Shocked… shocked I tell you! July 19, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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.
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…
A Britexit and Northern Ireland… July 15, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.
Thoughtful piece in the SBP the week before last (that Croke Park thing has pushed a lot aside this last week or so) by Jim Fitzpatrick on the dangers to the current dispensation on the island by the shape-throwing in Britain over the European Union and an exit by them from it. Fitzpatrick notes that in some respects the border hardly exists, but he worries that in the event of such an exit it might reappear. Let’s not get too starry eyed, the border remains, the island consists of different political entities – but it is true that in certain respects it is invisible. Fitzpatrick suggests that:
…as Britain heads for the door, is it really likely that Europe will suddenly put in place the kind of free trade deal with no strings that the eurosceptics dream of? Hardly.
So, prepare to see customs posts back on the border. Prepare to see north-south trade become a whole lot trickier. Prepare for restrictions on freedom of movement and working.
I’m not certain that any such exit would necessitate those sort of measures. One of the most obvious differences north and south is that different currencies circulate, but the prevalence of Euro, or rather the acceptance of it, in the North is striking (by the way John A Murphy, that self-appointed scourge of SF and most unlikely policeman of nomenclature had a strange article last week in the Irish Times, did he not?). And the institutions established under the GFA (such as they are, and note the messing around by Unionists in regard to them this last month or so) will continue to exist. So, while I suppose it is possible the EU might play a sort of cosmetic (and not entirely innocuous) hardball, more local interests in Dublin and Belfast, and indeed London, would prevail. And he acknowledges same:
At least the Anglo-Irish apparatus and warm relations between the two countries provides the basis for bilateral deals that may go some way towards mitigating the economic damage. But the culture shock that will accompany this greater wedge being driven between north and south will spell trouble for the wider political process.
That said, that last might be correct. A Britain on the outside of the EU would be in a distinctly different position and the knock-on effects within that polity might be problematic – and all this before we consider what Scottish independence might bring to the feast (and by the way, I don’t know, but has continued EU membership been linked in any way to that issue, perhaps as a means of assisting the NO camp?). Fitzpatrick, interestingly, argues that a YES vote would…
…probably [be] the one thing that would kill any move towards EU exit by the diminished UK. In the midst of its own existential crisis, the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be less inclined to walk a lonely road.
Hard to disagree.
I also wonder how Britain would adapt to being outside the EU. It’s one thing to rail against it, quite another to wind up in a sort of EFTA position, at best. And while we’re all aware of the problems of globalisation, they cut many ways, not least in locking nation-states together. Slicing through the EU links could be mightily injurious to certain British interests.
Just on the topic of the campaign for Scottish independence (of sorts), Fitzpatrick has a most interesting snippet in his most recent SBP article, a piece on the 12th in NI, when he notes that:
Ulster unionism appears strangely at odds with the very concept of Britishness, as understood and practised by most people in Britain. Despite unconvincing talk in the past of attracting Catholic voters, unionist leaders have now made it clear that achieving a Protestant march past a Catholic area is the zenith of their ambition, and that they are prepared to destroy all else in pursuit of this goal.
And most notably…
No wonder that Scottish unionists have begged the Orange Order to stay out of the debate on Scottish independence.
SF in government across the island soon – or not? July 1, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
Jim Fitzpatrick in the SBP argues in relation to SF, supposedly the ‘most ideological’ of Irish parties – which is news to me, and perhaps you as well – with regard to the recent meeting between Martin McGuinness and the Queen, that:
But the voters like the Queen and seem to like McGuinness and Sinn Féin more when he meets her. So, having taken the plunge, the party has been keen to exploit every opportunity. And the voting audience it’s targeting is south of the border. Northern nationalists and republicans may be less comfortable with the public displays of affection with the monarch, but not enough to send their votes elsewhere.
Are such meetings genuinely so important in the South? I don’t know the answer to that and I’m curious what others think.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick argues that ‘Stormont’s days are numbered’, that the sclerotic, at best, relations between SF and the DUP are now so bad that at some point SF will ‘pull the plug’ – as well as problems ‘delaying benefit cuts… that SF cannot hold off indefinitely’. He suggests that ultimately the institutions could be suspended for some time.
It doesn’t necessarily mean a return to a pre-Agreement crisis, but it could mean Stormont being put into deep freeze for a period of years – the last suspension lasted effectively for five years from 2002 to 2007 and this next one could be something similar.
But in the meantime the architecture of de-facto joint authority and all-party talks elevates Sinn Féin in the North from ineffective regional assembly members to international peace negotiators.
It’s an interesting argument (and he points to the irony that SF and the DUP would continue to share power on local authorities in the North). Not least because it cuts across a lot of preconceptions amongst some in the south that SF is desperate to be in ‘power’ in both parts of the island come 2016.
And there’s something about the de facto joint authority point is oddly persuasive. Though it’s all a bit conspiracy du jour and it surely would be quite a risk. For example, one wonders how a ‘pulling of the plug’ by SF (or seen to be by SF) would play and how opponents and the media would use it?
But, while Fitzpatrick doesn’t suggest a particular time for SF to walk, he does suggest that it would be at a point that would be of benefit electorally both North and South. That would have to suggest the 2015/16 period to encompass both Westminster and RoI elections. And that would suggest that SF might not be that pushed re the power in 2016 trope.
Again, I wonder what people think of that.
A sensible suggestion… June 27, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
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…from outgoing PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott…
…[that] his force should no longer investigate killings carried out during The Troubles.
Constable Baggott, who is stepping down today after five years in the job, said a different authority should deal with the legacy of the conflict.
He said: “We need to be a police service of today and not dealing with issues of a different time in a different place.”
As ever a truth and reconciliation process should be part and parcel of the broader process. Though Baggott himself seems to underline in his thoughts why progress forward is unlikely in the short to medium term…
Constable Baggott also urged the region’s politicians to step up and deal with outstanding peace process issues, claiming the disputes are a drag anchor holding back progress.
The PSNI is itself a factor in all this, whether by commission or omission, but as ever it is the political will to push towards some form of resolution across a range of areas that appears to be lacking.
SF voters… and ‘violent nationalism’. June 11, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
Well now, there’s a most curious piece in the Irish Times written by Colm Keena on Gerry Adams. In it Keena – who wrote a biography of Gerry Adams. In the piece he has to admit that Adams and the leadership of the RM brought it away from armed conflict towards constitutional politics…. but… but…
What struck me while working on the book, and still seems to me to be a key observation, is the way the movement for civil rights in Northern Ireland, encouraged as it was by other such movements around the world targeting oppression, became so particularly violent.
Does he really find this such a mystery? The struggle – and it’s an appropriate word, struggle – for civil rights didn’t appear in a vacuum, was the result of a repressive state, a more broadly repressive society and political, social and economic marginalisation. Nor was it a case of that state or society passively standing back in the face of the civil rights struggle. Quite the opposite. As it gained force and influence we know the history of 1968 onwards.
Not that there’s not some truth to the following:
The reason for this, I decided, lay in the fact that Adams, and others like him steeped in the culture of Irish republicanism, were of the view from the start that the civil rights question in Northern Ireland would quickly become the national question. And he and other republican true believers were convinced that the national question could be resolved only through violence: the Brits would have to be driven out. Because they held this view, republicans saw the eruption of violence in the North (which they encouraged) as an opportunity. If the scale of the violence and killing could be increased and maintained, the British would tire and leave.
Of course Keena doesn’t mention Official Republicanism in this, or the nature of the RM pre-split, for to do so is to bring particularly dynamics front and centre – firstly that, yes, Republicanism saw an opportunity – though I think it can be argued that many Republicans, perhaps a majority, saw that opportunity as being a rupture with the then extant polity towards a leftist approach. However, that was, to a considerable degree, washed away as those Republicans underestimated both the nature of the response of the state (and that broader society) and the manner in which Nationalists responded to both the long term history of the socio-political entity they were in and the short term responses of that state.
Nor does Keena reference at all the broader international political context, and in particular the influence of student and other protests and the increasing militancy of those involved in same. That was an obvious dynamic feeding into the evolution of the civil rights movement. Again, none of this happened in a vacuum. Perhaps, given the inability of the Stormont state to reform itself, and the hesitancy and inability of the British to oversee such reform successfully, it is unfortunate that the conflict in the North appeared when it did, but it is unlikely that there would have been no conflict, no stand-off or more with the state.
And it’s worth noting that peaceful protest, of a sort one presumes Keena champions met a very strong and violent response from the state and state supported actors – which response itself ratcheted up more confrontational and increasingly combative protests, though well short of paramilitary or insurgent approaches.
Moreover, and this is another failing of Keena’s, both wings of Republicanism, as it were, whether those who remained wedded to armed struggle or those who subsequently (though notably not until three/four years later, and only in part) renounced it, saw as the outcome the replacement of the state as was in NI with an all-island unitary republic – albeit of differing types (though this modified for Official Republicanism in some respects subsequently). So the issue of violence is not necessarily the most important one at play in all this.
Nor was violence the preserve of one side in this. In the history of the conflict it was loyalism, perhaps – though the record is cloudy, though suggestive, in this regard – egged on by elements within broader political unionism, who (re)introduced political violence in the latter part of the 1960s.
And it’s also worth continuing. Violence and armed struggle continued in a pernicious cycle in no small part due to the response subsequently of the British state which was unable and unwilling to position itself as a guarantor of all rights – and instead made the arguably strategically sensible if morally bankrupt decision to pick a side (albeit unwillingly and incompletely).
But all this is lost in Keena’s analysis. All violence devolves to the responsibility of (Provisional) Republicanism.
Which is not to say that some of the attitudes that Keena attributes to that wing of Republicanism did not exist. But it is to rob agency of many other forces in this history.
One of the real terrors in the room was this tradition that gave such a central role to, and so embraced, violence. Militant nationalism could be imagined as a virus that was passed from generation to generation, ready whenever the conditions were favourable to emerge from its slumbers and wreak more havoc.
I’ve always felt that this is such a parochial line, and an expedient one. Militant nationalism exists in all societies at one time or another and it can be both reactive and active.
It may well be that Adams came to the view that violent nationalism was a virus that needed to be isolated and killed before it infected coming generations, and that this in part explains his role in guiding the republican movement towards peaceful means while striving to prevent a catastrophic split.
Perhaps he did, though it would be an odd way of looking at it. It seems to me more likely that Keena’s following analysis is closer to the truth:
It may also be that he decided, long before the ceasefires, the IRA’s campaign should end because it was a hindrance, rather than a contribution, to its stated purpose.
But in a way it doesn’t matter, because eventually the broader political context, East West, North South and within the North changed to a degree that it was possible to reconsider and reshape a dispensation in which – however imperfectly, there appeared to be an alternative to the use of political violence.
But Adams’s principle political motivation remains his dream of a united Ireland. Personally I think that his stated allegiance to democratic politics is subservient to this dream, and that even if this view is wrong, to act on a belief to the contrary is to take a great risk.
What precisely is the risk? That SF will institute a coup d’etat? Does he think them that stupid, that detached from reality? Does he believe that this state is so fragile that citizens would accept or tolerate such an eventuality?
It seems, actually, that his fears are somewhat more prosaic:
Adams is a member of the Dáil, Sinn Féin is in power in Northern Ireland, the party is on the rise in the Republic, and it seems it will hold the position of Dublin Lord Mayor in Easter 2016. Indeed it is possible it will be in power, north and south of the Border, come the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, the event that did so much to feed the romantic view of political violence which has so blighted this island. It is not difficult to imagine Sinn Féin wanting to use the anniversary to influence popular views on the legitimacy of the Provisional IRA’s campaign, thereby justifying Adams’s career, and providing a boost to the republican tradition.
So what? Given the engagement by SF – and some will view that engagement in very jaundiced terms from a variety of viewpoints, with the British, the Royal Family, etc, etc, it is hard to believe that any particular boost would be a boost to – say – what most of us would understand Republican views in 1978, to pick a year at random, would be – at least in the context of support unequivocally armed struggle, the necessity for military means to deal with partition and so forth. The contexts are now utterly different, not least in the steadfast antagonism to dissident violence in the North (though there’s no question of SF or Adams throwing the IRA under the bus as it were in relation to its history all the while being critical of aspects of the struggle).
But if that’s not what we can expect to hear from SF – and simply providing a boost to the ‘republican tradition’ is pretty vague in any case, then what functional negative impact can it have. Does Keena align with the Conor Cruise O’Brien line that simply to talk about 1916 would in and of itself inflame the impressionable sensibilities of another generation of Irish youth? Would kick off a Troubles redux? I find it highly unlikely that he – or any sensible person – does.
If that is the case then what particular ‘dangers’ are there?
But to be honest it would appear that he will countenance near enough no expression at all of Republicanism, for how else to interpret his closing thoughts?
People who voted Sinn Féin need to pay serious heed to these dangers. At least part of the energy within Sinn Fйin comes from its militant nationalist tradition. That tradition is a menace. We should eradicate it.
Perhaps so, but another thought. If, as the heading on the piece suggests, ‘SF voters must pay heed to dangers of violent nationalism’ is correct then logically that heed might be such that they would come to the conclusion that increased political support for SF would be precisely the thing to keep pushing it away from ‘violent nationalism’ – after all, as it increased support this was seen as part legitimation for its moving away from armed struggle. And therein lies yet another contradiction at the heart of Keena’s approach, because what he seems unable to accept is that political formations can change in regard to their attitude to political violence and that SF (like other nationalist and Republican formations before them) has too.
Stirring the pot June 10, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland.
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It’s difficult reading the words of Peter Robinson this week – and noting his comments on Muslims directed towards Martin McGuinness last week, not to get the sense that his rhetoric is shifting towards a point beyond the hostile.
Asked by Lady Hermon MP whether he had confidence in Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who would have known about the scheme since its initiation in 1999, he responded, “I always expect republicans to behave like republicans. I don’t expect them to do things in the interest of the wider community.”
In relation to Muslims it seemed that he was playing to a very specific audience with little or no appreciation of the broader implications of his words. Perhaps these latest comments are likewise. Perhaps it is because he is in London. Perhaps it is because he can say it without any sense of serious political repercussions.
For any who hoped that with the end of the Local and European elections some space for a more, well, positive approach might open up, surely this must be a disappointment. Clearly it’s next stop Election 2015 for Robinson.
Many thanks to the person who forwarded the text of the speech delivered at the Commemoration for OIRA Volunteers Colman Rowntree and Martin McAlinden.
Here’s some British far-right activity… May 18, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Far Right, Northern Ireland.
…with a connection closer to home. Socialist Unity posted this up, the Britain First far-right group. Watching the video I was surprised at the almost evangelical Christian line taken by the lead speaker, but read this and it becomes a little clearer. According to wiki.
The principal figures in Britain First, Dowson and Golding, launched a new political party in Northern Ireland in April 2013. Dowson was registered with the Electoral Commission as the Protestant Coalition’s leader, and Golding as its treasurer. However Dowson stated at the launch that the Coalition had no one leader.
And for more on the Protestant Coalition see here.
Yasssamine Mathers writes in the CPGB Weekly Worker, which can be read here, about the arrest of Gerry Adams and she asks the following:
So why is Sinn Féin still supporting the peace process and why did it not ask for firmer guarantees at the time of the deal?
The reality is that at the time of the Good Friday agreement Sinn Féin/IRA had lost its international backers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The party had little choice but to accept the conditions imposed by the UK government: it was not winning the war, and ambitions of office also played their part. Ironically SF’s current electoral success is based on nostalgia for that period and respect for the martyrs of the war, yet in seeking legitimacy and electoral success Sinn Féin keeps tripping over its past.
That’s an interesting thesis as regards Sinn Féin and the IRA losing ‘international backers’ but I’m trying to think of any that would have affected them substantially by 1998. Their support appears to have been not from the USSR or Eastern bloc (at least to any great extent) but instead from individual states, one thinks of Libya, or organisations like the ANC (and the history of those links is already very interesting and one would wonder is more yet to come on that score) that tended to plough their own furrow.
The USSR itself was notably circumspect about engaging too fully in the conflict. Tangentially this has been mentioned on the CLR in relation to the North before.
What do people think of the argument?