Closer engagement not boycott, is the route out of crisis for the Northern Ireland Assembly

Is Jeffrey Donaldson MP offering a way out of “ crisis?

He said it would be a different situation if Sinn Féin “came clean” and said murder had been carried out by members of the Provisional IRA and said they would work to rectify the situation.

He said the Sinn Féin leadership needed to “recognise they have a problem” and then work could begin to solve the crisis.

The IMC issued its final report in February 2011 and Mr Donaldson said its “absence is keenly felt”. He called for the return of the IMC  (Intentional Monitoring Commission)  and said he did not want to be “prescriptive” about what mechanism could be put in place to “monitor these situations”. A Sinn Féin source said it had always opposed the IMC.

Once again, a year and more after the flegs protest,  life in working class areas rises up to bite us and provoke a fit of political head staggers. In a place where  everyone is supposed to know everybody else, how  little we in the middle class really know about it.

Last week I watched on BBC NI  “A City Dreaming” ( still available on iPlayer), the film described as the late Gerry Anderson’s  “love letter”  to the Derry he grew up in. It reminded me how far out of touch I am with life there and most other areas I once knew well. The film ended with a montage of Troubles images but essentially stopped  when violence became a norm. I was struck by the poignant use of home movies to depict innocence of the horrors to come. But what hit me more was Anderson’s claim in his commentary  that the  social solidarity that kept  communities going  had been “ dismissed as worthless” during the Troubles, and implying it had not survived or had not been revived since.

Can this really be true? Do the stereotypes of screaming flegs protestors  or  the sullen atmosphere of  ghettos  run by hoods  represent the reality of life in East and West Belfast? That society is atomised and still  defenceless before the gun and the club?  And that is all that politics can be about for them and everyone else?

I’d like to think not. And that’s why we need to move ahead  from thinking narrowly  about “peace”  mainly in terms of  the close monitoring of deals  struck between political faction leaders,  to what it’s  really is about, the normality that everyone has a  stake in by right. This requires first, a far wider broadening of the approach than we have experienced so far and secondly frank political engagement beyond gestures and the swapping of slogans.

This is no comfortable approach. It means no longer leaving peace  to the tiny elites to define and run. It means for instance, facing up to the tally of 39 IRA murders listed in the Irish Independent and drawn to my attention by Jeff Dudgeon.  Likewise on the loyalist side.

Why are these being raised only now?  Or if you prefer, why not now? Is it not clear that the “ husks” of the IRA have become a liability to Sinn Fein and  that their arguments that the political side have kept them in check is blown? Or is it  claimed  that the old warriors are the very ones who are keeping the dissidents within bounds?  These are basic questions  that would be prompted by a tally of incidents and attributions of responsibility. They  require convincing answers. They are the essential stuff of political accountability.  But take away the Assembly and you no longer have the scrutiny and accountability. Sinn Fein and everyone else would be off the hook.

This is a powerful reason for following Jeffrey Donaldson’s logic. For another, I agree with Professor Richard English the historian of the IRA, quoted in the Financial Times:

The alternative to involvement in Stormont is less appealing to parties which have become used to exercising power in a largely peaceful Northern Ireland. That is why the flawed power-sharing arrangements will endure, albeit shakily..

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  • chrisjones2

    That …….and money …………….is why the flawed power-sharing arrangements will endure, albeit shakily.

    Perhaps we should offer them all another £20k each from next year to lubricate them working together?

  • Steve Larson

    The PSNI have stated that PIRA are not engaged in any paramilitary activity. I don’t see this as having much of an effect on SF either way.

    The murder was not a PIRA act so why would SF say it was. The PSNI do not think it was sanctioned.

    So I have no idea why Jeffrey thinks that SF would pretend that it was.

  • chrisjones2

    …were any of the other 38 murders?

    Where did the guns come from?

    Who carried out the investigation?

    Who ordered it?


    The bottom line is simple. The agreement is a 2 way street Unionists keep being told that Nationalist views must be considered and that SF have a mandate. Fair enough. So must the views of the Unionists. They have a mandate too.

    And at the moment they no longer feel they can trust SF

    Is that clear?

  • Steve Larson

    All of those killings are from 15-20 years ago, many of them were dissident or non-political, nothing to do with PIRA in any way.

    Some probably were though, as for were the guns came from, they were all years before decommissioning.

    Unionists are choosing to make this something to collapse the executive over. The world of the PSNI is not something they seem to trust either.

    I personally do not have a problem with Unionism walking away from the Executive, as it will damage them long term.

  • paul david

    How many times have unionists threatened to collapse the assembly. The bigots who cried wolf. Like before you’ll have your little tantrum and the dummy will be put back in.
    As for the questions you asked please get back to me with everything there is to know about Ulster Resistance and the DUP and why so many state murderers have never been prosecuted.

  • paul david

    He wants you to dance through hoops with what the IRA did as a distraction while turning a blind eye to unionist and state murder. Don’t play their little game of our suffering is worse than your suffering guilt trip.

  • Steve Larson

    They don’t care either way. If it was the SDLP as the 2nd party they would still be looking for a way out.

    There is a culture in Unionism that of distancing from but still regarding Loyalist paramilitaries.

    Political Unionism, the Security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries were all part of the one wider movement and they worked together and were often one and the same. Unionism has a problem in admitting that, there was one person here saying that Unionism was about protecting the rule of law.

    How blind do people make themselves.

  • murdockp

    working class areas, if only they were….

  • chrisjones2

    The bottom line is simple. The agreement is a 2 way street Unionists keep being told that Nationalist views must be considered and that SF have a mandate. Fair enough. So must the views of the Unionists. They have a mandate too.

    And at the moment they no longer feel they can trust SF

    Is that clear?

    Politics for slow learners

  • chrisjones2

    The bottom line is simple. The agreement is a 2 way street Unionists keep being told that Nationalist views must be considered and that SF have a mandate. Fair enough. So must the views of the Unionists. They have a mandate too.

    And at the moment they no longer feel they can trust SF

    Is that clear?

  • Granni Trixie

    I think there is merit in JD analysis were it not for allegations of corruption involving DUPers which,if proven, show that it is not just SF who have to own up and change. Yes, murder is the worst of crimes but so are (alleged) crooked business deals.

    I’m all for using this “crisis” – backs against the wall time – to really make a new start. With all out in the open and the change that an election next year will bring,perhaps trust will emerge.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    not conciliatory words though – where does anyone go with that?Shouldn’t we be trying to find ways of working together? And accept that both sides basically want this to work?
    Let’s accept no one is perfect but hold each other to the basic rules of engagement. If we think escapades like Ulster Resistance are wrong, great. We should harness our rejection of bigotry and violence and demand our politicians have no connection with either. It’s not an argument for doing nothing about it or sweeping continued paramilitarism under the carpet. If applied equally to both unionism and nationalism, we can agree on that, surely?

  • paul david

    It was a response to the never ending whatabout the ira.
    We can work together on many things. Number one priority should be dealing with the root cause of the conflict, partiton and British rule, its never worked and never will work. The Irish will never accept being a pawn of England anymore than the Engish would accept the partiton of England.
    Everything else in between is ignoring the elephent in the room.

    You cant claim to reject violence and be all lovey dovey when you uphold the very thing that was created and still maintained by the greater threat of violence.
    Once partiton goes unionists will no longer have anything to hold onto the very thing that divides us more than anything will be gone.
    Why can unionists not accept through a fault of history we are where we are today and get along with your fellow islanders and leave the nasty stuff of the past behind us.

  • paul david

    And who is saying anything different? The IRA have put the weapons away and stopped its military actions. Only a fool would think every ex IRA member would never in future do anything contray to the GFA or is accountable to Martin McGuinness until the day they die. I dont think Sinn Fein can make it any clearer they are committed to peace 100%.
    Why spit the dummy out over something Sinn Fein have no control over?

  • Redstar2014

    So I take it you agree that Unionist parties should be held responsible for any murders carried out by Unionist paramilitaries or is it the old chestnut ” its really nothing to do with us”

  • Redstar2014

    And – I hate to break it to you- but after 50 years of misrule and countless years thereafter of overt/ tacit support for unionist murder gangs our community do not / should not trust unionists

  • murdockp

    I think direct rule for a few years will be good as things will actually get done. the nothing ever happens culture is ruining NI.

  • murdockp

    yes both sides have a mandate, but only by 30% of the population .

    hardly an overwelming mandate

  • Catcher in the Rye


    Stop pasting in the same argument which doesn’t address the problem.

    I find it hard to take unionist claims seriously that they no longer trust SF. I did not know unionists ever trusted SF. I certainly never did, and I’m not a unionist. That is why we have all of these accountability structures, and why SF were required to oversee decommissioning and endorse the police and the courts. Because trust, by itself, was never going to be enough.

    So this introduction of trust, as an undefinable ideal that can never be completely proven to exist, is nothing more than the introduction of a new set of goalposts.

    First the unionists said to republicans, you must have a mandate. republicans acquired a mandate. Then they said, you have to call off your campaign. Fine, they said, and (eventually) called off their campaign. Then the unionists said, well, that’s not enough, now you must completely disarm. Eventually the IRA disarmed. Now this superfluous concept of trust is being introduced. SF and the IRA can never hope, ever, to win the trust of unionists. How could they ?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “That society is atomised and still defenceless before the gun and the club ? And that is all that politics can be about for them and everyone else ?” The sad realitity of the demonisation of people for political gain by the explotiers !

  • WindsorRocker

    There are a group of people out there whom the police believe were involved in the murder of McGuigan. Their membership of PIRA seems to be enough of a factor for the police to include that in their assessment as opposed to simply stating the involvement of individuals as they normally do in their bland statements. I don’t think anyone seriously believes PIRA is active in the sense that it is using violence to force political change, they recognise that failed. The issue of the here and now is that individuals deemed to be members of PIRA are clearly involved in gangland vigilantism in this case specifically. That is the recognition that is needed from SF. McGuinness has called the killers of McGuigan criminals, it would do wonders if he recognised that those killers are linked to PIRA and that any of the activities they engage in are wrong whether that be the actual killing or indeed any other activites in the lead up to the murder that should have been the responsibility of the police acting on information supplied. I think people should be thankful that some unionists are at least trying to address this in a different way instead of walking from the Executive as others have done.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could we just ‘outsource’ the running of the place to Switzerland or somewhere?

    Give them the subvention and tell them they can keep the change.

    the Swiss have dealt with the issues of religion and multiple languages, maybe they could sort out the transport network too….

  • Kevin Breslin

    The thing as SF are under no pressure to rat out the PIRA on the basis of a police statement, no matter how high up it comes from.

    The most senior police officer in the region has next to no judicial authority in comparison to the region’s lowliest judge.