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"In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash"

We do need certainties. We do need clarities. We do need trust and confidence in the ability of people to work together with the two governments and to move forward in a peaceful environment and that is what we have been trying to achieve, particularly in this phase, which has been called the completion phase, over the last six months.- Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, 10 April 2003

Paul Fitzsimmons • April 13, 2003

Certainties and clarities are, of course, vital to any solid, workable, and enforceable deal. Especially against the backdrop of legal mechanisms capable of vindicating them, clear and certain undertakings are key foundations to much of socio-political life.

On the other hand, “trust and confidence” are elements which, in well-founded agreements, should in fact not be much required. Put differently - and using some of the rather few words of I’d ever quote from Ronald Reagan - wise antagonists should “trust but verify.” Thus, one ought perhaps not to trust at all in dealing with an opponent but should instead have trust and confidence, if at all, mainly in the recourse available when that opponent fails to live up to his end of a struck bargain.

Against this paradigm, Taoiseach Ahern’s above-quoted statement is troubling. In essence, he seems to be saying: “We need certainty and clarity that the war in Northern Ireland is over and Republican arms are all disposed of, and, in return, we’ll allow decommissioned Republicans to put their trust and confidence in the British and Irish governments to fulfill thereafter the promises of the Good Friday Agreement.” (Quite clearly and certainly, Mr. Ahern was not saying: “Our two governments will now provide Republicans with certainty and clarity that the GFA is actually implemented in full, and we’ll put our trust and confidence in Republicans’ then standing down and disarming.”)

Certainty and clarity on the IRA’s standing down and disarming are obviously entirely fair elements of any final deal, but what really is being offered in exchange therefor?

Even the Alliance Party’s current leader David Ford recognizes that what is being offered Republicans may indeed be illusory: “Any IRA ‘acts of completion’ and the Hillsborough plan cooked up to restore Stormont could be wasted, Alliance leader David Ford warned today.” Chris Thornton, “Alliance urge vote reform” (Belfast Telegraph, 9 March 2003). In fuller part, Mr. Ford explained to his Party conference on 8 March 2003 that, after another election, the GFA’s Assembly might not even be able to elect new a new First Minister:

It will be hugely destabilising if we have ‘Acts of Completion’, hold an election to get the institutions re-established, and then fail to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister. However, it appears that the Government can only concentrate on two problems at one time, and has left the voting system on the back burner. I am sure that we will return to it later this year, probably in an atmosphere of desperation.

With various systemic “what if” risks like this one so important and so unavoidable (see also, e.g., “The Fundamental Problem Of Non-Constitutional Law Vis-À-Vis The Northern Ireland Question” (The Blanket, Belfast: 9 March 2003) and “Republicans’ Big Risk” (The Blanket, Belfast: 17 March 2003)), Republicans’ putting their complete trust and confidence in the British and Irish governments to fulfill the promises of the Good Friday Agreement would reveal, charitably put, more hope than wisdom … or perhaps just plain desperation.

On the closely related topic of civil liberty in the United Kingdom, Simon Jenkins on 21 March 2003 wrote in The Times (London) - itself not exactly a hotbed of liberal thought - the following regarding the limited faith and trust that an Englishman should wisely place in his own government:

After an IRA attack in 1974, the supposedly liberal Roy Jenkins introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, pledging in public that it was a “strictly temporary measure”. It gave the police extensive discretion to spy on, intern and deport citizens without trial. It has never been repealed. It was just too useful. There is in Britain no supreme court to demand its demise.
The present Labour Government promised to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It did, cynically introducing one ten times as long and far more draconian. Under the cover of “9/11” the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, brought in his Anti-Terrorism Act, the most extensive restriction of civil liberties in Britain in peacetime. It included indefinite internment of “suspects”, expulsion of foreigners and the right of the Home Secretary to take any further measures “by decree” without oversight. Only the House of Lords, to its credit, demanded the dilution of his more extreme police-state proposals.
Who knows what Mr Blunkett may be scheming to slip through under cover of bombing this week. He is already seeking powers to tap mobile phones and e-mail messages and pass on such information to an array of state agencies. He is a shameless enemy of liberty. Protest such intrusion and you will be given the excuse of Tosca’s Scarpia and the East German Stasi: “The innocent have nothing to fear.”
The most trenchant critic of such control-freakery used to be a certain Patricia Hewitt, the author of The Abuse of Power and a civil liberties lobbyist. “Patricia Hewitt prosecutes the State,” cries a handout in my file. Ms Hewitt now sits happily in the Cabinet. There she enforces more severe infringements of civil liberty than she can have imagined possible when she wrote her book. That is ambition for you. Ms Hewitt is another Clare Short.
Such offences against personal freedom are bitterly fought in the United States, where courts and politicians regard the championing of liberty as a sacred duty, not an Opposition hobby. In Britain infringement seems immune to party and to argument. Labour and Conservative ministers alike fall in love with emergency powers.

History indeed already reveals that various “emergency powers” have been employed to keep the GFA just barely breathing over these past five years. If London deems additional “emergency powers” necessary in the future for the GFA’s continued survival, who could doubt that they too would be sanctified by Westminster? But who could say at this very moment, with any confidence and certainty, what those powers would be and what effect they would have? Today, one might trust in that regard only that those powers would expediently address whatever political exigency London felt it was facing in Northern Ireland. “In any conflict, the true victor is always the State” is the title of Mr. Jenkins’ above-referenced writing, and quite aptly so in light of the workings of the “British Constitution.”

Just days ago, a credit card company phoned me to inquire whether I was in fact the proud purchaser of a $5200 watch charged earlier that day to one of my credit cards; I truthfully replied that I was not, and, happily, I will pay not even one penny towards that transaction. Sadly, though, someone not true to his word is now holding an ill-gotten timepiece, and some conned merchant is ruefully holding only a worthless credit card slip.

If a GFA “deal” is now done satisfying London, Dublin, and the UUP, will any political group, I wonder, be left holding the bag?

Washington, D.C. lawyer Paul A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence for Northern Ireland: Why and How (1993) (

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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

14 April 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Maghaberry Update


"We Won The Peace, Now Let's Win The War"

PRO, POWs, Maghaberry


"In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash"

Paul Fitzsimmons


Killer Peaceniks
Henry McDonald


Hillsborough and the Anglo-American Agreement to Wage War
Anthony McIntyre


An English View of the 'Ra
Eamonn McCann


In the Swim with Two Boys
Seaghan O Murchu


A Better World Without Him

Anthony McIntyre


Arrogant Propaganda
Paul de Rooij


11 April 2003


Critique of the Anti War Movement

Liam O'Ruairc


A Diversion from the Task
Eoin O'Broin


Bush and Blair Summon the Irish Contras...
Anthony McIntyre


Not Firm Ground But Wet Sand: Prevaricating for Peace

Paul Fitzsimmons


Irish Leaders Miss Chance to Speak Out Against War
Eamon Lynch


London Update


Baghdad: First They Cheered and Then They...
Anthony McIntyre


America's Dual Mission

M. Shahid Alam


War: It Already Started
Paul de Rooij


Lacking Credibility
Bert Ward




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