Blair must confront IRA's unwillingness, not the DUP

Alex Kane argues that Blair’s passivity in dealing with the question of the IRA’s continuing reluctance to demobilise is becoming a serious hinderence to arriving at and execution of a comprehensive agreement, which would allow Northern Ireland to return to the business of democratic decision making.

By Alex Kane

Speaking at his first major press conference since the election, Mr. Blair said this; “I have got to work with the outcome the electorate has given…I hope that the DUP are prepared to share power, provided there is a clear, unequivocal and complete giving up of violence. If there isn’t, I will be left in the same position again”.

And what position is that, Mr. Blair? A continuing reluctance to face down the IRA? An ongoing failure to call Sinn Fein’s bluff and shore up democracy in Northern Ireland? Even as I write, I am sure that the Prime Minister’s staff are preparing a bucket of whitewash to accompany the latest report from the IMC; a report which is likely to confirm that the IRA is still recruiting and showing no signs of its willingness to disband and disappear. You don’t have to be in the “same position again”, Mr. Blair. You choose to be in that position, because you have always put self-perpetuating defeatism ahead of moral integrity and political courage.

And it is precisely because the Prime Minister has made that choice that the DUP will find itself with precisely the same problems as the UUP. Yes, it may well have established itself at the top of the electoral tree, but it doesn’t actually have the ability, by itself, to deliver a single manifesto pledge. Like David Trimble before him, Ian Paisley is the hapless hostage of the wimpish occupant of 10 Downing Street. Putting it bluntly, if the Prime Minister doesn’t deliver for the DUP, then the DUP cannot deliver for the unionist electorate.

It has been the same story since at least 1972, when it became clear that the size of the unionist vote meant nothing to successive governments and Prime Ministers. Which may explain why unionist turnout has continued to crumble. Last week’s unionist tally was almost 100,000 down on the 1974 general election, indeed, it was the lowest vote for decades. And bearing in mind that both the overall population and electoral register have grown over the past thirty years, the number of non- voting unionists is considerably higher than 100,000.

Anyway, it looks like we face a long period of stalemate. The DUP won’t budge until it has concrete and demonstrable movement from the IRA. The party got its fingers burnt last December and will be reluctant to repeat the experience. Also, the DUP has to calculate if the bulk of its increased mandate is really anti power-sharing with Sinn Fein under any circumstances; for if that is the case, then it would be unwise to risk the loss of votes in search of a deal which would require new concessions.

The SDLP, which only managed to survive by the skin of its teeth, has returned to the holier-than-thou high ground, and, as I predicted before the election, has ruled out any form of voluntary coalition. Meanwhile, Gerry Adams is conducting a dialogue with a mirror, and, in a surreal ventriloquial act, is playing democratic dummy to his own balaclava’d hard man. He may be trying to put clear green, white and gold water between himself and P. O’Neill, but too many unionists will still detect the shadow of the gunman hovering over the political process.

As ever, on these occasions, Bertie Ahern can be relied upon to help Sinn Fein. Hence his comments a few days ago that he believes that Mr. Adams’ consultation exercise is a genuine one. What has become apparent over the past eighteen months (and I suspect that it was Ahern’s reaction to the post- November 2003 growth of the DUP), is that Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, is being deployed as an “Uncle Tom” sop to unionism, while the Taoiseach gets on with the usual nods and winks to Adams and the IRA. As ever, though, when push comes to shove, the Irish government will ultimately side with Sinn Fein.

Little prospect, then, of any deal in the near future. The opportunity for such a deal was there six months ago, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the DUP was up for it at the time. But circumstances have changed. The IRA hasn’t, though, and that is the problem. And I don’t see the IRA changing, let alone changing enough to satisfy the DUP. Mr. Blair will put enormous pressure on Dr. Paisley and he may even offer him a fresh Assembly election, but I just don’t see the DUP shifting from where it is now.

Neither the DUP nor the IRA is going to pay the necessary price for the restoration of the Assembly. But neither of them is keen for Direct Rule to last too long; the DUP fearing that it will lead to British/Irish rule, and the IRA fearing that it will entrench British rule only. Both are now looking for a Plan B and I suspect that the next crucial battleground will be local government reform and devolution to smaller and more powerful councils.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 21st May 2005.

  • pakman

    Alex

    “devolution to smaller and more powerful councils”

    surely you mean LARGER and more powerful councils? Couple this with a SMALLER and less powerful assembly and you could be close to the Welsh style of devolution which could equate to Plan “B”.

  • George2

    Does Alex not mean more powerful councils but smaller in number?

  • Malone Park

    Kane’s opinions on councils would be more convincing if he had been able to do anything to stop his employer, Esmond Birnie, from losing his council seat.

  • Cahal

    “He may be trying to put clear green, white and gold water between himself and P. O’Neill”

    It always slightly bugs me when people say green white and gold. Get it right or don’t use the expression at all.

  • barnshee

    “DUP has to calculate if the bulk of its increased mandate is really anti power-sharing with Sinn Fein under any circumstances; for if that is the case, then it would be unwise to risk the loss of votes in search of a deal which would require new conces”

    Spot on –the DUP is behind the 8 ball on this it runs the risk of a Hard/soft fracture and a realignment back towards the UUP IF deals. For that reason there will be no deal– suits most prods– Direct rule for ever if necessay

  • George2

    Malone park,

    The UUP councillor you mention and the UUP westminister candidate lost their seat s because a load of Martin Smyth supporters decided to vote against their own party and support DUP. in so doing these turncoats sold South Belfast out for the first time ever to Irish Nationalism.

    The last time such a cowardly act took place was when General Percival surrendered 150,000 of his men into enemy hands in Singapore. in 1941.

    Like wise 150,000 Unionists in South belfast have been sold out to the enemy .

  • barney

    “The last time such a cowardly act took place was when General Percival surrendered 150,000 of his men into enemy hands in Singapore. in 1941.

    Like wise 150,000 Unionists in South belfast have been sold out to the enemy .”

    So we can expect McDonald to build a spanking new Bridge on the River Bann using unionist slave labour. Evey cloud…

  • Malone Park

    Corks! There’s some good stuff still on Slugger these days, even with all those clod-handed moderators roaming round the place, SS-RUC style.

    George2: lesser minds than yours traditionally have judged Singapore to have fallen in 1942. Thank you for putting the rest of us straight. As for there being ‘150,000’ Unionists in South Belfast – that bad, bad, bad Martin Smyth! The swine must have taken them all with him when he left, otherwsie the poor old Gimp would doubtless have avoided 3rd place.

    However it’s always good, even after The Triumph of the One (MP), to see Trimbleites posting here. I miss their reasoned and well balanced tone. For instance, before George2’s well-reasoned comparison to Singapore under Japanese occupation as being the best point of comparison for South Belfast with an SDLP MP, I would never before have known how much Unionists are suffering. Damn the DUP! How much better off we were when Martin McGuinness was Education Minister, but, erm, wait . . .

  • George2

    “So we can expect McDonald to build a spanking new Bridge on the River Bann using unionist slave labour. Evey cloud.”

    Do you mean McDonnell? I heard it was just a pedestrian bridge and was to start at Drumcree and finish in Portadown and was the answer to the Garvaghy Rd standoff..

  • George2

    Malone park

    The swine didn’t take them all with him. But he took enough to let McDonnell in with a reduced vote than he got the previous election. Now he’s waiting for his 30 pieces of silver from Doc Paisley. because he knew rightly Trimble wasn’t going to give him a peerage.

    Anyway the SDLP can keep the seat warm in the meantime as no doubt it will return to Unionist control next election.

  • pakman

    George2

    the UUP were unelectable in SB for exactly the same reason they were unelectable elsewhere – all to do with Good Friday 1998 and nothing to do with Martin Smyth.

  • Malone Park

    Shush Pakman: we’ve just heard the first cloud cuckoo of spring. It’s been almost a fortnight since a Trimbleite posted here, or anywhere else, predicting electoral gains.

  • aquifer

    My best guess:

    Blair will risk nothing in Ireland. SFPIRA will not be faced with hard choices and will persist in trying to maintain an armed threat and a unity with supporters in criminal gangs, in practice abandoning the GFA and the prospect of uniting peoples in Ireland in democratic and non-violent progress together. The DUP will engage first forward gear and make such regional political progress as the elder Paisley will allow. i.e. not much publicly.

    Neither the DUP nor SFPIRA are capable of recommending any possible deal to their followers, or of suppressing street violence and criminality, over years creating a new space for an economically conservative middle ground politics that would never repeat the accommodation of paramilitarism and ethnicity in the GFA.

    Local councils will become fewer and bigger, to present a semblance of local accountability and responsibility.

    The police and law authorities will shred PIRA and paramilitary gangs over time, identity cards will be introduced, and the new permanent anti-terror laws may get an airing, with more use of surveillance and accomplice evidence.

    People here may not get a chance to vote for the last bit, but what chance they would go on the streets in large numbers to oppose it?

  • Roger

    150000 unionists in SB is that not being a little optimistic.

    The seat was lost to nationalists due to the fact that Mcgimpsey stood and unionists were weak and give him enough votes to elect Mcdonnel.

    Nationalists are so much better at voting sufficiently for the stronger candidate look at FST and SB.

  • Alex Kane

    pakman and George2:

    I meant a smaller number of councils, but with a much greater array of powers devolved to them.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • George2

    “Nationalists are so much better at voting sufficiently for the stronger candidate look at FST and SB”

    It’s not that Nationalists are better at voting, it’s because Unionists UUP & DUP never came to an agreement that FST & SB were lost to Nationalists.

    Even having lost two seats the Unionists still won the more seats throughout NI. It’s the overall big picture which counts.

    2005
    Unionists 10 Seats
    Nationalists 8 Seats

    The future for nationalists does not look to good. After 4/5 years of direct rule the Assembly will still be closed and the Predicition for 2009 Westminister election is:

    Unionists 12 seats
    nationalists 6 seats

    A United ireland will be as far away as ever.for those day dreamers in SF & the SDLP. The shinners can’t return to armed struggle because after 9/11 2001 the whole western world’s attitude has changed regards terrorism. The IRA wont get any support (especially in the US) to bomb and murder the majority of citizens of Northern Ireland into a United Ireland.against their will.

    Paisley and the DUP is right to not trust SF/IRA
    in 2005. But if it hadn’t have been for Trimble signing the GFA in 1998 and given SF/IRA a chance prove whether they could be trusted the UK. Irish & US governments & the rest of the world would never have known they would not keep their word, had they not been given a chance to decommission Arms, disbann the IRA and cease mafia style crimminality when SF signed the GFA.back in 1998.

    Even one of SF & SDLP’s greatest supporters ex US president Mr Clinton “said yesterday that he believes the continued activities of the IRA are the main obstacle to progress.”

    http://breakingnews.iol.ie/news/story.asp?j=143996466&p=y43997y7z

  • George2

    “the UUP were unelectable in SB for exactly the same reason they were unelectable elsewhere – all to do with Good Friday 1998 and nothing to do with Martin Smyth.”

    The UUP would have been electable had Martin Smyth stood himself. The DUP would not have stood against him. He then could have jumped ship like Jeffery Donaldson if he wanted the seat to go to the DUP.after the election (instead of trying to promote first Mongomery and then when that failed he promoted Spratt ) This way the seat would not have been lost to a Nationalist.

    Rev Robert Bradford MP for South belfast murdered by the IRA (who Martin Smyth took over from) would be turning in his grave over what happened.

  • George2

    “The UUP would have been electable had Martin Smyth stood himself.”

    In fact had Martin Smyth stood in South belfast he would no doubt have been elected, and as Trimble lost his seat Smyth would automatically become leader of the UUP. Likewise with two westminidter seats the UUP would not have lost its £130,000 intitlement .

  • fair_deal

    On a point of information Esmond Birnie was NOT a councillor. He was trying to hold Margaret Crooks seat for the UUP in Balmoral but failed.