Palestine was arrested by the Israeli occupying power at a checkpoint outside Ramallah at the instigation of the British Government. An intelligence source briefed the media that he was a bomb-maker for the Real IRA, on a mission to instruct Hamas on terrorism, and the story made the headlines as a fact. He was mistreated by the Israeli military for five days before the matter became public knowledge. The case was made known by the Palestine Solidarity Movement, of which he was a member. It was established that he was a reporter on , the Belfast Irish-language daily (which, incidentally, can be bought in North Cork on the day of publication), and had a wide range of reputable credentials. He was released on the pretext that it was a case of mistaken identity. But, three days before his arrest, his photograph was published in , over an article he had sent in about conditions in Jenin, the refugee town where Israel committed a massacre last year. (The official UN report on Jenin said it was not a massacre because only 54 civilians were killed. In Kosovo 40 killings were held to be a massacre.)

The arrest had a dual purpose—to discourage human rights visitors to Palestine and to provide sensational anti-Republican headlines for a few days.

It appears that the Columbian arrests were as bogus as this Israeli arrest. But Pat Rabbitte, an old Stickie fighting an old feud, sabotaged an attempt by members of the Dail to treat that as a matter of human rights’ concern.

All of this has to do with saving David Trimble. Saving him from his own party, that is. But he is no nearer salvation than he was last October. And some staunch supporters begin to suspect that he is beyond redemption. Reg Empey abstained on a crucial vote on the Unionist Council on 11th July.

The arrests of Sinn Feiners last October was a pretext for suspending the Executive and Assembly and saving Trimble from the consequences of collapsing them by pulling out. The devolved structures are still suspended. Their electoral mandate ran out in May, and new elections are not in prospect. And the speeches on The Twelfth indicate that the Unionist Family is thoroughly fed up with Trimble.

The Ulster Unionist Party has paralysed itself.

When Trimble accepted the Joint (London/Dublin) Declaration (with the intention of embarrassing Sinn Fein and subverting it as a supporter), Jeffrey Donaldson said he would no longer take the UUP Whip at Westminster. Trimble then got the Disciplinary Committee to suspend him from membership of the Party. Whereupon two other MPs joined Donaldson in refusing the Whip, splitting the Party into two equal parts in its Parliamentary representation. And then Donaldson took the Party to Court, on a plea that his suspension was in breach of Party rules. The Court ruled for him on the grounds that the Disciplinary Committee was improperly constituted and had conducted its business improperly. (One of its breaches of procedure was that Donaldson, though a member of the Disciplinary Committee, had not been allowed to vote on the motion to suspend him.) Since then the UUP has failed to back Trimble in establishing a new Disciplinary Committee, instead agreeing on a bid to reconcile the rebels with the Party.

What was at issue in all of this was the provision in the Joint Declaration for sanctions to be applied within the power-sharing system to parties which were held to be in breach of their obligations under the Agreement. The Unionists wanted sanctions against Sinn Fein, with the purpose of reducing power-sharing to a Coalition with the SDLP. The Joint Declaration agreed to this in substance, formulating it in general terms so that sanctions might be applied to any party. But this general provision was accompanied by a set of conditions affecting only Sinn Fein—that the Provisional IRA must no longer act to maintain orderly conditions of social life in the Catholic community (which Unionists hold to be a form of terrorist activity) being the most contentious one.

If the Agreement had from the start been supervised by a Sanctions Committee, and the Committee had acted independently in the light of the wording of the Agreement, there can be no reasonable doubt that Trimble would have been the first party held to be in breach, because of his refusal in 1998-99 to nominate Ministers on the absurd claim that the Agreement required prior decommissioning by the Provos.

How might a Sanctions Committee be constituted so that it would elicit a degree of trust from both communities? It could not be established by the Stormont Assembly under its peculiar rules. It could not be established by Whitehall, which has dropped all pretence of impartiality and identified itself with the UUP at a number of critical junctures. So it was decided that it should consist of representatives of both the London and Dublin Governments and also of the United States.

The Unionist objection is that this brings Dublin into Strand 1 (domestic Northern Ireland) affairs in breach of the Agreement. But the whole Sanctions Committee project, brought forward in response to Unionist demands, is in breach of the Agreement.

Right-wing Tory supporters of Unionism, who saw the Joint Declaration as putting Sinn Fein under intense pressure, cannot understand why it is the Unionist Party which is tearing itself apart in response to it.

But those very Tories are themselves acting very strangely over the Dr. Kelly affair. Blair decided to break with Constitutional precedent and get Parliament to vote for war on Iraq, instead of going to war under Crown prerogative. His Government told lies to its simple-minded backbenchers to get them to vote right. Due to its mismanagement of Parliament (which is an entirely unsuitable body for making Executive decisions) those lies have come back to haunt it. It is now floundering and hitting out wildly, and seems intent on wrecking one of the major institutions of the state, the BBC. The Tories are shooting up in the opinion polls. But they seem determined not to exploit the difficulties of the Government. They are, in the main, supporting the Government against the BBC and against the gullible Labour backbenches—who are resentful at having been gulled by lies, that they would have known to be lies if they were fit to govern, and at being made to appear as dupes.

Blair was cock of the walk a year ago. He was credited with a historic achievement in Northern Ireland. The Tories had collapsed as the Opposition. And Gordon Brown was disgruntled and there was talk of cutting him down to size. Since then Blair has cast the BBC (conducted by his own appointees) in the role of an Opposition, because it gave some expression to the widespread popular opposition to his war on Iraq and he is attempting to humiliate it. Gordon Brown in smiling and making jokes. And Iraq, three months after liberation, is a shambles. And Blair’s warmongering lies have followed him around the world—leaving Dublin aside.

The Dublin position seems to be that it was a pity that the UN refused to authorise the destruction of the Iraqi regime, but that it was a good thing in itself and therefore it did not need UN blessing, and that Ireland was right to facilitate it.

No thought is given to what a ‘regime’ is. A regime is the operative system of a state and it tends to encompass the whole of society in the modern era which abhors the substantive distinction of public affairs into the spheres of State and Church. The present regime of the British State has been in place for three hundred years. For the first half of that period it was perhaps the most oppressive regime of modern times. It chief form of commercial activity was the slave trade, which it dominated. (President Bush, visiting West Africa, made the historic statement that the slave trade was one of the greatest crimes known to history. It was a predominantly British activity, and was one of the first forms of individual enterprise thrown open to all, without restriction or supervision, by the regime established through the Orange victory at the Boyne.) Its chief form of productive activity for a century and half took place in the great slave-labour camps on the Caribbean islands. And the establishment of the secular power as the only legitimate form of public power was achieved by means of the Penal Laws, which were comprehensively effective in England, though only partly so in Ireland.

In the course of three centuries this regime absorbed virtually everything that moved into its functioning. Internal resistance to it withered away. The Jacobite dissent was incorporated into the regime after the accession of George III in 1760 and the Puritan dissent actually became the motor power of the state after the 1832 reform. Nothing has existed outside the regime since the Labour Party was tamed in the 1920s. The functioning of the regime has been familiar to practically everything that exists within it for many generations, and familiarity breeds content—or acquiescence, in the minority of cases where content is too strong a word.

But, suppose that an external power made war on the British State with absolutely overwhelming and irresistible force, declaring to the populace that the regime was to be destroyed and all who were implicated in it were to be punished, and all were called upon to do their bit to destroy the regime—can anybody who knows England doubt that millions upon millions of people would engage in exuberant anarchy of the kind that the “shock and awe” of the Anglo-American bombardment induced in Iraq?

Indisputably superior brute force has been perhaps the strongest moral influence known to history. England acted on that assumption in Ireland, as America (with an extensive Irish input) is now doing in Iraq.

Iraqi development was following the British pattern until 1990—the pattern both of the development of Britain, and of the British administration of Iraq in the 1920s. It was superimposing a secular national state on a welter of religious entities, by a combination of ideology and force. The Baath regime was an effective regime, and was achieving the degree of familiarity which leads to general acquiescence when America (which had put Saddam in power) decided to destroy it.

The tendencies with which we were most in sympathy were suppressed by Saddam. But it is always the case that many possibilities are stifled in the course of construction of a functional state. And it is necessary at this juncture to be able to summon up a degree of dispassionate and objective understanding of public affairs if one is not to be a piece of flotsam to be manipulated by the prevailing power.


Governing Certainties.

Captain Kelly, Semper Fidelis.
Angela Clifford

Biteback: Over-Cooking The Stake?
Sean McGouran

Martin Mansergh And The War On Iraq.

Of Mandates And Jurisdictions.
Joe Keenan

An Cor Tuathail:—
Lament of Nuala O'Neill… for James…
(Compiled by Pat Muldowney)

Historical Politics In The Present Tense: Two Launches
(Palestine; Casement).

Seán Ó Duibhir

Vera Kreilkamp And Hubert Butler.
Julianne Herlihy

Development Of The Forces Of Production.
Part 3 of Review of Das Kapital
John Martin

Pat Muldowney

Northern Ireland News Digest.
May/July 2003

The West's Campaign For Mastery Of The World.
Desmond Fennell

Connolly, Myers And Irish Times Censorship.

Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
Unions:—Privatisation Looms

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