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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: September, 2010|
Trouble With Moderates . . .
|Extremism is rampant in the North again. The DUP and Sinn Fein negotiated a new arrangement to take some of the heat out of the conflict over parades. It was vetoed by the Tory/Unionist merger, acting through the Orange Order. The Tory/Unionist position is now one of all-out, unmediated communal conflict over policing.
There can be no democratic objection to this. Democracy operates by the conflict of parties, and each party is under obligation to do battle with its rival by whatever means are available to it, given the mood and culture of the electorate. The Democratic Unionist Party has made a deal with Sinn Fein, and Paisley says it would be OK for Martin McGuinness to be First Minister if the Provos become the biggest party in "the Northern Ireland state". The Ulster Unionist Party is therefore honour bound—insofar as honour has anything to do with democracy—to try to unsettle the settlement made by its rival with its enemy, and restore the simple, unrestrained antagonism of communities.
But the UUP, even in its tactical extremism, remains the 'moderate' Unionist Party. That is a fixed idea of the system. Without it there would be chaos. It is an Article of Faith. Its function is to be believed and not to be subjected to reason.
Democracy operates through the conflict of parties. General Kagame has just won a landslide electoral victory in Rwanda. His majority is similar to that of Saddam Hussein in the last Iraqi election held before the USUK conquest. Saddam's victory was ridiculed officially by the EU etc. on the ground that his opponents were restricted by Government. General Kagame's victory has been welcomed officially by the EU etc., while it is informally admitted that the election was rigged. General Kagame is a despot, but he is our despot so we support him and say nice things about him while not going so far as to say that he was democratically elected.
General Kagame is the leader of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. He raised a Tutsi army in Uganda and invaded Rwanda with it, wiping out Hutu villages on the line of march. The Hutu President was assassinated in a coordinated action. The big Hutu majority then turned on the Tutsi minority and exterminated them. The exterminated Tutsis quickly took control of the country. There were 800,000 of them originally. A million of them were exterminated in 'the genocide'. The minus 200,000 of them—those who did not exist to form part of the exterminated million—took command of the State, imposed a regime of terror on the Hutus (who after mass imprisonment and flight were still the majority), and they have decreed that there is no such thing as a Hutu in Rwanda, and use of the word Hutu has been criminalised as genocidal.
In the mid-18th century the British State recognised no such thing as a Catholic in Ireland. It has come on a long way since then. It now recognises only Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, with a fringe of eccentric others on the margin as spectators, except when it serves a reason of state to have one of them as a figurehead Minister of Justice.
Northern Ireland is nothing like Rwanda. Nobody here takes power on the basis of rigged elections. The election is not rigged, and the winner does not take power. And we do not have one body politic but two. Each is the body politic of a mimic democracy. There is party conflict within each, but there is no party conflict between the two.
Between the two there is communal antagonism. There is no common political ground on which that antagonism might be alleviated. The leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein met as leaders of their communities, outside the political structures of the mimic democracy of the 'State', and made a conciliatory arrangement. And the Tory-UUP set about wrecking that arrangement by stirring up the Orange Order against it, hoping thereby to make up electoral ground on a No Surrender basis against the Lundys of the DUP.
In the party-political terms of our apartheid mimic democracy it all makes perfect sense.
This is what the Good Friday Agreement provided for. Something more was implied by the spirit of it and the circumstances which led to it. But the moderate Unionists insisted on something less than the letter of it, and they wanted as far as possible to destroy it in its implementation.
Thus David Trimble now complains that Ian Paisley arranged an amendment of the GFA at St. Andrews—one which gave the post of First Minister to the leader of the largest party. The GFA had made a different provision: the First Minister was to be representative of the largest community representation in the Assembly. That meant that the leader of the largest party could not be First Minister, unless he also commanded the support of the largest voting bloc, Unionist or Nationalist. The GFA arrangement was thoroughly communalist—and would have postponed the day when a Sinn Fein First Minister would be elected in Northern Ireland.
"Peace" and "democracy" were the buzz words of the early days of the Agreement. A reading of it showed that it was at best a mimicking of democracy—otherwise it was a satire on it. But peace of a more substantial kind than has come about was achievable under it.
The spirit of it was that the Provos has made a substantial Constitutional point by their war effort, sustained over a quarter of a century. In the words of the real English Bible—the one written by the great Lord Chancellor four centuries ago:
"Like, or find fault, do as your pleasures are,
The Provos, by being unbeatable, had made themselves a Constitutional force. The phrasing of the Agreement implied that the IRA would play an active part in settling down the nationalist community under the Agreement before phasing itself out discreetly. And the Provo leaders undertook to ensure that there was an effective policing of Republican peace.
But, when that personification of moderate Unionism, David Trimble, signed the Agreement under extreme pressure from Prime Minister Blair, he took it as his mission in life to ensure that the Agreement should not be implemented in this way. And he was egged on by Dublin parties, and RTE, who had never troubled to figure out what Northern Ireland was. And the SDLP, freed from Hume's influence, soon joined the chorus. The IRA which had conducted the war must not be allowed to deliver the peace. It was a criminal gang, like the Krays in London and others in Limerick, and democratic Governments do not make Constitutional arrangements with criminal gangs. And so the Agreement was largely shredded in implementation. And an important element in the shredding was that 'dissident' Republicans should be encouraged to erode the Provos.
Then we had the strange sight of Paul Bew—on the escalator for the House of Lords—in cahoots with Anthony Mac Intyre, who was given a platform by the Establishment to condemn the Provos for selling out the national struggle.
And recently we had Radio Eireann wondering why Martin McGuinness condemns whoever is doing the present wave of bombing, when all they did is what he did. RTE was made mindless on the North by Jack Lynch and the Stickies, and that kind of thing is all that it knows how to say. Equally perversely, the BBC wondered why the Provos weren't keeping the peace in Ardoyne during the Orange Parade!
Margaret Ritchie, the new SDLP leader, says the dissidents must be dealt with by all-out informing by the Nationalist community. The Provos do not disagree. But she holds them responsible nevertheless because they agreed that state Intelligence should be done by MI5 rather than Northern Ireland Special Branch. MI5 relies too much on electronic surveillance, which has blind spots. Real security needs the personal touch of the Special Branch—after all, didn't it keep the peace for nearly fifty years?
Anybody with a sense of the reality of things in the Nationalist North knows very well that the obstructed implementation of the GFA has had nothing like the impact on hearts and minds needed for Ritchie's policy. Informing still goes against the grain.
Our position, maintained from the start of things, is that Britain set up a catastrophical political situation in the North, and that asserting a moral obligation to inform is no solution.
(Incidentally, Ritchie's remarks were studiously ignored by the Irish News.)
On June 10th Garret FitzGerald had an article on the North, called Resisting Voice Of Unreason In Wake Of Killings. He begins by telling us that four months before Bloody Sunday happened in January 1972 he had gone to Belfast at the invitation of "a moderate unionist minister" to act as intermediary in "the stand-off" between the Unionist devolved Government and the SDLP. He does not explain that the "stand-off" took the form of the withdrawal of the SDLP from Stormont and its establishment of an "Alternative Assembly", i.e. the basis of an alternative governing system in Strabane. It is unlikely that most of his readers would remember that detail.
He acted as intermediary, for several weeks, between the Government established by law, and the revolutionary system proclaimed by the SDLP—if it was in earnest, then it was revolutionary.
It seemed for a moment that Brian Faulkner, the Stormont Prime Minister,
"might be prepared to concede power sharing in government. However, provoked by the intensity of the IRA bombing, Faulkner backed off, choosing instead to sign internment orders for over 200 of those who had been detained several weeks earlier…"
"Power-sharing" is an imprecise term. Its minimal meaning must be the concession of a degree of formal political power by the party that wins an election to the party that loses. In its maximum form it gives a department of government to every party that gains a certain percentage of the vote and allows it to govern that department more or less independently, with the effect that there is no Cabinet.
In the Summer of 1971 Faulkner offered the SDLP an initial minimal degree of power-sharing. The offer was made in Stormont, which is on a hill outside Belfast, out of hearing of the life of the city. The SDLP members, who had conjured Faulkner into an ogre over the preceding years, were bowled over by his offer to them of the Chairmanship of a number of Parliamentary Committees with real power, which he proposed to set up. We wondered at the time if Gerry Fitt, Paddy Devlin and John Hume, when they came down from the hill of Stormont and found themselves once more amongst their populace, would begin making the case for acceptance of Faulkner's offer—which he had every reason to think they had accepted. They didn't. On every occasion when there was a practical decision to be made which would have given substance to their claim to be "Constitutional nationalists", they did not make it. They did not lead. They had no confidence in their ability to persuade public opinion to support a course of action which they thought was good, but which went against the grain of prevailing opinion, or rhetoric.
So, having welcomed the offer, they soon realised they did not have it in them to commit themselves to it. They found themselves in a dilemma, looking for a way out. They dealt with their problem by never going back to Stormont after welcoming the offer. They declared a boycott of Stormont and went down the country to set up their Alternative Assembly.
Many years later they said they were obliged to leave Stormont because Faulkner introduced internment without trial, and we had to remind them that they had pulled out before Internment, and that their pull-out contributed to the situation which Faulkner tried to contain by Internment.
The incident which they used as an excuse for pulling out was the shooting of a youth in Derry by the British Army, which Faulkner did not command.
Has FitzGerald forgotten Faulkner's offer? Or did he never notice it in the first place? It seemed to us in those days that his mind was so overloaded with confused ideology when he looked North that mere facts could not register on it.
A few days after Bloody Sunday, FitzGerald was in Derry. He had a meal in "an SDLP house". He was helping with the washing-up when—
"a woman said to me “Isn't it great that so many are joining?” “Joining what?” I asked bemused. “The IRA, of course”, another woman answered. It was clear that the killings were already destabilising the North and our State also, as we saw on returning to Dublin. When we stopped en route we saw on the news the British Embassy in flames, as a crowd cheered on the arsonists…"
There was a Dail debate on Bloody Sunday. Jack Lynch said people "proclaiming to be members of illegal organisations" were going about saying they had been given a free hand on the North. Blaney said "the Six Counties were now ours for the taking". (This is FitzGerald's summary.) "My own remarks about what I described as Neil Blaney's “war policy” provoked him to describe me as a liar and a “ranting halfwit”…"
(It is hard to know whether to characterise FitzGerald as devious or obtuse.)
"During that debate a dangerous boil was lanced. The solidarity of our democratic politicians won through, against the tide of emotion about the Derry atrocity that could so easily have overwhelmed us. Understandably, reactions in the North were less rational. Nationalists did not feel part of a democratic system that they had an interest in defending…"
Were Northern feelings in accordance with Northern facts? Or were those Northerners in denial about facts? Was there a democratic system with which their feelings were out of joint, or did their feeling express the fact that there was no democracy in the North? That is something on which FitzGerald could never make up his mind. If the system in the North was not democratic, what point is there in blathering on about being democratic in it—when all that can be meant is that one should peacefully accept the lack of democracy?
And, if Blaney's was "a war policy", FitzGerald's was not a peace policy. It was a policy of tampering and mischief-making. He could neither let the North be—because he had a Northern Presbyterian mother, he said—nor take the trouble to understand what it was, so that he might interfere in ways that did not make trouble.
In travelling from Derry to Dublin, he could not leave the one State behind him when entering the other, and apply in each the standard of "rationality" appropriate to it. There was no common standard applicable to both. There is no universal political rationality. Political rationality is shaped by the complex of things that make a State functional—laws, customs, ceremonies, ideals, social institutions, political institutions. No Dublin politician—except Haughey—has taken a sober look at the North simply for the purpose of understanding what the hell it is. He concluded that it "was not a viable political entity", and did not tamper with it to make mischief, as FitzGerald did at every opportunity. That, no doubt, was Haughey's "flawed pedigree". In the company of fantasists and ideologists, he could see what was there. He was the odd man out. He did not belong. He was at least a one-eyed man amongst the blind, and was resented for the flawed pedigree that gave him an eye.
FitzGerald has a perfect pedigree for a Dublin politician. He cannot see the North for what it is—for "an nidh mar ta", as a poet once commended an Old Fenian for doing. He makes mischief there, not knowing what he's doing, and he feels good about it.
In 1973-74 FitzGerald pulled a fast one on Faulkner's Unionists, and got devolved power-sharing in Belfast and a Council of Ireland. When the trickery was exposed, there was a strong Unionist demand that the Council of Ireland should be called off. FitzGerald (who was Foreign Minister in a Coalition and acted jointly with the late C.C. O'Brien) insisted that the whole must be pushed through. We said that Power-Sharing might be saved if the Council was deferred as a sacrifice to the exposed chicanery. But Dublin stood firm, and the SDLP stood firm, and the ground slipped away from under them. Power-Sharing went, along with the Council.
Eleven years after that FitzGerald was Taoiseach. He made a deal with Thatcher which anyone who could see the North as it was would have known was certain to drive the Unionists crazy. It did drive them crazy. John Hume said that was a good thing: a boil needed to be brought up in order to be lanced.
If FitzGerald knew what he was doing, then he knew he was planting a goad in the Unionist neck. And that was "Constitutional nationalism"! It encouraged Unionists to make no real distinction between Constitutional nationalists and the other kind, and to see the difference as tactical role-playing.
Barry Desmond, A Labour TD, was not happy with the FitzGerald/Thatcher Agreement. He asked us to draft a speech for him to deliver in the Dail debate. We did so, and sent it by Special Overnight delivery—there were no Emails then, and Faxes were rare. The letter was held up in the post until after the debate. And our colleagues in Dublin found themselves being shadowed closely by Special Branch. FitzGerald pulled out all the stops to prevent dissent from being expressed.
Nevertheless Garret is Good. There is a Jewish belief that there is one Just Man in every generation, though nobody may know who he is. Everybody knows that Garret is the One Just Man for our generation. The difficulty is in seeing why. It is certainly not because of what he has done.
Trouble With Moderates. Editorial