Editorial from Irish Political Review, June 2006

Northern Ireland:
Grinding Along The Fault Lines

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been assembled for a six-month session during which it will have nothing to do but sit. In November it will be obliged to nominate members to the Executive under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. If the DUP refuses to nominate Executive members at that point, the salaries of all Assembly members will cease to be paid, and there will be enhanced co-operation between London and Dublin in operating the Six County administration.

The elected Assembly in the Six Counties has no say in any of this.

The word 'democracy' continues to be used by the London and Dublin authorities with regard to it. Paisley says it is a travesty of democracy. And of course it is. But all that has ever existed in Northern Ireland, and all that could exist, is a travesty of democracy. Actual democracy is possible only in the political life of one or other of the states. Paisley himself understood this in the early 1970s when the old Stormont regime was stood down by Whitehall. He adopted an 'integrationist' position. This meant that Northern Ireland itself should be stood down—that the Six Counties should cease to be a separate body politic and should be governed within the general politics of the state. He did not spell out the details, but that was the only effective meaning of integration. He held that position for a few months, and then abandoned it without explanation. We assumed that somebody in the Whitehall power structure had a word with him behind the scenes. That is something that happened again and again in our experience. The Unionist mentality was strong-willed and purposeful when it came to offering resistance to Whitehall schemes, but was incapable of following through a positive measure when a powerful mandarin told them it wasn't on.

Wee Frankie Millar, who is now a political correspondent of the Irish Times, appeared to understand, when he was Secretary of the Ulster Unionist Party, that Northern Ireland could never be a democracy. He led a Unionist delegation to Whitehall shortly after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, and put it to Mrs. Thatcher that democracy in Northern Ireland, as connected with Britain, was possible only as part of the British political system. He gave a television interview when he came out of 10 Downing Street, and said that she told him integration was "not on". He was furious. But he took her word for it.

In terms of political calibre that is the great difference between Unionism of any variety and Sinn Fein.

Unionism opted for a make-belief of democracy, in a politically-separated 6 Counties, on the British say so. If we achieved nothing else during the past 35 years, we succeeded in getting that much across. Unionism opted for a make-believe of democracy with its eyes open—even when it understood that its own ascendancy could not be restored within the make-believe.

The Irish Times has undergone a great change in recent weeks. The most spectacular sign of the change is that Kevin Myers no longer writes its "Irishman's Diary".

The function of the Diary, as written by Myers (an English Tory) was to outrage nationalist opinion. He systematically ridiculed everything that led to the separation of part of Ireland from the British state, with little or no concern about the truth of what he said. And he operated under the authority of the Directory which controls the paper, by-passing the Editor. The Directory gave him his head, and was willing to pay libel damages in order not to inhibit his flow. The reckoning must have been that, even if retractions had sometimes to be made, there would be a substantial net gain—a ratchet effect—of Britishisation of current assumptions in Irish political life.

But a time came when the ratchet would not move up another notch. The worm turned. The state decided to restore official commemoration of its foundation—and decided that it was not founded by the Treaty but by Pearse and Connolly's act of terrorism in 1916. And the Irish Times, in accordance with prudent maxim of reculer pour mieux sauter, decided to pull its horns in for the time being. And so Myers has gone off to join the eccentrics on the Irish Independent, where his notions will have a wider circulation but less effect.

We assume that the Independent has a large body of Fine Gael readers of strong nationalist outlook. If so, we must assume that its readers do not read it, or at least do not read its columnists. And, if that is so, it seems that the old description of the average Fine Gaeler as being rich and thick still holds. So Myers will have a wider readership but will be less read. Or, if read, will be objected to more strongly.

The Irish Times is the paper. And, while pulling in its horns, it sticks to its agenda. On 13th May its front-page headline read: Paisley Says Progress Hinges On SF Support For Police. A headline on an inside article read: There Is No Way Forward Without Resolving Police Issue. Both articles were written by Wee Frankie. The message of the headlines—which are the most most important parts of newspaper articles these days—was that devolved government would be up and running at Stormont if Sinn Fein joined the Policing Board. The second headline was technically accurate, but would be read under the influence of the first, which was false.

Paisley would not move without Sinn Fein toeing his line on policing—but neither would he move with it. And the PSNI had to be embraced by republicans:

"Joining the Police Board is not an act of supporting the police…

…there could be nobody in the government of Northern Ireland except they accept the forces of law and order. And by accepting them, they hand to the state all the information they have on lawlessness…" (13.5.06 IT)

The policing issue was just one of a series of demands which had to be met before he would move. The others were—

"The DUP contends "a democracy" cannot be built on what he says "is lacking" in the Belfast Agreement, and refers to his proposals to the British government for change.

"We have said, at the end of the day the IRA gives up all its arms, the IRA genuinely has no more truck with criminality, the IRA supports the police and called [sic] for its people to support the police… You do all that, but that is not sufficient.

"We must be able to build upon something that is a democracy…

"Paisley confirms this means provision for "collective responsibility" in any executive, "and especially the fact that you cannot forever be stuck, that you have to get agreement between two diverse agencies. There's bound to be a time when we have to go to a majority weighted vote. I am prepared to have a weighted majority. I'm prepared to go as far as any real democracy goes, but I'm not prepared to tie my country in with people who at the end of the day want to destroy it."

"I'm not sure where that leaves Sinn Féin. Does he mean they want to destroy his country? "Yes, their aim is a 32-county Ireland and they're not going to give that up." But it's a legitimate political aspiration? "Ach . . ."

[Paisley said the institutions must be final:] "that government must not be an interim government. They cannot tell me I must take a step, but it's only a step to another step and another step . . . …"

"…On one specific, he has previously said he would not accept the concept of co-equal First and Deputy First Ministers. Is that an absolute position?
""I can't see how you can have an absolute position with that {arrangement}, that before you can get agreement you have to have the agreement of a person who has already said 'this is only a step'…"

"Does the IRA have to disband? "I think they have, yes… the whole organisation of the IRA as an army . . . I say that that must change and we can't have them…"

"…Why not sit down and negotiate the terms face-to-face with Gerry Adams?

"…my principle says to me you don't negotiate with terrorists."…"

Meanwhile Denis Bradley, the independent who took the lead in urging Nationalist representatives to join the Policing Board, has become disillusioned with it and resigned. And the SDLP representatives on the Board have not just joined the Unionists in opposing Restorative Justice, but are leading the assault against this alternative form of policing.

Peter Hain changed the balance of the Board away from elected representatives in order to give himself room for manoeuvre on the issue of community self-policing, but the new Board seems as obdurate as the old. How could it be otherwise when the SDLP seeks to make party-politics of the issue? The reason for its stance can only be that its presence in nationalist communities is so minimal that it would have an insignificant input to self-policing.

Restorative Justice is commonly dismissed as confirming paramilitary rule, but it is not that—though republicans are among a number of community activists involved. It deals with the sort of petty crime which can make life a misery. The Director of Community Restorative Justice in Northern Ireland, Jim Auld, explains that people appeal to CRJ "at the end of their tether", when:

"They have been to the paramilitaries, the Housing Executive or the police—all say it's not their role. What the paramilitaries are saying now is go to Community Restorative Justice… We get the residents group involved, the Church. If it's older kids we get youth clubs or a detached youth worker involved, depending on what is appropriate…" (Irish News 14.11.05).

Restorative Justice is a replacement for the direct action to curb community disorder formerly meted out by republicans, however they are just one strand in CRJ in nationalist areas. Auld says:

"Republicans are in a majority in the estates where we work and a project won't succeed if they are seen to be dominated by a single group, no matter who…"

CRJ is overseen by an—

"outside evaluator, a criminologist from Michigan who is one of the world leaders in restorative justice, who at the start was ensuring {our} standards were appropriate.

"We went through our processes and matched them against the Vienna Convention on restorative justice. In the six years we have been up and running we have moved to 14 projects and running at about 1,700 cases per year, involving about 6,000 people.

"We train around 160 people a year as volunteers…"

The idea of CRJ is not merely punishment of wrong-doers but to make them aware of the effects of their actions and to help them to change their lives. The other advantage is that offenders are not criminalised as they would be in mainstream justice.

All the SDLP can see, however, is that CRJ consolidates their decline as an expression of nationalist communities. As Alban Maginnis has said:

"Community Restorative Justice is about control and power, it's not really about justice" (IN 14.11.06).

What the Party now demands is that all "control and power" be reserved for the PSNI—an authoritarian position which can only hasten its decline as a political force.

Meanwhile there has been a strange turn of events within the Assembly that is doing nothing but sit. Its members had to sign on in order to sit. They were elected in ancient times (2003) and this is the first time that they have sat. In the signing-on David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force, signed as UUP without resigning from the PUP, making it a kind of affiliated association of the UUP, like the Co-op Party in the Labour Party. Increasing the UUP Assembly presence by one entitled the Party to an extra Executive Department under the d'Hondt system, reducing the Sinn Fein entitlement by one, and altering the overall balance by one in favour of Unionism.

Paisley showed that he is in earnest about the formalities of democracy, insofar as they are applicable within the general make-believe, by making a formal objection to the Speaker of the Assembly against Ervine changing his designation after the election, even though the change is to the advantage of the Unionist interest as a whole.

And Lady Hermon MP, leader of the UUP in Westminster, had expressed her "distress" at the association of her party with a terrorist organisation which is not on Ceasefire.

Lady Hermon is Parliament leader of the UUP because she is its only MP.

And David Ervine is the only member of the PUP elected to the Assembly.

The membership of the Assembly derives from the election before last, and is clearly unrepresentative of public feeling as expressed in the last election—the British election which increased the Sinn Fein vote substantially, decreased the SDLP and decimated the UUP.


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Jack Lane (Leaflet/Letter)

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The Iraq Psychodrama.
Reader's Letter

The Vanity Of The Bonfires.
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Europe And Palestinians.
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O'Connell's Legacy & 1916.
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Redmond Prepares For Civil War.
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Labour Comment
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Pay Talks.

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