“This was the biggest irritant between us and the Northern Ireland Office..”

Just a quick point about The Observer’s extracts from Henry McDonald’s recently published book Gunsmoke and Mirrors – How Sinn Féin dressed up defeat as victory. Mary Alice Clancy’s study of the Bush administration’s Northern Ireland policy between 2001 and 2006 may have been under-reported, but it wasn’t un-reported – as John Ware would confirm [And Paul Bew – Ed]. But it has never been just about those “dreary steeples”. From The Observer article

Clancy said that those she spoke to in the State Department insisted it was Reiss who pursued this pre-condition to powersharing far more vigorously than either the British or Irish governments. Reiss resisted, specifically in the face of Irish government opposition, overturning George Bush’s ban on Sinn Fein raising funds in the United States in the build-up to the St Andrews talks. Dermot Ahern, the then Irish Foreign Minister, had tried to persuade the Americans to soften their stance on policing as the price for powersharing. The US special envoy maintained that the ban would only be lifted once Sinn Fein agreed to sign up to policing.

The article also highlights some points of interest.

The Bush and Blair governments were also at odds over the latter’s view of ‘ordinary’ IRA crime such as robberies. One American official said: ‘This was the biggest irritant between us and the Northern Ireland Office. I don’t believe that they (the NIO) had ever issued a policy statement to the police to tell them to ignore IRA criminality as long as it did not turn into bombs on the mainland, but I believe that many, many police thought they operated under those rules.’

The alleged British policy of ‘turning a blind eye’ in the interests of the wider peace process, the American official added, ended after the IRA stole £26 million in the Northern Bank raid. Following the robbery the Americans adopted a told-you-so attitude to their NIO counterparts, he said.

Even after St Andrews the British continued to try to water down the policing element of the deal in order not to cause the Sinn Fein leadership any grief from its base. Almost exactly a year after that historic agreement Ian Paisley returned to Scotland, this time to the south-west coast. In his capacity as First Minister of Northern Ireland Paisley was guest of honour at the opening of the Wigtown international book festival held every year in the first weekend of September.

After opening the conference Paisley apparently revealed to one author backstage that Tony Blair was still trying to dilute the policing requirement so insisted upon by the Americans. The DUP leader said that on New Year’s Day 2007 he was woken up by a phone call from the then Prime Minister who was on a post-Christmas holiday in the Caribbean. Blair implored him, said Paisley, to allow modifications to the policing section of the St Andrews Agreement. Paisley said he refused and tried to get back to sleep. To no avail. Blair made a further five phone calls that morning attempting to persuade Paisley to backtrack a little on the policing question. Each time Paisley refused to relent.

The timing of these New Year’s Day calls was critical as within less than a month Sinn Fein was to hold that special Ard Fheis/conference which would either ratify or reject support for the PSNI. Blair, according to Paisley’s version of events, was again trying to cut Sinn Fein some slack. The problem, however, was that just like the republican movement’s relationship to the United States, the dynamics of British and Northern Irish politics had also altered radically. Paisley was unmoved by prime ministerial pressure. He would and could not relent on policing and Sinn Fein’s support for the PSNI as the republicans’ passport into powersharing. Otherwise Paisley knew he would split the DUP down the middle. Moreover, Blair no longer exercised such a mesmeric charm on the unionist leadership. He was a lame duck Prime Minister whom everyone, including Paisley, knew was about to hand over power to Gordon Brown. The result of the Ard Fheis poll, an overwhelming vote in favour, also exposed the charade with which the Adams leadership had dazzled Blair and his Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell for so long. Despite the departure of a handful of former prominent activists such as Jim McAllister and Davy Hyland from South Armagh, the vast majority of Sinn Fein was still under Adams’s tight control. Perhaps Paisley too guessed that Adams would easily win the day. He no longer cared about Blair’s concern for Adams’ leadership and its survival. Moreover, the DUP leader in the policing debate now had America on his side.

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  • Ann

    I like McDonalds’ view of how Adams dealt with the leftists within the RM, especially this analysis of their situation.

    The trouble was that once the party and the IRA appeared to be regressing into its old leftist anti-colonialist mode (as witnessed in Colombia with the Farc rebels and in Cuba with the constant sucking up to the Castro dictatorship) their new financial backers recoiled in horror. The hard-headed realists in New Sinn Fein had a choice: either retreat back into leftist certainties to appease its radical fringe or do what their new supporters in North America wanted them to do, namely, decommission.

    Of course it wasn’t only the arms that were dumped but the leftist ideology as well. The fate of that ideology was well and truly sealed and dumped when SF went into government with a right wing unionist party like the DUP. I think the extract sum this up well with this:

    As always with the Provisionals’ leadership, most significantly of all with Adams, Sinn Fein’s leftist hanger-ons were entirely expendable

    Everything and everybody was expendable to Adams, whether principle ideology or person, it all went. As McDonald says, in the end they would be dumped along with their policies in the interests of realpolitik, Provo-style.

    Nothing surprising in that extract, but the book looks like it could be a good read.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Pete

    One of the reasons it was under-reported might have something to do with a certain Mr Powell, believe it or not.

    Well, he did have a book coming out, and who would want some pesky US student putting the facts in the way of a good yarn about the wonderful Brits and their negotiating brilliance…?

    Worth a closer look I reckon!

  • slab

    Actually, to be fair, Jimbo Cusack did an extensive piece about it in the Irish Indy when the article came out.

    The Guardian had promised to print extracts from the article last year – but apparently some former private secrataries of former PMs wield too much influence with some sections of the media.

    Btw – how are you Gonzo?

  • cynic

    What? Expect SF to have to agree to some pre-condition before they gained power?

    What a shocking suggestion. And for a American to have to propose this to Bliar and Co!! How dare he. Didn’t he recognise the British Government’s cunning negotiating strategy? “Now what do you want Gerry? Yes, that will do nicely.”

    What was that nickname that SF had for Bliar was it ‘naiive fool’ or ‘naiive idiot’? I can’t quite remember which.

  • Greenflag

    ‘After opening the conference Paisley apparently revealed to one author backstage that Tony Blair was still trying to dilute the policing requirement so insisted upon by the Americans. ‘

    apparently ? Who was the author ?

    Reiss is now part of an ex administration and SF and the DUP are as far apart if not further apart than they ever were decommissioning or no decommissioning – leftist ideology or no leftist ideology . Never let the facts get in the way of a good yarn .

    USA foreign policy in South America under the Bush administration has been an unmitigated disaster . Apart from Colombia the USA has’nt a single ‘ally’ left on the entire continent .
    Obama has already indicated a more realistic policy towards Cuba .

  • Ann

    Obama has already indicated a more realistic policy towards Cuba .

    He’s indicated an awful lot of things, but change if or when it comes, won’t come over night. He’s already indicated that it will take time, (years?) for any real change to be effective anywhere. I was listening to internet radio yesterday and one Afro-American man made the point that the US was putting lots of money into Iraq/Afghanistan and couldn’t feed its poor at home. Any change that comes first will be inside America rather than outside imv, which puts his more realistic policy towards Cuba on the list but not anywhere near the top.

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good yarn .

    What yarn are you getting at exactly Greenflag? Are you suggesting the little tete a tete behind the scenes with Paisley and an unknown author is false, and therefore the whole extract circumspect?

    I keep reading these comments about certain journalists, that some of the stuff they produce is highly suspect, yet the claims themselves are based on hot air and nothing else. Theres no reason to suppose it didn’t take place, or that the author has made it up. I’m sure he has his sources, and producing a book where you may not agree with the views expressed therein is hardly to say its nothing more than a mere good yarn. If you examine the argument closely imo you’ll see that it fits in with the ebb and flow of what is already in the public domain. Unless of course you have something more specific with which to challenge it?

  • Ann

    Reiss is now part of an ex administration

    So is Powell and Blair, so to is the like of Albert Reynolds, but if what they say has affected policy outcomes, and is relevant to our past – what is the problem?

    How else are the public to find out what exactly went on behind the scenes?

  • Brian Walker

    Pete,
    All this is undoubtedly of historic interest going back to 2003 and has some relevance towards explaining the present standoff. Interestingly, it is the Blair government which has the fewest defenders as it has ceased to exist and its successor won’t want to rake over old coals. Indeed, their present tactic is to stand aside, after Brown’s statement in September to the Assembly that the parties should set a deadline for the devolution of J&P;. This is why in an earlier thread I wondered if Powell had anything more interesting to say in Liverpool last week.

    However, polishing up judgments on history isn’t politics. Politics to tackle J&P;needs an agenda such as, in no particular order:

    Before devolution, a restatement of the devolved powers which must be compatible with judicial independence and police operational independence.

    The future of the IRA.

    The future of the monitoring bodies, the IMC and the Decommissioning Commission.

    Policy towards ongoing paramilitary activity and groups.

    The scope of national security (MI5, MI6).

    The shape of the department(s) and who is to hold the portfolio(s)

    The future of the Policing Board.

    The relevance of a Bill of Rights.

    The future of parades management.

    The scope of restorative justice.

    Harmonisation with the Republic and EU.

    Most of this is this already legislated for or is actually in operation. Both sides need to explain how the bits fit and negotiate an outcome. History won’t help us here.

  • Mayor Curley

    ‘it is the Blair government which has the fewest defenders as it has ceased to exist’.

    The fact that this story is only appearing now, 13 months after it was written for the Guardian, not the Observer, should give some insight into how many defenders the Blair government has.

    I would bet the rent that McDonald is the ‘one author backstage’. Neither the Observer nor Gill and Macmillan would print that which its editors would not have a means of independently confirming.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    So the Yankess applied pressure for movement by SF on police as a requirement for STA agreement – similar pressure may therfore be expected to be applied to Unionists to secure its implementation.

    ps Why no thread on impact of Obama on Norn Iron politics?

  • ulsterfan

    Sammy

    Sf need the Yanks–Unionists don’t.
    Do you remember the time Clinton came over to knock a few heads together and one Unionist councillor commented that whilst he may have been the most powerful politician in the World he did not have a seat on the Unionist Council and that put him in his place.

  • Comrade Stalin

    So the Yankess applied pressure for movement by SF on police as a requirement for STA agreement – similar pressure may therfore be expected to be applied to Unionists to secure its implementation.

    No, it can’t. There are two things at work. Firstly, the hard line against Sinn Fein is consistent with the Bush administration’s position on illegal paramilitary organizations with left wing connections to organizations like FARC (this fact does not reflect my personal opinion of that administration). Unionism doesn’t have that problem. Secondly is the fact that the Americans were in a position to actually have influence by threatening to interfere with Sinn Fein’s ability to fundraise in the USA, which is a major source of funding for that party. Unionism doesn’t have that problem either.

    Unionist politicians and their connections with paramilitarism are, rather unfortunately, not officially recognized by the governments. Furthermore Unionism has no significant fundraising effort of any kind in the USA to turn off. America has no stick that it can use on the unionists. Neither do the British or Irish governments. That might change if a British general election leads to a non-Conservative government with a safe majority. The odds of that happening within the next 10-15 years seem very slim.

    It would be great if there was a way to pressurize the DUP into moving on policing. Sadly, there isn’t. I still think that Sinn Fein’s position is wrong. The best way to make them move is to show good faith, and show their bad faith. That said, it does technically remain the case that the DUP’s position is justified by the text of the agreement that they signed, and that Sinn Fein have no real basis and no support, among governments or parties outside of their own, for their boycott. They are in a self-imposed isolated position, and that’s not likely to be good for their long term health.

    ps Why no thread on impact of Obama on Norn Iron politics?

    I don’t think he will have a direct impact; it is unlikely that Irish affairs will in any way be a priority for his administration. Now that we’re not killing ourselves to any significant degree, people quite rightly have more important fish to fry.

    We need to sort out our own problems and stop expecting people to hold our hands.

  • Dave

    The only ‘sovereignty’ that the Americans have in NI affairs is their power to control the flow of money to SF from American fundraising activities. In this example, that power was exercised as an ultimatum: support the police or lose millions in US fundraising. SF was free to tell the Americans to go play on a train track but their greed determined that they would do as the Americans told them to do.

    It didn’t matter to Blair if the Americans had a different attitude to organised crime than the British government had because the Americans didn’t have the sovereignty and it would have been highly undiplomatic for the Americans to bring any dispute in that regard into the public domain.

    As far as Blair was concerned, the agenda was to integrate the formerly disenfranchised nationalist community into the reformed British political system in NI – and the Shinners were pivotal to that agenda. Anything that acted as an impediment to that agenda was unwelcome. If it was up to Blair, the Shinners would be in government while still running Europe’s largest and wealthiest organised crime gang and while busy profiting from selling Semtex to the Iraqis, AK47s to the BNP, and selling bomb-making techniques to Columbian drug cartels, etc.

    The unionists, on the other hand, were crucial to restraining the amorality of Blair. Unfortunately for Blair and fortunately for the law-abiding citizens of NI, his intelligence services saw no need to gain control of the mainstream unionist political parties, and so he had no power to influence them beyond politics.

    I think the Unionists played a blinder. They not only have the Shinner supporters endorsing the police but crying out for permission to help administer British policing in NI! Once you endorse ‘Her Majesty’s forces of occupation’ as legitimate, then you can’t un-endorse them or return to arguing that they are illegitimate force of occupation. You have conceded the principle, and that is that. Over time you process from accepting the status quo to supporting it, and over more time, you will progress to voting to maintain it. In fact, even in this limbo, there are no cries from northern nationalists to end partition, only cries to make partition work. Henry McDonald is not far wrong.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Comrade Stalin,

    re. Obama – once an Offally boy always an Offally boy.

    The so called moderate Unionist parties Alliance and Ulster Unionists have really shown themselves up by not publically calling for the DUP to move on Police. No real suprise with UU but the Alliance have seriously damaged their ability to claim they are a moderate party or a party of the midlle ground. They have tried to hide their position behind constitutional mumbo jumbo but are now are out of line with what the Secretary of State and the IMC recommends – shocking stuff.

    Dave,
    although I dont agree with your analysis – but running with it for the fun of it – I take you are giving Trimble the credit for all these achiements?

  • Greenflag

    Comrade Stalin

    ‘The odds of that happening within the next 10-15 years seem very slim.

    Seemed very slim a month or so back . I’d not count out Gordon Brown yet . A week in politics etc . Not that either way ot will make much difference to NI in terms of a working functioning Assembly . It would’nt make the slightest difference to Stormont if Allah was Prime Minister of the UK and Jesus Christ took up residence in the White House . It will be back to DR soon enough .

    Dave ,

    ‘I think the Unionists played a blinder’

    You got that right . They’ve been playing blind , deaf and dumb now for 40 years or more 🙁 . They could have shared power with the SDLP in 1974 and 1998 with Trimble /Mallon but that was too much like surrender . Now they have to share power with SF whether they like it or not . The alternative is no ‘devolution’ and a permanent end to Stormont . Fine by me .

    If they carry on playing blinders like this they’ll end up negotiating with ‘eirigi ‘ .

  • Comrade Stalin

    re. Obama – once an Offally boy always an Offally boy.

    I doubt that the President’s ancestral roots are going to guide his foreign policy. Wouldn’t you be better pinning your hopes on things that are realistic ?

    Wishing for outside agents of whatever form to intervene and beat up the people you can’t find an agreement with seems somewhat outside of democratic principles. In the real world, certainly in an independent 32-county Irish republic, you won’t have that luxury.

    The so called moderate Unionist parties Alliance and Ulster Unionists have really shown themselves up by not publically calling for the DUP to move on Police.

    Alliance aren’t so-called “moderate unionists” by anyone who knows what they are talking about. I realize that you are not in that category, and that you’re trolling anyway, but I just thought I’d repeat it again.

    It is Sinn Fein’s position that policing and justice powers are the show-stopper, and nobody else’s. Nobody else endorses Sinn Fein’s boycott, and frankly given the way that Sinn Fein has behaved, and the less than diplomatic way they have treated Alliance and the way they destroyed David Trimble for their own purposes, are you surprised that anyone feels the need to help them out ? There wouldn’t be a crisis over devolving policing powers if Sinn Fein were not in the executive.

    They have tried to hide their position behind constitutional mumbo jumbo but are now are out of line with what the Secretary of State and the IMC recommends – shocking stuff.

    You have a pretty solid record for misrepresenting people and organizations. I particularly enjoyed your suggestion that Obama had “called for” an enquiry into Finucane, when he in fact did not such thing. What is it this time ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Greenflag:

    Seemed very slim a month or so back . I’d not count out Gordon Brown yet . A week in politics etc .

    I think that Brown probably is back but he will still have a slim majority at best. The Conservatives, if they manage to gain overall control, will be more likely to side with the unionists and will not adopt a line sympathetic to Sammy’s far-fetched fantasies. The best hope for pressure on the DUP to move is from a strong Labour government, and that seems like a faraway dream.

    Not that either way ot will make much difference to NI in terms of a working functioning Assembly . It would’nt make the slightest difference to Stormont if Allah was Prime Minister of the UK and Jesus Christ took up residence in the White House . It will be back to DR soon enough .

    I hope not, but that is down to Sinn Fein and the DUP.

  • “Unionism doesn’t have that problem.”

    Great Leader,

    The Vallejo Soviet, after much study of your learned words suggests that the British Parliament has never had to work very hard to find a way to piss people off.

    The Commissar in charge of the Humbolt County Marijuana Collective suggested a tax on poppies, bowler hats and Buckfast. The Berkeley People’s Committee on Spontaneous Demonstrations, also in attendance, suggested a special per mile tax on all July 12th parades but that was voted down after they retired for a special negotiating session with the Marijuana Collective.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Comrade Stalin

    Lets deal in facts rather than insults.

    Fact 1.
    Alliance Party support the Union – that makes them a Unionist Party.

    Fact 2.
    The Alliance Party are out of step with both SOS and IMC – both have called for the implementation of STA – Alliance doesnt think the time is right -therefore out of step on this crucial issue.

    Fact 3.
    Obama’s office called for enquiry into Finucane – they used his name and he did not refute it. He refuted other campaigns launced in his name.

    Prediction: Obama will appoint a number of people sympathetic to Nationalist Ireland – he will call on the DUP to get off its arse before he takes up office.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alliance Party support the Union – that makes them a Unionist Party.

    No, it doesn’t make them a unionist party. Unionism isn’t defined by support for the union. It’s an entire political culture encompassing a range of traditions, in particular religious ones. I’m not a unionist, and I feel very happy about being an Alliance supporter. I’ve got no problem with there being a united Ireland and I can see a lot of reasons to look forward to it.

    A lot of people might vote for the union in a referendum. They might have selfish business interests associated with it, or they might be afraid of a civil war. Neither would make them unionists.

    The Alliance Party are out of step with both SOS and IMC – both have called for the implementation of STA

    I know the SoS has, but I’m not sure where the IMC did. Can you provide an exact quote ? I saw that the IMC complained about the presence of a political vacuum. This is not the same thing as calling for full implementation of the StAA.

    And let’s talk about being out of step. Who are Sinn Fein in step with, in the implementation of their boycott ? Nobody. I appreciate this is whataboutery, but Alliance are not a player in the political arrangements. Sinn Fein are, and for you to pretend that Alliance being out of step is somehow significant, whereas Sinn Fein’s being out of step is not, seems a bit strange.

    – Alliance doesnt think the time is right -therefore out of step on this crucial issue.

    I do not recall Alliance saying “the time is not right”. Can you provide a citation ?

    I do recall Alliance pointing out that devolution of policing and justice is not necessarily a prerequisite, or the only way, to address the policing problems that we are facing and as such it could not identify the urgency of the matter. But that is not what you are claiming.

    Obama’s office called for enquiry into Finucane

    No, it did not.

    – they used his name and he did not refute it. He refuted other campaigns launced in his name.

    None of which is the same as calling for an enquiry. You make it sound like he took a personal interest in the matter and made a personal intervention on it, and then you claim that the fact that he failed to refute it is evidence that he supported it. It’s highly misleading and disingenuous of you to present things in this way.