The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Drawing a Line Under the Past



David Adams • Irish Times, 17 March 2006

Ordinarily, you would be hard put to make any connection between the British ambassador to Ireland, Stewart Eldon, and reputed IRA leader Thomas "Slab" Murphy.

However, in recent days both of these men - though, admittedly, one with considerably less enthusiasm than the other - have helped to demonstrate just how close a relationship the Irish and British governments now enjoy.

Of itself, there is nothing extraordinary in Mr Eldon deciding to accept an invitation from the Irish Government to attend the Easter Rising commemorations in Dublin. After all, once invited, he could hardly refuse to attend. The real significance lies in the fact that the Government asked him in the first place. To invite the official representative of the former colonial power in your country to join in commemorating an event which led directly to the achieving of independence is the diplomatic equivalent of formally drawing a line under the past.

Of course, the relationship between Dublin and London has been improving for years. Yet, for all of that, considering the previously strained and sometimes bloody nature of British/Irish relations and the historical significance of what is being commemorated, such a public display of rapprochement is still an important and welcome gesture.

Of no less import will be the impact it has on ongoing efforts by the Irish Government to reclaim republicanism from those who debased it for years. When President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the British ambassador at a 1916 commemoration event, they will project an image totally in keeping with how the vast majority of the Irish people now view themselves, their country and their nearest neighbour. They will be seen as wholly representative of a mature, self-confident and forward-looking state: a modern Republic of Ireland that no longer measures itself against the former colonial power nor forever wraps itself in a comfort blanket of past grievances.

If Mr Eldon's invitation to the Easter Rising commemorations gives diplomatic expression to the ever-improving relationship between Britain and Ireland, then evidence of a more concrete kind was provided by the recent raid on Thomas "Slab" Murphy's property on the Louth/Armagh border. In total, a combined force of about 400 members of the Garda, the PSNI, the Irish and British armies, the Criminal Assets Bureau and Customs and Excise took part in the raid on Mr Murphy's farm.

To state that an overt operation on that scale - involving so many different security and criminal investigation agencies from both jurisdictions - has never before been mounted is something of an understatement.

The area in which Mr Murphy lives has long been seen as virtually immune from law enforcement of any kind and he, above all other local inhabitants, was considered untouchable. By co-operating together and to such a degree, security and law enforcement officers from both sides of the Border have signalled that no-go areas will no longer be tolerated in any part of the island. As PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde put it recently: "Crime recognises no borders, so criminal investigations cannot afford to either."

Although it remains to be seen whether Mr Murphy will face criminal charges, the targeting of such a high-profile individual will, at the very least, have destroyed the notion that any individual can continue to operate without legal constraints.

Predictably, unionist politicians have reacted angrily to Mr Eldon attending the 1916 commemorations. "It is bizarre that the British ambassador should be invited to these celebrations in the first place," Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson is reported as saying. "After all, this is about celebrating the deaths of British soldiers, British policemen in the old Royal Irish Constabulary and innocent civilians. The Easter Rising was an act of terrorism directed against the British state, and that a representative of that state should in any way be involved in an event glorifying such actions is most unwelcome."

Equally predictably, if less vehemently, and no doubt with one eye on possible future developments, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams complained of the raid on Thomas Murphy's property.

Mr Adams said: ". . . I want to deal with what is an effort to portray Tom Murphy as a criminal, as a bandit, as a gang boss, as someone who is exploiting the republican struggle for his own ends, as a multimillionaire. There is no evidence to support any of that."

By their words, Mr Donaldson and Mr Adams prove the very point that the two governments are determined to make. The political parties within Northern Ireland may be capable of thwarting one element of the Belfast Agreement, but they will not be allowed to dictate the pace of normalisation on all other fronts. Of primary importance in that process of normalisation is the building of a friendly, co-operative and mutually respectful relationship between two neighbouring sovereign states.



Reprinted with permission from the author






















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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