Getting beyond Northern Ireland’s Faustian deal with crime…

Trevor Ringland was one of hundreds of people from across the political divide who turned up to mourn the passing of David Ervine. No doubt drawing from the interview he conducted for Slugger in the run up to our Long Peace document, he praises Ervine’s forward focused unionism:

“With the sad passing of David Ervine the people of Northern Ireland have lost one of its true leaders. He told us not what we wanted to hear but what we had to hear. He never denied his past or present but I have no doubt his view of the future was one that was to be shared in a constructive way to the benefit of all. He provided profound advice to unionists by encouraging them to believe in the legitimacy and power of their own arguments and to stand proudly and sensibly rather than adopting a siege mentality.”

Liam Clarke in the Sunday Times went even further, contrasting Ervine’s vision with Paisley’s plodding attachment to the past.

But many within unionism, perhaps even a majority, continue to argue that Ervine’s paramilitary past and his defence of the UVF’s right to continue in existence negated all such pretensions to leadership. It certainly holed his political project below the waterline.

It is also easy to forget that as well as producing some of the most progressive political thinkers within loyalism, the UVF also produced the Shankill Butchers and the killers of dozens of Protestants like Raymond McCord, largely in the name of managing its own patch. In recent years it openly dropped its ceasefire to defend its position on the ground.

A lot of the residual resentment against Ervine lies in the fact that, in continually putting the intellectual case for the peace process (which was, amongst other things, a pragmatic compromise between legality and illegality), he legitimised not simply the peacemaking efforts of Sinn Fein but, by proxy, the ongoing criminal activities of the IRA.

That that resentment remains ongoing is hardly surprising. To this day, the RUC is consistently reviled by a Republican movement which effortlessly outscored the old police force its numbers of fatalities by some 4000%. Little wonder then that many unionists see the ‘finessing’ of past paramilitary crimes into an ‘innocent past’ as an unacceptable part of the Faustian dilemma, which undoubtedly lies at the heart of this peace process.

Yet the difficult truth for the sceptical Unionist is that, in practical terms, the peace process has delivered something approaching civic peace, if not exactly a normal society. Indeed with the deeply ingrained (if often unconscious) sectarian attitudes on both sides, it may never be that.

But the risks involved in this latest stage are primarily to the two negotiating parties themselves, rather than wider society or, indeed, the innocent bystander. It is highly significant, for instance, that the current splitting within the republican movement is political, not military.

And whatever happens within the DUP when it comes for them to withstand its own mettle test, the risk will be to themselves and not a trigger for another ‘Protestant backlash’: the coda of which was so often a lonely (often tortured) death for some easily targeted Catholic.

By the early 1970s the lower Newtownards Road had largely been cleared of Catholic homes and businesses and it remains that way today. That Gerry Adams came to the East Belfast Mission on Friday won’t change things overnight, but it is in line with the freshly tolerant, pluralist unionism Ervine espoused, however imperfectly, for most of his public political career.

It remains to been seen whether a credible deal can be done on law and order. The wholesale porting of Special Branch powers into a rapidly expanded MI5 to be placed under limited Westminster based scrutiny, along with the acceptance by Sinn Fein that it will not take the policing and justice ministry for the foreseeable future may just convince sceptics within Paisley’s DUP that devolution of those severely limited powers are both both practical and desirable.

In which case, we may begin to leave behind the Faustian stench ‘whereof’, as Marlow once put it, ‘corrupts the inward soul’.

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  • I Wonder

    Hear, hear. One can only contrast the absence of sectarianism in Ringland and Ervine’s Unionism with the vitriol of so many others. Anyone else see Ian Knox’s requiem cartoon of DE?

  • A requiem for democracy might be more like it.

    Mick makes a number of valid points, most particularly with regard to the Faustian premise on which this whole charade is constructed. And Mick is also right to explain that many unionists like myself are unforgiving of the eulogisation of the PUP/UVF since that logically transfers to IRA/Sinn Fein. (With apologies to the DUP for the use of the “I” word prior to Sinn Fein, natch)

    An additional point I would make is how it can be that so many of our allegedly “independent” unbiased swallow the pigswill Government spin that a compromise can be found between an arsonist and a fireman? Liam Clark, Lynda Gilby – “all the greats” – line up to lavish praise on those who have wilfully chosen to operate outside the law, whilst attacking those who insist on the primacy of the law and the utter incompatibility with IRA/UVF/UDA mentality with a functioning democracy. It strikes me that the use of the word “credible” in connection with a process founded on the promotion of incredulity, is at least ironic.

    From the real David Vance!

  • chauncy

    Nice to see it all pulled together so thoughtfully, Mick.

    Chauncy

  • I Wonder

    Continuity David:

    How would you demilitarise the modern descendants of the men who provided Unionism with the military wherewithall to have established Northern Ireland in the first place?

    Its also ironic that that “1912 process” led to subsequent Unionists kicking away the ladder(except of course in 1974, 1977 and (briefly) in 1986.)

  • Marlowe also spoke of “There is no sin but ignorance.”

    Mick points out the Faustian heart of the “peace process” – little wonder those such as “I wonder” shy away from dealing with this singular uncomfortable truth. Marlowe’s more talented rival, Shakspear, (Edward De Vere) put it more adroitedly…

    “Let every eye negotiate for itself
    And trust no agent…”

    With a pro-peace-at-any-price MSM, the eye must be very careful indeed!

    (I was also wondering should we try and demilitarise the modern descendents of the men who provided Irish nationalists with the violence to have established the Republic of Ireland in the first place…?)

  • The problem is ‘the stench’, and that cuts across the divide. In Marlow’s work, someone, Faust himself, had to pay the devil and be damned.

    Slipping total oversight of hard edge agencies to a Westminster committee is one thing. But the DUP may prefer to stick to their insistence that sufficient time must be given in order to prove that ‘the stench’ of systemic and political criminality is irreversibly clearing.

    In that, they may have to fight a rearguard against Number Ten’s determination to have its legacy.

  • I wonder…

    All very literary today.

    I think the swords have become ploughshares and the desirability of that process comes with a very high authority indeed, as does “blessed are the peacemakers.” 🙂

  • I wonder…

    ..besides which Mephistopheles, having thought he had concocted a foolproof plan, was in fact beaten by something altogether more power. And I’m not talking about a Kalashnakov. Something more akin to what Garry Adams and Jeanette Ervine demonstrated on Friday.

  • I wonder…

    ..damn dyslexia! 🙂

  • The Watchman

    “A lot of the residual resentment against Ervine lies in the fact that, in continually putting the intellectual case for the peace process (which was, amongst other things, a pragmatic compromise between legality and illegality), he legitimised not simply the peacemaking efforts of Sinn Fein but, by proxy, the ongoing criminal activities of the IRA.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself, Mick. I’m just not able to understand all the eulogies of the past week. A society cannot function properly in the absence of proper law and order. (Ervine spent his time in politics pretending it was otherwise.)
    For a lawyer like Ringland not to understand this is disturbing.

  • PeterBrown

    “the UVF also produced the Shankill Butchers and the killers of dozens of Protestants like Raymond McCord, largely in the name of managing its own patch. In recent years it openly dropped its ceasefire to defend its position on the ground”

    I have asked numerous people numerous times over the last ten days – where did Ervine apologise for this or condemn the ceasefire breaches? Surely this was the litmus test for his reconstruction amd I have doubts as to whether he passed it…..

  • Tkmaxx

    Mick
    Thats why today in the Irish News – I could not join in the ott praise of Ervine – I knew him well. All the clap trap was overbearing – he was a plain speaking man- who was appreciated for that alone. Spin free was the way Empey described him and thats about it.

  • bertie

    “Surely this was the litmus test for his reconstruction amd I have doubts as to whether he passed it….. ”

    I have none. He didn’t!

  • I Wonder

    ..if he didn’t pass this “test” then the attitude of the majority of nationalists (the erstwhile victims of his didn’t appear to rank the importance of the “test” too highly.

    I still think the Ian Knox cartoon summed it up: the dictionary he may have swallowed did not contain the word “sectarian.” I commend Henry Sinnerton’s book to DE’s critics and allies alike.

  • John East Belfast

    “He told us not what we wanted to hear but what we had to hear”

    I wanted to hear him say that the use of unlawful violence in a functioning democracy that had his full support was totally illegitimate in the pursuance of political objectives and/or as an act of revenge or alleged defence against what could be construed as enemies of the state.

    For someone as wordy as him I am sure he could have managed the above.
    If he had clearly stated it then the pronouncements being made about him are totally correct.

    Otherwise he is just someone being praised for not doing what the majority of citisens did anyway.
    And of course the only reason he did so in the end was because of the PIRA ceasefire – ie as far as the UVF et are concerned the Provos surrendered because of loyalist activity.

    What I find particularly disturbing is the Chief Constable at the funeral rubbing shoulders with UVF hard men and gangsters.

    It is one thing for the political class who worked with him and knew him personally but why was the Chief Constable there ?

    How many times has Orde met the man ?

    How must PSNI detectives investigating UVF racketeering, drug dealing and other criminal activities feel about this action ?

    Would the local Police Chief in Palermo go to a mafia funeral ?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    I wonder: “..besides which Mephistopheles, having thought he had concocted a foolproof plan, was in fact beaten by something altogether more power. And I’m not talking about a Kalashnakov. Something more akin to what Garry Adams and Jeanette Ervine demonstrated on Friday.”

    Ah, but the Almighty is surely not the most reliable of agencies, Iw… Occasionally, mortals must muddle through on their own, since, whilst every prayer is answered, the answer is, with some frequency, “no.”

    The Watchman: “I’m just not able to understand all the eulogies of the past week. A society cannot function properly in the absence of proper law and order. (Ervine spent his time in politics pretending it was otherwise.) ”

    To give the devil his due, Ervine tried, with some sincerity, to sheath the blade. Unfortunately, dry pragmatic thought works best in a vacuum, where the passions and pratfalls of real life to not intrude.

    JEB: “It is one thing for the political class who worked with him and knew him personally but why was the Chief Constable there ? ”

    Among his other sins, Ervine was a politician, a representative of the state. Besides, with Dictionary dead, who will play interlocutor between the state and the hoods? Moreover, who’d *want* to?

    JEB: “Would the local Police Chief in Palermo go to a mafia funeral ? ”

    Yes, for a variety of reasons, the least of which being making sure they actually planted the fella in questions. Life — real life — is frequently far messier than folks would like to acknowledge, particularly “here,” where anonymity breeds a great many things, few of them good.