jump to navigation

EU Commission to investigate subsidy for public transport July 19, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, Trade Unions, Transport.
26 comments

The Irish Times reports today (Sub required) that the EU Commission has begun a formal investigation, on foot of a complaint from the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of private coach operators, into State supports for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

Subsidies last year amounted to E69.8 million for Dublin Bus and E26 million for Bus Éireann in the form of a Public Service Obligation (PSO) payment. To expand on the Dublin Bus figure, this covers about 27% of the company’s operating costs, one of the lowest in Europe.

In a statement published yesterday, the EU Commission highlighted three areas of concern. Firstly, whether the payments respect existing EC State aid rules. Secondly, whether capital grants used to upgrade or repair public transport infrastructure such as garages and repair depots are legitimate as they are not available to private competitors. Thirdly, a lack of clarity over how and why the Irish Government provides training subsidies.

Bus Éireann is saying that it has yet to receive a communication from the Commission and is confident it will be fond to be obeying the rules. No doubt the company will, along with the unions, be making submissions to the EU Commission’s investigation.

What this highlights again is the true nature of the EU Commission, an organisation designed to operate as a policeman on behalf of the private sector, pushing free market thinking and the liberalisation of existing markets in any way that it can. The same concepts are bedded down in the coming revised EU Constitution, yet it will be backed by the Labour party and the unions.

Despite the old saying, turkeys never have voted for Christmas. It’s bewildering that public sector workers do.

Ireland and Britain, the Republic and Northern Ireland, so many meetings, so many photos… July 18, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland.
add a comment

1.jpg

Just briefly, on the British Irish Council and after. Last week I wrote about the potential that had for changing the nature of the relationship. But I also noted that it might have an instructive effect in indicating to the DUP and Ian Paisley that the nature of the relationship within the UK was changing.

From the reports of Mondays doings in Stormont it is clear that he has engaged with relish with the Council. I think this is telling, but it also indicates the nature of the institutions that have been established and how they might develop. You genuinely couldn’t make up some of the reports:

Referring to the unresolved issue of British funding for Northern Ireland’s infrastructure, Dr Paisley said he and Martin McGuinness had discussed funding directly with Gordon Brown. Further talks involving the prime minister and Alistair Darling, the new chancellor of the exchequer, would be held “before September”.

“The prime minister was enthusiastic about it,” said Dr Paisley. “He said he hoped to be back many times in Northern Ireland, and he was getting more and more to know what our hardships were.”

He said the North’s financial difficulties were of the British government’s “own making”.

Well…yes. His new found Ulster nationalism lite is quite striking. Or is it old found? Paisley was always adept at tailoring his pronouncements to be just a shade more ambiguous than many would give him credit.

But as if to provide a degree of balance:

Without directly referring to the comparative advantage enjoyed by the Republic over Northern Ireland in relation to rates of corporation tax, Mr McGuinness stressed the need for “a level playing pitch for all of us on this island” about how foreign direct investment was attracted.

It is clear the the DUP regards the Council as a means of at least paralleling the North South components of the GFA. But it also strikes me that the clear rapport between Paisley and Alex Salmond of the SNP is such that there is an awakening realisation of just how these institutions can work as a means of demonstrating a very different Unionism to that seen before, one which engages and negotiates and which is in some respects striving to a redefinition of identity. It is also fascinating to see how both Paisley and Martin McGuinness have reined in any tendency to make glib but destructive points about the processes they are engaged in.

Hard not to agree with the IT when it reports:

Yet while the SNP leader offers Mr Brown a non-confrontational approach in the interest of delivering prosperity for the Scottish people, Mr Salmond also provides the DUP with an opportunity to shape an “islands-wide” approach to co-operation on a wide range of issues.

Here are five different representatives (six if we accord a dual status to the NI representation) working with two sovereign states and three subsidiary entities. This broader stage upon which the players walk must be considerably more satisfying than the formerly Westminster-centric structures. After all, few would balk at the prospect of leading something more akin to a ‘nation’ than a province?

Yet this ‘new’ Northern Ireland although very different in terms of the political structures within it, is in some respects throwing up questions that were much older.

Minister of Finance at Stormont in the 1940s, Hugh Pollock, saw Northern Ireland as an ‘autonomous state with a federal relationship to the United Kingdom’. The Minister of Labour John Andrews took a different line when he said:

…Statements are often made which assume that Northern Ireland is autonomous or in the position of a Dominion…in fact…it is no more than a subordinate authority…to which sovereign legislature for its own convenience has devolved certain limited functions in respect of local services…

Is it possible to see the former definition now beginning to overtake the latter within a federalised context that incorporates but is not exclusive to the UK? A sort of conglomerate entity that works closely together on these islands into the foreseeable future.

Still, one has to wonder about Gordon Brown, or at least his speech writers. He announced that:

…he was particularly pleased to visit Stormont as the new executive was settling down to business.

“I believe that we have entered into a new historic time for Northern Ireland,” he said.

New and historic. Somehow that doesn’t quite scan…

As for yesterday. Strangely less compelling than Monday. It’s all bread and butter stuff. Transport. Infrastructural development.

The meeting heard news of a £400 million Irish Government-funded major roads programme that will provide dual carriageway routes within Northern Ireland.

They will serve both the north west and the eastern seaboard corridor from Belfast to the ferry port of Larne ,and the Northern Ireland Executive confirmed its acceptance, in principle, to take forward the two projects.

Ministers also agreed to proceed with the restoration of another section of the Ulster Canal – part of a £100 million scheme that will eventually provide navigable water from the north of Northern Ireland through to the River Shannon and across the Republic.

Smiles and lots of photos of the happy interlocuters. And yet, if the former hinterlands of Derry and Belfast can be reconnected across the border through improved infrastructural links that alone is a significant step forward. That the RoI is investing significant funds in the North is a further step, that an Ian Paisley led Executive accepts this is…intriguing. That they are actually talking…amazing, although is it my imagination or does Peter Robinson look just a little less than ecstatic in the photograph? And there is Eamon Ryan of the Green Party at the front right.

And they’ve already scrawled a date for another get together.

Why not debate legalisation of some drugs… yeah, it’s those pesky social liberals the Jesuits again… or crime, the media and the left: Part 1. July 17, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime.
17 comments

Anyone watching the RTÉ news last night would have been intrigued to see our new Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan, at the launch of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice Directory of Criminological Research.

Well, not so much the Minister, as some of the comments that were made afterwards.

Now, for any of us on the progressive end of the spectrum the CFJ website is worth a visit. There is a broad array of documentation on the very areas which we are interested in. Social justice, equality, housing, crime, educational disadvantage. It’s all there and the line is good.
Still, they’re a brave group considering that Fr. Tony O’Riordan, the Director of the CFJ suggested that it would ‘remove the profit motive for a lot of these gang led murders…and a lot of the violence that ensues from the use of drugs would be curtailed if drugs were regularised…because they’re here to stay.’

Interestingly, in terms of how the public discourse is shaped, the RTÉ reporter noted that at the end of the report:

“curiously though while on the face of it there does appear to be a growing problem with violence in this country figures to be published by the World Health Organisation at a conference in Scotland tomorrow put Ireland at the bottom of a list of 27 European countries when it comes to violent deaths and assaults”

Actually it’s not curious at all. The public narrative on this issue, as exemplified by the comments of the reporter is one which cannot countenance a reality which is rather more mundane than the superheated rhetoric of the media.

The Irish Independent greeted this news with the following:

“We live in Europe’s safest country – despite three violent deaths which happened over the weekend. A shooting, a stabbing and an assault in a 48-hour period might suggest Ireland’s murder rate is soaring.”

It continued,

But not according to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, due to be released at a conference in Fife, Scotland, tomorrow.

Ireland is the least violent country in Europe, says the WHO, which compared homicide and assault rates across 27 European countries.

And our rate?

0.32 killings per 100,000 people, contrasted with that of Finland (1.96) and Scotland (1.75) which topped western Europe’s violence blacklist.

Throw in a statistically inapposite quote:

This is despite a study released earlier this year showing Dublin’s murder rate is increasing faster than that of any other European capital city.

And then note that:

At the last WHO conference on violence five years ago, Ireland’s murder and assault rate was recorded at 1.13 per 100,000 population.

Irish rates have dropped in each subsequent year, culminating in the low of 0.32 recorded in 2005, the last year for which Europe-wide figures are available.

More disturbingly, on one level, is the data from the Baltic states:

In Estonia, it is 8.85 per 100,000, while Lithuania has 8.9 and Latvia 10.37.

Consider the discourse. The word ‘despite’ is used in the Irish Independent report, the reference to the ‘murder rate soaring’. But three murders across a weekend does not alter the broad statistical analysis, nor do the other tragic events of the last day or so. Vincent Browne in a good article in the Village noted that:

“the level of crime per head of the population has remained static or declined in the last 23 years”.

Looking at the murder figures there have been some very puzzling upward blips. Consider that between 1930 and 1940 the rate went from 54 to a peak of 68 in 1935 before dipping to 30 in 1940. Since then there were upward jumps of 57 in 1974, 41 in 1987, 59 in 2002 and 66 last year. Yet in that time the population has swelled considerably. So while there may indeed be more crimes committed that is in the context of many more people to both commit and be the victims of those crimes.”

As Browne notes:

In 1983 the population was around 3.5 million; it is now over 4 million. The headline crime rate in 1983 per 1,000 of the population was 29.3. The rate in 2006 was 26. And throughout the period from 1983 to 2006 the rate per 1,000 of the population was have been either static or in decline.

There are other factors as well. Two of the murder victims were non-nationals. I don’t mean to diminish the tragedy of their deaths, particularly since the reasons for it remain opaque, but as a relatively youthful emigrant living in London and briefly New York I remember the excessive drinking and the arguments all too well. People being people that sort of mix can produce fairly specific tensions and dynamics.
Yet can anyone see Fr. O’Riordains suggestion being implemented? In a context where crime is seen as ‘soaring’, where ‘despite’ is the reflexive response to the World Health Organisation and even the most basic contextualisation is lacking it doesn’t seem likely.

And this is difficult terrain for the left and therefore worth returning to.

The British and Irish Communist Organisation, The Irish Political Review, or from here to there and back again… Part 1 July 16, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Communism, Irish Labour Party, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, Marxism, Unionism.
92 comments

180px-communist_comment_040770r.jpg

I was in Connolly Books at the weekend and it is good to see it back in its original location on Essex Street. It was also good to see that there were quite a few people in it. Anyhow, while there I bought Unity, a CPI publication, which I’ll perhaps discuss at a later point, and the Irish Political Review. The latter publication is the direct lineal descendent of the British and Irish Communist Organisation newspapers including Workers’ Weekly and Northern Star, and I am indebted yet again to splinteredsunrise for bringing it to my attention. And lo, Brendan Clifford, for it is he, still writes in it.

BICO has been through so many changes that one might consider it almost akin to the Revolutionary Communist Party/Spiked fraction, except without the sharp styling…or the puckish sense of humour…or the glossy production values. But in some ideological nirvana one suspects that the two groups are at least somewhat kindred spirits, because like the RCP the IPR now peddles a line very very different to that which Mr. Clifford made his name for in the 1970s. That was a sort of undigested Maoism, that became effectively (or as we used to like to say ‘objectively’) Stalinist but with one element that had a clear effect upon Irish political life.

BICO is best known (or perhaps the term is infamous) for its development of the ‘two nations’ theory which in the unrefined version proposed that Ulster Protestants were in fact a nation and therefore had ‘national’ rights that superseded traditional claims of Irish Nationalism to the entirety of the island. There were modish additions to this, for example that partition was a logical development on the island and the interests of the working class were best served by the maintenance of the Union. Naturally as time went on this developed more bells and whistles. The working class in Ulster was the most advanced class element on the island. Any expression of belief in Irish unity was revanchist nationalism of the very worst sort. There was also a non-too subtle hint that catholicism was a big part of the problem. Needless to say PIRA was anathema.

This wasn’t un-influential since since such an analysis chimed with the thinking of others within the society. It had a superficial similarity to positions taken by Official Sinn Féin, and some of the less profound thinkers within that grouping seized upon it as a both template for their future political development and rationale for past failings. This was carried over into SFWP/WP, later DL and arguably later still merged with an already extant strain of the analysis within the Irish Labour Party. This latter strain was introduced in part by none other Conor Cruise O’Brien, who also found it made a certain sort of sense as a stick to beat Republicanism with from the 1970s onwards. Here was a means of explaining that there was effectively nothing to be done on the traditional nationalist project, that that project was essentially a lie and could never be achieved. Later parts of BICO who joined Jim Kemmy’s Democratic Socialist Party merged with the Labour Party, thereby strengthening the tendency within that party.

The attractiveness of this position was, to those who misinterpreted or misused it, that by accepting this analysis they were somehow transcending ‘nationalism’ and all its perceived flaws. Yet any serious consideration of it would note that this was an analysis rooted in nationalist thinking (well Leninist to be absolutely accurate, for yet again his theory of nationalities was taken for a canter across unfamiliar turf). Hardly much a step forward to move from reifying one nationalism to two (not to mention implicit issues which were never, and could never be addressed by the analysis, for example what was the distinction between British nationalism and Ulster nationalism, and what was the situation of those who were of the Irish Nation within Ulster, or indeed just what was this Ulster that was bandied about so liberally?). And there was a further contradiction that pointed up some of the – ahem – flaws in the analysis. BICO were steadfast in their disavowal of an independent Northern Ireland. Yet the implicit logic of their position was that an INI was the obvious outcome. What stayed their hand? Why the notion that it could lead to civil war between Catholics and Protestants within Ulster. Something here really, really didn’t add up although the weighty thinkers of at least one section of the advanced left didn’t worry too much about such things, delighted as they were to be given at least some justification for their retreat from Republicanism.

On the other hand, there was at least something to it, if only in pragmatic terms. Unionism clearly existed as a socio-political entity, whatever categorisation was ascribed to it, whether ‘national’ or otherwise. Not much point for hard headed materialists to ignore this existence or pretend that it could be wished away – as large sections of Irish Nationalism had done over the previous sixty years, since partition removed the practicalities and difficulties of direct engagement from the table.

Whether this retrospective viewpoint was really anything more than making a virtue of necessity on the part of such luminaries as O’Brien is a moot point. One certainly wonders what sort of intellectual activity led to an almost studied ignorance of another element of the problem, the equal fact that there was within the North a cohesive Irish Nationalist population as well.

And turning to my own experience for a moment this was to my mind the most obvious flaw of received ‘two-nations’ theorising within the WP in the 1980s. Simply put it made no sense to pretend that the situation wasn’t a little bit more complex than just two nations, and therefore required a little bit more than the demonisation of one group in order to feel comfortable about the existing status quo, and this from a self-described ‘revolutionary’ party.

The late John Sullivan in his excellent and entertaining “As Soon as this Pub Closes” deals with BICO in typical fashion:

Clifford’s victory [on traditional nationalism], once quotations were verified, was almost too complete. Other groups had little choice but to adopt neo-Cliffordian positions, but unwilling to serve as a pilot to the Left through the suddenly bewildering currents of Irish politics, he spurned all ecumenical offers and pressed home his attack, calculating that if Left views on Ireland were a fantasy, the same might apply to the rest of their politics. Clifford adopted the working assumption that whatever the Left said on a given issue was wrong and he applied his training by finding examples which would demonstrate truths already established by faith and doctrine. For example: if the Left favours Irish unification, opposes the Common Market and deplores racism, we should adopt the opposite view in each case. Anyone can do that: it is more difficult to argue a case, based on Marx and Lenin, supporting the Common Market, the Orange Order or Thatcher’s immigration policies. The Jesuits have lost the knack of such apologetics since they adopted liberation theology.

And he continues:

Because the conclusion to any of BICO’s arguments can always be predicted by reversing the sign on current Left orthodoxy their writings provide little sense of intellectual discovery, but even friends who do not share Clifford’s intellectual background assure us that the argument is always a pleasure to read. Clifford’s main journal is The Communist, but there are a number of offshoots and Fronts, the most unlikely of which is the Ernest Bevin Society. The logic of this is impeccable: if Bevin hammered the Left for a generation, he must be a misunderstood genius, whose thoughts should be revived. In fact, if Bevin ever had any deep political thoughts, it would take Jacques Cousteau to locate them. Some thought that Clifford would become a guru of the Labour right, but that tendency is so dominated by Nonconformity, Fabianism and pragmatism that they have found him a bit of a puzzle. The discomfort is reciprocated, as Clifford does was not like the remnants of sentimental humanitarianism they still display. The gravedigger has still not found his final political resting place.

But as we shall see over the next couple of weeks, such ideological contortions were as nothing in the long history of both BICO and those who cherry-picked its thinking… and the story of where they went next is revealing both for what it tells us about the left in Ireland, and perhaps how the left regards itself…

to live and live again…The Jesus and Mary Chain return. July 15, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Music.
3 comments

It’s the weekend, so who cares about politics…okay, it’s that hiatus in between Saturday night and the arrival of Sunday newspapers (and arguably the only time I would purchase the Daily Mail for a certain CD. Yeah, advertising works). Anyhow, prior to ensuring The Artist Currently Known as Prince earns his…what…quarter of a million or whatever, I was amazed to discover the line up for the Electric Picnic included these guys…

…Yes, eight years after breaking up the Jesus and Mary Chain have reformed. Now, as someone on YouTube noted the song is a bit ‘vanilla’, but it is a song. Curious though because only last year or the year before, as I recall, Jim Reid was trekking around with his own band and declining invitations to play JAMC songs with quips about ‘that being the past’.

Clearly not.

I saw them around 1987, playing the SFX as I recall. Wave after wave of sound from the stage, suitably detached manner and a couple of anonymous hired hands on other instruments. Oh yeah, and unfeasibly distressed hair…

Years later I was talking to Binttii from Princess Tinymeat, long after that particular outfit folded (and now I think about it they did a fairly dab hand at that goth/noise crossover too) and he told me that the JAMC were just pale Velvet Underground copyists. Well…perhaps. I think they were reaching further back than the Velvets into the late 1950s and 1960s. And there was something about the range of their references, new wave, punk, rock and roll, funk and popular culture which was broader than the Velvets, albeit in the context of the times not quite as innovative. Sure, they were enormously flawed. After all, when you have one great idea it can be very difficult to come up with another great idea. Feedback and the Beach Boys. Where does one go next?

After their first album Psychocandy in 1985 they tried more melodic stylings on Darklands. Then they went back to a sort of motorik sound on Automatic. Later they tried a slightly more melodic take on Psychocandy with Honey’s Dead in 1992.

But after that it all became a bit of a mess. Great tracks jostled for space with not so great tracks. In a bid to do something, anything, different we had their acoustic ‘country’ album, a plethora of compilations, then an EP which sought to rekindle the energy of Psychocandy. Their last album, released in 1998, was Munki, something akin to a nervous breakdown set to music. There was still some powerful stuff there, but overall it sounded jaded, skeletal song structures only half worked through, the exercise pointless.

So no surprise that they split apart then. As is usually the way with such things the sum of their individual components was less than the whole and none of the side projects prospered.

Still, Jim Reid looks reasonably chipper, while his brother wisely remains hidden behind a fringe, so perhaps this reunion will last. There is even talk of an album. That might be interesting.

I won’t be at the Electric Picnic. I’ve developed an aversion to festivals over the last number of years. But who knows, perhaps they’ll do some ordinary gigs soon.

Their influence has been curiously submerged, probably because their sound was so distinctive. Direct copyists have been relatively few. But anyone who has heard the Raveonettes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or the much more excellent (than BRMC or the Raveonettes) Serena Maneesh and suchlike will hear echoes, or more than echoes of that original sound.

Here are they in their prime, with a very youthful Bobby Gillespie ‘on drums’…

Thoughtcrime: Terry Eagleton, Salman Rushdie, the Iraq War and how it isn’t what you do or say, it’s what you might have done…. July 13, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Iraq, The Left, The War On Terror.
22 comments

rushdie_salman_cp_3141560-copy-copy.jpgrushdie_salman_cp_3141560-copy.jpg

A provocative article in the Guardian last weekend by Terry Eagleton about the role of politically engaged writers. Now I have to admit that broadly speaking I like what Eagleton writes. He manages to be clear and concise while simultaneously dealing with interesting and weighty concepts. Do I agree with these concepts? Nah, not all the time, but he’s hardly likely to lose any sleep over that.

Still, I’m not entirely convinced by a correspondence that is working its way through the Guardian this week on foot of the article. Eagleton proposed that:

For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life. One might make an honourable exception of Harold Pinter, who has wisely decided that being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all; but his most explicitly political work is also his most artistically dreary.

Lest the accusation of “champagne socialist” in reference to Pinter give you pause for thought, consider where Eagleton goes next.

The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Hare caved in to the blandishments of Buckingham Palace some years ago, moving from radical to reformist. Christopher Hitchens, who looked set to become the George Orwell de nos jours, is likely to be remembered as our Evelyn Waugh, having thrown in his lot with Washington’s neocons. Martin Amis has written of the need to prevent Muslims travelling and to strip-search people “who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan”. Deportation, he considers, may be essential further down the road.

Ouch! We’ll return to Rushdie in a moment. But…David Hare is really a reformist, is he now? Hitchens, in fairness, has retreated from his more unpleasant (as, I think, ejh rightly noted in response to an earlier post) positions, and that contrarian spirit still seems to burn brightly. Amis is a different matter. smiffy has dealt at length with some of his more curious pronouncements previously. In any case, being pedantic, there is the small issue of definitions, since all the above remain politically engaged, if not quite promoting the politics Eagleton might approve of. And of those given as examples has any one of them shifted in the totality of their approach to a clear right wing position? Doesn’t seem like it to me, although Amis might be the closest contender for that particular accolade.

Eagleton does make some interesting points.

There are a number of factors in such renegacy. Money, adulation and that creeping conservatism known as growing old play a part, as does the apparent collapse of an alternative to capitalism. Most British writers welcome migrants, dislike Tony Blair, and object to the war in Iraq. But scarcely a single major poet or novelist is willing to look beyond such issues to the global capitalism that underlies them. Instead, it is assumed that there is a natural link between literature and left-liberalism. One glance at the great names of English literature is enough to disprove this prejudice.

In some respects I agree with that thesis, except that I don’t think it is necessarily” global capitalism” – that diffuse, nebulous entity that everyone blames and yet is reified to the point where inaction is the only possible logical response – alone that is the problem. Frankly I think it’s the much more boring and familiar local version of capitalism that locks out even the most anodyne alternatives (and again, and that’s twice in one week, I’d point back to Nick Cohen and what he writes about the fundamental power of the nation state to at the very least ameliorate the negative aspects of globalisation).

Anyhow, back to Rushdie. Eagleton is unstinting in his praise…up to a point.

The great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid died just as the dark night of Thatcherism descended. Rushdie’s was one of the few voices to keep alive this radical legacy; but now, with his fondness for the Pentagon’s politics, we need to look elsewhere for a serious satirist.

[As an aside someone noted in the Guardian that MacDiarmid is, ironically, also notable for rejoining the Communist Party after the invasion of Hungary. Hmmm…]

Let’s consider the original quote again…

The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Which is fine…except as one S. Rushdie wrote in the Guardian on Wednesday:

In the past weeks I have had to endure an astonishing quantity of vitriolic attacks. It has been quite like old times. I find myself quite unable to respond to the many attacks on my character, my integrity, the quality of my writing, my courage or lack of it, my alleged weaknesses as a husband and even my choice of home address. I have learned the hard way that public opinion, once formed, simply exists, and even if it is utterly detached from the truth it acquires, by repetition and credulity, a truth of its own. So be it. I am grateful to those who have spoken up on my behalf, at a time when I have felt too shocked and hurt to do so myself.

Rushdie has accepted – whether wisely or not – a knighthood. This has infuriated a range of people who still harbour a grudge over the Satanic Verses. Most notably Al-Queda, who in their perpetual search for some new infamy to justify the unjustifiable have alighted upon this matter (Actually it was profoundly depressing, to see a few Labour politicians with cultural links to the sub-continent line up to condemn the knighthood with the most spurious ‘back of an envelope’ criticisms).

So the name Rushdie has re-entered the public space in a way which is unfortunate and potentially dangerous to his safety.

Still, as he notes:

…allow me, rashly, perhaps, to take issue with Terry Eagleton’s description of me as someone who has been “cheering on [the west’s] criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Comment, July 7). As to Afghanistan, it is true that I, in common with many others, not all of them on the right, and many of them in the Muslim world, believed that the hold of al-Qaida and the Taliban over Afghanistan needed to be broken. Eagleton may be the kind of “radical” who would prefer those fascist, terrorist gangsters to have retained their hold over a nation state, but that is his problem, not mine.

He continues:

As to Iraq, it is true that I wrote, before the beginning of the Iraq war, that there was a case to be made for the removal of Saddam Hussain. In the same article, however, I also wrote that the American plans for regime change, unsupported as they were by a broad international coalition, were not justifiable.

And that:

Since that time, anyone with the slightest knowledge of my activities in the US must know that, as president of PEN American Center, I led that organisation in a number of campaigns against the Bush administration’s policies, that I participated in any number of anti-war events and that in my public lectures all over America I have for years been a vocal critic of the Iraq war. It is bizarre and untruthful to say that I have a “fondness for the Pentagon’s politics”.

Pausing for a moment, let us consider that far from being ‘fond’ of the Pentagon’s policies Rushdie has – again at some danger to his own safety – been prominent in disputing them publicly. The issue of ‘cheerleading’ the ‘criminal adventures’ in Iraq and Afghanistan…well, the latter remains under a sufficiently broad UN mandate to arguably justify supporting the events of 2002. What has come afterwards is a matter for a different debate. Yet as regards Iraq cearly the overall tone of the article is a misrepresentation of the position of Rushdie.

And it is an interesting misrepresentation because it would take as much time for Eagleton to collate information that would puncture his thesis of Rushdie as global shill of the neo-cons, as it took me to pull together the various articles and letters I have referenced here. That he did not, that he was convinced Rushdie supported the Iraq War is perhaps indicative of a narrative that has developed around Rushdie, one which has moved from viewing him as a staunch liberal/left upholder of freedom of speech to one where he is seen as in part the architect of the chaotic political and cultural response to his writings (although talking about reactionaries I well remember the response from sections of the Conservative party during the initial period… but then why would one expect any better from that quarter?). And this narrative is but a hop skip and a tap of the keyboard away from branding Rushdie as somehow a fervent neo-conservative, because after all that’s what liberal/leftists are, isn’t it? This is a dubious narrative to buy into – even by accident – because unlike Eagleton, or me, or most likely you, Rushdie is someone whose life is literally on the line for expressing thoughts that others view as anathema and worthy of extirpation.

But it is in the apology that Eagleton excels. For here he says:

Sincere apologies to Salman Rushdie for falsely claiming that he supports the war on Iraq (Letters, July 9). I am, however, dismayed by his implications that he might have supported an invasion under different circumstances. My general point, I think, still stands that he and other writers have ceased to challenge the global system which lies at the root of the war.

The second sentence is the important one, more important than the rhetorical fluff of the last one which makes almost no sense in terms of the public profile that Rushdie has assumed on the Iraq War, or the broad scope of his writings which are clearly positioned in a critique of a global system that has developed from the colonial period and the clashes between tradition and modernity (a vastly better methodological viewpoint than the ridiculous notion of ‘clash of civilisations’) within societies still disentangling themselves from colonialism and/or the traumas of rapid societal change.

That there was a case to be made for the removal of Saddam is one which democrats and socialists should hardly find contentious. The debate and discussion had to be what were the means employed to do so or whether such a removal was a sensible goal in the then existing circumstances. I see nothing in what Rushdie wrote in response to Eagleton that would make me believe that ‘he might have supported an invasion under different circumstances’.

But even if he did, and how on earth is one to know what is inside the mind of another, this smacks of an almost Orwellian approach to the inner self (although considering that Eagleton is a champion of Slavoj Žižek – who I like too, but would regard the veracity of his propositions with some caution – that perhaps goes with the territory, after all, if you believe there is a methodology for interpreting the complexity of human thoughts and feelings it is hardly more than a further step to believing that you can predict them even when the person says otherwise!) . How can Rushdie – someone who is in a much more exposed position – defend himself against the charge that what ‘he really really means, no really’ is some course of action he didn’t, and couldn’t take?

How can any of us?

A big day in the North… Nationalism in the UK, The British-Irish Council and unintended consequence… July 12, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, Ireland, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
9 comments

bic-logo.gif

Or so Black Grape had it… back in 1995. So, what’s up next week? Why, the British-Irish Council meet, and as Gerry Moriarty writes in yesterdays Irish Times:

First Minister the Rev Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are scheduled to greet Gordon Brown at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, on Monday when he makes his first visit to Northern Ireland as British prime minister.

Mr Brown is due to join the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and leaders of UK devolved assemblies for the first meeting of the British-Irish Council since devolution was restored. The North-South Ministerial Council, another key institution of the Belfast Agreement, will meet the following day in Armagh.

Choreography is everything. According to Moriarty the BIC meeting was to be held last week, but Brown was unable to make it due to ‘diary difficulties’, well, that and the small issue of settling into his new job. Problem was Paisley is said to have stated that if Brown wasn’t there, well then, neither would he be. Needless to say he has his own fish to fry on this issue:

Dr Paisley has made a point of emphasising that the East-West relationship should have equal billing with the North-South link, which is why the two institutions are meeting on the same week.

“For too long the East-West axis was the poor relation of North-South business. We are committed to redressing the balance and that is why there will be a British-Irish Council meeting in addition to a meeting between Northern Ireland Ministers and the Republic’s Government on Tuesday,” said Dr Paisley yesterday.

Martin McGuinness has adopted a somewhat more muted tone and noted that ‘both summits were important’. Yes, indeed. But which is more important?

Meanwhile… is it Ireland? Is it Britain? Is it slices of citrus fruit? One has to admire the BIC logo which contains no element of the national identities on the two islands. Quite an achievement.

Anyhow, whatever the optics, it is good to see Brown engaging at this level only a couple of weeks into his premiership. And Paisley might like to ponder on the fact that ‘Britain’ is not quite as it used to be.

Michael White, writing in the Guardian yesterday, suggested that although:

Not many people in England seem to care very much…nationalist politics within the British (or is it Atlantic?) Isles take a significant step forward today when a politician called Ieuan Wyn Jones is appointed deputy first minister of Wales.

The first minister, Labour party stalwart Rhodri Morgan, was taken to hospital suffering from heart problems early this week. As he is out of action it seems likely that he will be the representative of the Welsh Assembly. And this is significant? It is indeed, as Ieuan Wyn Jones is the leader of Plaid Cymru.

A remarkable deal has been hammered out between PC and Labour. This entails:

a [Labour promise] to review Welsh funding and to give the Welsh language official status that will require basic service information to be written bilingually in the private as well as public sector.

Now, let’s consider the line up at the meeting of the British-Irish Council. Scotland will be represented by the able and charismatic Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party and now head of the Scottish Executive. Ieuan Wyn Jones represents Wales as part of a PC/Labour coalition. And Northern Ireland is represented by the Democratic Unionist Party (arguably taking on more and more an sort of Ulster nationalist identity) in tandem with Sinn Féin.

So, in a strange inversion of the Sinn Féin aim to have people serving in governments both north and south of the Border, here we see Nationalist representatives of the constituent elements of the United Kingdom, bar of course that constitutional anomaly – England itself.

How different all this must seem from the heady days of constitutional reform in the late 1990s when – presumably – the idea was to lock Labour administrations in power in Scotland and Wales. In truth, Labour remains pre-eminent, but the Nationalists are doing remarkably well. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Offer people a forum to exercise even limited power and they will generally take it. Add to that the incentive of democratic elections and chances are they will break against you every once in a while.

As White notes:

It is all a bit sudden, but the tectonic plates of nationalist sentiment are slowly shifting. In Edinburgh a minority SNP executive is managing to keep the buses running on time, and in Belfast Sinn Féin now shares power with Ian Paisley’s DUP. Labour’s hegemony is eroding.

So this, somewhat disunited Kingdom, is the all but inevitable outworking of processes that were relatively predictable. But the tenor of the times is another thing entirely. Because the nature of the Nationalist parties is bound to alter the nature of the BICO. I think this is all for the good. It provides an example to the DUP of how Britain itself is changing, and relatively quickly. And a further example is provided in the way in which there is a coalition in Wales and how that is engaging with overlapping identities. The SF/DUP rapprochement is remarkable. But it is only the most remarkable of any number of events.

These pave the way for future developments where we can expect to see the ties that have bound the UK loosening, but not being discarded entirely. The Republic also has a part to play in the future, by demonstrating that there is a shared history between these islands but that this can be encompassed within multiple political and cultural identities. That I suspect will see the North and South on this island develop ever deepening linkages whereas the process will probably be quite the opposite between Scotland, England and Wales. But not to the point where political centrifugal forces lead to no linkages at all.

Anti-GFA Republicanism has one half-way persuasive argument in reference to the GFA. That is that the cross-border/all-island aspects will run into the ground because it is not in the interest of the British or RoI to engage with them on any significant level. I’ve always felt that argument to be willfully pessimistic, if only because I suspect that SF in government in Northern Ireland will provide part of the dynamic. But in the context of a changing Britain, one where Scotland is eager to work closely with the RoI and Wales perhaps to the exclusion of England, then there will be pressure external to this island to see broader movement because Scotland and Wales will be eager to emulate intra-national linkages between each other, the Republic and the North.

Finally, an initial point Michael White makes is important. Not many people in England seem to care very much. That is troubling, and a subject for another day.

“It’s an empire Jim,” said José, “but not as we know it.” July 11, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics.
4 comments

Anthony Coughlan must have spluttered into his cornflakes this morning. Along with other opponents of the EU in Ireland, he has often made the argument that the EU is developing into a ‘super-state’, a charge denied by the slavishly gullible pro-EU Irish political and economic establishment.

Turns out, it’s not a super-state, it’s an empire.

At least according to European Commission boss Jose Barroso, who should know.  “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire,” he told the EU Observer. He goes on to claim it’s a “non-imperial empire”, a political concept I have a certain difficulty in understanding it must be admitted.

For me the use of the phrase is interesting in what it tells us about some of our EU brethren. For years, the concept of an empire, even the word itself, has had strong negative connotations.  Generations have grown up supporting or being part of the struggle against imperial ideology. Music and film have generally portrayed empire as oppressive, cruel, morally repugnant and an unmitigated evil for its subjects.

Recently however, there has been the stirrings of an intellectual backlash led by the likes of Niall Ferguson, trying to portray empire, and the British Empire in particular, as being a positive contribution to the development of humanity, going so far as to argue that the US is a de facto empire, nothing those of us on the left would deny, and that this is a good thing, which we would.

Most of our EU partners were, at one time or another, empires, including Barroso’s Portugal. I recall a couple of years ago discussing the Iraq war with a somewhat older Irish Times journalist. While discussing the atrocities carried out by the Americans on one side and the Islamic fanatics on the other he mused, “Still though, they’re not as bad as the bloody Belgians” before recounting for me stories of the Congo and Ireland’s involvement in it. Plucky little Belgium looting, pillaging and massacring it’s way across Afric, severing the hands of natives and filling Leopold’s coffers for decades.

Ireland is almost unique within the European Union of never having had an empire, though we certainly sacrificed enough of our people to support the extension of Britain’s. Instead, we were ourselves an imperial colony for centuries. While the notion of an empire might be a positive one for some of the European elites who look back on golden ages when they ruled Africa or Asia, for Irish people the word doesn’t quite have the same positive implications.

In a slightly related development, the European Commission has announced that ‘communicating’ the new EU Constitution to it’s subjects…..sorry, citizens…..no, wait, subjects is going to be a priority. With the Treaty now written, the EU now wants to ‘structure the debate’ on it and Margot Wallstrom, the EU communications commissioner, wants to ‘discuss’ the Treaty with ‘citizens’. Fascinatingly, she claims it is not enough for the Treaty to be a ‘project for the political elite, citizens have to be there.’ Considering the citizens were never asked if they wanted a Constitution in the first place and the negotiations around them took place in secret, it’s nice to know now the text is largely agreed we’re allowed into the debate.

Of course it will be a one-sided debate. We, the citizen-subjects of Barroso’s non-imperial empire can discuss the proposed Treaty to our heart’s content. We’re only allowed draw one conclusion though, and there is only one right answer.

As Doc McCoy might have observed. “It’s an empire Jim, but not as we know it.”

The Irish Times, Tara and the M3 and a society where certain issues are ignored…. July 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Fianna Fáil, Greens.
10 comments

hill_of_tara.jpg

Today’s edition of the Irish Times brings us an editorial on Tara. It certainly doesn’t pull its punches.

It is a tragedy for Ireland that the current route of the planned M3 motorway, which is due to snake its way through the valley east of the Hill of Tara, now appears to be accepted as a fait accompli, even by the new Green Party Minister for the Environment, John Gormley.

There is an proposal that:

Over the past several months, the National Roads Authority clearly set out to create so many facts on the ground in its determination to pursue the approved route of the M3 that the hands of a new minister would be tied. It was assisted in this dubious enterprise by the 2004 amendment to the National Monuments Acts championed by Martin Cullen, when he held office in the Custom House; it was specifically designed to facilitate road construction, even at the expense of our archaeological heritage.

My own feelings on this issue have developed over time. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with those lobbying against the road. They appear, to me at least, to have taken a fairly alarmist line, and one which overstated the significance of the site by recourse to a ‘mythic’ discourse rooted in a series of contentious historical assertions presented as fact.

However, having said that I have also been fairly troubled by the almost glib way in which this development has been allowed to proceed. I am entirely certain that every step has been within the processes allowed by law. I don’t share the Irish Times view as regards the NRA. My reading of the situation is that the NRA fulfilled a statutory obligation to release information on sites of interest along the route and to deal with them appropriately through sound archaeological investigation and the rather unfair characterisation of ‘facts on the ground’ is not borne out by the events as they unfolded.

But…there is a genuine dilemma here, because one means of dealing with the archaeology is through “preservation by record” or “(destruction)” as the IT puts it. That’s not entirely accurate. The very process of archaeological excavation is destructive in the sense that it alters that which is there, often utterly. That doesn’t necessitate the destruction of artifacts that are found, but features may well be destroyed. It’s an old problem. To investigate one must engage in a process which will alter.

Frankly, I’m not hugely concerned about the archaeology either. The surveys have been done. There are undoubtedly sites of interest in this landscape, but one could argue that there are sites of interest in all landscapes. Material will be salvaged, some will be destroyed.

I do have concerns about the landscape itself. Knowing people who live beside a motorway I have seen the way it has impacted both positively and negatively upon their lifestyle over the past ten or fifteen years. It is not a disaster, but there are clear downsides. To my mind the original decision to route beside Tara, notwithstanding the reality of a pre-existing road there, seems odd.

Yet my real problem with this is that a broader societal discussion was not engaged in on how we approach these issues, because being pragmatic there should be a much clearer methodology available, one which asks us more broadly to rank our societal goals and take ownership of them. There are trade-offs that have to be made in these instances. The issue of transport for those who live in the general area as against national heritage. The means of determining the actual – as against hypothetical – status of such sites and just what lengths should be taken to preserve, conserve or discard them. The resources afforded to infrastructure and to heritage. All are deeply complex, not to mention controversial. Yet, at no point does it seem clear that those obligated to weigh them deeply – and here I’m talking about government – did so in a clearly rigorous fashion.

Yet, there is no huge outcry amongst the public (although the IT editorial might assist some sort of dynamic there). This is not Wood Quay, where hundreds of thousands were mobilised, unsuccessfully as it transpired. I marched in defence of Wood Quay (I had little choice, I was brung..as they say). I see little equivalent passion today.

Indeed the track record of the Irish Times itself on this matter is intriguing. Checking editorials over the last two years there is a brief mention in one from 2005 about:

While the M3 motorway seems likely to go ahead, against the weight of expert opinion, there is the danger that it could then attract residential or other developments that will further intrude on what the director of the National Museum, Dr Pat Wallace, has described as “a unique cultural landscape”.

In March 2006 there is a stronger one which notes:

The mystical setting of the Hill of Tara, once the seat of Ireland’s high kings, is considerably more important than the fate of the outer defences of a Pale fortress in south Co Dublin. Dick Roche could, and should, have declined to issue his directions on the treatment of 38 archaeological sites on the route of the M3 between Dunshaughlin and Navan. But there was a political impetus to forge ahead with the motorway, whatever its consequences for the Tara landscape.

Nobody could deny that the existing N3 is plagued by congestion, mainly caused by commuters using it every day to travel to and from work in Dublin. But an alternative route should have been found – one that would protect, rather than damage, the Tara landscape – and a much higher priority attached to re-opening the old Navan railway line. This project would provide a real alternative to car commuting for many but is not scheduled for completion until 2015. That is much too long to wait while rushing ahead with a misconceived motorway plan.

Yet, that, as far as I could determine, was that until today, well over a year and a quarter later. Not much to show for something that should, if the IT was being consistent, be a continuing issue. Having said that the IT can largely only reflect. The societal narrative appears to be one of resignation about such things. The forces arrayed against a host of issues are seen as too great, Shannon is stymied by ‘reality’, Tara by the dynamic of development, co-location by the need to do something, anything. That’s a narrative that we on the left, whatever our views regarding individual issues, should abhor. It’s curious to have to make recourse to Nick Cohen on such a regular basis, but his point about corporations and the power of government is absolutely correct and needs only to be slightly adjusted to suit this issue…”…however novel the ability of companies to shift money and jobs around the world, and however restrictive the limits on the autonomy of national governments have become, corporations remain weak. When all is said and done, they are hierarchical associations for the production of profit. They can’t raise armies or levy taxes or enact legislation. Governments can do all three and turn nasty if they have the inclination…’. There is a terrible danger that the left is becoming entranced by the power of its opponents…

John Gormley appears to have tried to shift the debate by appointing a review of the situation and state policy on archaeology. As the IT notes he has said: that if the review was to recommend amending or even repealing the 2004 legislation, he would act on this by taking it to Cabinet. But whether he would be able to persuade his Fianna Fáil colleagues to accept such a recommendation remains to be seen. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine that those who sponsored the damaging changes made to the National Monument Acts three years ago would be prepared to set them aside, in the interest of heritage protection.

A fair point. No government wants to be seen to have taken a wrong decision and that will weigh heavily if the issue ever gets to cabinet. But am I being unreasonable in seeing the IT’s renewed interest as being a convenient stick with which to beat Gormley and implicitly the Greens for their temerity in going into government? And consider this, here is the Green dilemma encapsulated. Remain outside of government and probably there would be no review at all of procedures and a likelihood of further issues like this arising, go in and Tara is most likely lost, but the situation doesn’t happen again. Problem is that those who would oversee the first scenario are those who sit cheek by jowl implementing the second with you. And what would the IT have Gormley do? Leave Cabinet? The very cabinet that would revert to scenario one with clearly no hesitation? A difficult place to be, and on a slight tangent a place where the events of this and the next number of months may reverberate in the public imagination longer than the Green Party (or perhaps Fianna Fáil) might like.

I don’t have the answers. I can see both sides of this argument, but… the original decision, the management of the problem, the way in which the NRA has been hung out to dry and the continuing lack of ownership – or seeming wish to take ownership – of the issue by the broader public is revealing in itself.

Sinn Féin and Labour talk about the Senate. Ah…finally the Opposition stirs… About time. Meanwhile… Tales of the Peace Process – a continuing Series. July 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Sinn Féin.
3 comments

seanad.gif

Covering some of the same ground that Cian has already discussed today on irishelection it is good to see that Labour and Sinn Féin are talking about a voting pact in the Seanad. The Irish Times notes that:

Sinn Féin and Labour are attempting to agree a voting pact in the Seanad elections that would give Sinn Féin its first ever seat in the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

The two parties have been in discussions about a deal that would see one of Sinn Féin’s most promising politicians, Pearse Doherty, elected to the Seanad with the help of Labour votes.

In return, Sinn Féin councillors around the State would vote for Labour’s Alex White to give the party an extra seat in the Upper House.

The discussions are being led on the Labour side by Joe Costello. The IT reports that:

A Labour spokesman pointed out that there had always been horse-trading in Seanad elections and he added that there was no objection in principle to a deal with Sinn Féin.

Which is nice of them…

Meanwhile there are precedents for this sort of dealing:

Parties have often traded votes in past Seanad elections. In 1992 the Progressive Democrats and the Workers’ Party entered a voting pact that gave each party a senator.

In 1997 and 2002 the PDs voted for Fianna Fáil candidates and in return were given Seanad seats among the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees.

Somehow there is a more pointed aspect to this election. Already there has been the controversy over the Green/FF voting pact for their respective candidates. I’ve mentioned that on IrishElection, and it continues to rumble through. There does seem to be something a tad calculated about that particular pact, as if the Greens are being dragged into a process they are not particularly comfortable with. Which indeed according to the IT, they’re not:

Green councillors were informed that they would have to vote for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and that they would have their ballot papers inspected to ensure that they fulfilled the pledge.

A number of Green councillors expressed reservations about voting for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and said they would not allow their ballot papers to be inspected.

Perhaps it is the inspection aspect of the process which is difficult to reconcile with what should be a partnership. And the obvious implication of any such process is that there is a serious lack of trust that Green councillors will vote the ‘right’ way. And indeed perhaps that is correct. The privacy of the ballot is one of the few places that a political protest at the dynamic of the new coalition can be registered. To be honest I think FFs fears are somewhat unfounded. There is a considerable, and to my mind entirely appropriate, appetite to to bring Dan Boyle back in. It will be interesting to see if the second Senator that is being mooted as an appointee will come from some other section of the party in order to assuage continuing doubts.

Returning to the Labour/SF talks, this is a process driven by the numbers. Labour needs SF votes (all 58 of them) to have a candidate elected on the Cultural and Education Panel. By contrast Labour has 125 votes which should see their candidate sail through to victory on the Agricultural panel and have sufficient left over to see Pearse Doherty elected.

And that means that this is a purely technical process that doesn’t indicate anything much one way or another in political terms. After all, if the PDs and the WP were able to work together then anything is possible. SF has become a significant enough bloc to be attractive to any party in a voting deal. Indeed, and perhaps ironically in view of Aherns quip about ‘ye haven’t got the numbers’ in the Dáil as regards speaking rights being curtalied due to their lack of ‘group’ status, even FF and SF might have (or might still if the talks go sour) struck a deal.

Still, the optimist in me – and I share this I think with Cian (or as he notes “This may end up coming to nought, but to see the logic of seats winning out over a long standing principle of boycott suggests that the principle of boycotting Sinn Fein itself is now quite weak in some quarters and Sinn Fein’s confidence that parties would come knocking if the numbers stacked up was not unfounded”) – thinks that a direct engagement between Labour and Sinn Féin is no harm in itself. It is not as if informal contacts don’t exist on a local basis. I’ve long been at meetings with councillors and TDs from both SF and Labour where there has been a broad meeting of minds, even – dare I suggest – a tinge of leftist camaraderie, although sometimes I think that that is engendered by the process of local government rather than ideological similarity.

A pity that that sort of discourse is seemingly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate at a higher level because it is going to be a long five years and the role of the left elements of the opposition are going to be crucial…

One last thing. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is remarkable how a number of FG members on Politics.ie are seemingly open to SF being involved at 2012. Now, these are a minority, they may well be unrepresentative. But, political circumstance makes strange alliances, even of those who loathe each other. And I can’t quite shake the echo of Trevor Sargents comments in the Dáil debate a week or two ago where he lambasted FG for not negotiating with SF…

……………………………..

Meanwhile, and perhaps appropriately on foot of the post about Ed Moloney, Alastair Campbell’s diaries indicate a fairly intriguing meeting of minds in December 1997 when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness arrived. In an excerpt published today in the Guardian Campbell indicates that McGuinness was much less emollient than Adams (a highly entertaining and, worryingly, not entirely improbable take on this meeting is at Dublin Opinion).

Some of the games played are almost laughable:

They came inside and we kept them waiting while we went over what TB was due to say.

Yes, great. Just the way to handle a conflict that had seen 3,500 people die in the previous quarter century. Although he also records that Blair ‘came over as friendly’.

Then there was an interesting admission regarding Martin McGuinness:

I shook McGuinness by the hand, who as he sat down said, fairly loudly: “So this is the room where all the damage was done.” It was a classic moment where the different histories played out. Everyone on our side thought he was referring to the mortar attack on Major, and we were shocked. Yet it became obvious from their surprise at our shock that he was referring to policymaking down the years, and Britain’s involvement in Ireland. “No, no, I meant 1921,” he said. I found McGuinness more impressive than Adams, who did the big statesman bit, and talked in grand historical sweeps, but McGuinness just made a point and battered it, and forced you to take it on board.

Indeed one gets the feeling that Campbell thought McGuinness the more substantial figure, and perhaps more difficult to deal with.

I was eyeing their reaction to TB the whole time, and both Adams and McG regularly let a little smile cross their lips. Mo got pissed off, volubly, when they said she wasn’t doing enough. TB was maybe not as firm as we had planned, but he did ask – which I decided not to brief, and knew they wouldn’t – whether they would be able to sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland. Adams was OK, McGuinness was not. Adams said the prize of a lasting peace justifies the risks. Lloyd George, Balfour, Gladstone, Cromwell, they all thought they had answers of sorts. We want our answers to be the endgame. A cobbled-together agreement will not stand the test of time.

That’s quite an admission regarding Adams and for all those who have already questioned his bona fides it is likely to add a little bit more petrol to the fire. Or is it? Reading the text it is not entirely clear that Adams said that he would ‘sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland’. What it does seem to say is that he implied ‘risks’ were worth taking. A different matter. In any event it made perfect political sense for Adams and McGuinness to run a ‘soft/hard-line’ routine, even at this level of engagement. The British Army has acknowledged that there was no military solution to the situation in the North and that the best they could do was to prod the main players towards some level of non-armed resolution. That was quite a strong hand for SF to be playing and a nuanced negotiating strategy which sought to project a sense that their much vaunted unity of purpose covered a more fissiparous situation would be straight from “Negotiations Strategies 101”.

Campbell notes that:

He [Adams] pushed hard on prisoners being released, and the aim of total demilitarisation, and TB just listened. TB said he would not be a persuader for a united Ireland. The principle of consent was central to the process.

An important, indeed a central, demand articulated by Adams, and consider, this was 1997 when such things were anathema, where the out-going Conservative government would have found them impossible to achieve. A mark both of how far and how relatively rapidly this process has gone. It’s irritating to realise that this is just the level of information considered reasonable to release and that there must be considerably more.

And, of course, all this must be taken with the proverbial quantity of salt. Who knows how much of this is spin to help his Dear Former Leader, or indeed the Dear Former Leaders new ‘best friends’ in the Republican Movement.

Still, an interesting, if clearly partisan, insight into our recent history.

%d bloggers like this: