Ireland, Britain and ‘the war on terror’

Bruce Arnold with some interesting thoughts from last Saturday’s Irish Independent on the Bush Adminstration’s role in reinforcing the irreversibility of the ending of the IRA’s campaign, and targeting of ‘terrorist’ groups throughout the west. Long term support for the rule of law is, in his view, the acid test for any further movement on the St Andrews Agreement.By Bruce Arnold

In a climate of retribution and blame, following the electoral reversals faced by George Bush, it is important to recognize how significant his otherwise ill-named ‘War on Terror’ has been in the context of Ireland and Britain.

It has had a two-fold impact. It has reinforced the irreversibility of the enforced ending of IRA terror campaigns. It helped in the elimination of IRA arms dumps. It put a partial clamp on Sinn Fein criminality. It narrowed the road forward for Sinn Fein-IRA, bringing about serious changes of direction and helping to impose on that organization a choice in favour of exclusive democracy.

The progress towards this is far from complete; but there is no going back, and it is as a result of the comprehensive approach of the Bush administration towards terror that the part of it that reached into the North found a logical target there, and the impact was beneficial to us all.

The second achievement was to intensify police strategy, particularly within the United Kingdom. Though the energy behind this has been mainly directed at al-Qa’eda terrorism, it has signalled the targeting of all terrorism, inclusive of what was once the world’s most sophisticated terrorist organization, the IRA.

Again, the job is well short of completion. It still lacks the closing down of this illegal army, and it still requires the democratic consent of Sinn Fein to policing as well as the other consents over crime and coercion and recognition of the courts and of legislation. But the slow conversion of the party to principles that bring it closer to the other political parties on this island has been advanced by Bush. What brought electoral reversal in the US, boosting the Democrats, has been to our advantage. This will continue. Ironically, it is a mark of what has already been achieved that Gerry Adams went to the United States this week on the fund-raising visit that was blocked a year ago.

There is a third dimension to this, and it is evident in the developing situation in Northern Ireland. Once Ian Paisley made his speech at the end of the St Andrew’s talks, moving himself and his party into a positive mode, though with caveats, he assumed a controlling position in the forward progress of the whole process. The November 24 deadline has gone, making room for further debate and strengthening the demands by the DUP for Sinn Fein endorsement of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Making progress, when it is brought down to basics, rests on two simple declarations. From the DUP there had to be acceptance of power-sharing with Sinn Fein. In principle this declaration is on the table and the DUP, rightly, will not go further without a parallel declaration on policing from Sinn Fein.

Gerry Adams has tried to circumvent this by claiming that ‘of course Sinn Fein are in favour of policing’. However, this is that familiar verbal trick, of an observation of what might be the case if and when other things happen. We want it more definite than that.

We still face a verbal battlefield and battles do not make much progress when the leaders on either side want to consult with committees. The DUP consulted with party members and the public generally, and got endorsement of its leadership, which is what one would expect from that organization.

It is different with Sinn Fein. There is a deliberate strategy within the organization to stall, relying on the ardfheis to direct on policing. This is a deliberately ponderous mechanism, a denial of the clear position oon expects of leadership.

This is not sufficient progress on which to keep to the timetable. But the two governments will dress it up as such and will try and compromise over the pledge. The DUP will find this unacceptable. Pushing ahead with the legislation on how the power-sharing executive will operate will only worsen the situation.

Both sides in the North – and this now means Sinn Fein and the DUP – face serious issues if unity is to be maintained. But the issues are not equal and opposite and it is wrong of Mark Durcan to describe the reservations from these two parties as “messing and posturing”. The reservations are fundamentally unequal.

What the DUP is insisting on is what all democrats insist on: the rule of law and support for the courts and the police. What Sinn Fein are asking for is a modified police service, suited to them, and their prior approval for other details in the legislative package.

Mark Durcan, for once in his life, should make a judgement based on what has always been central to SDLP policy and that is support for the rule of law.

In the light of the impact Bush has had on this country and on the United Kingdom – in terms of terrorism – the leader of the SDLP needs to reject compromise and side with other political parties, in favour of the conditions all of us would like to see Sinn Fein fulfilling. We do not want fudge any more and, unlike the circumstances that surrounded such negotiations when Trimble was the key Unionist figure, the DUP will not tolerate fudge. Nor should Mark Durcan.

  • Plum Duff

    Bruce Arnold’s article is interesting and, as long as he maintains his global or macro view, is fairly rational. Unfortunately, when he gets to the micro ‘War on Terrorism’ ie, in Ireland, he falls into his and the Indo’s ongoing ‘Bash the Shinners’ campaign whereupon he begins to lose all credibility.

    Without, I hope, taking sides here, I feel I must say that when Arnold interprets SF’s caution on signing up to SAA – ‘What Sinn Fein are asking for is a modified police service’ – he gets it entirely wrong. No one disputes how important and how potentially divisive the policing issue is for SF but, to my knowledge, all they are ‘asking’ for is the accountability of the police and security services to the *locally* elected assembly. As a democrat, I can see nothing wrong with this reasonable, in my view, request. Given the experiences of the past, it’s a perfectly valid stance – especially in relation to the machinations of MI5 in NI. AFAIK, they are not looking for any other ‘modifications’.

    But we must not forget that we are in the middle of negotiations here and all parties will try to get the best for themselves and their supporters. Boring as it might be for all the non-players like the majority of us, I am prepared to give them a little more time. For once, however, I side with Hain to time-limit the process but again he has removed the first hurdle (last Friday’s date) to suit his own version of the endgame.

    On a slight tangent, if a pattern can be discerned in the Bush Admin’s hard-nosed attitude to Irish ex-paramilitaries trying to reside in the USA, you’d wonder if this was part of Blair’s payoff for siding with Bush on Iraq. For the life of me, he’s got nothing else.

  • aquifer

    Sinn Fein’s refusal to support the police leaves other tactical options open to the irish separatist movement, including intimidation and sectarian territorial conflict. These are plainly unacceptable to democratic parties and peaceful citizens, although militant irish separatists may have a cultural attachment to them which they must now lose.

    The GFA accepted NI as part of the UK, where external security threats and internal subversion are suppressed by M15.

    Sinn Fein accepted the GFA. Too late for a recount.

  • Shuggie McSporran

    So, the Bush’s “War on Terror” has been a huge success – here in Ireland!


    The “elimination of IRA arms dumps..” and the..”clamp on Sinn Fein criminality” has to happen in any society that wants to be normal and succesful, nevermind about Bush’s ludicrous “War on terror”.

    Can Arnold answer the question – how come Bush’s “War on Terror” has failed to secure loyalist decommissioning.

    Low quality opinion piece.

  • mark


    A complaint (raised before by others): some but not all of the blog entries cause a new window to open when going into the piece or the comments. Not all do this and none need to. I often end up with 10 slugger windows open after clicking through the day’s entries.

    No need for it. Please sort it out.


  • Mick Fealty


    I have been trying to sort that and some other technical problems. It will get sorted as soon as I can, but I am no tech wizard.

  • mark

    Sorry that sounded really whingy, I should have phrased it better.

    I suppose I’d sound really pathetic if I complained about the new font? (It makes me squint)

    What’s wrong with asking for perfection, when you get closer than most?

    (has the font changed or is it this new browser?)

  • Henry94

    The republican movement was on ceasfire and on the political road before 9/11. There is nothing to support the claim that 9/11 had any effect on the pace of change or its direction. Why is this argument never taken to its logical conclusion? As in, the IRA could not have robbed the Northern bank because they would have been afraid of George Bush.

    I think the conventional wisdom, that armed struggle becomes impossible after 9/11, is wrong anyway.

    It’s not impossible in Iraq is it?

  • andy

    His rationale here is similar to a lot of hard line unionists – that September 11th caused the neccessity of the IRA ceasefire and decommissioning.
    Although this completely ignores historical reality – ie that the ceasefires predated 9/11 by three years, it does have the advantadges to some unionists of taking away any credit at all from republicans.. ie they only did it because Bush forced them to do it.
    Absolute nonsense of course – it seems to ignore all the other elements of political development in the North and in the Republican movement.

    I was also intrigued by Arnold writing off the Ard Fheis as “a denial of the clear position one expects of leadership”. So internal party democracy is clearly a bad thing?

    However his issues with democracy don’t stop there – he clearly resents the fact that SF are pushing for changes to policing as a result of the wishes of their electorate. Note the way there is not link in with what the SF-voting population of the North might want – or indeed any examination of why they want it – but everything is blamed on a particular party.

    Altogether I think SF should sign up to policing, however, this article is:
    a) based on a false premise – the idea the American war on terror has had a meaningful impact on the North, and
    b) Does not put together a coherent reason why they should support it

  • Abucs


    Obviously Bush has ‘special powers’ to go back in time and affect the Republican movements thinking. :o)

    Sure, if he could just do it again now for Iraq ? (and then maybe the Cyprus game).

  • andy

    Actually the more I read this the more stuff comes up for comment.
    The war on Terror has apparently manifested itself in a move to “intensify police strategy” in relation to al-quaeda and the IRA.

    I mean – this is abject nonsense. Obviously there has been an increase on al-quaeda as it wasn’t deemed a threat to UK interests really pre- 9/11. However if anything this has accompanied a decrease in activity on RIRA activity – and I would have thought an absolute ending of police activity on PIRA. I can’t recall the last time I read of arrests relating to PIRA in Britain.

    To a certain extent irish republican terrorism is old news to most people in mainland Britain.

  • Greenflag

    The mood in America now is to force the issue of finding an Iraqi solution to the Iraqi problem .
    Gone are the nice theories of making Iraq a beacon of western democracy in the Islamic world .

    So will this mean given Bruce Arnolds ‘analysis’ that the British Government will soon insist on an Irish solution to the Irish problem . Surely by now both Governments must realise that turning Northern Ireland inot a ‘normal’democracy is just not going to work and in the end the present plan will just amount to a two party carve up of NI east and west of the Bann .

    Perhaps that’s what both Governments want anyway .

    No matter which way ‘unionism’ turns whether it’s economic policy , or political power sharing or even the ‘new’ issue of who will control Northern Ireland’s electricity supplies the answers or solutions cannot come from ‘Unionism’

    The contradictions mount daily .