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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
One More For The Road … And Another. Come Back Tony & Bertie, The Crack’s 90
A free people cannot make an informed decision if they are kept in the dark – Michael Moore
Anthony McIntyre • 24.10.03

Observing the events of this week, as our political class continue to finger point and wallow in affected self-pity trying to persuade the rest of us that their virtue was in some way defiled, it is tempting to cast the mind back to that occasion some years ago when Bill Clinton referred to the bar room boozers who each time they reached an agreement to leave the pub fell back in through its doors again. They simply could not bring themselves to do the business, knowing that no matter how empty their pockets were, or how boring their drunken discourse sounded to all around them, somebody would buy them a drink just to keep them quiet for a while. How many times since Clinton upset the pseudo sensibilities of those who seek to rule us has this dreary debacle been re-enacted? And they don't even grace us with different actors. It is symptomatic of the staleness of our political culture that we have the same old faces, some of them for decades, muttering the usual profanities and inanities. Collectively, did we all do something in a previous life for which we are now condemned to a Northern Irish Hades where Sisyphus-like we push the political class towards accommodation only to have it reach the top and then roll back down on top of us just to start the uphill process all over again?

In any event, the people who are asked to vote by the once every four or five years men - the only occasion we see them in our deprived estates - are left to hold their noses and approach the political dunghill to enquire of it what went wrong. Many will wearily resign themselves to concluding that the dance of deceit has been performed one more time. For some Trimble got his guns and then screwed Adams. For others Adams got his election and then shafted Trimble. But is it all as simple as the either/or perspective would have it?

If those supporters of Trimble within the unionist community to whom I have spoken are right, Adams certainly did not shaft Trimble. When asked 'did Sinn Fein behave dishonourably?' the answer was a concise 'no'. In addition a unionist source told the Guardian that Trimble and his negotiating team felt that for the first time republicans were ‘playing straight’ with them. According to this view, Trimble clearly wants to do the deal and is wholly committed to the notion of a devolved government which is as inclusive as possible. His choices were, faced with an election he could either fight it having secured a deal which the unionist electorate would be satisfied with or alternatively, if the deal wasn't good enough, he could resort to the fallback mode of pocketing the gains such as an improved verbal commitment from republicans that would narrow the gap between the cold war position of today and the no war position demanded by unionism. Coupled with a significant act of IRA decommissioning, he could then claim to the unionist electorate that he had compelled republicans to admit that the end goal of republicanism in any structural sense was an internal solution; after that republicans could aspire to and work for a united Ireland on the same terms that Fianna Fail, the Workers Party and the SDLP had done in the past - exclusively peacefully and within the parameters of the consent principle. Clearly, in this view, the leap of faith Trimble made - because he got nothing from republicans on paper - did not make for a soft landing so he aborted short of impact and now lives to fight another day. Logical - except for one point. It fails to explain why a beleaguered Trimble was facing an election to begin with which compelled him to take decisions to either deal or cut and run. The only reason the British had postponed the election from the outset was to secure a deal which would add wind to Trimble's sails when the time came for him to navigate his course through choppy electoral waters.

So did Trimble screw Adams? In electoral terms, the UUP leader would have been a fool to accept the Sinn Fein offer. But he seems not to have made this entirely clear to Sinn Fein, the corollary of which was an inflation of both media and public expectation. Despite maintaining that republicans were well aware of the 'transparency and clarity' needed by unionists, at the end of the Sinn Fein-UUP negotiations he appears to have left with penumbra rather than precision in relation to the matter of transparency. By their own admission senior UUP figures failed to 'nail down' this issue as firmly as might have been expected. Arguably, Trimble had firmer assurances from Sinn Fein on actual IRA decommissioning in November 1999 when he decided to jump first and Adams never jumped at all which caused the collapse of the then executive. Most likely, this time, he calculated that Sinn Fein needed the institutions more than the unionists did and would not therefore send the UUP into an election with a poor hand. This logic was captured by Martina Purdy: ‘given that republicans regard themselves as the mother of the peace process, and that they love the agreement more, it is republicans who are more likely to make the sacrifice and save it.’ But as Roy Garland concluded, the outcome for unionists was that ‘we could not see it, estimate it, itemise it and the internal and external enemies of Ulster Unionists had a field day exploiting Trimble's anguish.’

Strategically, Sinn Fein while not setting out to screw Trimble ended up with an outcome that made little difference. If the party lusts for institutional power as strongly as some of us suspect, then, by denying transparency, why did it hole below the waterline the one vessel that alone seems capable of bringing Sinn Fein into Port Stormont? As Martina Purdy succinctly put it. ‘does it do the Republican Movement any good being right, if they lose the prize to the DUP?’ Possibly the party felt, given the hobbling of both Donaldson and Empey at the last UUC conference, that Trimble had foreclosed any short term leadership challenge and had subsequently created more space in which to manoeuvre. If so Sinn Fein were hardly alone in reading it this way.

Trimble's real negotiating strength lies not in his personal character but in his structural weakness as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Conversely, the unchallenged hegemony of Gerry Adams within the republican constituency has always meant that republicans were considered to have much more freedom to compromise on central tenets. And such compromising has characterised the Sinn Fein game plan to negotiations for years. The posse of 'sell-out' seekers snapping at the rump of Adams were more like pesky flies than the pack of wolves that have persistently bared their fangs at Trimble. With Trimble's opponents in a temporary but certain state of disarray, the British and Irish governments, not to mention the UUP leader himself, may all have calculated that more risks could be taken. Why otherwise would Blair and Ahern risk another punch hole in their already well-franked season tickets just to come back for one more scoreless draw which would inevitably be followed by a further replay? In such circumstances it would be tempting for Sinn Fein to feel that the Adams announcement backed up by an IRA statement claiming that the Sinn Fein president accurately reflected the military body's position followed by an act of decommissioning, was close enough to Trimble's needs to allow him to make up the difference to his constituency through the powers of persuasion.

If neither the Sinn Fein nor UUP leaderships set out to trump each other and the difference between the two sides is as David McKittrick contends ‘presentational rather than a problem of substance’ and as Brian Feeney states ‘no point of political principle remains to be dealt with’, did the British then bounce Trimble into the failed deal as some unionists claim? If so it can only be because they, more so than the unionists, were happy to pocket IRA guns without transparency regardless of the consequences for the resumption of devolution. They more than anyone else have gained from the peace process, having obtained an end to the IRA campaign - the one consistent objective of British state strategy since 1970. The Good Friday Agreement is secondary to such an objective, being a mere docking bay in which the British can anchor their victory over the IRA.

Ultimately, the one certainty to emerge from this week's debacle is that the ambiguity and fudge that has characterised the peace process from the outset, has yet again been the cause of suspicion and institutional malfunctioning. Rather than being the lubricant that has made the wheels go round it has become the grit that derails them every time. Meanwhile, the rest of us are meant to sit and watch but ask no questions while our collective future is left in the hands of people so absorbed in themselves that they are oblivious to Ken Livingstone’s insight into the public view of politicians that 'there is such a general presumption that we are all crooks that the public is prepared to believe the worst about any of us'.

Now why would anyone over here think that, Ken?




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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

24 October 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Lies, The Lying Liars Who Tell Them and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Tom Luby


One More for the Road...And Another. Come Back Tony & Bertie, the Crack's 90

Anthony McIntyre


On the One Road
Mick Hall


Conduct Unbecoming
Kathleen O Halloran


A Political Nightmare
Eamon Sweeney


Ireland: Repression, Violence, Segregation - The Realities of the Sectarian State
Paul Mallon


When the Drugs Don't Work
Sean Fleming


Last Week, It Happened Again. In Bolivia.
Michael Youlton


20 October 2003


The Big Fella and the Big Lad
Breandán Ó Muirthile


Sabotaging the Fight for Freedom
Liam O Comain


Republicanism: Relevant and Not Going Away
TJ O Conchuir


Anti-Racism Network Statement for Endorsement
Davy Carlin


From Where Springs Hope
Anthony McIntyre


Trashing Free Software
Toni Solo




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