Editorial from Irish Political Review, September 2005

Past And Present

The war in Northern Ireland is back where it started. In 1969 there was no Provisional IRA, but there was an Ulster Volunteer Force. This fact is much forgotten. An Irish Times dateline published after the July Statement of the IRA was entitled, The IRA From The Start Of The Troubles To 1994 Ceasefire. It started from 5th October 1968, when a Civil Rights march was attacked in Derry. But the Provisional IRA did not come into existence until 14 months later, in December 1969. And the miltary activity of the revived UVF had begun a few years before that.

And, now that the Provisional campaign has run its course, the Ulster Volunteer Force is still active, as it was before the Provos were formed. And it has announced that it is the Praetorian Guard of Ulster Unionism (BBC, Newsnight, 31 Aug), and that it is out of the question that it should disarm, still less disband.

There are two kinds of Loyalist military action in progress at the moment. One has the purpose of furthering UVF monopoly by destroying its Loyalist Volunteer Front splinter army. Four people were killed in the course of this action during the past few weeks, and a number of families were driven out of their homes in a number of housing estates while the new police force (the Police Service of Northern Ireland) looked on.

The other form of Loyalist military action is for the openly declared purpose of ethnic cleansing. Members of immigrant racial minorities are driven out and Catholic families are being cleared out of areas which are designated as inherently and exclusively Protestant. The police have offered vulnerable families in these areas smoke alarms and fire blankets, so that they might protect themselves if they stay on in defiance of the order to move out, and have left it at that.

The centre of the ethnic cleansing campaign at the moment is Ahoghill in Co. Antrim. Ahoghill is where the 1859 Revival began. It will be interesting to see how the 150th anniversary will be marked in a few years' time.

The revisionist historians who are engaged in a well-funded mission to straighten out Irish history have paid little or no attention to the 1859 Revival. It was a great upsurge of what we now call fundamentalism. It was a reassertion of the ideas and impulses which had made Protestant Christianity a force in the world once Calvin had given it shape and direction, but which had fallen into confusion in Ulster in the 18th century under the influence of Scottish philosophy and Irish politics.

The 1859 Revival swept like wildfire through Antrim and Down, uniting Protestants across denominational lines on the basis of the original Reformationist enthusiasms. It was not a political movement, but it had profound political consequences. It de-politicised Protestant Ulster, rendering it incapable of making the pragmatic calculations and accommodations which would have allowed for an evolutionary development in Irish affairs.

In our efforts over twenty years to bring Northern Ireland within the sphere of the democracy of the British state, the insuperable obstacle that we encountered was the essentially apolitical character of Protestant Ulster at its core. We convinced a number of individuals of the political validity of the case that we made, but they found that they could do nothing about it because the culture of the Ahoghill revival decreed that politics was not a proper activity for Christians.

The strangeness of Protestant Ulster in the 20th century was that it lived in a medium of actual Christian belief. This gave rise to a very attractive mode of conduct in commercial affairs. Nothing like it is encountered in the rest of Ireland or the rest of Britain. But what it gave rise to in political affairs is what we have got.

The Revival coincided with the glory days of the British Empire as an arena of Christian endeavour. The Empire had been opened to Christian missionary activity following the re-admission to Parliament of the Puritan middle class in 1832. Revivalist Ulster revelled in the Christianising activities of the Empire, and in the "Greater Britain" project which accompanied it. It could do that without appearing to engage in anything political. Greater Britain took on for it the character of a force of Providence.

But then the Empire went astray. Greater Britain evaporated in the course of the 1st World War. The empire expanded instead of consolidating, and began to fall apart. The falling apart began in Ireland. Revivalist Ulster was deprived of its Providential sphere of action, and reverted to its 1649 status of being a corner of Ireland (Milton's words), in conflict with Ireland and suspicious of England. If politicians and historians had kept these basic facts of the situation before the public mind, Catholics might have thought as carefully before going to live there as would be prudent before going to live in Mecca.

The police denied in the first instance that the attacks on Catholics in Ahoghill were sectarian. The denial took a strange form:

"Sinn Fein has claimed paramilitaries are trying to ethnically cleanse Ahoghill but Mr. Leighton [Deputy Chief Constable] said he did not think this was the case. 'It's much more serious than ethnic cleansing. There is real hatred between communities in Northern Ireland'." (Irish News, 18 Aug.)

His reasoning was that the attacks on Catholics were not instigated by Loyalist organisations, but were entirely spontaneous actions by local Protestants. It was an interesting way of putting it.

Mr. Leighton also said, in the same connection:

"Northern Ireland has suffered for too long from 'the dogs in the street know who did it'. The dogs in the street don't get into the witness box and don't make good witnesses" (ibid).

That is presumably why they weren't required to bark out their evidence in a prosecution of Adams and McGuinness for the Northern Bank Robbery. We were assured at the time that the 'dogs in the street' knew that they did it. They told the Chief Constable and the Taoiseach so. And Lord Alderdyce's "Independent Monitoring Commission" took their word for it. And even Brian Feeney was convinced by them. Affairs of state have been regularly conducted on their say-so. What had they done recently to cause the Deputy Chief Constable to disparage them? As far as we can see they are as capable of saying "Woof! woof!" to order as they ever were.

And a couple of days later Mr. Leighton regained his faith in canine informants:

"The deputy chief constable has made an apparent U-turn and confirmed that all attacks on Catholics in a Co. Antrim village were sectarian".

He said so in a letter to Ballymena SDLP Councillor Declan O'Loan, who chairs the Ballymena District Policing Partnership (IN 20 Aug).

The Irish Times gave very muted coverage to the Ahoghill affair, and the only Southern politician who spoke out on the matter, as far as we noticed, was Liz MacManus, deputy leader of the Labour Party, who urged Unionist politicians to do something about it. MacManus is of the 'Stickie' tendency which controls the Labour Party, but she has not recently been acting in an entirely Stickie spirit. She was also the only politician who made an issue of a trial currently being conducted in England, under some kind of extraterritorial law, of a man charged with committing murder in Ireland. Her demand for explanations was reported in considerable detail in the Irish (nee Cork) Examiner. It was reported far less clearly in the Irish Times, whose coverage of this unusual trial is heavily muffled.

Mr. Leighton's imagery was also recently used by Mr. Raymond McCord, whose son was killed by Loyalists and who is trying to get a proper investigation of the matter. After a 15-year old Catholic boy, Thomas Devlin, was stabbed to death, he claimed that the 'dogs in the street' knew that UVF members had been responsible (IN 15 Aug). The police, however, played down the loyalist angle, saying merely that it was not 'ruling out' sectarian motivation in this killing. The view in the Catholic community of a number of incidents over the Summer is that the police have been treating Loyalist violence with kid gloves whilst using strong measures to curb Catholic unrest. Another example of this occurred just as this magazine was going to press. When there was rioting in Woodvale after two Loyalist drinking clubs were shut down by the police, a cordon was erected around the area, and the riot was allowed to play itself out. It is felt that, if Catholics had been rioting, plastic bullets would have been used. In addition, there is dissatisfaction at the way in which the police are carrying out their criminal duties, with undue delays in following up leads and taking action in serious cases. The PSNI approach is undermining the position of the SDLP, which is seen as supporting a poorly conducted and apparently biassed policing service.

Ruth Dudley Edwards, whose Sunday Independent column is usually devoted to virulent attacks on the IRA, wrote on 21st August, The Loyalists Are Determined To Spill Blood. Perhaps the Sunday Independent is being shaken in its one-sided anti-republicanism by the attacks on newspaper shops selling its sister-paper, The Sunday World. It seems that some of its articles on Loyalist leaders were not liked. But the main reason for Unionist fury is the announcement a couple of days after the IRA Statement of 29th July that the Northern Ireland-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment are to be disbanded as they are no longer needed. As these units are the grandsons of the B-Specials, it is felt that elements of Protestant security are disappearing. And the unkindest cut of all is that this is being done with the Democratic Unionist Party being the major community party. It was this sort of thing that Dr. Paisley was put in to prevent. Perhaps that is why there is talk of Praetorian Guard now. The Loyalists are to guard the Constitution.

Judging from the major Irish papers, the Peace Process was imperilled by the return of the 'Colombia Three', which was widely report on 6th August. The Sunday Independent carried out a spurious phone poll, which enabled it to write: 9 Out Of 10 Say 'Lock Them Up', while the Irish Times carried a lying article by the Colombian Vice President, but no article setting the record straight about State-sponsored violence in Colombia. The Daily Ireland captured the view coming from Government with its lead, Hunt Them Down Demand From PDs (9.8.05). If Fianna Fail was unhappy with the view of its dominant partners, it did not show. Fine Gael took up the cry, trailed by Labour seeking clarification. It was all a good excuse to beat Sinn Fein and not to look at what is really happening in the Six Counties.

Another Northern Ireland policeman has been in the political news recently: Colin Cramphorn, the last Deputy Chief Constable of the RUC, and now Chief Constable of West Yorkshire. He told the Yorkshire Evening Post after the July IRA statement:

"This is not the end of the IRA, it is the beginning of another era of it."

This is reported by Frank Millar, formerly Secretary of the Ulster Unionist Party and now London Editor of The Irish Times. According to Millar:

"He does not see the present process providing a smooth transition to a 'normal democracy'. 'I think in about 15 or so years we will see the unification of Ireland. And it will be like Sicily'." (IT 13 Aug).

Certainly there will not be a smooth transition to normal democracy. But what makes it certain is that normal democracy is not a possibility of the Northern Ireland Constitutional structure. This is something that Millar once understood. He even led a Unionist delegation to Downing Street and put it to Mrs. Thatcher. He came out of Downing St. fuming and told the television that Thatcher had absolutely ruled out the admission of Northern Ireland to the democracy of the state. But, angry though he was, he took her word for it and gave up the struggle. A few months later he lost his job as UUP Secretary in some internal party conflict which we cannot quite recall and was given a job with the Irish Times. And the Politburo which conducts the Irish Times has never allowed the view of things developed by this journal to be expressed in it. But Cramphorn's suggestion that what the IRA is doing now is a repetition of what it did in 1923 is grist to its mill; as is his assertion that recent Republican actions follow from the World Trade Centre incident, rather than from the Good Friday Agreement.

What happened in 1922-23 was that anti-Treaty Republicans were defeated in a war instigated by Britain for the enforcement of a Treaty which it presented as an ultimatum, the penalty for rejection being "immediate and terrible war". Those who submitted to the Treaty won an election on the same terms. An election held on those terms would not be recognised as democratically valid today, except by someone with a special interest in doing so. And Fianna Fail never accepted those Treaty elections held under duress as valid—at least not until it made Dr. Mansergh its ideologist and he did so.

Cramphorn says the message in 1923 was, "Lay down your arms to fight another day". That "other day" came in 1932 when the electorate regained their republican equilibrium and elected the Anti-Treatyites. The presence of the IRA, as a counter to the Free State military force ensured a peaceful transition to anti-Treaty democracy.

Editorial Notes

The IRA Ceasefire took effect from 4 pm on 28th July 2005, not the 29th as stated in the last issue of this magazine.

The Irish Times corrected its report of 22nd July about the Brazilian shot by British police at Stockwell Underground Station on 25th July with a front-page lead, Apology For Family Of Brazilian Shot By Mistake.

In Michael Stack's column last month, there was reference to two British Intelligence formations, Cobra and JTAC. The acronyms mean Cabinet Office Briefing Room A and Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (MI5).


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