Editorial from Irish Political Review, October 2009

News From Nowhere

The leader of the SDLP is to resign the leadership of the party after the next election.  He will contest his Westminster seat, relinquish his Stormont seat and attempt to make it a principle that the "dual mandate" of holding seats at both Stormont and Westminster should be ended.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, who expects to hold the balance of power at Westminster next year, says that, with the devolved system now established, the Northern Ireland Office of the Whitehall Government should be abolished.

The DUP, which dragged its heels on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement a couple of years ago while waiting for the flighty Tony Blair to be replaced by the sound Presbyterian Scot, Gordon Brown, was disillusioned by Brown and is now delaying the devolution of Justice and Policing powers while waiting for the Tories to take over from New Labour.

Brown had to pull out of a Commemoration meeting for Trade Union leader Jack Jones in order to go to Belfast and try to get the DUP to implement the agreement on the devolution of policing.  He did not succeed.

While the leader of the DUP refuses to implement the policing agreement for Unionist reasons, the DUP Finance Minister appeals to Dublin for Northern representation on the NAMA (National Assets Management Agency) Board, one aim of which is to prevent a collapse of property prices under the influence of the market by taking over major building projects and assets from the banks under a system of anticipated future prices.  Over the past decade there has been heavy investment by Southern business in property in the North, and a fundamentalist Unionist wants representation in the Southern rescue system.  And the Southern Finance Minister, a member of Fianna Fail:  The Republican Party, refuses.  (Report, IT 9.9.09.)

The Irish Labour Party, under Stickie leadership, has in recent times been doing its best to break off the slight engagement in the political life of the North which it undertook a few years ago.  Yet the Stickie leader of the Party suddenly engages with internal Northern affairs by needling Sinn Fein (Provo) in its Northern dimension over the lower minimum wage prevailing in the area "where you are in government" (23.9.09 IT:  The respective levels are €8.65 and €6.32).

Fianna Fail under Bertie Ahern opened up the prospect of extending its organisation to the North.  Then under Brian Cowen it closed down that prospect.  And now, apparently under grass roots pressure, the organisation of Fianna Fail branches in the North has proceeded.  A Fianna Fail meeting was held in South Down with FF Ministers Eamon O Cuiv and Dermot Ahern and a former Ceann Comhairle (Rory O'Hanlon) in attendance.  It was addressed by Harvey Bicker, a former Ulster Unionist politician, who received a standing ovation when he gave a speech addressing "true republicanism" and the spirit of 1798.  An Irish Times report noted:

"It is understood he encouraged Fianna Fáil to adopt a policy driven approach to Northern development and avoid being drawn into simple contest for nationalist votes with other parties" (7.9.09).

A local SDLP Councillor, Peter Fitzpatrick, also supported FF organisation.

Within the South, which in so many ways still cannot stop itself from following the British example, there is a crisis over the Speakership of the Dail over his high spending both as Speaker and in his previous capacity as Minister for Culture, and there is also carping about the lifestyle of the civil servants who played a considerable part in making the country prosperous in recent times.
Money attracts money.  The poor mouth attracts a fleeting mixture of pity and contempt.  The prosperity set in motion about twenty years ago by Haughey was floated on globalist finance.  Reynolds, following on from Haughey, thought that the puritan lifestyle of the Free State civil servants was inappropriate to the era of the Celtic Tiger and inhibited them from taking advantage of new opportunities.  They were encouraged to behave as members of a bustling and confident bourgeoisie, which would put their international business and political contacts at their ease and encourage business.

But now belts are being tightened, and there is a projection backward, to the era of prosperity, of the puritan disapproval of high spending that is appropriate to the present moment.

Maybe it would be better if that wave of prosperity had never happened.  Maybe it would be better if, twenty years ago, Haughey had not made the Office of Taoiseach into a kind of Politburo and launched the country into the prosperity of globalist finance.  Maybe it would be better if the Future, which the Professor of Politics at UCD tells us was prevented by cramped small-timers for seventy years, had continued to be Prevented.  But it was not Prevented.  Haughey brought the new business class into its own;  everyone benefitted (financially at least, and one is tempted to ask if contemporary Ireland knows much of benefits which are not financial);  and hardly anybody complained.

It is true that, at the peak of this globalist financial prosperity, we had a Taoiseach who did not seem to know what a bank account was, and kept his money in his pocket.  But we do not recall that he was much praised for his ignorance of tricky financial instruments.

The lavish lifestyles of the people who were running the system was a condition of the unprecedented prosperity achieved by the system for a generation.  And, whatever else one might say about John O'Donoghue, it cannot be said that he does not have style.

And style was undoubtedly an asset in the Minister of Culture of a State which made much money out of culture—and much of it out of a culture that was far from being its own.

And as to the Speakership—there is a critical absence in the structure of the Irish State.  The nominal head of state has little status in the State.  The function of the President is to be there and do nothing.  It was a suitable position for retired elder politicians.  Mary Robinson, who was doing something useful in society, took it on and tried to give it substance in the life of the state.  She was not allowed to do so.  She couldn't face a second term as a functional nonentity, but when she gave up the job she had been spoiled for anything else.

In the 1930s, after the Governor General was seen off, the Speaker performed the functions of head of state for a while.  It might have been better if that practice had continued.  And if O'Donoghue spent some money in an effort to make the Speaker a person who is noticed, and who helps to fill this vacuum in the structure of the state, good on him.

Back to the North:  The latest academic history we have seen is Talking To The Terrorists by John Bew.  It concludes that the Good Friday Agreement is in essence the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973-4.  And it quotes the SDLP jibe at the Unionists in 1998 that the GFA was Sunningdale for slow learners.

There is in fact an essential difference between the two.  Sunningdale was a system of Cabinet Government based on majority rule, though a weighted majority.  The GFA is a system of independent Government departments, not combined in a Cabinet, and not subject to a majority vote in the Assembly.  And it has worked, after its fashion, because of that essential and fundamental difference.  The various departments can function independently of each other between Stormont elections.  The first necessary point of crisis is the electing of a First and Deputy First Minister under the double-mandate system, where the votes of the elected representatives of the two communities are counted separately and the representatives of each community have to approve the nominee of the other community.

As to Sunningdale:  the SDLP (at the end of its tether) needs to be reminded that it was its refusal to negotiate a deferral of the establishment of the Council of Ireland in order to preserve Power Sharing that undermined the Sunningdale arrangements in the North.

As to the Lib-Dem proposal (to abolish the Northern Ireland Office), which sees devolution as being of a kind in the North, Scotland and Wales, it need only be pointed out that Scotland and Wales are part of the British system of politics while the North is not.  The parties which are in contention for a mandate to govern at Westminster are also in contention for a mandate to govern in Edinburgh and Cardiff, but not in Stormont.  And the devolved systems in Scotland and Wales make whatever arrangements they please, under Cabinet systems, subject to majority rule Parliaments.

The Northern system is not capable of autonomous functioning.  It is not only devolved, but supervised.  It is actually subject to Whitehall and notionally subject to Whitehall and Dublin.  If Prime Minister Brown was willing to write off the next election, and govern positively for six months, he could probably make the DUP give way on policing with the threat of giving teeth to the Dublin voice on the North.  But that is unlikely.  So things will hobble along.


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