Editorial from Irish Political Review, August 2005

A Time For Peace

War and peace in Northern Ireland exist in a common medium of conflict between two communities. Much the same relationship exists between them in peace as in war. There is either conflict with guns or conflict without guns. The guns have never been the cause of the conflict. There is even in a sense in which the guns alleviate the conflict by formalising or objectifying it. When this round of the war ended—and it did not end in July, but seven years ago—the conflict of communities intensified. The cause of the conflict is the entirely artificial structure of state imposed on the two warring communities back in 1921, when the British state—by then a democratic state—was making war on the Irish democracy as a whole. The crime was not the Partition of Ireland. It was the system of government and politics that the Partitioning power imposed on the Six Counties. Nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. In its perversity it is fully deserving of Edmund Burke's description of the Penal Laws, and its consequences have been even more damaging in certain respects than the consequences of the Penal Laws. The Battle of the Boyne was an action in a sectarian conquest and those who were defeated knew to expect the worst. But the system of Protestant communal dominance called Northern Ireland was set up following the British victory in its "war for democracy and the rights of nations" when people were expecting something entirely different, and had a right to. Thousands of Northern Catholics had been duped into taking part in that Great War for all things good and beautiful, and they came home to be treated with contempt by the regime of their recent comrades-in-arms. And this unique system of state, through its proper functioning, reproduced the hostile relations between the communities in every succeeding generation.

Winston Churchill, the great Warlord of the Empire, has a purple prose passage about the dreary steeples of Tyrone and Fermanagh re-emerging as the flood of the war receded, having refreshed everything else in the world. But Churchill himself was a major cause of the dreariness. He went to Belfast in 1912, when the Liberal Government of which he was then a member depended on the Irish Home Rule Party for its majority, and he rabble-roused for Irish Home Rule. Eight years later he took part in setting up in the Six Counties the unique system of government which a few years later, regarding his handiwork, he found so dreary. It could be nothing else but dreary. The wonder is that its dreary routine of communal political conflict, which had nothing whatever to do with representation in the governing of the state or the determining of state policy, was tolerated for close on half-a-century. And that it was left to the Unionists to start the war in August 1969.

The war on the nationalist side was a response to Unionist/Loyalist action in mid-August 1969, in which part of the apparatus of state combined with militant elements in the Unionist populace (the two being never sharply distinguished) to launch assaults on Catholic areas. Those assaults met with resistance. And effective resistance to an assault by the state is an insurrection. And life could never be the same again in the concoction called Northern Ireland.

The Unionist assault was itself a response to a reform agitation in support of demands that were so modest that in any functional state they would have been implemented as a matter of course. In the British state proper they had long been implemented. The reason they were resisted in the Northern Ireland sub-state set up by Britain is that the Nationalist community had been mobilised in support of them. The issue was not the issue. The issue was who was demanding it.

The only provocation offered to Unionism (apart from the fact that a minority of 40% had united to ask for something) was given by the bizarre entity that came to be known as Official Republicanism and which now enjoys the leadership of the Irish Labour Party—to the discomfiture of old Labourites like Joan Burton who cannot bear to talk about it. And the present leader of that party will not talk about that phase, though his venom against the Provos derives from it.

But let's admit that the provocation offered by the Official IRA was not great. Its disproportionate effect was due to the brittleness of the Unionist regime. (But the Officials did go on to fight a strictly lunatic war of Marxist-Leninist fantasy for two years.)

The Taoiseach too played his part. Though Jack Lynch did not offer provocation before the event, he made an inflammatory speech during the event, and the expectations raised by it played a part in consolidating the Nationalist defence into an insurrection. And Jack Lynch played with insurrection for the next six or seven months before being faced down by Britain. He took the heat off himself by procuring conspiracy prosecutions against an Army officer who carried out his orders and a Cabinet Minister who had taken part with him in determining the policy which was now held to be subversive. The Army Officer (Captain Kelly), though acquitted, was punished. And, though documents completely exonerating him are now in the public domain, he never received an apology from the state which blackguarded him—and against which he was initiating a civil action when he died suddenly. The state could not apologise without raising unanswerable questions about its own conduct in 1969-70.

The effective defence against the pogrom of August 1969 was not mounted by the IRA, whether Official of Provisional. The Provos did not exist then. They are a consequence of the war, not a cause. British ex-Servicemen played a crucial part in the organising of the defence which became an insurrection. That is to say, Catholics who had served in the British Army, and who had no wish for separation from Britain, but who could not put up quietly with what they saw going on around them.

The Provos were formed from various sources during the Winter of 1969-70, and they declared war in 1970. But the situation in which they declared war was not a situation of peace and stability, even by the standard of 1956 when the official IRA had declared war. And, even though the Provos took on the trappings of anti-Treaty Republicanism for a while, it was evident that the purpose animating them was a specific product of 'the Northern Ireland state'. That is why they quickly acquired a substance equal to, or greater than, the substance that the anti-Treaty IRA lost in the mid-1920s.

The line spun by parts of the media that they have called off the war even though they have lost it is groundless. Insofar as they ever thought they were fighting the war against the Treaty, they called it off a generation ago. They were fighting a different war, and that is why they came to a parting of the ways with the anti-Treaty Republicanism of the South twenty years ago. But the politicians and commentators in the South were locked into an understanding of the Provos as mere anti-Treatyites, and in their own retreat from anti-Partitionism in the mid-seventies became incapable of appreciating what life was like in a fake democracy structured by a communal antagonism from which there was no escape within the system.

Vincent Browne discussed the North with Henry Macdonald of the Observer in his radio show a couple of months ago, at the time of the local elections when Trimble's party was disappearing fast. Browne said he could not understand why Trimble had not claimed victory on Good Friday 1998, when "Nationalism capitulated to the Unionist Veto", and Macdonald agreed that it was incomprehensible. It appears that Trimble's mode of understanding was too sophisticated or complicated to allow him to see that he had won, and so he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Another thing that Browne could not understand was that, even though the British and Irish media focussed on Republican atrocities, always finding some instance with topical resonance to focus on, as their contribution to the SDLP election campaign, the vote for Sinn Fein always went up. They thought they were on a winner this year with the McCartney affair, but the Provo vote was up again everywhere except Pottinger, in the immediate vicinity of the Short Strand.

Browne had observed this phenomenon over the years and had been content to remain bewildered by it. And the Dublin politicians must have noticed that the tactic was invariably counter-productive, but they were fated by their own natures to repeat it. They told Northern Catholics that they must not vote Sinn Fein because that would be voting for murder. And when the Northern Catholics went and voted Sinn Fein despite this moral exhortation, the politicians of the Southern democracy refused to draw any coherent conclusion from the fact.

So, why did Trimble not claim victory in 1998? Because the argument that he won is a debating point made by a foreign observer with an irrelevant understanding, and it carries no conviction on the ground.

The project of military victory over the British Army, if it was ever held, was given up a quarter of a century ago. The object has been to keep the insurrection going with a view to incorporating its dynamic into a transitional political settlement. That object, supported by all but a small fringe of the Catholic community, was achieved by the Agreement.

The British Parliament, like the King in the Fair Maid Of Perth with the clans, made an arrangement for the Six Counties under which the two communities must do battle with each other, and neutralise each other, in an arena hermetically sealed off. There were only two possible exits from this perpetual conflict of communities with no political object. One was into the politics of the British state. The Unionist Party and Whitehall shot that down at a moment where there was a danger of its being realised. The other exit is into the Republic. Trimble disabled himself by sealing off the British exit, and thereby facilitated the movement towards the Republic that was formalised in the Good Friday Agreement.

In the situation that has existed in the North ever since the defensive insurrection of 1969, and the formation of a new Republican movement out of that insurrection, the SDLP has been a kind of hinterland of the Provos. That has been the relationship on the ground, and SDLP leaders have had to take account of it when tempted to strike out on their own in response to Unionist or British offers. That is why Lord Fitt backed away from Faulkner's offer in the Summer of 1971 after first welcoming it in exuberant terms.

The Agreement was made by John Hume and Sinn Fein. The decline of the SDLP began with Hume's resignation as leader and his replacement by two leaders, Seamus Mallon and Mark Durkan, who took the party conflict with Sinn Fein more in earnest than the realities of the political situation warranted, and more in earnest than most SDLP voters did. They lost sight of the fact that Northern Ireland was not a democracy, or even a possible democracy, and began increasingly to refer to it as a democracy in which there had, unaccountably, been a massive upsurge of criminal activity.

When the decline of the SDLP set in, it began to be suggested that Hume had sacrificed it to the peace process. But there was no inevitability about the decline of the SDLP under the Good Friday Agreement. The decline was due to the failure of its leaders to maintain the high level of ambiguity which is the role of a 'constitutional nationalist' party in the weird constitutional wonderland of 'Ulster'. They let Trimble veto the implementation of the Agreement for a year and a half, and when Trimble eventually nominated Ministers under a short-term ultimatum they pretended he was implementing it. They gradually allowed the letter of the Agreement to be supplanted by Blair's private letter to the Unionist Party (before the 1998 elections) in the matter of decommissioning. And they played the part of exemplary pupils which was allocated to them by Dublin and London in election contexts. And they began to speak of "post-nationalism" in a situation in which nothing but nationalism was possible except make-believe. If the electorate had stood by them in those circumstances, the regression towards the pre-insurrectionary situation would have been on.

Brian Feeney regressed very rapidly last December under the impact of the great bank robbery organised by Adams and McGuinness—who are we to dispute the word of the Taoiseach in that matter? He said, in effect, that the Good Friday Agreement should never have been made because it did not involve a Provo surrender. But he soon realised that the bank robbery and the McCartney killing were not going to play as intended, and that he was on the road to nowhere. He then remembered the terms of the Agreement and saw that they had not been implemented by either the Unionists or Whitehall.

The case that no Agreement should have been made with the Provos, and that the war should have gone on until they were destroyed, is intelligible though not realistic. The war had been in stalemate for many years and a clear British victory was no more in prospect than a Provo victory. The British understood that the war was sustained on the Republican side by the unique Constitutional structure they had imposed on the Six Counties, and since they were fundamentally determined that the North should not be incorporated into the political life of the state, they saw that some kind of deal must be made with the Provos sooner or later, which would have to include an all-Ireland dimension, and would by implication legitimise the Republican military campaign.

What is neither intelligible nor realistic is a policy on the implementation of the Agreement which relies more on the case that the Agreement should not have been made, than on the terms on which it was made and put to referendums. And that has been the position of the Dublin Government under McDowell and Ahern. If one infers a purpose from their actions, their purpose has been to undo the Agreement in the course of implementing it—which was also Trimble's purpose.

What stood in the way of the realisation of this purpose was the refusal of the Catholic electorate in the North to submit to moral blackmail.

If the terms of the Agreement had been kept in the forefront of the public mind by the SDLP and the Dublin Government, the mock-stupid (or perhaps authentically stupid) question asked of Alex Maskey by the BBC (in the person of Liz McKeon) on 29th July, the day of the IRA announcement, would not have been askable:

"The Good Friday Agreement was signed seven years ago: why has it taken this long for the armed struggle to be ended?"

It took so long because the terms were not met by the Unionists and Whitehall.

Neither the SDLP nor Dublin has profited from their failure to insist on the actual terms that were agreed. The SDLP is reduced to claiming as a victory the fact that it was not wiped out at this year's election. And the Dublin parties are disturbed by the arrival amongst them of a Sinn Fein party which they all hate but which is likely to increase its representation substantially at the next elections.

The successful extension of a Northern Ireland political movement into the Republic is something new. The Unionists tried it and failed. The success of the Provos can be put down to the misguided Northern policy of successive Dublin Governments, combined with the atrophy of political life in the South. The Labour Party is not a Labour Party, and Fianna Fail is doing its best to cease to be Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael has freed itself altogether from the Republican dimension which it re-found in 1948, after jettisoning it in 1924. These parties have disowned their historic origins without re-founding themselves on other principles.

Senator Mansergh, the ideologue of Fianna Fail, has gone over entirely to the Treatyite view of the Treaty. He has declared the 1922 election, held under the threat of military action by the British Empire if the vote went the wrong way, to have been a democratic election. It is a strange view of democracy. And, if that election is held to have been a democratic ratification of the Treaty, it brands Fianna Fail as an anti-democratic party in origin.

The public life of the South has lost track of itself. If Sinn Fein can keep its bearings it has a bright future there. And we assume that the IRA decommissioning announcement had at least as much to do with the Republic as with the North.

It was evident in 1998 that the campaign was over and that all that was at issue was concluding it on the agreed terms. It was therefore important to the Unionists, for whom the humiliation of Republicans was the requirement, that the agreed terms should not be met. As Paisley was taking over from Trimble, and giving the false appearance of reaching an agreement with Sinn Fein, Ahern supported him in making a demand which Paisley had frankly declared to be for the purpose of humiliation. When the IRA rejected that demand, and refused to implement the decommissioning measure which would have been part of the deal, Ahern turned on Sinn Fein in a completely reckless manner, making wild accusations which he hoped would break it. The Republican movement handled all that Ahern and McDowell could throw at it and emerged stronger at the end. When it hinted that it would decommission unilaterally in its own time, Paisley said he would not stand for it. Decommissioning had to be part of a deal, and the deal had to involve humiliation.

The IRA has now initiated the decommissioning process, in conjunction with General de Chastelaine's genuinely Independent International Monitoring Commission (as distinct from the group of political hacks headed by Lord Alderdice which counterfeits the IIMC by giving itself a title with very similar initials, with the 'I' standing for a whopping great lie: Independent). Decommissioning is being got out of the way during dead season, with no advantage to either Paisley or Ahern. Neither of them is happy about this unilateral disarmament, but what can they do about it? There is a time for war, and there is a time for peace, as Adams put it when commenting on the announcement. The war has served its purpose. The Catholic North has been completely transformed by it. And, if there are parties to the Agreement who cannot bring themselves to implement its peace terms, why then the forces for whom the time for peace has come must just go ahead without them.

The Irish Times reported as its front page lead the police execution of a Brazilian member of the public in Stockwell Underground Station under the headline, Shot Man 'Directly Linked' To Terrorism, Say Police. It subsequently emerged that every detail of the police briefing of reporters was wrong. It was the police, not the Brazilian who vaulted the barriers to go into the station: he used a ticket and passed through the barriers. And he did not panic because he feared challenge over a work-visa. As for the 'direct link' with terrorism, it was the most tenuous that can be imagined. There was a terrorist investigation. There was a man who was killed. Therefore there was a link between the investigation and the man! The correct details were subsequently published by the Daily Mail, but the Irish Times did not give the same prominence to the vindication of the man's innocence, as it gave to the police lies.

What is interesting is that British security forces now openly admit to having a 'Shoot-To-Kill' policy of terrorist suspects. When this was operated in Northern Ireland it was never admitted, and still has not been.

The Leader of the Labour Party issued a statement on the IRA Statement to which the press, being kind to him, gave very little publicity. It is a Stickie, rather than a Labour, statement. Pat Rabbitte cannot forget where he comes from:

"The vicious, brutal and largely sectarian campaign of murder and violence carried out by the IRA over a period of more than 30 years has left an understandable legacy of bitterness and distrust. The climate has been further soured by the failure of the Republican Movement to honour commitments previously entered into, events such as the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney, and by a series of belligerent and threatening statements issued since the collapse of the most recent talks in Dublin last."

Responsibility for the Bank robbery remains a matter for speculation. Robert McCartney died after a brutal attack launched by his drug-addict friend. And the threatening statements are unspecified.

The campaign of murder and violence which was regarded as such by the Northern Catholic electorate was the campaign waged by enemies of the Provos, the Official Republicans, or Stickies. Popular hostility forced them to stop it. The Officials were excluded from Northern politics by popular conviction of their total irrelevance and complete loss of electoral support. The community which relegated the Stickies to political oblivion made the Provos their major party in the struggle for democracy, which is not the same thing as the struggle for Northern Ireland. Is it not time that the Irish Labour Party came to terms with this fact of life, and unhijacked themselves from the Stickie feud?

Rabbitte also launched a Stickie attack on Fianna Fail. The Stickie line used to be that Fianna Fail created the Provos as a counter-balance to the revolutionary Marxist socialism of the Stickies which was poised to take over the state. That line no longer plays since the Stickies, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, became ultra-capitalists. Rabbitte's attack on Fianna Fail therefore took the form of accusing it of introducing deficit financing—Keynesianism!—under Haughey (see Irish Times 14.7.05).

John O'Donoghue replied on behalf of Fianna Fail on 21st July, suggesting that it was Fine Gael/Labour that started over-spending and reminding him of his own political convolutions:

"…According to Deputy Rabbitte, the Labour-Fine Gael government of 1973-77 should no longer be seen as the one that introduced substantial deficit financing to Ireland, but rather as fiscally virtuous.

"The truly incredible thing about this assertion is that it was these very policies that he now praises which caused him to desert the Labour party in favour of a hard-left movement.

"He then went on a crusade over the next 15 years during which he sought to destroy the Labour Party as the standard-bearer of the Irish left. This established a pattern for the following two decades where he trenchantly advocated policies that would have caused dramatically more damage than anything done by any of the governments that held office.

"Deputy Rabbitte's stand… was to consistently demand more spending and more taxation…

"One of the few things he did agree with was the decision of his then enemies in the Labour Party to run away from government in 1986 because their partners were not willing to run ever higher deficits.

"Not alone did he and his present and past parties oppose fiscal sanity by calling for more spending, they also opposed the other keys to later growth. Never capable of taking a pro-enterprise stand, they consistently opposed the lower rate of corporation tax which did so much to attract inward investment.

"While now posing as its guardians, they also voted against the social partnership approach introduced by Fianna Fáil which replaced destructive industrial conflicts with a united approach to vital economic an social issues.

"The development of the EU's competencies through various treaties, and its new approach to regional development also played a part in our economic turnaround.

"This had no attraction for Deputy Rabbitte who was as reliable as Anthony Coughlan in his opposition to EU treaties.

"When he left Labour in 1976 he joined a party which had no problem cosying up to totalitarian regimes. It was not just the despotic North Korea it developed fraternal relations with. It had no problem accepting hospitality and support from the regimes that incarcerated Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov.

"At home it championed Marxist Leninism and sought to impose democratic centralism on a fledgling democracy through surreptitious means. There was a concerted campaign to ensure that the national broadcaster promoted the interests of their party.

"Ultimately, it only gave up the ghost at the same time as the Soviet Union in 1991 and decided to abandon overt hard-left politics.

"Having completed a reverse takeover of the Labour Party, Deputy Rabbitte is now attempting to rewrite the record to suit his own ends…

"It may be a long journey from Sinn Féin the Workers' Party to the Workers' Party, from the Workers' Party to New Agenda, from New Agenda to Democratic Left, from Democratic Left to the Labour Party, and from there to an embrace with Fine Gael, but history cannot be rewritten to accommodate the passage.

Not even for a tired and retired revolutionary."

The Labour Party has dismissed a call following the IRA statement, by Mick O'Reilly, leader of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union, to open an alliance with Sinn Féin as part of of a left bloc in the Dail. Pat Rabbitte described O'Reilly as a "hurler on the ditch", as he wasn't a Labour member, whose "nonsense" views "deserve to be ignored" (IT 2.8.05).


A Time For Peace.

The Right Wing Health Agenda.
John Martin

Paddy And Mr. Redmond
Liam Mhic I Shearcaigh (Poem)

…And A Time For War.

Mansergh versus Casement.
Seán McGouran

Peter Hart Digs A Deeper.
Jack Lane

The Sindo, The Shinner, And Filthy Lucre.
Seán McGouran

Shorts From The Long Fellow.
(Blood Price; Ireland Celebrates Defeat Of Allies!; Was 1916 A Crime?!!!; Sartre Was Right!; Right On Bono!; U2 Corporate Rights; More Corporate Values)

The Irish Catholic And Benedict XV (Part One).
Pat Walsh

Does It Stack Up? Pomp And Circumstance.
Michael Stack

Food And The Market.
John Martin

Does It Stack Up?
Michael Stack

CAP And Our Future.
Dominique Bussereau (Report)

Still Fighting The French Revolution.
Seán McGouran

Markievicz Revised?
Seán McGouran

The British State-Nation.
Desmond Fennell (Letter)

Voting For Rebellion!
Nick Folley (Letter)

Labour Comment
Edited by Pat Maloney

Work Skills
Mark Langhammer

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