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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: September, 2012|
Northern Ireland:—Proconsul Politics
|In Northern Ireland the Government is under attack from the State. The State says it wants normal democratic politics. The governing system is in breach of the first rule of democracy, which is that the majority rules.
The representative of the State is the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, a strongly nationalistic, or Imperialistic, English Tory.
In England nationalism and Imperialism have been the same thing for hundreds of years. When England asserted an absolute nationalism for itself it was not in support of a general principle of nationalism, which it recognised as applying to others too. Its declaration of absolute national independence, made in the course of the political event known as the English Reformation, took the form of an assertion that England was an Empire. Being an Empire meant, for it, that it was subject to no authority but its own will, and that it had the right to do as it pleased with others, subject only to the limits of its power.
The development of the European Union posed the most serious danger to this absolute independence that there has ever been. Its unexpected success threatened to end the policy of playing European States against each other. It was unable to break up the Union from the outside. That was work that could only be done from within. It eventually succeeded in becoming a member, and it has been outstandingly effective in weakening the Union by random expansion, globalist megalomania, and 'corruption' complaints against the Christian Democracy that founded the Union and made it functional for a generation.
But, when it seemed that the Union was in ruins, its core counties got themselves together for an effort to make the Euro currency functional by means of which England disapproved. On other issues in the past England has been granted 'exemption' from measures which it did not see being in its interest. The most substantial of these was exemption from the currency—an utterly stupid concession which built financial antagonism into the EU. The crisis which this led to stimulated the Eurozone to adopt fiscal measures to keep the currency viable. This was not in the English interest, but neither was it in the English interest to be granted an exemption. Consolidation of the Eurozone would necessarily be disadvantageous to England.
Since the Eurozone countries were determined to try to save the currency, it was in the English interest that this should be done within the structures of the EU, where it could continue its well-rehearsed role of being helpfully obstructive. But, instead of doing that, the Prime Minister vetoed the use of the EU structures in the effort to save the currency—with the result that the other twenty-six countries decided to go ahead without England, and outside the EU structure.
It is said that it was under ultimatum from Owen Paterson that Cameron exercised his veto, and isolated himself.
This is a gamble on the Eurozone failing quickly without English help, and on English power in the world being greatly enhanced as a result.
Having turned his attention from geopolitics to the backyard of Northern Ireland, Patterson was naturally horrified. Things were ticking over nicely under the agreement made between Sinn Fein and the DUP and it was horrible. It was a morass of appeasement. It was a travesty of all that England stood for, and it was happening at home.
'Political scientists' and historians have been churning out books to order for the past thirty years about "the Northern Ireland state". Paul Bew was one of the first—the Official IRA man who was adviser to Trimble's Unionists and is now in the House of Lords. He was followed by Professor Fitzpatrick of Trinity and Professor Keogh of Cork. The latest contributor is Brian Walker of the Institute of Irish Studies in Belfast.
The notion that Northern Ireland is a state was encouraged by Whitehall. If it wasn't, all these Professors would not be expounding it. It serves a propaganda purpose, but is not intended to be taken in earnest.
A short while ago Martin McGuinness put it to the test. He suggested that there was no longer any need for a Secretary of State in Northern Ireland. Things were working out fine.
And, indeed, if Northern Ireland was a state, and if it had a Government that was ticking over peacefully, what sense was there in having it under the supervising authority of the Secretary of State from another state? It was anomalous. And there was nothing for this person to do.
Patterson responded promptly. He had many things to do as Secretary of the State. One of the things he did was order the internment of Marion Price. She had been jailed for the 1973 Old Bailey Bombing and released in 1980, suffering from ill-health following a hunger strike and prolonged force-feeding. A spurious charge was trumped up against her in 2011. When the Judge eventually ordered her release on bail, she was immediately re-arrested on foot of this forty-year-old conviction from the 1970s. She claims that her re-imprisonment was unlawful, as she was released from prison by Pardon, that is released with no strings, but Owen Paterson claims that she was released on licence—which would entitle the authorities to re-imprison her. Significantly, the Crown claims to have lost the document which sets out the terms of her 1980 release.
Not only was Price imprisoned, the Historical Enquiries Team is pursuing other Republicans for ancient crimes, and Gerry Adams is thought to be the ultimate target in the Boston College sub-poenas. There have also been some Republicans who were released under the Good Friday Agreement who have been re-imprisoned for allegedly breaching the terms of their release. The Secretary of State said, in effect, that the mass release of prisoners under the GFA was not an amnesty. Prisoners were only released on licence.
Marion Price did not support the GFA. Or it might be that she did not support the Provos taking the Agreement in hand and making it work when the SDLP and the Official Unionist Party (advised by Lord Bew and Eoghan Harris of the Official IRA) were making a haimes of it. She became a leader of the Irish Sovereignty Movement. Paterson's position is that she broke the terms of her licence by demonstrating against the Provos. Her Internment, allegedly to discourage republican dissident activity, in fact is intended to show that the Secretary of State has power, power which is denied to the elected Executive.
He is intent on de-stabilising the Provisional Republicans.
Marion Price's health has deteriorated sharply during her lengthy confinement. There is an escalating campaign for her release in which Concerned Clergy, led by Fr. Joe McVeigh, are to the fore. With emotions on the rise, this impacts on the Republicans and increases dissatisfaction with the apparently quiescent attitude of the Provo leadership. The Gerry Adams strategy is to woo Protestants into a United Ireland, while building a base in the South. This is a tricky position to maintain without splitting the Republican base and demoralising supporters. The Paterson Securocrat strategy of embarrassing the Provos with arrests of republicans is directed towards dividing and ruling. To use a parallel from 1922: the modern de Valera and Collins share the leadership of the Republican movement. Having failed to win in war, the British are still intent on inflicting a defeat on Republicanism by splitting it.
Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the Provos was to hold the Republican movement together, except for a small fringe, as they negotiated the Agreement and carried it through. They said at the outset that their great concern was to prevent a repetition in the North of what happened in the South in 1922. And they succeeded.
They did not dwell on the detail of what happened in the South, and were wise not to do so.
Collins: the example not to be followed
Michael Collins, as a member of the team of the Sinn Fein Government which was sent to London to negotiate on its behalf—that is, to see what the British Government was prepared to concede and to bring the offer back to his Government for consideration—decided to take matters into his own hands. He struck a deal with the British Government without the agreement of his own Government (which Britain did not recognise). He browbeat the other members of the negotiating team into putting their names to his deal. The first the Sinn Fein Government heard of the deal (which was called a Treaty, but wasn't) was in the British newspapers the following day.
Collins apparently relied on his charisma as the Strong Man and his secret network, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, to impose his will on the Army. The Dail supported him by a small minority, on the understanding that if it did not do so Britain would launch a war of re-conquest with all the resources of the Empire. But he failed to carry the Army with him. The Republican movement had outgrown the conspiratorial structure which had been necessary to its survival before 1916. A great part of the Army did not recognise the sovereignty of the IRB, or the legitimacy of a narrow Dail majority achieved by the threat of the kind of terror which Britain had successfully used against the Boers twenty years earlier.
Collins did not dare to call an Army Convention to support him. He was reduced to trying to break up the Army by individual approach to various elements of it, while he built up a paid Army with British support. Whatever scheme he had in mind at the outset, he became increasingly less capable of implementing it, as he became ever more dependent on British support. Eventually Whitehall gave him orders to make war on the Republican Army with the professionals which Britain supplied—or which he certainly would not have had but for active British support—or else the British Army proper (which had not left the country eight months after the signing of the 'Treaty') would go into action again.
That is the horror story which the Provo leaders were insistent would not be repeated in the North. They bound the movement into the deal they made by means of extensive discussion at every stage.
After Collins split Sinn Fein and the IRA by his arbitrary action, and became increasingly dependent on active British support, political elements which had been hostile to him before he made the 'Treaty' rallied around him. These elements were not numerous but they were wealthy, and wealth always generates a degree of influence. Hard-line Redmondite, who had kept their distance from Sinn Fein in 1919-21, and the Church of Ireland Gazette, a very political publication representing the large residue of wealth that still remained from the monopoly times of the Protestant Ascendancy, became 'patriotic' Treatyites. There began to be a personality cult of Collins in circles that were against all that he had once stood for. This appears to have had an influence on him, so that he no longer knew where he stood.
If, in August 1922, he thought he was still on track to carry through whatever it was that he set out to do when he took matters into his own hands in November-December 1921, it was obvious that it all depended on himself as the power-centre of Treatyism. The wild foray into West Cork that he embarked on at that juncture suggests he had lost his bearings completely and no longer knew what he was doing.
The Provos, too, found themselves being supported after they made their deal by people who had not supported them before it. But they did not lose their core Republican support while gaining the support of the 'constitutional nationalists'.
The Constitutional Nationalists, the SDLP, said at the outset that the Good Friday Agreement was "Sunningdale for slow learners"—meaning that Sinn Fein had finally come to see that what the SDLP had got in 1974 was adequate, and that it was Sinn Fein that prevented it from being achieved in 1974. And this has now become the refrain of the Fianna Fail leader. But the Good Friday Agreement is different in kind from the Sunningdale Agreement—and it was not Sinn Fein that undermined Sunningdale—it was the chicanery of the Dublin Government, the intransigence of the SDLP over the Council of Ireland in the light of that chicanery, the consequent General Strike organised by Protestant shop-stewards (in those days before de-industrialisation), and the capriciousness of a Labour Secretary of State who didn't know whether he was coming or going.
(Fionnuala O'Connor, a People's Democracy revolutionary who, like so many, made a career in the bourgeois press—in the imperialist press, the Irish Times, in the first instance—has recently written of Bloody Friday as the greatest atrocity of the War. It's strange how they all manage to forget the co-ordinated Dublin-Monaghan Bombing, which there is now no substantial doubt was organised by the British security forces using Loyalists. That was the outstanding terrorist act of the War. and it was done in May 1974 in the middle of the Strike—the "Constitutional Stoppage"—against the Council of Ireland dimension of the Sunningdale Agreement.)
The SDLP—the fast learners—had the framework for Constitutional Nationalist action laid on for it by the Good Friday Agreement. But it withered under the GFA because it did not know how to act. Protest was its metier. And, because the opportunity for Constitutional nationalist action was not brought about by its own efforts, but was gifted to it by the unconstitutional action of the Provos, it was unable to avail of the opportunity. It was displaced in the sphere of constitutional action by the unconstitutional force which had created the opportunity. And there is nothing strange or paradoxical in that.
The physical force party has become the effective Constitutional party under the equalising arrangement it brought about. And that makes the Secretary of State unhappy. He yearns for normal democratic politics, which the GFA certainly does not provide for.
It would be Owen Paterson's dearest wish to achieve the wreck of the GFA and its replacement by a Sunningdale-type majority-rule Government. Even a weighted majority-rule administration is majority rule. Restoration of Assembly authority over the Government would to be in the logic of a system of weight-majority role government. And in the Assembly the simple majority would try to reassert itself.
Democracy needs Opposition. But the GFA includes everybody above a certain low minimum in the Government.
The SDLP under Margaret Ritchie flirted with the notion of becoming virtually Unionist, forming an alliance with the Official Unionists on the other side, and constituting an Opposition to the DUP and Sinn Fein. But that is against the GFA. Ritchie therefore hinted at ditching the GFA and reverting to majority rule. But it was Ritchie herself that was ditched. There is no way that the Catholic minority is going down that road.
Of course there is a kind of Opposition to the GFA. And Marion Price is part of it. And she gets herself interned because of that.
Condemnation of Provos for operating the GFA has a tendency to gravitate towards support for the 'Dissident' Republican fringe, which condemns the Provos for calling off the War too soon—even when the denouncer is on the opposite extreme to the Dissidents.
The Fianna Fail leader, Micheál Martin, even buys into the whole revisionist condemnation of the War of Independence (1919-21), a war which was found necessary for the establishment of the state of which he hopes to become Taoiseach, after the British resorted to force to override the 1918 Election. But, when he wants to condemn the Provos, he relies on the Dissident Republican rejection of the GFA. At the same time he rakes up particular atrocities of the Northern |War in order to discredit the Provos. And it is a reasonable expectation that, if the Provos were undermined by Martin's denunciation, the War would resume. Fortunately, Martin's influence is negligible.
The action of the Secretary of State has another purpose. He is on record as desiring "normal politics" in Northern Ireland—he wants there to be an Opposition.
His interning of Marion Price, if it has any coherent purpose, can only have the purpose of strengthening the Dissidents by demonstrating that British State power in the North is undiluted.
And Patterson's demand for a return to normal politics means effectively the adoption of a system of weighted majority rule, supervised by the Secretary of State.
To 'return' to the normal politics—the politics normal for the state—one has to go back past the 1885 Election, when the British parties contested Elections in the North-East, although they had been ousted in the rest of the country by Daniel O'Connell, George Moore, and Isaac Butt. In 1921, when the country was Partitioned, normal politics might have resumed in the Six Counties, but the parties of the state decided instead to exclude Northern Ireland from the party-politics of the state. The normality of Unionist majority rule, 1921-1972, is something that not even Patterson thinks can be returned to. What he wants is something like the Sunningdale system, with the Secretary of State forming Governments representing something more than fifty per cent of the electorate, and supervising their conduct. And that would also seem to require that the Parliament should have some authority over the Government, which at present the Assembly has not got.
The Irish News—which is now the only self-confidently Irish daily newspaper—sometimes makes a gesture in support for 'normal politics'. But we imagine it would back away quickly from any definite move to restore majority rule. And, in any case, given the situation as it has developed since 1998, it is not easy to see how there could be a weighted majority without Sinn Fein.
PS. The only Southern politician who has expressed concern about the destabilising influence, on the working arrangements in the North, of the internment of Marion Price, is Eamon Ó Cuív. His leader, Micheál Martin, doesn't know what day it is. Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore remains locked into his Stickie feud with the Provos at home, while he gallivants around the world getting ready to cheer on the USA and Britain if they try to do to Syria and/or Iran what they did to Iraq. And Alan Shatter, the Minister for Justice, is too busy establishing a right o desertion in the Army to bother his head about justice in the North.
Northern Ireland: Proconsul Politics. Editorial