The strange disappearance of the Belfast Agreement?

As Tommy McKearney rightly notes, all the goods that came with the Belfast Agreement are being shifted out the back door ready for delivery to the new super councils, the elections to which could be as little as two years away. He also rightly notes: no one (who matters) seems to care. He blames the “impenetrable DUP mindset”. But it takes two to play ‘political chicken’! The refusal of both main parties to do a deal is rapidly turning the historic ‘GFA’ iinto the ‘Got F*** All’ agreement.

  • Keith M

    The Belfast Agreement is long since dead, it’s just that the “slow learners (copyright Seamus Mallon) only appear to have picked up on the fact in the past year or two. It didn’t die with the failure to meet the decommissioning deadline or with Stormongate. It died the day that the majority of Unionists chose to withdraw support for it. This is one of the sifde-effects of the once vaunted (but now rarely mentioned) “parity of esteem”. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and an agreement that was only perceived to be delivering for one side was no going to last in the longer term.

    Both side will consider the concessions they got under the B.A. as “booked”. No one is going to ask for terrorists to go back to prision to serve their full terms, no more that the original articles 2+3 are going to be re-inserted in our constitution.

    Move on, nothing to see here.

  • Couple of points. First, in order to retain ‘booked’ concessions, then the structure within which those concessions were secured needs to be maintained. This goes beyond prisoners or arts 2 & 3. It is about the nascent socio-political structure which has reset near-stifling levels equality at the heart of the agenda. If the GFA goes away, something needs to replace it. And its disappearance / replacement (rather than evolution) could have seismic repercussions. Second point is regarding the ‘impenetrable DUP mindset’. I’m not entirely sure that this phrase is appropriate. However, if I were in the DUP’s shoes, I would certainly be looking for a strategy of constructive obstructionism, which gives you time, frustrates the opposition, and most importantly maintains the status quo. The risk with this kind of strategy is that you mustn’t appear like a stubborn bigot. That has happened in the past, but is happening far less frequently these days. There are fewer and fewer red-faced blustering organgemen on the TV bleating on about IRA funded Resident’s Committees, and far more pin-striped calm arguments (which may or may not be unreasonable).

  • Yokel


    Question for you. If you had a political perspective, unionist, nationalist, non-aligned, what would it be?

    True, less red faced useless Orangemen talking nonsense about the queens highway, one the most absurd phrases of modern Northern Ireland history but from what I see I stil see much of the same old poor communication bring it down to bluster, bogeymen and whinging stuff…..maybe my perspective is different.

    If unionism wants to make things work it needs to change dynamics on which the discussion is founded…but they seem to have no idea how to do that..Ulster Unioniss, DUP I’m available for consultin throw a few hundred quid my way and I’ll explain what I mean….

  • Yokel, I am a fully paid up member of the Irish Labour Party, an unashamed capitalist, not unionist, and not non-aligned. The attachments associated with ‘republicanism’ or ‘nationalism’ are too extreme in many cases. Perhaps I could be boxed as a ‘constructive all-islander’, if that makes any sense.

    As for Unionism, there is a root problem in that it has been and will be of necessity a negative proposition. The Green agenda advocates a forward movement, development, equality, and all that good stuff. Unionism can represent forward momentum too, but it is consumed by the opposition to constitutional change, and a desire to reverse the constitutional seepage that has happened since the GFA. Unionism must re-focus on economics (which the UUP has always been strong on), and a social agenda, and where a socio-economic agenda is pursued under the banner of Unionism, then even the DUP can be redeemed.

    Remember, Sinn Fein have arrived where they are today on the back of civil rights and equality, not just the constitutional issue.

  • fair_deal

    “As for Unionism, there is a root problem in that it has been and will be of necessity a negative proposition.”

    Unionism is only negative in the context of the question it is asked. Unionism says yes to being part of and contribute to the United Kingdom and no to Irish unification.

    Maybe Unionists have got the image of saying No because it is continually asked the same question.

  • Fair point – perhaps that is the success of the Shinners that they have managed to shape the question so successfully!

  • Zach

    “I am a fully paid up member of the Irish Labour Party, an unashamed capitalist”

    And people wonder why labor, both the party and the organized kind are floundering.

  • Mick Fealty


    [welcome to Slugger]

    “…it is consumed by the opposition to constitutional change, and a desire to reverse the constitutional seepage that has happened since the GFA”.

    I’m not sure that’s 100% accurate. It might have been true of the anti Trimble faction of the UUs and the various fringe groupings. The DUP has effectively mopped those guys up and either pulled them inside, or forced them out of the game. It is also (within its own constituency at least) moving forward electorally.

    You may have a point re constitutional change. But that doesn’t seem to be the sticking point, at the moment.

    The question is: who’s sticking points are we actually stuck on?

    The DUP claims it was ready to do a constitutional deal in December 2004, but that similiarly to the Belfast Agreement, the IRA had refused to be party to any comprehensive agreement.

    Two things have changed since then. The IRA has substantially disarmed. And it has instructed its volunteers:

    …to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever [my italics].

    Despite this, and in the wake of the Northern Bank robbery and the killing of Robert McCartney, the DUP’s main sticking point appears to be Republican criminality (or fund raising/gross military misconduct, whichever you prefer). As the Ballymurphy pogroms demonstrate, the suspension of the IRA’s campaign with no local police force holds some (possibly manageable) risk for Republican communities.

    Hain appears to be piling up draft legislation that will set certain constitional clocks ticking. Both the big parties can live with Plan B: the seven super council outcome, even if privately some of them think it contains the seed of governmental apartheid.

    In the short term the political question is: how many future clean sheets from the IMC can the DUP endure before they bite the bullet and do a deal that sticks? It may be the only way they have to call in Sinn Fein’s hand and hasten an end to the Peace Process™ Game.

  • Keith M

    Anthony, the two cnsessions I have listed (any being honest the new articles 2+3 were really some long overdue constitution housekeeping) really stand alone from the Belfast Agreement, thereforefore when you say “in order to retain ‘booked’ concessions, then the structure within which those concessions were secured needs to be maintained” that is not the case, unless we have a different definition of the word “structure” (for stucture I read the 1998 agreement). Other concessions such as the replacement of the RUC with the PSNI are the same.

    Concessions such as a power sharing executive do need the B.A. to remain in place or be included in a new agreement.

    Mick “how many future clean sheets from the IMC can the DUP endure before they bite the bullet and do a deal that sticks?”. Well one might be a start. As long as SF/IRA are involveed in criminality the DUP are just as entitled to say “no deal” as Bertie Ahern says about a coaltion in this country.

    There is a valid question there, but it’s still very much a hypathetical one as of now.

  • Mick Fealty


    “…a hypothetical one as of now”.

    Agreed. Yet all the other pieces in the puzzle are real enough.

  • (Sorry, had to pop out…)

    Zach, regarding capitalist members of the labour party, it is something I struggle with (all joking aside) but the alternatives were either not to involve myself in politics like far too many people do, and just moan about stuff, or form my own party. The Labour party most closely represents my views, though it hasn’t quite scaled the heights of Mr. Blair & co across the water…not that it doesn’t have its own problems. Best of a bad lot, as it were, and I like what Michael D. Higgins stands for, who’s my local TD.

    Mick, thanks for the welcome; FYI Last Word appearance alerted me to the site.

    On constitutional issue and its ‘centrality’ to the Unionist position, nothing in this polemic is ever 100%, and I’ll grant you Unionist people are moving away from that (or perhaps more accurately ‘elaborating’ on that, viz, these are the reasons why we think our idea is the right one, not just God, Ulster and the Queen).

    The true test will come when the DUP can find no excuses for denying movement. Yes, they were apparently up for it in December 2004, but they didn’t follow through, and put things into reverse with the sackcloth and ashes stuff. Neither did Trimble in one of his last acts as UUP (and generally Unionist) leader, when the choreography got scuppered on his interpretation of de Chastelain’s words, with which he also set things back. For a while it was two steps forward, one step back, for the past couple of years it’s been two steps forward, two steps back, and we need to make sure that 2006 isn’t about one step forward two steps back, which could happen. A slow reversal that leads to God knows where. Much as we all want to believe that the DUP are willing to make concessions in return for forward momentum, they have yet to actually concede anything since supplanting the UUP, nor has any progress been made, and the lingering, damnable thought is stuck at the back of everyone’s mind – will they ever concede anything?

    The difficulty for the DUP is that their constituency is significantly (though not entirely) those that will afford no succour to republicans / catholics / nationalists. Any concession, no matter how significant the return, moves the DUP into a new place, more familiar perhaps to the UUP, and sets up a right ding dong for Unionist votes in the next election. The DUP finally go mainstream when they swallow the politically realist pill that is concessions.

    As for the Peace Process™ Game it sounds like an interesting project. I wonder if a set of rules could be written? What’s the prize?

    Keith M, I suppose what I am saying is that, going back to the first post, tbe BA hasn’t gone away, you know! Nor will it – it may change, morph, evolve, and so on, but it won’t go anywhere. Therefore the baseline changes – the nascent socio-political structure – can’t really disappear, but may change – you mention the possibility of a new agreement, which is certainly possible, though I would suggest based on the BA.

  • Brian Boru

    SF was not originally in favour of an Assembly anyway as I clearly recall in the talks. They only agreed to it in return for Irish language funding and prisoner releases. They would probably prefer some kind of Joint Authority arrangment. Maybe that is what will happen.

  • Brian Boru

    The GFA is not dead. The parts of it that the NI parties are supposed to implement from now on are probably dead i.e. devolution, but the North-South bodies already set up are still there. The 2 govt’s should expand their powers and create more. The Unionists will moan but if they had representatives on the defunct North-South Council and in the assembly they could have blocked it going further. Their addiction to naysaying may ultimately help bring unity closer. Their constant need to feel threatened, and to see a United Ireland behind every door and corner, results in paralysis from them in terms of accepting changes. In doing so they leave the initiative to others.

  • Dave

    FAO Anthony B

    “Remember, Sinn Fein have arrived where they are today on the back of civil rights and equality, not just the constitutional issue.”

    You were doing all right until you dropped the above clanger. The only person you are kidding here is yourself. The Bomb and ballot box tactics of IRA/SF coupled with appeasement by American, British and Irish politicians got them were they are today.

    The Bomb and Ballot box tactics are no longer available to IRA/SF so say IRA/SF they have decommissioned some weapons, haven’t they? The Bomb and Ballot Box tactics were no longer available to IRA/SF after 9/11 it took that sort of terrorist act on their home soil to open the American eyes.

    IRA/SF talk about civil rights and equality, for whom?

  • Dave, the bomb and the ballot box and the appeasement of politicians were certainly central to the tactics of the Republican movement generally – I don’t doubt that for a minute! But their ’cause’, their raison d’etre, their manifesto, as it were, was not confined to the constitutional issue, it was to do with social and equality issues also, which is the point I was making. And therefore, extrapolating from that, the socio-economic agenda of the Unionist parties (particularly the DUP) needs to be developed in order to broaden its remit, and engage around the central constitutional issue.