North in Crisis

Writing in this weekend’s Village magazine, Eoin Ó Murchú says one of the reasons the North is in crisis because parties north and south of the border seem more interested in damaging Sinn Féin for party political reasons than fighting for peace or the rights of northern nationalists.
He also makes a valid point that Michael McDowell sees no problem in honouring his uncle who died “gun in hand” fighting against his legitimate government in the Civil War or the state honouring Kevin Barry but denounces the late Bobby Sands as a criminal because he was convicted of a criminal offence.”North in Crisis
Once again the peace process is in crisis. How many times have we written that. But the present crisis is, of course, only the latest in a series of issues desperately grabbed for as a means of either stopping the process altogether or changing its direction.

At the beginning of the peace process, there was the Washington Three, the demand for full IRA disarmament before talks could begin. Then decommissioning became the problem, with Unionists refusing to accept the word of a Canadian General with impeccable MI6 connections. IRA acts of putting arms beyond use were repeatedly dismissed as worthless.

Then, when final and complete decommissioning, and probable IRA disbandment, were on the cards, photographic evidence of the IRA’s humiliation was demanded. And in case that question gets resolved, the goal posts have now been moved again and “criminality” is the latest buzz word designed to thwart the peace process.

If anyone didn’t understand what it all means, Jean McConville was dug up again by unscrupulous politicians eager to damn the whole IRA resistance to British rule as a criminal enterprise. Indeed, Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, on RTE’s Questions and Answers explicitly denounced the late Bobby Sands as a criminal because he hand been convicted of a criminal offence. Well, so was Kevin Barry!

But perhaps more pertinently the minister might be asked if his grandfather, Eoin McNeill, was a criminal when he headed an organisation that illegally imported guns into Ireland for use against the British; or was his uncle a criminal when he died gun in hand during the Civil War fighting against a government that Michael McDowell regards as legitimate?

In a more sober moment, the minister has recognised that the good faith of people involved in political struggle does not depend on you agreeing with them: all of those, the minister said, who took part in the Civil War and other struggles, were fighting for Ireland as they understood it.

And so were the Provos.

Personally, I’ve been a long-time opponent of the armed struggle, but that has never blinded me to the genuineness of the convictions of those engaged in it. And a recognition of that is a part of the peace process.

Republicans are not asking for and do not expect others to agree with their analysis or their past actions, anymore now than they now endorse the bigotry and sectarianism practised by Unionists. By if we are to make progress, we must draw a line under the past and move on with mutual respect for all involved.

And in this respect Bertie Ahern is right to say the politics of exclusion haven’t worked in the past and will not work in the future; we must get back to the negotiating table.

But one central point must be clear: it isn’t a football match, with the general public sitting in the stands watching the match on the pitch, cheering and booing the different teams as appropriate. It’s not a jostling for careers and prospects between politicians from the different parties. It’s about the rights of ordinary people, and their involvement in running their own lives and determining their own futures.

In this regard, Sinn Fein doesn’t really matter, for the issue to be dealt with is about the rights of the nationalist community in the North to be free of British military occupation, surveillance and repression, to have a police force that treats them with respect and equality, to have an honest judicial system, to be free from discrimination in employment and economic prospects, to be free to develop their language and culture, to be equal citizens with the right to pursue the legitimate aspiration of a United Ireland; it’s about their right to be involved in the administration of their affairs.

And if any political party, north or south is unwilling to cooperate with Sinn Fein in achieving those rights, they have a responsibility to tell us what they propose to do to achieve them.

To date, however, I can barely record a single voice of condemnation of RUC criminality, for example, or a single espousal of the rights I listed above from the PDs, from Fine Gael or Labour, while Fianna Fail run scared at the first sign of media criticism.

But this the bankruptcy of Irish politics. All issues are reduced by our politicians to what it means for their careers or their votes. Sinn Fein is an electoral threat to Fianna Fail and Labour; Michael McDowell is fighting Fine Gael for the anti-Republican vote. In the face of such weighty considerations what do the rights matter of a few nationalists who don’t have votes in our state?”