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The future of the peace process? January 17, 2019

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Slugger mentioned this last week and it’s well worth a read, or even a skim if you’ve limited time. The fifth Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report offers a 200 page overview of various matters relating to peace in the North produced by a team at UU. The authors are Ann Marie Gray, Jennifer Hamilton, Gráinne Kelly, Brendan Lynn, Martin Melaugh and Gillian Robinson and the report covers four ‘dimensions’. Political Progress, The Sense of Safety, Wealth Poverty and Inequality and finally Cohesion and Sharing.

There’s a shortish Ten Key Points at the start which provides a useful precis but the broader text is useful to mine. Of those ten key points some that jump out include 3 – “Inter-governmental relations, which have been crucial to the peace process, are weakening.’ And the point that Catholic recruitment to the PSNI has ‘levelled out’ with the end of equal recruitment in 2011 and representation of that community is currently about 32%. Never a good thing when a police service is not reasonably reflective of a society.

Just to focus in on one area – 2.5 Likelihood of violence caused by changes at the open border

The study notes that:

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast conducted a survey and a deliberative forum to find out what people thought of Brexit (Garry. et
al., Report, May 2018). The research found that, ‘there is substantial and intense opposition to possible North-South border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and to East-West border checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain’, and it also found, ‘strong expectations that protests against either North-South or East-West border checks would quickly deteriorate into violence’ (Garry, et al., Report, May 2018)

And:

There has been a long history of political opposition to the existence of
the border and also various republican paramilitary campaigns involving attacks against the physical infrastructure at the border and on the security personnel who protected the border (CAIN, Violence at the border, 2018). Those in favour of Brexit have labelled as scare mongering any discussion which has raised the possibility of violence by dissident republican paramilitary groups. However, George Hamilton, the Chief Constable of
the PSNI, has expressed concern at the risk of violence at the border: ‘The last thing we would want is any infrastructure around the border because there is something symbolic about it and it becomes a target for violent dissident republicans’ (The Guardian, 7 February 2018). There is hardly any doubt that dissident republicans would seek some way to exploit any popular resentment against, and protest at, a more visible border. However, it is unclear if this would lead to wide-scale violence.

Of course it doesn’t need to lead to wide-scale violence. The point though is that despite the talk of ‘fear-mongering’ there’s strong indications that something would happen.

CLR evening January 17, 2019

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Been asked about this suggestion for a CLR evening. How would the last week in February suit people? If that’s good we can hone in on a date, location and time.

Hard border… January 17, 2019

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It’s always irritating to see people attempt to play fast and loose with the meaning of words – and here comes Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster arguing the absurd:

“As someone who lived through the Troubles, we never had a hard border,” Ms Foster said. “There were 20,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and they couldn’t hermetically seal the border in Northern Ireland, so it is a bit of a nonsense frankly to talk about a hard border .”
When challenged by a journalist that during the Troubles there was routine checks along border crossings, Ms Foster said: “I think you’ll accept it was for reasons of security and even then terrorists were able to come and go at their pleasure.”

And:

Mr Wilson said “the only hard border we ever had in Northern Ireland was a hard border which resulted from the actions of Republicans”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Wilson said Republicans “were the ones who caused army checkpoints to be put in place, army patrols, watch towers.”
“I think it’s significant and I think the point she [ARLENE FOSTER]was trying to make was that even with all of that infrastructure in place, there was still not a hard border,” he said. “You could not stop the illegal movement of goods across the border and I think that’s what Arlene Foster was referring to.”
Tens of thousands of British army troops failed to secure a hard border, he said, questioning “how on earth” the European Union would be able to do so in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Of course there was a hard border both prior to the conflict and for a while after it dissipated. Customs posts were visible long before the Border Campaign and as to the Troubles, as a fairly frequent visitor to the North in the late 1980s it was no fun to cross the border south of Newry and wait and wait. The train, interestingly, was much less hassle as I recall – I’ve wondered recently why that was.

But the point Foster and Wilson evade is that to all intents and purposes there is no effective border today – that the dispensation arrived at in 1998 allowed, along with common membership fo the European Union, for no physical or other infrastructure at the border. And it is disingenuous in the extreme for them to suggest that altering that dispensation doesn’t amount to introducing a hard border.

A phoney war… January 17, 2019

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A confidence vote everyone knew May would win. A vote on a deal everyone knew May would lose. And alternatives that people won’t offer despite or perhaps because they know that the May deal, short of EEA/EFTA (and even then that’s not a guaranteed path), is the only game in town. Foster and Wilson cracking wise about hard borders. The end of March coming up fast. It’s remarkable how little substance there is to all this.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of legitimacy in political dynamics – at least legitimacy at state level. And it has struck me how difficult it is to quantify it. What can one point to to say yes, this is manner we can measure it.

And that led to the thought, anyone remember the rainswept TV reports from the early 1990s when the peace process began to gain momentum. Earnest reporters outside 10 Downing Street, the sense of significant forces engaging. Meetings that half a decade earlier would have seemed unthinkable. Statements from the British government that because they were from the British government, like it or loath it, had a certain legitimacy and power. And on it went into the Blair years – the GFA/BA, the almost endless negotiations subsequently – power sharing, the Assembly, an Executive, decommissioning and on and on. And again London was with Dublin, the two powers that could shape the dispensation and corral those within it, at least to a degree. To say they were the adults in the room was condescending and incorrect but they did bring a weight that others might not have.

But now? All is chaos. A British government hardly worthy of the title. Vote after vote lost. A leader who cannot be budged, not that it would make any material difference. An opposition in somewhat less chaos but still with problems of its own.

Who – today – would look to London for authority, for legitimacy. I wouldn’t argue that the British state is close to collapse, but there is a crisis of legitimacy and a growing one – pushed along by a referendum whose vote was too finely balanced between the contending camps, and the implementation of the outcome was impossible to measure either allowing for those who wanted various flavours of it to claim ownership and thereby add to the chaos.

The crisis is most acute in relation to the government. But it doesn’t end there. Parliament itself has been delegitimised by this process as well – indeed the very issue of representative democracy has been leapfrogged by the referendum result. And beyond that there’s the people of the UK itself. And oddly it is a market strategist in the UK, who I think defined the issue this week in one of the most cogent ways possible. David Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Investment Managers said:

It is important to recognize that the Brexit referendum was about an ideal – a United Kingdom independent of the EU. So far, that ideal has not been matched by a realistic plan or process to deliver it. Until such a plan emerges, the withdrawal process will probably be put on hold.

Progressive Film Club – postponed showing January 16, 2019

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Unfortunately, we have had to postpone until a later date, the screening planned for the 31st of January. This is due to an error on the part of the film distributor. Apparently they have encountered an issue with international licensing of the film.
This comes a great disappointment to us as we had booked the film over two months ago and completed a contract form. Never before in the ten years existence of the film club have we encountered such an issue.
Notice was only sent to us soon after we put the details up on social media. To add to our disappointment there has been a huge interest in the film, with many tickets already booked.
We may be offered a date later in the year. In the event of this happening we will contact you again
Sorry for any inconvenience but this was due to circumstances beyond our control.

The Border …… January 16, 2019

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The Irish Times has a great interactive piece on the Border with details of all the Border Crossings, what happened there during the troubles , were they cratered by the British Army and so on.

It’s excellent. Also featured was this video from near Swanlinbar in Cavan.

These things are clues… January 16, 2019

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Saw this last week…

A German politician has left the far-right Alternative for Germany to set up a new party with a logo that uses a symbol adopted as a secret sign by Austrian Nazis in the 1930s.
(Awakening of German Patriots) will use a cornflower against the background of a German flag. The small blue flower was used as a secret symbol by the then-banned National Socialists in 1930s Austria before the Anschluss of 1938 brought the Nazis to power in the country.

But I’d missed this… from before Christmas.

Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland party has expelled a member of its state parliamentary group in Berlin because of a photograph showing the politician posing in front of wine bottles with Hitler labels.

Granted the photo was taken 10 years ago but then if I had friends who had bottles like that I’d hardly need enemies.

The Border, Dublin, London and Brexit? January 16, 2019

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Here’s an odd one – a short piece on the RTÉ website on the issue of Dublin, London, the EU and the Border in the context of Brexit. It’s written by Cillian McGrattan at Ulster University where he argues amongst other things that:

Fintan O’Toole misses the implications of this transitional state of affairs when he goes on immediately to state that “the great difficulty of Brexit was always going to be Ireland”. This difficulty, he avers, is because of an untidily drawn border and differences in approach to history.
That may well hold. But on the one hand, it is unsupportable given that no real alternative was seriously considered in 1925. On the other, an “Irish” or “English” approach to the past is so vague and general that it obscures more than it reveals.

No real alternative was seriously considered on the part of the British in 1925 because they held the upper hand. The Free State was in no position to make or sustain or enforce demands on the British in relation to the Border. Few historians would disagree that the border was untidily drawn – to put it at its mildest. Indeed, and this perhaps goes further than O’Toole, but the reality of that border was untidy in a larger sense. And worse than untidy. Its very existence was problematic requiring – though not getting, the sort of attention that only was lavished upon it in the mid-1990s.

He continues by arguing that:

But what if “The Border” is actually more of an Irish problem than an English one? The answer perhaps lies in the fact that a less intransigent attitude to the border was once possible. Politically, there could have been a choreographed fudge, similar in kind to the tactics that characterised the London-Dublin discussions during the peace process.

That sounds good for a second, but it doesn’t address the reality of the situation. The instant that the UK leaves the European Union the border becomes a frontier between the EU (not just the Republic) and the UK. The UK becomes a third country. The fudge, and there is fudge, is between not Dublin and London or between the Republic and the North but between the EU and London for there have bene some significant concessions by the EU in respect of the administration of this issue and ones that may spell trouble ahead further down the line for them in regard to other bordering states.

Which is what makes McGrattan’s next step so problematic:

O’Toole’s analysis is revealing because, with that question and that possibility, the border needs to be seen as part of a maximalizing strategy by the Leo Varadkar administration. This is not to say that it unrealistic to expect a state to maximise its interests in relation to its capacity. Rather, it is to highlight the neglect of consideration for what this means for relations in the North.

But this betrays the narrowness of his analysis. Again it is not Varadkar maximising anything. They can’t. It’s not Dublin negotiating this as such. Moreover maximising what? The ROI has been absolutely clear it will not go beyond the terms of the GFA/BA. That’s not a maximisation, that is a continuation and adherence to the status quo ante the referendum outcome.

And the next problem is he then continues this line of thought into the following:

For instance, if the backstop is not triggered and Northern Ireland remains de facto part of the Customs Union, what will this mean for Scotland? Surely, Nicola Sturgeon will trigger a second independence referendum on the basis of “what about Scotland?” It is surely a mistake to ignore the possibility that loyalists in Northern Ireland have not begun to consider that scenario.

Which rather ignores the actual dynamic in play and who initiated. Dublin did not run or frame the Brexit referendum. The issue of Scotland is one that the UK should have thought about prior to the referendum. To blame Dublin is to entirely reverse cause and effect.

Yet on he goes:

Middle-class nationalism has obviously been destabilised by Brexit, but Varadkar’s hardline stance against compromise with London will do nothing to assuage Catholic concerns. In an ethnically divided society where words, events and decisions may be filtered through zero-sum calculations, it is rash at the very least to ignore sentiments within unionism.

Again this idea that Varadkar has a hardline stance against compromise is to misunderstand what is actually taking place.

I find this very strange that a piece like this could appear at this stage in the process. In fact it is mystifying, as is the following:

But successive Dublin governments and senior officials have displayed a tin ear in this regard. For example, we have seen them consistently downplaying victims’ concerns with Garda collusion and the alleged role of the Irish state in facilitating the Provisional IRA campaign in border regions.

What this has to do with Brexit is beyond puzzling. This review of a book on the Troubles co-authored by the above is interesting in shedding a side light on the analysis I think.

What you want to say – 16 January 2019 January 16, 2019

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

And with one bound she was… January 15, 2019

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Just watching Channel 4 News and seeing the sheer chaos in London politically it raises a question in my mind. What is May’s objective? Is it simply to continue, does she work from one crisis to the next with survival being its own reward? Or is there a game plan here, that somehow she will wear down resistance, whatever the defeats along the way? Or is there something more?

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