Editorial from Irish Political Review, December 2006
"And so it goes!", as the French used to say, regardless of whether it went or not. Bungled in conception and therefore bungled in execution, Northern Ireland is indestructible for the reason that it doesn't actually exist as something in itself. It is a kind of buffer between the two states that do exist, and they insist that it must continue! They pretend to set rules for its continuance but everybody knows that they're bogus. Under the St. Andrew's rules Paisley was required to nominate a shadow First Minister on 24th November. At the appropriate moment he said very clearly that he would not nominate, but the two Governments pretended that he had nominated, or at least that he had not refused to nominate. And Michael Stone, who shot up the funeral of Mairead Farrell with the help of the police in better times, turned up at the front door with a bag of bombs at the critical moment, though crippled with arthritis, and provided a welcome element of confusion for the authorities, who were determined to keep the show on the road regardless. And so it goes.
And now we wait until March, when something will happen, or will not happen, or will happen by not happening: whatever.
Jim Gibney of Sinn Fein, who writes a column in the Irish News, said on October 19th that November 24th…
"could be a Nelson Mandela-de Klerk moment" or—"an Arafat-Rabin moment on the White House lawn with much better prospects. It could be a moment when the planter and the Gael cross the Rubicon together. A moment when 400 years of conflict and division between Planter and Gael recede to allow in a potentially fresh vista".
The column is entitled, Chance To Put Politics Of Partition Behind Us.
Now, whatever one thinks of apartheid South Africa, it was a state. And the Boers, a people that had fought wars and conducted affairs of state, concluded that a situation had arisen in which they could not preserve total political mastery for much longer, so they cut a deal under which the blacks got the vote and the whites continued to hold their property. As for the Arafat-Rabin affair, it was a swindle, since the Jewish colonisation was to continue under it. Its purpose from the US/Israel viewpoint was to bring the exiled Fatah movement—which had been cut to shreds by Israeli assassinations—back to Palestine to fight a civil war with the Hamas movement, which had arisen on the ground under the Israeli occupation. But Arafat refused to make war on Hamas, and therefore he was demonised.
Neither situation bears much resemblance to Northern Ireland.
Eamon Phoenix, in his On This Day column in the Irish News on 22nd November, looked back to 1937, when the paper commented on a comparison made by the London Observer between Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia, and: "The Irish News took the view that Northern Ireland was, like Czechoslovakia, a purely artificial state".
This is how "constitutional nationalism" deludes itself.
Czechoslovakia demonstrated that it was an artificial state by handing over part of itself to Nazi Germany under British pressure, and by falling apart during the following year. Northern Ireland cannot do that because it is not a state at all, never was, and never can be.
The affair of 24th November could not have happened in a state.
Northern Ireland exists under the authority and supervision of a power external to itself—the power of the state to which it is attached but in whose government and political life it plays no part. This arrangement served a purpose of the British State, which is why it was made. The purpose could not have been good government of the 6 Counties. And it was not made in response to a demand from the 6 Co. Protestants. So its only conceivable purpose was to give Whitehall continuing purchase on the affairs of the 26 Counties after it was compelled to let them go.
We have said this hundreds of times without contradiction. If somebody can think of another purpose for which this unique political arrangement was made, we will publicise it.
We campaigned for twenty years to have the 6 Counties democratised into the political life of the state which holds them. There could be nothing more Constitutional than that. But the Constitutional Nationalists were venomous in their opposition to the project. The Unionists toyed with it but rejected it. And Whitehall was always completely opposed. The 6 Counties were to be governed outside the Constitutional life of the state which held them. That was the common ground of the Constitutional parties.
Northern Ireland has sometimes been compared to Lebanon, especially in the power-sharing aspect introduced in 1973. But the comparison is groundless because Lebanon is a state. It is not a state that brought itself into existence through the exercise of popular will. It was carved out of Syria by French Imperialism, and was given a Constitution designed to disable the majority and maintain in permanent power the social elements on which France thought it could rely. Nevertheless, it is a state, and it has a Constitution, and in those two respects it differs from Northern Ireland.
It is a confessional state, based on what in the North is called sectarianism. All the many sects, or peoples, have a place in government as of right. The Shia are the largest community, but they are denied proportionate representation. There is no official knowledge of how big they are, because no census has been taken for generations. A census, by showing the actual population balance, would endanger the Constitution. In all probability the Shia are a majority in the state, but it is necessary that this should not be officially acknowledged.
When the Constitution was made, the Shia were despised as people of no account, as Catholics in Ireland used to be. But, like the Irish Catholics, they made something of themselves, and are now pressing to be taken account of by the Constitutional regime.
Prime Minister Blair warned them recently that they must proceed by democratic means. His choice of words indicated that he knew Lebanon was not a democracy. He said in effect that democracy should only be achieved by democratic means. But that makes no sense. It only makes sense if the word Constitutional is exchanged for democratic. But that gives a veto on democratisation to certain parties within the undemocratic Constitution.
As we go to print there is a massive Shia sit-down in the main square of Beirut. A few months earlier there was an anti-Syrian demonstration by the parties of the established order. It was reported very sympathetically by the Western media, and it led to the withdrawal of a Syrian force which had helped to end the Lebanese Civil War and maintain peace after it. That was followed by the Israeli invasion, which was defeated by the Shia militia, Hizbollah. And Hizbollah had gained allies outside its own confessional sphere, which was a very dangerous development.
Then a member of an important Christian family was assassinated. The anti-Hizbollah parties blamed it on Syria without a shred of evidence, even though application of the test, Who benefits?, would point the finger at Israel—and assassination outside its own borders is a long-established Israeli method.
It was assumed for about a week that the consequences of the assassination of Gemayel would disrupt the alliances made by Hizbollah and disperse the prestige it gained by its successful defence of the country against Israel, and that the pressure for reform was off. That was when the Shia resorted to the tactic of their enemies during the Summer and flooded into the centre of the capital for a sit-down, which is pretty well being reported as an act of terror.
Such is life under a Constitution of guaranteed power-sharing between religious communities.
Meanwhile other things are happening in the world. There is trouble in the entourage of Boris Berezhovsky, the multi-billionaire Russian emigre who was given a massive share of the assets of the Russian State by Yeltsin, the great democratiser. There have been radioactive poisonings that have not yet been got to the bottom of. The finger was pointed at Putin by the Northern Ireland Secretary, and the Shadow Deputy First Minister pointed in the same direction.
And Yegor Gaidar was taken ill at a function in Maynooth.
Berezhovsky took the precaution of leaving Russia with his money while the going was good, as did the owner of Chelsea Football Club. A few years ago Berezhovsky gave a long interview to BBC television in which he explained that Putin would necessarily fail because the forces of economic determinism are irresistible.
Then Michael Khordokovsky, the oligarch who stayed in Russia to dispose of Putin by the power of money, found himself disposed of when he couldn't pay a tax bill. (He was jailed.) And this has created a very serious problem for the West.
The idea was that Russian oil and gas would become available to the West on easy terms—and even be taken over by the West—as the financial oligarchs dissolved what remained of the Russian State. Russia was destined to take its place with Kuwait and the Emirates as a supplier of cheap fuel to the West. But everybody in Kuwait can be paid off with a small percentage of oil revenue—and it was never a state anyway, only a clan whose Sheikh was secretly bribed by Britain almost a century ago when it got its first foothold in Arabia. While Russia was a powerful state less than twenty years ago, and it has so many people that only a very small fraction of them can be bribed.
The democratisation of Russia and the privatisation of its economic life by Yeltsin had such a destructive effect on ordinary life that life expectancy plummeted by ten years in the course of the 1990s. Hence the popular support for the reassertion of the authority of the state by Putin.
Economic determinism broke down. Khordokovsky is in prison in Siberia. And Berezhovsky is in London with his billions, his base in Russia destroyed, but saved from extradition by British policy, and, like so many emigres, he is running a subversive campaign against the Russian state from abroad, but by far the best financed one. Let's call it the Fifth International, or the Capitalist International.
And Yegor Gaidar, the Von Hayek or the Milton Friedman of the Yeltsin privatisations (or should we say the David McWilliams), has business in Maynooth, which was so recently a factory of spiritual values. (And his radioactive poisoning, considered at length on Channel 4 news by Conor O'Clery, turned out to be a stomach bug!)
We live in interesting times.
IRAQ, reduced to a state of nature in the name
Irish Soldiers In Afghanistan.
The Project For A New Irish Century.
America, Not Ireland.
Snouts In The Trough.
Be Careful What You Ask For.
Britain's Wars Will Never End.
Shorts From The Long Fellow.
Millstreet's History Needs To Be Written.
Index 2006 .
Remembrance Day Arrives Again.
Another View Of Gallipoli
Does It Stack Up?
The Countess & The Drama Queen.
The Special Position Of The Jews.
Kennedy-Gate And Bertie Ahern
Up The Ghostly Republic (Part 4 of To Be Or
John Redmond—A Fantasy
The Irish Labour History Society Conference.
Wearing The Poppy .
Soloheadbeg And Oxford.
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