Blair, Brown and Roy Mason

Sinn Fein’s discomfort and anger about the DUP allegedly breaking promises made at St. Andrews has been detailed repeatedly. No one has been more careful in documenting this than Slugger’s own Pete Baker. It has been suggested that SF took their eye off the ball during St. Andrews and that the DUP out negotiated and indeed out manoeuvred them. That may be correct but I would suggest that the critical error which SF made was to forget that Blair was leaving or at least to think that Gordon Brown would have as much interest in, and a similar position on, the political process in Northern Ireland.I remember many years ago when I was a young, foolish member of the UUP (I am now merely foolish) suggesting that a Labour victory would not be the disaster for unionism which many feared; I suggested that Blair represented a very significant shift from the policies expounded by the likes of Kevin McNamara. I also used to point out that it was Roy Mason who brought the SAS to Northern Ireland and as our deputy first minister is supposed to have said “Beat the s**t out of us.” The us there seeming to be the organisation he was only very briefly a member of.

Blair’s approach was of course very different to both McNamara and Mason’s. However, although he probably wanted to be seen as even handed, he ended up being lauded by SF and viewed with at best suspicion by unionists. One can discuss at length whether or not SF were accurate in their assessment of him (certainly some rejectionist republicans probably think that Blair tricked SF into compromise); such analyses are not the purpose of this blog other than to observe that SF regarded Blair as useful to them and their “Naïve Idiot.”

As such they probably (incorrectly as it may be turning out) assumed that Brown would behave similarly and push Robinson to compromise the same way as Blair did Trimble and indeed Paisley. It is not only disgruntled former members of the UUP who will remember Trimble’s “No guns no government” and his “Mr Adams, it is over to you. We have jumped, you follow” followed by the humiliating compromises usually forced upon him by Blair. Since Brown had never expressed any significant contrary opinions on Northern Ireland and since the established order seemed to be that unionists drew lines in the sand only to have the British government push them over them; SF must have assumed that whatever else had changed with the Brown accession, normal service in Northern Ireland would continue.

I would submit that SF assumed that Brown would, after a suitable hiatus, help force Robinson and the DUP into agreeing that there was public support for devolution of policing and justice and that “a political life time” would be even shorter than a life sentence is here provided one has only murdered people in a bar or a fish shop.

Of course DUP supporters will probably submit that in Robinson and the DUP, SF and Brown are dealing with a very different man and party to Trimble and the UUP. There is no doubt some truth in that but one only need study this document and their comments prior to entering government to see that the DUP can also perform political volte faces.

No: the central difference is that for whatever reason, possibly including the parliamentary arithmetic but mainly I suggest due to a different outlook and priorities, Brown is not inclined to drag the DUP into accepting the devolution of P&J, the building of the shrine or the provision of an ILA; at least not yet. Brown’s refusal thus far to do any of this has allowed the DUP to proclaim a series of victories and has resulted in SF’s current rather impotent anger and complaining that the DUP are going back on agreements. SF’s discomfiture is only shown in starker relief by their inability to produce any sanctions against the DUP apart from stalling the whole system of government here which itself damages themselves as much as anyone else. However, I would suggest that should he feel the need to force the DUP to accept these issues, Brown will try and very likely succeed. Exactly why Brown might do this is unclear but anyone can construct a series of possible reasons. The DUP might then be able to resist but just as Paisley eventually bowed the knee nearly two years ago, I have little confidence in Robinson’s ability to stick to Never, Never, Never, never. Unionists are left hoping that Mr. Brown in terms of his position on Northern Ireland is more a Roy Mason than a Tony Blair.

The DUP having surrendered in the past could end up with their position on policing and justice being a Dien Bien Phu or since I have not quoted Shakespeare recently unionists could end up like Troilus with the fall of Troy certain, impotently vowing revenge on his enemies “Strike a free march to Troy! With comfort go: Hope of revenge shall hide our inward foe.” (The Tragedy of Troilus and Cressida Act 5, Scene x).

  • Steve

    Turgon

    I think you underestimate the strength of SF’s position which is unusual as you are SF’s strength

  • CYNIC

    And that goes to support the view that without the help of the Brits paving the way for them at every turn SF just aren’t that good at this politics thingy.

    So much for ‘Great Leader’

    Why doesn’t Gordon just offer him a seat in the Lords.

  • DC

    I just watched Hearts and Minds there now and saw Hazel Blears on tv, Noel called her Secretary of State, for a moment I thought she was SoS for NI.

    She’d be best sort of person to get involved here and drive this stagnation forward, I think she would persevere at getting mindsets focussed on breaking this impasse.

  • Harry Flashman

    It’s an odd historical anomaly but actually Unionists have usually done better under Labour governments than Tory ones. It was Labour who gave them the 1949 Government of Ireland Act (the infamous “Unionist veto”) and while Wilson was quite evidently more supportive of the Nationalist cause he still backed up Stormont with the Army.

    When Heath got in (hiss, boo!) he overthrew Stormont and put soft old Willie Whitelaw in place with his secret negotiations and “political status” for the IRA. Sunningdale was a Heathite construction and it was Labour’s Merlyn Rees who let it die. Then of course we had the sainted Roy Mason of hallowed memory who ended up being replaced by Falklands loser Humphrey Atkins who was further replaced by notorious ‘wet’ Jim Prior who presided over the disastrous Assembly elections which saw Sinn Fein’s rise. And of course for all Maggie’s so-called fortitude against the IRA it was her and Douglas Hurd who sold the Unionists down the river with the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

    Tony Blair’s government has seen a fully armed and active IRA turned into an unarmed, beaten organisation while Sinn Fein are reduced to peacefully administering British rule up in the big house at Stormont and the Irish government renouncing the territorial claim.

    Sinn Fein must be eagerly anticipating a Cameron victory soon, the Tories are their last chance.

  • Yvette Doll

    So long as Jeremy Paxman wasn’t asking her questions that would be fine, or not. Hazel Blears is one of those people who civil servants view as a complete nightmare.

    They don’t mind lying, they just like to have a relatively static issue, it is the dynamics of moving fluff and spin that has them working 18 hours shifts as they square circles.

    ‘I wouldn’t have taken his word for anything’As part of a three-day series examining Tony Blair’s involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process, we interviewed Seamus Mallon, the main SDLP negotiator in the 1998 Good Friday agreement talks, who accused the prime minister of not knowing the meaning of the word ‘honesty’.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/mar/14/northernireland.devolution1

    Blair is a strange person.

    Yvette

  • DC

    Blair did what worked, Blair did what had to work, the fundamental bottom line was to stop the killing. The fundamentals were his faith, but you see politics is different from faith, with politics it is socio-economic strategies won out through persuasive media-led arguments; in Northern Ireland it is merely the hard headed winning of one-sided ethno-political gaming.

    To achieve ‘stop the killing’ Blair did what was right for the country and did what it took to get what had to work working.

    The meticulous, methodical and calculated nature of Republicanism was for the first time seriously challenged by a frenetic British prime minister whose application of alleged Machiavellian politics succeeded in the end in outdoing sectarian politics in the long run. But all he did was to stop the killing.

    Some say Blair was a confidence-trickster but his faith in democratic values and religion ensured that he contorted in sync with republicanism and unionism to at least give the people of NI a decade free from having to face the consequences of that ourselves. And for once then the usual local political mismanagement of politics here was replaced by a team in Number 10 who managed it appropriately.

    I suppose I should conclude: Amen to that.

  • When Heath got in (hiss, boo!) he overthrew Stormont and put soft old Willie Whitelaw in place with his secret negotiations and “political status” for the IRA. Sunningdale was a Heathite construction and it was Labour’s Merlyn Rees who let it die. Then of course we had the sainted Roy Mason of hallowed memory who ended up being replaced by Falklands loser Humphrey Atkins who was further replaced by notorious ‘wet’ Jim Prior who presided over the disastrous Assembly elections which saw Sinn Fein’s rise.

  • truth and justice

    Turgon

    What is your view on the UUP – Conservative mearger is it good or bad for Unionism?

  • I do find it odd to be agreeing with Harry Flashman.

    While he is replacing Mason with Maggie, he should not forget ‘Steak knife’ et al. too.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Turgon,

    It is arguable that since before the signing of the GFA the Englezes have taken a strategic position on Norn Iron which largley equates to an ‘understanding’ with the Provos about the shape of the eventual settlement and which includes Irish people running Police and Justice.

    This explains why El Gordo sided with SF on the police transfer issue, notwithstanding what the DUP had excplicitly signed up to in STA, and suggests the Englezes will continue to do so even if Stormo collapses.

    We will just have to wait and see what unfolds but I feel that the Englezes strategic postion on Norn Iron, as evidenced by the unfolding Peace Process, advises us better that considerations regarding the changing political personnel.

  • fair_deal

    Policing and Justice is not zero sum. Just because SF wants it doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that Unionist don’t want it.

    I ask again as I did on previous threads if TUV concerns like IRA structures, judges etc are dealth with, is that enough for the TUV

  • quotecheck

    Dodds lifetime comments had a number of caveats. They also predated SF’s endorsement of the police etc.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6101270.stm

    “It is certainly not a target date for us,” he said.

    “As far as we are concerned, there will be no devolution of policing and justice for a very long time,” he said.

    “I have no evidence whatsoever to suggest that that is likely to happen within a political lifetime.”