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Flags and political loyalism January 31, 2013

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

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

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

A few queries…… August 16, 2012

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Republicans, Sinn Féin, Ulster.

I was lucky enough  to receive a quantity of scans of assorted mainly Republican material from the 1920s onwards.  I’ve a few questions which I hope some of you may be able to help me with 🙂

Firstly a query regarding the address given on various leaflets/pamphlets (from the late 60s early 70s)  as to were they both Sinn Féin or was one Official Sinn Féin ?
The Addresses were in Dublin,
One being 30 Gardiners Place the other 2a Lr Kevin Street.

I’m also still trying to date a few of the items.
“Sinn Fein Today”
“Republican Education -What We Need to Know to win”
“Peace In Ireland” by Gerry Adams (Long Kesh)
and “Know Your Rights -What to do if arrested in the 26 counties”

The last query regards a group called ‘The Ulster Party’, I’ve searched online and can find little or nothing.
Anyone know anything about them?
Flyer from them below.

A little help from Jonathan Powell for the devolution of policing in Northern Ireland… how very convenient… or maybe not considering his latest remarks about Bloody Sunday… March 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North, Ulster.
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I noted the other day that “Perhaps not coincidentally we’re now also being treated to the memoirs of Jonathan Powell”. The latest revelations on the Powell front came yesterday with the news that:

Powell reveals in his memoirs that 10 years later the DUP established its own secret channel to Sinn Féin when Paisley’s party won the elections to the Northern Ireland assembly of 2003. The channel was kept secret because the DUP refused to meet Sinn Féin at the time on the grounds that the IRA was still active. Powell says: “They [the DUP] were no different from the British government at the time of John Major or Margaret Thatcher saying they never had contacts with the IRA – but actually [they were] doing so as well. It did play an important role in making possible that extraordinary meeting between Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams. They had never met, they had never spoken until they sat down for that photo-opportunity in March 2007. If you hadn’t had that back channel building confidence over time, it would have been difficult.”

How convenient that this should appear, legitimised by the former Prime Ministers advisor no less, just at the point that Sinn Féin appear to be suggesting that the PIRA Army Council will disband in the case that the DUP are willing to see policing devolved to the Assembly.

Is this an instance where pressure is now being put on the DUP, perhaps even implicitly pointing to the idea that further revelations might follow along the same lines from other sources if they don’t play ball? How very interesting.

On the other hand, reading this mornings Guardian perhaps a certain parity of … well, something or another creeps in, because we are told regarding the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that:

The inquiry cost the taxpayer around £200m that could have been spent on other things. It has still not reported as of the time of writing. And it has failed to give satisfaction to either side. The nadir for me was when Martin McGuinness said to me in a private conversation some years later that he didn’t know why we had done it: he thought an apology would have been quite sufficient. The aim had been to demonstrate to nationalists and republicans that we were even-handed and that the British government no longer had anything to hide. It had that impact in the short term. But we repented at leisure.

Accurate? Who knows. Helpful? Perhaps not.

New Myths of the Peace Process No. 1: 2007 in 1973… Sunningdale: our last best hope for peace… December 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in New Myths of the Peace Process, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The North, Ulster.


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how the Peace Process and the Troubles have generated a number of ‘myths’ as regards the actions, motivations and implications of various players within the Process and during the Troubles. This is a game everyone has been playing. Nationalists, Unionists, Republicans, Loyalists, Republican dissidents and indeed the British and Irish. It’s a game which is played in order to support partisan political stances, to provide moral legitimacy and so on. Is it revisionism, rewriting of history or just the natural process by which narratives are developed? Without some analysis we’ll never know. So, here’s an on-going series of pieces. Enjoy, or perhaps not…


Perhaps the most interesting new myth, or narrative, of the Peace Process is the one which goes as follows: In 1973/4 everything that was in the Good Friday Agreement was available – this was the great lost opportunity for Northern Ireland.

The Sunningdale Conference is seen as the high water mark of potential before the sustained spiral into violence. Sometimes the ‘blame’ for this is landed at PIRA’s door, other times at Ulster Unionism. This myth links into, but is not identical, to another myth which argues that everything in the Good Friday Agreement was also available in Sunningdale.

I’ll address the second soon, but here concentrate on the first.

Firstly Sunningdale wasn’t a single Agreement, but more accurately was a term to describe a rolling process of negotiations and Agreement that predated the Conference. It came on foot of a British government White Paper, “Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals’ published in March 1973. This outlined a power sharing assembly – elected by PR – and a Council of Ireland. One can point to elections to a Northern Ireland Assembly as the first element of the process. The Ulster Unionist Party was mandated by a fairly close vote of 381 to 231 by its governing body the Ulster Unionist Council to engage. This first hurdle reached and grudgingly jumped the government then introduced a Northern Ireland Assembly Bill. The Assembly was to have 78 members from which a power-sharing executive would be drawn dependent upon party strength.

In June the elections to the Assembly were held and a remarkably high figure of 72.3 per cent voted.

Joe Lee in Ireland 1912-1985 argues that the June 1973 Assembly elections were crucial:

This might have been once more a critical moment in determining the fate of the North…had all nominally constitutional parties chosen to cooperate, the lines would have been clearly drawn between constitutionalism and violence.

The problem is the ‘nominally’ in the above sentence. Brian Faulkner could count on 23 seats from the 78 seat assembly, 27 seats were held by dissident Official Unionists, DUP and the near fascist Vanguard Unionists Progressive Party. Alliance held 8 seats and the SDLP 19. That 27 seats, and some of the 23 of the Faulkner cohort were simply not wedded to constitutionalism as was to be seen within the year.

Lee argues that:

By refusing to cooperate with Catholics in the Executive, Paisley and Craig pandered to the supremecist instincts of their grass roots, and effectively sabotaged whatever possiblity there may have been of peaceful evolution. They might have responded that their supporters would not permit them. But if the unionist grass roots were not prepared to contemplate powersharing with a Catholic party to try to make the state work, then it was difficult to see what future there could be for Northern Ireland as a state.

And remember, this is before Sunningdale was implemented. In November Willie Whitelaw appointed an Executive. Six Official Unionists joined one Alliance and four SDLP members. Faulkner became Chief Executive, Gerry Fitt became his Deputy.

The agreement reached was clearly a precursor of the Good Friday Agreement. And much as a two state solution is the obvious – although apparently unattainable outcome of any serious Palestinian/Israeli peace negotiations – so it was with the general outline of a settlement for the North. An internal devolved administration. Cross-border or all-island links. The continuation of Northern Ireland as a part of the UK until a majority within it voted otherwise. The removal or amendment of Articles 2 and 3. And so on.

Interesting, is it not, that it was a Conservative government under Edward Heath which fixed upon these? And perhaps a certain historical irony since the all-island aspect was merely a reworking of the original approach in the 1920-22 period and in particular the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.

So what were the specific aspects of the power sharing administration and Assembly? Well, they didn’t retain foreign relations, defence, electoral arrangements, the judiciary or emergency legislation. But they did oversee industry, education, planning, agriculture and social services. And much like the GFA policing was ‘reserved’ with the option of transferring it from London to Stormont in the event of a successful implementation of the Agreement.

In a way this was interesting, since it largely avoided significantly contentious issues such as the RUC (which in the more recent agreement was parked to a semi-detached process of change that in some respects bled much of the poison away from the issue). But in so doing effectively left the de facto situation intact.

On the 9th of December 1973 at the Sunningdale Agreement the three parties to the Agreement, the Executive, Ireland and Britain decided upon a Council of Ireland. This Council was as Lee says ‘unlikely to wield any real power for the foreseeable future’. But that didn’t stop a headlong rush back to the trenches. The OUP promptly split with six MPs leaving to support Harry West (supported by the OUPs governing UUCouncil) and leaving just 21 MPs supporting Faulkner. While on paper the pro-Executive forces were still greater than the anti-Executive forces the game was almost up.

I think Lee links the two crucial issues. On the one hand powersharing was in and of itself almost definitely a bridge too far for Unionism as a whole at that point in time (worth noting too how evenly balanced Unionist sentiment was in 1998 and after) and the splintering on the Unionist flanks indicates that they almost certainly wouldn’t have countenanced it for any length of time. However, the Council of Ireland was also crucial to Sunningdale as a means of pulling back some support from Republicans. And here is the central paradox. An agreement in 1973 meant that Unionism was in a position where they had to concede too much, but still too little to ensure societal stability.

But there is a danger in suggesting that the process was one of only Unionism conceding principles or issues. Richard Bourke in his interesting, if not entirely persuasive, Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas, notes that ‘… from a Unionist perspective, the first obstacles to agreement were overcome on the opening day of the talks when the SDLP made it clear that it would accept an oath of allegiance to the new constitution – including by implication, acknowledgement of the legitimacy of NI as a politically subordinate part of the UK’. This was by no means inconsiderable. It represented an historic recognition by Irish Nationalism – underpinned by the Republic of Ireland – of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland and perhaps even a form of rapprochement.

Alvin Jackson in Home Rule: An Irish History 1800-2000 argues that ‘it might have been better to bank the achievement of a power-sharing executive and postpone the adjustment of cross-border relations until the new consensual government in the North was more securely rooted.’. And yet, it would have been near impossible to bring Nationalism to the table – to a table that specifically rooted Northern Ireland within the UK – without some sort gesture towards the island at large.

Joe Lee suggests that: “Sunningdale arguably represents one of those tantalising ‘lost opportunities’ for a start…”. But perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps Sunningdale was doomed from the start since it was simply too early in the process for a ‘solution’ to command sufficient support across Nationalism, Republicanism and Unionism to prosper. That’s a cold analysis, I know. And one that comes dangerously close to suggesting that the weight of human life lost in the subsequent period in some sense provided a ballast for a future Agreement.

But violence has a momentum all its own, and those who used it, threatened it, or had even recently relinquished it all had their part to play. And that part was universally profoundly negative. A small yet telling point is, as Richard Bourke writes, that… … the Republican Clubs – the political wing of OIRA – actually stood in the contest. They stood however in opposition to the government’s constitutional proposals.

To me it seems that there these dynamics which while having influence on each other didn’t necessarily operate in a clear anti-thetical fashion. For example. Unionist intransigience, indeed inability to accept power sharing was a feature of the ruptures in Unionism from the off. Looking at the historical record I find it near impossible to believe that there was any genuine space for power sharing before the mid to late 1980s.

Now that butted straight into Republican intransigence in the sense that PIRA would not accept any devolved or internal solution. But I think it is more difficult to argue that the PIRA campaign in and of itself was a more important block to political progress than the then existing Unionist mindset.

However, it is also clear as time went on that revanchist Unionism was willing to use PIRA violence as an excuse for not engaging.

The remarkable, arguably deliberate, ambivalence of Seamus Mallon’s quip during the negotiations prior to the GFA about “Sunningdale for slow learners” encapsulates all the paradoxes and contradictions of later attempts at settlement. Who were the slow learners? Unionism, unable to or incapable of dealing with powersharing? Republicanism, unable to countenance any deal which recognised – however – grudgingly the reality of Unionism on the island and the consequent reality of continuing links between the North and Britain? An Irish state equally unable, although arguably willing, to reconsider its own identity or a British one unable to maintain the integrity of an agreement it was desperate, but not quite desperate enough, to see implemented.

And who then was to blame? It may be unpopular to say this, but I don’t believe that it is possible to apportion blame at this point. It really was too early in the process to allow for the significant changes that were envisaged. The original Stormont was too recent a memory for a Unionism dislocated by the events of the previous four years. Republicanism in all its strands was unlikely to accept any compromise at this point, and in any event was arguably too embedded to be ignored (although the signs are mixed on that point). Nationalism was prepared to do a deal. But then, from the point of view of Hume and the others, they were effectively pushing an open door with a British government which was as noted previously – desperate to see progress. And the Republic? As locked in its own way into a different set of narratives as the Unionists… and therefore unable to make the clear gestures that would have given some succour (but to my mind still insufficient) to Unionist fears.

And herein lies the problem with historical ‘what-ifs’. 1973 did not see a great new dawn. By contrast it saw yet another tightening of the screw. In a way it reminds me of historical debate over the proposed German invasion of Britain in 1940. All the evidence indicates that – despite a plethora of fictions to the contrary – the British would have repulsed the Germans had they seriously intended to invade. Either German forces would have been too few in number, or their capacity to cross the Channel was too limited or the British navy could have forced them from any towns they managed to take on the coast. In other words when analysed in detail it is clear that there was no way there could have been a German victory given the material circumstances. And the North in 1973 and 1974 seem to me to be the same. For all the wishes and hopes that have been retrospectively mapped onto the Sunningdale process the actuality was of a Northern Ireland that was simply ill-equipped on all sides (bar Nationalism – but being wise before the event is hardly much use if there is no means to effect change) to engage.

And much like Israel/Palestine, to know the shape of a solution is by no means the same thing as knowing how to bring about the circumstances that would allow for the implementation of that solution. That lesson was to be taught to all the players in the subsequent 25 years.

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

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


As reported in the Irish Times on Monday:

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

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

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

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

Which were…

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

And so the Gordian knot was cut.

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

Indeed, and he’s not the only one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Durkan said that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His justification?

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

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

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

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

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

Unlike some others he could name… no doubt.


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

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

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

* apologies to the Psychedelic Furs…

Another milestone reached and passed. Sinn Féin and policing under the new dispensation. May 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Ulster.
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An interesting reflection on what franklittle has been saying about Sinn Féin and the election is perhaps demonstrated by the relative lack of attention given to what, under any other circumstances, would be regarded as a significant event, that being Sinn Féin representatives taking up their seats on the Policing Board.

To be honest I’ve not been terribly exercised by it one way or another since reading the O’Loan Report on collusion and noting tha she said the vast majority of her recommendations had been implemented by the PSNI. That’s progress, albeit slow progress. But that’s not to underestimate the significance of such a move, and the power it holds in all political party constituencies in the North. Nor is it to underestimate the necessity for policing in the North to be clearly accountable, now and in the future. That’s a continuing project.

Alex Maskey noted that:

“We have set ourselves a number of objectives which we intend to deliver through our membership of the Policing Board and the local District Policing Partnerships. These are to ensure a civic policing service, accountable and representative of the community, is delivered as quickly as possible; that the Chief Constable and the PSNI are publicly held to account; that policing with the community is achieved as the core function of the PSNI; that political policing, collusion and ‘the force within a force’ is a thing of the past and to oppose any involvement by the British Security Service/MI5 in civic policing; that the issue of plastic bullets is properly addressed.”

All highly commendable, although cynics might enquire as to the delay. But returning to my original point one presumes that the choreography of this was established so that these events would run parallel to a successful election outcome in the South – perhaps to avoid or minimise the inevitable noises off regarding ‘sell-out’.

With the Southern strategy now in something like ruins such a choreography was moot. But in a way the lack of overt public disagreement with the move seems to indicate that the situation genuinely has changed.

It does raise the question as to whether the dynamic in the South, which might in some respects be put down to an indifference now that the Assembly is running with Sinn Féin participation is also reflected within the six counties by a similar indifference or lack of interest to such events.

Of course one alternative explanation is that even with some of the gloss taken off the SF project by the General Election it seems that in its core endeavours it retains authority.

But that it can come and go with hardly any comment, for or against, is remarkable.




They terrify me… Stormont and the return of devolution May 8, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster.

“I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they terrify me.” … or so goes a quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington about his own troops. Was there something of that at today’s events in Stormont? The good humour appeared unforced, the palpable delight on the part of Blair and Ahern evident. But beyond that a certain sense that they were still not quite, not yet, prepared to believe that there amongst them was Ian Paisley? And also a degree of – well, not terror – wariness as to how things might go. Not that they thought things would go wrong, but rather that somewhere somehow someone, and that someone having the initials IP, would speak with perhaps a little more frankness than the day required.

It passed without incident. Choreographed probably to within an inch of it’s life. A number of small issues around the edges. Seamus Mallon AWOL, David Trimble working on his barge?


So there they are. McGuinnes, Ahern, Blair, Hain and Ian Paisley. Even the seating is revealing. Although I was impressed that Paisley and McGuinness sat beside each other during the speeches. Did they look entirely happy? They certainly did not. Did they look antagonistic. Well no, they didn’t. To be honest they looked businesslike, although perhaps McGuinness is a little bit retiring in his current incarnation – but then again, who isn’t when set against a Paisley who caught off-mike asked “I don’t know why people hate me, I’m such a nice man!” ?

And now Stormont is back up and running.

This seems to be a real step forward, very simply because it seems the only serious way for something like normal politics to manifest itself in the North and then on the island as a whole. That depends upon an engagement between Unionism and Republicanism both on the macro and micro level, people getting to know each other, to work together and to make the sorts of connections, develop the sort relationships which engender trust.

It’s education in other words, which to my mind is at the root of socialist thinking. Education, engagement, progress are the means by which we change a society. Hence my aversion to an over emphasis on purity of philosophy or ideology. Those have proven to be poor substitutes in the past for real progress. There is no evidence they would work in the future.

But if one is to recognise the utility of pragmatism, then it’s necessary to be uncynically and realistically pragmatic. Interesting to hear Edwin Poots, DUP Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure about how ‘excited’ he was. To be honest there was a lack of spin in his comments, an openness which may well be a good sign. These are ordinary people who have suddenly after extremely rigid political positions been thrust into positions of responsibility. Perhaps too ordinary. It will be interesting to follow Mr. Poots progress in that Ministry over the next number of months.

But, let’s drag this south of the border for a while. How does this play on an electoral level? David Davin-Power said something very interesting on the news today, that Fine Gael were concerned because the Bertiegate issue wasn’t playing with voters. I’ve warned (well, that’s a bit pompous of me, sure who’s listening?), I’ve suggested that there is a terrible level of complacency amongst the opposition if they think that Fianna Fáil are a spent force. Ever since the first election I truly remember (I have a vivid memory of being in a shoe shop in Coolock when the 1977 results were coming in, and yes, I remember Seamus Brennan’s voice too *shudder*) I’ve learned never to underestimate them as a force. Another anecdote. The first year I was working with the WP I remember meeting an old school mate who was a member of Fianna Fáil. He took one look at the WP leaflets in my hand and laughed, then pointed out that FF were the real party of the working class. Problem is, it was – and is – very largely true. No other political formation has such strong roots into the urban and rural working classes. These days, there is some competition in the shape of parts of Labour, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party and some of the Independents. Yet the party with the largest share of the working class vote remains FF and that share gives it enormous power.

So, already Bertiegate has no traction. We have seen the FF poll rating go up slightly, Friday will tell us more as to whether that is a sustained increase. FF can call upon a growing sympathy, and now at the very moment Ahern needs it he has photocalls aplenty to point to. Wait until the Boyne and the symbolism of the First Minister of Northern Ireland and the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. Even today the Lemass/O’Neill meeting in the 1960s has tremendous symbolic importance. Who is to say that the Boyne meeting won’t be as significant? And it doesn’t go downhill from there because next up it’s the Houses of Parliament in London.

One thing that came through extremely clearly was the genuine camaraderie between Ahern and Blair. This isn’t a matter of calling in favours. This is their joint victory lap. And that it coincides with an election, one that has proven ‘difficult’ so far? Well, all the better.

At the same time, the actions of the Progressive Democrats has been odd and this is a real problem for Fianna Fáil, if only because it breaches the monolithic, well nearly monolithic, facade of the outgoing Coalition. How to present yourselves as the credible governing force if your partner is running towards the exit sign, then wheeling around and running back towards you. Marvelously inept. At best.

And tonight we have Enda Kenny on the RTÉ news telling us that the Irish people are, if I paraphrase correctly, ‘sick and tired’ of the whole thing and want to move onto matters of substance. Perhaps that is true. But it’s also true that Politics.ie has been hopping with those who would support him making most interesting pronouncements on this very issue. I think that’s a pity and a tactical error which clearly wiser voices within Fine Gael have decided to rein in.

There are differences between both the primary options available to the electorate and other less publicised options. They may not be huge, but they exist. And beyond them we have a tranche of progressive parties who are entirely drowned out by the events of the last week. They are worthy of examination in a serious and coherent fashion away from rumour and innuendo and competing charges of smear.

Meanwhile…back in the North – a kinder gentler First Minister, an even more courageous Paddy Ashdown and an almost generous Minister for Foreign Affairs. April 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.
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Events are moving relatively swiftly in the North. Blair is considering attending the restoration of devolution at Stormont early next month.

Ian Paisley actually demonstrated his not inconsiderable chutzpah by inviting Blair a couple of days ago to go to Parliament Buildings to see the “new regime’. Now unless Paisley is preparing to perform a very public and very bizarre (even by his undeniably unusual standards) volte face in front of the worlds press on May 8th it really does look as if this bird, heavy, ungainly and nowhere near fit for purpose is limbering up to take a leap into the dark from a first floor window and might actually fly. Perhaps this is Blair’s finest moment, his vindication. Sad to see how it remains overshadowed by his greatest defeat.

As to the shape of that new powersharing administration The Irish Times relates how:

“Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness have jointly sent a letter to President Bush expressing their sympathy over the loss of life in the Virginia Tech massacre. They also jointly sent a letter of congratulations to the Irish cricket team on their performance in the one-day cricket world cup. They also invited the team to attend an official reception at Stormont.”

Well, if they’re ordering in the finger food and tea (presumably this will be a dry occasion given the good Doctors principles on such matters) the deal must be all but signed sealed and delivered. All good, all straws in the wind. All remarkable for their essential normality and even – and I use the word very very advisedly in relation to the first letter – banality.

Meanwhile in the same report it’s noted that Adams expressed some concern over the introduction of Paddy Ashdown, former Liberal Democrat leader, to the North. Ashdown, it appears, served as a soldier in the North in the early years of the trouble. Now released from his most recent post as effective commissar of Bosnia perhaps he decided that he relished the challenge of a more difficult job, overseeing the review of parades in the North.

And as if that weren’t enough the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Demot Ahern has added a little under €1 million to promote cross border ‘outreach and reconciliation work’. In comparison to Brian Cowen’s €400 million this seems positively restrained, but the mantra in Dublin, and London too, is no doubt the same as it ever was.

Yes, everyone shall have prizes. None shall go home empty-handed. What a strange time we live in.

Trimble leaves the UUP…for the Conservatives April 16, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, Ulster.

No slow news day as evidenced by our posts here.

Just caught on Channel 4 News the news that David Trimble is departing for sunnier climes in the Conservative Party.

Two thoughts strike me. Reg Empey, so much the nearly man, must be wondering just what he did over the years to deserve this. Well, perhaps that’s partly down to some degree of friction between the two men post 2001 over the direction of the party, or perhaps it’s a lesson not to trust anyone who has been in more than one political party in their lives – which would of course count for either of them!

Hard too, to envisage a greater vote of non-confidence in the UUP. A shattered and demoralised party slumps further. The logic of all this? Well, perhaps the more liberal sections of the UUP are making eyes at Alliance while keeping their fingers crossed that Jeffrey Donaldson may change the DUP before it changes him.

And it’s not difficult to suggest that the Conservative Party was perhaps a more instinctive home for David Trimble over the years, long, long before today. The impact of that on the course of the Peace Process is intriguing. For example, the now largely discredited Stormontgate affair of 2002 saw the plug pulled on the Assembly. Would a more confident leader have acted more assertively and attempted to keep the show on the road?

Still, all hypothetical now, as Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey (formerly of Vanguard) slides along the benches to his spiritual home.

Isn’t this one of those events that when you first hear about it is surprising but then the more you think about it it seems almost predictable?

Mná na Tuaisceart lead the way April 16, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Feminism, Gender Issues, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster.

The DUP has announced the identities and portfolios of it’s four Ministers in the Northern Executive. There are no real surprises, but with the selection of Arlene Foster as the Environment Minister, it means that four out of the ten strong Executive will be women.

Foster joins Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew (Agriculture), Caitríona Ruane (Education) and the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie (Social Development). Four out of the Assembly’s 19 women members (Eight of which are Sinn Féin interestingly), an increase of only one I think on the ’03 election, are now full Ministers, working out at 40%. In the Dáil, three of Bertie’s 15 Ministers are women, working out at 20%. Also in the Dáil, 22 out of 166 TDs are women, working out at just over 13%, compared to just under 18% in the Northern Assembly.

This is despite the well deserved reputation Northern politics has for a macho, anti-woman culture. And yet, on the issue of representation of women in politics, there are proportionately more women in their ‘parliament’ in the North, and more women in Ministerial positions, than in the South. No doubt, an issue that will be discussed at the next society luncheon in the Four Seasons organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (Middle-class wing).

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