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From: Irish Political Review: Articles
Date: August, 2021
By: Editorial

NI: Behind The Moral Veil. Editorial

NI: Behind The Moral Veil!rnA War was fought in Northern Ireland between the Catholic, or Nationalist, community there and the State. Wars are fought over crnA War was fought in Northern Ireland between the Catholic, or Nationalist, community there and the State. Wars are fought over conflicts of interest, and, until 1918, they were usually ended by negotiated agreements which took account of the strength of the conflicting parties as demonstrated in the war. In that 1918 era, war was thought of as “the reason of kings”, and it was therefore a manageable business of secular life.rnrnIn 1914, unfortunately, Britain annulled the mode of civilised warfare that had been making progress for a couple of centuries and reverted to the mode of religious war. It denied in August 1914 that it was going to war for any material advantage, and, urged on by John Redmond’s Home Rule Party, it declared that its war of destruction on Germany (which was described as such by James Connolly and Roger Casement) was a war of Good against Evil. A condition of frantically moralistic public opinion was worked up during the War, which made it impossible for Britain to make a realistically advantageous peace settlement with the defeated enemy. The defeated enemy had to be punished because he was evil, and the fact that he was evil was proved by his defeat. When Providence is brought into the game, trial by combat becomes fair trial. And so the ground for Britain’s second World War was laid down by its conduct during the first year after winning the first.rnrnOnce you get into the fugue of Good and Evil, it’s hard to get out of it. It was said in 1998 that Tony Blair considered stepping away from it by declaring an amnesty for all concerned, but was told by Dublin that it was out of the question.rnrnBoris Johnson has now made a definite proposal to legislate for an amnesty. The Northern Ireland Assembly, on an SDLP initiative, recalled itself from its Summer holiday for the purpose of expressing unanimous rejection of an Amnesty. All parties are eager to continue the War by other means.rnNicola Mallon found the proposal disgusting. She said that it would “not be acceptable to any other democracy in the world”. No doubt it wouldn’t. But what other democracy in the world could have got itself into the situation of having a 28-year War fought within itself, in which the State at one moment had deployed an army of 28,000 troops?rnrnNaomi Long of Alliance said it was “utterly shameful” and would leave perpetrators free to boast of their deeds. We recall that the precursors of the Alliance Party in 1969-70 desired British normality, and flirted with making an issue of the abnormal way that Britain governed its Six Counties, but lost their nerve and evaded the issue, as Alliance has been doing ever since.rnrnAnd where did she get the idea from that Northern Ireland has ever been a democracy, or even a democraticallygoverned region of the British state?rnrnIt lies outside the institutions which make the democracy of the state work, the state political parties. It did not reject those parties, but was rejected by them. We characterised it long ago as an undemocratically-governed region of the democratic British state. It is now governed more tolerably than it was before 1998, but it remains disengaged from the democracy of the state.rnrnMichael McDowell, who was once Attorney General in Dublin, and has the famous state-terrorist Eoin McNeill in his family tree, supports the Amnesty proposal, even though—rnrn“it is almost entirely motivated by a desire to satisfy right-wing British media and establishment guilt and shame about the spectacle of seeing old men being punished by British courts for doing the dirty work that was asked and expectedrnrnBoth Unionist Parties condemned the Amnesty proposal as a betrayal whichrnrn“For my part I think not. There is a world of realpolitik in which statesmanship sometimes requires that a line be drawn over past events—including atrocities—in pursuit of the greater good. “I wrote recently how the Free State government enacted legislation in 1923 indemnifying its own side from civil or criminal responsibility for things done in the course of the Irish Civil War. A year later, the logic of statecraft and fairness persuaded that government to extend criminal immunity to those who had taken up arms against them in the civil war” (Irish Times, 21st July).rnrnAnd was it not the case that the Free State, as the successor state of the British Government, assumed responsibility, under the ‘Treaty’, for all that Britain had done in its attempt to prevent any Irish state from being established?rnrnAnd the great British Constitutional authority, Dicey, explained how Britain after its wars usually passed retrospective legislation, legalising anything it might have done in the course of the war that might have been illegal at the time it was done. (Such is “the rule of law”.)rnrnMcDowell continues:rnrn“What then do I say about cross-party unanimity among northern politicians in condemnation of Johnson’s amnesty proposal? … I am not impressed by the fact that no one will speak up for drawing a line over past criminality in Northern Ireland.rnrn“There is an analogy in such cross-party unanimity in the North with the concept of a circular firing squad. None share the same target but all are ready to open fire.”rnrnSo the shooting is over but the conflict continues by other means. And it is notrnrn2 those who fought the war who are to the fore in insisting that it must continue. The ‘Constitutional Nationalists’ are the most implacable. They did not fight, but when a deal was struck and the fighting stopped they lost their electoral support to the political wing of the war party. And, if the fighting is exonerated by a formal amnesty, then their virtue in condemning the fighting is slighted.rnrnThey were affronted by Blair during the peace negotiations by being told that the problem with them was that they had no army. If they were not a party to the War, how could they be a party to the settlement of it? A formal amnesty would rub salt into their injured holierthan-thouness.rnrnThe new, ‘Provisional’, IRA declared war on Britain in 1970. The old, and therefore ‘Official’ IRA, which had entered an ideological wonderland, condemned the Provisional War as sectarian, because it was based on the realities of the life of the Catholic community in the North and on the Constitutional assertion of all-Ireland nationality. The Officials also declared their own war, as a revolutionary antiImperialist war to overthrow the system and thus transcend the sectarian structure of life in Northern Ireland.rnrnThe Official Republican War was a war without a tangible object in the actual existence of things. It amounted to a few atrocities, the chief of which was the accidental killing of a few cleaners in Aldershot Barracks—an act which was defended in Hibernia by Ann Harris, later Editor of the Sunday Independent. During the following generation that paper was the chief organ of the anti-Provisional propaganda of the Dublin Government.rnrnThe War declared by the Provisionals quickly developed into an actual war, sustained by the actual support of the actual Nationalist minority, as distinct from its pious ghost represented by the SDLP. One could not doubt in central Belfast in the Summer of 1971 that one was living in a battlefield.rnrnA Government on which war has been declared, one which is being waged effectively, cannot be expected just to carry on as usual. It introduced Internment in August 1971. Elements of the Nationalist population which the Government suspected of being vital elements in the War that was being waged against it were interned and subjected to intensive questioning. This publication at the time described the internees as prisoners-of-war.rnrnThe essential question then as now was whether there was a War in being. We recognised that what was happening was a War, but held that it was a War for an unachievable purpose: the ending of Partition.rnrnWhat we advocated was a thorough restructuring of the way the Six Counties were governed, because the existing system of government, and not Partition as such, was the driving force in the War.rnrnThe SDLP denied that what was going on was a War, and it gave absolute priority in its policy-making to the ending of Partition. And, in response to Internment, it raised the slogan of “No imprisonment without trial”.rnrnThe anti-internment movement launched by it was a movement for the criminalisation of military action by Republicans. The Government complied with the demand by making changes to the trial process which made conviction easier.rnrnMrs. Thatcher came in. The process of criminalisation was completed. Political status—prisoner of war status—was ended. The campaign for the restoration of political status began.rnrnThe leadership of the Provisionals handled all of those things to its advantage. The SDLP leadership didn’t know whether it was coming or going. The Mallon element lived in a doctrinaire wonderland, and tried to oust John Hume when he collaborated with the Provisionals with a view to bringing about a pragmatic settlement—i.e., one that would work, rather than one that was ‘right’ in some other sense.rnrnWe don’t know what Hume’s views about Amnesty were in 1998. He was in poor health and seemed anxious to retire from it all. But Dublin was not in favour. It is probable that Charles Haughey would have pushed for amnesty, but he was no longer Taoiseach and he was being demonised.rnrnTo argue for Amnesty would involve acknowledging that a War had been fought, and that, if a War had been fought there must have been grounds for it, and that those grounds mush have been located in a chasm in the legal/ Constitutional arrangement of things.rnrn“Malaya, Kenya, Aden, Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland”—does Northern Ireland really belong in that series? The others were all British Imperial possessions of various kinds. They were not members of the Britishrnrnstate in any other sense than being possessed by it. Northern Ireland was a region of the British state. The Six Counties had been governed as part of the state until the Government of the state in 1921 chose to delegate some minor powers of state to them, constituting them a devolved Government, as a devious, Pontius Pilate, way of enacting Partition—while at the same time retaining complete sovereignty over them in the Westminster Parliament.rnrnWhen they were constituted into the subordinate Government of Northern Ireland, the Six Counties were excluded from the sphere of operation of the political parties of the state, and therefore of an effective input into the democratic business of choosing which of those parties should govern the state. They continued to send representatives to the Westminster Parliament but these representatives could not be Tory or Labour, or even Liberal. They could therefore only be onlookers at the process of government.rnrnThe Nationalist community could send a couple of Nationalist MPs to Westminster, but there was nothing for them to do there. Six County affairs were ruled out of order at Westminster, on the ground that the Six Counties had their own Government. But the only real matter at issue in Six County politics was whether they should remain in the United Kingdom state or transfer to the Irish state. A majority of the population wanted to remain within the UK statethough excluded from its main political institutions.rnrnThey were allowed to remain on the condition that they stuck together as a voting block and won every electionwhich they did. By doing so, they caused the welfare state to come to Northern Ireland without having to struggle for the reform.rnrnThe Unionist Party had not wanted to run a Six County Government in which they would have to govern Catholics, but they agreed to have it on condition that British social welfare reform would come to Northern Ireland as a matter of course, and at British expense. At a moment when Whitehall considered backing away from that deal, the Unionist leaders indicated that, unless the deal was upheld, they would hand the governing of the Six Counties back to Westminster. That was the main event in the political history of Northern Ireland, and it was transacted behind the scenes.rnrnUnionism had to mobilise its majority at every election, leaving political and social reform to be dealt with by thernrnparties of the state. The only real power of state devolved to it was that of policing. Policing chiefly meant keeping the large Catholic minority down. And that power of policing had to be exercised by a Six County Unionist Party which had the anti-Catholic Orange Order as a central institution, which had to be maintained in order to bring out the Protestant majority for the Union at every election.rnrnA more aggravating mode of government for the Catholic population would not be easy to devise.rnrnThe upshot was that the State, which was a liberal democracy, ended up fighting a war against a part of itself which it had outraged by excluding it from the democracy of the state and subjecting it to the government of a hostile local community, while supplying both communities from outside with the amenities of the welfare state.rnrnIt appears that Blair was willing to end the War by means of an amnesty. But that would have involved conceding that it had been a war. And how could the Government of a liberal, democratic state explain that, in the arrangements of the state, ground had been created for the waging of a war?rnrnDublin might have helped by insisting that, since there had in fact been a war, there must have been grounds for it. But Dublin was even more hypocritically Constitutionalist than the SDLP.rnrnThe Constitution of the state had delegitimised the Six County Government, and that must have had some influence on bringing about the conditions for war.rnrnBut Dublin did not condemn Stormont for being patently undemocratic by anybody’s standards. It was the fact of continuing British government that it condemned. And, when a movement developed in the North to bring the region within the democracy of the British state, Dublin lobbied Whitehall against it.rnrnThe Constitution asserted a right of national sovereignty over the Six Counties but deferred the enforcement of national jurisdiction for the time being. This left the British State in the position of an Occupying Power in Six Counties.rnrnThe Provisional IRA likewise saw Britain as an Occupying Power and declared war on it.rnrnThe Courts of the Irish state, taking note of the Constitution, refused to recognise Extradition Warrants issued by the Occupying Power.rnrnWe do not recall that the Dublin Government ever explained what itrnrn4 thought the Constitutional position was when the Provisional IRA declared war on the State which the Taoiseach was obliged by the Constitution to regard as an Occupying Power, without Constitutional legitimacy.rnrnWe campaigned from 1970 onwards for a repeal of the Sovereignty claim over the North, in order to encourage negotiations between the two communities in the North, and between the North and the South.rnrnIn 1974 the claim became crucial to the continuation of the Sunningdale Agreement. A Power-Sharing Government between the SDLP and one of the Unionist Parties was set up, and also a joint Council between the new Belfast Government and the Dublin Government. It was widely assumed in Unionist circles that the sovereignty claim was set aside by the Agreement. But that could not have been the case because the Irish Constitution was a written one, alterable only by referendum.rnrnA Court action against the Government for breach of the Constitution was brought in Dublin. The Government pleaded that, in signing the Agreement, it had done no more than say that it was not its policy to enforce the sovereignty claim, which remained in place for any future Government to enforce at its discretion. A Unionist group, taking note of this Government statement, said that, if the setting up of the Council of Ireland went ahead while the sovereignty claim was in place, it would call a general strike against it.rnrnDublin refused to negotiate a deferral of the Council of Ireland or to call a referendum to repeal the sovereignty claim. The SDLP did likewise. The Strike was effective. The government pulled down the whole Sunningdale system. The situation settled down to War for a generation. The IRA fought and negotiated it way to he 1998 deal, and told Dublin that it could now repeal the Sovereignty claim.rnrnDuring that 24 years the South suffered severe cultural and political disintegration. It repealed the Sovereignty claim only when it no longer mattered—the War having been fought. And, down to the present day, the Fianna Fail party—the major party during the War, though now a caricature of itself—refuses to acknowledge that the ‘Troubles’ were a War, and treats Sinn Fein as a gang of criminals.rnrnWars have standing in human history. ‘Troubles’ have no standing. Wars can be ended,andincidentswithin them can be written off. ‘Troubles’ are shapeless and ongoing. *rnrnLiam Kennedy from Tipperary, who is both an Irish Times columnist and Professor of History in Belfast, preached on July 19th:rnrn“Disavowal of past violence key to laying moral foundation for united Ireland: Time for Sinn Fein to offer public apology for Troubles”.rnrnProfessor Kennedy apparently does not know that he is the handsomely-paid propagandist of a State which arranged for the Six County region of itself to be governed outside the democratic politics of the state. And he does not know that a War was fought there. He sees what went on from the 1970s to the 1990s as “the most prolonged period of intercommunal violence in the North since 1700”. He doesn’t notice that the State was a major party to it, and that the Unionist community was involved only because it would not allow its side of the conflict to be fought by the forces of the State.rnrnThe State—which was its Stateasserted a monopoly of the use of force, but the Unionists refused to leave it to the State forces to conduct the War. It insisted on contributing its bit of communal violence to the conflict.rnrnThe Nationalist community did not see the State as its State. It had no grounds for doing so. It was not a participant in State affairs. It was an outcast of State affairs by decision of the State.rnrnIf moralising could have overcome what was an acute political problem, it would have been done in the great days of the Peace People. But the Peace People deliberately set aside political facts in the interest of moralising, so their movement amounted to nothing.rnrnProfessor Kennedy advocated Truth and Reconciliation. This is of a kind with Mrs. Thatcher’s comparison of State budgeting with Household budgeting.rnrnTruth and Reconciliation have to do with family affairs. Wars are State affairs. And, as soon as Truth and Reconciliation were mentioned over 20 years ago, Michael Mates, the influentialTory backbencher, said there was no way the British Army would get involved in that subjectivist morass.rnrnThe great success story of Truth and Reconciliation is South Africa where, at the cost of some token admissions, the Whites were guaranteed possession of the land they had conquered and the Blacks, under ANC tutelage, agreed to make do with nominal democracy, and are now beginning to see that they were swindled.rnrnIn affairs of State, there is always something behind moral posturing.