Second Editorial from Irish Political Review, October 2002

Stormont Capers

The Irish News has condemned the IRA for failing to engage in terrorist activity in recent years. And, since the Irish News is published on the ultra-’Constitutional’ wing of Nationalism, that must mean that the IRA has really been asleep on the job.

The way it puts it, in its Editorial on 7th October, is this:—

“Suggestions that it [the IRA] has a defensive role to play in the face of loyalist aggression would be treated with derision by beleaguered nationalists in vulnerable areas in Coleraine, Larne, Carrickfergus and elsewhere”.

Since it has not been defending Nationalists in these vulnerable areas—that is to say, engaging in terrorist activity—the Irish News says it should be stood down “once and for all” because it is useless. That is a line of ‘constitutional’ criticism which will be welcomed by anti-Agreement Republicans.

What does the Irish News propose should be done in a situation in which “nationalists have to deal on a practically daily basis with the reality of loyalist violence”—a situation which “is largely ignored” by the party of the First Minister? It propose that the IRA should be stood down, that Sinn Fein should take its place on the ineffectual Policing Board—if it “will still be offered this option”—and that its readers should then commit themselves to pie in the sky.

And that they should develop a sense of irony:—

“Many will find it ironic that yet another brutal murder carried out by loyalists over the weekend… was largely ignored by the same senior unionist politicians who devote most of their careers to speculating what republicans might or might not be capable of attempting at some point in the future. …the lengthy resolution agreed unanimously at the last Ulster Unionist Council meeting… made five separate specific references to the IRA but could not manage to give even a single mention to the loyalist rampage…”

So the solution is pie in the sky, insured against disillusionment by a sense of “irony” as the pie continues to stay out of reach in the sky.

But there is a better word for this than “irony”. It is ‘stoicism’—an assiduously cultivated indifference to the affairs of this world, without even the expectation of reward in another world—for it has become impossible to believe in the existence of that other world without coming under suspicion of fundamentalist extremism—unless you happen to be a born again Christian in the American Republican Party or the Ulster Unionist Party—or a Zionist Jew, in which case Radio Eireann will discuss current Middle Eastern affairs with you in terms of a contract that God signed with Moses four thousand years ago.


The Sinn Fein offices at Stormont were raided by the new Chief Constable of the new police ‘service’, with the acknowledged approval of the Secretary of State, for the purpose of providing a media-event supportive of the Donaldson/Trimble motion adopted by the Unionist Council the previous week. When Sinn Fein immediately invited the cameras into their offices to film the police finding whatever it was that they found—and perhaps even putting it there to be found—the police left in a hurry.

Then, following raids in private houses, the police charged a Sinn Fein official with being in possession of political information. Even the Irish Times admits that it was political information. The police spin that it was information likely to be of use to terrorists is an interpretation that could be put on all information. Is anybody in Northern Ireland so ignorant that he knows nothing that might be of use to terrorists?

Sinn Fein wanted to know what the London Government was discussing, what the Dublin Government was discussing, and what the two wee discussing with each other. Would it be fit to govern if it didn’t want to know these things? Or if it was unable to find ways of finding out? It is after all a governing party, and governing parties that did not try to find out what Governments they had dealings with were up to would be guilty of negligence. Indeed, the leaking of such information is so prevalent in Britain and the Republic that it might be regarded as an essential part of the democratic process.

We can be sure that the British Government is overseeing the communications of Sinn Fein and other parties in Northern Ireland as far as it can. It has even admitted to planting listening devices in cars. As a governing party, Sinn Fein is just as entitled to take steps to inform itself of the true positions of other parties with which it has to deal, with perfidious Albion at the top of the list. If it is legal for the British Government to conduct surveillance of members of the Northern Ireland administration, then surely it is legal for members of the Northern Ireland administration to examine the confidential papers of Government Ministers? The charging of Sinn Fein in Stormont for doing something which the British Government does as a matter of routine sheds a whole new light on the meaning of subordinate government.

And leakage of a different kind of information has been common in Northern Ireland for thirty years—not only from Government to the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party, but from the police and army to the Loyalist paramilitaries.

What is afoot is an attempt to stage-manage the withdrawal of the UUP from the devolved Government in such a way that somebody else will be blamed for it. But the stage-managing is low on credibility. We gather that the political espionage with which Denis Donaldson (52) is charged ended in September of last year, that it has been known to the Secretary of State for a whole year, and that nothing happened with regard to it this September which caused charges to be brought just now. The timing of the police action had to do with internal Unionist affairs—to help the UUP hold onto its slender electoral lead over the DUP.

Professor Bew (who is now Trimble’s senior adviser) thinks the only way to save the UUP is to put off the elections of May 2003. It puts us in mind of the famous statement of an American General that the only way to save a Vietnamese village was to destroy it. Northern Ireland democracy, which we keep hearing about, can only be saved by being protected from the electorate.

John Lloyd, former editor of The New Statesman, who campaigned for David Burnside, has recently been agonising over his own political past and has been outing former members of the Communist Party in Blair’s Government. The one he has not outed is the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, even though John Reid was much more deeply engaged in the affairs of the Communist Party than the people named by Lloyd—flighty middle class studenty types like himself. The others were just on the make then as they are now, but there is a genuinely alien dimension to Reid, as of course there is to Blair. He might still be a member of a Politburo. Cancel that: he is still a member of a Politburo! But look at what happened to the world of the Politburos. The apparatchiks destroyed their world because their only talent was for manipulation, and situations emerge which even the best manipulative skills cannot cope with.

John Reid gave an interview to the Sunday Independent last year in which he revealed that his world view is cosmic. He sees things in terms of geological time, in which the affairs of Northern Ireland shrink to virtual invisibility. And it shows.

PS: BBC Radio 4 (Today 8.10.02) interviewed a Clinton adviser, Blake Morrison, about the “spying” crisis, which is “ten times as serious as Watergate” (Trimble). Morrisson suggested that the right words should be used, that every political party in the world tries to find out what the opposition is thinking, and that leaks were nothing to get excited about. The interviewer, James Naughtie, then interviewed Ian Paisley junior about the “theft” of political documents, but immediately after saying “theft”, he added “or leak”. Two weeks previously he had tried to hassle Scott Ritter in an interview and stop him from completing a sentence. The second he did it, Ritter said: “Back off, buddy!” And he backed off. As somebody says in Alice In Wonderland: “Who is to be the master? That is the question.”


It is evident that physical force is being phased out as far as possible on the Republican side. The Irish News speaks of “frenzied assaults”. It is possible that it is so out of touch, so lost in “Constitutional” fantasising, that it does not know that on the whole the IRA only acts in response to insistent demands from the community. One of these ‘frenzied assaults’ had to do with the curbing of paedophile activity. It is understandable that factual detail should not be published, but neither should travesties. Unless the Irish News holds that areas without police should also be without any kind of order, it should take practical account in its reporting of how order has to be maintained in the absence of police—an absence which is likely to be prolonged by the first major escapade of the new police service.

Physical punishments have been declining steadily in the Catholic community in recent years. This indicates an increase rather than a decline in Republican status in the community.

The response to this on the Protestant side is increasing disorder, both in the form of shooting Catholics and of internal feuding. A Loyalist Commission has been set up to oversee this activity. all Unionist tendencies are represented on the Commission and are therefore implicated in the activity. If the SDLP joined in a Committee with Sinn Fein, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA it would be held accountable by Unionists and the Northern Ireland Office for all that was done by its associates. But the SDLP and the Dublin Government make nothing of the Loyalist Commission, or of other Pan-Unionist connections. They imagine they are handling the Unionists diplomatically, when they turn a blind eye to these Unionist activities, while Unionists heap denunciations on them.

Martin Mansergh (the weakest link in the Dublin establishment, and the most influential one) appeared on RTE’s Questions And Answers in late September, along with Jeffrey Donaldson. Donaldson asked why Dublin wanted Sinn Fein to be in government in the North, while declaring it to be constitutionally impossible for it to be in government in the Republic. And he kept on asking this until Mansergh was obliged to answer. His reply was that the Dublin Government was sovereign and the Stormont Government was not, and that the kind of communal division that existed in the North did not exist in the South. But he resented having to give any explanation, and he followed it by throwing a tantrum describing exactly what the Unionists had been up to .. The tantrum was a useless piece of self-indulgence, but what was said in it was something that in sober form should be part of the routine of Dublin policy on the North, being said night and day, every day.


Stormont Capers.

Europe Yes. Nice NO!

Ireland And Hungary (Review).
Sean McGouran

Zimbabwe And Land (Review).
F. O Raghallaigh

Two Economic Signposts (Review).
John Martin

Fianna Fail And The Flood Report.

An Cor Tuathail: I Gave Love To A Foreign Maiden.
Compiled by Pat Muldowney

Northern News Digest (Sept 1-21st)

Roger Casement: A New Controversy.
Brendan Clifford

Trimble Saved Again: The Legal Appeal Over Constitutional Manipulation
David Morrison

LABOUR COMMENT edited by Pat Maloney:
Australia And The Nice Referendum

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