Editorial from Irish Political Review, March 2005
The SDLP Election Campaign
February was a month in which nothing much happened. The only money from the Northern Bank robbery that has been recovered was found at a police social club in Belfast and was taken as proof positive that the police did not steal it. The police forces of two states, giving the matter top priority, have not succeeded in making any connection between the IRA and the robbery, and that is taken as proof positive that the IRA did it. The entire absence of evidence is the strongest evidence, because if the IRA had not done it, it would have had no reason to remove all traces of itself from the scene of the action.
Jeffrey Donaldson appeared on RTE's Prime Time to say that it makes absolutely no political sense for the Provos to have done the robbery, and that he just cannot understand it, but that there is no reason to doubt that they did. And, they did it just at the moment when the DUP was "on the cusp" of making a settlement with them. And his heart bleeds that he has therefore been deprived of the opportunity of sitting in government with Fenian terrorists—well, he didn't say it quite like that, but that was the spirit of it.
David Trimble, on BBC's Question Time from Belfast, said that he had only to look into his heart to know that the Provos did it. This must be an art he learned from De Valera. Only that Dev, taking himself to be a sample of the Irish people, applied the art to the broad political sphere where it was applicable, and he made good his insight by ousting the Treatyites once the British threat of immediate and terrible war receded and the people returned to themselves. He never applied it to criminology.
The Taoiseach says that he knows that Adams and McGuinness were planning the bank robbery when they pretended to be negotiating a settlement with him. And yet he neglects to arrest them and charge them with the crime. It was said in defence of his negligence that he has no power of of arrest, but surely he is allowed to give evidence to the Gardai! Sinn Feiners interviewed on RTE are invariably harassed on the question of urging people to give information to the police about the robbery. When they agree that people with information should give it to the police, the question is put to them again and they are asked to express their agreement in some other form of words. But compliance with that request only leads to a demand for a third form of words, ad infinitum. And, all the time, there is the Taoiseach with certain knowledge that Adams and McGuinness did it, and he neglects to give his information to the police. Of course, if he did so, he would only be returning to the Gardai the information that they gave him. So who is withholding information then?
The Taoiseach knows that Adams and McGuinness did it but, in reply to a question in the Dail, he said he did not know if they were members of the Army Council of the IRA. This raises the possibility that Adams and McGuinness did it as a private job, does it not? In which case, the robbery was a crime of the most vulgar kind, and it is a matter of urgency that Adams and McGuinness should be arrested for it, so that the IRA can get on with the peace process!
On the other hand, the Taoiseach's Justice Minister says he knows that Adams and McGuinness are members of the Army Council. But he neglects to transmit his knowledge to the Taoiseach, and the Taoiseach doesn't bother to ask for it.
We have said all along that Bertie is an over-achiever. He has been over-promoted. He is the Adjutant whom an unfortunate turn of events made a General. And he is all bonhomie and petulance just now.
The Dublin establishment was greatly irritated when Adams, in response to the Taoiseach's statement that he had planned the robbery, demanded that he be arrested and charged.
On 18th February (the day of the money), Gay Mitchell, Fine Gael TD, said, indignantly, on Sky News: "Last week Gerry Adams stood outside that gate and he said 'Arrest me'. And they'd been denying, you know, that they've any involvement with this."
Did Mitchell somehow miss the point and think that Adams, by offering himself for arrest, was confessing that he had done something to be arrested for? Quite possibly. The faculty of reason has been set aside entirely in Dail Eireann at this juncture. The improvements made by de Valera have been sloughed off. The Free State is back in business. For the time being the Republican Dail is best understood as the subordinate Parliament of Southern Ireland, provided for by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and the Treaty. And: Theirs not to reason why.
On the day when Adams demanded that the Taoiseach have him arrested he was interviewed on Radio Eireann by Rachel English. She put it to him that Brian Lenihan had said that the Taoiseach had no power of arrest. He replied that he knew that:
"Rachel English: Why then did you urge that he do that?
Adams: I didn't urge that he do that. I said… that he should bring his information to the Guards… Because clearly he is saying that we're involved in criminality. Now, how do you deal with criminals?
English: Now, if on another occasion, the Taoiseach was seen to interfere with the Gardai, you'd probably be giving out about it.
Adams: I'm not asking him to interfere."
So there it is. The affable Bertie says he knows that Adams planned the Northern Bank robbery. Adams says he should do what Northern Catholics are continually berated for not doing: tell the police. But Radio Eireann says that giving the police information about a crime would be interfering with the police. It would be interesting to know who briefed Rachel English to that effect.
Adams then said that Bertie had accused him of committing a major crime and he demanded his day in Court to defend himself. Whereupon the interview went prissy:
"Rachel English: Well I would sue. I would sue if it was said about me. Why can't you sue?
Adams: My legal advice at this point is that we cannot sue.
English: Why not?
Adams: Because to be libelled you have to be able to prove that your peer group would disapprove of you if you were alleged to be involved in such and such activity. And my legal advice is that, in the peer group from which I generally come, it could be proved by others that they would not necessarily disapprove of these allegations."
Which took Rachel out of her depth.
If Rachel had done something substantial enough to cause the Taoiseach to slander her and foster a paranoid witch-hunt against her, she would not be eager to sue him for defamation, with people like herself making a living by carrying out a policy of prejudicing public opinion against her.
Libel law has little to do with establishing the truth. The outcome of a libel action in the most favourable circumstances is as predictable as the toss of a coin. In the atmosphere of xenophobia deliberately worked up by the Taoiseach and his Justice Minister (xenophobia within the nation!), it would be madness for a Republican to risk anything on a civil action where no standard of proof at all is required and everything depends on bias. (Beverley Cooper-Flynn learned that the hard way. She had worked as a bank clerk on PAYE, but a perverse verdict was brought against her, influenced by a fashion of the moment, which had nothing to do with the North, and was ruined while those who were managing the Bank whose schemes she was promoting carried on virtually Scot free.)
And so the Taoiseach says he has information that Adams planned the robbery, but he does not institute criminal proceedings, where some degree of proof would be required. Instead he gets the media to ask Adams why he doesn't take a civil action, where bias would rule supreme.
The legal advice given to Adams is indisputable. Libel law is not about truth but about whether there has been defamation, and whether it was warranted. It might be shown that the Taoiseach told lies about Adams—and there can be little reasonable doubt that he did so in a fit of petulance—but that need not mean that he had defamed him, taken away his good name: either because it was judged that he had no good name to lose, or that he enhanced his reputation in his community rather than detracted from it. A Dublin jury might find against Adams on ether ground—or on both: coherence is not a requirement of libel law, which is the most slippery branch of law.
Adams reputation in West Belfast would not be damaged be Bertie's lies. That is a fact that has been seeping into the media mind of the Republic, feeding the xenophobia which has been evident there for many years.
No politician, or academic, or journalist, has taken the trouble to understand the conditions of life of the Catholic community in 'the Northern Ireland state'. Hence the reflex of uncomprehending horror which is their only possible response to certain obvious facts.
The Northern Catholics have lived outside the structures of democratic politics for more than 80 years, and for most of that period they lived under a system of order enforced on them by the Protestant community communally structured as a police force. What they are is a product of the perverse system in which they were required to live.
To be taken for an IRA man would be a mark of distinction rather than disgrace. And not the kind of distinction in which Mafia types are held in certain parts of England (the East End of London, for example), but the distinction that accrues to somebody who acts on his principles. There were hardly any IRA men in the North in 1969, and there had not been a great many during the two preceding generations. Most Catholics were reasonably obedient citizens, even though they were not citizens at all. And their obedience was not so much an act of reasonable compliance with de jure authority as an act of subordination to de facto power. The law was complied with, and authority was not rebelled against, even though neither was recognised as valid. Under those circumstances the man who was thought to be in the IRA could not but be held in esteem as a man of principle who had the daring to act against a powerful authority which nobody recognised as valid.
The pogrom of August 1969 shocked a great many people into becoming IRA men and women who would otherwise have drifted along in the old routine of resentful subordination to established power. And they had to construct a new IRA to be part of, because the established IRA of the late sixties (the Stickies) had gone lunatic.
Thus, while it might be the case that McDowell told a lie about Gerry Adams when he said he was a member of the Army Council of the Provo IRA, he did not defame him. And it was so obviously the case that Adams' reputation would not be damaged by his being a member of the IRA that his denial of membership must have been based on other grounds, e.g., that he was not a member. (Adams had been politically active in the Republicanism that became Stickie, and there is nothing improbable in his statement that he specialised from the start in the political side of the new Republicanism forged during the Winter of 1969-70.)
That new Republicanism was a movement of the Catholic community in response to the wild actions of the state, rather than a conspiracy concealed by the community. It was so even while the SDLP monopolised the political representation in the 1970s and 1980s (the war decades), and it is certainly not less so today. It might be that there are still politicians and journalists in the South who do not understand this. If so, it is an achievement of wilful ignorance requiring as much application as the acquisition of knowledge has ever done.
The Northern Catholic community was never a political component of the state. The state arranged things in such a way that it was impossible for them to be so. At their most obedient they were never loyal. The preconditions of loyalty did not exist for them. They were only quiescent. When they demonstrated in support of a couple of very minor reform demands in 1968-9, and the state apparatus went on the rampage against them, they could no longer be quiescent. By resisting the rampage of the state they placed themselves in insurrection. Half a century of exclusion from the political democracy of the state had made them self-reliant in many ways, and when they found themselves in insurrection they added a military dimension to that self-reliance.
Our vantage point on this development was that we opposed it from the very start, and advocated a radically different course of action, while living in West Belfast. And the reality of the development was so clear that it is not conceivable to us that the Justice Minister of the Republic might think he is telling the truth when he describes Provisional Republicanism as a criminal conspiracy which imposed itself on the Catholic community by means of terror. If it was that, there would be little difficulty in imposing the cosmetically-enhanced RUC on it.
The policing problem has little or nothing to do with crime. It is a problem of combining an apparatus of state, which the Catholic community was driven to form for itself in 1969, with the other apparatus of state. This might have been accomplished already if the Patten proposals made under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement had not been vetoed by the Unionist Party.
The Justice Ministers misrepresentation of the situation is probably programmatic. He may be hoping to bring about the situation he describes as existing, and by the hysterical manipulation of emotive events to cause the Catholic community to acquire a false memory of itself—a thing which has happened extensively in the South in recent times—and to begin seeing Provisional Republicanism as a conspiracy of criminals which imposed itself by terror. We do not say he will fail. Such things have been done under the sun. Look at the Soviet accomplishments in Eastern Europe after 1945. We only say that his description of the present situation is entirely false.
The incident on which everything is being hinged as we write is the MacCartney killing. The Short Strand is a small Catholic enclave in East Belfast, across the river from The Markets, which is another Catholic area adjacent to the Law Courts and the business area. It appears that a group from the Short Strand went across the river for a drinking session in a more fashionable pub in the The Markets. An argument occurred which developed into a brawl. Knives were brought out. There were stabbings. A number of people were wounded, including an IRA man, and one man was killed. Some cleaning up was done, including the removal of a tape from a CCTV camera. Whether this was something more than a reflex action engendered by what is probably the most self-reliant community in the North we cannot say. There are two ways of regarding such things. One is that, the damage being done, nothing will be gained by making things worse and that a measure of informal rough justice is best. The other is that eternal justice, through all the formalities of law, must be satisfied. But the law very often does not deliver justice. We know very well that it is not only in the lawless North that the first attitude is widespread.
Alistair MacDonnell, an SDLP Parliamentary candidate in the nearby South Belfast constituency, saw that political mileage could be got for his campaign from the incident. The sisters of the dead man wanted formal justice. The Justice Minister took it up. It was represented as an IRA killing in breach of ceasefire. The Chief Constable, not wanting his credibility shredded further in West Belfast, gave it as his opinion that it was not an IRA killing, and was entirely ignored by those who placed implicit confidence in his word in the matter of the bank robbery. The IRA took the matter in hand, since a couple of its members were involved, though in a personal capacity, and there were three expulsions. The SDLP said the incident had been witnessed by over seventy people, who were deterred by IRA terror from coming forward to the police about it. The IRA issued a statement saying that people who had confidence in the RUC/PSNI should support the family in having the matter dealt with by them. And a man surrendered himself to the police on the issue, and was not held in custody. And the SDLP described all of this as a cynical exercise.
Kevin Connolly, reporting on BBC Radio 4 the IRA advice about doing what the family wanted with relation to the police, was asked if this signified a general shift in relations between the police and the Catholic community. He said he did not think it did, because the Catholic community could not, in an instant, "abandon hundreds of years of history" (26th Feb.). This "hundreds of years" must be taken as deliberate imprecision, conforming to the English stereotype of the Irish. He might have given an exact figure: 85 years. Alienation between the Catholic community and the police began with the War of Independence (the war against the Irish democracy) and the establishment of "the Northern Ireland state". And relations of antagonism begin with the pogrom of 1969. Before 1969 the RUC went where they pleased, and conducted a very close, even informal, supervision over the lives of Catholics. And before 1920 the police force consisted chiefly of Catholics. But England doesn't want to hear such things, and those who are paid to inform it do not tell it.
Questions & Answers (RTE) had an impressive line-up against Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy in late February. It was six to one (John Bowman ceases to be Chairman on these occasions). Well, maybe five to one, because one of the sheep was a wolf in sheep's clothing which he soon shrugged off. Apart from him, there was John O'Donoghue (FF Sports Minister), Brendan Howlin (a would-be Labour leader), Brian Feeney (Northern journalist and academic), Catherine Ghent of the SDLP, and Bowman: five upright citizens denouncing a scoundrel who was in denial. It put one in mind of the chorus of denouncers in Mozart's Don Giovanni, with Brendan Howlin as the extraordinarily upright Don Ottavio—who became Ricky Ticky Tavy in Bernard Shaw's adaptation in Man & Superman. Mozart reserved the good music for the scoundrel, and so must we. Murphy was denounced ritualistically, and could scarcely open his mouth without being interrupted and heckled, and under fire he demonstrated why Sinn Fein has become the force it is in the North.
Bowman could not find an entirely appropriate opportunity for directing a prepared quip at him, but he used it anyway: "You're like a Madam in a brothel saying you're surprised that the girls are committing sins against chastity". In fact there was nothing whatever of pious humbug about Murphy.
Rickey Ticky Tavy said: "I believe the Taoiseach, the Garda Commissioner and the Intelligence services of this Republic. Have you no regard for any of those?"
It was just about then that a Liberal Democrat at Westminster said he would feel better about taking the Government line on the bank robbery if the evidence was made known. He said it would satisfy him if the evidence was made known on Privy Council terms to his party leader and convinced him. He was immediately denounced as an apologist for terrorism by Dr. Paisley. But Paisley is an odd fish in these times: a believing Christian—"Blessed are they who have not seen but have believed".
The pretence is now being made in Dublin that the DUP was on the brink (or the "cusp") of a deal when the IRA engaged in wrecking it by robbing a bank. The interlude between Paisley collapsing the negotiations (with a demand which he said was designed to humiliate his negotiating partners) and the Bank robbery was so brief that the false memory (which is now second nature to top people in the Republic) can conjure it away, and can attribute the breakdown in negotiations to the robbery. But during that interval everybody knew that the deal was off. And the realistic understanding is that Paisley found a way of ending it so he would not be in a position of alliance with Sinn Fein when he faced Trimble at the forthcoming election.
For thirty years this was the only publication that was not hysterical on the subject of Dr. Paisley. And we now seem to be the only publication that has not veered from the one absurd extreme to the other.
The mindlessness of the Dublin establishment has now come up with the reflection that it was lucky for Paisley that the negotiations broke down in early December, otherwise he'd have had egg on his face when the Bank robbery was done. But, if one supposes that the Provos did the robbery, the reasonable supposition which follows is that they did the robbery because the negotiations were sabotaged by the DUP and they were being blamed for it. Brian Feeney (who underwent a volte face after the robbery) at least retains sufficient power of reason to deduce his suppositions that way.
The wolf in sheep's clothing was Eugene McGee, a writer on Gaelic sports for the Irish Independent. He was obviously sceptical of Minister O'Donoghue's extravagant notion that, under the Separation of Powers, the Taoiseach could not cause Adams to be arrested for the bank robbery by giving information to the Gardai. And he went on to say:
"Sinn Fein politicians that I know, mainly at the local level, are as good or as bad as any other politicians. Some of them are excellent people. Nobody has any qualms about them. But as long as they're going to be attached to this sort of thing, whether by innuendo or whatever from Michael McDowell or any other politician, then they don't have a future, because the people will not stay with them at all. And that is a great pity. After all we got Sinn Fein the Workers' Party to come in and they were absorbed into the system. It's only a few months ago since Dermot Ahern was hinting that Sinn Fein could be part of a Coalition with Fianna Fail"
(Sinn Fein the Workers' Party, or The Stickies, or the Official Republicans, fought a short war in the early 1970s, but later used its media influence to remove it from the public memory. It split about fifteen years ago, one faction going into the Labour Party and taking it over. No requirement was made about prior disbandment of the Official IRA, which still exists as far as we know. There are rumours that Old Labour, to which Howlin belongs, is trying to organise itself for a heave against the Stickie leadership.)
Howlin reflected on how extraordinary it was that Foreign Minister Ahern should have been contemplating a Coalition with Sinn Fein only a few weeks ago. "But if he had the knowledge that he is now expressing that Sinn Fein had a common leadership with the IRA——"
McGee brushed this aside: "The mistake that Sinn Fein made, one of them, was that they rebuffed Bertie Ahern at the last minute before Christmas. And there's a lot of people, including politicians in my own county, have learned you don't rebuff or cross Bertie Ahern because you'll pay the price for it."
Feeney then expressed a similar view: "The Irish Government in particular believed Sinn Fein was going to be stood down in December—that the IRA was going to be stood down—and to their horror they discovered that that was not going to be the case. And they simply turned on them and decided that all bets were off." Which appears to say that Bertie was outraged when the Provos failed to implement their side of a deal that was not made.
The earlier part of this comment, in which Bertie is described as petulant, was written before we heard M'Gee's comment about him. He is not generally regarded as vindictive and we are glad to see our impression that he is confirmed in this way.
If he expected the IRA to go ahead with disarmament after the deal of which it was part had been sabotaged, then he is a fool. And if foolish disappointment over this was at the source of his bizarre conduct during the following few weeks, then he is a knave as well. And, whatever turns out to be the case about the bank robbery, it is the case that he has done away with basic standards of objectivity in public life. He has reduced everything to emotion and belief tending towards hysteria.
This is not the first time we have seen an atmosphere verging on totalitarianism in public life in the South. FitzGerald did his best to generate it during the weeks following the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. But in 1985 Haughey did what it is the business of an Opposition to do in order to keep democracy in a healthy condition. There is no Opposition in the South today, and therefore there is no thought.
Mark Durkan appeared on Radio 4's Westminster Hour on 27th February and said he would form a Coalition with the Unionist Parties, with Sinn Fein excluded, as the Prime Minister asked him to do a couple of weeks ago, if he could be sure that Blair would not then subvert him by going behind his back to negotiate with Republicans.
The SDLP was founded in 1970 on a self-contradictory programme. Ever since 1971 it has always found a reason for not doing things which would have carried through the party's formal rejection of Republican methods into political action. It was given its first opportunity to strike out on its own course, in opposition to the Republicans, by Brian Faulkner in 1971. It welcomed Faulkner's proposal for a measure of power-sharing. Then, on reflection, it discovered that it lacked the will and the character to conduct its own policy in alliance with Unionists—and walked out of Stormont. And, so it has been, in one way or another, ever since.
The SDLP Election Campaign.
Baulking At The Bolkestein Directive.
"Bastards" And The Irish Times.
The Peace Process.
Reviews (Part Two).
Letters To Editor:
Ireland's Intelligentsia BITE The Air.
Ladislav Novomesky: Poetry And The 20th Century.
Subhas Chandra Bose.
A Free Mind In A Free State. (Review of a
pamphlet on the Catholic Bulletin)
The Gentle Black And Tan.
Power For Its Own Sake? (address
by Jack O'Connor, President of SIPTU)
America's Neo-Mod-Con Class (Book
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