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Republicanism and a new Ireland… April 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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…intriguing piece from Newton Emerson in the Sunday Times this weekend (which links in with discussions over the weekend on the CLR). In it he discusses the McGuinness attendance at a royal function in Britain during President Higgins visit there. And his belief is that to see that event, his attendance, as directed essentially at a Southern political audience is incorrect – indeed he goes further and argues that ‘it is too trivial to be a full explanation. How much of a factor could McGuinness’s non-attendance at a banquet possibly be at polling booths six weeks from now? He holds no office in Dublin and few southern voters pay NI any attention’.

He also notes that the interaction at the level of the monarchy is of such a nature that it actually undermines political unionism, at least – and I paraphrase – in the sense that it makes exclusion of republicans that much more difficult if the Queen and the monarchy are willing to engage.

And consequently he argues that the gesture was aimed at Unionists ‘with SF gain[ing] kudos among its own supporters by showing such apparent generosity, especially when comparable unionist generosity is lacking. But how much kudos does it seriously expect to gain among unionists? The party’s focus on royal symbolism suggests it hopes to go past unionist politicians with a direct message to unionist people.’

That’s is a not unpersuasive argument, though how accurate it is is difficult to determine. But more interesting by far was the following which I had previously missed in relation to what that message aimed at unionist people might be.

At its Uniting Ireland Conference in Dublin in 2011, Adams called for ‘discussion with unionists about what they mean by Britishness and how a new Ireland, whether or not it is a Republic, can accommodate this’.

What sort of new Ireland is this that is being envisaged here, one that may not – it would appear – from the choice of the language even be a Republic?

Indeed in the speech Adams is explicit:

Our belief is that the interests of citizens and society on this island will be best served by a republican system of governance based on the rights of people.

But that is a matter for the people to decide.

There are other models which can be considered, including federal arrangements.
They could serve transitional measures or as governmental systems in their own right.

Emerson suggests that ‘SF needs a plausible end point for its goal [a part of which is government participation in both parts of the island], at which republicans are satisfied, unionists are mollified and British-Irish relations can, finally, be absolutely normal… the only scenario in which Ireland would not be a republic would be admission to the Commonwealth under the crown’.

Far-fetched, surely, and perhaps stirring it up too. But…

I’m reminded in a way of the way in which the Scottish Nationalist Party has approached the issue of independence, a process which has seen them acquiesce to formal aspects of the British monarchy. Now, frankly, I think that’s a non-starter in the context of this state, but, it is just possible that a shared dispensation affecting the North both politically, perhaps in terms of continued representation at Westminster (perhaps in the Lords), and simultaneously new representation in the Dáil or a new all-island entity, might be a realisable intermediate/long term goal.

Should Adams and McGuinness retire? April 12, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North.
56 comments

Norman Tebbit’s remark during the week — the he hoped Martin McGuinness would be shot in the back — prompted a thought. Should McGuinness and Gerry Adams consider retiring from activie politics at this stage? They are the only leaders to have remained in place as leaders from the start of the peace process through the signing of the Belfast Agreement, and the first years of the operation of the Assembly and Executive. Tebbit’s comment show that despite the huge changes they led Sinn Fein and the IRA through, they are still lightning rods for hatred and distrust. Would it be better for the stability of the process and politics in the North if they were to hand over the rein of Sinn Fein to a new generation?

On the runs… March 2, 2014

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


I’ve got to admit Peter Hain’s thoughts on the ‘comfort letters’ in relation to IRA on-the-runs chimes with my own sense of those matters. He says that

“it is risible for key politicians to claim they had no knowledge[of them]”

I had always assumed from the off that some sort of agreement had been struck on the issue with former members of the IRA. How could it be otherwise, and all the rending of garments and tearing of hair in the last week has seemed to me to be rather cosmetic, not least the on again off again resignation threat.

Hain also wrote:

“There is no suggestion that the contents of the letters to those ‘on the runs’ were cleared with key politicians of all parties, or the details of the scheme shared, but the idea that they did not know anything about them is risible,” Mr Hain said.

“Even when the letters were in the public domain, there was still misrepresentation, whether wilfully or not, about what the letters sent between 2001 and 2012 actually said and meant — and this process caused the victims even greater pain.”

Hain makes other points too:

Writing a first-hand account in the Sunday Telegraph of how the scheme came about, Mr Hain suggested that if a line was to be drawn on Northern Ireland’s past it must include the pursuit of paratroopers involved in Bloody Sunday.

There is a distinction between uncovering the truth and pursuing individuals. It’s a difficult distinction – particularly for those from whatever quarter who saw loved one’s murdered and it involves all those party to the conflict across the decades but it may well be that an absolute amnesty but continued examination is the only way forward from here.

And then… as if by magic… it was seemingly over… February 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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surely has to be the response to the controversy in the North this week. Not least the fairly sharpish withdrawal of that threat of resignation. The thought that keeps returning to me is how unlikely the protestations from all sides are to ignorance of this. I’d tend to think that the assumption most interested in this area had was that something very similar, if not indeed identical, had been agreed whether formally or otherwise years back. Whether this was all about the electoral optics..? Hard to disagree, for once, with the following person’s views…

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore cautioned politicians against reopening tortuously agreed compromises.

“We cannot allow the past to destroy the peace and stability of the present and the prospect of a better future for generations to come,” he said.

What if: A sustained campaign in the 1990s by PIRA? February 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, What if?.
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I’ve been reading “Insider: Gerry Bradley’s Life in the IRA” by the late Gerry Bradley with Brian Feeney – and Bradley’s situation seems, whether one agrees or disagrees with his political analysis, to have been genuinely tragic at the end. It makes for a thought provoking read. It certainly seems to express a certain view amongst some Republicans as to the nature and course of the Peace Process. Bradley made no secret of his disenchantment with the overall direction and outcomes.

But a couple of thoughts came to mind gong through it. For example, there’s a sort of tension between what is aspired to and what is accepted as achievable. As an example, Bradley argued that ‘from 1982 the campaign was being run down’. And while he accepted that ‘you need a political wing and it’s important to get votes to endorse the IRA campaign, but if there’s a campaign, then you have to devote resources to it.’

And he continued: ‘Over the years, all the resources were switched to the political side. I remember being furious when SF councillor told me Adams had said to him that SF workers were as important as volunteers’.

When asked what he would have done differently he put forward this line of argument…

If it hadn’t been for the IRA, the British would never have negotiated with SF… instead of running down the campaign, I would have conducted it more strategically. If we were supposed to be destroying the North’s economy and keeping it unstable, then do it. Go out and shoot investors, industrialists – stop people putting money in here… take the war to England. I was always strongly in favour of that. As they say, one bomb in London is worth a hundred here, and it’s true. Look at Canary Wharf – that got faster results than a million votes. Also did more damage than a hundred bombs in Belfast. John Major didn’t want that again. Shoot MPS. Exploding bombs her or killing the odd soldier didn’t put the guy in Whitehall off his dinner. Blow up the Stock Exchange, the Bank of England, shoot a couple of MPs.’

It is also striking – in contrast – to consider what Bradley said about actions on the ground in Belfast in the early to mid-1980s where he acknowledges that in relation to British surveillance capabilities ‘the technology was amazing. We tried to explain it to new volunteers, but it was hard to convince them. They thought the Brits had to have men with binoculars hiding in a building. They wouldn’t believe video cameras could run for days.’ And he noted that ‘All the players were marked by the mid-eighties’ and ‘aerial supremacy was the principal advantage the British had’.

Whether in a post 9/11 world such an approach would have been viable, or whether it would have ushered in a pseudo-post 9/11 world earlier, is another question too. But there’s a broader question too. Just what sort of gains in political terms could have been achieved, or to put it more bluntly, were achievable, in the late 1990s even on foot of a more intense campaign, or would it even have been possible to hold the sort of negotiations that led to the GFA on foot of such events?

What if: the hunger strikes had been resolved? February 13, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
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This is obviously a particularly contentious one, if only because of the contested aspects of the history of the hunger strikes themselves. But this very interesting event brought to mind the question what if it had been possible for them to be ended in some form of agreement, something that appeared tantalisingly close at various points. What effect would that have had subsequently on the trajectory of the IRA and Sinn Féin and the broader political environment in Northern Ireland and on the island as a whole?

Joe Lee wrote that:

The British handling of the whole H-block situation was inept to the point of criminality. It threatened to endanger the political stability not only of Northern Ireland, but of the Republic, where emotions ran high. In the North ‘the hunger strike and the authorities’ response did more to unite Catholic opinion than any other single event since internment in 1971 or Bloody Sunday in 1972’.

He notes as well:

It was the more politically minded SF strategists, like Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison, rather than the IRA militarists, insofar as distinction can be drawn, who profited most from the public sympathy and from the organisational experience accumulated during the H-block campaigns. This newly demonstrated organisational talent, together with popular sympathy for the strikers, would soon be reflected in an unprecedented level of SF electoral success’.

After Smithwick… January 28, 2014

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

…there is this.

Three former senior gardaí have published a comprehensive evaluation of the Smithwick Tribunal’s conclusions, challenging its key finding of collusion by unnamed gardaí in the murders of two RUC officers.

They claim this tribunal finding is not grounded in facts and should be rejected by the Government “as a matter of urgency and justice” and contend it adversely affects the relationship between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI.

Given how oddly vague the framework upon which the findings appeared to be constructed – as noted by many at the time, and something that appears to have been received in certain quarters as almost a “balancing” exercise, this was perhaps an outcome that was just waiting to happen, and it’s difficult not to have some sympathy with those making the evaluation.

Here are some posts from the CLR on the Tribunal findings.

What if: Stormont had attempted to shape an inclusive Northern Ireland in the 1920s? January 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, What if?.
13 comments

Here’s a question that has long made me wonder, what if with partition the Stormont government and the state in Northern Ireland had been more willing to make the effort to if not share power at least give a greater political space to nationalism? Is it that the two competing nationalisms were too divergent for such, particularly given the divisions between communities (and the manner in which class fed into those divisions?). Was there anything that Stormont could have done? The thought comes on foot of re-reading the interesting book Padraig O’Malley’s The Uncivil Wars from the early 1980s (of which more soon) which examined the North and Ireland and Britain through interviews with various politicians and others during that period and noted that some in Unionism sought something less than power sharing, but an assembly where Nationalists would control committees and therefore exercise some form of authority albeit constrained. It’s something, isn’t it to consider that as recently as the 1980s that was as far as much of Unionism could go towards powersharing, and it wasn’t that far really. But had gestures like that been made from the off was it ever tenable that some sort of modified dispensation – tolerable if unloved – could have been arrived at?

Joseph Lee notes that one education the Catholic Church was deeply hostile to educational reform measures and that:

Craig made a number of genuine if limited attempts to persuade Catholics to cooperate in the new administration. he reserved one third of the places in the police force for them, and invited them to participate on the Lynn committee of inquiry into education. When they failed to respond he seems to have decided that future initiatives for conciliation must come from them.

He also notes that:

Craig appointed Dawson Bates as Minister for Home Affairs to protect his right flank. As secretary of the Ulster Unionist Association since 1905, Bates had acquired an intimate knowledge of local unionist politics, and Craig relied heavily on him to relay grassroots feeling. If he was a useful buffer for Craig against he barbs of the right, however, Craig in return had to allow him a virtually free hand in the area of security. And Bates, aided and abetted by his permanent secretary, Samuel Watt, as well as by other officials, was a confirmed sectarian. He refused to appoint Catholics to his ministry. His Offences Against the State Act in 1924 invested the government with extensive powers of arrest and detention. It was renewed annually until 1931, when it became a permanent adornment of Ulster Unionist political architecture.

In a way the problem breaks down into parts. Was it ever feasible Unionism could be generous enough to make the necessary effort? Was Nationalism/Republicanism able or willing to reciprocate given the nature of the balance of power within the North (for better and worse)? Even had some accommodation been found initially could it have lasted and how would events such as the Economic War, the Second World War and so on impacted upon it. And so on. Of course the further one moves from a divergence the hazier the ability to even attempt to map outcomes.

Changed times… to an extent January 20, 2014

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

The advance transcripts from the latest programme on BBC which sees Ian Paisley being interviews by Eamonn Mallie are fascinating. There’s something of a looking glass world to quotes such as the following: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/paisley-heartbroken-over-exit-from-church-1.1661066

In the programme Eamonn Mallie quotes Dr Paisley’s son, the Rev Kyle Paisley, as stating about some of the people who ousted him: “Some of what was said was pure sectarianism and some Protestants only wanted a military defeat of republicans . . .”

Endorsing this account, Dr Paisley said: “There are people and all they wanted was the defeat of the IRA and that was it. And Protestants who were killing and bombing as well and they are forgotten about.”

Sectarianism? Military defeat of the IRA? This language, indeed this very analysis, is a telling indication of how far he some in Unionism have moved from their original comfort zone. Surely, the previous programme indicated that Paisley still held, albeit in softened form, many of the attitudes that were – to put it at its most diplomatic – unhelpful as the years rolled by, but his journey and that of those around him is surely one of significant movement onto difficult, indeed extremely unfamiliar and in a sense hazardous, terrain. So much so that it’s hardly a surprise, although it is a surprise, to read that he is no longer attending the Martyrs Memorial Church because there are those who still oppose his decision to share power with SF.

It also points up how much less far others had to move in Unionism – and further afield – to accommodate the dispensation and power sharing and yet how often they have rhetorically railed against that dispensation.

None of which is to deny agency to Paisley. His personality inflected the conflict, even if it was as much a representation of deeper dynamics as anything else. But while retaining many/most of his beliefs – and there’s a somewhat entertaining anecdote as to how he told Blair in 2007 that he was a ‘fool’ for converting to Catholicism – there is a sense that he was willing to make that accommodation.

More on Mandela… December 19, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
4 comments

Some interesting stuff in the Phoenix this week, the last issue proper of the year (and I’ve already points towards the excellent annual Phoenix…erm …Annual which gives a pretty good overview of the bad and the not so great).

The current issue notes the contortions the orthodoxy have got into in trying to put distance between Mandela and Sinn Féin, but also notes that the ANC was keen to use IRA expertise (as those of us who paid attention when this first broke a while back this was apparently through the good offices of Michael O’Riordain) during the Sasol bombing operation in 1980. It notes that one of those who subsequently pointed to that as an example of justifiable political violence was David Miliband.

More recently the ANC played what some would argue was a fairly central role in encouraging the SF base to accept the peace process in the late 1990s, and this is – naturally – in addition to the continual links between the ANC and SF throughout the period.

And it is difficult not to agree with the proposition that:

The spectacle of coalition minister, egotistical rock celebrities and other body snatchers basking in Mandela’s reflected glory is only be be expected. But he airbrushing of SF and Adams from the frame – regardless of political views and arguments from all sides – is another example of the Irish media reverting to Section 31 mode.

There’s a longer piece on Adams in the magazine which engages with precisely that issue, and makes the sensible observation that if anything these attacks make the prospect of Adams going sooner rather than later much less likely. And while it is entirely possible this will put a dent in SF’s ratings, as the Phoenix notes, so far it hasn’t damaged them anywhere near as badly as might be expected (by those who are making the attacks).

It does address other issues, such as the party’s hope of doubling its representation. Personally I think it much more feasible for them to reach the low 20s. That said though, the lesson of 2011 was that they were suddenly succeeding in places where their broader profile was lower than might be expected with names who had no national currency whatsoever. That too has changed. But 28 seats would be an huge task even on the best of days.

And yet, as always there are other issues. Worth considering is the fact that they are almost inevitably going to see an increase in the number of councillors, with a possible knock on effect on their Seanad representation further down the line. And then there’s the European elections. They should, at a minimum take one seat. It’s possible they might get two, thought three is probably pushing it.

In other words, despite the problems they face (and by the way the Phoenix notes something that we’ve pointed to here also, that in relation to the Liam Adams case the Irish political class has tended to leave well alone – it also notes that both Colm O’Gorman and the director of One in Four have ‘refused to pass judgement… circuiting the human complexities in family situations’ which may well account for the lack of traction that has had) SF as a political force in this state is here to stay and the overall situation is extremely favourable – nor least the decline of the LP.

Using Adams as a lightning rod is probably an inevitable element of that dispensation. It was bound to happen sooner or later, in a more covert or more explicit fashion – though interesting to reflect on how events might have unfolded if he hadn’t contested a seat in the Dáil.

I wonder if that’s such a clever approach on the part of those who oppose SF, because it does suggest that short of breaking SF as a political force in this state – a deeply unlikely proposition, they will instead exhaust their energies in trying to dislodge him as leader. And in doing so, it will merely accentuate the distinction between SF with Adams and SF without, something that is going to occur with the passage of time.

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