Who's afraid of the GFA?

by Bobbie Heatley

JUST AS predicted by the Sunday Business Post a short while back, for the British government Paisley and his misnamed Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has now become, openly, the flavour of the times. Or, as in the words of the 26-county Irish Sunday, Blair is dancing to Paisley’s tune.

That much is to be expected. What is more galling is that little Sir Echo, Bertie Ahern, in thrall to his props in a coalition government with the most right-wing political party in Ireland, the self-styled Progressive Democrats (PDs), is also crossing the Ts and dotting the Is of Tony Blair’s cynically concocted policies. Few here in the north can understand the euphoria of the two governments over what they have kidded themselves is a new look DUP.

Everything it has done and said, up to now, amounts to a binning of the Good Friday agreement (GFA). Firstly came its proposals for the internal governance of northern Ireland. This was a thinly veiled attempt to marginalize the largest political party representative of the republican/nationalist section of the community/electorate, which now constitutes nearly one-half of the voters.

Having for many years hitherto rejected the 'Roman Kethlick' SDLP as a suitable partner for sharing limited devolved powers of government at Stormont, admittedly it has now sobered up somewhat to look upon the SDLP as a potentially useful resource for its own purposes. With Sinn Fein excluded, unionists would have regained their old-time hegemony at Stormont, camouflaged by an impotent SDLP. Some advance that, after many years of mayhem and warfare.

Can that brake on internal reform, as specified by the GFA, be possibly one aspect of a bogus born-again DUP’s utility that pleases both governments? As things stand at the moment such a prospect has not apparently unduly displeased them. And what basis do they have for beliving (or pretending to believe) that the Ballymena oracle, or his poisonous subalterns, have really changed.

The Ballymena oracle has come up with his plan for the implementation of phase two of the GFA -- north/south relationships in Ireland. There has been a great move backwards here as well. He condescends to have dealings with Dublin (that is, with Bertie Ahern while he holds office) but he would like the cross-border bodies scaled down and subjected to the say-so of a reconstituted Stormont where unionists would have regained their former built-in majority. Nothing much to crow about here. I am, like most of the republican/nationalist people in the North, bamboozled as to what could possibly be the basis on which the two governments have founded their public approbation of a so-called new-look Paisleyism.

There are other examples. A key element of the GFA is that it, for they very first time, gave republicans and nationalists a peaceful, political and democratic method for resolving the deep grievance arising from British-imposed partition. Just so soon as the Northern Ireland Office secretary of state (the proconsul)deemed it likely that a majority of voters in the north were in favour of reunification, he (or she) was given the power, under the GFA, to hold, at intervals of seven years, a referendum for the purpose of responding to that expression of popular opinion.

Notwithstanding the overwhelming support for the GFA itself, north and south of the border, (71and 90 percent respectively), Paisley wants that undertaking changed as well. He would prefer no referendums on this topic at all, but his party could live with one held at intervals of 50 years. Indeed he sees the Irish government as having co-opted itself over to his side in ditching the entire GFA.

“The (Irish) government’s desire to hold a (26-county) referendum on citizenship is a breach of the Belfast agreement and further evidence that it is dead. In holding a referendum to amend Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution the Irish government are unilaterally amending the 1998 agreement”.

He argued that unionists could now do the same thing -- ignoring the fact that the British government has been a serial offender in this respect.

Despite the DUP’s stated positions and its continuing refusal to meet Sinn Fein face-to-face for an ironing out of the myriad difficulties, the two governments continued to playact with the pretence that it would be worthwhile to call all the parties together during May at Lancaster House in London for “proximity” jaw-jawing.

Then a reality check finally set in and the event was long-fingered with no indication that it would ever materialise. One reason given was that a body called the International Monitoring Commission, set up by the two governments outside the terms of the GFA was just about to make its first report on what the 'paramilitaries' had been getting up to over the recent period. Handpicked by the two governments to suit their purpose of buttressing six years of pressure on the mainstream IRA, its members are: Lord Alderdice, a former leader of the unionist Alliance Party; John Grieve, a former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist unit; Richard Kerr, a former member of the American CIA and Joe Brosnan, a former senior civil servant in the Republic’s justice department -- this latter appointment looking like tokenism. And so just what did the IMC find?

“Loyalists were responsible for about three-quarters of the murders, nearly twice as many of the shootings and over twice as many assaults since 1 January 2003."

The IRA is blamed for none of the killings although the IMC was not sure who killed Armagh man Gareth O’Connor.

When it comes to shootings and assaults those not attributed to the loyalists are rather vaguely attributed to “republicans” although those carried out by splinter groups may have been grouped under this heading (at the time of my writing this piece I do not have the full report to hand).

Despite the fact that the source of the IMC’s information has been openly admitted to be the security services, it correctly identified loyalists as being the main malefactors. It also noted that the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) is “specified” i.e. not on ceasefire.

While not justifying any of these activities, it is important to note just how the report of the IMC has been jumped upon by the two governments and the unionists to further their commonly held anti-Republican designs.

Unionism’s in-house news-sheet, the Belfast Telegraph -- owned by Tony O’Reilly who insists that people address him by the honorary knighthood title conferred on him by the British Queen -- lost no time in responding intuitively to its function. Its banner headline read “Sinn Fein in dock on Tohill abduction”. Forget all the other stuff about loyalists, Sinn Fein were the top-notch culprits in bringing the GFA to a standstill.

The paper welcomed the IMC’s proposal that SF should be sanctioned because the report had presented it with a loophole. It had held SF responsible for the actions of the IRA. But it had not held the unionists or, more importantly, the British government responsible for the activities of the loyalist paramilitaries.

According to the GFA, all the signatories were required to use their influence to secure paramilitary disarmament and, in the case of the British government additionally it had to roll out a process of demilitarisation, not military rationalisation.

The UUP and the DUP argue that they have no organic relationship with their paramilitaries but they have great informal, networking, connections which accord to them an influence they have obviously not tried to exert.

In a previous Irish Democrat article I have recalled how the Unionist Party, Paisley’s party of the time, the UDA and the UVF had no compunction about coming together in the United Ulster Unionist Council to bring down the “power-sharing” Sunningdale experiment at Stormont. And, as judge Cory’s report into British state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries has shown, there is a strong case for investigations into that now overtly direct connection. There is a prima facie case for contending that they were - and are - being masterminded by British military and other intelligence agencies.

Finucane is long-fingered, IMC is produced pronto out of a hat.

In all of this political manoeuvring a small voice of reason was to be heard and (for me anyhow) it came from a most unusual source. Liz O’Donnell is a former deputy to the previous Irish foreign minister, Andrews, who handled negotiations at Stormont. She is also a member of the PDs. After the delivery of the IMC report she excoriated those who were engaged in the long-running campaign to brow-beat the mainstream IRA into neutering itself. She suggested instead that such people would have been better occupied in encouraging Sinn Fein to join the Policing Board.

But that would have meant that the British government would have had to fully implement a core Patten Report reform of policing by binning Mandelson’s truncated effort and getting on with the transfer of those powers to a Stormont formatted on the original post-GFA election results.

<< | Up | >>

This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-05-26 21:19:30.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2004 Bobbie Heatley