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UUP Intends to Withdraw from the NI Executive August 26, 2015

Posted by Garibaldy in Northern Ireland.

Interesting news that the UUP has stated its intention to leave the Executive following the PSNI’s comments that members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

Is the murder is a cause or a trigger?

There has been pressure within both the UUP and the SDLP to leave the Executive and form an opposition over the last several years, especially given that both feel that the big two parties have things stitched up, and that they are often ignored. There are those within both who feel that their electoral interests, and possibly their very survival as significant political forces, are dependent on making that move. And there are elections to the NI Assembly within the year. It’s hard not to feel that there is a connection between that and this decision, though Mike Nesbitt has said this is a case of putting the country first, and party second.

Where does this leave the DUP? Perhaps pulling the Executive down and avoiding the responsibility for welfare “reform” might appear all the more attractive now.

Meanwhile, back in the North… May 29, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

This piece on Slate on the fact that Northern Ireland is now the only part of these islands where same sex marriage is prohibited is intriguing. One has to wonder how long they can hold out? It suggests that the DUP is the main stumbling block. Clearly it’s one of them… what do others think?

But, as intriguing is this:

Political homophobia is connected with religious power. Northern Irish people find themselves living under what has been called “essentially a theocratic regime,” due to the hold the Calvinist fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church has over the DUP. A recent study found that Free Presbyterianism “remains the largest faith among both DUP members and elected representatives.” As many as 30.5 percent of DUP members are Free Presbyterians, compared with a measly 0.6 percent of the Northern Irish population at large.

Two thoughts, is it quite a ‘theocratic’ regime of does the nature of the dispensation alter or ameliorate that? And is that correct about the membership of the DUP? According to this page here on wiki the church has 10,068 members in NI. And according to this, research by Professor John Tonge (quoted on the Irish National Caucus website, no less ) suggests:

just under a third of DUP members (30.5%) are Free Presbyterians and slightly more (34.6%) are members of the Orange institution.
To put these figures in context, the 2011 census recorded that there were 10,068 Free Presbyterians in Northern Ireland – just 0.6% of our total population.
Like most political parties, the DUP does not disclose its membership, but it is believed to number around 1,100 people.

Seems remarkably small, doesn’t it?

Some more interesting stuff:

Overall, Free Presbyterians are more than 50 times more common in the DUP than they are in the population. Orangemen are 21 times more common in the party.
The prevalence of both bodies increases as you move up the ranks. Almost 40% of the 175 DUP councillors elected in 2011 were Free Presbyterian and more than half (54.2%) were members of the Orange Order. These proportions may have fallen a little in the council elections held last month.
Among the DUP’s 38 MLAs over a third are Free Presbyterians and exactly half are Orangemen. The proportion increases further among the party’s eight MPs.

But, perhaps counterintuitively – or perhaps not:

Prof Tonge points out that the influence of the Free Presbyterian Church has declined over time, whereas the Orange Order membership appears to have increased.
This is partly due to an influx of new members between the signing of the Belfast, or Good Friday, Agreement in 1998, which it opposed, and 2006 when the DUP signed the St Andrews Agreement on power-sharing with Sinn Fein.


Assessing the most active members of the party, Dr Tonge found: “It is the Orange contingent not, contrary to popular myth, the Free Presbyterians, who really count as the most active of all.”

By the by, any figures on the UUP membership numbers, or those of the SDLP, and while an all-Ireland party, how many SF members would there be in the North?

Remembering the conflict… April 16, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Colin Murphy in the SBP has an interesting thought. Reflecting upon the legacy of the statements recorded by the Bureau of Military History in regard to our understanding and knowledge of the 1916 period and after he notes that:

These statements (which are freely available online at bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie) are an extraordinary resource. After a century in which commemoration of the Rising has veered between extremes of patriotic fervour and revisionist disdain, the witness statements make it impossible to harness the Rising cleanly to a political agenda.
They capture its complex, chaotic and often ugly reality. That virtues such as heroism, courage and generosity shine through that is all the more remarkable.

And he notes that:

The value of these statements highlights the loss that is the collapse of the Boston College Belfast Project, which had compiled an oral history archive of the Troubles.
Watching some of the Bureau of Military History statements given life on stage at the Abbey last week, it was striking how vivid and intimate they were; how real and immediate this history became. Among other things, it allowed tragic deaths, otherwise forgotten, to be remembered.

He continues:

Much has been alleged as to who and what were responsible for the Boston College project’s collapse: inadequate contracts; overconfident guarantees of confidentiality; excessive zeal by the PSNI, who sought the archives as part of their investigation into the murder of Jean McConville. In any case, it has effectively destroyed the chances of any similar project happening, at least under private ownership.

But he draws a positive conclusion from that experience when he asks:

…could the state draw on the experience of the Bureau of Military History to set up an equivalent to document the Troubles and the Peace Process?
Were commitments of confidentiality (till after the death of all participants) to be enshrined in legislation, it may be that sufficient confidence could be established to create a new archive. That could be an enduring legacy of this period of commemorations.

One can see the problems immediately. To even engage in such a process, let alone to give guarantees as regards what would effectively be non-prosecution of those who made statements that by their nature would implicate themselves and perhaps others, would be a significant political and legal step. How would it be regarded from the perspective of those (in all quarters) in the North? There is no question that it would, almost inevitably, have to be a process that was entered to on an all-island basis.

It is also, without question, not something to be undertaken lightly, and I would have to wonder if the present government could credibly do so, or whether it would have any inclination to do so. Moreover it is hardly contentious to suggest that – as has been demonstrated – the events of the period from 1968 to the mid to late 1990s are perhaps still too close, the conflict too pointed. And yet, the BMH had to deal with a Civil War, and a War of Independence, and perhaps the political dynamics north and south where despite that history there has been some useful engagement (again from all quarters, albeit to varying degrees) and a willingness not to let the past hold the future to hostage, or not entirely, points to the potential for such an approach.

Either way a very intriguing proposal and one worth consideration.

Not before time – proposed representation for emigrants and the North in the Seanad? April 13, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Pat Leahy notes in yesterday’s SBP that today there are going to be proposals brought forward by Fine Gael for the following:

The working group on Seanad reform, which was established by the Taoiseach in the wake of his failed referendum to abolish the upper house, has recommended that emigrants and anyone living in Northern Ireland should be entitled to vote, in a massive extension of the Seanad electorate.

This in part on foot of the fact that:

The group has estimated that there are up to 800,000 foreign-based Irish passport-holders which the group says should be allowed to vote in a revamped Seanad electoral system. Residents of the North should also be allowed to vote, it says, as should all adults in the Republic.

There’s something of a back to the future vibe about it:

A small number of seats should be reserved for election by county councillors, while the university seats will also remain. The Taoiseach’s nominees will also remain, as the working group was obliged to stay within the existing constitutional framework.

And it seems the government has already accepted that it will follow the proposals of the working group (chaired by Maurice Manning). But not in time for the next elections.

I presume it would be a postal vote for those in the North? Or am I wrong there? How does it work? Leahy points to potential logistical issues in regard to emigrant votes. But also:

Allowing residents of the North to vote would open the possibility of substantial representation for the North in the Oireachtas for the first time.

It sure would. Long overdue.

Paying the price for centuries of contempt March 27, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Scottish Politics, The Left, Wales.

It’s not necessarily coming, as they say, from a place of love. More like a place of snark, but this is a great line from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian when discussing the shape of the next British Parliament.

British politics is paying the price for centuries of English contempt for the political aspirations of the Irish, Scots and Welsh.

Ain’t that the truth.

Throughout the 19th century Tory (and some Liberal) opposition to even moderate home rule for the “other British empire” ensured a more drastic separatism would eventually triumph.

Actually his line is intriguing because he argues that with SNP support a Labour government is more or less inevitable. Well, we’ll see.

He makes another point, one which given the way in which unionism looms large in the political consciousness is perhaps sometimes forgotten on this part of the island

The lesson of separatism across Europe is the same. For restless Ukrainians, Slovenians, Kosovans, Slovakians, Basques and Catalans, regional autonomy is not a passing fad, to be bought off with a few powers and subsidies. It is a visceral response to the arrogance of centralised power. It is the response that many Britons profess towards the overbearing power of Brussels; yet few in Westminster see themselves as the EU of Great Britain.

An all island corporation tax rate? March 23, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Seems to be in the offing according to a report in the SBP this weekend. The politics of this are particularly intriguing. According to the report:

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will drop its plan to put through an ultra low corporation tax rate of 10 per cent in the six counties after Sinn Féin faced down the scheme in recent weeks.
DUP leader Peter Robinson is understood to have told a breakfast meeting of business leaders in Belfast organised by Stormont MLA Gavin Robinson that the assembly will likely pursue a rate of 12.5 per cent.

And why would that be, why would the DUP ‘drop’ its plan?

The 12.5 per cent rate is understood to be favoured by Sinn Féin, which wants a common corporate tax base across the entire island.

And apparently:

A DUP source admitted that the party was now likely to back away from the 10 per cent rate after strident opposition from Sinn Féin. “Our starting point was 10 (per cent), but if it was a choice between staying where we are and going to 12.5 per cent, it wasn’t much of a contest,” one source familiar with the negotiations said.

Hmmmm… perhaps this is what is meant by economic issues taking over from identity issues in Stormont? Or perhaps not! And clearly SF has an eye to matters beyond the North…

Focus will now shift towards negotiating a final agreement on the 12.5 per cent rate, although DUP sources said that further opposition could not be ruled out from Sinn Féin, which will be conscious of the risk of being accused of hypocrisy by its political opponents in the Republic.
Sinn Féin has been a vocal critic of what it says are low rates of tax on corporations and high net worth individuals in the Republic.

Again, it seems to me, this is another example of the problems of having to contest politically in two polities. It’s not just that opponents will pile in to point up discrepancies and contradiction, but that those discrepancies and contradictions function from the off. Granted the forced coalition aspect of the status quo in Northern Ireland adds a further twist to matters. How these circles can be squared is hard to see. Perhaps a sort of intrinsic partitionism, for which read absolute indifference to matters NI, will prevail amongst the electorate in the RoI. Or perhaps not. Or perhaps an attitude of this is how the dispensation works is baked in from the off.

An Phoblacht out now, including… February 25, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
1 comment so far

Time to go Taoiseach

John Alderdice writes in Uncomfortable Conversations – Letting go of old ways of thinking

Michelle Gildernew and Fermanagh & South Tyrone– A special place, a special legacy

1916 centenary programme of events launched

Creating common ground ahead of Dáil election – Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

International Women’s Day: No peace without women, says Megan Fearon MLA

Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Mise agus mo Dhia

Belfast’s famous black taxis – ‘Hacked off’ and still fighting for equality

The DUP’s anti-LGBT ‘Conscience Clause’ – Rainbow Project Director John O’Doherty

Van Morrison and Belfast school days shared by Robert Allen

Put our money in our hands – Fiscal devolution for the North – Conor Murphy MP

Irish state reveals its contempt for Irish language rights

Identity and the north… February 25, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Some intriguing thoughts in Jim Fitzpatrick’s latest piece in the SBP on the North. He argues that the GFA/BA has through the particular mechanism of politicians designating themselves as unionist or nationalist created a very specific impasse (in passing he is most complimentary of Eamonn McCann, and rightly so, in warning of the problems that lay ahead). And he reasonably enough argues implicitly that this is only a reflection or expression of the broader society. But he notes that:

It made sense to state the obvious – the vast majority of the population identified as “one or the other” – but it did not make sense to effectively tie the new constitution to this evermore.

Of course the reason for this was to overcome the dangers of majoritarianism, and that circle hasn’t been squared either. But it is reasonable to see it as exacerbating the issue of identity.

Now, almost 17 years on from that agreement, the identity battles continue to rage with equal bitterness and passion. They dominate all else and are having a deeply corrosive effect on society. Those that care not for these battles have opted out, because there is no place for them in an arena defined and managed on these terms.

Even the Alliance Party, which has been forced to downgrade its own political capital by joining neither camp and therefore having no say in key Assembly votes, is defined by simply being what the others aren’t. It’s almost the flipside of the same coin, needing the sectarian to be the non-sectarian alternative.
And, as the party has to admit, it’s a diminished alternative because – lacking that tribal clout which legislation provides – it cannot sway key votes.

I think that point about ‘needing the sectarian to be the non-sectarian alternative’ while perhaps slightly overstated is something that is well worth considering. It’s a basic issue, or problem where by defining against something the danger becomes that of being defined by the thing one is against. And it’s also a problem of almost ignoring or denying significant elements of the societal dispensation and their power and how they function. In other words, a dynamic can emerge where one entirely correctly seeks to do away with sectarianism and decry it in others without engaging sufficiently with what it is and what it isn’t and offering cogent means of transcending it.

I’m not sure what the answer is to all this. Fitzpatrick notes the following, which doesn’t exactly give great hope.

Unionists consistently fail to acknowledge that nationalist identity is legitimate. They insult and belittle Irish culture and the Irish language and insist that Northern Ireland is, to misquote Margaret Thatcher, as “British as Finchley”.
Nationalists and republicans, meanwhile, seem to treat unionism as an illness. A temporary state artificially preserved by British intervention. It’s temporary nature may have lasted several hundred years, but that doesn’t seem to sway the analysis.
They imagine a mythical United Ireland where these deluded souls will recant and accept their true Irish identity once the apron strings from Mother Britannia have been cut.

I think the false consciousness approach to unionism is very mistaken. And it is – of course – simply a reflection of the Unionist attitude to nationalism. Albeit that under Stormont (the first) there was almost an attitude of hoping/wishing that nationalists would somehow go away. But more than mistaken it’s pointless. Unionists are not going to stop being unionists in any realisable time frame, any more than nationalists are going to stop being nationalists. This odd parallel, as it were, is also intriguing.

With that thought in mind note that Fitzpatrick continues:

There’s a fact at the centre of all of this which the Good Friday Agreement implicitly states, but no one dares acknowledge. Nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland are stuck with each other. No one else wants them and there’s nowhere else to go.

If one views the GFA/BA as being a holding effort one can see how it is extremely convenient in fending off the competing nationalisms at the heart of it from their supposed sponsors. The British were clearly comfortable in diminishing their sovereignty somewhat in respect of the North (arguably that was true since Sunningdale, and the AIA was merely the first clear manifestation of same). The Irish government and polity were likewise happy enough to jettison the inconveniences of Articles 2 and 3. And the focus returned to Northern Ireland itself. No longer quite so close to the UK, and only slightly closer to the RoI.

Fitzpatrick argues that:

In reality, precious little could change in the event of a United Ireland. The unionist population would not recant or suddenly give up its British identity. So it’s highly likely that Northern Ireland in a new republic would not look significantly different to how it appears today.
Meanwhile, the nationalist population in the North – despite Martin McGuinness’s fondness for Queen Elizabeth – is not likely to start waving Union Jacks any time soon and will continue to enjoy celebrating Irish culture in different ways.

There’s a lot in that. I can’t see a united Ireland emerging without some sort of federal arrangement and one which just as the GFA/BA has allowed for a diminution of UK sovereignty would likewise require a diminution of RoI sovereignty allowing east west political and representational links perhaps in perpetuity. There’s just no way around it. In other words nationalism would have to become accustomed to the reality not just of Unionism but a unionism that was expressed with regular visits from the monarch, with political representation of some form in London, with the union flag flying across the North in tandem with the tricolour (or perhaps not depending on where), and so on and so forth. That’s the only way such a deal could be sold because national identity, like it or not, is not going to undergo a phase shift just because – say – 51 per cent of the population in the North supports a UI.

And that makes me wonder whether it wouldn’t be more sensible for nationalism to start working through that and getting together a package that would not so much offer that, but make it clear that it will as a minimum in any future dispensation seek to uphold national identity and cultural and political rights for Unionism even at the expense of full sovereignty.
But all that is blue sky thinking, really, given where we are today. The prospect of a significant change in the next decade or two seems remote.

So what is the solution? He proposes that:

A basic acceptance of that fundamental fact coupled with a little bit of respect for each identity and ultimately a change in the sectarian rules at Stormont might be too much to ask for. But it’s what is needed. And needed soon.

Respect is such a simple term. In some ways that’s always been at the heart of this. It was what Stormont from 1920 onwards could not gift, the societal pressures within Unionism being too great to do so. And yet had that been done it is just barely possible that the conflict might have been avoided. But even to phrase it this way is to wonder how feasible it is. The memory of the conflict is perhaps too raw, the sectarianism at this point too deeply embedded. And how would it manifest? An acceptance of all parades and flags? An acceptance of the Irish language? Would that be possible, and if possible enough, or nearly enough?

I’m not optimistic. I’d put good money on the status quo being the status quo for quite some time to come, staggering from one crisis to another, never getting as bad as it was, but never getting as good as it could be.

1916 and all that (again) January 16, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

An oddly, though perhaps no unexpectedly, one-sided view of the Easter Rising from Dennis Kennedy in the irish Times. It’s also arguably remarkably ahistorical. We are treated to a number of contentions:

The event itself was an act of armed rebellion by an extremist group outside the mainstream of nationalist politics, and with no electoral mandate. It came at a time when the state – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – was in all-out war with Germany. That war had the overwhelming support of Ireland’s democratically elected representatives to the UK parliament. The leaders of the rebellion had sought and received aid from Germany.

That point about ‘democratically elected representatives’ ignores deeply problematic aspects of British democracy that are fundamental to any analysis of this issue.

We often hear that those who instigated the Rising were advanced nationalists, but they were also advanced democrats – in so far as they had a much more modern and progressive view of what suffrage meant – universal, non-gender restricted, etc. These aren’t small things, for in somewhat less advanced nationalism Redmond was famously antagonistic to the very idea of female suffrage.

Moreover there’s a sort of unwillingness to accept the reality of what British power actually meant, the minority status of Irish parliamentarians at Westminster – in other words the show of (flawed) democracy, but no actual substance to it.

Add in with that the fact that the dynamic of who was represented there in Westminster was such that it was pushing against the confines of the British state. Participation in the British government was all but unthinkable given the orientation of nationalism – even soft Home Rule nationalism – given the history of preceding decades and centuries.

That latter is far from unimportant too. For Kennedy the British government was the democratic and legal entity, the actuality of Home Rule agitation and nationalism in general called that deeply into question.

But they were still ideologues with no electoral support, prepared to kill and destroy in pursuit of their political aims at a time when unprecedented progress, albeit stalled by the war, had been made by democratic processes towards the goal of an independent Ireland.

Ah, that unprecedented progress, stalled not simply by war but by Unionism itself which was responsible during those few decades for reintroducing political violence or the threat of same into the equation, and had in London pushed back even the relatively meagre measures that were on offer. Indeed it’s hard to take seriously his contention that somehow 1916 was a ‘catalyst’ to partition given the role of that issue in the years before the Rising and particularly in 1912 and 1913. Actually Unionism and its role in fracturing aspects of the British polity, or bending them to near breaking point, isn’t addressed at all in his history.

Of course there’s a more contemporary, or near contemporary spin:

Should, 100 years on, a modern parliamentary democracy, committed to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of all disputes, celebrate as the seminal event in its history an armed insurrection by a small minority with no mandate?

Should a state with a long history of sporadic armed challenge to its authority be celebrating such an event? Should it do so when there are still organisations and individuals who believe their political aspirations are such that they entitle them to kill and destroy in pursuit of them?

The answer to those questions is yes. In part because it was a seminal event, that Britain as then constituted was far from what we would recognise as a democracy as well as being an imperial power and that the very existence of an independent Republic on much of the territory of this island, one that is, for all its flaws, generally acknowledged as legitimate is in and of itself an answer. There is little or no question as to the legitimacy of this state, certainly nothing approaching that which characterised the relationship to the British state in Ireland. And perhaps here we see some of what exercises Kennedy, for if this state is legitimate, then it follows that what came before was not – however hard he may attempt to paint it. And even that part of Ireland which remained within the UK was clearly insufficiently so, to the extent that it took until the late 1990s, and even after, until a dispensation was fashioned that was satisfactory to a critical mass of the population within its borders.

Which suggests that all the talk of democracy and modernity and legality actually are evasions when set against the reality of both the period prior to Independence in the South and after it in the North. That there was deep dysfunction in both parts of Ireland during those periods and that only in the most recent past has that been ameliorated to any significant degree.

That is an uncomfortable historical perspective.

More on Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s from the state Archives… January 2, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
1 comment so far

It’s useful, indeed educative, to read through the latest reports on documentation released as part of the annual trawl through archives. This from the Irish Times makes some very pertinent points about the nature of policing in Northern Ireland in the 1980s.

I sometimes feel that the actual nature of policing there during that period is under examined in relation to its partisan nature – having had some slight experience of Belfast in the mid to late 1980s myself it certainly appeared to be heavy handed in the extreme. Knowing people – both political, WP, SF and other parties, and non-political (if one can use the latter term) – who had a more pointed experience, ‘counterproductive’, ‘belligerent’ and worse are terms that spring to mind. And there was worse, much worse again for others.

So it’s telling that the Northern Ireland Office when considering the loyalist protests that occurred in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement came to the conclusion that:

“There is genuine concern from many quarters about the behaviour of the RUC, which was seen to be inadequate at best and collaborative at worst.”

And the outline of the events that led to that conclusion are damning.

“Reports from all parts of NI and from a wide range of sources complain of inactivity on the part of the RUC when faced with physical barricades, picket lines or cases of manifest intimidation.
“These reports [were] . . . brought to national attention by media coverage, notably of a civil servant haranguing a police officer for failing to assist him in entering the Stormont estate and of what appears to be an RUC Landrover [sic] being driven out of the way in order to allow a tractor and trailer to block a road.
“There had been allegations the RUC watched barriers being built without intervening; that the main Belfast-Newry road was allowed to remain blocked for five hours despite the presence of police, including senior officers . . . that the RUC were under instructions not to interfere with “official picket lines” and that people attempting to cross them . . . received no RUC . . . protection.”

If the NIO felt this way one can only imagine the scale of the true situation on the ground. But it does point up reasons why the RUC was in no sense a normal police force. It is difficult at this remove not to regard them as a significant part (though far from the only or most important one) of the problem and their eventual disbandment and replacement a fundamental element of an improved dispensation.

Simply put the institutional and structural bias within the RUC was clearly of such a scale that it was simply impossible for it to operate – even were one to put aside completely, an impossible task in itself, the history of interactions with nationalists and republicans across the decades since the establishment of NI – as an even relatively neutral actor. That was not its function, and that most certainly was not its ethos.

And again, the Patten Report and subsequent reforms demonstrated that these institutional and structural biases were very real, and so much so that far beyond being a sop to parts of republicanism they were a necessity.

A very contemporary echo is the analysis on the part of the NIO that unionist leaders were surprised by the extent of protests and a sense that control had slipped away from them.

Meanwhile, there’s a real sense of troubles being stored up, or multiplied, as with the account of the ‘decision by the police in the North to allow an Orange parade to pass along the Gervaghy Road in Portadown on 12th July, 1986’ which it is said ‘brought Anglo-Irish relations to their lowest point that year.

As a contemporary Irish Times report by Jim Cusack in the file noted: “The route agreed by the RUC [with the Orange leaders] had the Orange demonstration actually going in the direction opposite the intended rallying point in order that they might pass through a Catholic area.”

Certainly the situation was severe enough for Fine Gael’s Peter Barry to argue that:

“members of the minority community had been left unprotected”.

That, by the way, was a charge that was also levelled at the RUC in relation to the broader protests during the post-AIA period.

In view of later developments there was a certain irony in regard to SF complaints at Garret FitzGerald visiting Derry in 1985 – a visit that was regarded by the former as a pro-SDLP election stunt, which one would have to suspect from reading other materials released from that period it most likely was.

Mr [Martin] McGuinness had “hit out at the visit by referring to press photographs of Dr FitzGerald shaking hands with an RUC officer”,the official wrote.
Mr McGuinness had said “the image of SDLP supporter Garret FitzGerald shaking hands with a loyalist gunman . . . should stick in the minds of Nationalists as they go to the polls on May 15th [for the North’s local government elections],” the official wrote.

Interesting too a discussion on the nature of subversion that arose over how the British government should engage with George Seawright, independent Loyalist councillor, whose bigoted statements caused something of a problem for the government.

His presence on unionist deputations posed a particular problem for the authorities at a time when the British government was loath to have normal contact with Sinn Féin due to its support for violence.


“The main point at issue was whether it was right to treat Mr Seawright in the same fashion as Sinn Féin,” ND Ward of the Northern Ireland Office wrote in a memo dated April 16th, 1985.
“He had advocated violence and, therefore, ministers had not wished to deal with him.
“Mr Seawright is a maverick and, some would say, a nutcase, but he is not a subversive in the Sinn Féin sense and to treat him on a par with Sinn Féin and refuse to see him as part of a delegation might only seem to enhance his standing in some quarters.”

Further ironies in the calls by Peter Robinson to have Sinn Féin banned in 1985. And further insights into the processes at work.

According to the 1985 Belfast papers, Mr Robinson, who was then deputy leader of the DUP, expressed his views when a DUP delegation met Northern Ireland minister Richard Needham on October 16th. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed the following month.


The meeting opened with what an official called “the by now customary ‘round robin’ whereby each member of the delegation impressed upon the minister his abhorrence of the IRA murder campaign” and the support given to it by Sinn Féin councillors.
The official added: “Mr Robinson’s personal view was “in favour of a package with proscription [of Sinn Féin] paving the way for a further election and a hardening of the existing declaration to ensure that the men of violence and those who supported them would not be eligible to take their seats.”

No sense of what the unnamed official made of that. Famously the NIO and the British in general did not tell unionist leaders anything about the AIA until its effective implementation, and a most unpleasant surprise it was for them too. One has to wonder whether unionism quite understood Thatcher. Their campaigns of civil disobedience were unlikely to have much traction with her and whatever her palpable lack of enthusiasm for the AIA unquestionably she was willing to see its full implementation during the remaining years of her premiership.

And then there’s this, from a British negotiator during the New Ireland Forum period:

Goodall did little to defend Thatcher from this charge, save to say that she had largely been making “debating points which did not necessarily reflect her whole outlook”. Her starting point was unionist, “though she does not at all like the unionists”.

Noel Dorr, for the Irish side noted that:

He had been reading the account of Thatcher’s contribution at the Chequers summit and was especially struck by her “incomprehension” on why the minority in Northern Ireland “required special political arrangements” compared with other European minorities. This seemed to Dorr to raise “a serious worry about a very basic lack of understanding of the nature of the problem”.

What comes through loud and clear is the utter dysfunction politically evident during these years. The sheer oddity of suggestions made by various quarters, from unionists seeking the Queen’s involvement in talks, to the Irish government suggesting the demolition of Divis Flats in order to disrupt support for Sinn Féin, is testament to this. Security solutions as seen in previous years hadn’t worked. Allowing matters to proceed as they would within tightly constrained parameters clearly wasn’t working either. The status quo ante could not prevail. And it didn’t.

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