Ceasefires and moving on from the political beachheads of 1994…

The trick is to keep moving. If you stop, if you start thinking, you lose your focus. You lose your concentration. You’ll be a casualty. The idea, the perfect idea, is to keep moving.

– Dwight D Eisenhower, June 1944

The primary locus of last night’s documentary was the IRA‘s ceasefire of September 1994. Although it only lasted 18 months or so, it’s hard to gainsay Gerry’s observation that ‘it is still the most logical point at which to divide recent history into a “now” and a “then’”.

A former workmate of mine who’d joined the RUC recounted his pleasure at visiting McDonalds with his kids around that time. Another told me how he thought something else was happening. Relieved of immediate danger, people began to shock each other by speaking openly about their true political feelings.

It was a generation that had grown ‘tolerant’ of gross and mundane cruelties, whose signal lesson was that you never argue with a man and a gun (let alone tell him to shag off). Politically unbound from the constraint of law, human rights, employment and equal opportunities became subject to the vagaries of to the threat of brute force.

What the programme did bring was a sense of the experience of some of the victims of those last few months, though the trauma stretched back to those first tumultuous days of the Troubles.

Without doubt there were thousands of small acts of betrayal over the years of the troubles.  But it’s also true that other much less well documented acts of solidarity also took place, which over time sustained trust at both the individual and broader societal level and kept the grounds for sustained peace intact.

And yet the ‘bookkeeping’ murders (assassination of moderate unionist voices was nothing new) and Ervine’s assurance that what was happening in the streets (the UVF was keeping its own ‘bloody book’) should not upset the backroom negotiations demonstrate the shifting pragmatism of the time.

Of course the trauma (and the political killing) continued long after 1994. On the loyalist side at least in the first ten or twelve years assassinations continued to be sectarian and opportunistic augmented latterly by feuds that were often little more than internal power struggles and ‘turf wars’.

Republican actions were aimed more at control of dissent and anti social elements often under noms de guerre like Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD), until Sinn Fein’s agreement to support the PSNI in early 2007, although the murder of Paul Quinn the same year suggests old methods still persisted in some areas.

Shirlow and Murtagh’s 2004 research showed that fear and avoidance in communities most affected by the Troubles persisted and perhaps even grew long after violence had subsided. 73.6% of the 9000 people surveyed felt that violence against their area from the other community had increased since the ceasefires.

Frank Millar, towards the end of his 2009 book A Triumph of Politics, at least asked some of the right questions of the uneasy settlement that was the fruit of this seemingly endlessly messy Peace Process era…

Looking forward rather than back, there will be uneasy, still-to-be-answered questions too about the character of Northern Ireland’s political elite. Having seized power, will the DUP and Sinn Fein prove capable of genuinely sharing it for the common good? Can commitments to justice and equality have meaning without a shared commitment to reconciliation between communities still living a segregated ‘apartheid’ existence behind the so-called ‘peace walls’?

Will declared Republican support for the police be reflected in the cultivation of a culture of lawfulness and the breaking of paramilitary control on both sides? Crucially will devolution provide a settlement finally permitting the development – never before experienced – of a common commitment to a place called Northern Ireland?

Perhaps it is not too fanciful to describe that first IRA ceasefire of the Peace Process era as an inverse D Day, a leap into the darkness to form a beachhead in politics, however crude, self contradictory or limited in its long term planning and content.

The danger, if it can be called that, of canonising the important but ultimately limited achievements of the past, is that we become acclimatised to subsisting on the democratic beachhead rather than pressing on towards new, more inclusive and liberating objectives.

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  • The trick is to keep moving. If you stop, if you start thinking, you lose your focus. You lose your concentration. You’ll be a casualty. The idea, the perfect idea, is to keep moving. – Dwight D Eisenhower, June 1944

    The trick is to keep moving. If you stop and don’t start thinking, you lose your focus. You lose your concentration. You’ll be a casualty. The idea, the perfect idea, is to keep moving. – amfM, September 2014

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Seen on a teeshirt in LA:

    “He who hesitates usually survives.”

    Ever questioned just why a general wants his men to keep moving forward? The perfect idea in the real world is to evaluate everything carefully before you act. Stormont and the GFA© shows us exactly what happens when you improvise on the hoof and simply hope for the best………

    But perhaps someone will do a wee bit of intelligent preparation before “pressing on towards new, more inclusive and liberating objectives” and not simply plagiarize it all from Dick Kearney’s “Postnationalist Ireland” this time.

  • Jag

    Down “South” (don’t the folks in Donegal ever get fed up with that moniker!), the 20-year anniversary of the first ceasefire was barely mentioned. MMG had a 10-minute radio interview on RTE This Week, there were a couple of press articles. Were it not for Albert Reynolds’s demise, it might not even have garnered that much attention.Yes, SF did shout/trumpet the anniversary from the rooftops, but it wasn’t mentioned by FF. FG, Labour or Independents, though to be fair, most are enjoying the dying embers of their holidays. This probably tells you how much for granted the South takes the ceasefire.

    Despite the fleggery and constant political needling, I think things are still improving and normalising in NI. The police and judicial response to unrest in the past 20 months has been akin to the response to social unrest or riots in other developed countries. Aberrant behaviour is tackled, arrests are made, people are brought before the courts, and slowly people are getting the message.Golliwogs were once acceptable, not any more; ditto with much of the offensive behaviour which characterised mid-late 20th century NI. (As an aside is it true that the Royal Black Preceptory is about to lose the “Royal” because of its linkage with sectarian behavior?)

    People who have never really known the Civil War/Troubles bring their own energy and vectors to society, they demand normality and body-and-soul freedom, satirise idiosyncrasy. Education helps. Putting more road between today and the horrors of yesteryear helps. That trend inspires hope.

    Was 1994 the watershed? It was probably a milestone start to the watershed, which was capstoned with the Good Friday Agreement. We then entered the “making peace work” phase which is still a work in progress. When histories are written a hundred years from now, 1994 will be a prominent landmark.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Think we’re on the same page amfM, but there is a logic all of its own in Ike’s version. No general and no “professional” politician (or bankster) wants anyone to think (or analyse) the situation. They might actually catch on as to what’s really happening……..

  • Michael Henry

    ” The trick is to keep moving “- yes and it helps if you move in the right direction-

    The media ban against Sinn Fein was a major mistake which RTE made right when they removed Section 31 and the Brits removed the broadcasting acts which banned Sinn Fein spokespeople from speaking on TV / Radio around 20 years ago-suddenly we were on a level playing field and the Unionists were not having their cake and eating it- the same story with the other political party’s in the 26- change was coming –

  • chrisjones2

    Yeah and you got it because the Brits handed it back as part of their strategy to make more SF valuable to you and gently shove it in the “right” direction. Enjoy

  • Jag

    Crikey, whatever about 1994, the development today, the rescission of the 200 OTR letters, the leaking of the rescission to the papers to the Daily Mail, no pre-consultation with Sinn Fein before the announcement this afternoon, and Madame Villiers hasn’t yet responded to a call from MMG this afternoon, the Shinners will be incandescent.

    The Brits have now said that “a review” of the evidence available at the time of OTRs, may lead to prosecutions. That means the Downey case would have gone ahead if the rescission today had been in place.

    Mme Villiers not publishing names of OTR recipients.

    This is serious, though it remains unclear if any of the 200 OTRs will face imminent arrest. Was GA a recipient, might a review of the evidence available in 2007 mean a prosecution is attempted in respect of the killing of the MOT?

  • Morpheus

    Incandescent? They will be laughing their nads off at how ridiculous this whole farce has become!

    The letters were never an amnesty, never a GOOJF card and never immunity – PRs little tantrum publicly reinforced what was already public knowledge after the SoS released the wording of the letters in her Ministerial Statement in February (plus when she said they were never an amnesty quite a few times!) – they were merely a statement of fact from a specific period of time plus a warning that prosecutions would come if new evidence came to light…the same as anyone else would get if they inquired about their status using Article 3 of the ECHR and Human Rights Act.

    Other than those who got letters with a mistake in them what exactly has changed? Zip. Nada. Zilch. Sorry, scratch that anyone who actually kept their letter will have a little more recycling to do as they carry on with their lives.

    SF will be incredulous that this has got this far and the lengths the SoS is going to give political unionism the reassuring hug, tap on the shoulder and ‘there-there” that they so obviously crave.

  • Jag

    The SFers will be nonchalant, really?

    24 hours after the SoS announcement, no response yet from the SFers.

    If A was suspected of involvement in crime B, and at the time the OTR letter was issued, the evidence was C and the OTR letter said there was no evidence to prosecute, but now, evidence C is reviewed, then A may face prosecution.

    I have no idea whatsoever who received those OTR letters, but *just for the sake of argument*, say, hypothetically that Gerry Adams received such a letter. On Tuesday this week, GA would have been satisfied that prosecution was not possible unless new evidence was produced. Today, GA might find himself arrested because the old evidence has been reviewed.

    I think it is serious, though how serious depends on who received the letters, and the prospects for arrest or prosecution.

  • Morpheus

    I didn’t say nonchalant. I said laughing their nads off. Nonchalant implies that they are relaxed about the situation, I am saying that they must be physically laughing at the farce this sorry state of affairs has become.

    It is blindingly obvious that you didn’t take 2 minutes to read the Ministerial Statement mentioned above so here is the wording of the letters:

    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

    Read that last sentence again very carefully.

    The recipients of the letters were under no illusion that if any evidence came to light – or a request for extradition was request – then the offenses or offenses would have been dealt with in the usual way. This is what the SoS said in February and what she said again at the farcical committee hearing yesterday which is nothing more than a proverbial dummy-tit thrown to the DUP to shut them up for a while so Cameron can have their support com the general election.

    You GA hypothetical scenario makes no sense whatsoever. Had he received a letter on January 1st, 2014 saying that at that time there were no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there were no warrants in existence nor was he wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police plus the Police Service of Northern Ireland were not aware of any interest in him from any other police force in the United Kingdom but if any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way then GA would be in no doubt that he wasn’t wanted as per that date but if anything came to light he would face prosecution in the usual way. The same as anyone else would.

    This was administration, nothing more.

    To put your mind at rest ACC Drew Harris made the status of the recipients abundantly clear in a letter to the policing board: “”Of the submitted names, 173 are not wanted, 9 have been returned to prison and 11 remain wanted. In the year 2007 to 2008, 3 were arrested and referred to the court service. Of the remaining names, 10 have been referred to the PPS for direction, 11 are proceeding through Historical Enquiry Team review and 2 are ongoing live investigations.”

    I say again, not nonchalant, laughing.

  • Jag

    Do you think John Downey is laughing today?

  • Morpheus

    Downey? Here we go with more ill-informed rubbish.

    Downey’s case did not collapse because he had a letter. His case collapsed because his letter had a mistake in it. He was told that he wasn’t wanted when in reality he was and the mistake was compounded when the PSNI did not take several opportunities to fix their mistake. In fact there is still no satisfactory explanation as to why they did not rectify the mistake.

    I hadn’t even heard of Downey before this case and I don’t know if he is guilty or not – neither do you despite that you think you might now – but I do know that of the case continued any barrister worth his/her salt would have had the case thrown out as abuse of process, Justice Sweeney obviously agreed. Ask yourself, if he was wanted then why were no extradition proceedings in place? Why was he permitted to travel into the UK jurisdiction on numerous occasions before he was arrested? Had extradition proceedings been in place then he would have been in no doubt that he was wanted for questioning. The process had to be whiter than whiter to ensure that if he was guilty by a jury he didn’t walk on a technicality – it was sadly not whiter than white.

    Take some time and read the judgement for yourself, read the ministerial statements for yourself, read the comments from multiple sources for yourself…don’t just swallow the DUP BS hook, line and sinker. When you do you will see that a bunch of people exercised their rights under Article 3 of the ECHR and Human Rights Act and the police were obliged to investigate and respond. Those who were wanted were told that they were wanted, those who not wanted were told that they were not wanted and in 3 cases so far mistakes were made.

  • Jag

    I didn’t say anything about John Downey’s guilt or innocence, and in our society, innocence is presumed until proven otherwise. However, regardless of whether or not you are guilty, the prospect of a criminal trial is not generally welcomed by anyone. Hence, Mr Downey is unlikely to be laughing at the statement by the SoS that the letters are “worthless” and “without value”. In his case, the letter was cited as the reason for the collapse of the Hyde Park trial.

    As for the other 200+ recipients of the letters, there is a prospect of a “review” of the evidence that was available when the letters were issued. I don’t know what a “review” might entail: could a murder implement now be linked to a person in 2014 through “touch DNA”, a tool which wasn’t available a decade ago? Would that be a “review” or new evidence? Might a “review” mean that a new set of eyes decided that on balance the evidence that was available when the letters were issued, is sufficient to secure a prosecution?

    Still not a peep of a formal response from SF, despite the fact that MMG was (unusually) trying to get in touch with the SoS earlier this week on the day she made the announcement. Maybe the SFers are too busy “laughing” and can’t make it to the keyboard, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case.

  • Morpheus

    I’ll copy and paste from above because it cannot be expressed more simply than it already has – Downey’s case did not collapse because he had a letter. His case collapsed because his letter had a mistake in it.

    Again, read the judgement, 10 seconds on Google. Seriously.

    If there is a review of the evidence and something new comes to light then it will be “dealt with in the usual way”. Again it says it right there in the original letters that they got and it has been confirm ad nauseum by the Secretary of State.

    I would also point out that exactly the same procedure applies to you or me. We may not be wanted for something today but if new evidence comes to light then it will be dealt with in the usual way. It is nothing new. It is nothing revealing. It is standard procedure.

    I would hazard a guess that there is not a peep out of SF yet for 1 of 2 reasons:
    1. they have either learned that political unionism will without fail hang themselves given enough rope or
    2. they are waiting for Jonathan Powell to take the stand and confirm what he said in his diary making political unionism look like kentucky fried idiots without lifting a finger.