Editorial from Irish Political Review, February 2005

I Believe…

There was, it is said, a very big bank robbery in Belfast about a week after the Democratic Unionist Party scuppered an attempt to manoeuvre it into Coalition with Sinn Fein. The DUP leader had declared publicly that his object was to subject the Republicans, whose electoral support now constitutes a majority in the Catholic community, to public humiliation. Nobody can fault him for that. It has been his position consistently for about forty years If he had made a deal with Sinn Fein in December, he would have left himself open to Loyalist jeers from David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party at the British Election in a few months' time.

A couple of years ago their positions were reversed. Trimble, not willing to be caught by Paisley in alliance with Sinn Fein at the impending 'Ulster' election, threatened to bring the house down. To save him from doing so the Government (the real Government, you understand) said that there had been a high-level spy ring at Stormont in October 2002. There was a high-profile police raid on Sinn Fein offices, accompanied by TV cameras. Hugh Orde subsequently apologised over the publicity, but the prosecutions came to nothing. (And, before that, on St. Patrick's Day of 2002, there was a a daylight robbery of high-security files at Castlereagh, a high security police facility, by a group of men not wearing masks. Again the police said that the IRA did it. That saying has passed for a fact in the Constitutional fantasy land of Northern Ireland, though no charges have been brought against anybody to this day. A copycat theft of files on republicans more recently, which seems to have been carried out by security forces, has received virtually no publicity.)

And now the Chief Constable says that he Believes that the IRA did the robbery. And the Dublin Minister for Justice (Michael McDowell, a member of a minuscule political party with 3% electoral support in the Republic which, however, seems to be running the Government) says that he Believes that the Chief Constable sincerely believes that the IRA did it. The grounds of the Chief Constable's Belief is that he can't see who else could have done it. Very large numbers of high-denomination notes have turned up in Banbridge and Craigavon (with people buying low-value items with high-value notes, see Irish News 11.1.05), but the Chief Constable says that they weren't from that robbery.

Such is the respect for 'rule of law' in Ireland.

The Northern Bank (the subject of the robbery) seems to have only the haziest idea of how much money it had, and therefore of how much was taken. Readers who have not lived in 'Ulster' may be unaware that a peculiarity of the region is that a number of Banks there issue and print their own money, as in olden times, and that it does not look a bit like Bank of England money, which is an inconvenience to people travelling from Belfast to London, because cashiers in London stores do not recognise those Ulster notes as money at all. And the fact that these banks make their own money is probably the reason why this bank did not know how much it had when it was robbed.

We have no knowledge whatever about the robbers. But the Taoiseach says he knows that the IRA did it, and that he also knows that Gerry Adams was planning it while he appeared to be working with the Taoiseach to make a settlement with the DUP. And that's a lot of knowledge. Which makes it puzzling why there have been no arrests.

The Chief Constable briefed the media about his Belief two days before he made his public statement, and what he was going to say he Believed was treated as established fact in the BBC Radio 4 pm news on 6th January. And Alex Attwood, the little white hope of the SDLP in West Belfast, went on Radio 4 to say that, speaking as a solicitor, he thought that the Chief Constable saying who he Believed to be the culprit, without bringing any charges, was the right way of doing policing.

We offer no comment. We have always said that Northern Ireland is a weird Constitutional entity, which should never have existed. In its handsomely-financed official structures it is an exercise in make-believe. And behind the lucrative make-belief there are the tightly-organised Protestant and Catholic communities who have nothing to do in the way of politics but grind against each other. In the good old days the Protestant community used to dominate and harass the Catholic community, but now there is a more equal mode of mutual attrition.

The reason why the Chief Constable is so widely believed in the South has nothing to do with the believability of his case—which is a circumstantial case without circumstances. It has to do with the fact that Sinn Fein is now a major player in the electoral politics of the Republic. The Republic is a democracy with a weak political system. In any democracy nothing takes precedence over the struggle of political parties for political power, but in the democracies of strong States (such as Britain and the USA), a kind of consensual elite develops which limits party conflict in what is called the 'national interest', particularly in foreign policy matters. The weak political system of the Republic has inhibited the development of such an elite. And the North is both a domestic and a foreign policy issue. The curious thing is that, since the repeal of the sovereignty claim in Articles 2 & 3 (making it entirely a foreign policy issue), it has become more of a domestic issue than it ever was before. And the political parties cannot adopt a statesmanlike approach to Northern affairs when one of the major Northern parties is a rising force on home ground.

Sinn Fein is no longer just an element in the problematical Northern situation, as it was when the Republic claimed sovereignty. The Republic now recognises the North as part of the British sovereignty, but the Sinn Fein Party, which arose out of the Northern chaos of 1969-70, might be holding the balance of power in the South after the next election. Sinn Fein is therefore an enemy of all the other parties in the Republic (as all parties are enemies of each other in a democracy) and it is at the same time a major component of the Northern situation, towards which the parties of the Republic are supposed to adopt a statesmanlike attitude.

De Valera might have been able to do it. Haughey did it insofar it was required of him. Albert Reynolds did it superbly and, if he had continued in office, the 1998 Agreement would have worked out differently and it is unlikely that Sinn Fein would have become the force it is in the Republic. But the thing is entirely beyond Ahern. McDowell doesn't even want to do it. Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader, has never given a moment's serious thought to the Northern situation. And the Labour Party, in the hands of the Stickies, is caught in the 'Official Republican' attitude of 1970 against the unauthorised upstart 'Provisionals'.

Here is a Dail exchange on 26th January, as reported in the Irish Times of 27th. In support of his contention that Republicans were responsible for the Northern Bank robbery, Ahern said there had been a punishment shooting in Serbia Street, Lower Falls. Sinn Fein TD O Caolain asked, "What is the evidence?"

Ahern: "Does the deputy want me to name the individual? What would happen to him."

O Caolain: "The Taoiseach is abusing his position without evidence."

Ahern: "I will defend the facts… The deputy asked where is the evidence… Before I said anything, I did not say much by the way?"

O Caolain: "The Taoiseach said more and should not have said it."

Ahern: "That is not the position. I spoke to… Mr. Blair, I got a report on what British Intelligence has, I got a report from Hugh Orde?"

O Caolain: "Is that what the Taoiseach is relying on?"

Ahern: "I am answering to something with which the deputy's party has a difficulty… When I come into this House, I have to listen to what the Garda Siochana of this country says… In this case, it said that its professional assessment is that it shares the view that the Northern Bank robbery was carried out by the Provisional IRA", and could not have been done without the knowledge of the leadership.

Is the individual Ahern chose not to name, for fear of what would happen to him, the one who did the shooting? If so, what would happen is that he would be charged, or at least arrested, is it not? And if it is the person shot, he is already well-known where it counts, is he not?

In the same week that Ahern says that he must say in the Dail what the Gardai tell him, the conviction of Colm Murphy was overturned on appeal on the basis of evidence that the Gardai rigged the evidence. And, in this instance, there can be little doubt that the Gardai rigged the evidence under political pressure to bring a prosecution concerning the Omagh Bombing at all costs. (The great difficulty about bringing a prosecution in the North seems to be the impossibility of doing so without the involvement of the State through its intelligence agents being brought in. The state has therefore been exhorting the relatives of the victims to pursue the matter by vendetta, i.e. by a civil action for damages, where there is a lower standard of evidence, and where (this apparently being the most important consideration) the involvement of agents of the state can be kept out. And the state has been funding the civil action both overtly and covertly.

Also in the same week, Douglas Hogg MP gave a long interview on BBC Radio 4 (10 o'clock News) about the order of the Home Secretary that people who had been interned without trial, but must be released because of judicial ruling, should now be held under house arrest. He said that, on the bases of extensive experience of the intelligence services when he was a Minister, he had concluded that they got things wrong as often as they got them right. It was Hogg who, some time before Pat Finucane was killed, pointed towards him as an obnoxious lawyer who showed excessive zeal in making legal defences for people who were morally indefensible, and who needed to be dealt with. We presume that it was the way Finucane was dealt with (killed by British Intelligence and Loyalists acting in collusion) that caused him to reconsider his general outlook on these matters.

O Caolain observed that the Government was not impartial in its view of the North because it was in competition with Sinn Fein for votes in Ballybough and Ballyconnell:

Defence Minister (Willie O'Shea): "Where is the deputy's party getting the money to buy those votes? It is robbed money."

O Caolain: "With respect to the little whipper at the Taoiseach's side, we never interrupted you or any of the participants——

O'Dea: "Robbed money."

O Caolain: "Deputy O'Dea would serve his position and ministerial responsibilities better if he learned to behave himself in this House."

Ahern denied that party-political rivalry with Sinn Fein had anything to do with his judgment on the Bank Robbery:

"If I wished to fight his political party in a party political way, I certainly would not do what I have been doing for the past number of years, such as doing everything possible to bring his party into the centre by ignoring all kinds of things, and trying to convince the DUP recently and the UUP for years of the benefits of working with Sinn Fein. I have tried to convince presidents Bush and Clinton and President Prodi to put money into Northern Ireland to help peace and reconciliation. If I was only interested in a political fight, I would not have taken those actions. Before we began taking those actions, the deputy's party was a party with 2 per cent but it now has quite a strong political mandate because people on all sides of this House, the Labour Party, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, the Progressive Democrats, the Green Party, have all worked to try to bring Sinn Fein in."

O Caolain: "Not at all."

Ahern: "We have done so because of our history…"

As we recall how these things happened, John Hume obliged Dublin politicians to do what they would not otherwise have done. The Dublin media engaged in a defamation campaign against him with the object of breaking him, and were supported by elements in the SDLP. At a certain point Albert Reynolds took up the issue with a will and the Agreement was made. This enhanced the prestige of Sinn Fein so much that, when Reynolds was bounced out of office by the Irish Times and the Labour Party, Bruton had to overcome his inclinations and work with it. The situation to which Ahern refers as evidence that he is not influenced by party politics in the matter was well established before he became Taoiseach. His conduct as Taoiseach has been completely erratic. He has from the start treated the Agreement (which had been carried by a Constitutional referendum and was said to form part of International Law) as an initial negotiating position put by Sinn Fein which would have to be substantially amended in a bargaining process of which it was only the start. In doing this he did what came naturally. He rose in politics as a fixer, a negotiator of compromises, within the politics of the Republic. But in those days he was somebody else's lieutenant. When he became Taoiseach he rose beyond his abilities. He was inherently incapable of standing by an Agreement which had already been made by others through the process of compromise, and he immediately set about compromising it.

The Progressive Democrats showed some understanding of the Northern situation when Liz O'Donnell was handling it (as a Junior Minister). Since MacDowell took the Cabinet position which was rightfully hers, its position has been, in substance, that Provisional Republicanism is a criminal enterprise and that the Agreement should never have been made. The Justice Minister has now made this position explicit by saying that Bobby Sands was not engaged in politics, only in crime. (The PDs have 3% support in the state, and Sinn Fein 13%.)

This journal does not make predictions. We think that 'Political Science' is bogus. A science predicts the future of the matter it deals with, and we do not think that the political future is knowable. But we did not think the Agreement could work, and we were certain it could not work without powerful external compulsion on the Unionist Party to work it. And we knew that it went against the grain of British political culture to make a deal with an enemy and stick to it. In 1918 Britain made an Armistice with Germany and then worked at developing it into an unconditional surrender (thus preparing the ground for the Nazi Party), and we expected it to act in similar manner with regard to its deal with the IRA, and said so. Its outstanding ability over the centuries has been to manipulate opportunities in pursuit of a consistent purpose. What it has been doing since 1998 is unravelling the Agreement which it found expedient to make then, while gaining substantial advantage form having made it.

Over the past few weeks we have seen the moral collapse of the ideological layer roughly aligned with the wing of the SDLP which kept avenues open to Sinn Fein. The Irish News has gone to the lengths of deploring Irish neutrality in the Second World War. Brian Feeney says the IRA did the robbery, and he said on BBC Radio 4 that the Agreement was fatally flawed by having the Republicans as part of it. And Fionnuala O'Connor (whom we remember under another name as a radical in the other PDs—the People's Democracy, which did its bit to make Northern Ireland explode and invented the term, "Brit Huns" when it did—and who sometimes directed snide remarks in our direction as bizarre Fenian Orangies) looks forward to the time when the voters will 'sicken' of Republicans who "think they can advance with the ballot box [yes, the box!] in one hand, gun in the other, swag over the shoulder and the proceeds of business, shady and otherwise, stuffed in their pockets" (Irish Times column 28 Jan). How can Orde, this very politic policeman, not be believed when, she says, he has until now "been almost laughably supportive of the republican leadership".

Sinn Fein did not gain its present strength in the Republic merely on the basis of the Belfast Agreement and the way Ahern has been failing to live up to his obligations under it. It can only have done so because of an element of rottenness in the political life of the state which none of the other parties can address. And, because of this, and because the SDLP and the Irish News have lost their way in the North, a local West Belfast paper, the Andersonstown News, has decided to launch a new all-Ireland national paper. The Justice Minister has denounced the enterprise by describing the projected new paper as an Irish version of the Volkische Beobachter, which was the newspaper set up by the Nazi Party in Germany.

We give this month some further transcripts from Questions & Answers (RTE), which is now virtually the only forum of political discussion in the Republic, despite the fierce bias of its Chairman, John Bowman. We begin with a brief extract from 10th January, when there was no Sinn Fein representation on the platform, the members of which were in agreement with the Chief Constable. But a member of the audience was allowed to say this:

"An English functionary has walked in, as many before him, and has said, 'It's the Catholics, they're the criminals'. Except now he's getting the backing of the Southern Irish Government. The people up there have suffered a great deal over the past 80 years. They require their political power and they're entitled to it. And they should be encouraged and backed in that. The idea of constantly reducing this to a criminal activity, their aspirations, is a West British——

Bowman [(looking fierce]: ——Ah, come on, was a bank raided or was it not?

Questioner: I don't know. All I know is the word——

Bowman: You don't know if a bank was raided or not.

Questioner: I know the word of a British functionary. That's all I know.

Bowman: But was there a bank raid or was there not?

Questioner: There was a bank raid, yes. So what has that got to do with it?

Bowman: Well you said you weren't sure whether there had been one or not. Third row here. Yes."

This is the entire exchange. For Bowman the only issue was whether there had in fact been a bank raid. If there had, then the Provos did it. It was like an 18th century libel trial in which the only function of the jury was to decide whether the book had been published, because if it had, libel followed automatically. The man in the audience took some time to understand the Chairman's mindset, and thought he was being asked if the Provos did it.

The man in the third row commented on the Republican pattern of criminality and said:

"The crunch has now come. Sinn Fein needs to decide whether it wants to be involved in democratic politics, or we have to decide to go ahead without them."

Bowman then turned to a member of the platform and asked:

"John Mooney, do you think they have faced that crunch question or not?"

The implication here is that Bowman thinks there might be a Northern settlement without the Republicans. So why does he suppose they were brought into settlement negotiations?

On 17th January Mitchel McLaughlin and Michael McDowell were on the platform. An extract follows:


I Believe…

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I'm All Right, Jack! (review: Frank Dunlop, Irish Politics)

Peace Protest…
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