Interesting and thoughtful analysis from Eric Waugh, which argues that the pragmatic response of successive British government in dealing with paramilitaries, both during and after the conflict, has left it morally if not legally compromised in dealing with the last vestiges of Northern Ireland’s long internecine war.
The way is now cleared for the working out of a scene deeply traditional in Irish history: for when one grouping dares to seek a modus vivendi with the old enemy, as Redmond did over Home Rule in 1912 and as Collins did over the treaty of 1921, as O’Neill attempted in 1965 and Faulkner in 1973, they tend to be outflanked by shriller voices seeking to seize the abandoned ground. Informing these voices is a single quantity; and that quantity is political violence – or the threat of it.
Waugh argues that the root of the problem the government faces in tackling the current Loyalist feud lies deep within the history of the current troubles:
Faced with the sort of nascent revolution that surfaced in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, Government had two choices: to confront it with matching force or to seek to police it by a mixture of cajolery, bribery and undercover intrigue. Of course the latter was the option chosen. Option one would have enforced the law; but it would also have threatened civil war and major international difficulty. Such was not to be entertained. The flaw lay in the consequent absence of law under option two. Violence, far from being confronted, was rewarded. The most heinous killers were released.
He goes on to argue that the government itself was compromised in it’s use of double agents in the Loyalist paramilitaries. He sees it’s legacy in the widely percieved inaction of the police in several current scenarios:
The community at large is left with the violent legacy, which includes the revolting, if pathetic, thuggery in Ahoghill. There, as elsewhere, the law is treated with contempt. On the border, security is wound down while extortion and the traffic in smuggled narcotics, which finances the terrorists, waxes beyond control. So the dilemma of the Government is that, of itself, it has destroyed the notion upon which good order subsists; and that notion is that lawlessness brings vengeance.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty