#SpAdBill, the #GFA and the long shadow of the Boundary Commission

I have been intending to post on the SpAdBill for a while but nothing has encapsulated the shrill histrionics of any public debate involving unionism since, well, the fading #flegs crisis or whatever the issue was just before that. And don’t get me wrong, there is no doubting the sincerity of Ann Travers or others who feel they have a grievance that needs to be addressed, regardless of who is responsible for their pain or loss.

It is that last point, though, that reduces the SpAdBill to a purely political statement with little regard to the realities of the past. If your loss was at the hands of the RUC, UDR or British Army, or the 85% of intelligence acquired by loyalist paramilitaries, or involved an agent operated by the security forces, there is pretty much no chance that a representative fraction of those responsible were prosecuted.

Indeed, they may well have been promoted and/or carved out a successful career and could even be acting as a special advisor. We will never know that, though, because, despite all the aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement, London has never been fully compliant on decommissioning it’s own actions or pursuing those who from within their own ranks, or their proxies, that commissioned and organised extrajudicial violence.

Lustration, the imposition of additional tariffs on those imprisoned for certain offences or terms, is only meaningful and equitable if it is transparent and fair. The SpAdBill is only ‘fair’ if you accept the premise that those that went to prison are representative of those responsible for the pain and loss felt by victims. Which it won’t, and no amount of moralising can square that particular circle.

And everyone knows this (even the SDLP).

While this will probably have minimal impact on politics in general, at some point republicans are going to have to reflect on the long shadow that the Boundary Commission casts. In the 1920s much faith was placed in the probability that the Commission would scrap partition or make it unworkable. This was a critical misjudgement and didn’t allow for the potential of unionism to disrupt the process.

This badly fragmented nationalist/republican politics (and still does to some extent). Stormont, as a post-GFA institution, has almost universally been operated with public disdain by unionists (with an almost normalised level of threat of street violence via parades etc). Now the GFA increasingly resembles a latter day Boundary Commission.

Ironically, nationalists/republicans, with a stronger mandate than in the 1990s, should take a lead from unionists and begin to consider what should replace the GFA. Given farce that generally passes for politics, it is perhaps time that London, Dublin and Washington get past the GFA is the only solution orthodoxy and grasp reality.

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  • OneNI

    Nationalists and Republicans should ‘begin to consider what should replace the GFA’
    Given the economic collapse of the Republic and the increasing levels of support for the Union in NI were you thinking of re-integrating the Republic into the UK?
    There would be a certain logic to that as Irish and British identities and their economic, social and culture aspirations can probably be best mutually progressed within the UK.

    Those complaining about the treatment of Convict Spads should remember we (the law abiding majority of Unionists/Nationalsits?Protestants and Catholics) have all had to accept that they were released from prison early

  • On the future of the Good Friday Agreement….well it has none. It was partly implemented, partly “parked” …so long that the battery went flat…partly ignored….partly amended …partly undermined.
    Whatever is there now is not what I voted for.
    But to use an example from militant republican history, the modern IRA went to the last survivor of the first Dail to bestow legitimacy.
    And the SDLP (2013 model) can only recognise the Agreement as a failure if its chief architect Seamus Mallon says it.
    In fairness last week inRostrevor Seamus said that the Good Friday Agreement was a “contrivance” and that the Norn Iron state itself had been a “contrivance” and that it was up to each generation to write its own History.
    Is that not a green light?
    At best the GFA was a good attempt which should have worked if there had been “goodwill” and there wasnt. And there isnt.
    That should be enough to scrap it.

  • FJH ‘GFA was a good attempt which should have worked if there had been ‘goodwill’ and there wasn’t, And there isn’t’
    That sums the situation up perfectly and the goodwill from unionists was never going to be there as they see themselves above the law and above democratic rules as for them, they invented the entity and therefore should be allowed to run it on their own terms, demanding that their ‘culture’ [which in practice means showing contempt for the other tradition while demanding respect for theirs.
    It’s not cutting the mustard anymore and well they know it.

  • Alias

    The Shinners may be having a wee sulk but they won’t be throwing the toys out of the pram. Their latest sulk shows their love of well-paid British state jobs at Stormont and a well-stocked trough for their snouts to to gorge on. With that in mind, they won’t be talking about dismantling the GFA/Stormont even if they will manipulate their sycophants by re-issuing them with the old phrases stolen from the America or London such as “Back of the bus” or “No black, no dogs, no… err, Shinners.” Soon Marty will be along to whip them into a frenzy with the timeless classic “They don’t a Taig about the place”.

  • toaster

    the sincerity of Ann Travers or others who feel they have a grievance that needs to be addressed, regardless of who is responsible for their pain or loss.

    Easy one. It was the Brits’ fault. She seems to have her grievances with the wrong side.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Unsurprisingly some nationalists have come down strongly on the side of the victim-makers rather than the victims.

    Hardly front page news. Although playing the victim card against victims, whilst at the same time associated terrorists with true civil rights activists of the past, should have been beyond the pale even for them.

    Then again given their antecedents perhaps not.

    It is also natural they should go the whataboutery route and ask about ex security force personal possible working as Spads (here you’ve got to understand that in the nationalist ‘The North’ mythology all cops/ soldiers were/are colluding Orange Stormtroopers).

    Although applying that approach and given that the majority of nationalist murder gang killings remain unsolved the entire Sinn Fein gang should not be allowed within sight of Stormont.

    And, of course, denying convicted criminals a Spad post is the latest in a very long line of ‘threats’ to the ‘peace process’, code for a return to violence.

    Refusing (some) criminals the opportunity to suck from the taxpayers’ teat is also now the harbinger of the end of the Belfast Agreement.

    If that is the Shinner call so be it. If they want to go for Troubles Round Two so be it. As we have now learned they can’t be relied upon to work any agreement they sign up to without continual threats any hope of a negotiated settlement is off the table.

  • Jimmy McGurk

    Hi John,

    You’re not the first nationalist/republican to call time’s up on the GFA. I’ve seen plenty written over the last few years talking about why it should be scrapped but precious little on what should replace it.

    Any suggestions? It could make for a great post!

  • Morpheus

    Replacing the GFA? Here’s a mind-blowing idea. Let’s try fully implementing the GFA in it’s current format – worts and all.

    It is “founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”.

    What’s in that which is causing the problem here?

    Where were the calls to replace it 15 years ago? 10 years ago? 5 years ago? Pre-December 2012? To me the talk about replacing it is because the census and the flag debacle have scared some into thinking ‘hang on, maybe this equality malarky isn’t all it’s cracked up to be’

    Yes the system needs fixed because we have reached political stalemate but I think that’s because we have all those MLAs and the majority don’t have an ounce of diplomacy between them – they are still in war mode and don’t know how to handle peace time.

    If there are to be changes it must be made within the framework of the GFA because just a few weeks ago the Mori poll showed that by far the largest grouping would would yes if a referendum for the GFA were to be held again to tomorrow with only 11% saying no. The majority of people in NI are in favor of the GFA.

  • Taoiseach

    A key deficiency has been that the three relationships approach has been essentially abandoned. As soon as things quietened down in terms of violence and the assembly got up and running both Dublin and London headed for the door. Where’s the North-South element? Remember when Bord Failte and NITB were supposed to be joined? When the whole thing collapses again we’ll have lots of hand wringing in Dublin and London and blame for bloody northerners and “why can’t they just get on?”

  • Jimmy McGurk[7.33]One glaring flaw from a nationalist poit of view is the powersharing element that was created because of the corrupt and sectarian control by unionists prior to troubles, and penalising of nationalists in the period where they will have a natural majority even though they hadn’t corrupted the system in the [1922-72 period] The editor of the belfast Telegrapg called for the councils to be brought into line with the Stormont setup and it’s clear they don’t want their unionist pals to be deprived of power in any part of their wee country. Very convenient.

  • cynic2

    Morpheus

    “founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”.

    Like

    * discrimination in the appointment (and dismissal) of key staff
    * discrimination in the award of contracts – one for you and one for me
    * appointing Murderers as SpAds
    * Appointing Murders in College Boards
    * No felgs in Belfast
    * No gay marriage
    * “So what” to respect for the views of parties other than SF or DUP

    The old sectarian politics in a different fleg. My how alike SF and the DUPs are

  • Morpheus

    That’s not the fault of the GFA – that’s the fault of inept, greedy politicians who think nothing of starting a riot or 2 to win votes cynic2. They don’t have an ounce of diplomacy between them and are still in war mode – unable to function in peacetime when they are supposed to be dealing with education, health, the economy etc.

    The Agreement is sound but it has not been implemented fully. We should try that before we move the goalposts and steer towards GFA2

  • tacapall

    ” We should try that before we move the goalposts and steer towards GFA2″

    It is inevitable Morpheus, you cant go back to the pre agreement days and the excuse we have for democracy now is well beyond its sell by date so there is no other option other than GFA2 or joint authority – the path I believe we will eventually go down, there is no other possible outcome that could satisfy everyone. Sinn Fein and the SDLP will always pursue a united or agreed Ireland and the DUP and UUP will always refuse and attempt to block any move in that direction, the only thing that’s happening in Stormont is point scoring for the tribal teams and old men getting older and wealthier.

  • aquifer

    “If your loss was at the hands of the RUC, UDR or British Army, or the 85% of intelligence acquired by loyalist paramilitaries, or involved an agent operated by the security forces, there is pretty much no chance that a representative fraction of those responsible were prosecuted.”

    And thankfully next to no chance they will end up appointed as a party political adviser.

    The paisleyites were happy to use the alphabet soup brigades for muscle but kept them at arm’s length politically. Unionists in general did not embrace armed groups outside the security forces, and only a small minority of nationalists sustained the Provos’ bombing and shooting people.

  • tapacall[6.06] ‘….joint authority, the path, I believe we’ll eventually go down….’
    I agree with that assessment. The current Stormont set up will not survive another full term and there will be an attwempt by unionists [preparing for the inevitable catholic majority emerging] to get powersharing extended to the councils while they still have a sliver of majority. There’s no way the nationalist parties will stand for that as it weould reward unionists for 50 year of corrupt administration. This issue will render the GFA out of date finally and force the hand of Westminster as this is the main faultline of the entity created in 1922 and we’ll be back where we were in 1968 with a new struggle with unionists dtermined to hold back the tide of natural demographics.