Editorial from Irish Political Review, July 2002

Northern Ireland: Calculated Chaos

A group of honest English coppers, called the Stevens Inquiry—put into Northern Ireland by the impartial British Government to sort out the allegations that killing squads of Loyalist paramilitaries have been authorised and given information by segments of the official security apparatus of the state—have been thwarted in their efforts to uncover the truth by that security apparatus. And they have come to the conclusion that there was extensive collusion between the forces of law and order and the Loyalist assassination squads.

They just cannot understand how such a thing could happen—how their Northern Ireland counter-parts could conspire with “psychopaths” to commit murder, specifically selecting “psychopaths” to conspire with. And, even though the report of their investigations has not yet been published, they talk freely to a television camera about it all, and what they said to the television camera is broadcast on prime time by the State broadcasting apparatus.

The Panorama programmes presented an impressionistic and bewildering picture of a state apparatus which has broken down into warring fragments, some committing murder and others trying to bring the murderers to justice.

There was nothing essentially new in the programmes. Everybody knew that solicitor Pat Finucane was killed by Loyalists primed by the security forces. But it made good television to see the killing described by the man who did it and to hear an honest copper relate how the killer had described to him how he did it.

But no explanation was given of how it could have come about that different segments of the security apparatus were at war with each other. With regard to Pat Finucane, no mention was made of the speech by a Whitehall Minister, Douglas Hogg (son of a famous Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham) which said in effect that there were solicitors in Northern Ireland who were doing their job too well and needed killing. And, of course, no mention was made of Margaret Thatcher.

The British State is a unitary state. The theory of Separation of Powers drawn from it by a Frenchman and applied in earnest in the construction of the United States, is a mere illusion. The segments of the state work together in marvellous harmony when they are required to. But, when the Government requires them to act separately, they have the flexible ability for doing so.

The ‘separation of powers’ game is greatly facilitated in Northern Ireland by the fact that the apparatus of state there was farmed out to the local Protestant community and that its chief task was to hold the Catholic community in subjection. The term “the Northern Ireland state” began to be used to describe that arrangement, and it was given general currency in the 1970s by “political scientists” acting under Government patronage. However, there was never a Northern Ireland state, only the six county region of the British state. The farming out of the security apparatus to the local Protestant community served a British purpose of state. Northern Ireland was never anything but a regional variant of the British state—and not a variant forced upon Westminster by a powerful regional demand, but a variant imposed upon the region by Westminster when there was no regional demand for it.

The preference expressed by the Ulster Unionists in 1920 was that the Six Counties should simply form an undifferentiated part of the British state. But Whitehall decided that there should be greater differentiation in state structures between Britain and that part of Ireland which made extravagant proclamations of its Britishness than there had ever been between Britain and Ireland as a whole under the Act of Union: 1800-1920.

Given the fact of Partition, the farming out of the coercive apparatus of state to the local Protestant community could not conceivably have had the purpose of facilitating good government. It could only have been undertaken on the understanding that it would lead to very bad government indeed, and therefore it must have been seen as serving some other purpose.

The superficial appearance of a “Northern Ireland state” lasted until 1969. That appearance was spun out for another three years, even though it was widely understood to be an illusion. And it was after the illusion was given up in 1972 that the deluge of Government-inspired academic writing about ‘the Northern Ireland state’ was unleashed. The idea of a Northern Ireland state became a vital requirement of the British state when the ceremonial semblance of a Northern Ireland state was done away with by a simple act of state in Whitehall.

James Callaghan, who was Home Secretary when the 1921 arrangement blew apart in August 1969, saw that the most likely way of getting the region to settle down again was to include it within the sphere of the political activity of the British state . He broached this matter within the Executive of the Labour Party, but was persuaded to back away from it. A great many other MPs, both Labour and Tory, were made to see the same thing during the next 20 years, and were made to back away from it. Although it was publicly conceded that the ‘democracy’ of 1921-72 had been entirely spurious, and that the political parties that developed within it were strictly communal blocs and could be nothing else, and it was conceded in private discussion that only through participation in the political parties of the state could there be any realistic prospect of getting the region to settle down to a democratic routine within the British state, it remained the absolute determination of Whitehall (and of Westminster as Whitehall’s rubber stamp) to keep Northern Ireland at arm’s length within the state—which is the meaning of “the Northern Ireland state”.

There has been talk of “the political vacuum” in Northern Ireland. But there is also a policy vacuum. The British state has no policy for a region of itself which it keeps at arm’s length, which is not a participant in its political life, and which has been in fundamental turmoil for thirty-three years. It copes from day to day, living from hand to mouth, preserving as much as possible of the pre-1972 status quo.

In 1921 it farmed out the security apparatus in the region to the Ulster Volunteer Force rebellion of 1912-14, and that apparatus remains in being as an instrument of Whitehall government, under a supervisory layer which cannot interfere too much with it, lest it be driven into another open rebellion.

In the mid-1970s Whitehall had the bright idea of subverting the Provisional Republican rebellion by bringing the Republicans into electoral (‘democratic’) politics—a tactic which has been all too successful. It must be twenty years since Gerry Adams figured out, in a public interview, that the momentum generated by the war could be transferred to the electoral sphere without loss of orientation. It put one in mind—if one’s mind was that way inclined—of Lord John Russell’s reckoning in 1830 that the Parliamentary franchise could be extended to the apparently radical middle class without loss of the Imperial orientation given to the state by the Glorious Revolution aristocracy.

There can be little doubt that the first British reckoning was that, if the IRA could be induced to call a Ceasefire in a situation in which Sinn Fein was doing well electorally, the inducements which helped to bring about the Ceasefire need not be complied with because the Republicans would be unable to re-start the war. Canary Wharf showed that reckoning to be false (though the Ceasefire in Northern Ireland itself remained intact). When the second Ceasefire was negotiated, Whitehall understood that it was necessary that changes favourable to the Catholic community should occur in the political sphere.

Nobody who experienced actual life in the Catholic community in the 1970s and 1980s could believe the propaganda position of Whitehall and Leinster House, and of right-saying people in the Six Counties, that the IRA was a small, unrepresentative minority. If it had been, the Adams/McGuinness plan to transfer the political momentum from military activity to electoral activity would have been completely unrealistic. The plan was realistic because the situation was that for a quarter of a century the IRA acted for the Catholic community and was shielded by it.

That situation changed with the coming of the Ceasefire and the Peace Process. The ending of the war meant that the community began to act for itself. We expected communal attrition to intensify in every sphere of life, because that is all that ‘democratic’ political activity could be within this bizarrely structured region of the British state. And that is what has been happening.

There can be no such thing as a generally acceptable reform. Every reform made in the interest of the Catholic community is gall and wormwood to the Protestant community. And, since the starting position was that of Protestant Ascendancy, reform had to be in the interest of the Catholic community.

But one thing remained to the Protestant community: the coercive apparatus of state which was given over to it in 1921. And, since Britain was determined to keep its ‘province’ at arm’s length, and to adopt no policy with regard to it which could conceivably lead to social normality for Catholics, the coercive apparatus inevitably remained Protestant.

Thus we have a situation in “the Northern Ireland state” where, on the one side, the organs of brute force give some assurance that the “province” will remain British, while on the other side developments indicative of a United Ireland development are facilitated—and Britain postures as an impartial arbiter. And these are the circumstances in which the condition presented in Panaroma has come about—with different segments of the state at war with each other. But why has the British state gone so far in making reforms in the interest of the Nationalist community, which are tending to lead the Protestant community back to its 1912 position? Pressure from Dublin?

But why has Dublin, whose politicians have in recent times often expressed the wish to have done with the North, been exerting a far greater degree of effective pressure on Britain with regard to the North than was ever the case during the half century when all parties in the Dail were actively anti-Partitionist?

The prime concern of British foreign policy over the past generation has been Europe. Europe finally accepted Britain’s membership application when Ted Heath’s Government persuaded it that Britain had discarded the “insular and maritime” attitude attributed to it by De Gaulle and had become European in orientation. Heath was apparently genuine, but then Thatcher came along, reasserting the Churchillian perspective. Ever since then, Britain’s object within Europe has been to change the Union into something fundamentally different from what its founders made it for. And it worked hard and successfully to gain Ireland as an ally in this project. Modernised Ireland has lost the European dimension which had been ingrained on it from the historical experience of centuries. Of recent Taoiseachs, only Charles Haughey has been European in outlook. Britain saw modernised, de-Europeanised Ireland as a potential ally within Europe, and, for the purpose of realising this potential, it became receptive to slight pressures where in the past it had been immune to much stronger pressures. (Heath, who was playing it straight in Europe, took absolutely no account of anger and sensitivity in Dublin.)The implicit logic of the Good Friday Agreement is transition towards a United Ireland. It has been our view for thirty years that the turmoil set in motion in 1969 would only settle down within the political life of the British or the Irish state. The categorical rejection by Whitehall and the Ulster Unionist Party—and by the Loyalists—of a settlement within the democracy of the British state led by the logic of facts towards a settlement within the Irish state. What Britain has got from this thus far is the Irish Republic as an ally in Europe, with the realistic prospect of extensive re-Anglicisation of Ireland as the thing works itself out—if it does work itself out.

But the Unionists can see this tendency of development as well as anybody else. They see the “demographic” tendency towards a Catholic majority being reinforced by structural changes which establish Catholics in positions of power unimaginable only a generation ago. And they respond to this turn of events in ways that ensure that Catholics continue to be a cohesive communal bloc.

What is driving the Loyalist resurgence—including the filling out of the ranks of the UDA to bursting point—is not the ‘de-commissioning’ issue over IRA weapons, but the approaching prospect of a substantive development of Irish unity by ‘constitutional’ means. The UVF was formed in 1912 to oppose an Act of Parliament establishing devolved government in Ireland within the UK. Preparations are now being made to deal with a recurrence of the 1912 situation within Northern Ireland itself, with relation to an all-Ireland structure outside the UK.

Pressure from Dublin is driving this development. Dublin must seek to maximise the all-Ireland dimension of things, which causes Unionists to revert to the 1912 attitude. But the Taoiseach, pretending that IRA decommissioning is the only problem, chooses this moment to demand that the IRA must be completely disbanded within less than a year.

International Criminal Court

The American veto on the UN operation in Bosnia in retaliation for the refusal to grant the United States exemption from the remit of the International Criminal Court comes too late for extensive comment in this issue. We can only say that it injects a healthy note of realism into world affairs.

The British argue that the American concern about the ICC is irrational because the ICC is structured in a way that makes it impossible that American personnel should ever be indicted by it. That amounts to an argument that the ICC is not what it appears to be—that it is a spurious propaganda operation by a handful of states, which consider themselves civilised, to enable them to act against others in the name of law.

If the population of a large undefended city is wiped out for no other reason than to put pressure on its Government, that is a war-crime and an act of genocide, is it not? The laws of war make it clear that civilians must not be targetted. Of course we must all be ‘realistic’ and understand that civilians will suffer incidental casualties when military targets are attacked. But when the population of a city, far from the front line, which is of no military significance, is wiped out, and the threat is made that other civilian centres will be wiped out until the Government surrenders, that has nothing to do with collateral damage.

Well, that is how the great war for democracy was won in 1945. The deliberate decision was taken to save the lives of American soldiers by the mass killing of Japanese civilians. And, up to the present, it is only the democracies which have used weapons of mass destruction—of indiscriminate slaughter—in warfare.

There is no time limit on justice for war crimes and genocide. So why could the surviving personnel of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not be prosecuted? Or the fire-bombers of Dresden. Or the French who bombed cities in Algeria and Syria in 1945? Etc. etc.

The enthusiasts for the ICC want to operate a rigged system of apparent law from which they themselves will in practice be immune. They want to operate by Jesuitry. The United States, brought to the forefront of world affairs by Britain’s two bungled World Wars in the 20th century, has little capacity for Jesuitry.

If America persists with its veto on UN operations, the Irish Government will be compelled to do some realistic thinking about its place in the world. At present it is living in dreamland.


Northern Ireland: Calculated Chaos.

The Jewish State, A Historical Perspective.

Brendan Clifford

Fifth Column
A Crock of . . . ; Pre-empting History; Hungarica Urbania?

International Criminal Court.


An Cor Tuathail: Sorrowful My Exile.
Compiled: Pat Muldowney

From Our Archives -- 2. Sinai 1914-1918.


D'Unbelievables Of The ICTU.
Jack Lane

A Revisionist And Some History.
Pat Walsh

More On The Literary Censorship.

edited by Pat Maloney:
Milk And Money,
New Zealand, A Model Country,

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