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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: June, 2013|
Good Friday Agreement: Working Too Well.
|The working out of the Good Friday Agreement is troubling some people. It is working too well.
One of these troubled people is Lord Bew of the Official IRA. He spoke on the subject to a Law Conference on the moonscape of the Burren, Co. Clare. According to the Irish Times report (May 6), he said:
"As the deal was a 'top-down, elitist' project, driven by leaders on both sides rather than reflecting a 'thrust upward' from the streets, it was expected that sectarian conflict would not disappear."
And Judge Catherine McGuinness said there was far too little understanding of the "semi-stifled bitterness" that remained between the two communities in the North. She continued:
"There is, no doubt, polite middle-class interaction, but what is really said after those neat middle-class doors have closed behind people?… Peace? Perhaps. Reconciliation? Not much."
The Judge suggested that the nature of the 1998 Agreement was causing difficulties:
"The carefully choreographed arrangements of the Stormont political structure ensure that every issue is considered in the framework of divided identity…"
There is no "divided identity" now, and there never was. That is, there is no schizophrenia. The Six Counties is one of the sanest places in the world. The 'Northern Ireland' political structure imposed on it ninety years ago by Westminster—imposed on two peoples who were at war with one another—ensured that "identity" remained clear and definite in each of them. Tricky questions asked for manipulative political purposes by the State might elicit tricky answers, but that did not cause people to forget who they were.
The two peoples were at war with each other when the Bill to set up Northern Ireland was introduced at Westminster in 1920. But they were at war with each other as components of the general Anglo-Irish War, that resulted from the refusal of the Westminster Parliament to heed the result of the 1918 Election in Ireland, which gave a strong mandate for the establishment of independent government in Ireland.
In 1921 Westminster Partitioned Ireland. It legislated to set up two devolved Governments under British sovereignty. It knew very well that the 26 Counties, which had set up its own independent Government in defiance of British military rule, would refuse to become the devolved Government of Southern Ireland and that only the Six County devolution would be functional.
The Ulster Unionist refusal to participate in any form of all-Ireland politics—under Westminster sovereignty or not—had been used as a debating point against Sinn Fein as against the Home Rule Party before it. But, when the 'Ulster' objection was removed by Partition, Britain still refused to concede independence to the rest of the country.
Six months after Northern Ireland was set up, Westminster made a deal with a section of Sinn Fein (but not with the Dail), that is called a Treaty but wasn't, whereby a Dominion state was established in place of the Republic in the 26 Counties. The Treatyite section of Sinn Fein was persuaded to agree to that arrangement, and to make war on their colleagues who didn't, by an informal understanding with Whitehall that Northern Ireland would be eroded by a Boundary Commission to a point where it would cease to be viable. The Irish Government (foolishly) expected that the Commission would transfer Fermanagh, Tyrone and South Armagh to the South.
The Treatyite Provisional Government, established on British authority, made war in Northern Ireland in 1922, to ward off the danger of it settling down. Whitehall was most understanding.
The Northern nationalist community was urged by the Treatyite Government in Dublin to have no truck with the new devolved Government in the North. Dublin undertook to fund its schools, and generally facilitate it in living autonomously beyond the Northern Ireland structures.
The war in the Six Counties was at its most intense during the first half of 1922. But Whitehall had arranged that it was no longer a segment of the general Anglo-Irish War, but was a little war on its own, at least in superficial appearance.
Then in July 1922 Whitehall ordered its Provisional Government in Dublin—whose de facto power came entirely from the 'Treaty'—to make war on the Anti-Treatyites, with the threat that if it did not do so promptly the British Army—which had not gone away—would become active again.
With 'Civil War' erupting in the South, the Treatyite War in the North collapsed. And the nationalist community was left at the mercy of the devolved authority, which was given a free hand by the sovereign power to deal with it.
That was how Westminster provided for "good government" in the Six Counties after Partition.
Ireland was divided. Part of it was retained within the British state—but it was excluded from the political life of the British state. Northern Ireland, excluded from the politics of the state, had no political life. The Unionists were required to return a clear majority at each election to ensure that they remained "connected" with the British state, and they had to police the nationalist third of the population, which had no access to the democratic opportunities of the politics of the state.
The nationalist community lived its own life to the greatest possible extent. What else was there for it to do?
Lacking internal possibilities of development, it is not surprising that the system led to war. War eventually led to a drastic alteration which established a relationship of substantive equality between the two communities, effectively negating the majority status of the majority. If the Limbo-land of Northern Ireland must exist—and the power that established it insists that it must—its present form, which Judge McGuinness and Lord Bew find objectionable, is what makes it tolerable and viable for the time being.
The 1998 arrangement was, of course, elitist in purpose. The intention was to establish unrepresentative middle class groups in authority under it. But Lord Trimble, advised by Lord Bew, made a mess of his side of it, and undermined the chances of the SDLP in the process. And then there actually was an "upward thrust" from the streets, displacing the incompetent elitists to the marginal extremes, and enabling the new arrangement to work.
Let's forget about Lord Bew, who lives in some kind of Marxist-Leninist/Stickie/Jackson Society fantasy, and imagines that the war was about religion and that the peace is a result of the decline of religion—as he suggested at the Burren Conference. But surely Judge McGuinness should know better.
The "semi-stifled bitterness" is a phenomenon of the Unionist community and "Constitutional nationalist" elements in the nationalist community who can't bear the thought that it is the "men of violence" who have brought about something like a constitutional structure in the proper sense, and know how to work it.
The Unionists chose the system of community conflict when they might have insisted that the region be an integral part of the body politic of the state. They chose badly, and if they don't like the outcome they'll have to lump it.
If, at Partition, Westminster had simply kept the North within the political life of the state, it is very probable that confused "identities" would have evolved. British politics is very good at that sort of thing. But Westminster chose instead to establish a bizarre political structure which could only preserve the relationship of antagonism between communities on which it was imposed.
The Good Friday re-arrangement acknowledged that reality but equalised the relationship. It works because it provides a level playing field.
By what system of brainwashing does Judge McGuinness think "identities" can be altered against the grain of existing political arrangements?