From Irish Political Review: March 2006
Bunkum And Balderdyce
Northern Ireland is part of the British State but is marginal to British politics. That was the case when it was peaceful under Protestant communal dominance from 1923 to 1968. It remained the case when representatives of the Catholic community declared war on Britain and waged it with unexpected intensity for a quarter of a century. And it is still the case now that the War has ended. The outcome of the War is not a settlement. Northern Ireland is not a thing in which a constitutional settlement is possible. The outcome is a great shift in the power balance between the two communities.
The Catholic community is no longer supervised, or restricted, or officially harassed by the Protestant community, except insofar as the Loyalist paramilitary elements act in collusion with the British security apparatus. And that marks a great change. The respectable Unionist middle class no longer rules over the Catholic community as it used to in its good old days. And, in this new situation, the qualities of entrepreneurship and civic ability, once alleged to be attributes of Protestantism, are now much more in evidence in the other community.
We did not support the War, or encourage the movement that led to it—as 'constitutional nationalists' like Lord Fitt did—but we find the assertion that the war achieved nothing patently absurd. We hear the assertion, both from Unionist intellectuals like Professor Bew and from the SDLP, that, because the War did not achieve a united Ireland it achieved nothing, and even that it delayed the unification of Ireland, which the 'constitutionalists' were on verge of achieving in 1970. This is the compensatory fantasy of ideologues who have failed in their own projects.
In terms of its origins, the War must be judged a success. Its origins did not lie in Articles 2 & 3 of the Eire Constitution. It was not an irredentist war. It is true that Jack Lynch made irredentist claims when stirring it up in 1969, but in 1970 he changed his mind under British pressure, washed his hands of all he had done, and prosecuted those he had ordered to do it.
The word 'irredentist' is bandied around meaninglessly, but ominously, by Dublin intellectuals nowadays. An irredentist war is a war waged by a state for a territory that it considers to belong to it by national right.
The Dublin Government, supported by those who are most hostile to irredentism, is hell-bent on celebrating the Battle of the Somme, which was the most horrific event in the greatest irredentist war ever fought. Without the French irredentist claim on Alsace-Lorraine there would have been no Great War in 1914, and the glory of the Somme would be unknown to us.
The other irredentist element in the Great War was the Italian claim on the Austrian territory. Britain supported that claim in order to bring Italy into the War and allied itself with Mussolini for that purpose.
The Italian State invaded its irredenta—its "unredeemed" territory. Jack Lynch, while claiming the Six Counties as the irredenta of his State, did not launch a war to regain them. The issue might have been resolved more effectively if he had done so. But he didn't.
The War originated within the irredenta, being produced by systematic misgovernment of the irredenta by the State which held it.
Nothing like that happened in Germany or Austria. As Roger Casement pointed out, Alsace settled down as an integral part of the German Empire, with its own extensive self-government, after being forfeited to Germany by France through its war of aggression against Germany in 1870.
That was not surprising, since the population of Alsace was predominantly German speaking. But the population of the Italian irredenta (Trentino and Tyrol) was not predominantly German speaking, and yet it participated in the politics of the Austrian State. The territory did not come to Italy by internal insurrection. It was conquered by the Army of the Italian State.
Without irredentist wars by the French and Italian States, Alsace would have remained German and the Trentino Austrian, for the reason that each lived politically within the democracy of its state.
In Northern Ireland, by contrast, there was an insurrection against systematic misgovernment by the British State, and that insurrection was condemned by the 26 County State, despite the irredentist claim on the 6 Counties which was part of its Constitution until a few years ago.
If, instead of an insurrection provoked by British misgovernment, there had been an irredentist war waged by Dublin pursuant to its Constitutional claim, and the war ended with the 6 Counties still part of the British State, it would be reasonable to judge it a failure.
But an insurrection against systematic misgovernment, sustained for a quarter of a century against the coercive apparatus of both States, and repudiated by the irredentist State, must be judged on other terms.
Of course the insurrection took on a United Ireland aim, but we know very well, from close observation at the critical period, that its cause was not the ideal of a United Ireland. "British Rights For British Citizens" is hardly an anti-Partition slogan. It was the denial of those rights that caused the insurrection.
We took no part in the Civil Rights agitation, but we took that Civil Rights slogan in earnest—much too earnestly for the Constitutional nationalists who wanted British rights for Irish citizens. And we demonstrated that the government of the 6 Counties within the democracy of the British State was something that British governing circles would not entertain, and that both the SDLP and the Unionist Parties opposed it vehemently.
The SDLP was fixated on Northern Irelandism. It ruled out a settlement within British politics. Northern Irelandism means the conflict of communities. And all that is achievable within that conflict is an alteration of the power balance.
Provo Sinn Fein arose out of the conflict of communities, but sought an escape from it through all-Ireland politics. It has achieved a substantial alteration in the communal power-balance, which is deniable only on the basis of amnesia—or of the briefings on which BBC functionaries conduct interviews. And it has established a form of all-Ireland politics for the first time in 80 years. It has secured a political basis for itself in the political life of the irredentist state which has repudiated its irredenta.
As we said at the outset, Northern Ireland is marginal to British politics. That is because its voting is a meaningless activity conducted outside the conflicts of the British party system. There are no votes in it, so it doesn't count. We were always of the opinion that bombing could not shift it from the margins. Britain is a militaristic state and a militaristic society. War is its element. We do not say there was no merit in bombing it. Punishment of the irresponsible conduct of a State—most of all a democratic one—deserves something other than routine condemnations. But no quantity of bombs from Northern Ireland could equal the effect of the possibility of a handful of seats changing hands between the Tory and Labour Parties. Britain is a state consisting of a system of party politics, and anything outside the party system is only a marginal nuisance.
And of course Britain does not believe in peace, except as a slogan for making war. It is not organised for peace. It is organised for power. What it means by peace is power which has been achieved. Peace in any other sense it treats as Utopian.
Knowing what Britain was—even while attempting to bring the 6 Counties within its political system—and knowing what the only possible internal content of politics in Northern Ireland was—we were sceptical of the Good Friday Agreement from the start. Eight years later we are not surprised that it is not working. The only surprise—and it is not a great surprise—is that Sinn Fein should have achieved such clear electoral dominance over the SDLP under an arrangement devised by the SDLP.
Meanwhile, government goes on as usual. IRA Raid Gang Was Ready To Kill Hostages, Orde Tells Writer. That was an Irish News headline on 17th December. Orde is the Chief Constable. He said well over a year ago that the Provos robbed the Northern Bank. And the Taoiseach and his Minister of the Interior added the information that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness planned it, but they neglected to pass their evidence over to the Chief Constable so that he could arrest them. However, the Chief Constable has arrested a couple of people in connection with the robbery, none of whom have been named as members of the IRA. And one of them turns out to be one of the hostages, i.e., of the bank staff, that he had earlier said the gang was ready to kill.
There was considerable excitement about a year ago, when a hoard of a couple of million pounds cash was found in a house in Cork. It was said at first to be part of the robbery, but later it was said that the possibility that it was from the robbery was being investigated. It seems that the investigations are still ongoing with no definite result. But what honest reason could anybody have for keeping millions of pounds cash in a box?
The Celtic Tigger has not yet caught up with itself in these matters. Or, rather, the Tiggers, the Winnie-the-Pooh petty-bourgeoisie of the media, have been left behind by the Tigers. The economy is booming, and the Tigers who make it boom are incomprehensible to the Tiggers who look on and moralise—or sentimentalise.
The man with the millions in cash was a money-lender, and also a well-known public figure who was strongly critical of the way banks were going. He facilitated economic transactions by lending money in cash, and it has not been suggested that his loans were secured by the Mafia methods. The millions in cash that so impressed the Tiggers amounted only to the price of a few houses, with the way prices are going in Cork these days—and there is now a brisk business in property transactions between Ireland and England—and even with Europe.
Presumably these transactions are conducted within the informal economy. But it is Utopian to suppose that there could be a booming economy without a substantial informal dimension. And informal money transactions are not the same thing as money laundering.
The man in question is not being held in custody and has not been charged with anything. And the Tiggers have not commented on this.
Meanwhile the affair of the two IMCs goes merrily on
A body with the formal title of Independent International Decommissioning Commission was set up under the GFA and a Canadian General was appointed to head it. It was invariably known as the International Monitoring Commission, or the initials IMC.
An inquiry into RUC/Loyalist paramilitary collusion to murder obnoxious Catholics was also set up, and also under a Canadian, Judge Cory. Judge Cory took the trouble to see how things stood in such matters in 'the Northern Ireland state'. He refused, politely but firmly, all offers of assistance from the British Government and its institutions, set up his headquarters in the Canadian Embassy, selected his own staff, conducted an inquiry independently of the state, and produced a Report which he gave to the Government many months ago, which the Government has refused to publish.
There was nothing to be done with Judge Cory but the get the compliant media, North and South, to keep him out of the news.
This could not be done with General de Chastelain, who has an ongoing function under the GFA. So, when he conducted his investigations independently of the Governments, as the agent of what we were told was an International Treaty, the governments retaliated by setting up a kind of counterfeit body with the same initials: Lord Alderdyce's dependent Independent International Monitoring Commission. This could only have been done for the purpose of generating public confusion, and for having a rival body to General de Chastelain's, which would do for the Governments what the Chief Constable did domestically—issue politically convenient reports.
Alderdyce's IMC consists of himself and three political appointees from the intelligence services of Britain, the Republic and the USA.
De Chastelain drew up a report on IRA decommissioning in January, and gave a copy to Alderdyce's IMC, along with the Governments. Its publication was delayed to coincide with the publication of the Alderdyce Commission's report.
It is a virtual certainty that Alderdyce's political committee would have confirmed de Chasterlain's report that decommissioning had been accomplished, if it was judged that the Democratic Unionist Party could be pressed to agree to work the devolved institutions. But the DUP was intransigent. The Alderdyce Committee therefore drew up a rival report, disputing de Chastelain's conclusion that the IRA had fully met its commitments. It did not do this on the basis of evidence refuting de Chastelain, but on the basis of unsubstantiated doubts that decommissioning was complete. (This hinges on the fact that a negative cannot be demonstrated. It can never be shown that nothing else exists.) And Alderdyce set about spoiling de Chastelain's positive report by leaking his own response to it before it was issued.
Brian Feeney (ex-SDLP but not Sinn Fein) rather lost his bearings when he rushed on the BBC in December 2004 to say that the Provos had done the Northern Bank job and that the GFA had therefore been premature. And he now treats The Alderdyce Committee as being independent. The headline of his Irish News column on 8th February was IMC Suits Last-Ditchers In The DUP. He takes Alderdyce to be a loose cannon, rather than a servant of the state doing what he knows his master requires. And he asks: "What happens next year when the DUP is ready to sign up to a deal with SF only for the IMC to emerge and provide another dollop of what Martin McGuinness called 'Balderdice'?"
What will happen then is that Lord John will say what is required of him then. He is a hollow, pretentious individual without the substance to buck the state. And, if he tried to do so, he would find life becoming less pleasant. The British State knows how to handle wayward impulses in its minor servants.
The IMC got an outing on the Vincent Browne Show on Radio Eireann (1st February).
Browne hasn't taken the trouble to understand the public set-up in the North, any more than any other politician or political commentator in the South since Sean Lemass harassed the old Nationalist Party into taking on the official role of Loyal Opposition in the old Stormont Parliament, in which there was no actual role for an Opposition.
Browne veers irrationally between two contradictory attitudes—Sinn Fein is the only hope, and Sinn Fein is a curse on the land. Interviews invariably run the same course—reasonable discussion giving way to a rant as he is overcome by the thought of all the suffering there has been. They might be summarised thus:
"It's great what you're doing Gerry. We'd be in a bad way without you. But there's just one little thing. Ah, Gerry, Gerry, why can't you say it. Why can't you just say you're a murdering swine? We all know it, so what's the point of denying it?"
Vincent Browne, Wednesday, 1st February 2006, questioning Aengus O Snodaigh, Sinn Fein TD (transcript)
Vincent Browne:—…One of the points made by the International Monitoring Commission is that the IRA is still engaged in intelligence gathering on politicians and other public servants…
…Aengus, the fact is that the International Monitoring Commission, based on Intelligence information, have said that the IRA is engaged in intelligence gathering, that the IRA hasn't decommissioned all its weapons, and that the IRA continues to engage in criminal activities…
O Snodaigh: And who is this body? Three spooks and a Lord. One is a former deputy Director of the CIA, which kidnaps people and tortures them around the world. The other is the head of an anti-terrorist squad——
Browne (impatiently): Ah, alright. It doesn't make——
O Snodaigh: No, it does make——
Browne: These people are getting their information from the Intelligence Services, North and South.
O Snodaigh: Unsubstantiated, inaccurate rumours. Yet the person who has been dealing directly with the various armed groups, and now unarmed group, the IRA, General de Chastelain, issued a statement saying that he met even the Gardai, who confirmed that they had no knowledge of any IRA arms being retained. So are we to believe Jeffrey Donaldson and unknown spooks, or unknown PSNI members, or——
Browne: But sure General de Chastelain was reliant on the same spooks——
O Snodaigh: No, no, no. He was reliant on the people he had met, and also Gardai.
Browne: No, he was relying on the same spooks. That was the point I was making to Jeffrey Donaldson.
O Snodaigh: He was not.
Browne: But of course he is.
O Snodaigh: If you read John de Chastelain's statement——
Browne: But, he——
O Snodaigh: And who do we we believe? The institution that was set up by the Good Friday Agreement, or——
Browne: But Aengus——
O Snodaigh: ——or an institution that was set up specifically to help Unionists get over a problem them had with the GFA.
Browne: But you're critical of the International Monitoring Committee being reliant on spooks. And you're relying on the Decommissioning Commission. But I'm saying the Decommissioning Commission also was reliant on information obtained from spooks, as to the quantity of Arms that the IRA had.
O Snodaigh: And also on what the IRA said to them, if you look at John de Chastelain's statement. And——
Browne: Why should anybody pay any attention to that?
O Snodaigh: What's the point in having the Peace Process if you're not willing to trust each other? And that was the whole aspect. Whereas there's never been trust with the Monitoring Commission because it was a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. It was set up specifically to undermine it, if you want. And it continues to do so in this report.
Jeffrey Donaldson. Is it likely that there will be negotiations in the next while?
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