Editorial from Irish Political Review, February 2004 Perspectives
The United States will break off relations with Sinn Fein and will press Britain to do likewise. Then, there being "no longer any barrier to a normalisation of Irish politics", the Social Democratic and Labour Party will do a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. "The IRA might then return to 'what it knows best'—military resistance—but with strong American political and military backing—that resistance could be speedily overcome. So roll on that day". The Day will be the day on which "the persons awaiting sentence in Columbia" will be sentenced. The writer is Conor Cruise O'Brien (Irish Independent 3 Jan). O'Brien was a professional anti-Partitionist for most of his life, first as a political civil servant in the Irish Foreign Affairs Department, and later as a hard-line middle-class nationalist Minister, with special responsibility for Northern policy, who played a leading part in subverting the Sunningdale system of devolution by encouraging the intransigence of Lord Fitt and Paddy Devlin in demanding the immediate establishment of a full Council of Ireland, even though the conditions for it, negotiated at Sunningdale, had not been met. A few years later Fitt and Devlin—lapsed Republicans—chucked in the leadership of the SDLP and resigned the party altogether—on the pretext that others had made it too nationalist for them—particularly John Hume, who had never flirted with Republicanism as they had, but had put the Northern Ireland system to the test as a middle-class Catholic with middle-class, rather than nationalist, ambitions, and who therefore discovered its fundamental inadequacies and experienced them in a way that the semi-Republican ideologues could never do. Both Fitt and Devlin then collapsed into the very thing they had spent most of their lives declaiming against. And, when O'Brien lost office in the late seventies, he too flipped over, and dedicated the remainder of his life to compensating for the evil he had done in his prime.
Of course he didn't put it like that. He re-invented his past and attributed his actual past to everybody but himself. Roy Foster's revisionist contention that the Irish make up the past without regard for historical fact is not entirely untrue. But the elements about which it is true are the revisionists themselves. But it's no use saying to O'Brien: Revisionist, revise thyself! He is one of those utterly self-righteous people who can hardly even be said to deceive themselves because they have absolutely no memory about themselves. They are a stream of self-righteous feeling. And, where O'Brien led, the greater part of the nationalist middle class of the 1970 era followed. They are now stolid upholders of law regardless of circumstance—and even regardless of law: "the persons awaiting sentence in Columbia" are actually awaiting a verdict. And it is obvious that the verdict is taking so long because it is a matter of politics rather than law.
Recall 1973/74. The Unionist Party led by Brian Faulkner made a power-sharing and Council of Ireland deal in an Agreement with the Dublin Government and the SDLP on the understanding that O'Brien & Co. had committed themselves to constitutional recognition of the North as a legitimate region of the UK. Then, six weeks after the power-sharing Government began functioning, O'Brien & Co pleaded in Court that they had not recognised the North. Faulkner had been deceived by tricky language. Unionist reaction to this revelation took the form of a demand that the establishment of the Council of Ireland should be deferred until the conditions on which it was agreed had been met. It was then up to O'Brien and Co. to call a referendum to amend Articles 2 & 3. Some of the Co. were willing but O'Brien was adamant that the Council must be established on schedule and unconditionally. This journal—in its Workers' Weekly format—took a close interest in the affair as a Sunningdale supporter. It was evident from radio interviews that O'Brien was the intransigent element in the Cabinet, and that was later confirmed by Fitzgerald's Cabinet memoirs. The outcome was that the whole Sunningdale structure was brought down in May 1974 by the Ulster Workers' Council Strike. The SDLP and elements in Dublin declared the Strike to be Fascist. In our view it was one of the few major events in Unionist history that might reasonably be described as democratic.
That was 30 years ago, though it seems like yesterday because so little has happened in the meantime.
The next thing was 20 years later—the Ceasefire brokered by Hume and Adams. When the terms of the ceasefire were not met on the British side, the war was resumed—in the City of London. This was the stimulus to more genuine negotiations, leading to the Good Friday Agreement, and to partial implementation of the terms of the GFA. But the conditions on the two-year decommissioning process under the GFA have not been met any more than the conditions on the establishment of the Council of Ireland at Sunningdale were met. And in both instances O'Brien demanded the unconditional implementation of something which was agreed on conditions.
The plain meaning of the GFA is that the IRA would depart from the scene in the course of two years, during which the devolved and cross-Border institutions would function, the police and justice reforms would be implemented, and there would be demilitarisation in Northern Ireland. Trimble's great concern was to ensure that these conditions were not met, and the only apparent concern of the two Governments was to humour him and to excuse him. (The DUP is now being humoured, which is reasonable since, unlike the UUP, it did not sign the GFA.)
O'Brien's wishful thinking ever since the World Trade Centre affair has been that the White House would deal with West Belfast, the Bogside and South Armagh as it dealt with Afghanistan. (And a propos Afghanistan, the British Prime Minister, when making war propaganda, regularly declared that the Taliban regime was responsible for a very great part of the supply of opium to the world market for it. It was obvious, even from the managed news of the BBC, that the Taliban regime had drastically reduced drug production in Afghanistan. And now we have an official report confirming this. The Taliban curbed drug production to such an extent that the world supply was reduced by a third. And, since 'liberation', Afghanistan has again become one of the major producers.)
O'Brien loves and loathes America. He loves it as a fanatical Zionist and loathes it as a blind enemy of the Northern Catholics. A few years ago he published a book demanding that Thomas Jefferson, the chief source of American democratic ideology, should be removed from the American Pantheon and denounced. He dreams of America as an autocracy committed to the expansion of what he thinks of as civilisation. But it always lets him down. America remains Jeffersonian. And, in broadening out beyond its WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] origins, it has come under Irish influence as well as Jewish. The two bete noires of the Ku Klux Klan are now in the corridors of power.
With a fundamentalist WASP President in office at the fall of the Twin Towers, it seemed that the Day had arrived for O'Brien. "Terrorism" everywhere would come under the hammer. But America doesn't function like that. It might profess grand principles, but it is choosy when it comes to implementing them, the choice being influenced by ethnic influences in its domestic politics. The Famine Irish are now well-entrenched and their outlook is beyond the reach of the British influence which now dominates so much of the respectable middle class Irish at home. And so Richard Haas came amidst great expectations in Dublin 4, and disappointed them.
When it was put to O'Brien thirty years ago that he should ease up on the Council of Ireland demand in order to preserve power-sharing and so maintain some ground against the IRA, his response in radio interviews was that the violence in the North was not caused by outside influences. It was "endemic" in the North. It would be affected neither by implementing the Council of Ireland or withholding it.
There was a great deal of truth in that view. But it was not a truth that O'Brien could develop. Perhaps it was just a politician's phrase, serving a purpose of the moment, and not reflected upon. Anyhow it is a truth that he has long forgotten—and a great swathe of the respectable middle class along with him—making it impossible for them to handle the Northern situation with any degree of political competence.
The Dublin Government is simultaneously trying to restore devolved government in the North, and subverting the possibility of it. The Justice Minister declares that Sinn Fein is a criminal organisation, a Mafia. And the Fine Gael Leader urges him to confiscate its 'criminal' assets.
Meanwhile Gerry Adams comes back from the USA with a million and a half openly contributed to the coffers of Sinn Fein by members of the American establishment. What's putting the wind up the Dublin establishment is not the hidden, inactive army, but the sheer political competence of the Republican movement, and its live source of spiritual integrity—a thing which lies well beyond the experience of the present generation of political hacks.
Fianna Fail is toying with the idea of organising in the North and becoming an all-Ireland party once more. It would be well for it to do so before it disappears into total cynicism. But, if it remains committed to Progressive Democrat Justice Minister McDowell's pronouncements, it might as well not bother.
Re: McDowell: he would be entitled to some respect if he acted on the principle that there must be no deals with terrorists and condemned the GFA But he is actually a party to the GFA, which is a deal with terrorists ratified by the electorates of both parts of the country, which implicitly legitimises their terrorism on the ground that the state in the North was not democratic. He is a party to it, but he keeps brooding on the thought that it was wrong, or deluding himself about its actual terms. As a statesman he is a hopeless case.
It is curious how the North has increasingly become a domestic political issue in the Republic since it was changed into a foreign policy matter by the amendment of Articles 2 & 3!
Dublin has been incapable of foreign policy ever since those great days when Charles Haughey made Ireland a European Power, convinced Europe that the Republic was not a British appendage, and laid the basis for the 8 billion pound boost for the economy. When Haughey was ousted, Irish foreign policy went with him.
Brian Cowen has been in Israel, not Palestine, on behalf of the European Union, and has made a speech which mightily pleased the 'Official Republican' refugees from the Land of Oz, which they had to abandon when Sir Nicolai Ceaucescu was taken from them. Eoghan Harris was delighted with it.
Israel is a contested conquest and colonisation, justified by an irredentist claim two thousand years old. Its title deeds are the Bible.
What is being done in Palestine now is what was done in Ireland four hundred years ago—and by Bible fanatics then as now. Bet let it not be said that double standards are being applied. President McAleese, who condemned the Palestinians on Twin Towers Day for taking pleasure in a minuscule bit of pain inflicted on their tormentors, has been in West Cork to celebrate the founding of Bandon as a colonial town of the Munster Plantation. We look forward to seeing her celebrate the fourth centenary of the Ulster Plantation a few years from now.
Meanwhile in England the new anti-Semitism (anti-Arabism) has suffered its first set-back. Chat-show host Kilroy Silk has had his show taken from him (but will still appear on other BBC programmes), because of his diatribe against Arabs. If he had made comparable remarks about Jews, he would be off the air, full stop. But most of the English press has come out in support of him. Particularly forceful is Melanie Phillips, who has declared that her primary loyalty is to Israel. She sees the curbing of Kilroy Silk as the realisation of Orwell's 1984 nightmare (Daily Mail,.Jan 19). She contrasts it with the BBC's handling of Oxford Don, Tom Paulin, who "called for Israelis settlers to be shot and, in a poem referring to the 'Zionist SS', compared Israel to the Nazis. While criticism of the settlers would have been perfectly justified, this was simply incitement to murder and blatant Holocaust-denying prejudice".
When Jewish settlers, without a shred of entitlement beyond the Bible, take possession of the property of natives, they may be criticised, but not resisted. Did that principle also apply to German settlers in Poland in 1940?
President Mary Robinson said essentially the same thing as Melanie Phillips with her outburst at the Anti-Racism Conference in Africa a couple of years ago: "I am a Jew". The meaning is: there is a master race and there are others, and a common standard does not apply; and we Irish should cop ourselves on and support the winners. That is what Brian Cowen was doing in Israel. That is the way of the tiger.
C O N T E N T S
What Is The EU For?
"Whatever You Say, Say Nothing": write it down instead.
An Cor Tuathail: A Song In Praise Of Tobacco
(Compiled by Pat Muldowney)
England: Hitler's Inspiration
Is Peter Hart A Medium?
Northern Ireland News Digest
December 2003/January 2004
Price And Value: Part 8 Of A Review Of Das Kapital
Letters to the Editor:
De Valera's Little Problem—Helen Hinton
The Anti-Smoking Crusade—E. Courtney
Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
Dublin/Monaghan Public Inquiry?
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