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The O’Loan Report: the RUC, Collusion and the Policing Debate, or…never mind the detail, consider the response. January 22, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.
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Call me a cynic, but I chuckled involuntarily when reading on the ITs Breaking News section that “PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde today said Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report into security force collusion made shocking reading”. “Shocking”, one presumes, in the sense that something is unsurprising and expected.

And yet perhaps Orde is shocked, shocked that such activities continued, at least as far as the scope of the Ombudsmans enquiries as recently as 1997. That’s not ancient history. That’s very recent history, although the date is telling in so far as it marks the point of a change of government in the United Kingdom from Conservative to Labour (and perhaps if I were the Labour Party I might be a tad less circumspect about trumpeting that particular fact at an upcoming election – certainly someone seems to have believed that they had a freer rein under a different political dispensation).

The report is long. The PDF I downloaded from the Office of the Ombudsman runs to 162 pages. I’ve scanned through it, and this is by no means an exhaustive trawl (incidentally, perhaps it’s just my version of Acrobat, but in numbered documents is it so difficult to bookmark individual pages, trying to read it is a messy and frustrating experience).

The details are predictable, senior levels of the RUC are implicated at least indirectly in the death of Raymond McCord Jnr, murdered in 1997 by the UVF. The lack of cooperation by former RUC members, up to the level of assistant chief-constables tells it’s own story. They ‘refused to provide an explanation of Special Branch and CID internal practices during the period in question’.

or as the relevant section puts it:

Lack of Co-operation and Time Delay
8.1 The main difficulty encountered during Operation Ballast has been the refusal of a number of retired RUC / PSNI senior officers to co-operate with this enquiry, despite the fact that the Police Ombudsman took a number of steps to facilitate the needs of these retired officers:

The Executive Summary details the following areas of concern:

9. Intelligence reports and other documents within the RUC and the PSNI, most of which were rated as ‘reliable and probably true’, linked informants, and in particular one man who was a police informant (referred to in this report as Informant 1) to the following ten murders:

• Mr Peter McTasney who died on 24 February 1991;
• Ms Sharon McKenna who died on 17 January 1993;
• Mr Sean McParland who was attacked on 17 February 1994, and died on 25 February 1994;
• Mr Gary Convie who died on 17 May 1994;
• Mr Eamon Fox who died on 17 May 1994, in the same attack as Mr Gary Convie;
• Mr Gerald Brady who died on 17 June 1994;
• Mr Thomas Sheppard who died on 21 March 1996;
• Mr John Harbinson who died on 18 May 1997;
• Mr Raymond McCord Junior who died on 09 November 1997
• Mr Thomas English who died on 31 October 2000.

The Police Ombudsman’s investigators also identified less significant police intelligence implicating Informant 1 in 5 other murders. For some of these murders, there is generally only one piece of intelligence, which police have not rated as reliable.
Intelligence was also found linking police informants, and in particular Informant 1, to ten attempted murders between 1989 and 2002.
Intelligence was also found which implicated police informants, and in particular, Informant 1, in a significant number of crimes in respect of which no action or insufficient action was taken:
• Armed robbery;
• Assault and Grievous Bodily Harm;
• Punishment shootings and attacks;
• Possession of munitions;
• Criminal Damage;
• Drug dealing;
• Extortion;
• Hijacking;
• Intimidation;
• Conspiracy to murder;
• Threats to kill.

One piece is particularly striking, a ‘foiled’ bombing campaign by the UVF in Dublin in 1996 and attacks on SF offices in Monaghan by the UVF using explosives in 1997 (note that Monaghan is in the RoI) elicit this conclusion:

24.10 The only official records, apart from the reward application, which show the explosives were used in Monaghan is in a confidential document prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions for Informant 1s arrest on another matter. It records that he thwarted ‘a bombing campaign in the Republic of Ireland’ on 25 November 1996 and that he thwarted ‘a bomb attack in Monaghan’ on 3 March 1997. The document does not mention that Informant 1 had a role in the attack and that the explosives were returned to him by police.
24.11 There is no evidence that Special Branch informed the Garda Siochana at any stage of this bombing attempt, or of who was behind it. The Garda Commissioner has confirmed to the Police Ombudsman that Special Branch did not provide them with any intelligence about this incident. The Police Ombudsman wrote to the Chief Constable asking him to pass on this intelligence.

The conclusion is stunning:

32.1 In his Stevens 3 Report Lord Stevens defined collusion as “the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, the extreme of agents being involved in murder..”
32.2 In his reports on his Collusion Enquiries into the deaths of Patrick Finucane, Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson, and Billy Wright, Judge Cory states that:

“the definition of collusion must be reasonably broad… That is to say that army and police forces must not act collusively by ignoring or turning a blind eye to the wrongful acts of their servants of agents, or supplying information to assist them in their wrongful acts, or encouraging them to commit wrongful acts. Any lesser definition would have the effect of condoning or even encouraging state involvement in crimes, thereby shattering all public confidence in these important agencies.””
32.3 The Police Ombudsman has used these definitions for the purposes of examining whether collusion has been identified in the course of this investigation.

32.4 In the absence of any justifiable reason why officers behaved as they did, the Police Ombudsman has identified from police documentation, records and interviews, collusion in the following areas:

• The failure to arrest informants for crimes to which those informants had allegedly confessed, or to treat such informants as suspects for crime;

• By creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; by failing to record and maintain original interview notes and by failing to record notes of meetings with informants;

• The failure to deal properly with information received from informants, so that informants were able to avoid investigation and detection for crime;

• By arresting informants suspected of murder then subjecting them to lengthy sham interviews by their own handlers at which they were not challenged and then releasing them on the authorisation of the handler;

• By not recording in investigation papers the fact that an informant was suspected of a crime despite the fact that he had been arrested and interviewed for that crime;

• By failing to take steps to hinder an attempted bombing by the establishment of an operation either to disrupt or arrest the alleged perpetrators whose names were known to Special Branch;

• By giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed, and that there should be no record of the incident concerned;

• By ensuring the absence of any official record linking a Special Branch informant to the possession of explosives which may, and were thought, according to private police records, to have been used in a particular crime;

• By withholding information from CID that the UVF had sanctioned an attack;

• By concealing from CID intelligence that named persons, including an informant or informants, had been involved in particular crimes;

• By withholding information about the location to which a group of murder suspects had allegedly fled after a murder;

• By the concealment on a number of occasions of intelligence indicating that up to three informants had been engaged together in murders and a particular crime or crimes;

• By routinely destroying all Tasking and Co-ordinating Group original documentary records so as to conceal an informant’s involvement in crime;

• By destroying or losing forensic exhibits such as metal bars and tape lifts;

• By not requiring appropriate forensic analysis to be carried out on items submitted to the Forensic Science Service Laboratory;

• by blocking the searches of a police informant’s home and of another location, including an alleged UVF arms dump;

• By not questioning informants about their activities and continuing to employ informants without risk assessing their continued use as informants;

• By finding munitions at an informant’s home and releasing him without charge;

• By not informing local police of an anticipated attack, and not taking any action to prevent the attack;

• By not using the available evidence and intelligence to detect a crime and to link the investigation of crimes in which an informant was a suspect;

• By some Special Branch officers deliberately disregarding a very significant amount of intelligence about informant involvement in drug dealing in Larne, and North Belfast and in punishment attacks linked to drug dealing from 1994 onwards;

• By continuing to employ as informants people suspected of involvement in the most serious crime without assessing the attendant risks or their suitability as informants;

• By not acting on witness and other evidence received in particular crimes when the suspect was an informant;

• By not considering or attempting to conduct identification processes when there was particular evidence from witnesses about a criminal’s appearance;

• By providing at least four misleading and inaccurate confidential documents for possible consideration by the court in relation to four separate incidents and the cases resulting from them, where those documents had the effect of protecting an informant;

• By not informing the Director of Public Prosecutions that an informant was a suspect in a crime in respect of which an investigation file was submitted to the Director;

• By their failure to maintain the record of intelligence which was the basis for applications for extensions of time in detention to the Secretary of State;

• By withholding intelligence from police colleagues including the names of alleged suspects which could have been used to attempt to prevent and to detect crime;

• By the practice of Special Branch not using and following the practice of authorisation of participating informants;

• By completing false and misleading authorisations and reviews of informants for the purposes of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act;

• By cancelling the wanted status of murder suspects “because of lack of resources” and doing nothing further about these suspects;

• This investigation has examined the activities of police officers responsible for informants over a period of twelve years. On only one occasion have PSNI provided any document indicative of consideration of the termination of the relationship which Special Branch had with any of these informants, despite the extent of the alleged involvement of these informants in the most serious of crimes.

But what is more significant in one key respect is the response (apart from that of Hugh “shocked” Orde). Immediately Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have described the findings as ‘deeply disturbing’. And Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern noted that “Who now could doubt that there was a need for a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland, as called for in the Good Friday Agreement and brought about through the implementation of the Patten Report? By failing to protect its citizens in such a way, the State failed in one of its primary duties”, while Northern Secretary Peter Hain said that “These things – murder, collusion, cover-up, obstruction of investigations – could not happen today, not least because of the accountability mechanisms that have been put in place over recent years…There are all sorts of opportunities for prosecutions to follow…The fact that some retired police officers obstructed the investigation and refused to co-operate with the Police Ombudsman is very serious in itself”.

As for Sinn Féin, Martin McGuinness suggested that it would make a powerful contribution to the policing debate and “It raises the question about how many more areas were affected, and how many more people were murdered by elements effectively within the RUC and British intelligence”.

Interesting. Everyone is largely containing this to the past, i.e. drawing a line between then and today, while also, as in the case of Hain, opening the way towards further action. The implications are remarkable. Assistant Chief Constables refusing to engage with an enquiry is suggestive. Collusion proven is a serious step forward and one which potentially destabilises elements within Unionism, indeed one wonders whether the recent backing away from the reinstatement of the RUC by the DUP and the wilder fringes of the UUP is indicative of a recognition that that particular game is up.

But overall it is a good days work. And surely, surely the timing cannot be coincidental because if one casts one eye to Appendix A, what does one read but the following:

1. In the early stages of Operation Ballast, the Police Ombudsman made it clear to the Chief Constable that she had serious concerns about the way PSNI had handled and managed paramilitary informants since the early 1990s. The Police Ombudsman informed the Chief Constable that as a result of these concerns she was conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of a number of Special Branch officers.

2. As a result of these pressures from the Police Ombudsman, along with the Stevens III recommendations and a report by the Surveillance Commissioner, PSNI have radically changed their working practices since 2003.

3. The main change has been structural, in that Special Branch is no longer a separate part of the PSNI, but has been integrated into the broader Crime Operations Department.


41. The Police Ombudsman hopes that these new measures by PSNI will prevent the failures identified by Operation Ballast from re-occurring in the future.

Things have changed, but it’s the enormous rapidity which is so striking. 2003? That’s barely yesterday, and it demonstrates the need for serious engagement with policing. An engagement that has to be by policing as much as by the community at large. I’ve argued here that SF should sign up, indeed I have another post in the works on just that topic. But this is desperately important, because it undercuts the ground from the DUP over policing. The RUC, whatever the nature of individual officers within it who took an honourable course, was an institution that was seriously compromised, that had to be replaced. The PSNI is a clear step in the right direction. But for any political party to pretend that there is a high ground held in the past, that if only for Republicans all would be normal, is delusion.

That’s something Republicans should consider carefully. This report makes their task paradoxically both easier and more difficult. More difficult because there will be many who see this as the alpha and omega of their justifications for not engaging, easier because it removes a central plank of the DUPs arguments relating to policing.

The next couple of weeks will be interesting. As will the response from Unionism (bar the risible response from Jimmy Spratt).

Edited in later by me: Worth noting also the extremely dignified approach of Raymond McCord Snr. this evening, who without his tenacity this grim truth wouldn’t have surfaced. For his sake, that of his son and the other victims, and arguably many others whose stories haven’t been told so far a public enquiry seems a minimal demand. However, it appears that at this point that is unlikely.


By the by, isn’t it moving towards the time when we appoint a Minister for Northern Ireland/the North, as distinct from the current situation where the DFA has authority (or rather could not the DFA retain authority but have a seperate Minister appointed, or if we want to be particularly contorted why not have Minister for Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland – I’m aware of the Anglo-Irish division but that’s not quite the same thing really)? If it’s Plan B we’ll need one, and if it’s the GFA yep, we’re going to need one too.

David – we hardly knew you… or David Ervine and the curious case of Ireland’s most popular Unionist. January 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Ireland, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The Left, Unionism.

And that’s the problem. Seriously. We hardly knew David Ervine. There were David Ervine’s aplenty. There was the avuncular telegenic figure of the last decade and a half. Clearly interested and interesting. Someone with a serious agenda and willing to put himself on the line in pursuit of that agenda.

Then there was the UVF member. That part’s a little more opaque, or as the Irish Times put it he was ‘reserved’ about the circumstances of his arrest. Just what did he do, bar the famous incident of being caught by the RUC carrying a bomb? That he was forced to disarm it is more telling than many people might admit. Here, after all, is the archetype of the ‘bad’ terrorist, the bomber, bringer of indiscriminate death.

Friend of Gusty Spence.

There was the student. Open University no less. Someone with a clear intellectual ability and acumen.

The newsagent and milkman. Newsagent? Milkman?

I was wondering was Ervine’s popularity because he was frank and open. Well Paisley is frank and open, but few enough are fond of him. Was it because he was true to his beliefs? Perhaps, but again so was poor (politically) departed Bob McCartney – another Unionist of a Labour bent – and look what’s happened to him. Was it because he was in some sense ‘modern’? Ervine, a man who in his 40s smoked a pipe, spoke in an erudite but somewhat mannered way and hewed to a form of socialism described as Old Labour. Because Ervine wasn’t modern at all. Ervine was somebody from the 1950s or 1960s transported by his own personal time tunnel to the mid-1990s.

Lest this sound carping, it’s not meant to be. But the chorus of laudatory comments over the past two days (of which I very tangentially participated in myself) was remarkable. Ervine managed to united Republicans – mainstream and dissident, Unionists both Ulster and Democratic, SDLP members, Labour, Fine Gaelers and Fianna Failers in a broad spectrum of praise and sorrow.

Will the obituaries and eulogies of – say – Martin McGuinness be as amiable? How and where do we place their relative worth as politicians, as freedom fighters as terrorists as… well apply whatever term is suitable or fits your own political belief system? Or is this a case of the other, simply by dint of being the other, getting a free pass, one built up from one part ignorance, one part denial and one part sentimentality of the ‘we’re all human after all’ sort.

smiffy raised a very important point on P.ie, that it was incredibly contradictory (there is another word, but I don’t want to use it) of the Peace Trains of this world to be picketing Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna while feting Ervine (a similar attitude is visible in one Labour party poster on P.ie who lauds Ervine in his signature but excoriates SF as ‘nazi’s’). Contradictory if only, if only, because the distance travelled by Sinn Féin as a party and movement was considerably greater than the distance covered by David Ervine as an individual. He didn’t deliver decommissioning or the disbandment of the UVF. They’re still there, they haven’t gone away.

That’s not to say he delivered nothing at all. His presence in 1998 beside David Trimble was essential if only to send a message to the DUP that they no longer could hide behind the threat of the Loyalist paramilitaries in the way they had done previously, if only to prove to one segment of the Unionist/Loyalist base that their political leadership could stomach the agreement. Moreover his political analysis is one that I would have largely supported, in so far as he actually was in favour of dialogue and a degree of compromise and conciliation and that he was representative of an often submerged but very real strain in Unionist thinking that was Labourist, socialist and – yes – in many respects progressive. But most importantly – and the key to his success – was perhaps the fact that he was willing to talk, was willing to forge real links with the South (as evinced by his and the PUPs support for the GFA) while remaining utterly convinced of the accuracy of his political analysis that the Union was the best possible environment for the six counties.

And aside from the personal tragedy to him and his family, there is the broader tragedy that Unionism has only produced one or two examples at a political level of rational, articulate defenders of the Unionist position who recognise that dialogue isn’t defeat, that engaging with one’s political opponents is the only sensible course in a divided political entity and that all-island engagement on a political, economic and cultural level doesn’t have to result in the jettisoning of a living and vital Unionism retaining links into the UK.

So perhaps the praise, for all the flaws of the man and the movement he represented, is more than half justified. Perhaps more than three-quarters justified. He will be missed not merely for who he seemed to be but for what he seemed to represent and for the lost opportunities of contemporary Unionism.

Post-Nationalism 3 – The Cadogan Group – or just why is that Unionism doesn’t believe itself to be British Nationalism? November 23, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Unionism.

Every once in a while I cast an eye across The Cadogan Group website. And highly educational it is too. The Group was established in 1991:   “by a small number of academics and others in Belfast unhappy with overall government policy on Northern Ireland, and with the broad analysis of the problem shared by the United Kingdom and Irish governments and by many commentators”. And what is the source of their unhappiness? Why the Peace Process. Or more specifically the inclusion of Republicans within that process over the past fifteen or so years.

Some interesting members it has too. Dennis Kennedy, late of the Irish Times (and author by the by of a fantastic history of the early years of the state based on IT and reports and the situation of Unionists within it), Paul Bew the historian and so on and so forth. The great and the good from the non-fundamentalist Unionist camp so to speak. As it says itself: “The Group operates as an independent forum and is not linked to any political party. Its earlier pamphlets emerged from exhaustive discussion and represented the consensus view of the membership. This involved extended editing and re-editing, and a great deal of time. Group publications are now attributed to named authors who are responsible for the content.”

I should like these guys. I really should. Their civic Unionism isn’t without worth. They are reasonably progressive on social issues. They think about the issues and they treat them seriously.

And yet, and yet, and yet.

Despite thinking about the issues deeply their thoughts always seem to arrive at a rather familiar destination. And the name of that destination appears to be the retention of the traditional Union and a sorta kinda diluted majority rule. Okay, they sugar the pill somewhat in that they seem willing to countenance reaching out to moderate Nationalists such as the SDLP. But in effect their solution is the same solution as was presented by successive British Governments in the 1970s and early 1980s. A local assembly which would attempt to bring the more ‘reasonable’ elements together and exclude the wild men (aka Republicans). Now history hasn’t served them well with the rise and rise of Sinn Féin to the point of eclipsing and surpassing the SDLP. Their document ‘Beyond Belfast’ written last year appeared to be unable to countenance the idea that PIRA would disband, or rather it appears to have been written at two different times. In one part it was predicated on a stalemate lasting into the future (and reiterating the idea that it was impossible and immoral for Unionists to sit in government with former PIRA members) since PIRA wouldn’t disband. Then at the end it implicitly notes PIRA disbandment but again claims that it’s impossible for Unionists to work with SF in the absence of any expression of guilt over the past or a renunciation of violence in the future.

A key problem is that the justification for continued Unionist sovereignty is majoritarian, and that majoritarianism may well be whittled away in the future. Then all the arguments arrayed at great length to explain why NI must remain British flip into why NI must be subsumed into an RoI. The document recognises this and hedging somewhat argues that “The principle of consent entered the local political lexicon in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 which declared that any change in the status of Northern Ireland could happen only with the a majority of the people of Northern Irelandlauded as a guarantee to the unionist majority that it would not be forced into Irish unity against its will. But it also meant, and this was made explicit in the Agreement, that the current status was conditional on that majority, and that it could and would be changed if a different majority emerged.”

The Cadogan Group argues that -ahem – “This whole question of consent needs to be re-examined.” and that “As we have argued, what is needed is a clarification of nationalist aims short of demanding that unionists be absorbed into a united Ireland against their will.” Now this isn’t explicit in the text but it appears to move towards a position where any nationalist ambitions in that direction must be stymied.

Indeed in the precis at the end of the document they note:

The Agreement is beyond repair. Two lessons should be gleaned from the experience of the past decade.

[from] concessions to the men of violence resulting in a worsening polarisation of political life, and rampant paramilitary criminality.

…temporary accommodation. Under the Belfast Agreement the fundamental divide over the existence of Northern Ireland was papered over by complex institutional arrangements and formulations intended to please both sides but in reality serving only to heighten expectations on one side and fears on the other.

A settlement is possible. Even today people from both communities in many parts of Northern Ireland live and work side-by-side without acrimony. It is only in the sphere of politics, and in the working-class ghetto areas, that the constitutional issue dominates, and corrupts both public life and community relations. Remove that issue and much becomes possible.

Nationalists, including Republicans, say they accept Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom by virtue of majority will. In other words the issue is settled, at least for the foreseeable future. Yet nationalists continue to make the elimination of Northern Ireland their primary aim, the focal point of their politics. So long as that continues, there will be no normality and little prospect of cross-community power-sharing. A change of focus which would give priority to making Northern Ireland a better place for those they represent, rather than pursuing the unachievable aim of making it disappear, would be a start.

Well to respond to the individual points, their ‘peace of a sort’ is actually a considerable measure of peace – certainly the largest measure in the six counties since the late 1960s. The concessions paid off, one of the most intractable paramilitary organisations in the world disbanded. Polarisation of political life was there before and remains, and only the most dreamy eyed idealists in Unionism could possibly believe otherwise. Paramilitary criminality does of course exist, but largely PIRAs disbandment has not led to any increase – the opposite if we are to believe the IMC.

Their proposition that a long term settlement cannot be built on a temporary accommodation is simply an opinion – nothing more. The divide exists, attempts are still being made to bring about some sort of engagement. Perhaps they’ll succeed, perhaps they won’t, but the current situation is on almost every scale better than it was ten years ago.

The idea that a settlement is possible is correct. But the idea that constitutional issues are the only ones that actually cause the ‘pain’ in the North is facile. Cultural and socio-political baggage on both sides is another stumbling block which even a comprehensive agreement will not ameliorate in the short term.

Moreover it’s ludicrous to suppose that only nationalists place the constitutional issue at the heart of their politics. The same charge can be made with equal validity against Unionism. Worse, they deny the legitimacy of Sinn Féin at every step, even in the context of the disbandment of PIRA.

I want to give some of the questions that they raise quite validly in their document, because these are crucial for Republicans and Nationalists to consider and give some of my thoughts first on them.

Is an unrealistic adherence to Irish Unity worth more decades of communal antagonism?

Naturally not. But unrealistic in what sense, is it any more realistic to propose that Nationalists will somehow stop being Nationalists and how then does community antagonism subside?

Is it time that more discussion was held on the linkages between the aspiration to Irish unity and communal mistrust and the street level sectarian outrages practised by extremists on both sides but particularly by loyalist paramilitaries and their supporters?

A very good question that works both ways.

Does ‘Irishness’ have to be linked to an independent Irish political entity? Many Irish people remain thoroughly Irish while living in Great Britain or other parts of Europe, or America or elsewhere. How much easier could it be to be Irish in that part of the island called Northern Ireland, linked culturally and in a thousand other ways with the rest of the island, just as many, including Protestants and even unionists, have already found?

Again, more good points. Yet evading a central issue. The relationship is not simply one located within the island, or NI, but one that Unionism sees as being linked to the rest of the UK. That’s entirely understandable, but to ignore that relationship is to ignore a central aspect of the dispute. And of course one could ask why is it impossible for British people to feel any less thoroughly British outside of Britain? Does Britishness have to be linked to a Union between the UK and NI?

If it is felt to be impossible to be fully Irish without being able to give full allegiance to an Irish state, the same would be true of unionists if they were forced against their will to be part of a non-British state. What answer do nationalists have to the charge that this would merely substitute one injustice for another?

Here again I’m in complete agreement. A traditional UI would indeed simply replace one injustice with another.

If Northern Ireland exists by virtue of the will of a majority, as the Belfast Agreement says, then its existence is legitimate. Can an argument based on the injustice of Partition remain valid? If it is not, then what is the basis of a demand for unity?

Well, even if we agree that NI can exist on the basis of the will of the majority in NI, that alone doesn’t predicate against lobbying for a UI, or indeed an NI linked into the UK. The basis of a demand for unity can be made for numerous reasons – such as logic, economic development, historical continuity etc etc. These reasons may be of varying substance, but they can clearly be made. And again, turn it around, why not ask what is the case for Union with the UK? Let’s be honest, both are in some respects simply preferences, where logic can be utilised to argue in favour of one or other outcome.

All nationalist politicians continue to insist that if 50% plus one voted for unity in a referendum, it should happen. What would be the moral argument for incorporating, without their consent, the 50% minus one opposed to it in an Irish Republic at some future date?

Another good point.

Would the action of exchanging a disaffected nationalist minority in one jurisdiction, the UK, for a disaffected unionist minority in another (the Republic) solve anything? Would not a demand for re-partition of Northern Ireland have a stronger moral base? Is the aspiration really territorial rather than a wish for a culturally Irish people to live in an Irish state?

Who knows? It’s no doubt a mixture of both. But no more or less rational in it’s own way as the Unionist argument.

Could it be that the policies of both nationalist parties put short-term triumphalism based on unionist discomfiture above the real interests of the nationalist community?

Well now, that is a charge that could as easily be directed right back at Unionism. But implicit is an idea that Nationalism has lesser validity than Unionism as a concept.

So while I think these are important questions I’m not a certain as the Cadogan Group as to the answers to them, or even if they’ve framed them in a sufficiently flexible way. Later in the same document they describe the idea of involuntary coalitions in the following terms (yet again raising the issue of Ministers drawn from parties associated with violence) “It may be years before the continuing failure of the Agreementto the general realisation that there are better ways to provide devolved government on a power-sharing basis. Our belief is that voluntary coalition is a more flexible and sustainable way forward, but until the SDLP demotes the priority it gives to Irish unity, and hence to solidarity between moderate nationalists and republicans, there is unlikely to be much progress.”

It’s difficult to see this as anything other than an explicit barrier to power sharing

In a way all this reminds me of the response of the WP and DL to Sinn Féin when it moved slowly towards a non-violent stance. The response was one of first incomprehension, then disbelief, then denial and finally – and as has been seen expressed in the attitude of many within Labour from a DL background – enduring suspicion. Rather than approval, or even support, that the right course has been taken, the approach is one that refuses to believe change is possible or that an engagement between those of sincerely held Republican views and those of sincerely held Unionist views is possible – or more likely desirable.

I don’t want to go into the enjoyably utopian proscriptions to the Unionist parties (inaccurately entitled Redefining Unionism) – other than noting that the DUP is advised to “place top priority on ridding itself of its Paisleyite image. Whether by persuasion or pressure, it should change its leader. A party still led and dominated by its founder after 35 years invites doubts as to its democratic nature. In the context of Northern Ireland its does not help to have the largest unionist party led by a Protestant clergyman known for his unremitting denunciation of the Catholic Church and its doctrines.” However, they do advise that the UUP: “Since Irish unity is no longer a practical danger, for demographic or any other reasons, should commit itself more fully and enthusiastically to cross-border cooperation, and to institutions which can be shown to serve a practical purpose in promoting and organising such cooperation”.

And, tellingly, that’s it on suggestions regarding the internal nature of this new Northern Ireland that strangely seems very like the old Northern Ireland. There’s no real sense that they have any ideas as to how NI would become more comfortable for the Nationalist/Republican population to live within in terms of symbols, structures and so on. There is no real mention of an all-island dimension and far too much emphasis on the Union.

Moreover they appear no more realistic in their pious hopes that non-constitutional centred politics can develop in the context of their posited transformation of Nationalism into something radically different, than successive generations of Republican Socialists who were always waiting for the millennial breakthrough that would herald a unity of the working class on the island and were always disappointed. History, their Unionist history, proves them wrong. Normal politics never developed in Stormont, not because of an IRA campaign that was largely dead from 1922 through to the early 1950s, but because ‘constitutional’ (albeit majoritarian) politics lay at the heart of Unionism itself, as much as Nationalism, as it had to – since Unionism is a nationalism – in such a way that even with a clear majority they sought to reinforce and supplement it to the detriment of the Nationalist population. And they’re remarkably introverted in that they entirely discount the experience within the broader United Kingdom where constitutional issues are not without a certain traction.

The real problem is that they’re blind – well I’m sure they’re not – to the reality that Unionism is a British Nationalism as much as Nationalism/Republicanism is an Irish Nationalism. Neither is valid or invalid. Both can be argued for within their own terms and without. The trick is to produce structures that provide the much vaunted ‘parity of esteem’ for both nationalisms, and that’s why the contemporary situation is so radically different to previous incarnations of Northern Ireland. A localised political entity with links south (while the representational link to the UK is retained) is a different class of animal from anything previously experienced on the island. But for such structures to work one has to engage with those who represent the people within the North.

And consider this, these are the ‘modernisers’, arguably the closest thing to post-nationalist that you’ll find in the Union camp. I don’t want to dismiss what they have to say. They do think about the situation. They are representative of a certain strain within Unionist thinking. Much of what they say is clearly easily integrated into any progressive program. But…they demonstrate the mountains to be climbed.

The DUP more advanced than the Cadogan Group? Sad, but very possibly true.

Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly on podcast. The death of the political discourse or just another good excuse to switch over to real debate? November 21, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democrats, Republicans, United States, US Media, US Politics.

Check it out. Now available for free in the iTunes Store podcasts from a roster of the Fox right-wing. And what a disappointment they are, or at least those I’ve signed up to so far. Now there are those of you who will say, but WBS, surely you realise how poor this discourse is? But I always enjoyed the song ‘Armadillo Man’ by late lamented Microdisney about the anti-Communist who goes to Russia during the height of the Cold War and as the lyrics put it: “Least he went to see the other side”

Also I hate canons. I hate being told that if one is of the left one should only read this that or the other. Nor am I just dipping in and out in order to be vicariously upset. I don’t upset easily – not any more anyhow, and there are few enough opinions on the right that I find I can dismiss out of hand. But I do think it’s vital to understand and engage. Problem being that for understanding and engagement one needs someone of different views to be willing to extend the same courtesy. Which is where these podcasts fall apart on first inspection.

Bill O’Reilly in his Talking Points (you may need iTunes to be running) podcast of 16/11 (drawn from his TV show – if you want the radio broadcasts they’re available too, but ask yourself, having heard the ‘Talking Points’ do you really, really want to listen to an hour of his show?) making a perfectly reasonable statement about the upcoming O.J. Simpson program to be broadcast by the Fox Broadcasting Channel that has an interview with Simpson in which he unburdens himself of the opportunity to demonstrate how he would have murdered his wife, had he done so. O’Reilly, like myself, is non-too-fond of the idea. However, O’Reilly, unlike myself, takes this as an opportunity to berate those with so-called “San Francisco values” who he thinks are ultimately responsible for the program. Er…no, I don’t think so. Anyone with any sensitivity whether left centre or right would consider the idea of such a program well beyond the bounds of taste. Whether I would ban it is a different matter. I feel that Simpson is creating his own particular hell on earth and if this is just another building block in that edifice I’m not going to intervene.

Still, a time also for more than rueful smiles when O’Reilly castigated Fox for producing the program and recommended that his listeners do as he would ‘boycott’ their products and TV offerings. Quite a good idea many would say…but hold on…wait just a second there mister…for could it be that this is precisely the same Fox that presents one Bill O’Reilly to an all too suspecting world? Why yes, yes it would be or as wiki so helpfully notes:

“O’Reilly’s television show, The O’Reilly Factor, is routinely the highest-rated show of the three major U.S. 24-hour cable news channels (CNN, FOX News and MSNBC). The show is taped late in the afternoon at a studio in New York City and airs daily on the FOX News Channel at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time”.

This provides for an enormously entertaining follow up show 17/11 where he ties himself in knots attempting to deflect all blame from himself when pointed out that Fox Broadcasting and Fox News are – er – arms of the same corporation. His deadly riposte? Quote – well paraphrase actually “no they’re not because they’re not the same company and the interview isn’t produced by Fox News’.

And he castigates secular progressives for their moral relativism?

But interesting to note Mark Furhman who was involved in the original case has somewhat more scruples and is reported as likely to drop HarperCollins (another arm of the Murdoch empire) if the OJ book goes ahead. And so would if I were in that position and had had the temerity to raise it as an issue in the first place. Fine to lambaste Fox Broadcasting. I agree with that. But to pretend that he is in some sense outside the Fox ‘family’ is fatuous. How to have avoided this situation, and to have incidentally lent credibility to himself? Why to come out and say – “despite (or because of) the fact I work for one of the Fox companies I find this reprehensible”. One wonders why he didn’t do that.

Whatever the virtues or vices of San Francisco values, my God, they could hardly be worse than the O’Reilly handle of reality.

Meanwhile the Sean Hannity Show. Well, what to say really? On the 14/11 podcast Sean (a good Irish name too, just like O’Reilly) presents us with an interesting interview with MA Governor Mitt Romney. Good man, Sean. Romney is a real ‘Reagan democrat’, socially conservative with a small c, small government but not going to cut government programmes too much etc, etc. And what is he saying? That Bush got it largely wrong, that the Republicans have lost their way and so on and so forth. A civilised and useful ten or so minutes. Hannity is precise, even pointing up the divergence between Romney and some of the base. Fair enough.

The next day Hannity interviews Representative Charlie Rangel, Democratic nominee to head up the Ways and Means Committee in the House, or ‘this powerful committee’ as Sean keeps reiterating. This is far from a civilised 26 minutes. Bad man, Sean. Hannity persistently interrupts, refuses to allow Rangel to finish sentences, changes the question on the trot, demands answers before Rangel has had a chance to put his case and so forth. And continually he charges Rangel with evading the issue, hedging and so on.

I don’t want to go all MediaMatters.org on this and the transcripts will no doubt be put up on the net before long if you can’t spare the time to listen to it.

But, my point is that Hannity is, to any reasonably non-partisan observer (and I have to say that there were issues with both Romney and Rangel that demanded closer attention whatever side of the political divide you stand on) an appallingly partisan interviewer. Dismally so, considering Romney’s message is not – truth be told – that strikingly different from that of Rangel. But even were it wildly divergent it would be nice if there was at least some meeting of minds, some honesty to the exchange rather than a “beggar my neighbour” approach. And Rangel deserves to be fully questioned, he was evasive on certain issues. But there is a difference between a forensic interview and a self serving exchange.

And curiously what also comes across is not how powerful Hannity was, but instead how weak. This is the best he can do? Rhetorical fillibustering in order to prevent the other guy from speaking? It’s lame and it’s rather pathetic and the political discourse demands better. It also sounds as if Hannity doesn’t quite understand either the scope of Rangels new job or the questions he’s asking. Curious stuff.

Thankfully there is better. Much much better with the sort of conversation which those of us from whatever point on the spectrum can get our teeth into and learn a little – which surely is the object of the enterprise? You want round table discussion between liberals and conservatives – and I know I’m always namechecking them, but really, why not? Just go to KCRWs Left Right and Centre. Strangely I’m not a huge fan of the left representative Bob Scheer (as you’ll have perhaps noted here), and I’m not crazy about Ariana Huffington either, but they do well enough to keep me listening for half an hour each week. As I’ve previously noted KCRW’s To The Point is even better. Warren Olmey hosts a program that allows for the sort of insightful discussion approach from all points on the political compass on any given topic. To have even half an understanding of US politics (and I’m always aware of how difficult it is to truly ‘translate’ or map different systems) this is essential. And why now? Because like it or not, as the Home page on this blog puts it so eloquently (that’s more smiffy’s doing than mine I hasten to add), this is a significant period of change where the US is going to shape the political discourse for decades. We need to know this stuff, to know what’s coming down the line. No better guides are available.


By the by as you’ll no doubt have noticed we have a new contributor to the CLR, further extending the range of viewpoints here.

Welcome aboard franklittle.

What did you before the (Iraq) War? Or why this ‘litmus test’ does the left no service at all… November 8, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democrats, Iraq, Republicans, The Left, The War On Terror, Tony Blair, United States, US Politics.

Following on from smiffy’s post yesterday I have to say I’m worried about the war. And that’s odd. Odd because it’s already four years in the past, superseded by the chaos that characterises Iraq and further superseded by other events. The main players are, as previously noted, already moving towards the exit, Blair first, Bush sometime after. That age, for what it was worth, is drawing to a close, the Congressional and Senate Elections of the past forty eight hours already setting a stamp on that and looking towards a new period, one where the certainties of the Republican hegemony are replaced by the rather less exciting but rather more congenial realities of 50/50 political culture within the US, one which holds at least the potential for moderation and consensus. Pelosi, thy hour has come.

But the War, back to the War.

Listening to Left, Right and Centre on the KCRW podcast and talking to a British socialist on a visit here from the UK I was struck by how many people on the left are suffering from a litmust test. The litmus test is the position in relation to the War. Was one pro-Invasion or not?

On KCRW on the Left, Right and Centre discussion show Robert Scheer of truthdig.com, a veteran leftist, was discussing the Presidential prospects of Barak Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, and was asking (rhetorically) what his stance on the war was now? Obama has very slightly modified his approach to the war since his passionate initial opposition to the invasion, and is now not entirely sure about pulling the troops out. Hence Scheer doesn’t support him – at all – regardless of his position on other issues. Now I really don’t understand this. There are two (or perhaps three) separate issues at play here. First is support for the War. A position I took and which I think was almost entirely incorrect in retrospect. Secondly support for the aftermath. That I didn’t take. The instant that the serious looting broke out was the point at which it was clear the enterprise was even more unhinged than it had previously seemed. Finally the contemporary situation. Pull the troops out? Not sure, it’s a bad situation but it could be worse, but I’m tending towards the US recognising reality and ceding to an international and hopefully locally recruited force. This is a hell of a risk, a sort of pass the parcel where everything has to come right simultaneously, i.e. that there is an Iraqi force strong enough to maintain order and/or Syrian or Iranian or Turkish or who knows who troops who can come in as monitors/observers but not occupiers. I can’t see it working, in fact I can’t see anything working really – or at least not really working. But each issue has to be judged on it’s own merits. And doubt seems to me to be as good a rule of thumb as any.

US, and more marginally UK, troops in Iraq were almost inevitably going in the long term to work counter to the intentions of those who put them there. Had the alliances with the Europeans been maintained, had the war been delayed to allow inspections (which would, as we now know, have found nothing) or more pragmatically had a deal been cut with Saddam (unpleasant but resulting in a peaceful transition to a more broad based regime) then it is possible that the use of UN mandated troops would have been a viable outcome. That’s a lot of ‘had’s’ and even cursory analysis indicates how difficult, if not impossible, it would have been for the Bush White House to have implemented them, high on it’s own ‘only remaining superpower’ rhetoric.

But listening to Robert Scheer it was clear that the only issue that mattered was Iraq.

As interesting in it’s own way was a discussion I had with a British socialist last week (now in his seventies) who literally loathed the Labour party, Blair and, perhaps most surprisingly Gordon Browne. This was a person who should – by dint of his own experience on the left – on any serious reckoning be able to disentangle the past from the future, and yet is locked into a worldview that somehow is coloured in perpetuity by the ‘litmus test’. For him Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were now entirely the same. Where to go next I asked? The answer was the ‘young’ people. Well, I’ve heard that song before and what I’ve always noticed is that young people tend to get older, that those who are older tend to dismiss or ignore the young and as with arteriosclerosis a certain conservatism tends to develop even in the very best of us. They may well be the future, but who knows what sort of a future that will turn out to be.

Original sin, it’s called. One which is almost impossible – well, in the eyes of those who regard it as a sin as effectively impossible – to wash away. And that’s a mistake to my mind.

Because just like my interlocutor’s appeal to the youth of today, who somehow will be wiser and more far seeing than the youth of yesterday, to posit that a single event and the response to that event is somehow the hinge or pivot upon which all future strategies must be determined is counter intuitive in the extreme. If only because ultimate authority and sanction for the War remained with a very small group of individuals, all of who had different motivations, not all necessarily ignoble but were clearly wrong in execution. Not one of the millions who marched could prevent the war – because we live in representative democracies. One can argue that individual MPs and Congressmen and women should have voted against. Yet, yet, yet. The nature of the Saddam regime was such that an action that supported the status quo could also be judged as morally questionable – and incidentally one of the reasons I gave critical support for the invasion, amongst others was Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s excoriating and excellent analysis of the regime Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein – ironic then that they took the anti-War side).

Were there alternatives? I often wonder about this. Again in retrospect I think so but not necessarily the ‘first do no harm option’.

Listening to Oliver Kamm on a Little Atoms broadcast from last year he was talking about the anti-War movement and while noting the sincerity of the vast majority of those involved (big of him) on the marches he believed that the “nearest [he could] think of to a really thorough going anti-War case that might have made sense was the position of US socialist Michael Walzer of Dissent magazine who argued that inspections should be given time to work and in order to take a consistent anti-War position the movement should not argue for a respect for sovereignty but needed to a more invasive movement, a humanitarian interventionist movement under international authority”. Kamm dismisses this since he considers that the international authority i.e. the UN had already failed. Yet is he right? To my mind Walzers position is one which could have led to a further constricting of the Saddam regime without getting hung up on the old ‘sovereignty’ issue – one which the left, of all forces, should have least consideration and regard for. I wish I had known more about it at the time – but even had I known the sum total of it’s impact on the situation would have been zero – whatever way one plays out the situation it is hard to credit that any action external to the Oval Office would have halted the rush to war – a judgement that Tony Blair made and unfortunately has left him on the wrong side of history.

But the point is that the past cannot always be the arbiter of the future. People, as smiffy has noted, took different sides. But that shouldn’t be a bar to working with people in the future or questioning their sincerity whatever their position was (by the way, if I have one slight divergence of opinion with what smiffy wrote yesterday it is that many ‘muscular’ liberals bought into, or were seduced by, the idea of US omnipotence and competence for genuine reasons, they genuinely believed that the US intervention would tip the balance towards a peaceful Iraqi polity, that the US would be able to contain the situation and would have learned from the debacle in Vietnam. Unfortunately if one were to posit the worst possible outcome at that time from the invasion the current situation would be hard to credit for many ‘muscular interventionists’. And I too, up until the looting, never suspected how inept the leadership and management of the US administration would actually be in practice in the post-Invasion period. Catastrophic is not an overstatement of the situation. ).

Finally, today’s events in the US are important. The old jibe about the Republicans and the Democrats being simply two sides of the coin strikes me as incorrect. To pick three issues at random minimum wage, stem cell research, taxation, the parties diverge considerably, even above and beyond Iraq. But more importantly I’m hoping that the hegemonic tone of the Washington Republicans will be replaced by a more emollient, more pluralistic message. A finely balanced Senate and Democratic majority in Congress can change this tone, shift the discussion away from the absolutism that has characterised debate up until now on national security issues and so forth. I’d also hope that the libertarian right, who have been suspiciously and disappointingly silent on a broad range of issues from national security to social issues will regain their voice and perhaps see an opportunity to move the situation forward in areas where they and Democrats can make common cause.

Also by the way. Watching the Bush press conference it struck me how tetchy he appeared – loss does not befit him – and yet curiously he was somewhat more forceful in enunciating his message. Remarkable times.

One of our aircraft is missing. Air America and the paradox of “liberal” radio… October 17, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Air America Radio, Democrats, Republicans, The Left, United States, US Politics.

Okay, I’m one of those who almost listens to Air America. Well, not to it, precisely, more like to the free podcasts which seem to consist more or less exclusively of the Media Matters guys dropping in for a chat. Bad news then in the Guardian, Air America has gone bust…

But I don’t much like it. And why don’t I much like it? For the same reason I don’t like Fox, or right-wing talk radio, and by the by I’m starting to find Jon Stewart’s Daily Show a bit wearing (although in fairness Stewart actually engages with those he disagrees with). When everyone shares more or less the same liberal left viewpoint it becomes dull, worthy, predictable.

Air America typifies this. Listening to people work themselves up about Bill O’Reilly is entertaining for a time. And in truth they do do more than that. But however much I like politics, I’m not much interested in naked partisanship – even if I agree.

I still enjoy the Media Matters contributors who – to my mind – do a good job of parsing out bias in the right-wing media. But I prefer National Public Radio a lot more. For a start the level of discussion on shows such as To the Point and Left, Right and Centre is much higher, less partisan. It tends to involve more people from various points on the political spectrum in debate.

And I hate the idea that it’s only the left, or only those who revere a canon, or whatever that has people of sincere and intelligent goodwill worth listening to…

That doesn’t mean that I agree with the conservative voices, or even the centrist voices, but it seems to me to be a more honest way to deal with a complex world. Furthermore I think the way the contemporary US political situation is shifting indicates the dangers of believing that one wing or another can achieve a truly hegemonic grip on a polity. For about five years both on right and left there seemed to be a belief abroad that the game was up for progressive politics in the US. I always thought that was a dangerously stupid analysis. The US electorate and society is much more evenly balanced between left and right than that, and deserves more credit than it often gets.

Take the upcoming elections, chances are that the Democrats will only win one house. Not bad, that still leaves them the option of stirring it up in Washington, and worth pointing out with my non-partisan hat that such a result would be good for both Republicans and Democrats, hegemonic grips on power corrupt and corrupt hegemonically.

And yet, I’m still struck by how Air America hasn’t caught on. It’s difficult to understand why. Perhaps it’s that those who might be the audience share the same concerns as myself – but I doubt it. I’ve met and read too many partisans of the left to believe that. Probably it’s because there just isn’t a need for it. I hate to invoke market forces, but simply put there’s no particular niche to be filled. What NPR doesn’t satisfy then Air America will, or the internet and the horribly termed ‘blogosphere’.

Incidentally one of my favourite quotes is that news is the illusion by which the middle classes convince themselves they control the world… Perhaps that’s the true problem with Air America. It’s got news, but news is a minority interest, it’s talky enough, but there’s only so much talk we can take without getting bored (or patronised), it’s too partisan when the partisan is really the end of debate…

And perhaps I’m being unfair to Air America as well. Al Franken has a listenership in the millions. Half that of Bill O’Reilly, admittedly. But that’s hardly the point. There is some audience there. So, I’d be sorry if Air America did fade out entirely.
But listen to it? Not likely, mate…

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