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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Republicans’ Big Risk Redux: Walker Stumbles Too

Paul Fitzsimmons • 18 April 2003

In a St. Patrick’s Day writing titled “Republicans’ Big Risk,” I suggested that Gary Kent displayed in his recent article “No more Irish groundhogs” rather conventional British Constitutionalist thoughts and that he thereby inadvertently revealed - but without any evident appreciation of its broader implications - the source of the enormous problem facing militant Irish Republicanism. At its base, that problem is this: because any and all governmental rules can be changed at any time by any British government, it is literally impossible for Republicanism to “do a deal” politically - other than through unconditional surrender (a step which that group seems, apparently, not yet prepared to take) - which is guaranteed to stick. (See also, e.g., “The Fundamental Problem Of Non-Constitutional Law Vis-À-Vis The Northern Ireland Question,” The Blanket (9 March 2003).)

Thus, Republicans will literally have no recourse should the British government unilaterally choose to amend or repeal any aspect of British law involving the Good Friday Agreement unless, whether morally or immorally, Republicanism holds onto the unarguably undemocratic leverage of its own paramilitary weaponry.

For example, on the day after the “war” is declared over and all Republican weapons have been publicly handed over, London could decide that devolution is, in its fine judgment, an entirely poor idea after all and that it should instead fully integrate all of the United Kingdom into one central governmental authority (Westminster, of course). Or London might that day decide simply that a certain number of Northern Ireland Assembly members should be permitted to get together in order to eject other members from that body and/or from the Northern Ireland Executive. Or London might similarly decide - as Mr. Kent has suggested - that d’Hondt should go out the window and some form of “voluntary coalition” process be instituted. Or, on that fine day or on any day at all subsequent, London might decide to tweak, or change drastically, the GFA in any other way it might see fit.

Somewhat surprising is that mindsets in Britain and Ireland, north and south, are such that these concepts are not better and more broadly understood. An RTE radio interviewer, for example, recently asked incredulously, almost dumbfoundedly, why doesn’t the “Republican family” just wrap it all up and hand in the weapons?

Yet even pundits who will acknowledge knowing the answer to that basic question - as has Brian Walker, “Allow Sinn Fein to find own political level” (Belfast Telegraph, 17 April 2003) - can falter badly when taking on the next logical question of how to deal with that substantial problem.

To his credit, Mr. Walker has not only the intelligence to understand but also the forthrightness to admit aloud that Republicans do “certainly” have “[a] political case” for “messing up the happy scenario of Hillsborough.” Similar to the rationale described above, he wrote: “[Republicans’] consistent argument has always been: implement the whole Agreement and then we’ll see how the IRA respond; why should we change now?” Still further, and still more bravely, he wrote:

But a moral case? Perhaps, yes, even here. Today’s awkwardly timed publication of the latest Stevens report on collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries is a reminder of dark deeds republicans are not alone in never wanting to repeat.
We can hardly be surprised if the rank and file of an undefeated private “army” to want to see the final colour of the policing reforms first, before they dismantle their own machine. Nor is it wholly unreasonable for them to probe what’s behind the wholesale transfer of the British security apparatus from military intelligence and the beleaguered Special Branch to MI5, leaving it less accountable than ever it was under the RUC and the Army.

On how to address a big part of the overall problem, Mr. Walker recognized that the possibility of a “voluntary coalition [in the Executive] to replace the compulsory coalition of the Agreement is very beguiling” for many Unionists, but he posited that “right wing unionism’s notions of voluntary coalition smacks of excluding Sinn Fein forever and it will never happen.”

Then, after a pretty impressive start, Mr. Walker faded off into the same sort of muddleheaded thinking that seems to strike the minds of so many trained within British Constitutionalism: essentially, ‘if we perceive a problem, let’s just figure out which laws need to be changed or added.’ On this basis, perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the Good Friday Agreement - equal executive powersharing according to levels of support at the polls (“d’Hondt,” for short) - must now, in Mr. Walker’s view, be rejected and simply discarded:

The present d’Hont [sic] system, designed to create sufficient consensus led by party elites, produced sufficient deadlock instead. The review of the institutions in the autumn should consider the implications of abolishing the “unionist, nationalist, other” designations and substituting simple majorities set at high thresholds, to create carrots as well as sticks for compliance. This would give fair weight at last to the smaller parties and allow the rest of the Assembly to omit republicans from office until they have satisfied the necessary conditions, without bringing down the whole institution. It might also force a commitment on the Assembly system, one way or another, from the DUP.
… A voluntary coalition might well compel more integrity all round. The two Governments should get interested quickly, while making it clear that any voluntary coalition that sets out to exclude Sinn Fein automatically, is doomed to failure.

Like Mr. Kent earlier, Mr. Walker thus suggests that an offending albeit “enshrined” aspect of the GFA can and should be readily chucked (yes, I know, so that the “chucks” can get chucked), and these obviously marvelous institutions at Stormont might thereby be perpetuated. (Through his argument, Mr. Walker reminded me of my rather different October 2002 suggestion that the British and Irish governments should act to prevent “the already wrongful ‘There Is No Alternative’ dogma from metastasizing into ‘GFA über alles’ irrationality.”)

Mr. Walker added, though, a twist to Mr. Kent’s conventional wisdom: i.e., that these two governments, in rejiggering the GFA to allow “voluntary coalitions,” suddenly become proficient mind readers and heart readers so as to be able to discern which proposed executive coalitions at Stormont are planning to exclude Sinn Féin for permissible reasons and which are doing so for reasons impermissible.

Although people in Ireland and Britain have long been legitimately concerned with the distinct prospect of failing in unconventional political efforts - hence their basically understandable reluctance to venture into the terra incognito of possible negotiated independence (on which topic I’ve written from time to time) - nonetheless history demonstrates that those same people, over the last three decades, have raised the art of failure through conventional political means virtually to the level of science.

Their orthodox political views on Northern Ireland bring to mind the story of the group of physicians who collectively point to a graveyard filled with thousands of their erstwhile patients, boldly asserting it as proof of their vast expertise in conventional medical techniques.

Conventional wisdom is, though, quite often more conventional than it is wise.

If, as seems the case, Mr. Walker wants to offer the British and Irish governments insightful aid, maybe he needs first to take another few steps, perhaps large ones, away from the execrably unsuccessful political orthodoxy long attendant to the Northern Ireland question. By doing so, he may accurately conclude that British Constitutionalism is the source of the underlying problem rather than the means of that problem’s resolution.

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

19 April 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Rivers Change Their Course Sometimes but Always Reach the Sea

Anthony McIntyre


The Raytheon File: The Campaign against Raytheon in Derry
Liz Curtis


Republicans' Big Risk Redux: Walker Stumbles Too

Paul Fitzsimmons


A Tribute to Andy Barr
Joe Bowers


Rejecting Stereotypes
Liam O Ruairc


The Daily Uprising
Seaghan O Murchu


14 April 2003


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




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