How Blair pandered to sectarian populism…

Eamonn McCann dissents from the glowing reviews, here and elsewhere that Blair’s policy on Northern Ireland was that of a gifted visionary. He argues that he gave in early on to requirement of seeing everything in terms of the sectarian divide. The institutions he helped set up, he argues “suffer from a congenital sectarian infection”.By Eamonn McCann

Ask not what Tony Blair has done for Northern Ireland, but what Northern Ireland has done for Tony Blair. As he sets out on the longest lap of honour in political history, Blair can comfort himself with the thought that there is one place at least on the face of the planet where his crimes against humanity are not held against him.

He arrived at Stormont last Tuesday, steeped in the blood of Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, to be greeted on (almost) all sides with bouquets of praise, as a Man of Peace. Even if it were true that Blair had played a key role in bringing peace to the North, the accolades now being heaped upon him would be, at best, inappropriate. Like applauding a man who’d raped a child up a back alley for tossing her sister a sweet as he makes his getaway.

This observation will itself be deemed inappropriate by those who don’t see the people of Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan etc. as flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood but as other sort of beings entirely, with none of the entitlements which we have to dignity and rights. The role in the peace process ascribed to Blair has, anyway, been exaggerated beyond any resemblance to accuracy—particularly by constitutional Nationalists. On Tuesday, only Ian Paisley had the hard neck to tell the truth. Or to come within touching distance of the truth.

“Tony Blair leaves a priceless legacy of peace and agreement in Ireland. I am privileged to have worked side by side with him,” gushed Bertie Ahern. “The restoration of the political institutions would not have been possible without him,” simpered Gerry Adams. “I want to extend best wishes to him, his wife Cherie and their family for the future”.

“He deserves immense credit for his perseverance in our process…The amount of time and personal capital he invested should never be underestimated,” suggested Mark Durkan, leader of a party which was consistently belittled and sidelined by Blair throughout the process.

Paisley, however, before going on to join in the trite chorus, argued briefly that, over the past 10 years, Blair “may have delayed the progress that has been achieved recently.” What the DUP boss had in mind was Blair’s alleged tendency to concede too readily to Nationalist demands— a typically unbalanced verdict. But Paisley’s basic point, that Blair’s involvement had delayed the deal, deserves consideration.

The mendacity and messing of the entire New Labour crew, the fact that they didn’t have a single fixed principle between them, and the realisation on all sides within months of their arrival that their word wasn’t worth its weight in dirt, was a significant factor in setting the scene for a decade of bad-tempered bluff and procrastination.

Blair, throughout, refused to contemplate any perspective other than that which allocated every citizen of the North automatically to either the Catholic-Nationalist or Protestant-Unionist camps. Of all the regimes which have ruled the six counties since partition, Blair’s has been the most determinedly sectarian. True, it’s been a balanced sort of sectarianism when compared with the dreadnought years of Ulster Unionism. But sectarianism nonetheless.

The arrangements for governance now in place thus suffer from a congenital sectarian infection. This may be Blair’s most enduring legacy in the North—that a widespread and deep-seated yearning for an end to sectarian conflict has been channelled along communal lines, any potential for expression which transcended communalism systematically stamped on and snuffed out.

The Northern peace process has, from the outset, been driven from below, not imposed from above, to an extent which conventional commentary balks at acknowledging. In opting eventually to search for a settlement, local leaders were adapting to the wishes of the communities they wanted to lead, not dragging a people habituated to violence along a reluctant path towards peace.

All of the accolades, and more, which have been heaped on Blair in the past week belong properly to the plain people of the North. In a decent society Blair would be in a dank cell with the key thrown away and the voices of unnumbered dead keening endlessly in his ears.

Instead, he swanks into town in bright sunshine, manic grin affixed to his face, to the sound of politicians and commentators in the grip of abject enthusiasm, shouting hosannas. In the fullness of time, some at least of those who have participated in these events will feel, we may hope, a saving embarrassment.

This has been Northern Ireland’s Princess Di moment, Tony Blair’s “People’s Process.”

First published in the Sunday edition of the Derry Journal.

  • barnshee

    Spot on (as usual ) from Eamonn. Sometimes spoils it by ovekill

  • Ziznivy

    Despite the tone of febrile socialist hysteria (Palestine?!) the central thesis isn’t too far off the truth.

    Blair’s amoral pragmatism left the process without a moral core, he exploited and lied to unionists and he has institutionalised sectarian division here.

    The events of the last few days are nothing to celebrate.

  • barney

    Blair wasn’t even born when the border was imposed on us and it would be hard to find a better example of “institutionalised sectarian division”. So it’s a bit rich to now give him sole credit for the north’s defining characterisic.

  • DC

    With Cherie Blair running around looking for sufficient International Courts to enforce International Laws, you have to wonder why didn’t both Eamonn and Tony benchmark crimes against humanity using pre-existing Human Rights law and rise up and highlight the issue throughout the process.

    Maybe Eamonn did but I get the impression that with the terrorists now placated the voices are coming out fast and sure against the stark realisation of the precise nature of the institutional arrangements. Whereas before such people now concerned didn’t have the balls to run with those concerns so saliently for the want of not agitating the armed-peacemakers within such communal blocs.

  • overhere

    Sorry read the first paragraph and the beginning of the second and decided that instead of being a balanced view this was nothing more than vitriol from someone who is supposed to be a journalist.

    Not being a journalist myself, I could write to the letters page/or blog and say whatever I like to a certain extent, but it would be nice now and again to read a balanced and objective view without the hateful spew that passes for journalism.

    Eamonn could have written the same article getting the same points across (and maybe getting me to read all the article),without going into Dail Mail mode and language.

  • The Penguin

    Whatever about Eamonn’s real beef which is Blair’s role in the Middle East, Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq, there is an intellectual vacuity at the heart of his arguement about Blair’s role in NI – and Eamonn is intelligent enough to know it.

    To point to the design of the GFA and the St Andrews agreement as sectarian is a fair point but to try then to blame this on Blair is ridiculous.
    Blair, or whoever, had no choice other than design something that took account of the fundamental reality that the plain people of the North are themselves sectarian to the core.
    The truth is, the plain people of the North would never have gone for anything other than a sectarian carve up.
    That is why the likes of the DUP and SF swept the boards.
    It isn’t as though Blair et al foisted something alien upon the plain people.
    It was either conflict or sectarian carve up – I don’t like either but know which I prefer.

  • Token Dissent

    McCann’s central point relating to sectarianism being institutionalised by the process is strong, but (as usual) his ideological straight-jacket limits the argument.

    “The Northern peace process has, from the outset, been driven from below, not imposed from above, to an extent which conventional commentary balks at acknowledging.”

    This grossly over-simplifies the last 15 odd years. Obviously the vast majority of people wanted violence to end, but the process that led, for example, to republicans accepting the state and unionists accepting power-sharing with PSF and prisoner releases, was elite driven.

    The republicans who opposed the Provisionals’ dismantling, and the huge number of unionists who opposed The Agreement were real people too Eamonn! These people may have desired ‘peace’ but their move towards accepting a workable settlement required a high degree of manipulation and deception by elites.

  • The Penguin

    Lying behind Eamonn’s argument is one of two suppositions: a)That the sectarian nature of the political arrangements runs contrary to the plain people and their wishes or b) The arrangements do reflect the plain people but something more pleasing to the eye should have been imposed regardless of the reality.

    The first is ridiculous.
    The second highlights the elitist and dangerous, anti-democratic nature of marxist philosophy: ie, we know better than the people what is best for them so we will impose rather than seek their support.

  • Rory

    Eamonn is right and proper to recall Blair’s nefariousness in Iraq, Afghanistan and,yes, Palestine but The Penguin rightly calls him to task on his failure to accept the ingrained sectarian demands of the still polarised people of the North.

  • I Wonder

    Its a fact that the people in NI are polarised along sectarian lines and vote accordingly for political parties, who DESPITE that polarisation, have agreed to work together.

    There IS a common good for the people:

    NO water charging (which Eamon SHOULD agree with!)

    better public services,

    free prescriptions,

    better infrastrutural investment and more secure jobs.

  • No water charging?

    It’s delayed, not cancelled.

  • parcifal

    [Abusive language removed – moderator]

    Whatever else one can say about Blair, he’s overseen a process where its been agreed Republicans will no longer kill to achieve the united ireland, neither will Loyalists kill in order to defend British Ulster.

    That deserves the nobel prize. End of story.

    Its essential to sub-divide the complexities of Iraq from Ireland’s deep-rooted problems.
    McCann has failed.

  • againstthehead

    parcifal – agreed.
    just because we’re a bunch of sectarian biggots ain’t blairs fault.

    I think we missed our chance with the Humes/Trimble deal. Between the Ra keeping the old arsenal, and Paisly sticking the knife in Trimble, the whole thing kinda fell apart.

    At least with an SDLP-UUP leadership, there was a bit of genuine decency on show, and I think a guenuine prospect tof having some kind of shared future.

    Time for the sectarian carve up…

  • John East Belfast

    The Penguin

    Yes your points are spot on.

    McCann talks like a rebellious teenager pointing out all that is wrong without offering any real world practical alternative.

    NI is a deeply divided place where people vote in a way which made winner take all democracy unworkable because it would and did lead to a huge section of the community with no hands on the levers of power and no chance of changing the situation.

    Therefore a compromise to share the power was devised.

    He may have a gripe in saying that it is wrong to split those camps into solely unionist or nationalist but unfortunatley if a neutral/dissenter camp was also allowed as a “third way” my assumption would be that that would be unacceptable to the nationalists ?

    ie Unionists or “content with status quo” from my experience is deemed the same thing by nationalists ?

  • There IS a common good for the people:

    NO water charging (which Eamon SHOULD agree with!)

    better public services,

    free prescriptions,

    better infrastrutural investment and more secure jobs.

    You forgot to add:

    rain only during the night;
    Christmas to be like it was when you were young;
    Mr. Softy ice-cream with every meal.

  • Drivel, frankly. Damn that evil Tony for not choosing the nonsectarian democratic socialist peace that was on offer…and a pony, right? The argument might hold if everybody in 1997 had voted Alliance or SDLP, but that just wasn’t the case.

  • I Wonder

    My point was that despite sectarianism institutionalised in the Assembly, all the things I listed are good for everyone and stand a chance of being implemented by those who approach political life from oppiosite ends of the spectrum.

    All except the rain in the night thing. And eggs tasting like the used to when I was 7. 🙂

    Mr Softy ice cream you can add to your baked beans as you please, without requiring cross-community support. 🙂

  • protorious


    Brought a tear of glee to my eye.

    I have an image of McGuinness and Paisley clutching each others hands, holding them over their heads in victory while their free hands clutch Ice-Cream cones.

    Possibly with a banner in the background reading:
    “No More Screams, Its Time For Ice-Cream”

    Surrounded by photographers….

  • parcifal

    I wonder I think you’ll find republicans prefer green peas to orange baked beans; or a nice piece of fried white cod to separate them, lest they attack each other 😉
    Tatties are neutral of course!

  • I Wonder

    We all know what happens when you eat peas and beans in the same meal… ;-o

  • parcifal

    well its a testimony to the paucity of vision within McCann’s article, and its mendacity that we’d rather talk about farts.

  • parcifal

    If Eamonn was hoping to be blown off, he’s ended up being blown out

  • nmc

    He’ll be back to terrorising computer programmers and trying to improve Derry’s economy by closing the airport and driving all the American companies out.

  • patrique

    Eamon McCann mentioned the sectarian nature of the GFA back in 1998. He is spot on about Blair, America’s bitch as he is called.

    However I have said from 1994 that the plan was for a DUP/Sinn Fein coalition, because we are so sectarian that that was the only thing that would work. Hume/Trimble was a dummy run, to allow the extremists a last shout, before the new alliance left the few extremeists out on a limb. All of this was decided in the early 90s, before Blair. He was the puppet used to implement it, and nearly cocked it up. He deserves no credit.
    On the other hand, people like McCann who called for peace for years, were ignored. You cannot call that failure on McCann’s part, but rather failure by those who would not listen.

    As for American companies in Derry, if they are making weapons of mass destruction, they should not be there, America might invade Derry.
    Unless of course you regret that Hitler’s Gas Making factory was not sited in Derry to provide jobs.

  • Token Dissent

    “On the other hand, people like McCann who called for peace for years, were ignored.”

    Yeah right. Eamonn’s whole career has had a largely negative and divisive impact. The second edition (circs 1980?) of his War and The Irish Town, ends with a lovely peacenik statement. It is something along the lines of: to be a socialist, you must be an anti-imperialist. To be anti-imperialist you must support the Provisionals. (It strangely doesn’t appear in the 3rd edition published in 1993, by which time wee Eamonn must have fell out with the boys.)

    I remember nearly choking when I read this a few years back. Before hand I had an naive image of McCann as a well intentioned man, but hey live and learn. The SWP and aligned infantile hard-leftists have showed themselves to be utterly devoid of alternatives, and worse to be morally vacuous opportunists. Yeah comrades let’s bring about socialism by forming alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood! Right on.

  • bertie

    I always had a soft spot for this guy and the insitutionalised sectarianism will haunt NI for a long long time.

  • patrique

    Dear Token Dissent, I assume you are in the BNP or something, racism is a horrible thing, worse than Nationalism even.

    If you can but spout racist nonsense, you should desist from posting.

  • Token Dissent

    patrique, what the hell are you talking about? How dare you call be a racist.

    If you are referring to my criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood, you should be aware of that organisation’s extreme reactionary views. The Muslim Brotherhood is a firmly anti-democratic organisation, one which originally took it’s inspiration from the fascist brownshirts. Its stated aim has always been to establish Islamist States; therefore, for example, reversing the limited freedoms that women in Muslim countries have gained.

    I was merely pointing out the hard lefts’s alliance with those who are opposed to religious and cultural freedom, and are also homophobic and sexist in the extreme. In NO WAY is it racist or bigoted to highlight these sad ponts. The very opposite in fact.

    The moral relativism of those whom McCann alligns himself with has to be highlighted. It contrasts with those who consistently oppose racism, religious discrimination and all forms of intolerance. Your’s enemy’s enemy is not always your friend.

    I look forward to your apology.