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Flags and political loyalism January 31, 2013

Posted by smiffy in Loyalism, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, The North, Ulster, Uncategorized, Unionism.
20 comments

Regular readers may be interested in a newly-published book on political loyalism by U.S. academic, Tony Novosel, entitled Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism. published by Pluto books.

Over at the Pluto website, Novosel has published an interesting and timely article, situating the current protests around flags within the context of an historical pattern of the exploitation of working-class loyalist political mobilization by mainstream Unionist parties. While not uncritical of loyalist communities and their political expression, he does give the current situation an important added dimension, going beyond the sometimes easy stereotyping of #flegs.

Orange Grand Master Loses the Bap October 5, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Unionism.
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The Orange Standard is, I am sure, a fine publication. The voice of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (which, in an almost pleasing display of petty symbolism that belies its own name, has deliberately plumped for a .co.uk web address), it seems that the current edition has an article in which the Grand Master, Robert Saulters, who previously distinguished himself by blaming the police for loyalists shooting at them over a disputed march in 2005, has lost the bap. The Belfast Telegraph reports that Saulters has gone on the attack over a number of issues that he obviously believes are a threat to the Ulster Protestant way of life. These include the fact that the ESB is probably going to take over NIE (from its middle eastern owners) via some “dirty dealing”, and he claims that the Public Prosecution Service should be known as the Protestant Prosecution Service. On a less amusing note, there is also this:

Surely we have learned something from the Claudy bombing, the Omagh bombing and all the other atrocities, these fancy names of dissident, real, eirigi, they are all the Roman Catholic IRA and let us not forget that.

Charming. Well, outrageous actually, and something you’d expect to hear from the likes of Johnny Adair. It makes you wonder just how paranoid the Orange Order has become. See what happens to you when the DUP lets you down?

Where now for the UUP? March 25, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Unionism.
5 comments

Today’s news of Sylvia Hermon’s resignation from the UUP comes as no surprise whatsoever. Still, it’s a blow to the whole UCUNF project, and especially to the UUP under Reg Empey, which for the first time since its foundation has no MPs. It’s been clear since the first rumours of the UUP-Tory link up emerged that she was opposed to the very idea. In this case, silence did not mean consent, especially in light of her consistent record of voting with Labour. After a great deal of delay, she has made the only decision she was ever likely to make. One of the all-too-few NI politicians able to raise her view out of the tribal ghetto, she came to speak at The Workers’ Party Northern Ireland Regional Conference I’d guess around ten years ago, and she talked a fair amount of sense. Most obviously, I thought, on the issue of a Bill of Rights where she had opposed the concept of including nationalist rights and unionist rights in the Bill in her submission to the consultation process. She always seemed more of a natural fit to Alliance than the Ulster Unionist Party, and finally both she and the UUP have acknowledged that reality. It will be a major surprise if she doesn’t walk the next election to retain her seat.

So her future looks certain. What of the UCUNF? Their candidate in North Down will be former Alliance posterboy Ian Parsley, who was always more clearly right-wing and more clearly pro-union than his former colleagues. He is exactly the type of candidate that the Conservatives are hoping for as they makes the argument that they are bringing more British politics to the north – outside traditional tribal politics, articulate, with a clear sense of having embraced modernity. It is easy to imagine him swanning round the more upmarket parts of London inhabited by Cameron and his cohorts, something that cannot be said for the average UUP representative. The only thing he lacks from the ideal Conservative candidate is being a Catholic. It looked like they would be running a couple of those, but after news broke that the Tories, motivated most likely by the increasing possibility of a hung parliament, had invited the DUP and UUP to unionist unity talks, the duo concerned withdrew. Strictly for personal reasons of course, nothing to do with what looked very much like playing the Orange Card at a potentially tight general election.

So the modern, non-sectarian, normal politics promised by the Tories proved not tp be so shiny, new and non-sectarian. Not only that, but the Cameron story of a new socially liberal and socially-repsonsible conservatism has taken a battering in NI on an another front. One of the ways in which the Tories are supposed to have changed is in their attitudes towards gay people. Not only has this come under question due to their new European alliance with such lovely people as these, but, as noted by 1967, Cameron himself has failed to convince about his gay-friendly credentials. And now, unsurprisingly, it turns out the UUP would like to stand someone whose views on gay rights leave a lot to be desired, a story discussed here on Slugger and here by Splintered Sunrise.

Now it could be said, that in trying for unionist unity, refusing to back the devolution of police and justice, and seeking a stand a candidate with a known aversion to having homosexual couples stay at his family B&B, the UUP are revealing that they know their core audience and are appealing to it. After all, unionism, especially outside Belfast, is hardly known as a beacon of modernity. But having pinned their hopes to the Cameron Tory project, this simply gives the appearance of incoherence, desperation, and uncertainty, especially when such an appearence is already present due to the failed attempts to outflank the DUP from the right once it overtook the UUP. An appearance heightened by the loss of their only MP. The pressure on Reg Empey to deliver at the next general election has now grown immensely. His main hope of taking a seat, it seems, lies in the DUP standing aside in a seat like South Belfast or Fermanagh South Tyrone. However, at the minute, it seems the only seat the DUP might stand aside in is North Down, which may well benefit Hermon more than the UCUNF. So it looks like Empey might well have swapped a bird in the hand for none in the bush or anywhere else.

The Tory gamble needed right-wing Catholics to vote for the New Force if it was to work. Not only is there no sign of that taking place, but the PR disaster surrounding unionist unity and now the rights of gay people has probably had the effect of alienating any such likely voters. Instability and incoherence means that UUP voters who support the institutions are likely to stick with the DUP, while the TUV is actually anti-agreement, and more atttractive to hardline voters. So in short, things look bad for the UUP. In chasing the Tory alliance, it looks like Empey has done enough not only to destroy his own leadership, but also to ensure that the only credible figure remaining in the UUP as a possible replacement has gone too. The DUP is most likely to benefit, though it faces its own challenges from the TUV. Interesting times. And, alas, no sign that there will be any benefit to the left from all this.

My Heart Bleeds June 8, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Unionism.
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Everyone should watch this video at least once

Diane Dodds

All across the island candidates distance themselves from party… odd that. May 15, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The North, Unionism.
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Sure, the running joke about the Fianna Fáil campaign, with the worlds smallest logo attached to the posters, is good enough. And I note Pat Leahy in the Sunday Business Post is running a competition for the best example of same. That sort of backing swiftly away from a source of possible contention tells us all we need to know about the enthusiasm of the various candidates to run as individuals or members of their parties. I’m not sure how it will work in practice. It’s not like they can hide their affiliation, although as mentioned here recently, perhaps the more likely strategy will be running against the party centre where everyone becomes rugged individualists eager to criticise Cowen et al. We’ll see. Or those of us who’ve already had candidates at the door have seen.

By contrast, as has been noted elsewhere, Labour is pushing hard with posters of Eamon Gilmore asking us to Vote Labour. That’s a good strategy which one hopes will work better than the abysmal 1997 Progressive Democrat campaign where every candidate shared poster space with the looming figure of Mary Harney. Our beloved Minister for Health was, as it happens, quite popular going into the election and regarded as an asset. However, she had the misfortune to make a series of incendiary comments about unmarried mothers which collapsed her poll ratings in a precipitous fashion. Cue scores of PD candidates wishing that they could cut the photo of Mary from the posters where it was stuck for the rest of the campaign, an albatross – or worse – at their shoulders.

Meanwhile, reports from opposite ends of the island bring oddly similar news. For example, in the South constituency, curiously, Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott has sought to put some clear blue water between herself and the blandishments of the Chairman.

Kathy Sinnott yesterday moved to distance herself from Libertas after its founder Declan Ganley said he would welcome her re-election to the European Parliament.

South is the one constituency where Libertas is not running a candidate and Mr Ganley said he would welcome the re-election of Ms Sinnott, who like Libertas, also campaigned for a No vote in last year’s Lisbon Treaty referendum.

But Ms Sinnott said she didn’t believe that Mr Ganley’s comment amounted to an endorsement of her candidature and stressed that she was contesting the June 5th election as an Independent and was not associated with the group

Hmmm… Sinnott is no fool so this seems an interesting straw in the wind. Perhaps the Libertas campaign, red in tooth and claw is just a little rich for her blood. And, perhaps too, taking a leaf out of their play book she couldn’t resist a swipe…

“I don’t think of his comment as an endorsement – Libertas are not contesting Ireland South and I think the reality is that they didn’t think that they would win a seat here,” said Ms Sinnott who took the third seat in 2004.

And they do in Dublin? Or the East constituency?

She goes further…

“If Libertas had run a candidate here, it’s possible that I might have lost some votes to them so it’s good for me that they are not running somebody but that’s a matter for them and has nothing to do with me,” she said.

Nothing to do with me – eh? Clearly the brand isn’t quite as seductive as might have been anticipated.

And Sinnott appears to be positioning herself very very slightly differently to Libertas…

Earlier this year at a meeting at Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, Mr Ganley spoke of his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage but yesterday Ms Sinnott, who is opposed to abortion, stressed she held different views to Mr Ganley on other issues.

I’d love to know what they are… perhaps someone could enlighten us.

Meanwhile, turning to the North we can see problems facing the Ulster Unionists, or should that be the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force, or no, perhaps just the Ulster Unionists.

For Syvia Hermon, MEP for the Ulster Unionists, has said she’s not going to stand under the UC&U – NF name. Actually it goes a bit further than that although it’s not fully parsed out.

The sole Ulster Unionist MP has said she will not stand for Westminster under the joint UUP-Conservative election pact formally announced in February.

Lady (Sylvia) Hermon said yesterday she could not stand under the “Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force” banner when she defends her North Down seat at the next British general election expected next year.

“At the present time, I can’t see myself standing under a Conservative banner,” she said, explaining simply that she is “not a Tory”.

Now that’s an admirable statement to make and one has to applaud it. But it’s problematic, to put it mildly. Is she saying in the next statement that she would leave the party?

She said she was elected as an Ulster Unionist: “If my party chooses to move to call themselves by a different name, I’m terribly sorry and terribly disappointed by that, but I remain an Ulster Unionist,” she said. “That was certainly my mandate and I’ve loved serving the people of North Down.”

Or does the last sentence imply that she would go independent?

One has to sympathise with her, but also perhaps to a limited degree with Reg Empey…

Party leader Sir Reg Empey responded last night, saying Lady Hermon’s remarks were a challenge to “party policy and the collective decisions taken by her colleagues”.

Sir Reg, in a statement which portrayed the North Down MP as out of step with party opinion, said the decision was democratically and unanimously endorsed. “[The] North Down constituency was fully represented by all its delegates who unanimously voted in favour of the proposals.” he said.

“Her own position is not an issue in the present campaign. She was assured last year that she would not be required to take the Conservative Party whip in the lifetime of the present parliament. Candidate selection for the general election is not yet under way, meaning that any decisions regarding her own selection process in North Down do not have to be made at this point. This makes the timing of her statements all the more disappointing.”

Has the party left her or is she leaving the party?

To be honest the UUP/Conservative lash up has never struck me as that sensible a proposition. While I can understand the logic of attempting to sidle up to the probable victor of the next election (and in doing so to carve back some space and authority from the DUP – not least in the hope and expectation that the Tories might be a little bit more likely to underwrite a ‘voluntary coalition’ reworking of the GFA/BC – and there’s the bait that Cameron dangled of UUP MPs sitting in a Tory government… just so it fulfills his wish for NI to become a ‘normal’ part of the UK. Hmmmm) it seems to be attempting to push Northern Irish political activity into categorisations that defy realities on the ground.

If the UUP is a party of the centre right, or right as we are talking about the Conservatives, then where does that leave the DUP? A populist centre-right party? And then what definitions do we ascribe to the SDLP and Sinn Féin, or does this positioning only operate on the Unionist axis? And that begs the question how does this work in practice? Does the UUP hope to capture right-leaning votes from Nationalists? To ask the question is to recognise that left and right politics isn’t so easily generated in the sort of context we see in the North.

So this attempt to hammer the round peg of Ulster Unionism into the square hole of a specific right wing ideological framework seems inappropriate, at best. The UUP has always appeared to be a broader coalition of interests than that. Sure, tilted towards the centre right but also with a strain of social liberalism and even in areas something approaching social democratic thinking on economic matters. And that strand would identify with British liberalism or new Labourism as much if not more easily than with Conservatism.

Perhaps the calculation is that the shiny new Conservative party under Cameron is sufficiently liberal and metropolitan to allow those who might have demurred in the past from joining with them. Yet paradoxically Empey must curse the day when the only surviving UUP MP is from the liberal wing of the party as distinct from those who fell at the last election who might have had less qualms about the merger – or whatever one chooses to term this coalescence.

And in a way it points up that for all the distinctions between Northern and Southern political activity the similarities in terms of parties being broad coalitions that cross or encompass different ideological lines is found both sides of the border. How could it be otherwise when in a very real sense the parties have been shaped by that border and by their responses to it?

And there’s an oddity here…a ‘trusted’ source in the UUP argues in the IT that:

Lady Hermon could simply stand as an Ulster Unionist at the next election and that there was room for such an arrangement.

“Technically she could do that,” the source said.

Which certainly seems to point to the question as to why this has all come into the public domain now.

A lot will depend on Harmon’s plans for the future, and one might reasonably wonder what they might be, but one also presumes that however rueful Reg Empey is about the current situation he might be even less enchanted to lose that only surviving MP. Which might explain why his language remains rather nebulous in his response.

“The Party Officers and Executive Committee of the Ulster Unionist Party have unanimously agreed, with the Conservative Party, to jointly endorse her UUP colleague Jim Nicholson as the ‘Conservatives and Unionists’ candidate in the Euro Election.

“The leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party is disappointed that Lady Hermon, in the middle of an election campaign, has chosen to give a series of interviews in which she has challenged Party policy and the collective decisions taken by her colleagues.

‘Throughout last year and into 2009, we held many discussions at Party Executive level, held roadshows for our members on numerous occasions and ultimately put proposals for a Memorandum of Understanding to our Executive for approval. This very democratic process resulted in two separate meetings of our Executive where the relevant decisions were taken on unanimous recommendations from our Party Officers. At these well attended meetings not a single vote was cast against the proposals. At both of these meetings, our North Down constituency was fully represented by all its delegates who unanimously voted in favour of the proposals.’

“Her own position is not an issue in the present campaign. She was assured last year that she would not be required to take the Conservative Party whip in the lifetime of the present Parliament. Candidate selection for the General Election is not yet underway, meaning that any decisions regarding her own selection process in North Down do not have to be made at this point. This makes the timing of her statements all the more disappointing.

“The Ulster Unionist Party and Conservative Party will continue with our joint campaign to bring real change to politics in Northern Ireland. We will continue with our campaign to create a new political and electoral force which offers the electorate here an opportunity to be part and parcel of a new pan-UK unionism”.

‘I want it to be clear that we have charted a democratic course for the UUP which has been fully endorsed by our Party. Having come through the traumas of the Belfast Agreement, where we had to ask people to work with self confessed republicans, I am confident that working with a Conservative Party which is enthusiastically committed to the Union and the end of British Government neutrality on Northern Ireland, will prove attractive to our members and the wider pro-Union electorate[BTW, they omit the full stop on their website]

So, is she in or out of the party? We don’t know, he doesn’t tell and I’ll bet she’s not fully decided.

But there’s another important issue in that text. Note what he says in the final sentence… no, not the bit about ‘self-confessed Republicans’, although that indicates a certain hardening up of language, but the next bit…

…I am confident that working with a Conservative Party which is enthusiastically committed to the Union and the end of British Government neutrality on Northern Ireland,

This, of course, links right into that pitch, mentioned above, by the UUP to rework the GFA/BA. I think, personally, that continued British Government neutrality (although what that means in practice is a useful question) would be no harm (and there’s an equally strong case for the RoI to keep calm too, although the economic crisis appears to have generated that dynamic all on its own). Tinkering around with the Agreement is of dubious utility and potentially quite dangerous, not least in the context of continuing threats from dissident Republicanism. Worth coming back to soon.

BTW, interesting debate on this issue over at Slugger which details local nuances with more knowledge and detail than I ever could.

As does this by Splintered Sunrise which draws a hitherto unthinkable comparison between Sylvia Hermon and… no, no, I’d suggest people read it… :)

A smallish holiday caravan of reaction? Éamon Ó Cuív looks towards a future Fianna Fáil/UUP coalition in the North February 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Northern Ireland, The North, Unionism.
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swift-lifestyle-400-1a.jpg

And so this is what it comes to when you address Ógra Fianna Fáil. As reported in the Irish Times (which is going through a redesign, a reformatting and an increase in price this week, to no clear purpose that I can make out):

THE ULSTER Unionist Party (UUP) will consider Fianna Fáil as future coalition partners in Northern Ireland in years to come, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív has predicted.

Fianna Fáil, which recently started cumainn in the University of Ulster in Derry and Queens University in Belfast, is currently examining options for development in the North.

It’s quite a leap into the unknown.

Mr Ó Cuív rejected the argument put forward by some in the party that it should establish grassroots organisations in Northern Ireland, but not actually contest elections. Fianna Fáil could very quickly, he said, face applications for membership from people who were already elected to bodies in Northern Ireland and who would want to run again.

“We could find ourselves in a situation where we are confronted by Northern elections in a short time after organising there.”

He noted that Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey was the only senior Unionist politician to criticise openly Fianna Fáil’s Northern expansion.

Which, it has to be said, does present at least some problems, doesn’t it? On the other hand, isn’t this rather fantastical. I’ve mentioned before how I suspect it would take a considerable length of time for Fianna Fáil to operate successfully in the terra incognito North of the border. That is, assuming it can operate at all. The example of the Northern Ireland Conservative Party – that exotic bloom translated into the so far unyielding soil of the six counties – hardly gives comfort to those eager to progress the national agenda by cross border political means. Of course the NICP was, arguably, a bit too exotic. Fianna Fáil at least has the qualification of coming from this island and that border is fairly permeable.

Despite this, Mr Ó Cuív, who is Éamon de Valera’s grandson, said: “The question that Ulster Unionists will be asking is that if they are bound to share power with a nationalist party, would they prefer it to be Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil or do they think that the SDLP can reverse the tide.”

He believed that the Ulster Unionist Party could see Fianna Fáil “as the favoured party. The answer to this is not black and white,” he told the Ógra Fianna Fáil conference.

Fianna Fáil should not limit its catchment just to nationalist voters who supported Sinn Féin, or the SDLP, or who did not vote at all.

Still, why the Ulster Unionists? Why not the DUP? Or is that a bridge too far for Fianna Fáil. And yet, one might suggest that the DUP had less historical baggage as regards Stormont than the UUP, and arguably a greater – albeit newfound – appetite for economic and political pragmatism that would chime well with that of Fianna Fáil. But of course the DUP has taken up with Sinn Féin, so that option is off the table for the moment. Whether this indicates some calculation by FF that the big soggy centre of NI politics will swing UUPwards in the future is an interesting thought to contemplate, but I doubt it.

And yet, then again, why not the UUP? Mild, centrist, polite, used in a former incarnation to government and to all the messy compromises that come with government. Able to forge and use a cross class coalition of interests for the best part of forty years. Less in thrall to the religious dimension than the DUP, but still aware of and able to play to that dimension. And how convenient that it should slip the shackles of the Orange Order. Yes. That would do nicely when one thinks about.

That we are talking at base about parties of the centre, centre/right, does not appear to faze Ó Cuív one iota. After all, the UUP has – despite something of a liberal strand – never been recognisably ‘progressive’ in any meaningful sense. And one might argue that, ironically, this makes it a very typical Irish political party indeed. The DUP, despite having a more populist and working class base perhaps makes fewer concessions still to the centre left. And that too places it firmly within a spectrum of broadly unsurprising political activity found on this island.

Also, ironically, despite the jibe that class always lost out to national identity in Irish nationalism, the charge is perhaps even more appropriate to Ulster Unionism in all its variants. The parties of Unionism were as noted above, and remain, great pan-class constructs which have reified identity above more local or specific concerns. And even to suggest the DUP is more populist is, in some ways, merely to ascribe features based upon their membership rather than to indicate any specific ideological component. One of the banes of leftism has been a tendency to project revolutionary or ideological aspects onto groupings which have only the vaguest and most transitory relationship with same. I’ve yet to see a convincing argument about the proletarian nature of the DUP, but no doubt it’s being written up somewhere. Feargal Cochrane in his “Unionist Politics and the politics of unionism since the Anglo-Irish Agreement” touched on some of this when he noted that:

“another complicating factor within the DUP was provided by class divisions between the party’s urban working-class heartlands and the increasingly middle-class composition of the leadership, and more importantly, the conflicting political agenda’s of the rural middle-class Free Presbyterian voters and their urban working class secular bretheren. Clifford Smyth argues that the extent to which the DUP became a working-class party is a matter for conjecture, commenting that it is impossible to prove Paul Arthur’s hypothesis that ‘Political Paisleyism was proletarian, but religious Paisleyism attracted lower middle-class congregations which crammed the ample car park with their Cortinas”.

Tellingly Cochrane doesn’t address the UUP in class terms at all, other than tangentially.

Having said that, what is interesting about this is that it points to a new future political structure in the North where southern political formations would vie for votes in the North and also attempt to be part of the governing institutions. It’s not quite a unity agenda, in the sense that there is no impression from Fianna Fáil that it intends to use any future position in government to leverage the situation forward. And in that respect Ó Cuív’s words about “…they are bound to share power with a nationalist party” are revealing. The Good Friday Agreement status quo remains just that. Sure, there will be greater emphasis on cross-border links, but no hurry. And then there is his question about ‘reversing the tide’. Does he mean the SF tide? Or that which has ensued after the GFA? Or has a certain rhetorical vagueness entered the equation? And is that last sentence of his to be interpreted as a call to move beyond nationalism? What sort of Fianna Fáil is being offered here? Certainly it stretches the definition of catch-all to undreamt of extremes.

Strange times. But rhetorical times. Before any of this becomes even slightly persuasive it would be necessary to see concrete action. I don’t see any prospect of that in the immediate, or even the medium term. And so Ó Cuív’s comments should be regarded if not necessarily with cynicism, then certainly with scepticism. I don’t follow the old DL line that say and do nothing to upset Unionism (you’ll see examples of it in upcoming Times Change when they’re added to the Left Archive). Unionism is a fairly robust entity, even at the worst of times. But rhetoric is another thing entirely. Don’t say it unless you mean it. I don’t really believe they mean… at least not yet.

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Unionism… the Armstrong and Miller approach… November 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The North, The other Sinn Féin, Unionism.
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armstrong_miller_1.jpg

It’s rubbish, it can’t work…

But if it did work…

It won’t…

It might do

But it can’t…

Yes but if it did, you’d have to admit it’d be brilliant…

Armstrong and Miller…

Watching comedy on cable is a surprisingly good way to unwind. Sure, I know Conor of Dublin Opinion and others of you prefer Big Brother. That’s fine. I’m a pluralistic kind of guy. To each their own poison. I’m getting reacquainted with the final seasons of Frasier, avoiding MASH at all costs, checking out the Fast Show and recently caught the oddly nostalgic Armstrong and Miller. This is timely, if only because they’ve decided to reform after six or seven years (interesting too since I’d forgotten there was a Smack the Pony crossover – now there was a show, bar for the grim comedy ‘pop’ interludes. Top tip: not everyone can become a pop star, nor should they even try).

Anyhow, in a recently rebroadcast episode of the so-so, but often quite funny, A&M there was a sketch based around the above exchange where a scientist a cosmetic company proposed a de-aging device that would suck ‘age’ out of people making them young again. When the obvious response was made the point was made…

‘… but if it did, you’d have to admit it’d be brilliant’. Indeed it would.

Which brings me to Ruirí Ó Brádaigh. I’d said I’d write a few more words about the biography, and so I will. First, I’d still recommend it. He comes across quite sympathetically – and this is in spite of as much as because of the authors own sympathy.

It’s a fascinating read and a genuine insight into a character that was there during much of the travails of Republicanism during the later half of the century. One can only wonder what the meetings of SF and other organisations that he attended were like. To have been there with Costello, Goulding, McGuinness and so on must have been remarkable, and R Ó B seems at least somewhat aware of that.

There are a number of issues which the book glides over. It’s not entirely clear that the issue of political violence is dealt with comprehensively enough – or the contradictions between the aspirational and the achievable in real terms (for example one of the more recent jibes from dissident Republicanism is the idea that the armed campaign wasted lives of volunteers and this is an indictment of Adams and McGuinness. If so then it is also a crushing indictment of Ó B and others who must have realised by the mid-1970s that there would be no unilateral British withdrawal).

I can’t help feeling that somehow he is politically a diminished figure and not merely in the sense that RSF are completely marginalised. The project which he infused so much genuine and sincere energy has moved on to pastures new. It’s not the same. Not at all the same really, yet I can’t help but feel that there is something of an old Fenian looking on with a degree of incomprehension as the IRA supplanted the Repubican ground after 1916. Things would never be quite as they were, and the principles might actually change somewhat. Never a happy proposition.

Ed Moloney’s preface, which I critiqued some time back enlarges upon, exaggerates perhaps, but also reflects a genuine thread in the book which is the palpable tension between the old guard of R Ó B and the younger Northern based leadership. Well Seamus Costello, indeed Cathal Goulding some time earlier, could have told him about those sort of tensions. And realistically, it’s curious to see the incomprehension that developed over that issue when Ó B and others had used precisely that dynamic in the late 1960s to split away a component element of SF. In a way this is the one failing of the book, Ó B is presented as almost a naif figure – steadfast in principle but permanently let down by those around him.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness come out – well, not exactly covered in glory (incidentally there are a few entertaining bits of writing … for example on p.257 it is stated that ‘Adams… in the late 1970s, with his full beard and shoulder-length hair… looked and acted more like a hip young college professor than a wild eyed terrorist’… truth is that many many young Irishmen at that point looked exactly the same and it had no connection at all with ‘hip’ academics). But in truth it’s hard not to see this as a reading based on a flawed analysis, one which supposes that the only valid or legitimate strand of Republicanism is one that holds an almost theological adherence to the tactics and strategies developed in the 1922 to 1990s period.

I find that a most unlikely reading. I also find the idea that Ó B was a naif unconvincing. Whatever else he is and was Ó B strikes me as a remarkably shrewd individual, clearly quite likable on a personal level, but very very astute on the political.

Although… there are one or two stories which point to a certain detachment borne of a deep rooted idealism. And in addition to that a certain lack of interest in Unionism as an entity and a wish to paint it as something quite distinct from its actuality. Indeed if there is one thing that comes through very loud and clear it is an almost total lack of engagement with actually existing Unionism. The federal arrangement of Éire Nua might well be logical – by some lights (although why Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan would elect to go into a regional parliament has never really been addressed satisfactorily) – but it seemed so adrift from the political reality as to be almost pointless. I don’t want to overstate that. There were serious efforts to establish parallel networks, not unlike those of the First Dáil, but despite considerable enthusiasm they never took deep root. And a sense of genuine ‘negotiation’ and engagement seems to have been entirely lacking. This was the plan, all would have to follow it, not merely within the party, but far beyond it.

That wasn’t a viewpoint restricted to Ó B by any means, but it was symptomatic of an inability to come to terms with Ireland as it was, rather than as he and others wanted it to be.

And hence my reference to Armstrong and Miller at the start of this post.

Take this anecdote…

“In Boston, on a second trip in April (1972), Ó Brádaigh met William Craig. They were participants in a televised debate on Northern Ireland. At a reception afterward, John Hume, introduced Ó B to Craig, who offered his hand. Ó B shook it and the crowded room went quiet. After some small talk the discussion moved to politics. Ó B asked Craig what would happen if the British suddenly withdrew from the North. “Unilateral Declaration of Independence is on,” replied Craig. It was not a surprise; Craig, Paisley and others had been threatening UDI for months. What, Ó B asked, would happen if that was not feasible, if the Six Counties could not make it alone? Craig then brought up a system of regional governments ‘with the richer areas helping the poorer ones’. Although Craig saw things in a British context and Ó B saw them in an Irish context, they agreed that regional governments might work. They also agreed that there was too much violence in the north and that a civil war would be a disaster for everyone”

It continues…

“The conversation with Craig was satisfying because it suggested that some Unionists might take the Republican political initiatives seriously including Dáil Uladh”.

But how seriously? If one was seeing things in a British context and the other in an Irish context realistically they weren’t seeing anything similar at all. And there is an element of … what if this happens, and then what if that happens, and then what if the other? Each step moving to an ever more unlikely point simply in order to arrive at the pre-arranged destination.

The next sentence after the Dáil Uladh reference is even more telling. It continues…

“Unfortunately, IRA activities made continuing the dialogue highly unlikely as conditions deteriorated and some volunteers engaged in attacks that were contrary to Republican ideology”…

What is strange is the way in which Ó B can seemingly – from the evidence of the book – detach himself from the ramifications and effects of what was happening on the ground and appear oblivious to how these events impacted on his theoretical structure, a structure which was based on a frankly hypothetical series of events…

…you’d have to admit it’d be brilliant…

…it can’t work…


The killing at Coolacrease…A secret history of anti-Protestant Republicanism? Maybe, maybe not… but certainly an instructive example of how some people want us to read ‘history’. November 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in History, Irish History, Religion, Republicanism, Terrorism, Unionism.
68 comments

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There’s something very odd about the Coolacrease controversy. Something very odd indeed. And it’s not the actual case itself.

That can be boiled down to a contested (although not by either an IRA or British military investigation) incident in which two young men belonging to a fringe Protestant denomination were shot dead by the IRA in 1921. The accounts presented in an article by producer Niamh Sammon (working with Eoghan Harris on the program) and Anne Marie Hourihane in the Irish Times suggest that the shooting was unprovoked and while there is a larger debate beyond the pages of the IT it is there that we see some of the most interesting aspects of the ‘controversy’.

Sammon posits that:

No doubt June 30th, 1921, began like any other for the Pearson family of Coolacrease, Co Offaly. Life on that day would have revolved around the usual farm chores, but today, there was an extra task at hand. With the sun in the sky, two sons of the family, Richard (24) and Abraham (19), and a friend of theirs, William Stanley, were saving the hay, determined to make the most of the good weather…

Late in the afternoon, Stanley looked up from his work to see a gang of armed IRA men converging on the hayfield from all sides. He knew something terrible was coming, and yelled to Richard and Abraham to run for their lives….

Within the hour, the Pearson women were driven from their home, which in turn was burned to the ground. As the house blazed, they saw Richard and Abraham lined up and shot – their father William and another brother Sidney, would have met with the same fate, had they not been away that day. Mrs Pearson and her daughters nursed Richard and Abraham for many hours as they slowly bled to death.

Anne Marie Hourihane argued some days later that:

…the truth is that most Irish people would much rather not get in touch with the past, thanks very much all the same. In Ireland the past – the truth about the past – is a bit of an unnecessary complication.

This reluctance to look at what has happened in Irish history comes not just from the descendants and friends of those who perpetrated dreadful crimes but, much more remarkably, from the descendants and friends of the innocent victims.

and that…

the Pearsons were a farming family who lived in Co Offaly. After a spate of slanderous rumours, and an outburst of land envy – the Pearsons owned and worked a 340-acre farm – two of the Pearsons’ four sons, Richard (24) and Abraham (19), were shot by about 30 IRA men on June 30th, 1921. They were initially approached while out saving hay… Both Richard and Abraham were shot in the genital area, and then in the buttocks, in front of their siblings and mother, and the house was burned. It took Richard six hours to die and Abraham 14.

The manner of this shooting is shocking enough, reminiscent to modern eyes of the mutilation of the bodies of black men who were lynched in the southern states of America. Even more shocking was that the television programme managed to find people, in this day and age, prepared to defend and justify the murders. It is perhaps not so surprising that old men, steeped in the dangerous myths of other times, should be prepared to talk about how “the Pearson girls were aggressive – more aggressive than their brothers”, and how the Pearson brothers, who died in agony, “were executed and that was that”. But to see a young man blithely talking about how the Pearsons had shown profound disdain for local republicans “and in particular for Irish Volunteers” sent a chill through the blood. It was like someone saying: “the Jews had too much money.” Terrifying.

Sammon enquires:

what had this family done to deserve such a dreadful retribution? The Pearsons were members of a peaceable, non-political, dissenting Protestant sect known as the Cooneyites, and their attackers were drawn from the local Catholic community. These were their friends and neighbours; people they must have greeted on the roads around Cadamstown, lads who’d sat with them at school. What forces had changed these friends into the enemies who came to their home, burned it to the ground, and shot them in a brutal manner as their helpless mother and sisters looked on?

These are the questions that leaped out at me just over a year ago when a friend gave me a book by Alan Stanley, the son of William Stanley who’d escaped with his life that day. Alan had written a powerful account of the single most defining event in his family’s history. He told how, after the killings at Coolacrease House, the Pearsons fled to Australia, and of his own search to trace their descendants. In this slim volume, Stanley published his correspondence with the Australian Pearsons, who were desperate to try and understand how the country of their forebears had turned so violently against them.

The story he had unravelled was the starting point of the journey toward making a television documentary about the truly hidden history of what happened at Coolacrease. It seemed that this was the kind of history you don’t learn about in school and, notwithstanding Ken Loach’s film dramatisation of the period in The Wind that Shakes the Barley, here was proof of a much darker side to the republican fight for independence. They say that the victor writes the history, but was that as true in Ireland as elsewhere?

Hourihane asks:

Of which other group of crime victims would commentators be allowed to speak in this way in modern times? Certainly not of the victims of rape. These statements made the viewer realise that the murder of the Pearsons could happen again tomorrow.

That, notably in the Border counties, similar murders – miserable, vicious, laden with local gossip – happened yesterday. There was never a shred of evidence to justify the Pearson murders, and there still isn’t. Here was an otherwise excellent – a groundbreaking – programme that was far too balanced in its efforts to give both sides of a lamentable story.

Pat Muldowney writing in the Village has argued that the case is not quite as presented. He argues that:

..it is not surprising that the programme challenged the validity of the Irish Court Martial ruling, held in June 1921, which found the Pearsons guilty of staging an armed attack on an IRA unit engaged in road block activity in resistance to the Black and Tan terror aimed at suppressing the democratically elected Irish government; for which the Court passed the death sentence.

But this was not the only Court that met to adjudicate on the fate of the Pearsons. This Hidden History programme supposedly set out to examine forensically what happened on 30 June 1921, the day of the executions. So how did it happen that the programme never mentioned – not once – the other Court, which met on 2 July 1921 to do exactly the same thing?

It is not that Hidden History did not know about the British Military Court of Enquiry, which met on that day in Crinkle Military Barracks, Birr.

The problem for the Hidden History/Eoghan Harris line was that the British Military Court of Enquiry, operating completely independently, found exactly the same as the Irish Court Martial. The Chief Inspector of the Queen’s County RIC testified to the Court that “the two Pearson boys a few days previously had seen two men felling a tree on their land adjoining the road, had told the men concerned to go away, and when they refused, had fetched two guns and fired and wounded two Sinn Feiners, one of whom it is believed died”.

Muldowney also contradicts Hourihanes and Sammons accounts of shootings to the genitalia by saying that:

…what the medical evidence given to the Court describes is a range of injuries from the legs to the shoulders, all of them superficial, and none to the genitals. According to the evidence, none of the wounds were fatal, and the men died from shock and blood loss. If they had received timely and adequate medical attention it seems their lives could have been saved.

Apparently the shootings were to the groin area, not the actual genitalia. Awful. Revolting, but again not quite as presented in the program.

Now, to me as a neutral bystander, that presents us with a serious problem in our assessment of the propositions made by Sammon and Hourihane. Firing upon IRA members during the War of Independence is a far from neutral act. That the men suffered grieviously for their actions is clear. But without a context – and neither Sammon nor Hourihane present us with that context we are given a misleading picture of the events.

A bit more context. Muldowney had an account of the killings published by the Aubane Historical Society – which as we should know after months of careful analysis of the ICO and BICO material is a post-BICO grouping. Still, axe to grind or no, he does appear to have certain aspects of the historical record correctly researched.

The response in the Irish Times was instructive. A quick look at the IT website indicates that in the week following the original article by Niamh Sammon and the screening of the programme (on October 23rd) there was precisely no letters on the subject. Indeed the first letter to appear was on October 31 praising the programme and the article by Anne Marie Hourihane.
Subsequently two letters appeared on November 2nd, one agreeing, one not with the former letter. On November 5th there were a further three letters. So, to date, six letters in all. Granted it has featured on Liveline and there it has been fairly heated. But not a huge outpouring of controversy in the pages of the IT.

Which is interesting because under the heading Sensitive strands of our history Hourihane yesterday once more wrote that:

The two brothers were approached while out saving hay on their farm by a party of up to 30 IRA men. They were taken back to the farmhouse where they were shot and died much later, in front of their mother and sisters and one younger brother. Their father and a fourth brother were away from the farm on that day.

Now in contrast to her statements some weeks back where she said that “…the truth is that most Irish people would much rather not get in touch with the past, thanks very much all the same. In Ireland the past – the truth about the past – is a bit of an unnecessary complication.” she argues that…

The reaction of normal people to this sorry story will naturally be one of regret – that the shootings of the Pearsons was a terrible thing, even by the standards of that terrible time, and should never have happened.

But most would also agree that it happened a long time ago and now the best thing to do is to acknowledge the tragedy and let them rest in peace.

In fact, this does seem to be the reaction of most people who have heard about the Pearson killings, which have now become the subject of a book, a television programme, of debate in the letters column of this newspaper and now on Liveline.

Now that’s odd on a heap of different levels (not least the term ‘normal’). There had been no letters since the 5th of November on the issue. Okay, that’s only three days. But a desultory six hardly a controversy makes. So what is the function of her current article? Simply to keep the pot boiling?

She continues:

…Irish history is so fragile to some, and so sacred, that they confidently assert that the Pearson brothers must have been British spies, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, not pacifists at all but given to taking pot shots at IRA men, arrogant towards their Catholic neighbours – in other words, asking for it.

It appears impossible for these people, standing guard over Irish history, even to countenance the possibility that the Pearsons were innocent men.

This seems to me to be a bizarre reading of the situation. In effect she appears to demand that people take as read the account she and Sammon serves up, that this was an unprovoked attack by the IRA on a family, something between a land grab and sociopathic ethnic cleansing. Then when people question that, or provide evidence that the situation is more complex than she presents she resiles from her original position that ‘this is a history that shouldn’t be forgotten’ by suggesting that this is a history which really should be forgotten once an appropriate response is forthcoming. In other words she is demanding that history and the response to that history must conform to her precepts. Worse again she clearly must be aware of the critique Muldowney presented. Yet in an act of remarkable intellectual sleight of hand (for want of a better term) she chooses not to address it.

This is problematic because it is wildly ahistorical. In order to understand why two young men were murdered it is necessary to consider the motivations of those who murdered them. If one narrative is presented as ‘fact’, when it is difficult to assess the actuality, it is entirely reasonable that others might present a counter-narrative as ‘fact’. This is part of a process of engagement with historical events. And it is curious that Hourihane is blind to or that she ignores this and presumes that the version she champions is somehow uncontestable [incidentally, although Hourihane hasn't mentioned the British report it has been dismissed as based on hearsay by others involved in this - a curious charge, and one which I doubt would be leveled in any other circumstance].

But consider again the questions that Sammon raises.

It seemed that this was the kind of history you don’t learn about in school and, notwithstanding Ken Loach’s film dramatisation of the period in The Wind that Shakes the Barley, here was proof of a much darker side to the republican fight for independence. They say that the victor writes the history, but was that as true in Ireland as elsewhere?

My problem with all of this is that no-one with even the most glancing knowledge of Irish history during the period from 1912 onwards to the mid-1920s could possibly be unaware of the fact that there was indeed a ‘much darker’ side to the Republican fight for independence. There were a list of atrocities committed by all sides, British, Republican, pro-Treaty forces, anti-Treaty forces. From the sacking of towns by the Black and Tans, to Ballyseedy, to the later assassination of Kevin O’Higgins [a flawed man, but far from the caricature some would paint of him] this is a period stained in blood.

Thankfully though we have people known as ‘historians’ whose function is to research historical events in a reasonably dispassionate manner and to whom we can turn to offer answers to the sort of questions Sammon raises.

Let’s refer to Joseph Lee (some, but perhaps not those who have contributed to the IT on this debate, will be aware that he one of Ireland’s historians). He has written that:

‘if the contemporary historian is not himself to become an agent of yet further fragmentation, he must strive towards total history, not in the futile sense of trying to write everything about everything, but in the sense of seeking to reveal the range of relevant linkages between the varieties of activity with which he is concerned’

The problem is that we’re not being presented with a total history, not even close. We’re served up a partial history by people who are not historians, who seemingly consciously eschew historical methodologies. Lee has some sharp points to make about the period.

Foul deeds were done during the civil war. It was natural that memories should be bitter. But it is necessary to keept the scale of the conflict and even its viciousness, in perspective. The most apposite analogy appears to be witht he Finnish civil war of 1918. His took place in a newly independent country with the same population as the free State. But it claiemd far more victims. Even if the probably exaggerated estimate of 4000 Irish casualties be accepted this still falls far below the 25,000 Finnish fatalities. It may be, however, that the manner of death leaves a more searing psychological scar. Did not the notorious 77 executions turn the heart to stone? But the 77 falls short of the 8300 executions in Finalnd, to say nothing of the 1500 private enterprise murders, or the 9000 who died in prison camps.

As an aside, Dennis Kennedy, also of the Irish Times and the Cadogan Group, once wrote an illuminating if somewhat partisan book that covers some of this matter in The Widening Gulf: Northern Attitudes to the Independent Irish State, 1919-49 It is a while since it was last published but its available on Amazon. Well worth a read.

But of course there is a larger agenda. And Hourihane touches upon it when she says:

The invaluable service that they are providing is that they are so annoying, so patronising and so irrational that they are succeeding where 86 long years of silence have failed: they are making modern Protestants so furious that they are ready – almost, almost ready – to come out and talk about their families’ experiences in the War of Independence and the Civil War.

These are not the stories of the Big House burning, with the paintings and the piano on the lawn. These are the stories of quite ordinary people – I imagine mostly rural people, but this might not be correct – who were pushed out of the new State.

What evidence does she present of this? Why none. No evidence at all. If she ‘imagines…but this might not be correct’ then we have no basis for judging the accuracy of her statement. This is John Waters territory, is it not, where things are right because we ‘feel’ they are right. And it is ‘feelings’ that are at the heart of this approach because in a most interesting statement, that one both hopes and fears is a Freudian slip she writes:

Thousands of us enjoyed the Hidden History television documentary about the Pearson killings simply because we had never heard about them before.

‘Enjoyed’ is a strange word to use. It appears a rather shallow and vicarious way to treat of actual events of horrible dimension. Even were the IRA entirely legitimate in their actions, and at this remove how on earth could there be any definitive reckoning of that, the idea that one ‘enjoy’s an account of the shooting of two (or let’s be honest, three including the IRA volunteer) young men is… well, I’ll say it again, strange.
But there is no limit to her intuitions…

It aroused the suspicion in us that there are other stories like it – and we have no way of knowing how many, or how few, there might be – burning underground, stories that live on in the families of those who suffered, passed on in the deep privacy of family life so that, as one man told me last week: “It’s as if it would be disloyal to talk about it.”

Which again is simply a way of saying, “I have no evidence that any such actions took place and therefore I’m simply stirring the pot”.

He meant that it was as if it would be disloyal to talk about it in public. Within his family such matters were not discussed routinely, but only when he and his father were feeling particularly close to each other.

They became a family secret, in a country too full of family secrets. And so these stories, these whispers, are lost to the larger, Catholic population – perhaps forever.

It might be time now for the larger, Catholic population to ask itself: are we happy about this? Would we like to look at this small slice of our history, not in order to condemn men and women long dead, but because it is interesting and true?

Well, let me declare an interest. I am fortunate in coming from a background where both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland (and indeed also atheism) played a prominent role in my immediate family. Being brought to two different religious ceremonies worshipping the same God tends to lend one a certain… shall we say… critical detachment (and attachment) on such issues – and others. Certainly it was an example in pluralism which I’ve never forgotten.

Now, perhaps Protestantism in the South is a cowed tradition. But having been on the inside, to some degree, I rarely found it so. Nor did I find that there was any sense of a fear of sectarian animosity dating from the Independence period. Indeed if anything, quite the opposite. To some degree I found that there was a strong identification with this state – an identification not entirely dissimilar to that expressed by Michael McDowell whose avowed and I suspect entirely genuine Republicanism and identification with the institutions of this state was of a sort I could identify from previous expressions and would broadly share (one of the most entertaining aspects of the view of Protestants held by non-Protestants is that they are per definition closet monarchists and unionists – I often wonder why that is. Does it give a little frisson, some sense of the ‘other’? That the Protestant is truly ‘different’. Let me be the first to disabuse all who harbour such thoughts….). Perhaps that is simply my experience. Perhaps there is a vast and silent history of murder and mayhem out there beyond my knowledge. But if so it simply isn’t reflected in the statistics from the period.

And to offer up a counter-narrative (and in a sense a touch of ‘whataboutery’ which in the context of the shallowness of the arguments put forth in the IT I make no apology for), I also have a very very close relative whose father fought on the Republican side during the Civil War and after imprisonment was effectively barred from working and living in the Free State. Eventually, and ironically, he had to move to England. He wasn’t the only one. Many thousands left. Many many never returned. That is what happens during these sort of spasms of violence. But we weren’t Finland. There wasn’t a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Protestants, and if something close to ethnic cleansing was taking place on the island it was hundreds of miles to the North in Belfast in a polity supposedly untouched by the WoI or the Civil War.

I have no special insight into the events at Coolacrease. Who does? Who can tell with absolute accuracy what happened on that day? Who can easily judge the motivations and self-justifications of those involved? I knew a man, this time a distant relative, who went ashore on D-Day with US forces. I thought of him – and still do to a great extent – as something approaching a hero. He, by contrast, saw the journey he made across the sands of Normandy as something that had to be done. And everything thereafter too, whatever it involved. That’s a basic dynamic in wars and conflict, the grim pragmatism that is forced upon people by these events. But we are asked to put all that aside in favour of a different and arguably entirely unrealistic narrative.

What I am certain of is that it is of dubious merit to attempt to draw any general lesson from such a specific event as Coolacrease. I’m hugely suspicious of the idea that people are unaware of “a much darker side to the republican fight for independence”. That seems to me to be part of a typically patronising and faux-naive narrative constructed by certain people for their own ends. One that engages with history only as a means to re-represent the present. One that ignores factual evidence because it doesn’t fit with the overall thesis. That we have certain leading lights with a history in particular organisations that consciously sought to reconstruct an Irish historical narrative more to their liking on both sides of this debate is unsurprising. They always want to teach us, the people(s) of this island their particular lessons de jour, however those lessons may change to suit themselves. And what lesson is it that is sought today? To suggest that Protestants in Ireland were subject to a vicious campaign of repression and murder? That Republicans were (or should that be ‘are’?) beasts. Neither is true. Neither is useful. And to implicitly suggest that there is something ‘abnormal’ about a critique of a program about an historical event – or about Irish people in their general response to this period, is neither useful nor true.

Shadow of the gunmen… The 17th Independent Monitoring Commission Report and the Southern media narrative on Republicanism. November 8, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Loyalism, Media and Journalism, Republicanism, Unionism.
18 comments

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What a difference a year makes. The IMC issued its 17th Report yesterday. And it makes for interesting reading.

Still, before we come to that, on the Irish Times website yesterday I couldn’t help noticing the following:

Its [the IMC] report on paramilitary activity is also expected to give another positive review of the Provisional IRA’s efforts to keep itself on a peaceful footing.

However the period covered by the report does not include the murder in the Irish Republic two weeks ago of south Armagh man Paul Quinn whose family blamed Provisional IRA members.

“efforts”? In a context where SF Ministers sit in government in the North? Since neither the Gardaí or the PSNI have suggested that PIRA was responsible it seems churlish for the Irish Times to engage in building a narrative beloved of so many elements of the Southern media whereby PIRA is behind every contentious event. This guilt by association angle is enormously effective since it is so difficult to prove otherwise. The interface between criminality, political and paramilitary activity is notoriously opaque. That the media largely unquestioningly follows the most negative line strikes me as self-serving on their part in the extreme. That they latch onto this and yet quite happily ignored a similar nexus between another Republican paramilitary group and a political party in the past is remarkable. And can I reiterate that I write this as someone who would have been harshly critical of the armed campaign at the time. The point is that unlike many many other groups PIRA has moved from armed struggle to political engagement. That doesn’t wipe away the past, but it does suggest that a mixture of pragmatism, understanding and critical engagement is necessary.

Nor does it tally with what the IMC says. Consider the “PARAMILITARY GROUPS: ASSESSMENT OF CURRENT ACTIVITIES”

2.2 Developments over the past year have led us to set out the material on paramilitary organisations in a slightly different way from hitherto, in two respects:
– In our Seventh Report two years ago we noted the then very recent act of decommissioning by PIRA6. Since then we have reported the
progressive and unequivocal implementation of the organisation’s
decision to follow a political path. A year ago we referred to what we described as the organisation’s “transformation”7. Since then there has been other firm evidence, such as the backing for Sinn Féin’s decision in January 2007 to support policing and the criminal justice system8. Sinn FÑOin’s subsequent entry into the Northern Ireland Executive has meant that the provisional movement as a whole has been more
closely engaged in the democratic process. We strongly believe that
this position is now stable. We have therefore decided that we need no longer give an analysis of the organisation’s activities at the same length as we have in the past, and that instead we can properly confine ourselves to a brief summary and to reporting any significant developments. The material on PIRA in paragraphs 2.15-2.16 below is therefore considerably shorter than in our recent reports. We will however continue to monitor PIRA and we will report anything
significant;
– In recent reports we have noted the encouraging remarks made by the UDA and UVF and those associated with the organisations. We have also said that the impact on the ground had been limited and that much more needed to be done to end criminality. We refer below to important and encouraging developments on the part of the UVF in the six months under review. Nevertheless, we think that there are some issues which affect both organisations and those associated with them; we address them in paragraphs 4.5-4.8 below.

So we are then to take it that PIRA has essentially shut up shop. The IMC can’t quite say that, hence their point about ‘no longer need give an analysis of the organisation’s activities at the same length’. But the implication is clear. Indeed consider the media narrative and compare and contrast with the threats that the IMC identifies.

These threats come from a number of sources. Under “Dissident Republicans Generally” we are told that a hitherto unknown group Óglaigh na hÉireann (which appears to be a split from the Real IRA) rightly provides a source of concern.

ONH remained active in the six months under review. In July it threw a pipe bomb at Strabane PSNI station which exploded on the roof of adjacent premises. We believe it was responsible for the three explosive devices which were discovered at the houses of District Policing Partnership
members and a PSNI officer in the Strabane area over four days in April 2007; none caused any damage. Members remained engaged in a variety of criminal activities, including drug dealing; we think the proceeds go largely to the perpetrators rather than the organisation. ONH sought to enhance its capability by continuing efforts to recruit members. There are indications that the leadership may seek to address the question of whether they could sustain a continuing and more effective terrorist campaign.

Nor is ONH alone:

We believe that dissidents have sought to target the homes of police officers or others thought to possess weapons, with a view to stealing them. Members of a grouping calling itself the Republic Defence Army, based in the Strabane area, may have been responsible for an assault in May. There was an attempt to achieve greater unity among dissident republicans but in practice the evidence is of more fragmentation.

That this inchoate mixed bag of dissidents are so ineffective is of some comfort to both the (or perhaps the many) communities on this island, and a testament to their marginalisation. But they are proliferating albeit at a low level and they remain extant.

Still, the report also points to some interesting processes amongst the dissidents…

Finally, we are aware of speculation in the media about the possibility of dissident groups calling a ceasefire because of disillusion over their lack of ability to sustain an effective campaign. We do not think that dissident republicans are seriously addressing this as a future strategy, even if some members might be prompted to murmur about a ceasefire because they would be aware of its potential implications for the release of prisoners. We
have no reason at present to expect a broad ranging move or one which would have any very significant impact on the threat that dissidents continue to pose.

So. What of the bigger groups. The CIRA has been involved in the following:

CIRA has been active over the six months under review. It was responsible for two of the three paramilitary murders committed in the period; the victims were both former Belfast members who had established a rival group in the same area. A third person was injured in the same attack. We believe that in Lurgan it was responsible for the construction of a mortar which could have been used against members of the security forces. The device was found in March 2007 before it could be used. CIRA claimed that it was responsible in the Armagh area for throwing a pipe bomb at a police vehicle and petrol bombs at a police building. We do however believe that members monitored police patrols, and the organisation has undertaken targeting, including of PSNI officers and premises. In our view CIRA hoped to carry out attacks in order to disrupt the political process in Northern Ireland but did not bring them to fruition. Members threw petrol bombs and missiles at police officers in the Lurgan area in August. Throughout the six months members have engaged in a wide variety of serious criminal activity North and South, including extortion, drug dealing, robbery, brothel keeping, smuggling and fuel laundering. We believe that although most of the proceeds go to individual members some pass to the organisation.

First up it is only reasonable to suggest that internecine armed actions indicate the worst for any group. That this was due apparently to attempts to establish a ‘rival group’ is cause for even greater concern. The history of the INLA during the 1980s was an almost unbelievable spiral into extreme violence between factions. The effective cul-de-sac that dissident Republicanism appears to be in is exemplified by this sort of activity (and as an aside, is it possible that the effective trouncing that was delivered to dissident political candidates this year has contributed – albeit indirectly – to this). Ally to that the purported range of activities which generate funds and one can only marvel at the pronouncements of some allied to the supposed ‘legitimate’ Republic.

The upshot of this is that:

CIRA has continued its efforts to enhance the organisation’s capability. It sought to recruit members (though with limited success and so far as we are able to establish it has not attracted disillusioned former members of PIRA) and to develop a youth wing; it has attempted to acquire weapons, and it may have tested home made explosives; … We also believe that the 400lb of home made explosive discovered by the PSNI in Craigavon in August 2007 belonged to CIRA.
2.10 CIRA thus remains active, dangerous and committed. It has sought to enhance its long term capability and we believe that it would have undertaken other serious incidents had it been able to do so. As we have said in the past, it is capable of a greater level of violent and other crime.

Now hold on a second. Here we have an organisation that is ‘active, dangerous and committed’. Yet what whisper do we have of this in the Irish media? What sense that this impinges event tangentially upon their musings?

The INLA can reflect upon the suggestion that:

2.12 We believe that INLA was responsible for one of the three paramilitary murders committed during the period under review10. In Belfast, Derry and Strabane members have undertaken patrols to prevent anti-social behaviour, and have acted against a number of alleged drug dealers and others. Members have been heavily involved in a range of serious criminal activity North and South, in the case of the latter apparently with greater energy than in the recent past, albeit for personal gain. This activity has included providing protection and undertaking paid services for organized crime gangs, from which it secures a considerable income. This is particularly the case in the Dublin area. Overall therefore our view remains essentially unchanged: INLA retains a capacity for extreme violence; we cannot rule out its becoming more dangerous in future; and in the meantime it is largely a criminal enterprise.

A sorry situation. But note that it has a ‘capacity for extreme violence’.
The Real IRA is hardly any better. Although not involved in murder they have been:

2.18 …responsible for an unreported shooting in April 2007. In
common with other dissident republican groups, it has targeted PSNI officers and premises. In March 2007 units monitored and targeted PSNI officers and vehicles in the North West and in South Armagh. It planned but was unable to carry out a number of operations, especially in the Lurgan and Craigavon area. In the summer it was probably responsible for threatening alleged criminals in west Belfast. The police have continued to have some success against RIRA.

2.20 The picture for RIRA is therefore of an organisation which has achieved little operationally in the six months under review, which maintains a strong determination to be able to do much more in future, and which has made efforts to enhance its capability to that end. The threat thus remains.

Meanwhile on the Loyalist side there is at least some change in the seemingly glacial pace of development. The Report is actually quite positive about the UVF.

2.27 Shortly after we said this in our Fifteenth Report the UVF leadership did substantially grasp the nettle. On 3 May 2007 it issued a statement in which it said that it would renounce violence and transform itself from a military to a civilian organisation. Paramilitary activity such as recruitment, training and targeting would stop and so-called active service units would be stood down. The organisation as a whole would be downsized. Any involvement by members in crime would be in contravention of the “command” of the leadership. As to weapons, they were not decommissioned. Instead they were to be put “beyond reach”; the statement referred to their being in dumps under the control of the leadership but not accessible to members. This statement and its implementation appear to embrace the Red Hand Commando as well.

2.28 We have looked closely at the UVF to determine whether the statement has been given practical effect; four of the six months under review follow the statement. Broadly speaking, we think that implementation is under way.
The leadership is clear on the direction in which it is taking the organisation, has briefed the message in the statement down to the grass roots and has started to take steps to reduce the organisation’s size. Some members have been allowed to leave; some have been expelled on disciplinary grounds. We have no indication that there has been any recruitment since early May.
Such intelligence gathering as appears to have taken place has been directed against potential informers or suspected dissident republicans12.
That aside, we have no evidence of any terrorist-type activity, whether overt, such as targeting, or preparatory, such as acquiring weapons although we cannot rule out local and unsanctioned acquisition on an opportunistic basis.

Their summation?

2.29 It is therefore clear that the 3 May statement represents a major turning point for the UVF. The leadership has set a strategy to which it is committed and has started to implement it. But the position is not yet entirely transformed and there are some pockets of resistance. Although we are not aware of any overall challenge to the leadership it is not at all surprising that there should be some opposition despite the long period of careful preparation and internal consultation which preceded the statement. It is understandable that the leadership should want to manage this carefully.

So much done, but more to do. Mind you, there is the eyewatering statement that…

We have mentioned before that the organisation might seek to maintain a small residual capability to respond if necessary to future attacks from republicans13.

They mention it, but they don’t indicate what their position is on it. Is it a good or a bad thing? I assume leading lights are issued permits for personal protection weapons, or perhaps I’m completely wrong there.

Finally to the Ulster Defence Association. There the situation is considerably less positive.

Some care therefore needs to be taken in making an overall assessment of the UDA over the six months under review. The period has been dominated by the results of the internal tensions. Those same tensions also prompted some other less public activity. The leadership has sought to reduce violence by members and the level of criminality, and has continued to take steps to that end though its success has been limited. We do not doubt, as we have said before, that there are senior figures who are convinced of the need for the organisation to move in an entirely new direction. But the organisation is not centrally structured and, as has been demonstrated in the six months under review this limits its capacity to deliver change quickly.
There has been some very recent progress by way of contacts between the UDA and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning but there is no sign that the decommissioning of weapons is an early prospect. The pace of real change remains far too slow. We will continue to judge the organisation by what it does, not what it says. We deal in paragraphs 4.5 – 4.8 below with some issues to do with both the main loyalist organisations.

One wonders whether it is within the capacity of the UDA to change significantly in the near to medium term. The word ‘Association’ in the title barely hints at the reality of that ‘organisation’ in terms of the loose bonds between the various constituent elements.

And the figures for violence in the North are indicative of the problems ahead. Worth noting that the three murders during the time period (1st March to 31st August 2007) were committed by Republican paramilitaries and constitute “the worst six month period for two years”. On the other hand casualties from loyalist attacks were “about one third what it was in the same period in 2005-2006″ while casualties from Republican attacks fell to two-thirds the total during the same period in the previous 12 months”. The number of areas in Northern Ireland experiencing such attacks also decreased.

The conclusions from the report are striking.

– The combined figure of shooting and assault casualties of
loyalist attacks – 14 – was 2 less than in the preceding six month
period, which had been the lowest for any such period on which
we had reported; this is a decrease of 13%. This time it resulted
entirely from 1 shooting and 13 assaults, as compared with 2
from shootings and 14 from assaults in the preceding 6 month
period. It compares with 33 in the same period in 2006 (made up
of 14 shooting casualties and 19 assault casualties) – a reduction
of`58%;
– The combined total of shooting and assault casualties of
republican attacks was 2, both of assault. It is by far the lowest
such figure we have reported and it compares with 13 in the
preceding six month period (8 from shootings and 5 from
assaults) – a reduction of 85%. In the same period in 2006 the
total was also 13, though it was differently made up (4 from
shootings and 9 from assaults);

It’s early days to be making any sweeping statements, but let’s be optimistic for a moment. Overall we see a society where paramilitary violence is ebbing. Loyalist violence (excluding murder) remains at a higher level than Republican. But in both there are significant decreases.

But back to PIRA. The Report notes that:

We do not think that the organisation is involved in terrorist or other illegal activity and believe it has continued to instruct members to refrain from committing crime. Some members remained involved in criminality but such incidents as there have been were in contravention of these instructions. During the parades season it urged cooperation with the police. Some people whom PIRA had previously exiled have been able to return to Northern Ireland. Some members in some areas have not entirely moved on from the view that dealing with anti-social behaviour is appropriately mediated by threats and social exclusion, as a form of community control, rather than by proper human rights-compliant community policing. That said, we remain of the firm view that the organisation is fully committed to pursuing the political path and that it will not be diverted from it.

The Report is clear that a distinction can be made between criminality by ‘some members’ and how any such activities are in contravention of the direction of the Republican Movement.

A shame then that the media cannot make a similar distinction. Because when it comes down to it PIRA and Sinn Féin have taken a path of great risk across two, perhaps three, decades. There is an argument that they deserve no praise for doing ‘what they should have done originally’ but that, I’d suggest, is to ignore the way in which people are caught up in specific socio-political dynamics. Perhaps they don’t deserve praise, but certainly they deserve recognition. And beyond that they deserve better than a media narrative that appeals to the worst by exaggeration or fabrication and completely ignores the threat from existing groups which have the ability, capacity or propensity towards ‘a greater level of violence and crime’, or ‘extreme violence’.

The former Moderator and Moderation. Dr. Ian Paisley (for it is he) step forward… meanwhile you have to have a Party (Conference) when you’re in a state like this *… November 7, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North, Ulster, Unionism.
16 comments

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As reported in the Irish Times on Monday:

Dr Paisley was guest of honour at [an international conference on dispute resolution organised by the Irish branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in Dublin] which focused on commercial dispute resolution including arbitration, mediation, conciliation and adjudication. Joe Behan, chairman of the Institute said it was a great honour to have Dr Paisley present, “whose election to the post of First Minister is due to the resolution of what was once seen as an intractable dispute”.

“In the past when we thought of Northern Ireland we thought of conflict. Now we think of resolution, hope and a bright future. Dr Paisley’s commitment, determination and unfaltering negotiation skills played a significant role in bringing about resolution,” Mr Behan said.

Yes indeed, that commitment, determination and unfaltering negotiation skills… No, that doesn’t scan quite right. Perhaps we should ask the good Doctor just how was this exemplar of mediation and conciliation achieved?

Dr Paisley said he could have chosen not to enter into Government with Sinn Féin until all issues in relation to the future of Northern Ireland were resolved, but he decided to compromise and focus on the issues which were an “absolute necessity”.

Which were…

“That everyone must accept the police service of Northern Ireland as the legal law enforcement force; everyone must accept the fact that we as a people must obey the law; and everybody must support the law.”

And so the Gordian knot was cut.

However, Dr Paisley told the conference, he was still surprised at the speed at which a deal was done once these core principles were accepted.

Indeed, and he’s not the only one.

“I agreed I would move and we did move. I didn’t think we were going to move at such speed but we did. I don’t know what happened. The vehicle went faster than ever before and I am here today as proof positive that Northern Ireland has a Government, Northern Ireland has an Assembly, and Northern Ireland is going to go down further and further the road of peace and prosperity.”

It’s an anodyne sort of vision isn’t it? Good, but not exactly heady stuff.

Actually one of the most interesting aspects of the Paisley’s speeches at the moment is how secular the language is. He said that he:

…looked forward to the day when everyone on the island shared a common denominator.

“To see that the people on both parts of this island have fair play, live with the protection of law and order and go forward to give their children a better place in this island, and I believe we should dedicate ourselves to this task.”

Who, who on earth, could disagree with any of that? From left to right, nationalist to Unionist, Dissenter and otherwise. No one. That old time religion has been parked – at least for the moment. It’s a business like attention to detail. Which is fair enough.

Some are suggesting – particularly on the wilder shores of Unionism (and within the UUP, which sometimes appear to amount to much the same thing these days) that Paisley is now an Ulster nationalist. Perhaps. But I suspect that this is simply a mark of his ability to pitch towards audiences the sort of message that he wants them to hear. And yet, the DUP has always presented a somewhat un-ideological attachment to order and the rule of law as part of its political ‘myth’, a ‘myth’ that has flown perilously close to a rather different reality on occasion. That can lead to a pragmatism of sorts when the necessity to fulfill previous political declarations becomes necessary in order to avoid charges of hypocrisy. I’m not ignoring the amount of self-serving or wishful thinking in all this, something common to all political projects, but… the inextricable logic of the situation led to the DUP having to deal at some point. And on a slightly different tangent, there is something of the Ulster nationalist (small or large ‘n’) about a project which wrestles back power from the ‘elitist’ English in London and in a firmly populist manner relocates it to Stormont. It’s not Irish Republicanism, but there is at least a hint of the old Dissenter spirit there. Whether there is enough petrol in the tank for the ‘vehicle’ Paisley talks about to keep running smoothly is another intriguing question. Certainly there must be quite a few who wonder what the future will be in a world where his personality is no longer around to keep the show on the road. And I’ll bet some of those few might be in the most unlikely of places.

Still, having said that I can’t say I entirely disagree with the assessment of David Ford, leader of Alliance (and one has to say that it was strange to read about Alliance in yesterday’s paper. What a strange party that is really) when he noted at their party Conference that:

“Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness will appear at nearly anything, state the obvious in a neatly crafted sound-bite, smile for the cameras, look serious or light-hearted as appropriate. But they haven’t done anything. And anytime we have questioned them, they have failed to answer questions.

One very striking aspect of the Alliance conference was the emphasis on anti-sectarianism. It had a refreshing robustness (and is it me, but is this most gentle of parties, whose very raison d’etre is based on…well conciliation… getting a dig in at the St. Andrews Agreement?), although with only seven MLAs and since it operates along with two others as the effective ‘opposition’ there are distinct limitations. In a way, and as a party of the centre ground it represents just how that centre ground has narrowed as the big battalions of the DUP and SF have squeezed both it and the SDLP and UUP. Yet it survives, perhaps even very slightly prospers.

Meanwhile, over at the SDLP Conference all is angst and gloom about a future where they might be the Northern franchise of Fianna Fáil, or perhaps not.

Mark Durkan said that…

…his party had transformed politics across Ireland through co-operation with the main parties in the Republic and forecast that new political associations would form over time.

“Ireland would not have got to this new dispensation without the SDLP,” he said, “and the SDLP could not have succeeded in that enterprise without our strategic collaboration with all southern parties.”

He said the new dispensation “would create new possibilities for political realignment, both within the North and across the island”.

“We are very comfortable that other parties, not least some of the southern parties, are now recognising this too,” he added. “They have – or will be – establishing their own channels for considering these questions. The SDLP have been – and will be – engaging with them.”

Which leaves everything nice and open. Particularly since he refers to ‘all southern parties’. But then, seeing as Ruairi Quinn was on site at the Conference and reminding the SDLP of the assistance given by the Labour party over the years perhaps it was merely politic to keep it as inclusive as possible.

Now, I’m all for whipping up enthusiasm amongst the troops, but really, he made the unusual assertion that:

“In some ways, we are the most powerful party in Irish politics”

His justification?

Because we have changed the policies of every other party on the island. Without changing a single principle of our own or sacrificing a single value.” The party was “proud both of our roots in the North and of our role in the life of the nation”.

Well yes, if one measures power by influence on the existential issue. But beyond that? Surely not.

Still, the SDLP should in fairness be proud of the part it played. And indeed the opportunity was taken to note that:

Founded out of the non-violent civil rights movement, he said his party did not have to apologise for having been formed in the North. “We challenged and changed the conditions that led to our foundation and attitudes that opposed us for so long. From our station in the North, the SDLP set the compass for all the main parties in the South through the darkness and turbulence of the troubles.”

Announcing a detailed examination of the potential of all-Ireland associations with other parties, he said: “We will engage with each other and with others on the basis that we have always been and always will be constitutional nationalists and democratic republicans.”

Unlike some others he could name… no doubt.

Meanwhile…

Mr Durkan criticised both Sinn Féin and the DUP over their role in government since devolution on May 8th, portraying both parties as inconsistent, complacent and guilty of policy U-turns.

But here is the problem in political terms. Having right on ones side is all very well. But…as something more akin to political business as usual takes root in the North the actual mundane nature of that business is difficult to actually get to grips with. The SDLP, like the UUP (who sent observers for the first time to the Conference – such a pity that this fellow feeling didn’t break out…oh, picking a date entirely at random… thirty years earlier or so…), are stuck halfway between government and opposition. It’s a difficult place to be, both in and out of the government and hence note the complete absence of an ideological charge and instead a process based critique. That’s fine, but it’s not really the dark red meat of political argument. Nor does it play to anything other than a rather vague dissatisfaction. We’ve had an object example of how that sort of dissatisfaction doesn’t appear to have any real traction… at least when times are reasonably good. I’d certainly change the tune if I were they. And another thought strikes me. The talk from Fianna Fáil has clearly been utterly destabilising on the SDLP. And how could it be otherwise when only FF ‘match’ with the SDLP. One wonders how seriously all this has been thought through, particularly from the Dublin side.

Perhaps Alliance have it right. Pick on a genuine problem, sectarianism. Run with it as best as is possible and remain in an oppositional mode for as long as it takes. I can’t see them supplanting any other group, but who is to say that in combine with the less than enthralled ‘centre’ ground parties, the SDLP and UUP, they might not forge a coalition that would make even our newly moderate former Moderator seem…well, just that bit extreme again. But then again, the good Doctor is a wily operator and I suspect no one will outdo him… even in moderation.

* apologies to the Psychedelic Furs…

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