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SF, the IRA and another legacy of the conflict. October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.
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It has to be said that the testimony of Maíria Cahill is extremely compelling. The specific issue is grim in the extreme, its implications for broader processes difficult to ascertain.

The question does arise as to where this can go? It’s difficult to see a legal route forward. But that doesn’t predicate against other processes where people voluntarily come forward to assist. There’s a political dimension to this, which is worth discussing further in a different post. But it’s important to untangle politicisation (from whatever quarter) from the core issue of a woman who felt that the experiences she described were marginalised or dismissed or the processes she was subjected to were incomplete and biased.

It is areas and issues like this which have proven so troubling as the armed conflict stage has slipped into the past, as against paramilitary activities as such – which is not to say the latter haven’t been troubling. The interface between internal codes of discipline and behaviour and an external society which where the broader legal framework was – for a significant number – simply invalid has thrown up some deeply difficult contradictions even before we arrive at these events.

It speaks of issues of democratic legitimation for processes that had no societal legal element, and the dangers of relying upon those processes that were internal to organisations. Simply put internal investigations were in and of themselves flawed from the off. It also points up the isolation of those who found themselves in situations like that Maíria Cahill has outlined where there were those who abused what authority there was and there was no alternative authority to appeal to.

That Tory ‘Bill of Rights’ plan and the implications for Northern Ireland October 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, Northern Ireland.
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reading this was useful. Conor Gearty in the Guardian notes that the Tories ‘promise’ to essentially derogate from the ECHR (which, needless to say they, the Tories, seem to assume is part of the EU structure), has an interesting side effect closer to home:

What of Scotland and of Wales? Neither gets a mention – just a vague reference to working with the devolved legislatures “to make sure there is an effective new settlement across the UK”. The referendum’s message of inclusivity is already long forgotten, it seems. And the Good Friday agreement, which settled Northern Ireland’s conflict – it specifically requires incorporation of the convention into Northern Ireland’s law. What will happen there?

Gearty suggests it’s effectively back of an envelope politicking, yet more reddish meat thrown to appease the unappeasable on the eurosceptic wing of the party. Indeed so. But as always there’s the sense that Cameron and Co simply don’t get, or perhaps more accurately, don’t care about the ramifications of what they do. We saw something similar in the near immediate clawback of promises made during the Scottish referendum once the vote was in.

While you’re thinking about that think about this… George Osborne decides to take a swing at the charity sector in the UK. Looks like some are going to take a swing back.

George Osborne has triggered a backlash from charities after he urged companies to defend the economy against their “anti-business views” and those of pressure groups and trade unions.

He is beyond parody. But he is also in power.

After Scotland, some implications for this island. September 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
5 comments

A very readable edition of the Phoenix this week, including an analysis of the left of Sinn Féin TDs currently in situ disguised as a profile of Paul Murphy of the SP – of which more later in the week. But one thing that caught my eye was a piece on Unionism in the North in the wake of the Scottish referendum. It may have offered a No in Scotland, but the Phoenix makes one very pertinent point in relation to Northern Ireland.

By linking changes for the rest of the UK to the Scottish timetable Cameron seems determined to legislate to take away voting powers from non-English MPS before next May’s general election.

It continues by noting that should that take effect then a Labour government despite having an overall majority in the UK would then be likely unable to implement policy for England unless they get a majority of MPs there. Tough for Labour, but as the Phoenix notes, there are ramifications for Unionism.

It’s worse for the DUP: their hopes of holding the balance of power were dashed last Friday. Cameron had been assiduously courting them so that their eight MPs would enable him to continue to govern as a minority government if there is a hung parliament next May. Not any more. The DUP will be surplus to requirements.

And that means they have much less leverage at Westminster. Will this come to pass? Well, I’d think we’ve a way to go yet. But Cameron will most certainly be in a hurry to do all he can to stymie Labour and it may well be that a sort of functional part/near federalisation of the UK would be precisely what he wanted.

Of course it raises difficult issues and contradictions more broadly if Scotland and Wales (and England too!) are gaining increased powers just at the point NI is trying to hand them back and refuse any further ones.

Just in the context of debates about Home Rule still circulating in the RoI, the Phoenix makes an excellent point:

Unionists do not want anything which might increase their separation from Westminster. In effect they are still opposing Home Rule.

After Paisley… September 25, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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In a way it seems to me that the character of Paisley was in most respects so well known that it’s hardly surprising little or nothing of any great import was related these last few weeks. There may be more in the months and years ahead. We shall see. That said one quote from Tom McGurk struck me as of particularly interest in his article in the SBP the week of Paisley’s death (and it chimes with a comment that Brian Hanley made during the last week here).

It is not generally understood how powerful the class divisions were among Ulster Protestants. The plantation of Ulster created a society of wealthy grandees and their poor retainers, and right down to the end of the 20th century this division persisted among Ulster Protestants.
There was the ‘big house’ Protestant ruling class and under them their followers, either employed by them or politically subservient to them. The only show of equality was July 12 when all donned bowler hats and sashes and marched out to show just who was still boss around here.
In American socio-political terms the Paisleys were what is described as poor white Protestant trash.

Is that an overstatement? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it is not difficult to see how that sort of class dynamic informed perhaps some of what seems at this remove to have been something close to rage.

McGurk perhaps is overstating it too when he writes:

I think that without him there would never have been the Provisional IRA that emerged out of the attempted pogrom in West Belfast in August 1969 by Paisley’s followers. The IRA arose out of the smouldering remains of Bombay Street Paisley had lit the torch. For 25 years he frightened unionism away from ever seeking an agreement with the nationalist community and he cut down each unionist leader one after another.

And yet, and yet. One thing that always struck me when talking to relations in England in the 1970s onwards was how he was in a sense a personification of the North. Of course their view was filtered by many different factors, and was – understandably in some respects – very simplistic, and yet there too that personality, that rage, managed to express itself.

McGurk notes he became a big cuddly teddy bear, but he is unflinching in laying the blame for much of what happened at his feet. A harsh but perhaps necessary response to some of what we’ve heard recently.

Ian Paisley – 1926 – 2014 September 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
28 comments

As noted by CMK in comments… and as Gewerkschaftler notes as regards the Guardian piece by Gerry Adams about him:

Best comment on Gerry Adam’s piece on Ian Paisley.

“So what are you saying here Gerry? Hegel was right?”

A genuinely historic figure in the history of this island and the one next door. It will be educative to read the responses to his death.

Risks for peace? September 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
10 comments

We missed the Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week, this week due to unforeseen circumstances. But perhaps this will make up in some small way. For Eoghan Harris this weekend in the Sunday Independent was criticising Albert Reynold’s ‘risks for peace’ in a curious article. Curious because of the myriad contradictions in what he was saying. And also, perhaps in the implicit condescension as regards the ability of Irish politicians and the Irish people to understand the nature of the situation that faced them and to withstand propaganda from whatever quarter.

So we learn that far from vilifying Reynolds for ‘talking to a terrorist murder gang’ or indeed just criticising Reynolds (for Justine McCarthy of the ST is charged with ‘repeat[ing] the old green refrain that the Sunday Independent criticised Albert Reynolds) Harris, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent were merely offering ‘searching criticism’. Moreover, Harris claims he ‘was one of the first commentators to give the Hume-Adams talks a cautious welcome. I said that if Adams and McGuinness were sincere they might find some kind of redemption’, but those Provo’s – eh, ‘as they procrastinated and prevaricated, I became more sceptical of their motives’. No doubt from a previous baseline of non-scepticism.

I’ve searched in vain for his pieces from that year, though the search continues, but if one goes here – to a useful document produced by Niall Meehan – one will find that ‘searching criticism’ of the events taking place might not be the most accurate way of characterising the pieces he wrote about those events and during that decade, just two or three years later. Meehan notes that Harris just before the 1994 ceasefire :

warned of war spreading down from the North. He wrote, ‘Northern Ireland is slowly stumbling backwards towards barbarism on the scale of Bosnia’. Harris asserted in February 1996, ‘So we must brace ourselves for bombs in Dublin’.

His ‘bottomless contempt for the goliath of the national bourgeoisie’ (the residue of a former political life) was vented at
southern political leaders, but in particular at one architect of the process, SDLP leader John Hume, more so than at the other, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. Harris observed in 1996 that a ‘successful policy of demonising [republicans] down [South] was disrupted at a critical point in 1993 [when] John Hume threw the thug [Adams] a lifeline’

And as regards the Peace Process consider this measured critique:
‘It was a fraud from start to finish. A fraud when President Robinson limply shook the hand of Gerry Adams. A fraud when [Gerry] Adams held [Taoiseach, Albert] Reynolds and [John] Hume’s hands in a vice outside government buildings. A fraud
when [RTE newsreader] Bryan Dobson leaned across an RTE news studio to sentimentally shake the hand of [Sinn Fein’s] Lucillita Breathnach to celebrate the ceasefire. Munich was what was on my mind as I watched all these actors in the Sinn
Fein play. Peace in our time, I thought, a lie then, a lie now. Those who think you can talk to Sinn Fein are as foolish as those who thought that you could talk to Hitler.

And this from the resumption of the PIRA ceasefire:

‘we have no more reason to be grateful for the second ceasefire than a Jew would have to be grateful to a Gestapo guard who stopped beating him so as to fix the noose with which he proposed to hang him.’

But it’s the history that also offers curiosities:

RTE peace processors gloss the realities of 1993. The Provos were under big pressure on two fronts. In the Irish Republic the Warrington bomb had produced massive peace marches. In Northern Ireland their command structure was penetrated by informers at every level.
From this position of weakness they put out probes they hoped would lead to a pan-nationalist front against northern Unionists. These probes led to the Hume-Adams talks.

This is an unusual chronology, to put it mildly. Pan-nationalism wasn’t simply an artefact of 1993, or 1992 – the term itself had been used by Unionists since the late 1980s. And 1993 was hardly the year that it blossomed into life – indeed in some ways it never quite did given Dublin’s intrinsic caution in being pushed into a single front with the SDLP and SF. Moreover the Hume-Adams talks had been in train since the late 1980s (of course unmentioned is the fact that the British government had also been in talks, these with the IRA).

Warrington was a crime, the murder of children particularly egregious. Yet it is important to note what happened subsequently as well, with some of those most closely affected moving to a position of support for the demilitarisation of the conflict. It’s also important not to overstate what occurred at the post-Warrington peace marches or their scale – the rally the Sunday after the bombing saw 20,000 people attend. 1,200 attended a rally in Cork. The Peace ’93 organisation which organised them had become a charity by the end of the year, having attempted to become a sort of ‘network’ in the early Autumn. This is not to deny in any sense the very real, sincere and right sense of outrage and anger at Warrington, but events political – which were already well in train – had a greater traction, as might be expected.

But then perhaps that confusion of history and chronology is useful because it then allows one to present the happenings of 1993 that he points to and any ‘critique’ of Reynolds as being isolated rather than being part of a continuum of ‘criticism’ particularly that emanating from the Sunday Independent (and Sunday Times) towards Hume in previous years for having the temerity to even speak to Adams. And also to paint those views as having a centrality, or at least currency, which they simply did not.

But there’s more contradiction, for while the Provo’s were under pressure (and he almost verbatim repeats the paragraph he writes earlier in the piece quoted above)…

…in 1993 there were good reasons for rejecting any dealings with the Provos. They were on the ropes, militarily and politically, north and south. In the North their command structure was riddled with informers. In the Republic they were held in hatred and contempt by most decent people.

And yet, and yet, nothing could be more dangerous, or so it would seem. For Harris argues:

At this point, Cosgrave and De Valera would have closed the IRA down on this side of the Border. They would have refused the IRA refuge and continued to keep them off the airwaves. Eventually the Provisonal IRA would have been eroded by arrests and convictions in Northern Ireland. They would have been worn down to where the Dissidents are now.

That last is a remarkable view, given the manner in which the history of maintaining the ceasefires and the ability of the IRA (and indeed the experience of other paramilitary organisations) to retain control and cohesion as it transitioned towards cessation and ultimate decommissioning as to be near risible. Even allowing for some considerable degree of calculation in how the threat of splintering of the IRA was presented by SF to those outside it, nonetheless it was in and of itself a significant task to retain essential structural cohesion throughout with relatively small numbers leaving and none of a size to present a significant challenge to the new dispensation.

And it’s nearly wilful on his part to ignore the small point that the British and the RoI in 1993 did not face a situation that paralleled that of Cosgrave or De Valera, not after a focused armed insurgency of three decades or so in length in Northern Ireland.

But more to the point, this is not what those involved in two national governments thought sensible as a way forward. This is not what the balance of opinion was in (most of) their security services. Clearly their analysis was that to do what he suggests would have been impossible politically – as even a moments consideration would reveal. That there was, in Harris’ approach, no context within which the broad majority of nationalists and Republicans (and a sufficient minority who were able to keep PIRA extant by tacit support) would feel it legitimate to offer their support in 1993 to the then extant political framework should at the very least pause his rush to ‘arrests and convictions’, a pathway that, again the history proves led to an exacerbation, in some instances a massive exacerbation of an already fraught situation and the replenishing of armed struggle and the appetite for armed struggle. In such a context his ‘security solution’ is no solution at all but merely rhetoric. Great for an odd Sunday afternoon in 2014, but of absolutely no relevance to the actual issue at hand.

By the way, a neat bit of hindsight vision there in relation to ‘riddle with informers’.

And here we take an even more curious turn:

Albert Reynolds took another road. He risked the safety of the Irish Republic for the sake of peace in Northern Ireland. He did so for the best of motives. But there were at least three bad results not raised on RTE.

Republic of Ireland, but let it pass. If PIRA was on the ropes, if it was indeed of little or no account, then what safety was risked in engaging with them? He argues:

In contrast, commentators in both the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times believed the Reynolds gamble demanded severe critical analysis. For the first time an Irish Government was proposing to do a deal with the IRA rather than defeat it – as Cosgrave and De Valera had done. They took a hard line because truckling to the IRA risked giving it political legitimacy.

This in itself is hard to credit. In 1993 SF and the IRA had minimal political support in the South. Indeed this is one aspect of the conflict that has often been underconsidered (though I know Brian Hanley has referenced it), the sheer lack of political purchase that SF had whether generally or at times of some mobilisation such as in the wake of Bloody Sunday or during the Hunger Strikes. Even at those times of rupture the political dividends were minimal (let’s dismiss entirely the idea of a PIRA coup in the RoI which was an utter nonsense).

And for SF to gain support there was only one way forward, and that was eschewing violence – as the subsequent history demonstrated. In other words SF would have to change to adapt to the political system in order to gain political legitimacy, not the other way around.

He concludes as follows:

Albert Reynolds took another road. He risked the safety of the Irish Republic for the sake of peace in Northern Ireland. He did so for the best of motives. But there were at least three bad results not raised on RTE.
Firstly, the Provos were allowed to appear as victors in Northern Ireland. Any fool could foresee this would mean Sinn Fein replacing the SDLP. And that is how it has turned out.
Secondly, the peace process retrospectively legitimised the Provo IRA’s sectarian campaign with a rising generation in the Irish Republic. It gave a naked tribal aggression the appearance of a civil rights struggle. It led to a huge historical lie.
This lie gives legitimacy to Sinn Fein. It may put them in power. Who really knows what that means for the Irish Republic? Who knows whether Albert Reynolds’s gamble will pay off until all the results are in?

Only a very partial focus on SF and the IRA could result in a view that ‘the Provo’s were allowed to appear as victors in Northern Ireland’ and as to their replacing the SDLP, well, that has many roots, and again it would have been unthinkable had armed struggle continued.

The retrospective legitimisation of the conflict? It would seem more likely that it SF as it is now, rather than as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, which has garnered support for it politically. That and the small matter of the partial collapse of the Irish party political system in the last seven or so years.

And if SF is put in power it won’t be because they supported an armed conflict so much as that the conflict ended and they supported and were eventually instrumental in ending it. That’s a crucial distinction. That it is so clearly lost on Harris is disappointing. One might think that from his own experience he would appreciate how organisations and formations change, evolve, transform, and yet none of that appears in this article.

But moreover, he leaves unstated what the negative effects of SF in power would be. Coups? More heated language on the north? Perhaps the prosaic truth is that it would amount to little more than additional private pressure on the British government in relation to matters Northern? A little bit more energy in regard to cross-border political bodies? Some more effort to extend the range and number of cross-border economic entities? But what beyond that? What is the danger? Can he even articulate it?

If Scotland opts for independence are we ready on this island? And are we ready if it doesn’t? September 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Scotland.
37 comments

Reading Liam Clarke here I’ve got to admit to having to agree with his broad assessment, come what may, YES or NO, the status quo ante is about to be shot to pieces in relation to the nature of the United Kingdom. And the likelihood of a Yes vote goes up somewhat on foot of the latest YouGov poll which records the narrowest gap between the sides so far, a gap that is narrowing in favour of a Yes, albeit still one with a No majority.

As Clarke notes, part of this is because in order to save the Union the main UK parties have pledged jointly to offer something closer to Devo Max.

The joint commitment, signed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, says: “We support a strong Scottish parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the parliament’s powers.” They pledge to act quickly to grant Holyrood more autonomy, whoever wins the next general election.

This may well inadvertently give Alex Salmond sufficient cover if the vote does turn out to be a No, in that he can point to having pushed the parties and UK government towards a position closer to that of the SNP by the very process of going for a referendum. It may not of course, but that’s as may be.

And what of the other issues and aftereffects? This from the BBC is quite useful as an overview.

Clarke suggests that Scotland might be able to gain up to 60% control of its revenue including corporation tax. Reading the positions of the other UK parties that seems a little on the high side. But 40% might be there or thereabouts and corporation tax – perhaps.

Though as Clarke suggests, if Scotland did get control of that it could play havoc for the North:

Imagine, for example, that Scotland got control of corporation tax and reduced it, like the Republic. How would we attract inward investment with two neighbouring regions that have lower rates of business tax, a better industrial infrastructure and a more stable political system whose leaders can actually take hard decisions?

Note that last, by the way. Everyone in the orthodoxy loves hard decisions, often because they don’t fall on them. But the central point is well made. There’s little doubt that Salmond’s approach of lower taxes increased spending is something that would bring massive unease to any of us who lived through the last decade and a half in this state but if Scotland does go down a certain route, well, it won’t just be a problem for NI either.

And as Clarke also notes, while the North might get similar powers it’s not really in great shape to make the best use of them, not least due to its size. Now some of us might argue that that is a strong (and entertainingly paradoxical, given the argument on the island of Britain) argument for closer North/South integration on such matters, but… will that happen?

In any event, on a political level:

The whole image of the UK would be changed and weakened in a way that would challenge unionists and encourage republicans and nationalists.

And this holds true in both a Yes or a No. The United Kingdom as we have known it is fundamentally altered. As noted by Clarke, a No with a strong Yes vote means that it remains upon the table in perpetuity.

I still think No will shade it. But I’m a lot less certain of that than I once was. And having long been supportive of independence (even this rather curtailed independence on offer) I’m increasingly tending to the view that a Yes would perhaps be good for the rUK as for Scotland, shaking it out of a decades, perhaps century or more, long torpor as regards its constitutional situation – about what it is and what it is not.

And by the way, what of this from the BBC?

A recent poll, the Future of England Survey, suggested English voters want the UK government to take a much tougher stance on Scotland if if decides to remain part of the Union. More than half, 56%, felt public spending in Scotland should be reduced. Nearly two thirds (66%) think Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on English laws.

A tougher stance if it remains. Yeah, sure, that’ll work.

Interview with PBPA’s Gerry Carroll in the Belfast Telegraph August 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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Rebecca Black talks to Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit’s first elected councillor in Northern Ireland, about his objective to think global, act local, and to offer people an alternative to traditional politics.

Shocked… shocked I tell you! July 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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At the news here from the Examiner…

Former justice minister Michael McDowell privately appealed for “household name” IRA suspects to be granted royal pardons.

The arch-critic of Sinn Féin and the Provos – who once compared the republican movement to Nazis – was attorney general at the time.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded it.

On the Runs… July 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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The reporting on the On-the-runs in the Irish Times is curious. In this piece from today on the latest news that

In a keenly-anticipated report, Lady Justice Hallett found that the scheme used was “unprecedented and flawed”, but that it was not unlawful or improper.

There is the following:

The on-the-runs emerged into public view earlier this year after an Old Bailey judge ruled that John Downey could not be prosecuted for the 1982 Hyde Park bombing because he had been given one of the letters.

And then:

However, today’s report has found that Downey was not the only individual to have received letters of comfort — a fact that will be seized upon by Unionists.

How is that ‘a fact that will be seized upon by Unionists’ – at least in the sense that it was a fact that is new? In February there was this in the Guardian which detailed that potentially 190 odd former IRA members might be covered by it.

But to be honest the entire discussion around the O-T-R’s has been disingenuous at best and downright dishonest in reality. For example, the continued rhetoric that the scheme wasn’t known about by some politicians is bizarre.

Other political parties told the investigation they were unaware of the scheme.
But Hallett notes: “There were sufficient references to the overall scheme … to put an astute observer on the alert, notwithstanding the replies to the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, and Lady Hermon by Peter Hain MP [then Northern Ireland secretary]“.

There surely were, not least this:

The report has a lengthy annex detailing the scores of occasions when the on-the-runs scheme was publicly referred to in the media or during parliamentary debates. On May 7th, 2002, it notes that the Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP leader, told the Northern Ireland assembly: “The union flag is banned from government buildings for most of the year. Security installations have been removed, on-the-run terrorist have been pardoned and there has been discrimination against victims in funding.

I used to joke in the mid to late 2000s about the string of garages with On The Run shops in them. If I could make that joke, and I’m literally nobody, how it could pass Peter Robinson or David Ford by is remarkable…

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