SF's Plan B a non-runner – Rabbitte

In today’s Irish Times, the leader of the Irish Labour Party, Pat Rabbitte, introduces a welcome tone of realism on decommissioning and points out that the notional joint-rule as a Plan B, which the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has been promoting to his party’s supporters in the US, is unconstitutional – not that SF have ever been that concerned about the constitution of ‘the 26 counties’.

He refers to the Taoiseach recent comments on the likelihood of the parties agreeing a way forward in the North by themselves –

He said the de Chastelain commission should be left to get on with its job but recognised – on account of the deficits of mistrust from the past – that additional elements of transparency were required.

According to the Taoiseach, for a number of reasons that were not spelled out, the window of opportunity for agreement is very narrow. He said the DUP has “an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate peace . . . If this opportunity is squandered, it will have consequences, both in terms of the time that elapses before we can again seek to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland and as regards the form and content of the political process during the interim period.”

But he is critical of the enthusiasm with which any action on decommissioning by the IRA is being portrayed –

I believe everyone should welcome credible and definitive action on decommissioning. However I do not believe we need to hail such actions as concessions by the IRA but rather as the democratic duty it owes to the people of this island, a duty that should long since have been discharged.

What is missing, he argues, is an acknowledgement of

the history of delay, prevarication, demands for clarification, gnomic utterances, false trails, garden paths and double-speak by the republican leadership.

And in Gerry Adams’ speech in NY he sees a party that is trying to skip beyond the collapse of the present talks

He [Adams] said that in such an event, direct rule would not be sustainable in the long term, and suggested “the two governments look to formal institutionalised power-sharing at government level”.

As Rabbitte argues, this proposal undermines the Agreement’s model of devolved government and calls into question SF’s commitment to that devolved governemnt –

This proposed solution – a stronger role for Dublin in Northern affairs, badgering the British to go over unionist heads, joint authority as a substitute for devolved government – provides further evidence that Sinn Féin was never that pushed about devolved government in the North in the first place.

If devolved government was a high priority, would they not have given more consideration to recent proposals from the SDLP that advocate the recalling of the Assembly and the appointment of civic administrators to do the jobs of ministers until the parties can agree on the formation of the Executive?

He also sets out the argument that SF’s proposed model of joint-authority would be unconstitutional

Joint authority is a non-runner because it would be unconstitutional. The present Article 3 repeats one aspect of the article it replaced in the referendum on the Belfast Agreement. Pending national unification, laws enacted by the Oireachtas apply only within the jurisdiction of this 26-county State.

The Supreme Court confirmed in 1975 that the Oireachtas is not free to legislate for Northern Ireland as though it were part of this State. The amended Articles 2 and 3 have abandoned the “territorial claim” and place that incapacity beyond doubt.

The only bodies that are exceptions to this contitutional position are the all-Ireland implementation bodies created through the Agreement, which operate under the aegis of the North/South Ministerial Council.

But there is no Assembly, no Executive and no North/South council at present. There is no umbrella under which all-island implementation bodies could operate.

With nothing yet in the public domain, he is pessimistic about the prospects of a workable Plan B being produced this close to the Governments’ self-imposed deadline –

The two governments have often mentioned the need to move to a Plan B, yet they have never articulated what Plan B actually is.

In the absence of this, and if the agreement cannot be restored, the only apparent solution is one that will please no one: no all-island implementation bodies, a return to arrangements similar to the Anglo-Irish Agreement with a Maryfield-type secretariat and close inter-governmental consultation (but no executive role) for the Irish Government in the affairs of a Northern Ireland governed by direct rule from London.

In other words, the failure to reach agreement by November 26th will result in limited east-west arrangements, even less North-South, and nothing internal at all. Some Plan B!

And he is, rightly, critical of the very nature of the ongoing discussions –

important legal and constitutional questions are at the heart of talks concerning an agreement which belongs to all us all. Yet the debate is conducted on a secretive, bilateral, basis with only certain, “problem” parties.

The secrecy surrounding discussions has been an ongoing problem and it remains, with the tacit approval of an unquestioning media, primarily about controlling what we the public are allowed to know.

  • The Renegade

    SF have never paid any heed to constitutional politics, so why should they start now? The Agreement was passed by referendum, North and South, and can’t simply be overturned on a whim. The fact is that the GFA is the only legal and viable way forward as regards the governance of the North, and the sooner the DUP and SF grow up, the sooner it can be fully implemented to the benefit of everyone in Ireland.

  • Keith M

    “The Agreement was passed by referendum, North and South, and can’t simply be overturned on a whim.” Sorry to be pedantic but only certain clauses of the Agreement were included in the referendum in the Republic, these specifically included the new articles 2+3 and allowing the Oireachtas to nominate people to the North/South bodies.

    Whether you like it or not the Agreement has already been overturned. As the parts which are being changed do not directly impact the Republic there is no need for a referendum here and as the UK does not have a conventional written constitution there will be no need for a referendum in N.I. (as indeed there was noo need for one in 1998).

    The people who need to grow up are those caught in a 1998 timewarp.

  • The Renegade

    Keith tells us to ‘grow up’. This coming from someone who runs a Eurovision site named after a Dana song! Ha!

  • willowfield

    Keith

    The Agreement hasn’t been overturned. It remains in place. It’s currently under review, but little is expected to be changed.

  • peteb

    Pedantic or not, Keith, (and I’ll leave to one side your claim that the Agreement has been ‘overturned’) since Pat Rabbitte is specifically referring to the clauses you mention, how does that affect his argument on the unconstitutional nature of SF’s Plan B?

  • Keith M

    Willowfield : “The Agreement hasn’t been overturned”. Remind me, where is decommissioning (complete by 2000 if the Agreement still stood), where is the assembly, where are the north/south bodies etc etc. “Overturned” is too mild a word, “dead and buired would be more appropriate.

    Peteb; read what Rabitte said again. SF/IRA’s “Plan B” was ruled as unconstitutional almost 30 years ago. The new articles 2+3 (which could have been changed without the Belfast Agreement) have just removed any lingering doubt that anyone might have had.

    Renegade, everyone needs a hobby and my little website has had over 500k visitors is less than 2 years.

  • Henry94

    A referndum, if required, for joint authority would be passed.

  • Davros

    Interesting site Keith 🙂 I enjoyed my visit.
    Where do you stand on Brian vs Kerry ?

  • peteb

    Thanks for the reminder, Keith, but I hardly need to read my own post again.

    Your only point appears to be that the Agreement has been ‘overturned’. Any comment on the actual post or any of the points raised?

  • peteb

    “if required”?

    That’s hedging your bets, Henry.

  • willowfield

    Keith

    Willowfield : “The Agreement hasn’t been overturned”. Remind me, where is decommissioning (complete by 2000 if the Agreement still stood), where is the assembly, where are the north/south bodies etc etc. “Overturned” is too mild a word, “dead and buired would be more appropriate.

    Decommissioning remains a requirement of the Agreement. The Assembly has been suspended, but remains in existence. The N/S bodies remain in existence. All other provisions have either been implemented or are being implemented.

    Far from being overturned, dead or buried, the Agreement remains in existence. The DUP and the Provos are trying to revive those parts that have been suspended.

  • Keith M

    Henry “A referndum, if required, for joint authority would be passed.”, First of all it would most certainly be required, and I don’t believe that any Irish government would waste any goodwill it had on an issue like this. Secondly I believe that it would fail. The people of this country would be loathe to get involved in the political quagmire of Northern Ireland and the whole “representation/taxation” debate would raise its ugly head. Although I don’t agree with the idea, I think that re-partition would have a much better chance of success.

    Davros “where do you stand on Brian vs Kerry”, all I can say is the Brian isn’t alone in preferring bush to Kerry!

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    “I believe everyone should welcome credible and definitive action on decommissioning. However I do not believe we need to hail such actions as concessions by the IRA but rather as the democratic duty it owes to the people of this island, a duty that should long since have been discharged.”

    Is this the same Pat Rabbite who was a member of the Official Republican movement that after its’ various changes of skin ended up as Democratic Left and subsequently the Labour Party?
    All the while those Officials had guns, printed there own money and invented most of the scams that are still in operation today.
    If he is serious and not just a blathering hypocrite he has a duty to tell us all he knows about the weapons that were in the hands of the Officials and where he believes those weapons are now.

  • Davros

    Ouch Pat 🙂

  • Keith M

    Pat, a more jaundiced view of history I’ve rarely seen on Slugger. Democratic Left were formed specifically to put clear water between the elements within the Workers Party who wanted to put final closure on the unsavoury nature of their past activities and those that did not. One element ended up in government, one (just about) still exists as a peripheral party of the republican left.

    Rabitte joined the WP long after the official IRA ceasefire. In fact I think his membership came after the time that WP had dropped the SF/WP name.

    Trying to tarnish Rabbite’s good name is a desperate act and one must wonder why you are creating this smokescreen.

  • peteb

    I think we can guess why Pat’s attempting to undermine the issues raised by Rabbitte, Keith.

  • Fraggle

    The idea should not be dismissed out of hand if it is not compatable with the present constitution. it should be judged on it’s merits alone as constitutions can be changed.

    most changes to the constitution involved something that was unconstitutional beforehand. that’s why the constitution needs to be changed.

    Circular thinking from Pat Rabbite.

  • peteb

    Fraggle

    So Adams was actually proposing a referendum on joint authority here then?

    and that would confirm that his proposals are firmly outside of the Agreement…

    Strange how Adams forgot to mention that in his speech.

  • Christopher Stalford

    The Renegade

    I must say the SDLP are doing a great job at wooing tactical Unionist votes for the next Westminster election. Not.

  • Christopher Stalford

    “The Agreement was passed by referendum, North and South”

    Wrong. The Belfast Agreement was passed by a referendum in Northern Ireland. An amendment to the Irish Constitution was passed south of the border.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    “Rabitte joined the WP long after the official IRA ceasefire.”

    Which was in 1972. But hey when the Officials split in 1974/1975 and the IRSP was formed who killed those members who walked away from the Officials?
    Who was it killed Seamus Costelloe in Dublin in 1977?
    Who was involved in the two Belfast based feuds with the PIRA in the 1970’s?
    What organisation had printing presses on its property in the 1980s along with bundles of counterfeit cash?
    What organisation invented the tax exemption scam in the early 1980’s.
    What organisation was named in a Today Tonight special presented by Brian Cox as an organisation that had fully converted from a political to criminal enterprise?

    I could go on and on but hey that would be jaundiced anafter all there was a ceasefire in place since 1972.
    You are right however, some members did leave the WP to set up DL but only after the crescendo around the criminality of the Officials became too much of an embarrassment.
    So forgive me if I remain unconvinced of the democratic credentials of some of those who lecture on weapons but who did absolutely nothing on the weapons issue when part of an organmisation that had ready access to illegal guns and was quite adept at using those guns.

  • Henry94

    This article calls to mind Rabbitte’s last attempt to damage the process. He announced that he was going to put forward a motion in the Dail calling for IRA decommissioning. Senior officials had to put him straight then.

    Kieth M

    I’m glad to see you are back in the political prediction business after getting it so wrong on Mary Lou McDonald.

  • willowfield

    Henry94

    This article calls to mind Rabbitte’s last attempt to damage the process. He announced that he was going to put forward a motion in the Dail calling for IRA decommissioning. Senior officials had to put him straight then.

    Sounds like it would have been a helpful motion. How would such a motion have “damaged the process” and why was he silenced by “senior officials”? Sounds rather disturbing.

  • Fraggle

    no peteb, I’m only saying that dismissing something out of hand, because the present constitution wasn’t designed to encompass it, does not make sense.