The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Can't Deal, Won't Deal

A good way to end a London dinner party at which guests are outstaying their welcome is to offer an explanation of why the Northern Ireland Assembly remains suspended. Not even a platter of Ferrero Rocher will prevent a sudden outbreak of yawn-stifling and watch-checking. Before you can even say "parity of esteem" there is an orderly queue to phone for taxis - Michael Parsons

Anthony McIntyre Parliamentary Brief, Autumn 2004

The moat around Leeds Castle contained the water to which the obstinate horse of Northern Irish politics was brought. And stubbornly true to form, it could be made to drink by none. Are we all that surprised? Dare any in our midst conjure up the chutzpah to feign disappointment? Like the action replay in a soccer game, the outcome is always the same, no matter how many angles it is viewed from.

Observers of the peace process, those who have by now acquired a highly developed sense of stoicism and are still able to observe it, must be tempted to view it as HL Mencken once did a Theodore Dreiser novel: ‘the thing rambles, staggers, trips, heaves, pitches, struggles, totters, wavers, halts, turns aside, trembles on the edge of collapse.’ Yet it retains its inexhaustible capacity to try the patience of world leaders, has been the alpha and omega of heads of governments - there when they assumed office, still there, implacable and insatiable, when they left. It has, as the journalist Ed Moloney pointed out, lasted twice as long as World War Two.

And yet it continues to be pampered. Lies and nonsense are called creative fudge or constructive ambiguity. Public money that could otherwise go to health services and social amenities is thrown at politicians and the plethora of salaried bureaucracies/community groups in which they bury themselves. Prime political time is devoted to the peace process in outsize quantities. It is said that Tony Blair has visited the North of Ireland thirty three times as Prime Minister. Has he been in his own constituency as often? Iraq certainly has not seen as much of him.

It is symptomatic of the staleness that plagues Northern Irish political life that the political class has now produced as its main negotiators two men who have led their parties for almost sixty years between them. Had Leeds Castle not been cleared of its unpleasant guests in time to allow for a real wedding to take place, leaving the DUP and Sinn Fein to enter wedlock, Frankenstein and his bride would have lurched out and headed back to the bridal suite at Castle Stormont to consummate the most unlikely of unions.

The opportunity was there. Yet, nothing was resolved, nor is it likely to be for some time. Why? It’s the process stupid. Peace processing is the defining characteristic of Northern Irish politics. It’s a winning formula for the politicians – why would they change it? Why else would the eyes of the international community ever sweep their way? Were it not for peace processing, their limited talents would only guarantee them an appearance on the White House lawn as grounds men.

A more benign ear might listen to their excuses. From the point of view of the leading unionist party, the DUP, the major obstacle in the way to a resolution is the lack of certainty on offer from Sinn Fein about the future of the IRA. Gregory Campbell, MP for Londonderry East spelt it out: ‘the problem is we were given all sorts of clichés and all sorts of assurances, other people have been down that route before and we are not prepared to go down that route.’ It is a fair point which has been substantially rewarded at the polls.

For Sinn Fein, the problem is unwillingness by the DUP to share power and a hankering for a return to unionist majority rule. Party leader Gerry Adams, claimed, 'the IRA is not the problem. It's an unwillingness of elements of political unionism to embrace a process of change.' It is an allegation that meets less intellectual resistance than when hurled at Trimble’s UUP. Armed with such logic Sinn Fein too have performed remarkably well at the ballot box.

In seeking to bridge the gap there is no effective sanction the British government can employ against the parties if they continue to fail to find agreement, and which would would have the effect of forcing them into agreement mode. But all options need not be punitive. After Leeds Tony Blair claimed ‘we can resolve the issue of paramilitary activity and an end to all violence.’ The Dublin Justice Minister Michael McDowell added that the IRA was no longer engaged in financial improprieties in the Republic. If, as is implicit in their words, the IRA’s existence is the only illegality it is involved in why then do the two governments not legalise the body and allow it to function as a veterans’ association? The disbandment issue would immediately drop from the agenda. The DUP would then either be deprived of the argument for not going into government based on Sinn Fein’s links to an illegal body, or alternatively be provided with the excuse it may need for going in.

Are the governments up to seizing the initiative? If they are honest about the IRA effectively leaving the stage they can hardly lose by narrowing down the obstructive options available to the North’s two main political forces. If, as is more likely, they continue to value ambiguity over clarity, they will not move to legalise the IRA for fear of facing considerable embarrassment down the line if the 'legal, peaceful and disarmed' group is found once again to be using illegal armed force. That leaves London and Dublin staring at the paradoxical option of having to bluff, bounce and blindside the unionists into an agreement on the terms the DUP won the leadership within unionism for having rejected.





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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

9 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Death of George Harrison
Ruairi O Bradaigh, National Irish Freedom Committee and Brian Mór

Can't Deal, Won't Deal
Anthony McIntyre

Update - Youth Suicide Prevention Project
J. Terry Ryan

Father Mc Manus on Ron Lauder, David Trimble, the Orange Order, and Catholic anti-Semitism
Father Sean Mc Manus

Say it in Breac'n English (Part Four)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Some Inconvenient Facts
Patrick Hurley

Marx, Engels and Lenin on the Irish Question
Liam O Ruairc

The Gates of Hell
Elana Golden

After the Venezuela Referendum
Toni Solo

One for the Road
Brian Mór

5 October 2004

Marty O'Hagan Three Years On
Anthony McIntyre

Say it in Breac'n English (Part Three)
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Shankill Education
Mick Hall

Where Are We After Fours Years of Intifada?
Haithem El-Zabri

The Letters page has been updated.



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