Northern Ireland: Crewe Alexandra versus Manchester United?

I’ve been asked by Prospect magazine to write a response to Dean Godson’s lengthy analysis of the winners and losers in the Peace Process(™). But before I do, I’d like to get a measure of what Slugger readers make of it. To that end, I’ve cut and pasted some of the highlights below: though the whole piece is definately worth reading, especially for the policy wonks among us. I’d be grateful for your responses (remembering, of course that little rule about playing the ball, and not the man).The main bugbear is this seemingly endless touting of the peace process as a template for use in other areas of conflict:

In their own peculiar way, the Troubles and their aftermath became the defining national security experience for the postwar generation in Britain–much as the first world war was for Eden and Macmillan, or the second world war for Heath and Callaghan. Of course, most of the dramatis personae this time round never donned a uniform. But this squalid little war, conducted over the constitutional status and governance of the most cussedly unfashionable part of the Kingdom–and which seemed utterly sui generis for much of the time after the start of the Troubles in 1969–has suddenly become a trendy template for conflict resolution across the world. There is now something of an “international ideology of Northern Ireland.”

In essence, he argues, the recipe comes down to this:

One could have drawn many lessons from the Troubles, but what has come down now, after nearly four decades, is that the moderates in such conflicts haven’t got the “credibility” to “deliver.” Only the extremes can make agreements stick. And to do that, you need to suck them into negotiations and make them an integral part of new arrangements. That means offering generous inducements–often to pretty nasty people. The extremes thus win, but in the process apparently cease to be quite so extreme.

But, he notes, there has been some singular gaps in the general thinking about what actually went wrong with British policy over the thirty year period of the Troubles. Not least in one of its most controversial ‘big ideas’ early on, Internment:

I have yet to meet a single politician, mandarin, policeman, soldier or spook who has examined in any depth why internment failed once on the island of Ireland in the 20th century, in 1971, but succeeded there at least three other times–and what the reasons for those differing outcomes might be. It is now taken as axiomatic that it can’t be done, and perhaps the conventional wisdom is right, especially in the era of the Human Rights Act. But the issue is surely serious enough to merit deeper investigation–considering that the British state is confronting a new kind of terrorist threat that is far more lethal than anything the Provisionals threw at it over 30 years.

Kenneth Bloomfield, perhaps the ablest of the local Northern Ireland civil servants during the Troubles, casts valuable light on the internment debate of 1970-71 in his second volume of memoirs A Tragedy of Errors: The Government and Misgovernment of Northern Ireland (Liverpool University Press). First, he reminds us of the context of internment: had it not been introduced in the face of the Provisionals’ burgeoning campaign, there would have been an explosion of retaliatory loyalist violence. He also notes that when such action was being contemplated, the Heath government failed to ask the proper questions of the old unionist-dominated Northern Ireland government. What efforts were being made to secure the co-operation of the republic? What was being done to ensure that the measure was directed against terrorists on both sides, so that it was at least seen to be equitable? And what was the quality of their intelligence?

Even so, he is generally unimpressed by the capacity of senior British civil servants to ‘think’, even as he admires their capacity to ‘do’:

…one of the most fascinating qualities of the British mandarinate is the banality of its historical and intellectual analysis–combined with a superlative practical tradecraft. Such skills were honed for particular purposes during multiple late imperial retreats. The present marquess of Salisbury–who served on the cabinet’s Northern Ireland committee under John Major–describes this mindset as “the ruthless use of residual power to relinquish that very power altogether.”

In a sense, therefore, the Pat Finucane Centre (founded in memory of the murdered republican solicitor), is right to criticise the army’s history of Operation Banner as signifying an imperialist mentality. The British did behave like colonialists–but, critically, like late colonialists rather than high imperialists. They superimposed on Northern Ireland a model of self-extrication that was appropriate for colonies, where the white settlers amounted to no more than 10 per cent of the population: the army would hold the ring till the politicians cobbled together something that would enable impoverished
postwar Britain to pull out in a dignified fashion. All the movement was always in one direction, towards a diminution of a British role. Whether this model was appropriate for a part of Britain where around 70 per cent of the population was pro-British (at least at the start of the Troubles, when pro-union Catholics are included) is open to question.

Few of these British panjandrums had much affection for the Provisionals as people, and certainly none of them had any liking for republican violence. But most subscribed fairly uncritically to the notion of “50 years of unionist misrule” from 1921-72. In their eyes–as revealed by the unclassified sections of Operation Banner–“bigotry” was deemed largely to have been a Protestant phenomenon; and the desire to remain part of Britain, shared by many Catholics, Alliance party members and power-sharing unionists such as Brian Faulkner and David Trimble, is portrayed as evidence of unyielding rigidity (even though it was specifically upheld in the Good Friday agreement). These officials, whether in or out of uniform, adhered to this analysis even after they came to the conclusion at some point in the mid-1970s that withdrawal was not an option–if only because the Irish Republic could not absorb the place.

In essence, the major part of Godson’s argument comes down to this: that the great victory of Northern Irish nationalism was to convince the British, and anyone else who was listening, that they were the singular victims of an unedifying and repressive Unionist regime. This, he argues, was powerfully internalised, even by the agency that was sent out to face the IRA and others in the field:

The army, like so many “Brits,” succumbed to the charms of what the historian Liam Kennedy mockingly called the MOPE–“most oppressed people ever.” Indeed, JJ Lee–scarcely a revisionist historian–once came across a glorious quote from an editorial in the Irish Press, the semi-official Dublin government newspaper, in 1943: “There is no kind of oppression visited on any minority in Europe which the six county nationalists have not also endured.” Yet on any global scale, the Stormont regime bore no resemblance to French Algeria, the American deep south, apartheid South Africa, let alone Nazism (Bernard Levin actually made this last comparison). The genius of northern nationalists after 1969 was to sell the story that something terrible was going on in Ulster–which was causing huge collateral damage to the reputation of right-thinking Englishmen. Many British soldiers and officials believed that the Prods, at some level, had it coming to them–and this conditioned their response to republican violence.

He concludes:

One of the most amazing aspects of the Troubles is that this record remains such a source of pride to the British state. After all, Northern Ireland is about the last place where we still are a superpower. Consider what cards we held: the largest single deployment of British troops, the most professional regular army in Europe, amounting to 30,000 men at the height of the violence; the Ulster Defence Regiment/Royal Irish Regiment, a 6,000-strong local militia, described by General Michael Jackson as among the best troops he came across in his career; 13,500 officers in the RUC, one of the finest gendarmerie forces in the world, whose alumni now train policemen for counter-insurgencies the world over; big MI5 and, in the early years, MI6 stations; GCHQ expertise; total air and naval dominance; control of the public expenditure pursestrings for the staples of daily life, including all welfare payments; and the support of a substantial majority of the local population. Despite
all of these advantages, the Troubles were a score draw: it’s a bit like the Manchester United board deriving pleasure from the fact that Crewe Alexandra came to Old Trafford and didn’t actually win. In this case, we didn’t win in Northern Ireland because we didn’t want to win–not least because we didn’t know our own history.

  • You can boil this down to “we weren’t prepared to do what we needed to do to win”. The counter-question then becomes “what did you need to do to win?” Are we talking Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising style tactics here? And is he arguing that the Unionist regime of 21-72 didn’t misrule Northern Ireland?

    Looks like a boring Unionist MOPE-fest to me.

  • willowfield

    One could have drawn many lessons from the Troubles, but what has come down now, after nearly four decades, is that the moderates in such conflicts haven’t got the “credibility” to “deliver.” Only the extremes can make agreements stick. And to do that, you need to suck them into negotiations and make them an integral part of new arrangements. That means offering generous inducements–often to pretty nasty people. The extremes thus win, but in the process apparently cease to be quite so extreme.

    This is indeed what has happened in NI. But it is too early to say whether the agreement will stick. We’re only six months into the second attempt at getting it to stick after the first attempt came unstuck.

    I think Godson is wrong, however, to suggest that the moderates aren’t needed. Does he really think that if the UUP and SDLP had not been around that the DUP and the Provos would have come to an agreement on their own? I certainly do not. The moderates were absolutely essential, because they did all the hard work of working the agreement out and then provided the means for the extremes to reach agreement by undermining them for coming to agreement in the first place, and then, once having replaced them, simply making the same agreement themselves. (Obviously this description works more clearly on the unionist side than on the nationalist side because the Provos were more willing to make an agreement in the first place than the DUP, but nonetheless the Provos undermined the SDLP in order to replace them.)

    I have yet to meet a single politician, mandarin, policeman, soldier or spook who has examined in any depth why internment failed once on the island of Ireland in the 20th century, in 1971, but succeeded there at least three other times–and what the reasons for those differing outcomes might be. It is now taken as axiomatic that it can’t be done, and perhaps the conventional wisdom is right, especially in the era of the Human Rights Act. But the issue is surely serious enough to merit deeper investigation–considering that the British state is confronting a new kind of terrorist threat that is far more lethal than anything the Provisionals threw at it over 30 years.

    Is it not the received wisdom that it failed because the intelligence was poor and they scooped the wrong people?

    The genius of northern nationalists after 1969 was to sell the story that something terrible was going on in Ulster–which was causing huge collateral damage to the reputation of right-thinking Englishmen. Many British soldiers and officials believed that the Prods, at some level, had it coming to them–and this conditioned their response to republican violence.

    They also sold it to their own people, so that northern nationalists themselves believed the “narrative” – most still do and many still employ the “oppression” narrative even as if it applied today.

    One thing lacking from the pieces Mick has quoted is any commentary on unionism during the Troubles. I think the inability of unionism (as in “political unionism” to use that awful nationalist phrase) to plan for the future and to educate and lead its own people was one of the great failings of the Troubles. The Molyneaux era was a terrible wasted opportunity when the UUP was in a strong ascendancy to do a deal with non-violent nationalism that might have produced a (largely) “internal settlement”, precluded the perceived need for the Anglo-Irish Agreement and subsequent Southern meddling. We’ll never know, of course, but it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to find out whether a settlement along these lines could have succeeded – gradually – in taking the wind out of the Provo sails, so that by the time they came to the negotiating table we already had a power-sharing Assembly in place and a settled and confident centre ground. It would also have been much more difficult for the DUP to build up as effective an opposition to power-sharing with SDLP (with Provos still pariahs) than they were able to do against power-sharing with still-(partially-)armed Provos.

  • willowfield

    Apologies for the poor writing above, with the long sentences, etc. It was written in haste and reads accordingly.

  • picador

    Tssk – ‘definitely’ not ‘defanately’

  • Mick Fealty

    Willow, I am not sure I’ve done justice to his argument there. I think he was trying to characterise the ‘formula’ as currently being touted than his own credo.

  • The content was well worth reading Willow. I agree with much of what you said.

  • This is probably not particularly helpful, but my take on Godson’s interest in Ireland is here.

    I suggest a response along the lines of: ‘The US needs to talk to Hamas. Get over it!’

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Sammy

    “Looks like a boring Unionist MOPE-fest to me.”

    Agreed. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Godson laments the fact that the British government actually learned this lesson (eventually) and tried something different. His ideas on a “solution” are rooted in the 1970s – with a touch of the 1870s thrown in for good measure.

    Incidentally, Northern Ireland is not “part of Britain” and it never has been. And no, this is not nitpicking, this is an important point. Godson refers to NI as “part of Britain” specifically to differentiate it from Britain’s former overseas colonies.

    I would point out that NI is indeed overseas. It has also always been governed in a decidedly colonial-like manner, and been treated by Britain much as the old colonies were.

  • willowfield

    Wrong, Billy.

    By “Britain”, Godson means the UK, and NI is part of the UK. It wasn’t a colony. And no more “overseas” than, say, the Shetlands (in fact, less overseas than the Shetlands).

    Trying to portray NI as having the same status as Bechuanaland is ridiculous hyperbole, and factually incorrect.

  • kensei

    It is wrong to view 1971 as a singular failure for internment. Internment followed after the 1916 Rising, and was equally ineffective, producing the “university of revolution” at Frongoch.

    Second, place it in the context of times. Previous IRA campaigns had much less support and much less resonance. By the late 60’s Nationalists dissatisfaction was both more open and more widespread and the Civil Rights Movement had brought many of these issues to the fore, and the civil rights movement in America gave a power example to compare to.

    Next, it is not as simple as “make deals with nasty people”. There were a number of necessary but insufficient conditions before a deal could be made. Both sides had to get to a point of stalemate, at least without escalation that neither could stomach. There had to be an alternative process available. Moderates were there not only willing to do a deal, but with alternative thinking that had strong foundations that drew from the same well – Hume might have talked about the need to unite minds being more important than erasing borders but he could point to Tone and the Flag to help back him up.

    The process itself was transformative. Ceasefire was a precondition to talks. Disarmament put up before implementation, then acceptance of policing. It is unlikely that leaderships can get everyone to move somewhere at once, but the incentives are all one way.

    Lastly, the fact that some Nationalists engaged in hyperbole does not mean that NI was not misruled, both under Unionist government and after. The harsh truth for Unionism is that their actions and their attitudes made it an easy sell.

  • DC

    Much of the British conscience problem stems from the racist elements attached with the British adventures into Ireland, thus viewing humans in an a hereditory hierarchical sense in that Ireland was there to be dominated and advanced under British civilisation.

    Hence the sowing the seeds of the British empire in Ireland aligned with nationstate building and the ability to manipulate the people of Ireland using both literature and weaponry came across as particulary racist and institutionalised via the British state.

    The concept of race and superiority has been ripped to shreds post WWII but this Empire mentality really has had the British in a dizzy spin even though much of the civilisation traits still remain in place today in Ireland.

    So indeed any claims of MOPE could stick even though the level of oppression was mis-stated through strong republican/nationalist community organisation as a result of turning their backs to the NI state/government and instead operating voluntary community groups.

    This enable a republican narrative to be be delivered and this common view of the past was amplified due to such communal arrangements, although such communal capacity building was done using the same political constructs that the British used of ethnicity creation. This is what likely rankles the unionists, like for like creation of a counter-ethnic group formed by such narratives in response to British intolerance, a stalemate. An outcome which makes Northern Nationalism a very unique concept akin to Unionism in many ways and all the same Southern Ireland has had the freedom to develop a different, more modern world view of its place among the democratic states.

    European values of integration and free movement of people pretty much make either form of extreme nationalism, as a prevalent political ideology, something of an idea about to go down the slippy slope towards the exit door of modern politics.

    Much focus is now on reconciling certain ethnicities and allowing inter-cultural advancement by facilitation in Northern Ireland in a safe manner.

    But the key issue is providing a better economy and if being part of Britain doesn’t allow that then many will view the versatility of being part of an Ireland in Europe as perhaps a preferable option if their political representatives can effect better economic change for the people so long as a inter-ethnic environment is secured.

  • Ben

    To open the comparative card on a couple of points.

    1) There is a suggestion that comes around now and then that only a hawkish government in Israel has the crediblity with the public to make concessions (think Menachem Begin and Arik Sharon, though Abba Eban remarked that it was a genius of Israeli diplomacy – an extremely rare occurence – to make getting rid of Gaza look like a concession). Rabin, the most forward thinking leader there since the beginning, was not a hawk, but people felt confident that he wouldn’t betray their security needs. You don’t need to be a hawk, you do need to be strong.

    On a separate note:

    2) Palestinians play the MOPE card all the time (it plays very well with some in Ireland doesn’t it), and they seem to get a lot of sympathy for it. But that may in part not be a function of loving the MOPE, but rather having a particular bug up your arse about the oppressor. That may be common in relation to feelings about Israel for a variety of reasons, and it may apply to Britain for other reasons. How come the Kurds don’t get the MOPE card, or the Kashmiris, or the Polisarios, or the Tamils, or the Native Americans? Perhaps they try but fail. Regarding the situation in NI, it’s perhaps not that the Catholics are the MOST oppressed, but rather the currently oppressed at the tail end of a vicious global empire. More later, perhaps, Ben

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Willow

    “By “Britain”, Godson means the UK, and NI is part of the UK.”

    Well then he’s wrong. Yes, NI is part of the UK. But it is NOT part of Britain, and it never was. Not even in the constitutional name of the UK.

    “It wasn’t a colony.”

    If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck…..

    “And no more “overseas” than, say, the Shetlands.”

    I don’t give two hoots about the Shetlands.

    “Trying to portray NI as having the same status as Bechuanaland is ridiculous hyperbole, and factually incorrect.”

    I said NI was overseas from Britain. It is.

  • The Spectator

    Billy, willowfield

    I actually enjoyed some of willowfield’a analysis, without agreeing with all of it. More of this stuff and less attrition for attritions sake would be very welcome…anyway…

    On the colonial point, the obvious parallel is French Algeria with 1910’s Ireland. The religious dichotomy, the racial overtones, the argument between colony and “overseas but integral”, the violence, the small but vocal ‘loyal’ ‘planted’ minority, an empire about to undertake a calamatous war, and followed later by the winding down of empire.

    The key difference. When the French got out, they really got out. No “Northern Algeria” pour les africains francais.

    Whether France or Algeria is better off for that is a matter for some debate.

    But whether Algeria was a colony, or an integral part of France, or whether these two or necessarily mutual exclusive has interesting inferences for the Irish Question.

  • joeCanuck

    One major factor the whole analysis neglects is the effect of television and the ability to garner the support of public opinion worldwide.

  • joeCanuck

    A large reason for the British Army’s failure, (because it was a failure; the most that 30,000 of the best equipped and trained army in the world could do was to fight a few hundred insurgents to a stalemate), is that old bugbear of armies (and their commanding politicians) – they fought today’s war using the tactics of the last war.

  • Garibaldy

    A confused piece full of contradictions and half-digested thoughts. I missed the extensive analysis of the historical reasons for the emergence of the Troubles, and why there were sustained for so long. But then maybe the discrimination, gerrymandering etc never actually happened. I also missed any notion that the main problem with Britain’s policy was not enforcing reforms when London’s attention was drawn to these issues by the Campaign for Social Justice in 1964, or in 1967 when NICRA was founded, or in 1968 after October 5th etc. Had this been done, the Troubles would never have kicked off in the first place.

    This bears on his point about the global scale. NI was a part of the UK, just like anywhere else as he says himself. So why then no discussion of the lack of British rights for British citizens? Or of the use of security tactics designed for Kenya in NI?

    On the conclusion. Apply this logic about superior military power to Iraq or Afghanistan, or Iran, or wherever, and you can see where it will lead. The worrying thing is that this type of argument – which is driven by a neo-con agenda aiming to use British and American military power to “make the world safe for democracy” – is becoming increasingly powerful among people connected to the Tories. Let’s hope they don’t win the next election. If they do, and this is the lesson they have learned from the Troubles, then we will all be losers, as might several peoples across the world.

  • Turgon

    I do not pretend to have a definitive analysis here and am not going to stand over all the below and defend it but a few (largely random) thoughts do come to mind.

    There is a danger in Godson’s analysis as there is in many of the analyses that both unionists and nationalists have.

    I am unclear to what extent there was a unified British civil service strategy about Northern Ireland. I am not saying there was not one but we may (and only may) be indulging in a conspiracy theory to suggest that the Whitehall civil servants had a devious plan about Norhern Ireland. Some civil servants may well have had a specific plan based on a leaving a colony strategy but that does not necessarily mean that everyone was following this nor that it was implemented in the same way at all times.

    When troops were first deployed there may have been a feeling that they would only be needed for a short time. They may have been seen as protecting the nationalist minority against loyalist violence. Initially, however, Stormont was not suspended. I would agree that a narrative in which the unionists were extremely bad and 50 years misrule etc. was accepted may have sprung up. However, as is noted by the mid 1970s it must have been extremely clear that the situtation was extremely complicated.

    Could it be (and I do not accept all this but let us suppose) that initially there was a hope that with stopping communal violence and giving what the civil rights marchers demanded (explicitly if not implicitly) the problem would end?

    Then maybe there was an end of colony attitude of make the situtation safe to leave and force a compromise.

    A little later, however, people like Roy Mason and indeed the early years of the Thatcher government look a lot more like treat terrorism as crime, run the country and wait till the terrorists tire of their terrorism whilst trying to woo people back towards normality by ensuring as much normality as possible.

    Later with things like the Anglo Irish agreement, Mayhew etc. there seems to have been more of a swing back to a big “solution” plan. This was clearly the strategy Blair adopted (I suspect in part as a personal vanity project) but probably supported by the “solution” supporters in the civil service.

    Of course I am biased as I feel that a single solution has always been a misunderstanding and that one must focus on enforcing all parts of the law.

    Comming back to the colonial idea, however, shows that different strategies were adopted in different colonies.

    In the colonies with few settlers the British tried to leave fairly quickly such as the Indian sub continent, West African colonies and indeed much of the Far East.

    In those with large settler minorities there were also different strategies, and I suspect these are the ones which people are thinking about when they analyse Northern Ireland as a colonial conflict. In Kenya where there were never enough whites to declare UDI the British could leave quite quickly after the Mau Mau had been defeated. There was also a faily clear single biggest tribe (the Kikuyu) and a single leader popular with that tribe and pretty acceptable to the other tribes; even at the end the white Kenyans, namely Kenyatta.

    In Rhodesia clearly an attempt to get a compromise and force the whites into some (quite minor) power sharing was an abject disaster and even the compromise produced in 1980 with hindsight seems to have been a disaster, though clearly the white Rhodesians and Zanu PF all have varying levels of responsibility as well.

    In the midst of the Northern Ireland problem we also have the Falklands which was in many ways a colonial war fought like a conventional war. Clearly here if the civil servants had wanted to give the Falklands to Argentina they were not allowed to do so. The colonial exit strategy has also clearly not been allowed in Gibraltar due (if for no other reason) to the solid opposition to from the population.

    I would therefore submit that even in the late colonial period there have been multiple different strategies used by the civil service and politicians and as such to try to suggest that the mandarians tried to apply a colonial template to Northern Ireland may be flawed as there is no single colonial template.

    I wonder if sometimes we hold these Whitehall Oxbridge educated mandarians in too much awe, assuming that they had an over arching cunning plan all along and were not in part at least simply reacting to events. That is not to say there was no narrative but it may well have evolved and changed and may not have been accepted by everyone even in that cloistered world.

    As I said a few random thoughts.

  • Turgon

    I do not like having a post over two parts as it implies one did not think through one’s thoughs well enough to get them into the necessary space but here are the final parts of my ramblings

    In view of all that one could argue that one reason why the British state did not easily destroy the terrorist threat is that it had multiple different strategies at different times. Also of course there is the fact that the army did not adopt air strikes etc. and largely dealt with the problem as a policing one.

    I am pleased by the lack or rows so far on this thread and am not trying to attack garibaldy but I do not think the strategies adopted by the army here are actually more than superficially similar to those adopted in Kenya cf above re airstrikes etc.

    As I have suggested before I suspect that the British governments (especially Blair’s government) allowed the republican movement to snatch some minor victories out of the jaws of if not defeat total irrelevance. On that of course (as on everyhting else) I am clearly biased.

    As I said a few random thoughts.

  • kensei

    “In view of all that one could argue that one reason why the British state did not easily destroy the terrorist threat is that it had multiple different strategies at different times. Also of course there is the fact that the army did not adopt air strikes etc. and largely dealt with the problem as a policing one.”

    Conversely, you could say they were relatively successful at finding a resolution because they were prepared to change strategy.

    The idea that simply coming down hard on them consistently, what what, is attractive but ultimately really, really wrong. The Thatcher strategy you mention “swung” because it completely failed, produced then screwed up the handling of the Hunger Strikes and prolonged the whole thing.

    And just out of interest – where exactly are you to airstrike? Do you not think that might incur some collateral damage, even if you count every Catholic as in the IRA? That is truly the weirdest thing you’ve said all week.

  • DC

    “The worrying thing is that this type of argument – which is driven by a neo-con agenda aiming to use British and American military power to “make the world safe for democracy” – is becoming increasingly powerful among people connected to the Tories. If they do, and this is the lesson they have learned from the Troubles, then we will all be losers, as might several peoples across the world.”

    In terms of N Ireland, if we could find a way of divesting ourselves of such existing ethnic parties in favour of a political/social group that could base a debate on the future of N Ireland linked to the admistrative and economic benefits of joining a united Ireland then progress could be made.

    Today’s Ireland is moving slowly towards inter-culturalism, it has to and if ethnic safeguards such as re-assurance for the non-gaelic aligned in the North could be work in a potential new framework for disgruntled Northerners then people would consider what is before them.

    The key is getting rid of mutually exclusive ethnic parties and working towards an economic case based on flexibility and versatility of a new Ireland and having more autonomy and more say in that united Ireland, which is currently overhauling itself in the face of greater EU integration and trade benefits.

    The conservative outlook is so tiresome in terms of monarchy and inward looking yet outward reliant on the US. Ireland is providing more wealth creation than the UK is doing for its membership regions and Northern Ireland already suffers a brain-drain as a result of protectionist economics in favour of London and its precise accumulation of key business sectors built off the back of the slave trade heritage.

    Flip I’m beginning to come across all republican there, but democracy is about influence and Northern Ireland will have about 10-20 years to prove itself as region which can build a private sector failing that it will be time to consider a different approach based on better wealth creation for individuals.

  • DC

    “Despite all of these advantages, the Troubles were a score draw: it’s a bit like the Manchester United board deriving pleasure from the fact that Crewe Alexandra came to Old Trafford and didn’t actually win.”

    A poor analysis because we must assume that fire-power of United was blunted in favour of application of springing the offside trap.

    Yes there were soldiers but they were neither involved in total war nor peacekeeping their purpose was at times specifically aggressive yet also non-militaristic come police-like.

    It simply wasn’t a case for comparison with footballing tactics.

  • George

    Joecanuck.
    they fought today’s war using the tactics of the last war.

    The problem is that if they fought the tactics of a “current” war they probably would have engaged the lost southern generation and then some. And by God there were enough hopeless souls chomping at the bit to be included.

    On Godson,
    “we didn’t win in Northern Ireland because we didn’t want to win–not least because we didn’t know our own history.”

    That’s simply crap of the highest order. You knew your own history just like the rest of us. You simply didn’t want to accept it because it undermined your position from the outset.

    Instead you went on a rewriting exercise with the unsurprising consequence that you failed. There’s none so blind as those who will not see.

  • Turgon

    kensei,
    I do not necessarily dissent from much of what you say. In a way you help make my point (do not worry I am not trying to co-opt you into the prodiban but remember there is always a cave warm and waiting). What I mean is that you say the British were willing to change strategy. This may have been part of a grand design which sounds a bit conspiracy theory-ish or may as you suggest be trying different things at different times.

    Although I do not subscribe to the one over arching design theory and am desperate to avoid this degenerating into a row how about the following suggestion:-

    Thatcher with the very hardline strategy demonstrated that the British government were able to tolerate their soldiers being killed and economic destruction and in turn stop the IRA as and when they could. Then they could turn to the IRA and say something to the effect “You tried your hardest; the provience still functions; you are not going to win; why not try something different?” It is just a thought but I wonder if it is a way to give coherence to apparently quite different strategies at different times. Alternatively (as I tend to believe) they reacted to events.

    By the way on air strikes I agree entirely all I meant was that the way the army practiced counter insurgency in Kenya was really quite different to here.

  • Ben

    Forgive the late entry, but I’ve just now gotten the chance to read the entirety of Godson’s piece. I’m surprised that Vietnam didn’t enter the thread. The whole “we didn’t win because we didn’t want to win” is true for Vietnam and for Northern Ireland, but it begs an examination of the concept of victory. Sure, superior power can crush inferior power, but at what cost? There’s an important lesson here concerning public morality versus those that have their finger on the mechanism that has its fingers on the triggers. The US could have “won” in Vietnam, and Britain could have “won” in Northern Ireland, and the US could still “win” in Iraq, but those victories would cost (even more of) the soul of the nation. Is that what Godson wants? It flies in the face of part of what is going on in Northern Ireland these days (though not enough of it yet), a re-examination that asks what all the violence was for. My two pence… Ben

  • kensei

    Just another key point: you don’t win until the enemy says it’s over, or they are completely obliterated from the planet. The Romans taught Hannibal that, and it is a lesson that is still failed to be applied today. “Mission Accomplished” anyone?

    It seems to me that any excess of force would have merely created more IRA men. The question then becomes: are the British prepared to obliterate Northern nationalism?

  • Joey

    A higher standard of debate here than normal, the serious history has scared trolls and the more narrow-minded defedners of the Union away.

    Godson is right to point out that only the extremes can deliver the unbreakable deal, but as someone noticed earlier, there is no way that the extremes would have come to some kind of agreement on their own whim. The involvement of the SDLP throughout the Troubles (particuarly in the 1970s and 1990s) was crucial to gaining SF’S increasing ‘politicisation’, Hume finally bringing Adams in from the violent cold. And Trimble, stale man that he is, presided over the dynamic that forced the DUP to change their own direction. The extremes of the DUP and SF also built up support in their own communities precisely by lambasting the moderates, which meant that they could cover their flank and bring them along when they decided to broker their own agreement.

    It also fails in its broad overview here to pinpoint mercurial, individual human beings. There are many in Northern Ireland’s recent history in this bracket, but in relation to Britain’s handling of the problem: if anyone has ever studied Margaret Thatcher or read anything like her autobiography or her speeches, you will find that this odd woman had not the slightest understanding of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Ironically this may have helped in securing her signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, as she seemed unaware quite of what she was actually signing (like the Single European Acts and other Treaties she blessed). She was the one figure who united both Republicans and Unionists – in absolute hatred of her. The stance she took in the 1980s unquestionably MADE Sinn Fein as a poltical force, ressusitating an old, old ghost. And the violence was prolonged from this moment onwards for at least a decade. Historians will always look at the actions of individuals who made the history, as well as the sweep of broad movements and socio-political factors.