Guest writer David McSweeney with an analysis pinpointing the shortcomings of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Eriu is our Queen” - the letters spelt out above a massive tricolour on the hills above West Belfast. It was June of this year, the British Monarch was in town, Irish Republicans wanted to make a political point. It was a brilliant piece of political activism, observable from several miles away. The response to this peaceful, positive political expression? A gang of up to thirty loyalists armed with golf clubs, pipes and hatchets attacked the Republicans causing serious injury to two people and less serious hurt to others.
A Facebook page appeared hours after the attack, it showed a group of twenty men armed with golf clubs and other cudgels boasting of the attack. Faces were not covered. You can surf the net for as long as you want and you will not find a word of condemnation from the “process” parties. The courts didn’t have to put any time by to hear cases against the facebook heroes not one of them was charged.
A man who has been charged recently in the six counties is Stephen Murney a member of the registered political party, Eirigi. Among the items cited as being of “use to terrorists” in Stephen’s home were stencils, those staples of political activism the world over. I sat in the courthouse in Newry several weeks ago at a bail hearing for Stephen, his legal representative felt the need to state the following to the judge:
the Good Friday agreement was all about enshrining peoples right to express their political views without fear, while you, and indeed I may find those views distasteful that is what my client has been involved in, expressing his political viewpoint, nothing more.
Simon Cursey is an ex British solider. In the early weeks of December he told the Daily Mail newspaper of his actions in a secret British army unit called the Military Reaction Force in Ireland. The article explained how the unit had shot twenty people in nationalist areas, never giving a warning on any occasion, Cursey pointed out. “Murder and mayhem” is how the British military figure characterised his actions and those of his colleagues. Mr Cursey added he had no “moral issues” over what he had done in Ireland.
Cursey lapped up the attention of his disclosure obviously free of any worries of repercussions for his admission of multiple murders in Ireland. At the very same time two Republicans served prison sentences in Maghaberry. The two men Rab Jackson and Padaric Mac Coitir were imprisoned arising out of being arrested for a peaceful sit down protest against the Orange Order in Ardoyne.
“Creating space for a culture of political expression outside a violent context” and similar turdish empty clichés were central to the imposition of the Stormont deal/ GFA.
Any pretence that the Stormont agreement of 1998 was anything other than a pacification process is petering out. Indeed the leader of the DUP, Sinn Fein’s closest political allies in Ireland, speaking at a party function in Antrim in the last weeks of 2012 stated:
the republican goal of a United Ireland is further away than ever. Their grand plan by their grand strategist Adams, has failed. To avoid the hard truth of home, he wanders the world trying to convince the ignorant and the gullible that it will happen any day now. The dirty work of playing the sectarian card he leaves to his henchmen, something he was always wont to do.
A decade and a half of Sinn Fein “reaching out” to the Unionist community, some results. The political process and its out workings since have required not one thing from unionism other than to pocket each concession and relish each humiliation.
The Stormont deal of 1998 had a pre-determined outcome; no one can claim they were unaware of this. The unionist veto was enshrined in both the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework documents. Indeed some members of what Sinn Fein claimed were a “nationalist alliance” were quite clear about the agenda of the process. An example of this were the words of then Tainiste, Dick Spring in early 1996, when he wrote the following in reply to a question posed in a Belfast community newspaper, 'a united Ireland forms no part of the discussions now taking place between the British and Irish governments and the political parties on the island.' A starker example were the words of Dublin Minister of the time David Andrews, who according to the Sinn Fein script was going to enter negotiations battling for self-determination. Andrews had stated at the time 'there will be no united Ireland in my lifetime.' He also felt the need to add the caveat 'and not for a long time after that.'
Two weeks after becoming British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Belfast. In an address to an invited audience he stated:
Northern Ireland is a part of the united Kingdom alongside England, Scotland and Wales. The Union binds the four parts of the United Kingdom together. I believe in the United Kingdom. I value the union. I want to see a Union which reflects and accommodates diversity. I am am against a rigid and centralised approach. That is the surest way to weaken the Union.
Six months after the Stormont deal of April 1998 Blair addressed the Oireachtas in Dublin. Mr Blair pointed out to those assembled, 'you have voted to end the territorial claim over Northern Ireland, essential to the agreement.'
The only transitional arrangements outlined in the deal were those which sought to change British rule in Ireland from a framework of direct rule to one of internal assembly. As Blair’s quote above in Belfast shows this less centralised approach was a strategy to strengthen the Union. As the Republican Network for Unity pointed out so well in their recent strategy document the whole deal elevated naked sectarianism as something to be embraced. The Sunday Business Post newspaper in their editorial the week after the signing of the deal pointed out an aspect of the dynamics of the deal which is never mentioned or has never been denied. The editorial said:
a grandiose local government comprising 108 elected representatives is to be put in place, along with a cabinet of 12. Even this though does not come without strings attached. It would appear in the dying hours of the negotiations Trimble secured from Blair a pledge that regardless of the electoral mandate enjoyed by Sinn Fein; no member of that party could wield “cabinet” power prior to the decommissioning of weapons by the Provisional IRA. In other words the price for Gerry Adams or Martin mc Guinness taking their rightful place in a Stormont cabinet (Sinn Fein has 16 per cent of the vote and would by right be entitled to two seats) is decommissioning.
This issue is of particular pertinence as it shows “votes” and “electoral mandates” could be struck down at the whim of Vanguard Dave if the Provisionals were unwilling to surrender.
The Unionist veto and the removal of Articles 2 and 3 were central to the British strategy of defeating Irish Republicanism. The journalist Tom McGurk in March 1998 a month before the agreement was signed wrote:
it would not take a genius to see that the primacy of London’s policy is not about agreement in the north, but about winning a referendum that both reequips Trimble post Articles 2 and 3, and gives a mandate to London to deal with paramilitarianism.
The unionist veto is enshrined no less than five times in the section of the agreement titled “Constitutional issues”. The thoughts of the sitting Teachta Dala for County Louth, Mr Gerry Adams as outlined in an Irish News article in September 1997 are a very clear articulation of why Irish Republicans reject the Stormont agreement as the basis for a peaceful and just future.
It is worth quoting Adams at length:
Currently in politics the issue of “consent” is very much in vogue. This tempts me to paraphrase Dr Johnson “Consent is the last refuge of the scoundrel!”. By that I mean that for the British government “consent” is the last refuge, a camouflage behind which it is attempting to conceal the reality that British policy is for maintaining the union. It suggests that ending the union is a matter for people in Ireland. In fact the triumvirate of legislature, courts and armed forces act in every conceivable way to maintain the union.
If I am wrong let them says so. Let then tell the Irish people that they have no interest in maintaining the union. Let them set the scene in which the politics of consent becomes a tangible political concept with which to come to grips through discussion and dialogue, and not another bank of hot air which seeks to deny rather than provide substance.
Otherwise consent, as designed by Westminister, will remain the bogus deceit it was intended to be. British policy on the “union” and “consent” are inextricably linked, one serves the other.
So abused has the issue of consent become that it is in fact, and in effect, the unionist veto on progress of any kind, the unionist veto dressed up in democratic garb. This was acknowledged by the New Ireland Forum report which stated “this has been extended from consent to change in the constitutional status of the north within the United Kingdom into an effective unionist veto on any political change affecting the exercise of national rights. This fails to take account of the origin of the problem, namely the imposed division of Ireland which created an artificial political majority in the north” Therein lies the nub.
Yes indeed Gerry and as we enter 2013 it is still the nub of the issues which need to be addressed.
The removal of Articles 2 and 3 was central to the British strategy. These articles defined the territory of the nation as the island of Ireland and its islands. The Supreme Court in Dublin had insisted as a result there was a constitutional imperative on the Dublin government of the day to work for the unity of the island. It also sent a message that while Britain could hold the six counties because of its military superiority it defied the wish of the vast majority of the people of Ireland to see national self determination. With the articles gone the British establishment was in a better PR position with regard to its interference in Ireland. The Sunday Business Post editorial from 1998, quoted above, put it well in relation to the removal of Articles 2 and 3 when it said:
It is of course obvious that the consent of northern nationalists is not being sought in relation to the constitutional changes. These changes will mean that Irish people living in the six counties enjoy the same status as Irish people living in Kilburn or Boston. Mary mc Aleese might reflect next Christmas when she puts her “candle in the window” that she will henceforth be part of the very Diaspora that she seeks to encourage with her Christmas candle.
The agreement to legislate for a United Ireland in the context of the unionist veto, in others words never, is contained in the Ireland act of 1949. It is in the Northern Ireland act of 1973, it is in the Sunningdale agreement and the Anglo- Irish treaty. The stormont deal was just another chance for the British to give the two fingers to the nationalist majority in 30 of the 32 counties. This fact puts in embarrassing perspective the recent mutterings from Sinn Fein of a “Border poll”.
The referenda held to copper-fasten the agreement were the biggest piss take of all. Two separately worded texts. One of those texts, the one in the six counties carried primacy with regard to acceptance of the deal. The twenty six county text was simply a Trojan horse to ensure the deletion of Articles 2 and 3, a referendum on which was held the same day. Fianna Fail’s message plastered everywhere, including cinemas at the time was “Vote Yes for Peace”. That was how sophisticated the debate ever got at the time. While votes of the people which show 93% plus levels of approval are cause for ridicule in places like North Korea in “process” Ireland they were mighty.
It should also be remembered that the referenda were held in the presence of 30,000 British troops, a multiple of what the British military have in Afghanistan at present for example. There was also the very real and not subtle implication that if the British state was not allowed achieve its objectives the loyalist death squads would be unleashed again. The name the death squads operated under at the time was the Orange Volunteers . This group carried out a sustained and vicious campaign of sectarian attacks in the lead up to and well after the signing of the agreement.
The agreement also clearly sought to get a trade off between “Equality” and the abandonment of national sovereignty. The whole equality issue was a very public confirmation that equality was a stranger to the partitionist state for its entire shameful existence. Even in this area though those who claimed to represent Republican and Nationalist Ireland failed miserably. Brian Feeney wrote in April 1999:
it is true the agreement is full of promises about equality, but no undertakings, you should note. Everything is subject to consultation and consideration. Meaningless phrases like “it is envisaged”, and “it is open to the assembly” litter the pages on equality. Most important of all though, apart the fact there is no undertaking to anything definite, there is no timetable for implementing any of it - even if “it” were ever to be agreed. Now Sinn Fein made the running, publicly at least, on the equality agenda, as they call it. It was their genius negotiators who agreed to all this candy floss - so they have nobody to blame but themselves if there is no timetable.
The perspective of time lets us see that literally no movement has come on making the six counties a more decent place for Nationalists to live. The Irish language still fails to be shown any respect by the state. There are more peace walls now than then, Belfast has recorded some of the highest rates of suicide in Western Europe in the last 15 years. 130,000 people are affected by unemployment in the six counties, including 23% of 18-24 year olds. In West Belfast 46% of children live below the poverty line.
While at the time of the deal people could be held for 7 days without charge that is now 28 days. Plastic bullets are still used along now with stun guns and water cannon.
Conspiracy laws have reached new levels of absurdity. The British state has indicated in 2012 its intention of bringing onto its statute books what it calls “closed material procedures” which means trials held in secret with victims denied even the most basic of legal protection like knowing the content of the evidence against them.
Anyone under any delusions about the PSNI should read the Committee on the Administration of Justice Report “The Policing You don’t See”.
The state torture of Marian Price and internment of Martin Corey are some of the examples of the criminalisation and internment of Irish Republicans in the six county state in 2013. Strip searches are still inflicted on Republican prisoners. The treatment of Brendan Lillis screamed of the vindictive poisonous nature of the present six county administration.
In the lead up to the signing of the agreement renowned international Human Rights activist Sr Majella McCarron joined the debate about “equality”. Fermanagh born Sr McCarron who had struggled with Ken Saro Wiwa against Shell in the Ogoni land of Nigeria issued a letter to the media. In the letter Mc Carron said:
I do not plead to be equal. I am equal. The issue is about my rights and not about my equality. I have political rights: to be a full citizen of an Irish Republic. I am not claiming my political rights on an equality ticket, they have their own integrity and value.
I suggest we cut out all references to the subservient notion of equality and get on with our pursuit of political rights.
Some feign a lack of understanding of those who articulate the Irish Republican position.
Louth Teachta Dala Gerry Adams again hit the nail on the head in an address he gave to the “American Irish Historical Society” in New York on the 27th of May 1998. At the event Adams said of the Good Friday Document:
after a general declaration, it commences with a view of consent and self determination that no Irish republican could accept. That is because it rests on the gerrymander of partition and is thus a violation of the principle of democracy and a denial of the right of the Irish people as a whole to freely resolve our own destiny.
Last word to the post agreement Sunday Business Post editorial:
bizarrely, under the terms of this pact, Irish people will be told it is no longer “respectable” for them to assert that the soil of Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Derry, Antrim and Down is Irish. English people who do not live or work in Ireland and who may never have even visited the island can continue to assert their ownership and proprietorship of the territory of the six counties through the Act of Union (1800) and the Northern Ireland Constitutional Powers Act (1973).