Mandelson’s British fairyland- Ronan Bennett

Ronan Bennett’s clearly unimpressed by Peter Mandelson’s interpretation of the relationship between Tony Blair and Sinn Fein outlined in the Guardian this week during an interview conducted with the former chief spin doctor of New Labour.
Bennett argues that “the lesson Mandelson and those who nod so approvingly at his interview have still to learn is that [Sinn Fein’s] success is an acknowledgment by voters that the republican leadership drove the peace process, while the British government and unionists have proved – and in the case of Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist party continue to prove – dilatory in pursuit of a settlement.”

The Guardian’s series of articles published this week on the Peace Process can be viewed here.

  • Pete Baker

    Except that, as one of the commenters at the Guardian article pointed out, Ronan Bennett misrepresented what Mandelson actually said.

    “Mandelson never said that Adams was at fault, he said Blair was at fault, so the rest of the article is bunkum.”

    And, in doing so, Mandelson pointed out that Blair made promises that he knew he was unable to fulfil… a point echoed in the Seamus Mallon interview.

    It’s the never-ending story of the Processâ„¢

  • merrie

    Pete:
    I think you are perceiving Ronan’s article out of context.

    Ronan’s article is more than a gloss on Mandelson’s statements(a commentary on a commentary)- it points out other aspects of the peace process which the commentator you quote dismisses as “bunkum”.

    I appreciate Ronan’s clarification. I also agree with Seamus Mallon and Mandelson that “Blair made promises that he knew he was unable to fulfil”.

    There’s an article on Peter Mandelson in today’s (London) Telegraph called “With friends like Peter Mandelson …”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/03/17/do1709.xml

  • Pete Baker

    merrie

    The commenter was dismissing Ronan’s argument as bunkum becasue it is clearly based on a false premise.

  • The Dubliner

    “The peace process pre-dated the advent of Tony Blair to power by almost a decade. It does not detract from Blair’s commitment to a settlement to recall that in 1988 Gerry Adams and John Hume, the former leader of the nationalist SDLP, began a series of private talks in an attempt to agree a joint strategy to take the gun out of Irish politics.” – Ronan Bennett

    It actually began when Gerry Adams realised that the ‘republican’ community in NI was actually a nationalist community and that PIRA was actually a movement of militant social protest rather than a revolutionary army. Adams probably knew that much sooner than he acted upon it by opening secret dialogue with Tom King, then SoS for NI, which was in 1986 (the year of the Anglo Irish Agreement). Adams knew that the nationalist community would accept an internal settlement, with those who were actually republican being fobbed off with meaningless assurances that what was intended to be a permanent settlement was actually just a ‘period of transition’ to a united Ireland. If that didn’t assure them, outright lying about how soon a united Ireland would result did the trick – along with a long serious of disastrous military defeats for PIRA wherein operations were likely compromised at a very high level, all of which where very fortuitous for Adams.

    The problem that hagiographer’s like Ronan Bennett encounter when they try to put a saintly halo on the head of Gerry Adams is that they have to ignore his grisly history as mass-murderer, pathological “I am not a member of the IRA” liar, and Disappearer of Women. From a British point-of-view, Adams was the means by which they defeated PIRA: from within. It’s hard to argue with the outcome when it is a cessation of Adams’ and PIRA’s murder campaign which was never legitimate (i.e. did not have the aim of national self-determination) but was really just a mix of vigilante activity, militant social protest, sociopaths empowering themselves at the expense of others, and a cathartic expression of sectarian hate.

    However, praising the likes of Adams shows that something is seriously rotten in the state of Denmark.

  • willowfield

    “the republican leadership drove the peace process”

    Well, of course they did – they were the ones claiming to be at “war”, and seeking a way to get out of it without losing face!

  • Bill

    In 1820, a U.S. Congressman, whose district included Buncombe County, unintentionally contributed a word to the English language. In the Sixteenth Congress, after lengthy debate on the Missouri Compromise, members of the House called for an immediate vote on that important question. Instead, Felix Walker rose to address his colleagues, insisting that his constituents expected him to make a speech “for Buncombe.” It was later remarked that Walker’s untimely and irrelevant oration was not just for Buncombe–it “was Buncombe.

    Can we go back to the original spelling please as it has much more of a historical value?

  • Money & Morals

    The Dubliner Writes

    “PIRA’s murder campaign which was never legitimate (i.e. did not have the aim of national self-determination) but was really just a mix of vigilante activity, militant social protest, sociopaths empowering themselves at the expense of others, and a cathartic expression of sectarian hate.”

    That description could be made of a number of actors in this conflict – and frequently has – not sure if Dubliner would agree that the likes of Informant 1 -100 went on slaughtering as they informed could be placed in a higher position in the moral order such as it was and will be. The difference is that Sinn and the IRA received money from the British to legitimize their Peace moves. They clearly receive more electoral support the more they travelled down the road of Peace.

    While a fully armed UDA and UVF receive very little electoral support as they are paramilitary ‘defenders’ whose job is to be on hand and not in government – but the government gives them cash as if they were doing the same as Sinn Fein and the IRA when they clearly are not. Question why then is the British government giving the UDA money?

  • Shay Begorrah

    Come come children, while Mandelson never said that Adams deserved no credit for negotiating an end to the troubles he stated that Blair was mistaken in trying to accomodate the Republican position. It is at best petty to suggest that Bennett’s article is rubbish because it addresses the implications of Mandelson’s position (Republicans are an unreasonable bunch of conniving savages unwilling to accept defeat, cue Punch cartoon) rather than the position itself (Blair should be more like Mandelson, shudder).

    When I read the original article about Mandelson I thought that his complaint about having to stand up to greet Adams and McGuinness rather than receive them as supplicants as was his right was particularly telling.

    On a related note the Guardian has recently had an excess of stories with Ulster in the title that do not seem to involve events in Donegal, Monaghan or Cavan, a poor show for Britain’s remaining paper of record.

  • picador

    Good article by Bennett.

    His analysis of British smugness and arrogance is spot on. Still a bunch of colonialists at heart. They show no signs of ever coming to terms with their imperial past. Thus the debacle in Iraq.

  • The Dubliner

    “They clearly receive more electoral support the more they travelled down the road of Peace.” – Money & Morals

    Of course, because they are returning to their nationalist roots. They arose from the ashes of civil rights movement which sought equal civil rights for nationalists within the partitioned state, not reunification. Essentially, they were militant nationalists, not republicans proper. The violence was resolved by granting equal civil rights within the partitioned state and not by reunification. That was the same goal as the civil rights movement. They were what happened when that movement was violently resisted.

    By the way, self-determination doesn’t apply to any other parties: only those who are anti-state. Unless violence has self-determination as its purpose, it isn’t politically valid. It is simply criminal violence masquerading as other than what it actually is, i.e. a “mix of vigilante activity, militant social protest, sociopaths empowering themselves at the expense of others, and a cathartic expression of sectarian hate.”

  • Garibaldy

    I though the account of the peace process was a little off. Didn’t he “forget” to mention that the Brits under Major were talking to the Provos, and possibly as early as 1990? The whole sick to my stomach debacle. Very disingenuous, and in no way the factual corrective to Mandleson’s distortions that it purported to be. Spin versus spin.

  • Garibaldy

    The Dubliner,

    Surely NICRA was about getting equal rights for everybody. At least that’s how I read their stuff whenever I look it.

  • The Dubliner

    Garibaldly, ‘equal’ implies another party: the other party being unionist.

    It wasn’t nationalists who herded themselves into gerrymandered ghettoes, was it?

  • Garibaldy

    Dubliner,

    People who didn’t own businesses, many of whom were protestant, were discriminated against in local votes. And if I recall some Campaign for Social Justice stuff correctly and NICRA definitely they pointed to equality for everybody regardless of affiliation. It was not couched in terms of rights for catholics or nationalists, but rights for everybody. Which is a different thing.

    So while I agree the Provos aren;t and have never been republicans, nor are they the legitimate heirs of NICRA, whose they sometimes opposed as they sought to promote their Northern Resistance Movement alternative

  • Money & Morals

    Yes Dubliner I Wrote:

    ‘They clearly recieve more electoral support the more they travelled down the road of Peace.’

    To which you agree that Sinn and the IRA are on the road to peace and electroial success because they were the NICRA all along – not sure that follows as a few have said above.

    But you still have not answered the question in next para:

    ‘While a fully armed UDA and UVF receive very little electoral support as they are paramilitary ‘defenders’ whose job is to be on hand and not in government – but the government gives them cash as if they were doing the same as Sinn Fein and the IRA when they clearly are not. Question why then is the British government giving the UDA money?’

    It’s important becuase if it’s OK and legtimate to give Loyalist ‘murderers’ money for Peace then why have they not layed down their arms? Why is it working for Sinn Fien and the IRA and not the Loyalists?

    BTW A very loud argument was made in the 70s that the Loyalist have right to ‘self determination’ too – only fool would think that did not involve violence and hate.

  • Token Dissent

    As Dubliner states Bennett ignores outright the horrible realities of the Provo campaign. As he listed of the quotes condemning Adams I simply nodded in apppoval at the sentiments expressed. Its a shame that commentators like Roy Hattersely now hold Gerry et al to be the saints that Bennett portrays.

    This analysis also ignores that the Brits were holding secret talks and granting concessions with the Provos as early as 1972. It fails to point out the wasted 30 odd years after Sunningdale. Where was the dramatic ideological shift in British policy that allowed Republicans to consent (half-heartedly) in 1998, which wasn’t there in 1974?

    The article’s simple dismissal of unionism’s role in the settlement is disgusting. The bravery and imagination that Trimble et al showed in the process has to be recognised.

    The unsaid logic behind Mandy’s analysis is one that most people now recognise. Namely it was – and continues to be – the Shimmer’s aim to divide and demoralise unionists. They sought to weaken and expose the UUP, in order for the world to have Paisley on view as the ‘leader’ of a discredited people. Fair enough – that’s politics – but it is sickening to have Gerry portrayed as a one-dimensional brave, driver of the peace process. And as Mandy implies it was the two Governments fault for giving the Provos enough rope to hang Davy T.

    This is also part of re-writing of history that implies that Gerry and Martin actually wrote the Good Friday Agreement. The Shinners had very little positive to add to the discussions: it was Mark Durkan who wrote most of the thing! Up to an absurdly late stage the Provos were maintaining that they wouldn’t sit in a partionist assembly.

  • Token Dissent

    Oh and may I add that I agree that it is well of the mark to equate the Provos with NICRA in any way. Men like Cahill, MacStoifan etc. didn’t give a flying shit about civil rights. The vast majority of the Provo leadership actively opposed the civil righs agenda.

    It also has to be stated that the reforms that NICRA and others RIGHTLY demanded had been met by the mid-1970s, with the excpetion of the removal of the Special Powers Act – which has to be understood in the light of the carnage and despair.

    Also as others have implied here issues like One Man One Vote were not simple discriminations against Catholics. More Prods were disenfranchised then Catholics by the local government franchise..

  • GavBelfast

    Were Sinn Fein ever actual ‘signatories’ to the Good Friday Agreement?

  • Shay Begorrah

    We are well off topic now but I will summarise the thread:

    (1) NICRA was as much as about the suffering of non business owning Unionist’s who suffered just as much as the nationalist minority. How dare nationalists imagine they were more oppressed just because they were poorer and owned less businesses per capita.

    (2) The provos were not interested in this broad agenda but instead heartlessly engaged in an unprovoked campaign of violence against the well intentioned British state who were just there to keep the sides apart despite the fact that all the problems, if there were any in the first place (and if there were any problems they affected protestants as much if not more than Catholics), had been rectified by some undefined time in the mid seventies.

    (3) Sunningdale was brought down by the lack of nationalist buy in, not the UWC. This is important, dont forget it.

    (4) David Trimble was the real hero behind the GFA which the provos more or less opposed and which was anyway just Sunningdale revisited (which Trimble certainly was not instrumental in destroying), which anyway the IRA and not the UWC had caused to fail and which anyway was not really necessary as all the problems would soon be fixed and anyway these problems mianly affected working class Unionists and not nationalists, which anyway were not really problems as compared to the undeniable evil of the IRA’s campaign against the utterly blameless state.

    Are we all clear?

  • Morals & Money

    Shay gives us a list which may have been intended as a comic response – much like Give My Head Peace.

    “Sunningdale was brought down by the lack of nationalist buy in, not the UWC. This is important, dont forget it.”

    Yes everyone a gem!

    But the last para is the best please read it in full above – and it ends…

    ‘which anyway were not really problems as compared to the undeniable evil of the IRA’s campaign against the utterly blameless state.’

    Yes I agree people should have gone willing to jail when they were picked up under internment and they should have celebrated when the ‘blameless state’ murderered blameless people they most certinaly should not have used these so called evils to justify their own violence.

    Meanwhile back in real world and back on topic…..

    I think that Mandelson’s outburst is odd and does not give the full picture. He was brought in to re-balance the Peace Process away from what Mo Molwan was percieved to be doing -that’s true. But I can remember when he faced down N. Dods in the commons. He said ‘it’s the approach offered by the hon gentleman that is holding back peace in Northern Ireland.’

    Perhaps Bennet should have mentioned that he agreed with this Mandy.

  • willowfield

    THE DUBLINER

    By the way, self-determination doesn’t apply to any other parties: only those who are anti-state. Unless violence has self-determination as its purpose, it isn’t politically valid. It is simply criminal violence masquerading as other than what it actually is, i.e. a “mix of vigilante activity, militant social protest, sociopaths empowering themselves at the expense of others, and a cathartic expression of sectarian hate.”

    No.

    1. Having self-determination as its purpose does not alone make violence legitimate. Such violence needs to have popular support; it needs to be employed proportionately; and it needs to be used only as a last resort. None of those criteria applied to the Provisional IRA and, indeed, the self-determination criterion is dubious.

    2. Violence that does not have self-determination as its purpose can also, in some circumstances, be politically valid: most obviously, self-defence; also, the protection of society; the protection of life and property. The European Convention on Human Rights expressly gives three exceptions when the state may have the right to kill:

    Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
    (a) in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
    (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent escape of a person lawfully detained;
    (c) in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.

    Legitimate state forces are also entitled to use reasonable force, short of taking life, in many situations (e.g. making arrests).

  • Money & Morals

    “Legitimate state forces are also entitled to use reasonable force, short of taking life, in many situations (e.g. making arrests)”

    And there’s the rub – having your head blown off and being shot in the back for protesting did not fit the ‘legtimate’ critera in 1972 which was the point of no-return for many young men in the catholic gethos and the same logic was applied to Bloody Friday by countles young protestants.

    But we are still way off the topic of peace and who is or is not at war – many a young Loylaist still thinks that they are at war and do not support disarmament peace or any kind of power sharing.

    Mandy could be expected to say ‘the union and the unionists right or wrong’ but as Mandelson is homosexual I don’t think he supports Pasiely and the DUP with the reslish he supported Trimble and the old Unionist party. An Irony that Bennent could have mentioned but sought to be sinde instead.

  • The Dubliner

    [i]”So while I agree the Provos aren’t and have never been republicans, nor are they the legitimate heirs of NICRA…” – Garibaldy[/i]

    Of course they are not “the legitimate heirs of NICRA.” Their violent methods and disregard for human and civil rights rather obviously disqualify them. I didn’t say that they were. I said they were “what happened when that movement was violently resisted.”

    Prior to the civil rights movement, most Catholics in NI were not republicans, either of a militant or political variety. The IRA was defunct, and republicans were confined to a few families as a de facto tradition. Most Catholics were simply nationalist, but many were unionist or of no preference. Irish unity was aspirational for some, but there was no political or military means of achieving it. Essentially, reunification didn’t factor in the real world. But civil rights did. When Catholic demands for equal civil rights were met with violent resistance by the state, the situation turned ugly. Republicans saw an opportunity in the violent oppression of the civil rights movement to promote their cause: reunification was now proffered as the only solution that could guarantee equal civil rights.

    So, you can see that Irish unity wasn’t the actual aim for nationalists, but was proffered by Republicans as a means by which the actual aim for nationalists might be realised. The actual aim for nationalists was equal civil rights within the partitioned state. Republicans may have wanted reunification, but nationalists just was wanted what they set out to achieve with via the civil rights movement. When they got that (or felt they could get that, rather), they called off their violent campaign. And they called it off without achieving unity because unity, obviously, wasn’t the actual aim.

    PIRA was a strange alliance of nationalists and republicans, with the nationalists in the majority and gaining the utter hand. Gerry Adams, of course, came from the republican tradition (and was among those republicans who seized upon the civil rights strife to promote violent militancy), whereas others such as McGuinness were simply nationalist. When Gerry Adams realised the actual dynamics, he also realised that Republicans weren’t going to win because those supporters were never truly won over to the ideals of republicanism. They remained militant nationalists – which is just a kinder way of saying ‘vicious thugs.’

    [i]”While a fully armed UDA and UVF receive very little electoral support as they are paramilitary ‘defenders’ whose job is to be on hand and not in government – but the government gives them cash as if they were doing the same as Sinn Fein and the IRA when they clearly are not. Question why then is the British government giving the UDA money?

    It’s important because if it’s OK and legitimate to give Loyalist ‘murderers’ money for Peace then why have they not layed down their arms? Why is it working for Sinn Fien and the IRA and not the Loyalists?” – Money & Morals[/i]

    What can one say about loyalists? Pro-state murder gangs have no legitimacy. Every single murder committed by loyalist factions was an attack on non-combatants i.e. innocent civilians. If they attempt to dignify their activities as ‘war,’ then they are war criminals who committed a violation of the Geneva Convention with every act. If they don’t, then they admit to being criminal murderers. Either way, they’re scum who did not merit being released from prison for their crimes then and no not merit any more consideration from society now than the time it takes to spit upon them (which, naturally, should only be done from a very safe distance!).

  • The Dubliner

    [i]”1. Having self-determination as its purpose does not alone make violence legitimate. Such violence needs to have popular support; it needs to be employed proportionately; and it needs to be used only as a last resort. None of those criteria applied to the Provisional IRA and, indeed, the self-determination criterion is dubious.” – willowfield [/i]

    It doesn’t need to have “popular support” for two reasons: firstly, the right to self-determination is inalienable (i.e. not subject to the authority of others); and, secondly, occupying governments tend not to allow referendums with the express purpose of overthrowing their occupation. Ergo, if a country is invaded, its people may resist the invasion by any means they deem applicable.

    Back to NI reality, the provisionals violent campaign wasn’t justifiable on the basis of self-determination, since, I’ve argued, self-determination wasn’t the major factor to it. I see the provisionals as being essentially a militant social protest movement. It was more to do with “putting manners” on the state than anything else. Totally illegitimate use of violence. On the other hand, there were republicans in there who hit legitimate targets with the legitimate aim of self-determination (but can we separate individuals from the organisation?). It’s a mixed bag; and one that folks will forever argue about without fundamental resolution (unless they make up their minds beforehand). From my point of view, seeing the provos from a less sympathetic perspective has broadened my perspective about the legitimately resultant unionist grievances. I’d hate to have taken part in that campaign and to have come to the realisation that it was mostly just squalid, sectarian murder. It’s the luxury that those of us who are removed from it have, I guess.

    All we can say with any certainty is that hero worship and hagiographer is way off the mark; and that quite a few sociopaths (Adams, McGuinness, Thatcher, Paisley, etc) did rather well out of the “putting manners” on others game.

    [i]”2. Violence that does not have self-determination as its purpose can also, in some circumstances, be politically valid: most obviously, self-defence; also, the protection of society; the protection of life and property. The European Convention on Human Rights expressly gives three exceptions when the state may have the right to kill:” – willowfield[/i]

    Err, I didn’t argue from a pacifist position. I’m talking about the first article of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant protocols of the Geneva/Hague conventions (which define ‘illegitimate’ targets), not about whether violence is justifiable in any other circumstance (but try breaking into my house to find out!).

  • willowfield

    THE DUBLINER

    It doesn’t need to have “popular support” for two reasons: firstly, the right to self-determination is inalienable (i.e. not subject to the authority of others); and, secondly, occupying governments tend not to allow referendums with the express purpose of overthrowing their occupation. Ergo, if a country is invaded, its people may resist the invasion by any means they deem applicable.

    In a situation in which popular support can be democratically expressed (e.g. Northern Ireland), then popular support is necessary. Obviously in other situations to which you allude the criterion becomes redundant.

    By the way, the right to self-determination is subject to the authority of the people. If the people are opposed to independence (or whatever), then those in favour of independence have no right to use violence in pursuit of it.

    Err, I didn’t argue from a pacifist position.

    I know. But you said (or at least implied) that violence can only be legitimate if self-determination is its aim. That is not so (see my previous post).

  • Garibaldy

    Dubliner,

    basically what I’m saying is that I refuse to characterise demands for civil rights in the 1960s as made by and for Catholics. The demands were made on broader grounds than that. Whereas I’m perfectly happy to accept the argument that the Provos are a movement aimed at maximising the position of Catholics within the NI state.

    We can discuss the definition of republican some other time, but I personally refuse to accept that anyone who align themselves with sectarian politics or groups can be described as acting within the democratic secular tradition of republicanism as represented by the French Revolution and people in Ireland like Tone and Connolly.

  • willowfield

    Well said, Garibaldy.

  • The Dubliner

    Garibaldy, I wouldn’t disagree with any of that. However, there is perception of reality, the reality itself, and the prism of spin and propaganda betwixt the two, so what people thought they were seeing or doing isn’t always what they were actually seeing or doing.

    “By the way, the right to self-determination is subject to the authority of the people. If the people are opposed to independence (or whatever), then those in favour of independence have no right to use violence in pursuit of it.” – Willow

    By the way, I said self-determination was defined in first article of the UN’s UDHR. I meant the first article of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The right is not subject to majority approval. It is inalienable. The reason it must remain so is that invading powers do not allow polls as a precursor to insurgency. The right must be inalienable if it is to be practicable. But I agree that it is qualified by rationality, so I would question of sanity of anyone believed that political violence was justified or a feasible option in the present context in NI. However, it remains a matter for individual conscience.

  • The Dubliner

    And just to clarify the poll issue: even if a poll is undertaken which states that the majority are in favour of being occupied by a foreign power, the minority’s right to self-determination isn’t effected, so they may still resist the occupation against the wishes of the majority. Polls are redundant when a right is inalienable.

    But we’re far from the applicable reality in NI. It isn’t Iraq with insurgents resisting an occupying force and its puppet government. So, hopefully, it’ll remain largely academic for the foreseeable future.

  • willowfield

    THE DUBLINER

    The right is not subject to majority approval. It is inalienable.

    Nonsense.

    According to you, then, a terrorist campaign by Scottish nationalists would currently be justifiable, even though the majority of Scots consistently vote in opposition to independence.

    Sorry, but that’s balls, and you know it.

    Your references to “invading powers” are irrelevant in the vast majority of situations.