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|From: Irish Political Review: Articles|
|Date: June, 2019|
What Ireland is remains to be determined by Britain's final decision about Brexit and by the EU's handling of Brexit.
Britain is not European in sentiment. It is an offshore island which has conducted its own affairs for close on half a millennium, not only separate from Europe but in conflict with Europe. It made itself a World Power and, in order to do so, it fostered wars in Europe. It has defeated every European state at one time or another, perhaps with he exception of its 'oldest ally', Portugal. The culture through which it knows itself is deeply marked by that history and it could only become a European state on a par with the states of Europe by being born again.
It is today a matter of astonishment to it that Europe has held firm against it for more than two years over the terms it will make after Brexit, and on insisting that it will negotiate terms only after Britain has left and become a foreign state.
In the light of the history of Britain/Europe relations, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the purpose of Brexit is not merely to reassert British independence but to bring about divisions between the EU states under pressure of Brexit that would encourage the unravelling of the EU. A successful Brexit which left the EU intact, and strengthened by having resisted divisive pressures, would not be in the British interest at all. The mere fact of a Europe united and dealing with European interests diminishes Britain.
Europe divided is Europe free: Europe united is Europe enslaved. That was a principle of British foreign policy for three centuries. It stood for the sacred principle of nationality in Europe while snuffing it out at home. Any nationalism that served its purpose was depicted as an elemental expression of human nature, while a nationalism against its interests was an anarchic product of insufficient policing.
The British 'Remain' party in the European election is a Remain and Reform Party", as was made clear by its leader Vince Cable. Alasdair Campbell, Blair's lieutenant, declared on Radio Ulster (27.5.19) that "Britain would lead reform in Europe" after the Brexit vote was overturned. Britain joined the European community, which had been developing very effectively without it, for the purpose of retarding its development and bending it to British interests.
The Tory Leader who gained entry for it, Edward Heath, was the odd man out on the British scene, being in many respects European in outlook and post-Imperial in spirit. He was discarded as soon as he had performed the service of getting Britain in. Margaret Thatcher ousted him, and began the business of 'reforming' the EU away from its original design, and gaining British 'exemptions' from a whole range of things.
British Labour was then going through a socialist mood. It saw Europe as a capitalist obstacle to socialism. And one eminent socialist expressed sadness at the prospect of England's glorious thousand years of separate destiny coming to an end. But the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, managed to get a majority in a referendum for keeping Britain in Europe.
A sadly misjudged attempt at socialist revolution was made by Miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, assisted by a very radical Kim Howells. And then Kim Howells appeared in government under Tory Blair as Minister for Competition in Europe—Minister for freer capitalism!
Blair, by a combination of rhetoric, personality and organisational manipulation, dissolved the culture of British Labour. He displaced the rhetoric of socialism with the rhetoric of "radicalism". Radicalism, taken as a self-sufficient noun, was the historic ideology of free-ranging capitalism.
The effect of Blairism on Labour was such that, whereas Labour in the 1970s saw the European social market as an obstacle to socialism, it now looks to a Europe whose social market has been undermined by British influence as the only protection against British capitalism. Labour has hollowed itself out.
Blair preached that the great tragedy of British politics in the 20th century was the split in what he called the radical movement around the time of the first World War. The radical movement was the Liberal Party, the great party of capitalist development which opposed ending child labour and shorter working hours. It curbed separate working class political development for a couple of generations. The split which Blair regretted was the formation of the Labour Party in 1917, after the Liberal Party fragmented under the stress of conducting the Great War which it launched in 1914.
Blair urged that Labour and Liberal should be united—which meant that Labour should go back under Liberal tutelage, as the Liberals certainly would not put themselves under Labour tutelage.
Alastair Campbell, Blair's public relations man, has revealed that he voted Liberal Democrat in the European election.
(It needs to be said that there is a stratum of Blairite working middle class in the Home Counties which has a strong interest in remaining within the EU that is distinct from larger political considerations. The EU provides it with a better class of working class. They have become accustomed to the services of skilled, hard-working, conscientious East European tradesmen to do their home improvements, build their conservatories: they do not relish the prospect of becoming once again dependent on the English tradesman with his uppity ways.)
We haven't a clue how Brexit will work out. But it seems that its working out will have a considerable influence on affairs in Ireland.
The EU has decided that the UK state cannot simply withdraw from Europe as a unit, but must leave the Six County part of it behind in Europe, in economic terms, in the interest of the dimension of Irish unity established by the Good Friday Agreement, and of the peace which depends on that unity.
We cannot see what formal grounds for this view there are in the GFA. But, if the EU holds it firmly, then it becomes a political fact of the situation.
The GFA provided for a structural recognising of the way the Six Counties, as 'Northern Ireland', were to be governed as part of the United Kingdom. It also set up North/South and East/West Councils, but they were sops to sentiment which could means anything or nothing.
The GFA made no provision for an all-Ireland economy. Free trade across the Border had been established during the preceding quarter of a century by the simultaneous entry of Ireland and Britain to the EU and the market innovations made under the EU.
Ideals were projected onto the GFA, and were declared to be its spirit, which had no grounds in its letter.
Its purpose, as expressed in its arrangements, was not to bring the two national communities together but to enable them to get on with one another by being formally separated into two distinct electoral bodies which took Ministries in the devolved government independently of one another, without having to form an organic government. This was possible because Northern Ireland is not a state, and because it is excluded from the political life of the state. If the Labour and Tory parties had functioned in the Northern Ireland region of the UK state, the condition of the Six Counties would be different from what it is.
There are grounds why the North could be treated as not quite being part of the UK state, and these grounds if stated would not easily be rebutted. But those grounds have not been stated, either by the EU or by the Dublin Government.
Seamus Mallon has chosen this moment to publish a book in which he argues against holding a Border Poll (which could resolve the Brexit crisis at a stroke), and against deciding the matter of Northern consent to unity by a majority vote.
Mallon is described in Irish Times publicity for the book as "one of the principal architects of the Belfast Agreement". He was no such thing. He was deputy leader of the SDLP under John Hume, and was fiercely opposed to Hume's efforts which helped to bring about the GFA. He would have ousted Hume if he could. He held a kind of bookish ideological Republicanism that had no bearing on the political realities of the North in flux after August 1969, and on that flimsy basis he denounced the Provisionals as sectarian thugs.
Hume, having gained the Agreement, handed the SDLP over to him to operate it. But he couldn't do it, because he lived in alternate reality. He genuinely did not know what the Agreement provided for. He wasted years playing futile games with Trimble, who had no intention of letting the Agreement work if the IRA was not humiliated.
The IRA knew what it had settled for, and set about working it in earnest. And Mallon soon found himself back in the shade.
In a Belfast Telegraph article (May 18), Why A Simple Majority In Favour Of United Ireland Will Not Deliver Future We Deserve, he writes:
"Generosity is something that has been absent from British-Irish relations for centuries… The formation of an independent Irish state in 1918-22 caused unionists to demand their own state, fearful that the new state would be a cold house for them… Generosity has been in short supply in any attempts to deal with the Northern Ireland Troubles over the past 50 years… In my new book, A Shared Home Place, I make what I hope is a generous new offer to unionism as a former constitutional nationalist leader…"
This offer is that unification should be subject to "parallel consent", such as operates within the devolved Assembly, which consists of two bodies of elected representatives, each of which can block motions proposed by the other. Mallon's proposal is that the decision about unification should rest with the Unionist block, the Nationalist body effectively being disenfranchised.
We proposed in 1969, when Unionism was a large majority in the North, that Nationalist Ireland should recognise it as a distinct nationality as a basis for conducting a dialogue with it. Then Mallon would have no truck with the 'two nations theory'. The Unionists were part of the Irish nation, though they didn't know it.
When that proposal was shot down, we proposed that the Six Counties should be brought within the democracy of the British state, so as to ameliorate relations between the two communities whose relations with one another could be nothing but bitterly hostile in the closed Northern Ireland set-up.
Democracy is party-political. The Democracy of the state was Labour versus Tory. The Six County electorate was avidly interested in Labour/Tory politics though excluded from it, and large numbers would have aligned themselves as Labour and Tory if the parties were available to them. But Mallon was opposed to that too.
"Generosity" is not an element in actual politics. It is a gloss on the opportunism generated by effective party-politics in a democracy.
The Unionists, at the start of it all, did not "demand their own state". Their programme in the 1918 Election was for a Six County Partition which would leave them within the British political system. When Partition was offered them on the condition that they should operate a little Six County Government, to help Whitehall deal with Sinn Fein, they refused that devolved government in the first instance, saying they had no desire to govern Catholics but wanted all to be governed by Westminster. But they were nudged into it by the threat that they would otherwise come under Dublin. And then they became addicted to it and were disabled politically by it.
The SDLP, as represented by Mallon, is the old Nationalist Party—a survival of the Party of John Redmond and of Joseph Devlin, "the pocket Demosthenes". Mallon's quaint runs of eloquence are an echo of it. The Socialists who were very prominent at the founding of the SDLP, Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin, are not mentioned in the publicity surrounding the issuing of his book or in the newspaper extracts from it.
He remarks on how uncomfortable he felt when he first passed the Carson statue going into Stormont, and he treats Stormont as Carson's project. In fact, the establishment of the Northern Ireland system marked the defeat of Carson's project and Carson took no part of it.
In 1920, as the Bill setting up Stormont as the instrument of Partition was going through Parliament, C.P. Scott (influential Editor of the Manchester Guardian), who had been a strong supporter of Nationalist Home Rule, wrote to the leader of the Nationalist remnant, Joe Devlin, advising him to support Carson's policy of a straight Partition without the setting up of Protestant sub-government in the Six Counties. Devlin's mind boggled at the suggestion. He had taken part in the demonising of Carson as a Partitionist and he could not bend his mind down to considering the terms of Partition.
It has been reported in many Nationalist publications over the decades that there was no Irish vote in Parliament for the Partition Bill, which suggests that Partition was imposed on the Six Counties by Britain. That is the kind of verbal reasoning that short-circuits thought.
Britain had virtually bankrupted itself by its Great War, and had only been saved from defeat by American intervention. It was fighting a dirty war against the elected Sinn Fein Government in Ireland, contrary to the principle of national self-determination for which it had supposedly launched the Great War. It did not want to be seen as Partitioning Ireland by American opinion but it knew that there must be Partition. It therefore brought in a Bill giving Home Rule to Ireland, but giving it in two parts. then, if the Irish wished to divide themselves, that would be their affair.
The Partition Bill was also a Six County Devolved Government Bill. And devolved government was the means by which Partition was to be enacted.
The Ulster Unionists wanted Partition but not a Home Rule system in which they would have to govern a very large and very active Nationalist minority, but were told they must operate Home Rule in order to get Partition. The Nationalist minority did not want Partition and its leaders took no interest in the detail that Partition was going to take the form of subjecting them to a local Protestant sub-government that would operate outside of the democracy of the state.
The 1970 war arose out of the antagonisms that were active when the sub-government was set up and that were preserved and aggravated by the working of the sub-government. It ended when the Stormont caricature of democracy was abolished by the Good Friday Agreement.
Mallon, in the best tradition of the Nationalist Party, does not see the British State as the responsible party in all of this, and he gives the impression that the war was fought between the two national communities rather than between the Catholic community and the State.
The Backstop problem for Brexit seems to have come about through the perverse refusal of nationalists, especially Constitutional ones, to describe Partition and Northern Ireland realistically. It is said that former SDLP leader Mark Durkan put it to former Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the Irish Border situation was much the same as the German Border situation, and could be treated in the same spirit and that this should be explained to the EU. And the EU, which is shy of its own history, just as recent Irish Governments have been shy of Irish history, took this to be the case.
But the differences between the two Borders were profound. There was no internal national difference in Germany behind the formation of the two German states after 1945. The Border was the meeting point of the Russian and American Armies at the end of Britain's second Great War on Germany.
Britain collaborated actively with Hitler in building up the power of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1938. then in 1939 it declared war on Germany capriciously, on the comparatively trivial issue of Danzig, did nothing much towards waging that war until Hitler responded to the declaration of war on him in May 1940. It retired from the fighting in June 1940, after losing the first battle. But it refused to make a settlement, and denounced France for doing so. It used its Imperial power to maintain a war situation, looking for others to do the fighting. This brought about the German invasion of Russia in June 1941.
The United States joined the war in December 1941. It tried to hustle Britain back into the fighting in 1942 and 1943 but Churchill refused. He finally agreed in 1944, after it became clear that Germany was going to be defeated by Russia. The pressing object then was not to stop Germany from conquering the world but to occupy as much as possible of Europe before it was occupied by the Russians who were pressing the Germans back.
Russia, having borne the main cost of defeating Germany, was not going to hand the ground that it occupied over to the United States, to be used as an advance base for the Western war against it which it knew was on the Western agenda. And so Germany was divided at the meeting point of the two armies, and two rival German states corresponding to the rival world systems were set up.
About thirty years ago, the idea of the two German nations was advocated by opponents of the idea that there were two Irish nations. It was said that the political division had generated national division. We could see no ground for that idea. Nations once formed are not so easily dissolved.
When the Soviet system fragmented, Germany re-united. The unity took the form of Western destruction of what had been constructed in the East, and there was an element of Western colonising of the East, but there was no Eastern national resistance to unification.
Margaret Thatcher debated whether she could allow German reunification. In a fit of megalomania she tried to live out the British demonising of Germans, and Prussians in particular, in the two wars on Germany. She called a meeting of historians to advise her on whether the Germans had been sufficiently de-Germanised to allow them to unite. But it was all make-believe.
Her beloved Churchill, by prolonging the British war on Germany after June 1940 with the strategy of getting others to fight it, had undermined he Empire which it was his purpose to preserve. The Empire melted away after 1945, with Britain fighting a few dirty, racist wars in its effort to retain it: Malaya and Kenya are the best known. Burma asserted its independence in alliance with Japan and could not be re-conquered.
The Indian national movement had declared itself neutral in the World War. Britain escalated its pillage of the country during the war, causing a major famine, but could only slink away after 1945, as its policies bore fruit in a religious civil war.
And, in Germany, the Christian Democratic movement, led by Adenauer, formed itself into a state with American backing. And Adenauer, with British policy on Germany in the 1920s and 1930s in mind, was determined to negate British influence after 1945—influence that operated through the German Social Democracy.
British Imperial Power was a spent force in 1989. This was nowhere more the case than in Germany. Britain and Germany were both subordinates of the United States. Disregarding Thatcher's antics, the Federal Republic swallowed up the Democratic Republic. This was brokered by an EU agreement arranged by Haughey as President of the Council of Ministers. Haughey's action showed that Ireland was not altogether in Britain's pocket and gained it considerable German support in subsequent years.
Germany, in the post-War Christian Democratic era when it took part in founding what has become the European Union, understood itself. Adenauer ensured a considerable degree of continuity between the Third Reich and the Federal Republic, making possible the rapid reconstruction of the State. But that understanding was not written down as authoritative history. Perhaps it was not politic to record truths in that situation.
Somewhat like Irish history in the Fianna Fail era, from the thirties to the seventies, it was transmitted within the party. But German Christian Democracy was then disabled by a spurious anti-corruption campaign, and came under the leadership of an Easterner who was starry-eyed about the West. So it is conceivable that the story about Kenny selling Europe the idea that the Partition of Ireland was of a kind with the Partition of Germany is true.
Possibly the EU did not know what it was doing when it made the Backstop a condition of an agreed withdrawal of the UK from the EU. But it now knows that Northern Ireland will not melt away as East Germany did.
But, having made the Backstop a condition, it must stick to it. European Union is infinitely more important to it than the British Union.
Britain is probing it for a crack through which it could be levered apart. It must not be allowed to find one.
That should also be the concern of the Irish State, but clearly it isn't. The inclination of official Ireland, after forty years of revisionist subversion, is to give way to British pressure. Its future therefore depends on the will of the EU in this matter.
Fintan O'Toole has become an anti-Partitionist in his disillusionment with Britain because of Brexit. See It's A United Ireland, But Not As We Know It (Irish times May 25). Irish unity was predicted for 2024 by the android Commander Data in an episode of Star Trek broadcast in 1990, and O'Toole comments that: "Data's date for Irish unification now seems astutely chosen". But he says that the reasoning by which Commander Data got the right date was wrong. The Star Trekker, in his dispassionate and timeless observing of the course of human affairs, saw terrorist movements as agents of political change and he fixed on 2024 as the year in which the impulse given to Irish affairs by Provisional IRA terrorism would work itself through to a conclusion. It is morally unacceptable to O'Toole to suggest "that the IRAs violence paid off in the end and therefore might be seen in the distant future as a terrible means, ultimately justified by a good end".
That episode of Star Trek was banned in Ireland because of its message that what the IRA was doing would succeed in the end. Banning it was right because the message was "utterly wrong". And O'Toole means wrong in both senses: false as well as immoral. Because terrorism is not only deplorable but is ineffective:
"the actual truth is that even if Irish unity does happen in 2024… it will have happened in spite of and not because of the IRAs 30 year campaign. And if we are ever to be able to think straight about such a momentous possibility as a united Ireland we need to disentangle it from the mythology of terrorism. The irony of Data's retrospective “prediction” is that even as it was being made, the IRA's own leadership was reaching a precisely contrary conclusion—that terrorism was not an effective way of promoting political change. Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and their allies were beginning, very belatedly, to admit to themselves that trying to kill and bomb their way to a united Ireland was not merely futile but actively counter-productive.
…There has never been an admission of this truth of course, but it is effectively conceded in the way Sinn Fein has reshaped the “armed struggle”. It was about equality and “parity of esteem” for Catholics within Northern Ireland.
And yet the mythology of the armed struggle still looms over the very real need to think about Irish unity… It generates fierce emotions—triumphalism on one side and revulsion on the other…"
All of this might be fairly described as android observation of human affairs.
O'Toole, beamed up into a cosmopolitan bubble, and busily raking in the money with little articles about Ireland for the 'quality' press in London and New York, sees actual life in Ireland as an alien.
The fierce emotions of triumphalism and resentment were what Northern Ireland was constructed on by British democracy. There was no need whatever for Northern Ireland, except the British need to bring its terrorist campaign against the Sinn Fein Government to a conclusion that left a damaged Ireland behind in the act of withdrawing.
It is beyond the bounds of conceivability that any of the British statesmen who devised the Northern Ireland system, as a bizarre entity within the British state but outside its functional democracy, should have thought they were providing for good government in the Six Counties.
Edmund Burke's summing up of the 18th century British system of Irish government as diabolical applies with much greater force to Northern Ireland. But O'Toole of course knows nothing of actual life in Northern Ireland during the two generations after 1922 when it was a democracy with all the vital parts missing, and was therefore experienced as Heaven by a very substantial part of the Protestant community and as a place of slow torment by the Nationalist third.
When the Catholic community decided that it would live in sullen resignation no longer, what should it have aimed for? People on the whole choose between options that are laid on for them by the existing structure of things. The choice in Northern Ireland, as laid on by the two states claiming sovereignty, was between the status quo with marginal amendment and a United Ireland.
That the status quo was a perversely undemocratic system was an idea that was actively discouraged by both states. We know because we were the only ones who said it. And we know that the Irish Times did not allow any hint of it to appear in its pages.
O'Toole now says that the IRA came to see that the Border could not be ended by force and took the re-structuring of Northern Ireland as its purpose. Of course he doesn't say that straight but that seems to be the sense behind his fumblings.
What he says is that the IRA came to see "that terrorism is not an effective way of promoting change". We know of no evidence that that was the case. The change that it brought about was not the change that it aimed for in the first instance. But that does not mean that the change it brought about could have been brought about without war.
The 1998 settlement is different in kind from the 1974 arrangement, which continued majority rule. It is a "two nations" settlement. The fact of two nations was hotly denied in 1974. And Martin Mansergh later commended the Irish Times for not allowing discussion of the idea in its pages. The 1998 system operates with two electorates and denies the democratic validity of general majorities in Northern Ireland. And that was not a possibility in 1974.
Wars change peoples—a fact which has been commented on favourably with regard to Britain's wars on Germany. Well, the character of the Catholic community was changed considerably by the war which it sustained against the British State, and that was a major factor in the 1998 settlement.
It was triumphalist in 1998. In 1974 it was more in the nature of cunning satisfaction at having brought off a confidence trick. And, given the nature of things in Northern Ireland, a soundly-based sense of triumph was a precondition for equality.
And equality and "parity of esteem" were never presented by the IRA as an alternative to unity. They were a step on the way to unity.
Within the British Northern Ireland system the substance of politics could only be the grating of the two national communities against each other. The 1998 restructuring improved the position of the Catholic community in that process of attrition.
"If Irish unity does come about in the next 10 years, it will not be the product of the IRA's atrocities. It will not even be primarily driven by Irish nationalism. It will be the result of a plot line too far-fetched even for Star Trek: Brexit. Brexit is creating the very real possibility of the break-up of the British state"
—And if Irish unity does not have an Irish cause that will make it OK with O'Toole.
The England of his cosmopolitan dreams is crumbling. It was never there.
Brexit has been in the offing longer that O'Toole has been in the Irish Times. It was set in motion when Thatcher replaced Heath. The sense of Imperial destiny is not an easy thing to give up. The balance-of-power instinct against Europe is ingrained in British political culture. Leaving the EU was put on the political agenda by a Times editorial around 1990.
England has her constancy no less than Rome, as Gladstone said about a century and a half ago. And so it seems has Ireland, in the form of "an illegal organisation".
On O'Toole's general contention that terrorism is never politically effective: the clearest refutation of it is the state of Israel. the Jewish nationalist movement launched an unrestrained terrorist campaign against the British administration of Palestine in 1947. Its most celebrated action was the blowing-up of the King David Hotel. Britain surrendered Palestine to it in 1948, and set it free on the native Palestinian population. Surely O'Toole knows about this—but, being wise in his generation, he also knows what he must not acknowledge that he knows.
Brexit Destinies. Editorial
Foster's Platonic Thinking. Jack Lane
May Brexit Summary. Dave Alvey
Readers' Letters: Huawei. David Morrison
Double Standards. Tim O'Sullivan
Evidence Douma Chemical Attack Staged. David Morrison
LEST WE FORGET (6). Extracts from Irish Bulletin. This issue lists British Acts Of Aggression, 6th August - 9th September 1919 (ed. Jack Lane)
Dev: A Hated Hero? Donal Kennedy
Es Ahora. Julianne Herlihy (Clair Wills and the Story She Tells, Part 16)
The Irish Times And The Knocklong And The Short Of It! Manus O'Riordan
Biteback: That British Loan To Ireland. Mary Russell;
Israel And Palestine. David Morrison. Reports: Eurovision Blues. Suzanne Lindsay; Taboo (Irish News)
Approaching The Half-Centenary Of The Arms Trials. Brendan Clifford
War Of Independence And The Crossbarry Commemoration. Séamus Lantry: Introduction. Tom Cooper: Address
Casement: The Gauntlet Is Thrown. Jack Lane
US Troops In Carryduff. Wilson John Haire
Money Creation. John Martin (The Debate Continues . . .)
A Jesuit Looks At The Money System. Cathy Winch (Part 1)
Housing And The Banks. Angela Clifford
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (Climate and the Environment; The Environment; Celtic Interconnector)
Labour Comment: The White Van Army!