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More to this than meets the eye

Not surprisingly the UK and Irish media are filled with the rapidly developing crisis in Northern Ireland. On the face of it, the situation is fairly simple: Following a lengthy investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, culminating in a high profile raid by uniformed officers of the PSNI on Sinn Fein’s offices at Stormont itself (the seat of the Northern Irish assembly), Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, has been caught spying at the highest levels of the Northern Irish coalition government of which they are a member. The Ulster Unionists are outraged, the British and Irish governments are stunned and the Northern Irish peace process stands on the very brink of collapse.

And yet…

Can it really have come as a surprise to anyone that Sinn Fein, a Marxist party dedicated to the end of British rule in Ulster and the stripping of the Protestant majority’s democratic political power, would be using the fact it is in a coalition government to compile information on its British and Protestant Irish political enemies? Clearly anyone with at least half a brain would expect them to use whatever means presented themselves to acquire information to gain political advantage. The leadership of Sinn Fein are also the leadership of the IRA, which is to say they are people who have gained their place at the very heart of Northern Ireland’s government because they have ordered large numbers of people killed over the last few decades. Are these the sort of people who would not use covert means to continue to advance their political agendas?

So if that is hardly unexpected behaviour from people who have got where they are now by the successful use of violence, then why the shock and outrage? Also, are we really to believe that all this information has only now come to light in spite of the fact Ulster is riddled with informants and undercover assets of Britain’s rather effective security services? Nonsense. It just does not add up.

Here is what I think is happening:

  1. Tony Blair can pretend to Labour dominated Parliament and the readers of the Guardian that the IRA has decommissioned more than a tiny fraction of its weapons and they it had stopped using violence within the Catholic communities of Ulster to maintain their authority, but no one in Northern Ireland really believes that.

  2. Yet Tony Blair was so loath to see his peace process go down the toilet the way of so many before it in Ireland had, that he would overlook almost anything the Republican side did if that was what it would take. As a result Sinn Fein could see all their dreams coming true, in gradual incremental installments.

  3. The Ulster Unionists had been making it clear for quite some time that they have had enough. David Trimble was facing progressively more discontent from within the Ulster Unionists and the crunch point was fast approaching: if he intended to remain as the party’s leader, given that the British government of Tony Blair did not have the stomach to face down Sinn Fein, Trimble himself was going to have to pull the plug on the Northern Irish settlement unless Sinn Fein actually lived up to its promises. This would involve him in effect taking the settlement and telling Tony Blair to stick it up his arse.

Result? Tony Blair gets the blame and is shown to have simply been too weak to force Sinn Fein to do what it had promised for real… Political disaster for Labour of the highest magnitude.

So… Given that consummate politician Blair has realised that nothing can now save the Northern Irish peace process from exploding, he decided the only way to minimise the political damage that Trimble would inflict on him is to blame the whole thing going down the crapper on the bad faith of… Sinn Fein. Thus all the information that Blair has in reality known about for years is suddenly ‘discovered’ following a high profile raid, he washes his hands like Pontus Pilate and says “It’s not my fault, oh if only those wicked Sinn Fein people had just been as honest with us as we had been with them”.

Of course if Tony Blair, like John Major before him, had not allowed the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to get away with telling a never ending stream of porkies for years in the hope they would eventually ‘play nice’, we would perhaps have seen a more stable agreement reached… but the fact is there was bad faith on all sides.

7 comments to More to this than meets the eye

  • Dale Amon

    There of course are other sides to this. All of these people, on both sides, are safer arguing in Stormont than they are out on the street where the rest of us have to deal with them. Keep ’em talking at any cost I say!

    Second, why does everyone seem to forget that several of the Unionist parties are directly associated with Unionist paramilitaries, none of which have done a token disarmament, and several of which have been doing their own internal killings? What’s the difference?

    Well, there is one. There is a hell of a lot *less* of it with the lads occupied jawing than there was ten years ago. This may all be very theoretical to people elsewhere, but it’s *my* friends who are liable to get killed (or possibly even myself) if this thing falls apart and blows up.

    And oh yeah. The first party to bail out was the DUP led by Ian Paisley. To put this in perspective, think of them as the Northern Ireland branch of the Jerry Fallwell party. I kid you not. Ian is closely tied to them, spent a lot of time in the ’60’s over in their home town. I’d have to check with a friend (an ex-LP Chair) who grew up in that same town, but I do believe he told me Ian stayed in the homes of the idiotarian Right of America.

    So let’s keep a little perspective on this.

  • Dale Amon

    PS: Since I mentioned disarmament in passing… I actually don’t consider that either an important issues or one that any libertarian would back. We’re not gun-grabbers after all!

  • Hi Dale:

    Keep ’em talking at any cost I say!

    Any cost? Hmmmm. I do not agree…however clearly Tony Blair does agree with you. However if Trimble walks, that is simply not within Blair’s power anymore. The point I was making is that if Blair is suddenly ‘discovering’ Sinn Fein’s bad faith, it is because he is doing self serving political damage limitation because he realises he no longer can keep them talking regardless of the cost he is willing to pay.

    Second, why does everyone seem to forget that several of the Unionist parties are directly associated with Unionist paramilitaries, none of which have done a token disarmament, and several of which have been doing their own internal killings? What’s the difference?

    I certainly have not forgotten but the difference is one of scale… And frankly what Paisley’s paramilitary barking moonbats do is far less important than what Trimble does.

    Keep in mind Dale that I also have family in Ulster, both Green and Orange, and have no more wish to see the blood start flowing than you do.

    We’re not gun-grabbers after all!

    That is very true. However that does not mean I support the rights of the Mafia to organise armed groups to enfore its protection rackets in Italy and the USA, or the IRA to do likewise in Ireland. If the IRA is not going to be disbanded, then by all means adopt a Swiss (and very libertarian) solution by armed every household in Northern Ireland with an assault rifle with 1000 rounds. I rather doubt the kneecappings and punishment beatings by paramilitaries on either side would continue after that! This of course will never happen.

  • Emily Jones

    I don’t think anyone’s “forgotten” that there are Unionist factions closely associated with paramilitary meatheads; at the very least, I haven’t. I don’t believe that by holding SF accountable for their actions in any way immediately exonerates their equally-guilty counterparts. Incessantly arguing “oh yeah, well what about their bad guys?” is a bit like Ted Bundy shouting “what are you looking at me for? John Wayne Gacy’s killed people, too.”

    Okay, bad analogy.

    Maybe your “any cost” perspective stems from the fact that you and yours are the ones who will ultimately suffer in the wake of a Nutting Squad revival (which isn’t likely, really), but at some point, hard decisions have to be made about the price that will be paid for caving in to terrorists. There’s some merit to the Hume-y “I’ll talk to anybody” idea that politics is about dialogue, but the truth is the Provos and Sinn Fein were never about politics. The IRA were nothing more than an uncompromising, mutinous nursery school throwing a massive temper tantrum, and SF saw influence rise substantially on the backs the protracted suicide of ten of that outfit’s men.

    As naively insipid as their party manifesto might be, Sinn Fein’s got a right to participate in the political process if they’ve earned the votes, but they’ve got to play by the rules. Show me the proof that any Unionist party is not, and I’ll be equally as harsh in my judgment.

    And good riddance to the DUP; they’re nothing but a load of bigoted tw*ts anyway. Who needs them?

  • Perry

    First off, well done for taking the leap into the lion’s den that is Northern Ireland politics.

    My greatest criticism is that I think you are seeing the whole issue through of your difficulty with Tony Blairthe locus of your argument.

    ALL, and I mean ALL, British PMs have gotten caught off side with the Irish question, with the possible exeption of D’israeli, who was as we say in the vernicular, a bit too much of a cute hoor to get flummoxed by Ireland or the Irish.

    Blair and Major have both exercised a sometimes unlovely pragmatism in Ireland, and there are many moderates who find some what has happened there in the last ten years distasteful.

    But it has worked! Note that the death rates through political violence since the year of the GFA have plummeted.

    The truth is that NI is disputed territory. Rules of ‘normal’ society do not yet apply. Dale is bang on the mark when he says that the best chance is to keep all sides talking.

    I guess the last line in you orginal post was a concession that actually the problem does not lie in just the one place.

    Will try for a fuller response to this discussion on the Letter to Slugger O’Toole tomorrow.

  • Dale is quite correct. Ian Paisley is still an unrepentant bigot, just like his dear friends at Bob Jones University. Bob Jones Jr., the son of the founder, was a great friend to Rev. Paisley. In 1966 they bestowed an honorary degree on him, two days after he was released from prison. He has spoken there over 50 times. He even gave an opening prayer in the South Carolina House of Representatives. That prayer wound up costing Bob Jones University their tax-exempt status (1981) and Paisley his easy visas (1982).

    Comparing Paisley to Falwell does a (slight)disservice to Falwell. At least he occasionally shows signs of remembering the “love your neighbor” parts of the Bible. Bob Jones and Ian Paisley are far more vile.

    Birds of a feather.

  • Molly

    This is one of the more unusual perspectives on what is going on I have read in the last few days. It would explain several rather odd things that have happened recently so you might be on to something!