The record needs correcting. Britain deserves the main credit for ending the Troubles

Keeping up the legacy of history theme, The Newsletter has asked Paul Bew to develop his idea for the release of government papers on Northern Ireland earlier than the new 20 year rule. The QUB historian and peer  believes that the spate of detailed inquiry reports on what went wrong during the Troubles should be  better balanced by what went right. For that he gives more credit than has perhaps been acknowledged to the Northern Ireland Office.

It’s played the leading role in the peace process – by some long way, and I accept that the Irish government and the Americans had a certain role.”

He said that the British government is aware “that there is an imbalance” in the history. But officials felt that they could save money on a history because papers were being released under the 20-year rule, making it easier for historians.

One of the ideas on dealing with the past for Richard Haass perhaps? But who among the attendant politicians would take it up? Outsider views should surely be sought. I gently dissent from Alex Kane’s view championed by Pete that Haaas should face them with the bottom line straight away. Great wheeze for a column but not real.  Wouldn’t they plead sincerity straight away, producing evidence of their mutual opposition to paramilitarism and joint support for “sharing?   Who would supply the scepticism? It might take a day or two’s debate and hey, then we’re into the talks. Surely Haas has to be a bit more diplomatic than ” take it or leave it?”

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  • Ruarai

    The NIO? You’re just throwing ink on the page Brian.

  • Morpheus

    He’s taking it from the article:

    “The NIO were “the only significant group in Northern Ireland that I can remember that had a clear vision about where the compromises were likely to be and how to proceed,” Lord Bew said. “I think it’s quite important to say that.”

    You’re a little bit harsh on Brian there, don’t you think?

  • Ruarai

    If I thought that, I wouldn’t have posted the comment, would I?

  • Brian Walker

    Now, now, there’s plenty to discuss beyond whether its Paul or I said it. He is talking specifically about the thrust of the peace process.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ruarai,

    Dissent amongst our bloggers is fine by me, but please do actually try to dissent rather than just throw insults?

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    “…I accept that the Irish government and the Americans had a certain role.”

    How magnanimous of him.

  • megatron

    The best I could do giving the NIO credit is that they appeared from mid 80s on to stop putting fuel on the fire.

    Dont agree with this idea that lots of people had a “vision” for where things were going though. That is generally always said after the fact in all walks of life but in my experience in the moment things are a lot more uncertain and chaotic.

    For example does the evidence really show they NIO knew where compromises were likely to be? As a historian can Paul Bew show us some evidence?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Brian

    Your headline is inaccurate. Bew doesn’t really argue that ‘Britain deserves the main credit for ending the Troubles’.

    His argument is that the British state deserves more credit than (in his opinion) it is presently being allowed.

    Which isn’t the same thing at all.

    As regards the substance of his comments, it’s remarkable to hear such a distinguished scholar pleading for the state to provide him with an ‘official’ history of the troubles. It reads like a backbencher pleading with his leader for clarity on the party line, so he’ll be better able to defend it.

    The British state was always the decisive actor in the troubles here, and a peace settlement was always going to involve the British state doing a deal with Irish republicanism, and then forcing that deal onto an unwilling unionist population. That’s what the GFA was, and it has been successful (if not perfectly so) in bringing peace to this society.

    Bew talks about the prescience of NIO officials in the early 90s. Republicans were predicting a deal between republicans and the British, imposed on unionism, since the 1920s. The SDLP practically wrote the GFA in 1970.

  • Ruarai

    Fine – let me be more ploddingly courteous.

    Megatron, above, is essentially right: show the evidence.

    Put another way, if a scientist were to throw out the notion that, “on reflection, the bubonic plague has an under-appreciated role as a force for good” – they’d need to make the case and make it to a pretty skeptical audience.

    In the case of the peace process, we all have our biases, but ask yourself a simple question: does the peace process look more like the vision of Hume and his 4 Horsemen or what the NIO were pressing for in the 70s and 80s?

    The NIO resisted the general trajectory of where we have come tooth and nails (though rarely their own teeth). And now Bew wants to suggest that they were guiding us here all along? Well, good luck with that.

    Brian, if you’re gonna endorse the thesis – a dissenting or counter-factual thesis – as at least worthy of consideration, I think you owe us some reasons. Otherwise, why not just throw any random theories around.

    What next? The Loyalists were the revolutionaries all along? The NIO were blocked in their civil rights reforms by the SDLP? Unionists always wanted power-sharing with nationalists?

    Counter-factuals shouldn’t be thrown around like confetti.

  • “It’s played the leading role in the peace process – by some long way, and I accept that the Irish government and the Americans had a certain role.”

    I saw the Newsletter article this morning (via Newshound) and generally agreed with it. What I disagreed with was the above-quoted remark. It was the Irish government that started the peace process and then invited London in. I’ve always thought that the peace process worked because it was dual mediation–the two governments were equals who jointly approved the documents that provided the parameters to the peace process. They also jointly decided on the identities of outside mediators such as Mitchell, De Chastilain, and Holkeri. I agree with Pew regarding the American role, which has been overrated by some of the Irish press and by the Clintons–for obvious political reasons. The peace process also worked because it had across the spectrum backing in both Britain and Ireland from all the political parties (except for Sinn Fein at times in the latter).

  • Ruarai

    Anyone who doubts the American role should spend a few hours talking to Congressmen about the stand up screaming matches with NIO officials and British Embassy staff for 2 decades – until the same staff decided they wanted an inclusive political process after all.

    Or they might want to spend a few hours talking with former State Dept. officials who were pulled between a Clinton White House wanting an Adams visa and a British relationship.

    These were epic struggles. You don’t have epic struggles when the points at stake are anything other than leverage moments and points of departure.

    There wouldn’t have been a peace process without American input – which is not to say the American input was monolithic, or to suggest that Americans deserve most credit.

    I think a more useful set of analytic questions (and Bew is an historian, not a political scientist) is to ask:

    a) what actors were indefensible indispensable (and why?)
    b) which actions were the pivot points (and why?)

    Ruarai

  • Ruarai

    PS – Much as I enjoyed Paul’s class, I hope he can forgive me for pointing out that the date he identifies as the key time for shaping events – the early 90s – was right around the same time that he, through Trimble’s ascent, just happened to become more personally relevant…

  • gendjinn

    And we needed the Americans to pressure the British to pressure the unionists to accept an equitable deal.

    It wasn’t so much the British state that deserves any credit but the Blair government and Mowlam in particular, supported by Clinton and George Mitchell.

    If Britain deserves the main credit for ending the Troubles, this credit can be used as a partial down payment on their responsibility for creating, nurturing and maintaining the Troubles for decades.

  • Brian Walker

    There’s no point in lumping all the blame on the NIO for all the conspiracies real or exaggerated in the so-called “ dirty war.” Other departments and agencies were also at work. People are naturally fascinated by Mountain Climber and other back channels.

    Bew is making a fairly limited point. He’s referring mainly to the sustained period from the early 90s up to the GFA and perhaps beyond, from about the “no selfish interest in remaining” statement of Peter Brooke onwards. The NIO would have had the reputation of being more cautious about the prospects than the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and No 10 as they had the continuous experience. The more central depts became involved when the PM became engaged.

    One period was different. The Foreign Office under Geoffrey Howe and Cabinet Office led on developments which produced the Anglo Irish Agreement of 1985 with only tepid support from Mrs T. She allowed it in the hope of better security concessions from the Republic but the diplomats were playing the longer game of giving the south a formal say in NI affairs.

    In the Blair era the NIO may have been overshadowed by No 10 but the grinding work was still done by them. Quentin Thomas the tough minded political director was an important figure. Bew is right, it would be good to know more how the threads were pulled together and whether Jonathan Powell’s role was quite as crucial as he made out (though it probably was). As far as I know tensions between the NIO and the interloping bigwigs were kept to a minimum and co-ordination was quite good.

  • Charles_Gould

    They seem to have done a reasonable job after they took the main responsibility in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The “no *selfish strategic or economic interest” formula was very clever, because the lack of a comma between selfish and strategic. There were important peace talks that developed a lot of ideas. A trip to South Africa helped the parties think up the criteria for decision making. The three stranded process developed under John Major was a very successful framework with its “triple lock” if you remember that; it determined that a consensus system was not needed, rather a majority of both nationalists and unionists, as well as a referendum success, would be required. So yes, credit is due for all that work.

    Such a history is an excellent idea.

  • Charles_Gould

    The other important aspect of the NIO’s work – a lesson that had been well internalised – was that it was based on agreement between the local parties, the SDLP and UUP. A lesson was learnt that you can’t do top down at London level: rather you needed ownership and buy in from the local parties.

  • Kevsterino

    Giving credit for the success of the Peace Process is premature, in my humble opinion.

    “It ain’t over til it’s over” Yogi Berra

  • Ruarai

    Brian,

    “There’s no point in lumping all the blame on the NIO for all the conspiracies real or exaggerated in the so-called “ dirty war.” ”

    Why erect strawmen? No one suggested anything close to that.

    CG – So now the NIO created the 3 stranded process? Are you serious? This is getting silly.

  • tacapall

    The no selfish strategic or economic interest for Britain or should we say the Crown having a presence in Ireland is as honest as perfedious albions actions and interferences in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Mali and now Syria. Of course Britain and the Crown have a strategic interest in Ireland, Ireland is Britain’s Cuba, it is essential, security wise that Britain and by extension “the crown” keeps a presence in Ireland. It was the British establishment that armed loyalist paramilitaries during the late 80s and 90s, it was British intelligence that supplied loyalists with their intelligence and it was British intelligence that directed and controlled loyalist paramilitaries to murder innocent civilians in order to keep that British presence, just like they are directing and controlling those same loyalists today that have abandoned the commitments and pledges they made when they agreed the GFA. What are these Haass talks but an attempt to blackmail the Irish people in this part of Ireland to accept forever that the British loyalist identity and culture in Ireland be the dominant identity regardless that they are the minority. Britain has had almost a thousand years in which to play games and pull the wool over the eyes of the Irish people regarding their interests in Ireland, indeed David Cameron’s and a few other British establishment family ancestors regarded us as useful monkeys, slaves to be exploited, cannon fodder for their phoney wars about democracy but in reality profit. – Has much has changed since they first set foot in Ireland when we look at their actions in the middle east, how much has changed since the quislings in parliament and those who financed the plantation of Ulster handed over control of the Empire to foreign bankers in 1690. I dont believe the NIO or the British deserve any credit for prolonging the misery of the Irish people nor do I believe they have any intention of reducing their presence or influence in Ireland anytime soon.

  • FDM

    Like the sign says “Please don’t ask for credit, as a refusal often offends”.

    Sorry but your record around here isn’t that good.

    Not today.

  • sherdy

    Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?
    Paul Bew, as a former UUP adviser, is hardly an impartial adviser with a unionist slant on history.
    His views naturally have an orange glow about them.

  • Charles_Gould

    Clearly, there were some failures during this time. The decommissioning aspect was clearly mishandled, with the benefit of hindsight. As Bew points out, it would be interesting to know the government’s real attitude to this.

  • gerald

    What Prof. Bew actually said :

    “There are hundreds of thousands of pages, mostly dealing with matters of that sort, occasions when the state has been seen to behave not very well…I have no objection to that.”
    (however) “it is somewhat ridiculous that there is no account of the work of those officials on the British side who struggled to bring about a peace process. It is astonishing that we are silent on the more creative, positive, though no doubt deeply flawed, aspects of the work of our state officials while we are so loud in announcing some of the rather bad things that went on.”

    At NO POINT did he say Britain deserves “the main credit” for ending what happened here. As already pointed out by other posters, any deal had to involve all sides, specifically the British military and the Provisional IRA, negotiating. Any chance of amending the post please Mick?

  • I think this document by Humphrey Atkins during the 1981 hunger strike shows that the possibility for the peace process was there nearly a decade before it developed:

    http://www.powerbase.info/images/4/44/AtkinsMemo6July1981.pdf

    “the best course is to continue to stand firm. There is always the chance that the strike will, in whole or in part, collapse of itself, leaving the Provisional leadership humiliated. However, while recommending this course, I must point out that it carries certain risks and disadvantages…”

    “The Provisionals need to settle the prisons problem on terms they can represent as acceptable to them, if they are to go on – as we know some of them wish to do – to consider an end of the current terrorist campaign. A leadership which has “lost” on the prisons is in no position to do this.”

    Margaret Thatcher in particular bears a lot of responsibility for delaying the development of contacts which existed throughout the Troubles and might have borne fruit earlier than they did.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Margaret Thatcher in particular bears a lot of responsibility for delaying the development of contacts which existed throughout the Troubles and might have borne fruit earlier than they did.

    Assuming, of course, that there is no truth in the persistent allegations that Thatcher proposed a deal on the hunger strikes which the IRA leadership rejected.

  • Charles_Gould

    Tom G:

    Not at all clear that Dublin would have removed the territorial articles in its constitution back then in 1981, a key part of the eventual deal.

    The referenda north and south was very important and its not clear that a deal that would win so strongly was going to emerge back then.

    Important to recognize Dublin’s role: the strategy in which London and Dublin (more or less) agreed on everything was very important. This emerged later in the process.

    A lot of societal and political changes happened over the time of the troubles.

  • cynic2

    Margaret Thatcher .,…

    Absolute nonsense. Thatcher started them, Major followed up Balir just cashed in

  • Comrade Stalin, the contacts reviewed in the Atkins memo I linked to are the basis of a lot of the rumours about a deal.

    Atkins outlines very clearly that they knew what was needed to get a deal and chose instead to follow a course that was intended to break the strike.

    The message that was sent to the republican leadership the day after the memo was in line with Atkins’ recommendations, and was in fact hardened significantly by Thatcher.

    The Atkins memo is also at odds with the allegation sometimes made, that the strike was strung out in order to strengthen Sinn Fein’s political strategy irrespective of the outcome. Atkins clearly warned that the failure of the strike would weaken those advocating a political strategy.

  • tacapall

    “He said that the British government is aware “that there is an imbalance” in the history. But officials felt that they could save money on a history because papers were being released under the 20-year rule, making it easier for historians”

    Strangely enough Thresa Vicers and Matt Baggott both British government officials and both acting on behalf of the British government would disagree with that idea. It seems the only history, truth whatever you wish to call it, they will allow you to see is the bits that aren’t redacted and therefore glosses over the truth to paint a completely different history than that which actually happened.

    ” you’ve got Widgery, then at much greater expense you’ve got volume after volume of the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, you’ve got the Desmond De Silva Finucane [into Pat Finucane’s murder], Billy Wright, the volumes on what went wrong are much more extensive.”

    All expensive whitewashes and cover ups to protect the image and reputations of British politicians and British involvement in terrorism and state sponsored murder.

    Even better from Bew was this gem –

    “The IRA was responsible for significantly more deaths between 1969 and 1998 than any other organisation, with 1,768 of the 3,720 deaths in the 40-year period from 1966, according to the book Lost Lives. The second deadliest group was UVF/Red Hand Commandos, with 569 deaths”

    Has this person got selective memory or possibly amnesia, does he not watch the news or read the papers or even take any notice of the various Ombudsman reports or investigations from the likes of Stevens, Stalker, Sampson, Cory who all allege collusion between the various state forces and those various paramilitary groups who carried out much of the killings, those who pull the strings of those who pull the triggers are part of a joint enterprise and those who were aware a murder or murders were about to take place and who had the power to prevent citizens from being murdered but sat back and allowed citizens including their own colleagues to be murdered in the interests of advantage are just as guilty as those who pulled the trigger or planted the bombs. Those statistics Bew uses to highlight his “Facts” are just as unreliable and inaccurate as Tony Blair and the British governments reasons for invading Iraq.

  • Alias

    “Atkins clearly warned that the failure of the strike would weaken those advocating a political strategy.”

    Which merely shows his egregiously poor grasp of the situation. Just as MI5’s Ransom would have briefed him that senior Provos were working toward an internal settlement (with said senior Provos briefing MI5 more than a decade before they briefed their own ‘volunteers’) he might also have briefed him that the British government continuing to ‘stand firm’ would humiliate the Provos and destroy their political ambitions when anyone with even a minor grasp of the political reality – which excludes Atkins – could have seen that the opposite outcome would be the case. If MI5 wanted the Provos to go down the political path then they could not have handled the Hunger Strikes any better than to brief the British government via the SoS as they did.

  • Sherdy[6.10] You’re on the nail. The tame media here spin it for unionists. . They spin Bew as if he was an impartial observer. That’s what’s wrong with this colony. The broadcast media sink into the whole unionist narrative that they are the victims and NEVER the perpetrators. You only have to watch Crawley’s egregrious ‘ an independent People’ where he lauds the Presbyterian’s appetite for revolt and uprising against the Scottish establishment and desire for US freedom from British rule, but NOT for Irish Catholics from British Rule. Double Standards are exposed clinically

  • Alias

    “They spin Bew as if he was an impartial observer.”

    Do you have any examples of where is he biased as a historian? He is merely calling for balance in the recent history of ‘the peace process’ (or fishing for a state contract to write it).

    Has the British state been cast as a villain? Only by Shinners and ilk for the benefit of their supporters.

    In practice, the Shinners signed up to a process where an internal settlement with other ‘indigenous peoples’ was the only outcome given that the British state excluded itself from the all-party talks, casting itself in the role of neutral facilitator and peace broker between the uppity natives. It wasn’t even an indigenous deal given that it was all in the Downing Street Declaration and the Government of Ireland Act but at least the got to edit a few details.

    This neatly allowed the British state to present ‘the troubles’ as being caused by uppity natives who just couldn’t get along with each other (because of religious and tribal differences) but who needed the British state to lock them in a room together and knock some sense into them.

    Whenever they have their little squabbles they always run to the British government to sort things out. So is the British state really cast as a villain? Not where it matters and not by those who matter.

    And given that the Shinners contributed nothing to the ‘indigenous deal’ (merely trading agreement for immunity deals, get out of jail cards and other sweeties) is it really helpful for their supporters to be told they all signed on the dotted line to a British agenda?

  • “I think a more useful set of analytic questions (and Bew is an historian, not a political scientist) is to ask:”

    a) what actors were indefensible indispensable (and why?)
    b) which actions were the pivot points (and why?)

    @Ruarai,
    The answer to a) is: London, Dublin, the UUP, the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the CLMC. But to be more specific: on the British side: John Major, Tony Blair, and Jonathan Powell; on the Irish (gov’t) side: Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, and Martin Mansergh; among the unionists: David Trimble and Ken Maginnis; in the SDLP: John Hume, Seamus O’Mallon, and Mark Durkan; in Sinn Fein: Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams; among the loyalists: David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson, Gusty Spence, and Gary McMichael.

    b) the key turning points:
    1) The conclusion of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Nov. 1985. This halted the growth of Sinn Fein and put the unionists on notice that even a government as conservative as Margaret Thatcher’s could disregard their wishes.
    2) The destruction of two IRA ASU’s at Lochgall and the bomb going off at the veterans memorial in Fermanagh (?). These two events combined to weaken the influence of the militarists in the IRA.
    3) Adams renewing the Hume-Adams dialogue in 1992. This demonstrated that Sinn Fein had began to absorb some of Hume’s arguments from 1988.
    4) Reynold’s replacing Haughey as taoiseach in Feb 1992. This put in power someone who actually cared about the North rather than just about the green card.
    5) The Reynolds-Major dialogue during the course of 1993. This renewed the combined Anglo-Irish cooperation from Dec 1973 with a FF instead of a FG government.
    6) The Downing St. Declaration in Dec. 1993. This put out the first set of parameters for the peace process with an orange document in green language.
    7) The IRA ceasefire of Aug/Sep 1994. This put the pressure on the loyalists to respond.
    8) The loyalist ceasefire of Oct. 1994. The guns were silent.
    9) The election of Trimble as UUP leader in mid-1995 after Drumcree I. This put a moderate with a reputation as a hardliner in power.
    10) IRA ending its ceasefire. This set the peace process back and intimidated the Labour Party pols. It also provided a very good argument for the importance of decommissioning.
    11) Selection of George Mitchell, John de Chastelain, ahd Harry Holkeri as mediators in Dec 1995 and the issuing of the Mitchell Report in Jan 1996.
    12) Election of a FF gov’t in June 1997 and a Labour gov’t in Aug. This gave the IRA an excuse to return to ceasefire. In reality British intelligence had destroyed their mainland operation.
    13) Walkout of the DUP and UKUP from the talks in Sep 1997 and the entrance of the Shinners. This had all the essential actors in and left the obstructionists out.
    14) Feb. 1998–Mitchell putting a deadline of Easter to conclude the negotiations by. This put pressure on all parties to compromise.
    15) April 1998–Ahern and Blair very effectively mediated with their respective sides to conclude an agreement.
    16) The referendum and election in May/June 1998. Gave the UUP and SDLP mandates for implementing the agreement.
    17) The Mitchell Review in the fall of 1999. Found a temporary expedient for the decommissioning question and allowed power sharing to go forward.
    18) Trimble’s resignation in the summer of 2001. Showed SF that he was serious about decommissioning.
    19) 9/11 This created a new atmosphere that led to American pressure on the Republicans for decommissioning and the first product was delivered in 2002.
    20) October 2002 The botched sequencing of decommissioning, and the Donaldson spy affair leads to Trimble’s resignation and the collapse of the second attempt at power sharing (the first was in 1974).
    21) Sep. 2005 IRA major decommissioning event. Gives the DUP a later excuse to go into government with SF. The 2005 general election earlier that year was also a turning point as it confirmed the supremacy of the DUP as the main unionist party.
    22) The events leading up to the St. Andrew’s Conference and the Conference in late 2006.
    23) British threats to raise water rates for NI in the spring of 2007.
    24) May 2007 The DUP and SF go into government together and it is much more stable than before due to prior decommissioning.

    This list might not be complete but it shows how many important steps there were. The issuing of the visas to Adams and Joe Cahill in 1994 were also important. Cahill’s visa was probably more important than was Adams’s visa.

  • “Tom G:

    Not at all clear that Dublin would have removed the territorial articles in its constitution back then in 1981, a key part of the eventual deal.

    The referenda north and south was very important and its not clear that a deal that would win so strongly was going to emerge back then.

    Important to recognize Dublin’s role: the strategy in which London and Dublin (more or less) agreed on everything was very important. This emerged later in the process.”

    @Charles Gould,

    In fact it is quite clear that Dublin was not willing to do this. There was the McGimpsey bros. law suit against the FG government for violating Art 2, which the government then defended by claiming that this was only a de facto recognition of the reality in NI. FitzGerald told Thatcher several times that a referendum on amending the constitution would not pass at that time.

    Probably key to winning such strong support for a yes vote in the referendum in the Republic, if not key to winning an outright victory, were the Celtic Tiger economy, which began in 1995, and all of the scandals that the RC Church suffered in the early 1990’s. The scandals lowered the Church’s status as a trusted institution and lowered weekly mass attendance rates until they were much more in line with those in W Europe rather than with those in NI and the USA, which had previously been the case. This is important as the irredentist wing of FF consisted both of the pious and of those from rural areas where economic conditions were poorest before the Celtic Tiger economy.

  • Charles_Gould

    tmitch57

    Indeed. It goes to show that completely unanticipated social and economic change can drive political change far more than political parties.

  • JH

    I guess in the same way a reluctant acquaintance will find you near a dangerous drop, push you towards it unexpectedly before grabbing you and claiming to have “Saved your life!”, yes, the British might deserve the main credit for ending the ‘Troubles’.

  • Framer

    Billy Pilgrim wrote above, “Bew talks about the prescience of NIO officials in the early 90s. Republicans were predicting a deal between republicans and the British, imposed on unionism, since the 1920s. The SDLP practically wrote the GFA in 1970.”
    So Republicans got it right after eighty years. A long time to wait to test their prescience. The DFA wrote the GFA literally (first draft anyway) in the 1990s, and earlier, not the SDLP.
    The reason we got a peace process was simply because the Republicans decided to end their ceaseless war. No more no less.
    Had the NIO/London in 1985 insisted on Articles 2 and 3 going, or indeed earlier in 1974, the war could have ended sooner.
    That failure is why they should never be thanked, let alone praised.

  • Reader

    JH: I guess in the same way a reluctant acquaintance will find you near a dangerous drop, push you towards it unexpectedly before grabbing you and claiming to have “Saved your life!”,
    Irish republicanism is the lemming of european politics. there’s no point in blaming the Brits for taking so long to provide a ladder when republicans had never previously admitted they wanted one.

  • Neil

    Irish republicanism is the lemming of european politics

    This coming from a Unionist. You lot have done more to destroy the union than anyone, pretty much since it’s inception, most especially since Peter’s unicorn speech. Beam, plank and eye are three words that spring to mind.

  • SDLP supporter

    It’s far too simplistic to say that DFA drafted the Good Friday Agreement. All the key ideas

    -three interlocking relationships
    -you can be Irish or British or both
    -validation by simultaneous referendums North and South, etc

    were trailed by Hume and other SDLP figures years, decades before.

    Incidentally, neither DUP (of course) nor Sinn Fein ever formally endorsed theAgreement. SF didn’t lift a finger during the refendum campaign.

  • Pedantry alert; that should be beam, mote and eye. A plank is too close to a beam.

  • TCG[3.25] ‘How magnanimous of him’ How indeed, Tir. That ‘a certain role’ line covers a multitude of negative attitudes towards the ‘role’ the Republic should have, in Bew’s book.
    An entirely predictable view of the NIO/London from Bew, who clearly thinks no inquiry at all should have been held on Bloody Sunday, never mind the expense of Saville.
    Hardly an objective reporter on troubles.

  • JH

    Reader:
    “Irish republicanism is the lemming of european politics.”

    You obviously don’t know much about European politics.

  • Ruarai[5.13] ‘If you’re looking to get silly, you’d better go back to from where you came’ [Bob Dylan 1965] fits this story. Bew should think on that.

  • Reader

    Neil: This coming from a Unionist. You lot have done more to destroy the union than anyone, pretty much since it’s inception, most especially since Peter’s unicorn speech.
    And yet the union still exists; republicanism has (at last) accepted the principle of consent(*), and the end of the union depends on a vote in the 6 counties.
    Redneck loyalism is, basically, just a nuisance. One of the regular Slugger commenters from the nat side suggested that loyalists weren’t actually any good at rioting. I’ll defer to the conoisseurs.
    (*) Now, these were the key moments in the peace process. The events that persuaded the IRA that violence wouldn’t achieve a united Ireland, and the genius who convinced SF that demographics would deliver one. I expect the Brits delivered the first lesson, but who can identify the people who sold hope to the shinners?

  • Reader

    Oops – “Connoisseurs”

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Framer

    ‘So Republicans got it right after eighty years. A long time to wait to test their prescience.’

    Oh, they weren’t claiming that it was imminent back in the 1920s, just that it was the obvious and inevitable endgame. It must have all seemed fairly academic at the time, since partition sent nationalism / republicanism into a state of virtual catatonia for half a century.

    ‘The DFA wrote the GFA literally (first draft anyway) in the 1990s, and earlier, not the SDLP.’

    This overlooks the fact of Hume’s overwhelming influence on DFA throughout the 1980s and 90s. During this period, it was hard to meaningfully distinguish DFA policy from SDLP policy. Taking the broad view over two decades, Hume had a greater influence over the department than any of the individual ministers who passed through over the years. At times, DFA officials believed Hume was practically running the show.

  • “It’s far too simplistic to say that DFA drafted the Good Friday Agreement. All the key ideas

    -three interlocking relationships
    -you can be Irish or British or both
    -validation by simultaneous referendums North and South, etc

    were trailed by Hume and other SDLP figures years, decades before.”

    @SDLP supporter,

    While Strand 1 power sharing was clearly advocated by both the SDLP and Alliance and had been agreed to in Dec. 1973, and Strand 2 North-South relations were the main selling point of the agreement by the SDLP, Trimble’s biographers generally credit him with originating the East-West council in Strand 3 as a way of selling Strand 2 to unionists by compensation.

    The thing about Humespeak is that it is like the Bible–one can find evidence for it to back nearly any argument (except the use of violence).

  • SDLP supporter

    While not disrespecting Trimble’s contribution, ideas about a British Irish dimension were long years on the table before any ideas of DT on the matter.

    it’s easy to knock ‘HumeSpeak’ now that his ideas are so mainstream but most innovative ideas about the political situation here came out of that man’s. head and a few people around him.

  • Charles_Gould

    Before the GFA:

    *Unionists fear Dublin
    *Dublin cooperates with SDLP

    After the GFA:

    *Unionists cooperate with Dublin
    *Dublin fears SF

  • Brian Walker

    A good debate this, mercifully light on abuse, excessive whaboutery or polemic that’s impossible to deal with.

    Paul Bew has points of view like anybody else but in my opinion his strength as a Trimble adviser and later was his ability to apply his range and analytical skills as an historian to the present. This is fairly rare in his sort of academic.

  • looneygas

    Joe, Maybe Neil’s “beam, plank, eye” remark was meant to say thay that the two sides share roughly equal degrees of blame.

  • ayeYerMa

    Interesting, though not surprising giving the participants, that the elephant in the room is completely and utterly absent regarding the #1 factor in rather belatedly ending “troubles”: the presence of thousands of NATO 5.56 mm magazines loaded in SA80 rifles.

  • Reader

    JH: You obviously don’t know much about European politics
    I was worried that I was going to be picked up on my unfair and outdated characterisation of lemmings…
    However – besides Irish republicanism what other political movement insists on a series of futile and bloody actions every generation to prove themselves true to their nature?

  • ayeYerMa

    As Martin McGuinness said, “Mason beat the shit out of us”.

  • Ruarai

    tmitch57 – awesome investment there in taking a shot at those two questions, many thanks. It raised the thread.

    For the sake of conversation, I think your answer to point (a) disproportionately focused on public figures. This is one of Bew’s better arguments – the role of unknown civil servants and advisers is missing and was frequently more significant than many office holders. Bew’s right about that but such figures are just as relevant in the south and even in the States.

    On your answer to point (b) it’s arguably too long, not too short if we’re talking pivot points, not just points of significance: catalytic points are not pivot points. I suspect you’d refine your own list of you run with my distinction between points of pivot vs. catalysts.

    Interesting stuff though.

  • aquifer

    The Brits enforced fair employment, built houses for all, created jobs, protected Catholics from protestant retaliation for Provo murders, and all in all made it abundantly clear that the only problem they had with nationalists was the prediliction of some of them for armed blackmail.

    Morally the Provo campaign was untenable, trying to recruit the Brits to march Irish Unionists towards a unitary sectarian Irish island state at pistol point.

  • There’s a whole heap of people who make / have made a very good living out of connecting themselves to an “essential” background role in the peace process. Some of them have loads of credibility and played an essential part. The process would not have been the same without all of their input – Glencree, Fr Reid, Aidan Troy, Corrymeela, Tides, Mediation NI, Incore. I know people will be able to list loads of others, but essentially they all provided the key moments for someone to engage differently and that is at the heart of the story despite any seeking out grandiose moments, of which there were undoubtedly some. This was / is a journey, not a series of discrete events and for sure there are more staging posts on the way.

  • keano10

    Journalist Ed Moloney (a very stringent opponent of Sinn Fein) said in 1998 that Gerry Adams should have been awarded The Nobel Peace Prize for his monumental efforts in bringing Irish Republicans to a negotiating position and signing up to The Good Friday Agreement.

    History is open to many interpretations…

  • Alias

    “It’s far too simplistic to say that DFA drafted the Good Friday Agreement. All the key ideas

    -three interlocking relationships
    -you can be Irish or British or both
    -validation by simultaneous referendums North and South, etc

    were trailed by Hume and other SDLP figures years, decades before.”

    The origins have zero to do with Hume.

    (1) The Council of Ireland established under Sunningdale is the Council of Ireland established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Its incarnation under the GFA is the North/South Ministerial Council.

    (2) You could always be “Irish or British or both”. All you had to do as an Irish citizen, if you weren’t born with British nationality, was to apply to the Home Office for a British passport. All you had to do as British citizen, if you weren’t born with Irish nationality, was to apply to the Passport Office for a an Irish passport. After the GFA, no one born in Northern Ireland is born as an Irish citizen: they are born as British citizens. The birth right, therefore, is not Irish citizenship but rather the right under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act to apply to become an Irish citizen.

    (3) Any amendment to the Irish constitution requires a referendum to be held in Ireland. The changes proposed in the 19th amendment, such as the changes to Articles 2 and 3, could not have been made without a referendum. Therefore, there would have been a referendum whether Mr Hume wanted one to be held or not.

    In reality, there were two separate referenda in two separate jurisdictions by two separate nations exercising two separate rights to self-determination. These were the two separate rights to self-determination established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Martin Manseargh had the idea of holding both referenda close to each other to create the false impression that there was one act of national self-determination, and that this was the first time such had occurred since partition.

    If, for example, Ireland voted No and Northern Ireland voted Yes then the minority on the island would have vetoed the majority. This would only occur because the majority on the island are partitioned in two separate states.

    The advantage to the UK of the media labelling Mr Hume and ilk as nationalists, when in actuality they are depoliticised tribalists, is that people wrongly believe they must be asserting national rights if they are nationalists. Mt Hume, for example, was referred to as a ‘constitutional nationalist’ but the constitution he was upholding was the British constitution – the Government of Ireland Act 1920 – which held that the people of Northern Ireland held a right to national self-determination and the Irish nation did not (or, rather, they did in so far as they were not asserting national rights as members of the Irish nation – such as the right to national self-determination – and therefore were not Irish nationalists.

    All the likes of Hume and Adams did was sign up to the legitimacy of British sovereignty and reject their own right to national self-determination which had existed in opposition to it, so the principles of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 were finally accepted by all concerned.

    For course the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was repealed with all of its principles consolidated and incorporated into other constitutional documents – that repeal is itself part of the fraud of pretending the so-called ‘nationalists’ were led by their own tribal elders to do something other than finally accept it in its entirety.

  • Alias

    Typo: “…the fraud of pretending the so-called ‘nationalists’ weren’t led by their own tribal elders…£

  • Alias

    Just putting the bold out of action… hopefully.

  • tacapall

    “However – besides Irish republicanism what other political movement insists on a series of futile and bloody actions every generation to prove themselves true to their nature”

    Obviously Reader the mote in your eye is clouding your memory to the fact that when it comes to insisting futile and bloody actions every generation to prove their respective natures, its a toss up between Irish republicanism and unionism/loyalism as to who won that egg and spoon race. Unsurprisingly being the traitorous race the unionist /loyalist tribe are they will as usual invent their own version of history completely devoid of truth. In fact they would go so far as to invent their participation in a battle in order to keep that illusion alive.

    Alias agreements and acts of government/parliament are there to be manipulated, ignored and ditched whenever the right people come along to pull the strings of the people, ( Unionists being a case point) nothing is set in stone, history reveals that undeniable truth and the term perfedious albion runs in tandem with such events throughout history.

    Here’s one such agreement – Is this agreement still in place ? Im beginning to wonder on that one.

    http://www.britannia.com/history/docs/johncon.html

    Although I would agree with you, we are all (Ireland and the Irish people) still debt slaves to the entity called Corporate UK and the IMF, the reality is they are one and the same. But the irony is you believe Corporate UK is controlled by the politicians elected by the British people, how pitiful, and how repugnant it is to watch the warlord puppet Cameron and the performing monkey William Hague embarrassingly promoting the slaughter of thousands and the invasion of another Middle East country on behalf of the warlord bankers, the real authority in corporate UK and the real Crown in the city of London. The British like the American people are not part of a nation they bare both part of a corporation that cares only about profit for the few, that cares only about the survival of the few and rules only for those privileged few and I dont think you or I will ever be classed as “those few”.

    The only way for the Irish nation to be free from the clutches of corporate UK and those who peddle their propaganda is to do what Hungry did, by assuming sovereignty over its own currency and issuing its own debt free money, the central bank of Ireland should be operated by the government for the public welfare and not private enrichment of foreign investors and the privileged few. We should pay whatever we owe the IMF then demand that the IMF close its offices in Ireland. In addition, the state attorney general, echoing Iceland’s efforts, should bring charges against those previous government ministers because of the criminal amount of debt into which they plunged the nation. Only then will Ireland be free.

  • aquifer

    Introducing Hume Adams and feasibly Paisley as tribal elders is useful. Ireland was only ever a unitary state under the British. There were a group of indigenous cultures that were promoted as signifiers of the ‘Irish Nation’. Aligning this distinction along the line of sectarian difference ensured that this could be a majority culture on the island capable of political mobilisation and expression, especially if the British could be provoked into rash acts of repression. However the economic benefits of ‘national self determination’ have faded with trade liberalisation at the global scale, and western popular culture has exposed the limits of Irish cultural separatism. The power of the Catholic church to carry the Irish separatist project forward was fading fast, and the security services were getting the measure of the Provos even before the other religious cultural separatists, the extreme islamicists, made the suppression of armed political blackmail vital.

    The Irish Nationalists had to settle for an outcome that could still deliver a unitary island state before the game was up.

    The political and tribal power game was use it or lose it.

  • SDLP supporter

    For sheer mean-spirited begrudgery it would be hard to surpass Alias’s contribution at 11.47 pm.

    So Hume had “zero” to do with the core ideas of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA)? Has Alias ever read ‘Towards a New Ireland’ published by SDLP in 1972, more than a quarter-century before the GFA? The facts are that, before Hume got to work, everyone- the governments, unionists, nationalists-were entrenched in the bunkers of their own rhetoric and didn’t have a clue how to get out of them.

    Mary Robinsone famously resigned from the Irish Labour Party over the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement because it was ‘unfair to unionists’ , the poor dears, who wanted a veto on all progress. In her recent autobiography she now belatedly acknowledge that she was wrong over the AIA because its implementation unfroze everything and got the process moving.

    To take just one of Alias’s points, the idea that Martin Mansergh came up with the all-island referendum idea (to render redundant the ‘republican’ claim of the 1918 mandate) is just nonsense. I have clippings of Hume putting forward this idea from the early seventies and, no, Alias it wasn’t that the referendums in the two jurisdictions were to be held “close to each other”: they were to be held on the same day throughout the island. That was the whole point, to nullify 1918, because Hume was thinking in the Irish context.

    Hume never referred to himself as a ‘constitutional nationalist’. Alias’s idea that he operated in some sort of false consciousness’ as a British constitutionalist is insane. He much preferred the term ‘democratic nationalist’, being a servant of the will of the Irish people in all their diversity, and the reason that large parts of the British establishment and people like Alias hated him was because he had no particular regard for the “majesty” of institutions like Westminster. He much preferred to operate in the European and US arenas to, as he said himself, widen the context of the problem, which could not be resolved within the gridlocked British-Irish matrix and, of course, he successfully did this.

    Alias’s core point is that there was no development in political thought since the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and that, really, Lloyd George and his mates had sketched out the road map for us if only we had the wit to see it, is absurd.

    If Alias had been in Jerusalem two millennia ago, he would have been eminently qualified to be one of those Pharisees in the Temple.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Reader

    “besides Irish republicanism what other political movement insists on a series of futile and bloody actions every generation to prove themselves true to their nature”

    Written in the very week that a British Prime Minister is champing at the bit to launch airstrikes against Syria, freely admitting that such airstrikes will not achieve any actual goals, but determined that ‘something must be done….’

    Reader, you need to read more widely.

  • Delphin

    BP, I agree Cameron appears very keen to please the Big Man in the Whitehouse, like Prime Ministers before him. But there are defined goals for these air strikes i.e. both to punish the Syrian regime and to send a powerful message to other potential users of chemical weapons. For the air strikes to achieve these goals the message needs to have as much support and legitimacy as possible. That means letting the UN process take its course.
    Of course beating the crap out of some Arabs with no risk to western personnel will go down well with the folks back home.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    ‘…defined goals for these air strikes i.e. both to punish the Syrian regime…’

    Airstrikes as punishment is a concept that has no legitimacy international law. Such a ‘punitive’ attack would be international terrorism, regardless of how unpleasant the target of the attack may be.

    Even this is assuming the Assad regime was the guilty party, which is far from certain. If the Assad regime wasn’t the guilty party * then such a punitive attack would be aggression – a far more serious crime than mere international terrorism.

    (* Entirely possible, indeed likely, according to the phalanx of Tory backbenchers who have reined Cameron back. Even some of the most hawkish people smell a rat here.)

    ‘and to send a powerful message to other potential users of chemical weapons…’

    The most recent use of chemical weapons in the region was Israel’s use of white phosporous against Gaza – supported and by the US and UK. Prior to that, the most recent case was the US Marines using phosporous bombs in Fallujah.

    Make no mistake, these were ‘powerful messages’ that were well understood in the region, and around the world.

    Listening to the US and UK moralising about chemical weapons is like listening to Stuart Hall moralising about statutory rape.

    But my original point was to highlight the absurdity of Framer’s question about groups/agencies/states carrying out ‘futile and bloody gestures’ in order to ‘prove themselves true to their nature’.

    Successive UK governments have insisted on playing poodle to US imperialism, at great cost to Britain (in terms of blood, treasure, international legitimacy, internal political stability, and I would certainly say, morality) for precious little reward.

    Why do they do this? Well, quote Framer: ‘to prove themselves true to their nature.’

  • @Ruarai,

    Next time if you are going to throw out terms–particularly terms that are not widely accepted–define them.