Peter Mandelson’s not wrong, but wasn’t Blair right?

As Fair Deal notes below, Peter Mandelson’s been stirring the Northern Irish pot (selective recording here) You’d have to wonder why. And have the reasons anything to do with us, or the impending succession across the water – Ciaran has some interesting background thoughts, and good links. In the Guardian today he says of his old friend, Prime Minister Tony Blair:

“In order to keep the process in motion [Tony] would be sort of dangling carrots and possibilities in front of the republicans which I thought could never be delivered, that it was unreasonable and irresponsible to intimate that you could when you knew that you couldn’t. There was a lot to be said for paying a price to keep the bicycle moving. The issue is whether Tony Blair paid too big a price.”

He later (clearly resentfully) dispenses with public fiction that Adams and McGuinness had no responsibility within the IRA during this period:

“When Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness entered the room you were expected to stand up. They were senior military, they were top brass. Apart from being leaders of Sinn Féin they were leaders of the military council.”

Unsurprisingly, in a follow up to the interview the Guardian discovered that whilst Trimble liked Mandy, Paul Bew understood him, Martin McGuinness clearly didn’t do either (‘I had to tell him to stop behaving like an ass’). Sinn Fein missed their warm relations with Mo Mowlem as much as they resented Mandelson’s ‘understanding’ of Unionist difficulties with a process that seemed to play fast and loose with the rule of law.

Peter R Neumann recently captured the Blair government’s strategy in an article for Foreign Affairs magazine. In it he describes a two track strategy for negotiations with ‘terrorists’, clearly drawn from the British experience of the Peace Process. The twin tracks consist of two types of concessions: primary, ie those relating to the political demands of the ‘terrorist’, and ultimately the working of the state; and secondary, those relating to their personal fate. He demonstrates how it works:

Terrorists seeking primary concessions aim to alter the political arrangements under which the state operates, and no self respecting democracy can allow a small group of once violent conspirators to impose constitutional change, even after it has renounced violence. On the other hand, terrorists will have little incentive to engage in negotiations unless they feel constitutional change is at least a possibility.

The only way to resolve this tension is to grant primary concessions only in the context of a broader settlement involving all the major parties – and in which the terrorists participate on the basis of a democratic mandate – so that the concessions become a part of the polity’s will.

There is little doubt that the participation of terrorists within ‘a broad, multi party process’ caused huge resentment amongst those who had rigorously kept by democratic rules throughout the conflict. It raises seemingly unanswerable questions, for instance, about the extent of the IRA’s treasury or how much has been received, kept, managed, and disbursed during the period of the Peace Process™. Or indeed how it may have unfairly influenced the outcome of past (and recent) elections.

Undoubtedly, as Neumann notes, such “an apprenticeship in democracy can be an invaluable means of easing the transition from violence to conventional politics”. Sinn Fein is a far cry from the party it was at the birth of the ‘armalite and ballot box‘ strategy in 1981. In that same year Adams’ words to the Guardian on the murder of 86 year old retired Unionist politician, Sir Norman Stronge and his son: “The only complaint I have heard from nationalists or anti-unionists is that he was not shot 40 years ago.”

And yet Adams, in contrast to the mangled prose with which he met the murder of Robert McCartney two years ago, greeted the news yesterday morning of two bodies discovered in Belfast, one shot, the other (according to the latest information possibly battered to death with a shovel), by telling people they should report anything they know to the Police.

This Peace Process has not been pretty in its detail, and the price may still be considered too high by posterity for a dowry (not least for the many individuals whose lives have been sidelined for the sake of the integrity of the process) to bring about the marriage of the oddest of Ulster’s odd couples.

But we are finally entering the endgame, and Blair’s strategy appears to have worked.

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  • Pete Baker

    “and Blair’s strategy appears to have worked.”

    It may have achieved the objective of moving Sinn Féin from revolutionary group to constitutional political party.

    But if we take a wider view on the medium to long-term success?

    There are a couple of items to consider in particular..

    The poisonous foundations of The Processâ„¢

    and Hain’s continuation of one element of that Processâ„¢, as identified by Peter Mandelson

    “In order to keep the process in motion [Tony] would be sort of dangling carrots and possibilities in front of the republicans which I thought could never be delivered, that it was unreasonable and irresponsible to intimate that you could when you knew that you couldn’t.”

    In case anyone needs a reminder, that would be a certain target date.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Mick

    “There is little doubt that the participation of terrorists within ‘a broad, multi party process’ caused huge resentment AMONGST THOSE WHO HAD RIGOROUSLY KEPT BY DEMOCRATIC RULES THROUGHOUT THE CONFLICT.” (My emphasis.)

    If I can just clarify – to whom are you referring when you talk about “those who had rigorously kept by democratic rules throughout the conflict”.

    I’m wracking my brains and I can’t think of anyone who can honestly claim to have done so.

  • Fred Allan

    Right, big difference between commitment to non-violence and democratic means. See Richard Bourke, Peace in Ireland. The War of Ideas for excellent discussion of shortcoming of democratic thinking in NI politics over the course of the Troubles.

  • Nevin

    “But we are finally entering the endgame, and Blair’s strategy appears to have worked.”

    Hardly. First of all it’s Blair and Ahern’s adoption of a strategy developed by other people and second, 2016 is looming and control of local communities is in the hands of paramilitary godfathers rather than the agencies of the state. I suspect we’re still ambling through a false dawn …

  • Mick Fealty

    Billy and Fred,

    Tell me more (I’m adding Bourke to my Amazon wish list).

  • Pete Baker

    From a glowing, if short, review

    Bourke’s analysis of the Northern Ireland problem as a typical, modern democratic crisis is a necessary corrective to many explanations that emphasise ethno-national or religious tribal loyalties in so-called “ethnic conflicts” flaring up around the world. But Bourke is not a simple modernist or sanguine constitutional liberal. That the Northern Ireland conflict is a war of ideas not a war of cultural groups does not make identity politics a side issue, nor does it make democracy an automatic remedy for peace.

  • mickhall

    Anyone who believes that what exists in the north today has anything to do with democracy, as the democratic peoples of the world would judge it, is either being partisan or disingenuous.

    As to the following statement from Mick, ““There is little doubt that the participation of terrorists within ‘a broad, multi party process’ caused huge resentment AMONGST THOSE WHO HAD RIGOROUSLY KEPT BY DEMOCRATIC RULES THROUGHOUT THE CONFLICT.” I cannot make head nor tail of it and he will need to explain just who these paragons of democracy are.

    If any one is prepared to accept the Stormont stitch up as a victory for democracy they must set their bar pretty low, which I find terrifying, for it seems to me they would except almost anything as long as their best interest is served and to hell with the rest. By all means call it a necessity, if you believe it is the best that could be achieved, but as I have said it has little to do with democracy.

    As to Blairs, or rather the UK State’s strategy having worked, I agree, and it has achieved in spades what it set out to do. Which was to neuter the Irish Republican Movement by enticing the movements leaders with the trappings of power, which is the oldest flim-flam trick in the business. But I doubt even those who drew up this strategy can believe just how gullible the shinner leadership has been, nor in their wildest dreams could they ever have imagined that the shinners would accept the legitimacy of the Orange Statelet.

    Finely it made me smile when I read the Guardian piece on the Peace Process, for there is Mandelson and other British officials singing the praise of Adams and co, stating that the are real tough guys as far as negotiations are concerned. One could picture the SIS officer whispering in his ear, “Pete old chap, the old ones are always the best, if you get the chance puff up old Gerry Adams reputation, as his supporters believe all this nonsense.

    Reminds me of the time all those years, when a British officer powder puffed the media about M McG when he said what a first rate soldier he was, General Staff material you know if things had been different

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Mick

    I’m just wondering who you were referring to when you talked about “those who had rigorously kept by democratic rules throughout the conflict”.

    At a stretch, you mean the SDLP? Maybe?

    Apart from that, who else can you be referring to? I know who you’re talking about when you mention the people who were annoyed at seeing SF being brought into the political process, but to describe those people (ie unionists) as “those who had rigorously kept by democratic rules throughout the conflict” – well, that’s quite simply an untruth.

  • The Dubliner

    Peter Mandelson’s non-specific whining is meaningless and utterly inconsequential. He hasn’t presented a rational argument or tabulated cost vs. benefit, not even stated what matrix he is applying to the calculation. Instead, he has let loose a general whine that the usual suspects (a litany of anti-shinner malcontents) can project their own (irrelevant) details into.

    In regard Mandelson’s claim: “When Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness entered the room you were expected to stand up.” McGuinness, in the Guardian interview, tells his version of their first encounter and sheds some light upon why Mandelson is griping about how PSF expected to be treated by him:

    “The first meeting we had with Mandelson was ridiculous. The very first meeting we had with Peter Mandelson, he was surrounded by anything between 8 and 12 civil servants on their side of the table. Before we could even speak Mandelson was interrupting, telling us what we were going to say and doing so in a very -if you like – Tory-like fashion. I had to stop him at the start – tell him that he should stop behaving like an ass. That’s exactly what I said to him.”

    http://download.guardian.co.uk/sys-audio/Politics/audio/2007/03/13/Watt130307.mp3

    I agree with the other posters who pointed out “the fiction” of maintaining that the British state was committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. There is no basis of moral cleanliness for a state that was wilfully murdered hundreds of its own citizens over several decades in the most horrific manner to lecture others for their role in the conflict. There is certainly no basis for Mandelson to do this since he, like his predecessors, conspired with criminals to pervert the course of justice by frustrating attempts of the families of those murdered by the British state to seek truth and justice from that state via the expediency of impartial inquiry. It should also be noted that Mandelson vehemently supported one of the British state’s murder machines, the RUC, and was deeply hostile to the Patten reforms (modest though they are).

    The British state is not the worst serial murderer of its own citizens in Europe. That is the fact; not the fiction, despite the concerted effort to ignore it. The question that should be asked is “Have people paid too high a price in permitting serial murderers to rule over them when those murderers have shown no remorse or even acknowledgement for their systematic crimes and have perverted justice from a position of authority at ever twist and turn?”

  • The Dubliner

    Correction: The British state [b]is[/b] the worst serial murderer of its own citizens in Europe. That is the fact; not the fiction, despite the concerted effort to ignore it.

  • picador

    There’s plenty of coverage of stuff that’s appeared in The Guardian over the last couple of days.

    Unfortuntely no-one on S O’T seems to have picked up on Peter Preston’s piece. For once a British journalists mentions the unmentionable – COLLUSION

    http://politics.guardian.co.uk/northernirelandassembly/comment/0,,2031698,00.html

    As for the assertion about ‘democrats’ resenting the arrival of ‘terrorists’ in the ‘process’. ARE YOU ‘AVING A LAUGH, MATE!?

  • Mick Fealty

    picador,

    Ahem… I notice it was roughly picked up by Dunseith in interview with Mallon this morning…

  • Pete Baker

    picador

    “Unfortuntely no-one on S O’T seems to have picked up on Peter Preston’s piece.”

    Just because you didn’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there..

    As I referenced in the first comment.

    The poisonous foundations of The Processâ„¢

    Hint – click the link ;o)

  • Mick Fealty

    Billy,

    I’ve not been ignoring your point, just having my tea! Can I suggest a concession? If I were to change ‘rigorously’ to ‘largely’, would it deal with the problem? Or am I still in hot water?

    Picador,

    The fact that there was resentment is not an assertion. The resentment was very real, if mostly self harming to those who held it.

  • picador

    M & P,

    I stand corrected (I only looked at today’s posts).

    It must be said Pete, that you have ‘spun’ the article heavily, choosing to ignore his more outspoken comments regarding collusion, which are unique, I think, for a British journalist.

    This issue will not go away, no matter how much the Brits and unionists wish it would.

    Mick, the phraseology in your piece above is soo last century. Take your head out of the sand. You could start by reading the part of Preston’s article that Pete chose to downplay. ,-)

  • Pete Baker

    picador

    I note your claims about a post on an article which I provide links to in that post – as well as links to the Ombudsman’s reports and further issues Peter Preston did not mention and highlighting the ‘poisonous foundations’ quote..

    By all means criticise my original post.. but please do it at that post – where the quotes are.

  • lorraine

    the cracks in the edifice of rigorous democracy are only now beggining to see the light of day, and the practice of rigorous democracy would appear to be more terroristic than the terrorists.

  • Mick Fealty

    Could you expand on that lorraine?

  • Gonzo

    Mick

    In your Guardian piece, what did you mean by the “integrity” in the process?

    Surely, genuine “integrity” and The Processâ„¢ are mutually incompatible?

    Also, Blair’s strategy may have worked – bombs have been kept out of London – but if that was the aim, rather than stable, democratic government, it devalues his legacy in Northern Ireland.

    I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of the bloody process and how wonderful Blair, Paisley and Adams are. I live here.

  • Yoda

    Gonzo,

    Are you really surrpised that British policy continued to be one of “Ulsterisation”?

    Ourselves alone, indeed.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I’m hardly surprised… I’ve been boring Slugger readers with the vacuum at the heart of the Process for years!

  • Mick Fealty

    Gonzo:

    “The quality or condition of being whole or undivided”. Mandelson refers to Blair’s intention simply to keep the process moving in his ‘interview’.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Mick

    “Can I suggest a concession? If I were to change ‘rigorously’ to ‘largely’, would it deal with the problem?”

    If I could suggest an amendment? How about:

    “There is little doubt that the participation of the political wing of a terrorist organisation within ‘a broad, multi party process’ caused huge resentment amongst those who had spent decades preening with rhetoric about “democracy” whilst, at the very least, providing political cover for acts of terrorism by paramilitaries and the state – crimes every inch as serious as those carried out by the (republican) terrorists – as this republican participation compromised almost every assumption they had had throughout the Troubles – assumptions that went to the heart of their very being.”

    More accurate, but less likely to get you invited onto the Beeb as a commentator.

    “Or am I still in hot water?”

    Not in hot water Mick. You have just fallen into the same sort of rhetorical trap that saw many a good journalist unwittingly (or sometimes wittingly) become a stooge for those who preferred the “official version” of the Troubles.

    Such journalists are destined to find themselves presented as cautionary tales, when the definitive histories deal with the uber-mendacity that was Troubles reporting.

    Don’t be one of them Mick.