Unionists shift the goalposts again

by Bobbie Heatley

JOSEPH GOEBBELS once said “if you are going to tell a lie, make sure it's a big one.” He might also have added make sure you have monopoly access to the mass news–media. This is precisely what Unionists right through from the British government to its lackeys in northern Ireland have been — and are — doing in relation to their fabricated ‘crises’ in the Good Friday agreement peace process.

They comprise a human snail at whose head is the British government, the body has been the Trimble pragmatists heretofore masquerading as moderates and the tail is Paisleyism. The first two parts were pressurised into accepting the GFA because that was the only way in which they could get agreement with Sinn Féin and the SDLP, the representatives of half the north’s population, and thereby stabilise an out–of–control situation.

But, alike their tail, they had not been enthusiasts for what they had been put–upon to sign. The DUP tail had detached itself but the capacity had remained for it to grow back on again. A snail is not an inappropriate analogy although, when it comes to pace, a snail would probably beat them by a short head in implementing its side of a bargain. And so the first two parts worked out a tactic which went like this — the tail dictated the speed at which the whole animal would move or stop still. This was presented as something the head had to accept in order to protect the delicate Trimbleite body. Smart, what !

We could now be witnessing a new trick with the tail, having rejoined, pushing the other parts back in a retrograde fashion. It has an excuse for this behaviour: The big lie that 'republicans', meaning Sinn Féin, are the sole reason why the gastropod mollusc is poised between stopping and, this time, mysteriously acquiring the potential to gallop speedily backwards.

But how come ‘republicans’, the IRA especially, are the sole cause of the animal’s eccentric and erratic behaviour ? And why, since the unionists had not wanted the full GFA for its intrinsic merit would they be incongruously annoyed at the 'republicans' doing things to jeopardise it? The answer is that by synchronising the parts of the snail’s body they had managed to transform the GFA into an instrument of use to themselves.

Unionism would not let republicans and nationalists have, as of right, the democratic reforms outlined in the GFA unless they acted like a defeated community and did what they were told. And they were commanded to do something that would drive home that point — give up IRA weapons unilaterally. And do it in public!

When it refused to fully comply, the conditioned reflex of its unionist enemies, including Blair, was to ignore everything else it had done. It had co–operated three times with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) and its latest act of surrendering weapons, in the autumn of 2003, had been described by the person in charge of this matter, the Canadian general John de Chastelain, as “significant”. No–one could say that, unlike the snail, it had not been moving forward in a positive direction.

Furthermore, when it had supported Sinn Féin’s accession to the GFA, it too had subscribed to the peaceful, political, resolution of outstanding problems. Nonetheless, guns which had been silent, in terms of anti–state activity, for the past ten years were now being painted as the sole cause for the snail’s coming to a halt. Goering and Gobbels would have been proud of expertise such as that, especially in the context which follows.

Backup was required to support the snail’s behaviour. With the aid of a compliant news–media the shadowy secret service agencies of the state were not slow in providing it. The two most important elements of it were 'Castlereagh–gate' and 'Stormont–gate'. At first everybody, including some slower–thinking unionists, concluded that only the Special Branch (of the RUC/PSNI) could have ferreted away files from the most heavily protected police barracks in the whole of the United Kingdom. But, before calls could go up for an independent inquiry into the affair, the chief constable called in an investigator of his own, Sir John Chilcott, an associate of the British secret Security Services (MI5 or MI6) which have been themselves in cahoots with the RUC throughout the Troubles.

I suppose Sir John concluded an investigation but, if he did, I have no recollection of ever having read about it. However something leaked, as well as the purportedly stolen files, because the police were said to be looking for a young American who had returned to his homeland after having worked as a cook in Castlereagh. The press carried stories (which had come from somewhere) about him being suspected as an IRA agent in the matter. He adamantly denies that, and only lately I read that he had been seen back back in Belfast for a visit, walking openly around the streets, without a member of the PSNI bothering to even take a look at him.

No–one has appeared in court over Castlereagh–gate, up till now anyhow. So much for IRA conspiracy there.

But the clincher, which the snail’s body used to close–down Stormont and bring itself to a shuddering stop, was 'Stormont–gate' when a large troop of ‘Robocops’ stormed the Sinn Féin offices at Stormont, in front of TV cameras, and took away documents and computer discs in what was reported as an ‘IRA spy plot’.

That was eighteen months ago and three men were arrested. Now one of them, Ciaran Kearney has had many of the charges against him ’scrapped’. He maintains: “The Special Branch fantasy of a Stormont spy ring is finally disproved”. Other, far lesser and common charges which could be levelled at both sides of the community, are being kept pending — but allegations remain allegations until they are proven. Would, or should, the bringing down of the Executive be justified by this?

The remaining ploy used to help manufacture a ‘crises’ in the GFA peace process was Colombia. But whatever the three Irishmen with republican connections were doing there, everything remains allegation. Unionists conditioned under a regime in which permanent emergency law, such as the Civil Authorities (Special Powers Acts), operated find it difficult to get their heads around the difference between an allegation and proof. Various human rights bodies have deprecated the inadequacies of Columbia’s administration of justice which is taking an inordinately long time to come up with proofs in that case.

But all of these matters were hyped up to create hysteria and ’justify’ the unionist snail’s reluctance to move forward the implementation of all the other aspects of the GFA which logically, if done, would remove any rationale for the IRA to remain in being at all.

Some people suggest that unionism could be deprived of its cover if the IRA would simply wrong–foot it by giving it what it says it wants. That might, or might not, be the case — but the matter is not quite that simple. A major stumbling block consists of two parts: The experience of the republican/nationalist northern community from the year 1966 up until the present time; and current indicators which show the GFA in possible jeopardy.

We have to take a brief look at that recent experience. Unionists complain that the problem is rooted in a lack of trust but who is more entitled to mistrust the other? Back at the start of the period, Capt. Terence O’Neill told unionists that they had arrived at a crossroad whose signposts read 'reform and mayhem'.

Not being able to stomach even O’Neill’s timid and modest idea of reform, it chose to take the latter fork. Paisley, aided and abetted by a majority in the Unionist Party, soon saw Capt. O’Neill off. Paisley had prepared the ground for this by his behaviour in 1966.

By 1969 a civil rights movement, headed by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) had appeared upon the scene, still modestly seeking British civil (not democratic) rights for British citizens (more properly subjects) while that constitutional position persisted. It was not zeroing in on the border question. Nevertheless Paisley, again supported by many sympathisers in the Unionist Party and state, performed his ’going balistic’ act.

That led to the one–sided internment of republicans and hence to Bloody Sunday (1972). The snail’s head then made attempts to get out of that quagmire with the setting up of a cross–community devolved assembly at Stormont headed by another Unionist party leader, Brian Faulkner. Reluctantly he had accepted the need to involve and work with the pliant nationalism of the SDLP. Ballistic time again for Paisley.

Faulkner had to go too. The heave against him was conducted by a formation styling itself the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) which comprised the DUP, a majority of Faulkner’s own party, a fascist type breakaway from the Ulster Unionists, called Vanguard (a young Trimble being an acolyte), and the Orange Order. Allied with this motley lot were the paramilitary UDA and UVF. The Sunningdale experiment was allowed to fall by a gutless British Labour government led by Harold Wilson.

Faulkner had been dispatched as well. To cut a long story short, a series of other worthless attempts to achieve some form of devolution for the north of Ireland by a hapless bunch of Direct Rule proconsuls from Whitehall/Westminster also came to nothing until the GFA was negotiated in 1998. For a time it looked as if the hiatus might be being overcome at long last. But there had lurked a danger — Paisley and his striplings would be having no part of it, except as recipients of salaries and as semi–detached office–holders. And so what has happened now? His persistent role as the slowing–down tail, pressurising ’republicans’ and long–fingering reform delivery, has provided him with his big chance at last.

The snail is beginning to look like the purported Indian snake which has two heads, one at both ends. The NIO proconsul, however, is not jealous – it is unlikely that Paisley will be able to remove him or a clone sent in his place. And should the local parties get bogged–down in interminable jaw–jawing over Paisley’s ridiculous document, then that would be no skin off the NIO’s nose. Bertie Ahern is not in a great hurry either and, for him too, while the parties are talking (even if it is over rubbish) then they are not holding shoot–outs.

From the point of view of both premiers that is a reasonable position to take up and they can afford to humour the Portadown thunderer. A snag, though, as hinted at by Fionnuala O’ Connor, could be that Blair and his proconsul are partial to the proposals coming from their tail’s end.

If that is so, it would confirm that they accepted the GFA only under the duress of Irish democratic pressures manifested in what was called the pan–nationalist alliance of the Irish government, Sinn Féin and the SDLP. There ought to be a lesson in that. The document Paisley has submitted to the GFA implementation review is deliberately designed to take the unionist snail back pronto to 1982 and Tory Jim Prior’s rolling devolution plan from which the biggest political party in the north, Sinn Féin, could be excluded from any future Stormont executive and therefore marginalized enabling a return to Unionist majority rule with, perhaps, eventually the SDLP being persuaded, given sufficient inducements and cajoling, to play the role of cover. But, again as O’Connor has predicted, were the SDLP to even contemplate such a move, there would be no SDLP left to deliver itself.

Given these possible developments in the political sphere, the second reason why the nationalist/republican people of the north are wary of trusting unionism and pressures for the IRA to disarm unilaterally, is that the assemblage of forces which brought down Sunningdale and the loyalist paramilitary muscle which made sure its will would be enforced within the Protestant community is still very much extant.

Unsurprisingly Paisley’s document of eighteen pages never once mentioned bodies such as the UDA and the UVF, let alone called upon them to give up their currently active guns and explosives, nor did it tell us what the UUP was doing to encourage them to comply. Some recent entrants to the Paisley school of adulators (personalities on RTE among them) have noticed that his document, aimed at torpedoing the GFA, lacked any reference to phases two (north/south bodies) and three (British/Irish relationships) but they have not remarked upon his Nelsonian blind eye in respect of the unionist paramilitary threat still skulking around in the foreground.

But perhaps that is because the unionist loyalists have made their position clear. They lack trust too — in the GFA, which watered–down their veto over Irish re–unification and conveyanced it into the property of all the people of the north. They have stated openly that they are keeping their guns in readiness in case that democratic decision is ever taken. Well, that’s OK then, seems to be the general attitude, and besides, no–one votes for them and so it is unlikely that they will be in any possible Stormont legislature of the future. But do they need to be?

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-05-26 09:11:05.
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Copyright © 2004 Bobbie Heatley