The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Anthony McIntyre • 26 November 2004

How long have they been at it now - five, ten or twenty years? If by some chance the sun sets in the East and a deal emerges from the current round of endless negotiations, it shall result from a range of constraints rather than any genuine willingness to bring the peace process to a conclusion. Only the chancers inhabiting our political class, and we incurable fools or aficionados - take your pick - who write about them have any real interest in the thing. The public is largely indifferent. Its attitude seems to be one of better to have the Brits govern us; who at least will spend the money that is in the public purse rather than hoard a million a day to be returned to the British chancellor at the end of the financial year.

It is a while since Seamus Mallon let quip that the Good Friday Agreement was Sunningdale for slow learners. But like the old adage that if you lie down with a dog you will rise with fleas, slow learning has proved pretty infectious and can easily pull others into the 'slow classroom'. Surely by now it should have dawned on the London and Dublin governments that the political class they see squabbling when they wake up in the morning and still squabbling when they retire to bed at night has little need of the political institutions allowed for under the aegis of the Good Friday Agreement. It already has its institutions courtesy of the peace process. The summits, meetings, bilaterals, one to ones, trips to the White House, visits by Presidents, Prime Ministers and Taoisaigh, elections, even when they don't happen, the odd crisis thrown in for good measure - no political stew can be kept on the simmer without the spice of intrigue - all of this constitutes the political institutions for Northern Ireland's political class.

Governmental underpinning of the peace process means that the point of institutional abeyance is never reached. Even without the Assembly there is no shortage of political horse-trading. Each side is able to wring a lot more out of government through summitry that they would ever manage plodding the local political trek at Stormont. Look at a country like Macedonia, infinitely poorer, plagued by the same type of venal politicians - they seem to manage without being pampered. Poor street kids have always managed to solve their problems and differences in the local park. It was the rich pampered brats that lifted their ball and shouted 'mammy' each time things didn't go their way. And because mammy would always be there, mammy's boy would spoil the game for everybody else and huff off with his ball.

No matter how often the Labour of Sisyphus is told, the story has never concluded with anything other than the stone falling back of its own weight. For indulging this place why should London and Dublin escape, to paraphrase Camus, their 'dreadful punishment ... (of) ... futile and hopeless labour'? Governments, at times, deserve the people they get.

The peace process has been very lucrative for those involved in terms of political dividends, name and face recognition, property ownership and bank balances. As has often been said, when do fat cats vote for something other than more fat? Kill the golden goose? No chance. Left to their own devices the peace process and its attendant summitry would totter on ad infinitum. And if a point has at last been reached where the bluffers can no longer bluff it out, then it is because circumstances have gone beyond even their expert control.

It has always been known that at some point the gravitational pull of the centre ground of the Good Friday Agreement would prove too strong to be resisted by what existed on the extremes. It was never known when that point would be reached. Now as Sinn Fein and the DUP stare at each other across the negotiating table, using actors’ voices provided by government staff to maintain the fiction that they are not really negotiating, there has been a groundswell of optimism that at last the story of Sisyphus will be rewritten.

Yet we have been at this point so many times before. Bill Clinton’s boozers jibe of many years ago has lost none of its currency. No matter how many agreements are made to leave the bar, our political drunks never manage to make it through the swinging doors for any length of time.

Is it really so different this time? Are we not just watching a more finely tuned preparation for the blame game, which might just, in spite of itself and the intentions of the players, compel them to stumble into an arrangement that neither really wanted but feared the cost of being out-flanked by the opposition more?

What has yet to be explained is just what are the external constraints that are going to force such a deal, that make the cost of failure to strike one not worth the risk. Did Sinn Fein shaft Trimble last October just to meet even more stringent terms for entry into government? Did the DUP shaft him as well so that Paisley or Robinson could walk in his dead man’s shoes?

Maybe it is time for cynics like myself to move on, seek out other interests, even comment on other matters. Our senses have been so dulled by endless processing that we can easily write commentary pieces to cover events before they happen, not having to change a word when they have come to pass. Opinion pieces on the outcome of September’s Leeds talks could easily have been written in July and post-dated.

When a deal is struck, as some year it will be, I fear we will have become too anesthetized to feel it.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

28 November 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Anthony McIntyre

The Cost of the Failure of Politicians is Immeasurable
Mick Hall

A Provisional Pushover
Tom Luby

Seeing What You Want to See
Eoin O Broin

Puritan Death Ethic: Ronan Bennett’s Havoc, in its third year
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Mairtin O Cadhain
Liam O Ruairc

Please Help Put A Smile On The Faces Of Palestine’s Poorest Children This Christmas
Margaret Quinn

23 November 2004

Dropping the Last Veil
Tommy Gorman

No Place for Silence
Anthony McIntyre

The Vacuum

The Unpopular Front: James T. Farrell then, Margaret Hassan now
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Reflection on an Election
Patrick Hurley

New Work on Perry Anderson
Liam O Ruairc

I, a Collaborator
Dorothy Naor

The Murder of Margaret Hassan
Ghali Hassan

The Orange Order and the KKK
Richard Wallace



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices