That was the year that was

In the Belfast Telegraph, Eamonn McCann points out that 2005 was the year when scepticism about the 1998 Agreement went mainstream, and identifies its fundamental flaw as “The Agreement was always certain to consolidate sectarianism in that it established a system based on striking a balance between the wishes and interests of “the two communities.” This ensured that the battle within each community concerned which party could be counted on to vindicate and advance its interests vis-a-vis the interests of the other side.” And he argues, with some justification, that the assessing of major issues in terms of “how does such and such an attitude help or hinder in the Sisyphusian task of getting the institutions up and running again?” is hindering political progress.

  • Keith M

    “Eamonn McCann points out that 2005 was the year when scepticism about the 1998 Agreement went mainstream”.

    Exactly what planet was he onl between 2000 and 2004, or maybe he is using the provo dictionary version of “mainstream”.

  • Pete Baker


    Eamonn references several articles published in 2005 by writers who were previously ardent supporters of the Agreement.

    That’s presumably what he means by going mainstream.

    Eamonn McCann, btw, has, as far as I’m aware, always been critical of the, at best, implicit endorsement of sectarianism that the Agreement contains.

  • Keith M

    Pete,I’m not questioning the (correct) assertion that most commentators are saying that the agreement is dead, or any criticism that McCann has made of the agreement (although both could well be put down to bandwagon jumping. What I am questioining is McCann’s idea that it the was a sudden relevation which descended upon the “mainstream” in 2005. The mainstream (if not the the majority) were questioning the viability of the agreement back in 2000 and increasingly ever year since. The point at which this criticism gained sufficient critical mass is a mute point, but it certainly came long before 2005.

  • Crataegus


    On the lead up to the agreement the only people I can remember who were referring to it as institutionalised sectarianism and thus deeply flawed were Socialists like McCann and a Peter Emerson of the Greens. They were right and in retrospect having the problems in negotiations and framing the solution was at best naive as all were then setting up a framework that suited self interest. It is easy for me to criticise when I don’t know the full constraints or pressures, but it struck me that the performance of some of the officials in the NI office at the time could have been a lot sharper as many of the problems that later transpired were predicted. However (and I may be wrong) the Greens decided on pragmatism and better to support the agreement if progress could be made and McCann took the ideologically pure course of continued opposition.

    I would agree with you. There has been growing disquiet over the agreement since the beginning of the millennium I think mainly because of the way the process was being abused and the apparent lack of good will or common purpose or even a desire to move on. In addition we had the outworkings of the agreement that appeared to benefit the miscreants, but at the same time high levels of crime and paramilitary activity. In many minds it began to symbolise a get out of jail free card for criminals and an expensive junket for a very mediocre political class.

    Lately however it has become safe to openly criticise an agreement that is obviously deeply flawed. When does parity of esteem and inclusion become minority veto? But equally how can you prevent majority domination? The core of the problem is lack of trust, and it has to be said the inability of many of those elected to treat everyone here as equal. Their careers have been built on division so I suppose expecting change is asking a lot.

    It is sad as the Agreement was an overwhelming expression of goodwill and it has been an opportunity squandered by political pygmies and those hell bent on seeking very narrow self interest.

  • spartacus

    Keith M.

    As usual your potential for making sense, or indulging in basic honesty, is undermined by that blinkered world view that you and your neo-con friends are so heavily burdened by. McCann ‘jumping the bandwagon’? Is that right? Here’s him from March 2000, in Socialist Review (London):

    “The agreement was constructed according to a model of Northern Ireland society which recognised no dimension of politics, or of social existence generally, other than sectarianism. The problem, it was implicitly assumed, had to do with the given historic inability of ‘the two communities’ to get along with one another. The solution, then, was to devise a set of structures, with checks, balances and failsafe mechanisms, within which Catholic-Nationalism and Protestant-Unionism could coexist in permanent and relatively peaceful stalemate. The people, like the politicians, would, in time, learn to rub along with one other without abrasion at the interface sparking a new conflagration. As Tony Blair put it on glad, confident Good Friday morning (it is understood Alastair Campbell thought the phrase up for him), ‘There are no winners and no losers.’

    Consonant with this approach, the assembly was structured along frankly sectarian lines. Members registered as either Nationalist or Unionist, and the selection of ministers and all significant decisions required effective majority backing from both sides.

    With the entire population implicitly allocated to one or other community and all the structures thereafter geared to striking a fine balance between the two, the settlement imputed no blame to any past political arrangement or section of society for the development of the situation which exploded into war 30 years ago, nor offered any judgment on the role of any of the parties to the war. This applied to Britain as well as to the Irish elements. Britain was not to be blamed for having set up, armed and sustained the Orange state for 80 years. Instead, Britain, in the person of Blair, was self-projected as an evenhanded benign outsider labouring mightily to coax the warring Irish factions towards sensible compromise.”

    Now when _you_ write that opposition to the Agreement went mainstream many years back, what you mean is that the DUP and loyalism opposed it consistently. I’m guessing that that is not what McCann means, and PB’s comment speaks to that. Not surprisingly the communal horse-trading built in to GFA, and the fact that it has not delivered anything in material terms to Protestant workers or their nationalist counterparts), has put politics back in the lap of the most bigoted elements in northern politics. You relish that development, no doubt. I don’t.

    McCann saw it coming, to his credit.

  • spartacus

    i should have written ‘sections of loyalism’ opposed it consistently…

  • Richard Dowling

    Common currency always had it that the Provos were
    ideologically pure (enlightened, non-sectarian, etc). The
    reality, of course, was quite the opposite. They were brutal.
    They were sectarian.

    Witness the anniversary, just yesterday, of the Kingsmill
    killings, when 12 Protestant workmen were singled out and
    killed in cold blood. So how does that differ from the
    Greysteel (near Derry) murders when Catholic patrons of a
    pub were mowed down by Loyalist psychpaths?

    Sectarianism was always a fact of life in Northern Ireland, and
    generally a fact of life with the Provisional IRA. The Good
    Friday/Belfast Agreement did NOT invent it. Or even
    exacerbate it. It just highlighted it and brought it out of the
    shadows. Republicans are NOW trying to distance themselves
    from ALL these killings, conveniently forgetting that they killed
    more than ALL the Loyalist gangs combined, and ALL the
    forces of the Crown combined?

    And when people try to imply that the OLD WAYS were best
    (as if killing for supposedly ideologiacally reasons was
    somehow OK), then we know how far down the slippery slope
    our society has gone.

    By the way, does anyone remember an article written by
    Eamon McCann (almost 30 years ago), when he wrote about
    what ideologiacally pure Republicans could do with a shoulder
    held SAM missile at Heathrow Airport for example, if they
    should so wish? I think it was in the Sunday World.

  • spartacus

    do us a favor richard, and post the article, in its entirety. i have no doubt at all that you’ve misrepresented mccann’s argument. prove me wrong or withdraw the smear.