Editorial from Irish Political Review, December 2005

What Is The North?

"The IRA needs to take further risks to consolidate peace": that is the theme of an article by Sean Donlon, former Ambassador to USA and former Secretary to Foreign Affairs Department (Irish Times 17 Oct). The risk it must take is to abolish itself. It is not enough for it to disarm and declare that its war is over. It must disband, and then there will be "lasting peace on the island". Donlon claims that John Hume supported this view in "a recent, under-reported speech". And Hume has not repudiated him.

It follows from this that, if the Provisional IRA had not been formed 35 years ago there would never have been anything but peace in the North. And yet we recall that there were some slight disturbances before the Provos were ever thought of, and that John Hume added to the disturbance by not staying quietly at home, and that he made a resounding declaration that it was United Ireland or nothing, and that the good Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, egged him on.

When your customary mode of discourse is about sugar and spice and everything nice, the description of other things become problematical. But Hume, despite the cultivated Humespeak, did play his part in other things, though his speech was necessarily incoherent with regard to them. He gave an amazing performance of verbal juggling for a quarter of a century. But, when he had helped to bring about a situation that accorded with his ideal, and "constitutional nationalism" was called upon to take the alternative way forward by means of constructive action in what it was agreed to pretend was a democracy, he retired and handed over to Seamus Mallon, who was known to be opposed to what Donlon calls "the Hume-Adams dialogue". And then constitutional nationalism, in its chosen forum, was given the run-around by Trimble for four years, with Durkan proving as ineffectual as Mallon.

Why did Hume retire at the critical moment? Because he did not know what to do next? Because he had a strong sense of reality within all the froth of Humespeak and he sensed that what had been enacted was a kind of confidence trick that would soon be found out, and that if anything worthwhile was to come of it, the constitutional nationalists must make way for the ones who are only slightly constitutional?

Donlon represented a regime which, while continuing to assert sovereignty over the North, would neither take responsibility for its affairs nor let it go its own away. That approach led to trickery. And the trickery continues. For many years Sinn Fein and the IRA were both damned. Voters were told that, if they voted for Sinn Fein they would be voting for terrorism. When the voters ignored this exhortation not to vote for Sinn Fein, the tune changed and it was denied that the IRA had been given a mandate. The next thing was that Sinn Fein should repudiate the IRA in order to become fully democratic. It was acknowledged sotto voce that this was the last thing those who demanded it actually wanted. But, because they never faced up to the reality of what Northern Ireland actually was, they did not have it in them to do anything but harass Sinn Fein over its connection with the IRA. The only thing they were capable of being was two-faced hypocrites. They wanted Sinn Fein to be intimately connected with the IRA for the purpose of persuading it to disarm, and at the same time to be free to denounce it for being so connected.

This duplicity used to be on display every evening on the Vincent Browne show on Radio Eireann. And, now that the IRA has disarmed and called off the war, the demand is that it should disband. If it disbanded, the demand would be that Sinn Fein should go away—because it is a certainty that lasting peace and harmony would not set in with the absence of the IRA. (And, if Sinn Fein went away, further progress would remain to be achieved in the form of the abolition of the other body thrown up by the 1969 disturbances, the SDLP. And then we could start all over again.)

That is the policy of the Dublin regime as stated. It is the only policy it is capable of stating. But what it really wants is that Sinn Fein/IRA should contain the Northern situation by remaining the dominant purposeful force in the Catholic community while being self-righteously denounced for doing so.

The SDLP became a spent force by paying too much heed to the exhortations of external authority in Dublin and London, instead of dealing realistically with the internal realities of the North. Sinn Fein/IRA would likewise reduce itself to a spent force, leaving the field free for others to take its place, if it heeded the exhortation of those authorities—who know very well that this would be the case, and therefore do not want their pious exhortations to be heeded. But, like the scorpion in Aesop's fable, they cannot help themselves. Nature will out. And they cannot even match the self-restraint of the scorpion, who let the frog carry him across the river before stinging him.

Was the Provisional IRA a legitimate part of the Northern situation? Who determined legitimacy in that situation?

Two states claimed sovereignty, but the North was not part of the democracy of either of them.
It's a truism of modern times that legitimate authority is connected with democracy. If that is accepted, there was no legitimate overall authority in the North even before the breakdown of August 1969, not to mention after it. And the reality as we experienced it was entirely in accordance with that theoretical deduction. The North was thrown into a state of nature in 1969, and the elements of a new system of order were generated out of the anarchy.

We did our best to bring the North within the democratic order of the British state—and were condemned for doing so by John Hume and an array of Dublin politicians, and the Unionist Party and the British authorities would have nothing to do with it. And Dublin, after making some gestures in the direction of involving itself in developments within the North, backed away and washed its hands of the matter following an intervention by the British Ambassador in the Spring of 1970.

During the Winter of 1969-70 we discussed with some people who were in process of forming the Provos what should be done. It was a reasonable discussion, such as it was impossible to have with ideologues of the Dublin parties or with 'constitutional nationalism'. They rejected our project on the ground that the nature of Unionism made it unrealistic. So we went our separate ways, without great moral denunciations either way. And we proved them right over the next twenty years. The attempt at democratisation within the political order of the state was made impossible by the nature of the Unionism which was always declaring it to be British.

The state of nature continued in society, underneath an official apparatus of state which consisted mainly of police and dole offices. And we would say that, if the official law were somehow applied, and all the facts were somehow known to it, there would be very few people left out of jail. In the state of nature the individual has to act as his own state.

'Constitutional nationalism' was shown as early as the Summer of 1971 to have no will of its own, and this was borne out conclusively by its conduct in the crisis of May 1974. And when, after a long rest, it got a third chance in 1998, it still did not know what to do.

So, what does it mean to say that the Provisional IRA, as the most purposeful force that emerged from the chaos, was not legitimate?

In the hinterland of the Fianna Fail party these things are understood, but the leadership dares not express them.

The current position of the leadership is to treat Sinn Fein/IRA as legitimate de facto while officially reprehending it as criminal and indicting Adams and McGuinness for the Northern Bank robbery though not acting on the indictment, and remaining silent about the orientation of those who have been arrested in connection with the robbery. With this two-faced attitude, it stops short of repudiating Sinn Fein/IRA while encouraging opposition to it both amongst Unionists and amongst Republicans who are uneasy about the transitional compromise of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Fianna Fail intellectual, Senator Mansergh, who appears to act for the Taoiseach though no longer his adviser, recently went on the ideological offensive against Republicans who do not support the Good Friday Agreement, presumably for the purpose of defending the Provos. He has provoked an extensive exchange of letters in the Belfast Irish News with Liam O Comain of Derry. What the exchange brings out is that the essentially duplicitous position of the Fianna Fail leadership is unsuitable for development in polemical dispute. Academic paper will bear anything that is written on it. And selected audiences of respectable people will listen politely to whatever is said to them by somebody who is understood to represent a power in the state. But in polemics conducted in a live situation where minds are not made passive by an authoritative power of state, the truth and soundness of intellectual constructions are tested as nowhere else.

O Comain writes: "Martin is living the myth that Ireland (or a part of it) is free. De Valera did not accept that myth—he fought a civil war against it" (27 Oct). And what can Martin say in reply to that? Nothing. He can only ignore it. But the fact that he ignores it is not ignored.

Mansergh is committed to manipulating history in the service of current policy—something which used to be declared the falsification of history when practised in Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Soviet regime. Therefore he cannot deal with matters thrown up in a polemical dispute which he himself instigated.

He maintains that a democratic state was established in the 26 Counties in 1922. Why then did the founder of his party support a war against it? And did Dev in the mid 1920s succumb to the democracy of the Free State, or did he enter the undemocratic Free State for the purpose of gaining power within it and democratising it? Dev certainly thought he was doing the latter. But that would be a dangerous admission for the ideologue of the governing party in Dublin to make today to "dissident" (Irregular?) Republicans in the North. But, of course, the 'dissidents' know it very well. They do not need an admission by Mansergh in order to know it. But his evasion of a fact which is indisputably true has the effect of confirming that he is a tricky politician who invents truth in the service of policy.

The truth of how an Irish state came into existence and was made independent may be a thing of no importance to the 26 County Republic—to judge by the way it has handed control of history over to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge—but that is not the case in the North, where ignorant routine within an accepted status quo is neither a reality nor even a reasonable possibility.

If Mansergh said:

Yes, we in the South had to struggle against an arrangement purporting to be a national democracy, and a point was reached when it became possible and desirable to move from military methods to other methods in the establishment of national democracy. We do not deny the military phase of the struggle nor hold it to have been unnecessary. And, when we succeeded in taking office and holding power in 1932, and in proceeding to break the Treaty, we were enabled to do so peacefully by the backing of the IRA.

We acknowledge that no legitimate state authority has ever existed in Northern Ireland, though we accommodated ourselves to the de facto power of the Unionist apparatus. And now, having revoked the formal claim to sovereignty which we inserted in our Constitution in 1937, and therefore having no grounds for regarding as a usurpation of our authority anything that is done in Northern Ireland, we recognise Provisional Sinn Fein/IRA as a legitimate body thrown up by the disorderly arrangements that Britain made for the North after Partitioning Ireland.

If Mansergh said something like that he would certainly get a hearing. Since he dare not say anything like that—and possibly does not see that the truth is something like that, because it differs so much from his father's pronouncements—he would have been better advised not to indulge in polemics with people who have to live in the North.

He refers to the "32 County Sovereignty Committee's eccentric and deeply flawed DIY understanding of international law" and "Ruairi O Bradaigh's contrived 'apostolic succession' from the Second Dail", describing them as "drivel which would not stand up to a moment's serious debate or objective scrutiny"—without mentioning where they might be subjected to objective scrutiny.

"International law" is all DIY, existing only in the forum of the United Nations where the major powers in the world are both formally and substantially exempt from it. The distinction between Power and Law has little going for it today. Iraq was invaded and its structure of state destroyed without UN authority (and Fianna Fail facilitated the invasion), but the invaders did not break the law because they are officially above the law.

And when did "the drivel of the apostolic succession" become drivel to Fianna Fail? Not with the 1922 election, or the 1923 one. When it did what was necessary to enter the Free State Dail for the purpose of subverting its subordination to the Crown, it did so with a mental reservation that devalued the Oath. And, when it gained power with the assistance of false Oaths, it did not only abolish the Oath to the Crown, but abolished Oaths altogether as a condition of sitting in the Dail. Was that not a kind of acknowledgement that what it was sworn to do under the mandate of 1918 remained to be done? Is not the absence of a Dail Oath something of a kind with Emmet's epitaph?

Such things may be described as superstitious drivel, but they have been an integral part of human conduct from time immemorial.

O Comain replied:

"We contend that both northern and Southern statelets are illegal as they were established by a British act of parliament against the will of the Irish people expressed democratically in the 1918 election. There is no authentic democracy in Ireland…"

It is indisputably the case that both set-ups were authorised by British legislation and were therefore not authentic products of Irish democracy. A Dail majority, under duress, voted to accept a Treaty whose terms were dictated by Whitehall, and a war was fought at British instigation and with British arms to enforce it. It was subsequently amended in various ways by those who were defeated in the Treaty war, and one might say that it is something that will do for the time being. On the other hand, it is a poor thing in many ways, bearing traces of its origin in British legislation backed by war. And its academic institutions, all of which are fundamentally hostile to the Northern Republicans, seem to be intent on de-legitimising the non-British element in its origins: the Easter Rising, the 1918 Election, and War of 1919-21. They accord legitimacy only to the Treaty, the Treaty War, and the regime based on victory in the Treaty War.


"Once a democratic path is opened up, it is indefensible for a republican not to be a democrat. The theoretical justifications for continued armed struggle are divorced from any attainable military or political gain… Yes, partition was wrong; the exclusion of nationalists from participation in an independent Ireland was wrong; and the Boundary Commission was a scandal. Some progress has been made in undoing these and many other injustices. Further remedy is only to be found in democratic politics, not paramilitary elitism acting on a much diminished scale" (25 Oct. Is there a suggestion in the last clause that the scale of the paramilitarism is the important thing?).

To which O Comain replied that—

"…the Belfast Agreement…has institutionalised the disease of sectarianism which has been used by the British over the decades in their own interests" (Oct 27).

If the communal division in the North is described as a sectarian division, that statement is indisputable. Mansergh does not dispute it. He ignores it, and comments:

"De Valera moved on from a sterile position: Sinn Fein and the IRA have moved on as well. It is time for all dissident 'revolutionary' republicans to do so too… What constitutes valid self-determination in Irish circumstances has already been decided overwhelmingly by the people north and south in 1998 and is not in practice reversible" (29 Oct).

And what are the dissident republicans to do if they move on? Engage in the routines of institutionalised sectarianism, which is what the GFA provides for?

Mansergh further elaborated his position (and presumably Fianna Fail's) on 4th November:

"Ireland is a sovereign and democratic state in international law… National self-determination was exercised twice in Ireland—in 1918-21 and in 1998—and may well be exercised again in the future. In 1919-21 the principle, through promulgated by President Wilson, was not yet international law. The provisions of the treaty in relation to the north were not in dispute between the pro and anti-treaty sides…

"The Boundary Commission fiasco pulled the rug from under the legitimacy of Northern Ireland as far as republicans were concerned but the Free State government incorporated in international law the 1925 Boundary Agreement accepting partition and no subsequent international legal challenge to it would have succeeded.

"After 80 years of partition, a single all-Ireland vote would be undemocratic as it would mean the more populous part of the country could override the less populous. National self-determination in a partitioned country can only be exercised concurrently…

"In international law… unity in a partitioned country requires the consent in both parts, as in the Good Friday Agreement. As Dr. Garret FitzGerald reminds in his new book Ireland in the World: Further Reflections, de Valera recognised all this back in 1947: 'In order to end [partition] you will have to get concurrence of wills between three parties—we here…; those who represent the majority in the separated part…; and the will of those who are the majority for the time being in the British parliament'.

"The demand for a single all-Ireland vote has no democratic, legal or political validity, and is unattainable because it would be a breach of commitments entered into by both governments and endorsed by the electorates north and south as well as contrary to international law. There is consequently no moral right to use armed struggle based on a fundamental misunderstanding of national self-determination in contemporary international law. It is long past time for dissident paramilitary organisations to set aside their arms and let democratic political parties try to create more favourable conditions for unity."

Mansergh appears to say that his view of the matter is implicit in "the teachings of Wolfe Tone" which O Comain "still fails to grasp". And he illustrates his principle with reference to Germany, Cyprus and Korea, saying "Ireland is no different from Germany, Cyprus or Korea".

But it is, you know. It has to be, because those three instances are not themselves similar. The Partition of Cyprus—which (as far as we recall) is held to be illegal under "international law"—is a social reality based on the profound antipathy of the peoples which inhabit the island. Cypriot nationality is a fiction of power politics.

The island was conceded to Britain by the Turkish state without reference to the will of its populace. When a national independence movement developed amongst the Greeks in the 1950s, Britain dealt with it in the Black-and-Tan manner. When it decided to grant a semblance of independence it was on the pretext that there was a Cypriot nation, separate from the Greek nationality, and with the proviso that the Greek majority did not have the right to vote itself part of Greece. It did not have that right because the Imperial Power decreed it so.

Cyprus became a notional nation-state, but the Turkish minority, which had supported Britain in the war against the Greeks, refused to act as part of a Cypriot nation. When Greece declared Cyprus to be part of the Greek state, Turkey moved in to support the Turkish minority and the social division of the island was consolidated as a military division.

The Partition of Cyprus is more in accordance with the will of the people than most Partitions are. The two nationalities were separated from each other without the kinds of atrocities that marked the Jewish partitioning of Palestine or the British partitioning of India, and the only actual form of national oppression that exists is that the Greek will to govern the entire island is thwarted.

A rational settlement in accordance with social realities would be to take the internal division as a frontier between Greece and Turkey. But 'international law' will not allow that. And so the antagonism of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot goes on within the fiction of Cypriot nationality maintained by the UN and the EU.

The Partition of Germany was a by-product of the war that Britain declared on Germany in 1939 but lacked the will to fight. Britain relied on the French to fight the war for it. But France, remembering how Britain had prevented it making a secure settlement in 1919, after it had borne the main human cost of the Entente war, restricted its commitment to the war in line with what Britain was doing, and made a settlement when Britain took its army home in June 1940. Britain, secure behind its naval dominance of the world, refused a settlement in the hope of finding another powerful ally to defeat Germany for it, but did little fighting itself. The ally appeared in 1941 in the form of Soviet Russia. Soviet Communism was much less acceptable to Britain than Nazism (with whom it had friendly and supportive relations for many years) and so Britain, under the appearance of alliance with Russia, dawdled for three years, hoping that Germany and Russia would tear the guts out of each other. Eventually the USA forced Britain to launch the Second Front in order to occupy Western Europe. It was evident by 1944 that Russia had not only held the German advance, but was capable of defeating Germany and occupying central Europe, and perhaps western, if there was further delay. And that was the cause of the Partition of Germany. It was the dividing line between the invading Powers. The western Powers constructed their parts of Germany into a separate state, in breach of wartime agreements, and then Russia did likewise.

The Partition of Germany did not arise out of German social conditions. It was a line of division between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. And we cannot recall that NATO ever undertook, in the event of the Cold War becoming hot, to maintain East Germany as a separate state.

Although a "two German nations" theory was propagated at one time, and was supported by some of those who denied the "two Irish nations" view, there was never any substantial doubt that all the inhabitants of the two Cold War German states remained Germans. Just as there is no substantial doubt today that the Cypriots are Greeks and Turks.

The Partitions of Germany and Cyprus were so different from each other that the Partition of Ireland must be different from one of them, if not both. We would have thought it obvious that the great difference is with Germany, and that there are some obvious similarities with Cyprus. But Mansergh in the Irish Times has denounced us over the 'two nations theory' and asserted that there is one general nationality throughout Ireland, which would make it similar to Germany. However the arguments he deploys in the North are two-nationist in substance, and he sees the project of unification in Cypriot rather than German terms. That is to say, he sees little prospect of achieving it.

But the internal situation in the North is utterly unlike what exists in either part of Cyprus, and nothing like it ever existed in Germany.

What is the minority, approaching half, to do until it becomes 51%? Why would an all-Ireland majority be undemocratic today if it was democratic in 1918? Why did Britain have to wait for President Wilson's principles to be made international law in 1919, when it had itself proclaimed those principles when Irish cannonfodder was needed in 1914? Why were votes held in the two parts of Ireland separately in 1998 an act of self-determination superseding the vote in 1918, if separate elections held during the intervening 70 years were invalid in that respect? Does the 26 County Government still see itself as a legitimate authority for determining legitimacy in the North, or did it relinquish that authority when it revoked the sovereignty claim? And, if not, who determines what is legitimate in this region where democratic authority does not operate?
We will return to these interesting questions thrown up by Senator Mansergh's polemics outside the jurisdiction both de facto and de jure.


What Is The North?

Henry Jackson Society = World War Three.

The WTO—Dead But Won't Lie Down.
Jack Lane

The Fifth Column (Still Demonising Sinn Féin; N. Bank Robbery; Henry McDonald; Liam Lawlor; Sewer Journalism).
Seán McGouran

Censorship On Sinking Of RMS Leinster.
(Report: unpublished letter by Brian Murphy OSB)

Shorts From The Long Fellow (PD Times; Health Service Shambles; The State & Revolution; Women In The State; Moriarty Tribunal; Syria & Lebanon; The French Riot; Republican Values).

Riots: A Thoroughly French Affair.
Emmanuel Todd (Trans. J. Martin)

Social Dialogue: French Style
John Martin

Protestant Working Class: Time To Stop Digging, And Start Thinking.
Mark Langhammer

A Bounder And A CADogan.
Joe Keenan

Hart & Coogan On Collins.
Brendan Clifford

Myers & The Spanish Civil War.
Manus O'Riordan

Jack Jones Censored By The Irish Times!

Frank Ryan Remembered.
Manus O'Riordan (Address)

America And The Peace Note Of 1917.
Pat Walsh (Part 4, Benedict XV Series)

Index To Irish Political Review, 2005.

Barry's Column: The International Brigades.

Labour Comment
Edited by Pat Maloney

Irish Ferries: "That Sinking Feeling".

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