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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Beware the Trap Door
Eamon Sweeney • 25 September 2003

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy recently asserted that the establishment of a new monitoring body for the Belfast Agreement and the status of paramilitary ceasefires will be the key factor in the revival of the devolved institutions at Stormont. As speculation once more intensifies about a breakthrough in the current impasse, a round of tentative discussions between the British and Irish governments and the major political protagonists is apparently gathering low-key, yet significant momentum.

Since the latest unconvincing victory by David Trimble at the last UUC meeting and the supposed banishment of the distinctly unholy trinity of Burnside, Smyth and Donaldson we have seen the greatest amount of speculation about the restoration of the assembly since it’s suspension almost exactly a year ago.

If we are to take for granted that Trimble’s latest survival, as it was really no more than that, is the catalyst for the rebirth of a rigidly re-configured, unified UUP then the path will probably cleared for some roughly cobbled rehash of previous attempts to live out a devolved parliament. The solidification of this latest attempt we are told will be the new monitoring body, as it will, according to Paul Murphy be the confidence builder that is required to restore trust between the political parties.

It is of great significance that the legislation for the Northern Ireland Monitoring Commission Bill has already passed committee stage in the Lords by 129 to 117 votes and is up for it’s final debate and therefore its likely ratification in the commons within the next few days.

Despite the fact that no one has actually been told how the clauses of this bill will actually be enacted, on what grounds they will be enacted, and that the bill has been constituted and legislated for completely outside the remit of the 1998 agreement, it has not dampened the relish with which David Trimble and Gerry Adams have once more engaged in face to face meetings. This is as much official contact that they have at least admitted to in the last twelve months.

So what has changed in the last few weeks that had not been there in the past twelve months?

There is an automatic assumption that the people of Northern Ireland are “missing” devolution and want its return as soon as is humanly possible. Its absence has certainly damaged the north in economic terms as the trust felt by investors prior to its demise has rapidly evaporated taking with it many jobs that may have been otherwise secured. The knock on ill effects to education, housing and health have also been strongly exacerbated in the absence of the assembly.

A greater fear is held by all those involved, especially the political parties that the swelling apathy of the population at large towards the missing assembly has been too easily turned back towards the acceptance of the return to direct rule.

The chance of loosing a new crop of first time voters would prove anathema for to all the major political parties involved. Also the acceptance by these parties that since Mr. Blair’s and Britain’s bloody sojourn to Iraq has somewhat subsided and pending a moratorium on the Dr. Kelly debacle, the Prime Minister has new time and energy to devote to the “solving” of the most irritating thorn in his side, that is us.

I strongly suspect that any cogent or successful progress made here in the past few months as a direct result of work between Sinn Fein and the UUP would have been heralded with the loudest of fanfares by both parties. Instead, after almost of year of seemingly intractable differences, both parties have at the drop of a hat announced, albeit fairly quietly, that they are ready to try again.

The previously undisclosed introduction of the nascent monitoring body was greeted fairly calmly by Sinn Fein. Regarded By Gerry Adams as an unconstitutional prerequisite to UUP re-entry the assembly, little more than this was said. We can take this as a signal that Sinn Fein and UUP inter-dependence on the Westminster parliament for guidance on the way ahead has taken the place of the howls of derision that a bill such as this would have been previously greeted with, especially from republicans. Tony and to a lesser extent, Bertie have spoken, it’s now time to get the show on the road again.

Common sense tells us that the introduction of this new bill was a definite forerunner to the re-establishment of the assembly, otherwise it would have not been manufactured at all. Common sense should also tell us that it’s manufacture is a highly sensitive spring loaded trap door set against the republican representatives at Stormont. For example, since a major remit of the new body will be a ceasefire watchdog, will the body be used to further demonize Sinn Fein and the PIRA in the event of another highly likely implosion within the UUP?

Any re-establishment of the assembly is already highly dependent on a significant contribution from the IRA. Understandably figures such as Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness are highly reluctant to discuss what this may mean in real terms until they see exactly what is on offer in the wider political arena.

Despite his electorally slender and personally precarious hold on the UUP David Trimble is unlikely to sit back down in the debating chamber minus full decommissioning or at least a declaration by the PIRA that the war is at an end, or that military struggle is to be replaced by political struggle. In turn this will be completely dependent on the result of an IRA general army convention, which may not be totally prepared to fulfill the UUP wish list, and this will only happen when the agreement is fully implemented.

There at last appears to be a recognition of sorts by the UUP that the PIRA is not going to vanish overnight. Many commentators have already expended many column inches trying to convince Trimble and his ilk that the disbandment of the Provo’s may not be within the gift of senior Sinn Fein figures or indeed the Army Council of that organisation. Indeed it would appear that it may actually suit Trimble to travel this path with Adams and company, because there is simply no way that the PIRA will let any disbandment be construed as surrender whilst at the same time a forcible expression of disbandment from the political section of that movement may engender another costly and dangerous split within the ranks of the PIRA.

This means that Sinn Fein are not only already potentially hovering on the edge of the monitoring bill’s trap door but are also unfortunately the only real potential victims of this legislative booby trap. We can only hope that the trap has not already been sprung.

It is also extremely indicative of the general perception that another failure of this assembly will sound the death knell of the agreement itself. In the event of that happening the blame must be laid somewhere. Hence the new monitoring body and the potential abuse of civil rights. It is at the very least strange that there was no trouble drafting and no popular consultation on this legislation, but the last five years has failed to produce the much mooted human rights bill, which actually was part of the agreement to begin with.




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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.
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Index: Current Articles

26 September 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Over the Hills and Far Away
Anthony McIntyre


Glory O Glory O
Kathleen O Halloran


Beware the Trap Door
Eamon Sweeney


Massacre at the Monbar
Anthony McIntyre


The Night de Valera Replied to Churchill
Mick Hall


Junk Science? The Courts, the Media and the MMR Vaccine
John Harrington


Conscience or Complicity
Mary La Rosa


23 September 2003


Dissident Republicanism
Davy Carlin


Revenge or...
Pedram Moallemian


Chequers Nights
Eamon Sweeney


An Open Letter to Michael Moore: You Are Way Off Base About Wesley Clark
Terry Lodge


Remembering the other 9/11
Anthony McIntyre


The Letters Page has been updated.




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