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The Northern Ireland power-sharing deal

I am glad that things look to have become a bit more peaceful in Northern Ireland.

Would I be correct in guessing that this settlement may be one of the good things to have emerged from 9/11? This would be a pleasing thought, given the grief that Britain and the USA seem to have made for themselves in Iraq, provided its truth will survive serious scrutiny.

What I have in mind is that following 9/11 the USA took its first truly serious look at IRA terrorism, voters as well as just terrorism experts, and all that sentimental and unthinking Oirish blarney support for the IRA, which had over the decades turned into real money and real weapons on a huge scale, no longer seemed like a harmless slice of electoral politics and suddenly looked like a seriously bad idea. (I recall thinking as soon as the Twin Towers came down that the IRA would not like this.)

For, no matter what concessions have been gouged out of the North Ireland Unionists, and even though nobody directly involved in this settlement would dream of saying it out loud for fear of upsetting the new applecart that has now been bodged together, this surely means that the IRA has lost. For the time being anyway. They wanted Northern Ireland to be detached from the UK and to become attached to the Republic of Ireland, but this has not happened.

Or is this just a ceasefire? And will the IRA, Hezbollah style, merely use the settlement and the governmental privileges it gives them to prepare their next offensive? Presumably this remains the Unionist fear. Only time and lots of it will tell, but to an ignorant outsider such as south of England me, this seems real. If so, then the inevitable self-congratulatory noises emerging from the government, and the general media acclamation for the deal, would appear to be justified.

14 comments to The Northern Ireland power-sharing deal

  • Dale Amon

    I have simpler explanations. First off, the IRA’s real supporters went down the tubes when a certain wall came down… it also helped that fewer numbers of people were getting accidentally shot in that community… I specifically remember overhearing an Amnesty International guy talking to the US Consul back around 1994 about the security forces not having killed anyone that year. Lo and behold, that was months before the ceasefire… I was touring with a trad band in New York when it happened. Without the flow of money and with no excuses, there was not much reason for them to keep it going.

    Another factor which I think is even bigger is that the whole lot of them (both brands of urban warriors) just simply ‘grew up’. It’s easy to be a firebrand when you are twenty-something and immortal… it is less so when you start getting a bit more mature and want something more for yourself and your family than a perpetual wargame.

    And now another effect, one I have long hoped for, has happened. Both sides have matured as politicians. That is to say, they have learned that the only thing they stand for is re-election. After a decade of waffling, most of society here has moved on and forgotten the cause. Good politicians know that the way to get elected is to find the parade, get in front of it and yell “THIS WAY!”. Well, the parade here is to stuff the whole stinking mass of those decades into the history books and move on.

    People simply do not much care any more about that era and want the politicians to just shut up and get on with doing what other politicians elsewhere do… deliver ‘free’ lunches.

    As to the whole United Ireland thing… well, that will only ever occur if the electorate chooses to vote for it. Such vote will not occur for quite awhile… and when it does happen will more likely be on economic grounds than political ones. I predict that if the UK economy is booming, NI will remain in the UK. If the UK economy is going down the bog and the Celtic Tiger hasn’t become an EU castrato, then the vote will go to unite with Ireland.

    “It’s all about the economy, stupid.”

    Both sides will loath me for saying this, but that is what I personally believe. Which is one of the reason why I tend to not get into these discussions in the first place!

  • ResidentAlien

    The Republic is no longer many times poorer than the UKand has become less socially illiberal. The practical impact of the choice between unification and continued union is much less significant and therefore less worthwhile fighting over.

  • I think Brian and Dale are both right. And I think this was very important.

  • Oh, and the links between the IRA and various Arab terrorist movements helped. The Palestinian murals in the Falls Road haven’t done the cause any favours.

  • Anonymous Coward

    The IRA has lost?

    We have terrorists in senior devolved government positions, the RUC has been emasculated, the IRA still holds weapons and all their people have been let out of prison.

    You call this losing?


  • The IRA have not achieved their goal. It probably is a bit strong to call it losing, but it ain’t winning.

  • Matra

    It’s never been about the economy though economic factors have been used especially by the Protestants in the past to justify their position – but usually only to outsiders, particularly Americans.

    I think only North Americans would fall for the argument that economics is more important than ethnicity and nationality. Yet even there (including pre-Ellis Island) most politics have always revolved around such identitarianism.

  • Gabriel

    The IRA have won in the sense that demographics mean that Ireland in 100 years will be united after a free referendum. They have lost in the sense that this united Ireland will demonstrably not be a Marxist state, but they probably don’t believe in that anymore anyway.
    (The part of the IRA that is an organised criminal syndicate posing as a paramilitary have gained a partial victory in that they’ll stay out of prison for the most part, but their various protection rackets and assorted money-making schemes will have to be seriously curtailed.)

    It’s a shame, Ulstermen are good patriots, but they just can’t breed fast enough.

  • Dale Amon

    I would prefer to think that they and their opposite numbers have simply changed strategy and decided on one where we all win instead of one in which we all were losing.

  • > The IRA have won in the sense that demographics mean that Ireland in 100 years will be united after a free referendum.

    But it was always the case that demographics would mean they’d win one day. They were fighting for that day to be now, regardless of demographics.

    > It’s never been about the economy

    On the contrary, it’s always had a hell of a lot to do with the economy. The economy was never the reason to fight, but a successful economy was always a good reason not to fight — men with full-time jobs are far less likely to join paramilitaries than the unemployed. Also, of course, any economic success that benefited Catholics undermined the IRA’s argument that Catholics were being oppressed.

    The IRA knew all this, which is why they used to target IDB.

  • Chris Durnell

    While 9/11 certainly accelerated the peace process, its origins lay further in the past – in Gerry Adam’s electoral pursuits following the early ’80s hunger strikes. Although terrorist acts still continued from that point, that began the internal process within the IRA to abandon its arms. The peace process itself began, of course, with the 1994 IRA ceasefire. And since 1994, the IRA has made actual concessions to move the process forward. Sometimes reluctantly, sometimes coerced, but they have made actual concessions.

    The violence has its origins in the real oppression of Catholics in the 1960s by the Unionists. As that’s changed so has the rationale for continuing the war. I think Dale Amon is right in his assessments. Despite what hardliners on both sides feel, Northern Ireland is lucky that both sides have leaders who have come to the realization that the war is not in anyone’s interest, and more importantly who have the Machiavellian skill to transition their own groups to peace.

    Much work needs to be done, but based on actual experience I think people have reason for (guarded) optimism.

  • Sam Duncan

    I’m from Glasgow – in many ways an Ulster outpost on the mainland – and my father’s family is Ulster protestant, so I have some understanding of the situation and the passions that lie beneath it. (It’s not complete, but most English commentators, not to mention politicians themselves, don’t even come close to displaying any at all.)

    I’m surprised by the events of the last few days. I honestly never thought it would happen. We’ve seen many false dawns before, even going back to Sunningdale and partition itself, and frankly I still wouldn’t trust Adams as far as I could throw him. But if there is hope, I think the economic analysis is the right one: people can now see the real benefits of peace.

    However, this is only the first step. It remains to be seen how it will work in practice. Any perceived slight to one side or the other, or bias in a particular DUP/SF-controlled ministry, could, at best, see a return to the limbo of the last few months, at worst, a return of violence. I don’t discount that possibility; memories are long over there, and as we saw in London a couple of years ago, it doesn’t take many to cause complete havoc. All it would take is for a small group – of either side – to get it into ther heads that “bombing worked for the Shinners, and now they’re betraying/lording it over us”, and we could be back at square one.

  • There is a theory that the Northern Bank raid was a way for Adams to use the PSNI and the Gardai to purge the party of some hard-liners who refused to give up violence. Certainly the robbery doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in any other context.

  • gravid

    They had to choose a gig that would work and keep them on the gravy train. I do think that politics has become confusingly more polarised here, what with DUP and Sinn fein getting the most seats in the assembly. the less fanatical parties seem to have fallen by the wayside somewhat.

    With the threat of being kicked off the gravy train hanging over them I’ll hazard a guess and say they will get things to work.

    I’m with Dale on the economy issue.