Is there (political) life beyond the siege?

As we said in A Long Peace (chapter 3 – facing the dilemma), in a settled conflict situation, people should judge their opponents by their actions, not their words. It was true of the Northern Bank robbery and the ruthless killing of Robert McCartney. But the same is also true of the decommissioning of the IRA yesterday.

It’s a big move and bold one. It represents a profound (even sublime) challenge to Unionists to make a positive response. Something many will not feel inclined to provide (subs needed), given the history of bad faith (to put it mildly) shown by Sinn Fein and the IRA over the last few months. It won’t come quickly.

A period of time will be required in order that the wider Unionist community can absorb the full import of this move, for them and their communities. It won’t simply be for the DUP to make its calculations about when and if it can safely re-engage with the political process. It will be for all unionists to re-examine their own bottom lines in the face of this peaceful challenge, and begin to imagine a future beyond the long war.

And, more importantly perhaps, to contemplate life beyond a centuries old siege.

  • Henry94

    Mick

    A period of time will be required in order that the wider Unionist community can absorb the full import of this move, for them and their communities

    The second next IMC report in the new year appears to be the time allowed for unionists to consider their response.

    Do you think that is enough time?

  • Mick Fealty

    Henry,

    How long is a piece of string? In some cases a tight deadline is good. The Belfast Agreement was an example of that. According to some, the hidden factor was Mitchell hankering to get back for the Baseball season.

    But I’m not sure we should be hammering it down so definately this time. The IRA wouldn’t be hurried into this final act – despite the immense outside pressure. Why should it be any different for Unionists?

  • middle-class taig

    So do we get to judge unionists by their actions or is this the customary one way street? At the moment, it appears like all unionist parties would like to turn the clock back to 1965. They can’t even talk the talk never mind walk the walk.

    Would you like to outline the instances of SF “bad faith (to put it mildly)” Mick, or are we once again in the realms of facile innuendo?

  • Mick Fealty

    MCT:

    Hey, play the ball! I’m not beyond blowing the whistle for kicking the ref you know!! 😉

    Argue your case by all means. But argue it with facts. Otherwise valid points come over like groundless assertions.

    “Bad faith”… I’m travelling this morning. I don’t have time for this again.

  • Henry94

    Mick

    Why should it be any different for Unionists?

    The only consideration for unionists will be their own interests so when the second IMC report tells us that there has been no IRA activity then the question will be why wait.

    What is to be gained?

    The problem for unionists is in my view the section of their own vote that doesn’t want a deal at all. There is no avoiding that split.

  • Mick Fealty

    Henry, I’d love to thrash this one out properly. Alas time is agin me.

    Suffice to say that in the last three years I’ve heard, the ‘let’s move on without them’ regularly emanating from Sinn Fein and the DUP by turns, and it hasn’t worked for either of them yet.

    Would it be too facile to say that we are just stuck with the Prisoner’s Dilemma – and each other’s frustratingly slow timetables?

  • middle-class taig

    “Otherwise valid points come over like groundless assertions.”

    My point precisely.

    I didn’t kick the ref. I played the ball of his groundless assertions. There’s no evidence of SF bad faith towards unionists whatsoever.

    The McCartney family might have a case, I dont know enough about what’s been going on there recently though.

  • Ringo

    The problem for unionists is in my view the section of their own vote that doesn’t want a deal at all. There is no avoiding that split.

    Hasn’t that been evident since 30%* of the unionists voted against the GFA (*just checking – 30% is correct isn’t it?).

    Whatever its flaws, and I think they’ve mostly been in the manner of implementation rather than the content, is it not fair to say that the majority of people who voted for and against the GFA did so based on either a willingness to give devolved powersharing a chance, or a flat rejection of the idea of powersharing?

  • felix quigley

    I do not agree with “power-sharing”. Can I ask a simple question, is there power-sharing in the Republic, ie the other part of the 1921 Treaty arrangement? No, obviously there you have normal rules of parliamentary democracy. So why then the difference!?

    This is NOT addressed by Mick’s points above. Yet that to my mind anyway is central.

    I cannot for the life of me understand this new phenomenon of powersharing. And it is new, going against centuries of parliamentary electioneering. I cannot see much point in having elections if the loser will in the end share the spoils. There is something really fundamentally opportunist in this British and Irish governmental stratagem.

    I feel that once you begin to change the rules of this parliamentary procedure you begin on a slippery slope to…nobody really knows to where.

    There is however a real struggle here to destroy the Northern Ireland state. My problem with that is that it is most often being hidden behind honeyed words. One of the words most used is “Peace”!

    The central question still remains the right to exist of the Northern Irish state. Will it have autonomy in the same way that the Republic does? Will there be a real change of heart that will allow this to happen? If not, it will be like the Palestinian Arabs wish to do away with Israel. They call for a Palestinian state etc but they mean by that an end to the Zionist aspiration for a Jewish state. No change of heart, deep down, no solution ever!

    In our context there probably is only ONE solution and that is for Irish catholics or nationalists to abide by that 1921 Treaty arrangement which I think did gain a majority in the ensuing election. But it was in any case a Treaty with the standing of International Law. But it is the British and Irish governments who are overthrowing that Treaty.

    I predict no solution from this IRA move. No real change of heart. Adams still wants to overthrow the 1921 Treaty and aboilish the northern state – huge stakes are involved in these discussions.

    And anyway, as I said elsewhere, if you have the money in today’s market arming is child’s play. And it is like the computer world, buy late you buy better and more powerful!

  • Henry94

    felix quigley

    In our context there probably is only ONE solution and that is for Irish catholics or nationalists to abide by that 1921 Treaty arrangement which I think did gain a majority in the ensuing election.

    The Good Friday Agreement has a more recent majority. If you uphold majority rule then you have no basis whatever for opposing the clear will of the majority who voted for the Agreement.

  • baldrick

    Henry94

    I agree entirely with your statement.

    By Felix logic the majority of one particular grouping voted against the GFA therefore the clear democratic will of the majority of the people of NI can be ignored

    “cuz’ we don’t like it so we’re going to take our ball home”. Childish isn’t it.

    Fortunately democracy doesn’t recognise the majority of “Prods/Unionists/Loyalists/one legged slavic lapdancers” just the majority of the electorate.

    It’s strange that so many DUP voters have this fundamental lack of understanding of the concept of democracy.

    If the day comes when THE MAJORITY vote for UI, even if a majority of Unionists oppose it, anyone espousing the name “democratic” will have to abide by the will of the people even if they personally dislike the result.

    Anything else is the same tribal themmuns/ussuns thinking which we have been suffering for years -certainly not any form of Democracy I can recognise.

    Perhaps a name change may be in order UDUP or UTP

    (Un-Democratic Unionist Party / Unionist Taliban Party) anyone?

  • Mike

    “Fortunately democracy doesn’t recognise the majority of “Prods/Unionists/Loyalists/one legged slavic lapdancers” just the majority of the electorate.

    It’s strange that so many DUP voters have this fundamental lack of understanding of the concept of democracy.”

    Hang on a minute, to be fair wasn’t it a demand of NATIONALIST politicans that resulted in the principle that the political arranagements in NI should have the concent of both the unionist and nationalist communities?

  • Ringo

    By Felix logic the majority of one particular grouping voted against the GFA therefore the clear democratic will of the majority of the people of NI can be ignored

    Isn’t this incorrect? Didn’t it recieve majority support from both comunities in 1998?

    Baldrick, your embrace of majoritarianism would make a bowler-hatted 1960’s unionist blush.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Mick

    “The IRA wouldn’t be hurried into this final act – despite the immense outside pressure. Why should it be any different for Unionists?”

    I think the situation as far as the British government is concerned is clearly different with regard to unionism today than it was with regard to republicanism during earlier phases of the peace process for a number of reasons.

    I suppose the question we have to look at here is where the British government’s interests lie in all of this. With regard to republicanism they faced a serious opponent. Like them or not, the fact is that the Sinn Fein leadership have been able to bring widespread international sympathy, shrewd leadership and a coherent strategy to the table. They have also been able to offer a narrative that – though any British government would hotly dispute it – is credible.

    Conversely, unionism today is led by what looks to the outside world like a shockingly atavistic clique of sneering corner boys under the command of an ailing thug/17h century throwback. (Hey, that’s how it looks.) Meanwhile, the now marginalised “respectable” unionism seems unable or unwilling to offer anything more rational than the mullahs and mujahedin majority. Even the most sympathetic ears in Whitehall and Westminster will be disappointed in their efforts to discern a convincing narrative or coherent unionist strategy. Just last week a former editor of the Daily Torygraph described the unionist community as “left beached by the tide of history”.

    So you ask why should the process move more quickly now that the onus is on unionists rather than republicans? In short: because republicans were a serious and credible opponent. Presently, unionism is not. (As was most graphically illustrated by the recent attempts to recreate 1974. Marx’s quote about history repeating itself, happening first as tragegy, then as farce, never seemed so apposite.) Increasingly the instruments of the state have been removed from unionist control and unionism seems a long way from providing the kind of self-sufficient threat of which republicanism has long been capable.

    As far as the British government is concerned, what is the peace process all about? Never mind that craic about altruistically trying to create peace in Northern Ireland. (That may be partly true but make no mistake, there’s a lot of self-interest at work too.)

    The British government saw in the peace process an opportunity to draw the teeth of the IRA, an organisation which had been a seriously annoying and particularly durable fly in the ointment. Three or four political generations in Britain found themselves sidetracked by the problems in NI. Suddenly the opportunity arose to ensure there would be no more Baltic Exchanges, no more Canary Wharves and – less importantly – no more Warringtons. It was also an opportunty for THIS PARTICULAR government to succeed where its predecessors had so ignominiously failed. There was a chance to hammer out an honourable peace in what had proven to be an unwinnable war, and an unconscionable distraction.

    So the British government had to be patient. That’s the nature of making peace with your enemies. But unionism isn’t supposed to be the enemy of the British government. Furthermore, Downing Street has won its last several battles with the loyal people of Ulster. 1912 and 1974 are a long time ago now. Since then the Paisley Strike, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Drumcree have all demonstrated the British government’s determination not to be humiliated again, and the essential falsity of the myth that “Ulster will fight, Ulster will be right”.

    Unionism is in bad shape, and in no position to hold up the process. The DUP might sit on their hands, but all that will achieve will be ever more souped-up north-south developments. This will result, surely, in ever more irrational tantrums from unionism, ever more howls of betrayal from the DUP, and ever less of a tendency in Westminster to listen to what unionism has to say. (And furthermore it will make the contrasting voices from nationalist Ireland appear ever more reasonable and rational as they call for greater north-south developments. And so on.)

    Unionism will eventually come to realise that the British government is not its friend and, without a credible political strategy it is doomed to being powerless as well as friendless. That’s where unionism is at right now, and that’s why it’s different from where republicanism was at previously.

  • Ringo

    Billy,

    Meanwhile, the now marginalised “respectable” unionism seems unable or unwilling to offer anything more rational than the mullahs and mujahedin majority.

    Look who the nationalist community has chosen to be their champions. The crucial difference is not that unionism have chosen irrational politicians (I see little rational thought in Sinn Fein’s core beliefs) , but their irrational politicians have their eyes firmly fixed on the past rather than the future.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Ringo

    “Look who the nationalist community has chosen to be their champions. The crucial difference is not that unionism have chosen irrational politicians (I see little rational thought in Sinn Fein’s core beliefs) , but their irrational politicians have their eyes firmly fixed on the past rather than the future.”

    I disagree Ringo, but I can see where you’re coming from. I’m not saying that the Sinn Fein leadership are good guys – they most assuredly are not. I’m not saying that they’re moderates or any less hardline than their opposite numbers. What I am saying though is that there are many ways in which they are NOT mirror images of the DUP (or the new UUP leadership which seems intent on pathetically aping the DUP).

    One might reasonably argue that in terms of extremism and in terms of moral bankruptcy, SF and the DUP are equals. Fair enough. But the similarity ends there.

    One might disagree with the fundamental philosophy that underpins Sinn Fein policy but I don’t accept that it is irrational. I know one might point to the far left economic policies or the bizaree anti-EU stance but that is, I think, to miss the key point. Fundamentally Sinn Fein has only one policy. “Sinn Fein”. That the island of Ireland should be a single, sovereign republic. That’s the glue that binds together so many people who are so very different in so many ways. Old fashioned conservative Catholics (McGuinnes), 70’s Marxists (Adams), trendy environmentalists (O Snodaigh), cute farmers (Ferris), arty types (O Broin), jolly hockey sticks posh girls (Mary Lou), technocrats (DeBrun), bank managers (O Caoileann) and cold-blooded corner boys (Gerry Kelly).

    This is a party full of people who could really only agree on one thing: that the reunification of Ireland is the number one political priority on this island. You or I might disagree, but it’s still a rational position. (Indeed the realisation of that policy is the “firm will” of the Irish people, according to Bunreacht na hEireann.)

    As for all the Marxist stuff, I would point you to the performances of Ministers McGuinness and DeBrun, which should allay your fears.

    So my point is this: I’m not saying you should like the shinners but you have to take them seriously. (It’s not weakness to recognise the strength of your opponent.) Not just because they have numbers but because they have shrewd leadership, a coherent strategy and a rational narrative. Of the above, all the DUP have is numbers. As we saw with the unpleasantness of two weeks ago, that won’t get them far.

  • Brian Boru

    Felix quigley, as I have said before, the Southern State does not have NI assembly style powersharing-rules because we are not a divided society with a continuous history of large parts of the population fighting each other. As such, comparisons with the lack of such a system in the South is not making a fair comparison.

    Having said that, nearly every General Election down here leads to multi-party government because the electoral-system (the same as the NI assembly one) makes it very hard for any party to get a majority.

    “In our context there probably is only ONE solution and that is for Irish catholics or nationalists to abide by that 1921 Treaty arrangement which I think did gain a majority in the ensuing election.”

    Most of that treaty is already gone so it’s not a question of “abiding” by it. The treaty required Southern members of the Dail to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch. De Valera scrapped the Oath after the Statute of Westminster 1931 allowed Commonwealth countries to scrap laws passed for them in the past by Britain. He also scrapped the Governor-General, who had orders from the British government to veto Irish laws, and the so-called Treaty ports that Britain held onto under the treaty were handed back following a 6 year trade-war with Britain in 1938. All references to the Crown were deleted from the Irish Constitution in 1937 (good riddance) and the entire Constitution we got under the Treaty was replaced in 1937. Fine Gael took us out of the Commonwealth and declared us to be the Republic of Ireland in 1948 (as opposed to the Free State).

    Partition is all that remains of the 1921 treaty. Incidentally, if you are so in love with the 1921 treaty, presumably you are then in favour of north-south bodies as one called the Council of Ireland was part of the treaty. And the rights contained in the Treaty for Southerners to speak in the Northern Parliament and vice-versa. 🙂

    The 1921 treaty is gone. It has been superseded by the British-Irish Treaty which makes the GFA international law. This is what should be implemented. Of course many Northern Protestants do not wish to share power. They don’t like the Papists being about the place, as Lord Brookeborough – 3rd PM of NI – roughly said. But they are entitled to demand equality. The rest of the UK has moved to devolution so if Unionists are so keen on following the rest of the UK then they should restore devolution. Felix and his like have to accept equality. The “Them and Us” mentality is sectarian and needs to be challenged.

  • aquifer

    Brian Boru

    “Most of that treaty is already gone.. Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch.. the Governor-General, who had orders from the British government to veto Irish laws.. Treaty ports that Britain held onto under the treaty were handed back following a 6 year trade-war with Britain in 1938. All references to the Crown were deleted from the new Irish Constitution in 1937.. Fine Gael took us out of the Commonwealth and declared us to be the Republic of Ireland in 1948”

    Thanks for the catalogue of sectarian separatist lamppost pissing, but were the treaty ports not simply handed back in 1938 as per previous agreement, despite the pending great anti-fascist war, rather than due to the pathetic ‘belfast boycott’ that helped copperfasten partition.

    Did you leave out Collins’ secret war against the north and in breach of his own treaty with them for any reason?

    “Partition is all that remains of the 1921 treaty.”

    Shows the danger in unilaterally tearing up treaties or or indulging in armed subversion then?

  • barnshee

    “Surely they should want a Government in NI like who can do something about the Rates and Water charges etc”

    And what pray would “a Government in NI ” do about these charges –sweet fuck all. A local government consisting of the self serving unprincipled arseholes who pollute the political arena are going in some way to raise the funds needed?

    HOW
    What services will they reduce to provide these funds?-Education? health?

    Try reality

    A population the size of yorkshire (one health board , 1 county council, 1 education board dispersed populations)compared beside the sewer that is N Ireland (Councils ad naseaum, health and education boards to burn- an embarassment of civil servants) shows the degree of vested interests to be overcome. Add the futile assembly and there is so much opportunity for savings that water bills need never surface.

    Will it happen –LOL

  • willowfield

    Yorkshire’s population is considerably larger than NI’s.

  • southern observer

    ” centuries old siege.”
    This has a slightly propagandist slant-sort of like nationalists going on about a ”centuries-old dispossession”.
    In numerous instances throughout the ‘centuries’ Catholics/nationalists could have claimed,with some justification, to have been the besieged rather than the besiegers.In fact you need look no further than recent events in North Antrim.

    Michael,
    I have noted with some concern that your interjections tend to have a partisan,pro-unionist bias.This sits uneasily with what should be your definitive role as impartial moderator-in-chief.

  • southern observer

    The above,BTW,is not ‘playing the ball’-it is remonstrating with the ref for giving an inordinate amount of free kicks to one side.

  • southern observer

    ”In our context there probably is only ONE solution and that is for Irish catholics or nationalists to abide by that 1921 Treaty arrangement which I think did gain a majority in the ensuing election.”

    To quote directly the notorious republican fanatic,Conor Cruise O’Brien:
    ‘The real losers of the 1921 settlement were the Northern Ireland Catholics’.
    In ‘Godfather’ parlance the Irish negotiators in 1921 were made ‘an offer they couldn’t refuse’.To paraphrase more specifically from the ‘Godfather’it was made clear that ‘either their brains or their signatures’ would be on the form.

  • Reader

    southern observer: the Irish negotiators in 1921 were made ‘an offer they couldn’t refuse’.

    Whereas Collins made the British negotiators an offer they could refuse. But surely that is the whole point of treaty negotiations – to establish the full-time score?

  • Ringo

    To paraphrase more specifically from the ‘Godfather’it was made clear that ‘either their brains or their signatures’ would be on the form.

    Any reference to this or is it just a way of absolving the Irish party of any meaningfuly role in the negotiations, and the inevitable fall-out? I think you do them a disservice.

  • Ringo

    Billy,

    sorry, I should have been a bit clearer. I agree completely that Sinn Fein is a broad church, bound together primarily by the single focus of a United Ireland. Without getting to deep into this I think that this is fundamentally irrational. Government is a means not an end. The exact same applies to Unionism. Even if it was empirically proven that in NI would be better off in a UI, you would still have unionists, and conversely you would still have republicans even if it was clear that the best interests would be served by Westminster rule.

    I am quite happy to acknowledge that much as I dislike them, Sinn Fein are light years ahead of the DUP in playing the political game. I agree completely wth your summary – with the exception of the ‘rational narrative’ bit. I think the narrative is more than adequate for their purposes, without being entirely rational.

  • Brian Boru

    “Thanks for the catalogue of sectarian separatist lamppost pissing, but were the treaty ports not simply handed back in 1938 as per previous agreement, despite the pending great anti-fascist war, rather than due to the pathetic ‘belfast boycott’ that helped copperfasten partition.”

    Aquifer, I am not talking about the Belfast boycott. That was in the early 1920’s. I am talking about the Economic War between Britain and the South which began when the South refused to continue paying the Land Annuities to Britain (loans given by Britain to Irish tenants to buy out their landlords). De Valera decided to stop paying them in 1932 when he came to power. In retaliation, the Brits imposed tariff barriers on Irish exports. De Valera retailiated with similar sanctions. This trade-war continued until 1938 when, as part of the deal, the Brits handed the Treaty ports (Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Berehaven and Loch Swilly) back to the then Irish Free State. The land annuities were also settled by a single payment of £50 million to Britain.

    You refer to Michael Collins “secret war” in the North. I am aware that recent evidence is that he had ordered the killing of Sir Henry Wilson, military-advisor to the NI govt. I consider this to have been justified because he is implicated in killings of Catholics in the North.

  • Brian Boru

    “Repaying” I mean.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Ringo

    “Government is a means not an end.”

    Agreed. ItÂ’s a rational position to argue that a single, sovereign government on this island, elected by all the people of this island, would provide the best governance for the people of this island.

    I still reckon opposition to partition is rational. You’re certainly right to make the point that there are plenty of completely irrational reasons to oppose partition (and no doubt there are plenty of people who joined Sinn Fein for irrational reasons) but I would also contend that there are rational reasons too – whereas there is no longer any rational reason basis for the status quo, other than that it is the status quo. Nationalism might be fundamentally irrational, but that’s another question. Sure, the logic of republicanism (in its broadest sense) and the irrationality of nationalism have led to the same conclusion, but that doesn’t mean republicanism is irrational.
    One might reasonably argue that the existence of a border on this small landmass is fundamentally inefficient. One might argue with equal reasonableness that locating sovereignty for any part of this island overseas is inherently less democratic, efficient and workable than locating sovereignty for this island on this island. Or in short: a single, sovereign state on this island is the most logical, rational and sane form of government for this island. There may be other alternatives that are also logical and rational but clearly the status quo (partition and colonial status for an enclave in the north-east) is insane.

    So itÂ’s rational to oppose the status quo and rational to advocate a single, sovereign state on this island. (In fact, I believe the logic is compelling, but thatÂ’s another story.)

  • Brian Boru

    Barnshee, in response to what you have said, I would reply that surely a local assembly would pay more attention to the said problems that a Parliament in London which only devotes a few minutes to NI questions.

    Anyway, NI MPs are just needles in a haystack in a House of Commons of 660 MPs. The Government there has a majority of 67, and UK Governments generally do not need the support of NI MPs. In contrast, a NI assembly would have no issues to consider other than NI issues, thus ensuring that NI’s interests alone are addressed, instead of being consigned to 20 minutes debate.