“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” said Marx. What would he have made of the Stormont shenanigans, one might ask? Gerry Moriarty does not ask but mournfully writes for the Irish Times about Sinn Fein coming out unscathed from the Stormont House Crash that was meant to injure them:
“Sinn Fein really is the ‘Teflon party’. It is something of a political mystery that this crisis, based on the assessment of a chief constable and a range of other matters that we are all familiar with, haven’t damaged the party. But maybe there is a tipping point. Perhaps if Stormont does combust it might give some of the stability-craving Southern electorate pause about whether to risk their votes with Sinn Fein.
“A deal in the coming weeks would… however serve the purpose of Gerry Adams and his ambitions in the Republic: it could demonstrate that Sinn Fein can govern and make politics work.” (IT 12.9.15)
That passage neatly sums up why Dublin’s confusion over what it really wants in the North has been so detrimental to what has actually happened in the Six Counties. There is a push for the “tipping point” at every opportunity, seen to damage Sinn Fein electorally in the South, even if that involves assisting the Unionist obstructionism that Dublin acknowledges in its confabs with the SDLP. And then Sinn Fein, indispensible to stability in the North, due to the Catholic community’s support for it, saves the North from the “tipping point” to which all are pushing, except Sinn Fein, and it is, as a consequence, enhanced in the South. Drat! Foiled again!
It was apparent that with Sinn Fein’s refusal to concede to the Tory stripping of the Executive’s Budget and budge on uncurtailed Welfare Reform the institutions were beyond repair and were about to be put in abeyance. All that was needed was the IRA bogey to be blamed. But the IRA no longer existed and the historical matters that were periodically dredged up seemed to have exhausted their potential for crisis-manipulation. Something, anything, had to be produced out of the hat.
A shooting in Belfast – not an uncommon event – was it.
The purpose was partly to stop the momentum gathering in the South around the 1916 Centenary, which had shown itself in the tremendous enthusiasm that manifested among the Dublin working-class during Sinn Fein’s re-enactment of the O’Donovan Rossa funeral. The Irish Times began linking the shooting of Kevin McGuigan, an ex-Provo with a hot-head and a long-standing grudge against those who attempted to calm his hot temper, with the O’Donovan Rossa event almost immediately (Stephen Collins, ‘McGuigan killing raises questions for Rising tributes’ 22.8.15). The wind needed taking out of the Sinn Fein sails by the tried and trusted (though previously unsuccessful) method of linking it to sporadic violent events in the North.
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn…
The fact that Britain’s will is to retain the ‘Northern Ireland’ semi-detachment is reflected in the contrived Stormont House Crash. Stormont is dead, long live Stormont! It dies, but it will live again.
The other variable in the “crisis” is Unionism. Unionism has itself gone into an existential crisis and that seems to have, more than anything else, led to the Stormont House Crash. Deprived of its Union and now its majority/dominating status it cannot seem to stabilise itself or its “wee Ulster” that it maintained against the Fenian resurgence. Though it claims victory in the conflict, it now thrashes about with more stagger than swagger. It sometimes says it is aiming to make ‘Northern Ireland’ functional and claiming that it can reconcile the defeated Fenians to its existence, and then it reverts to its basic communal instincts, spoiling it all, and chases its tail.
On the anniversary of the death of the Big Man Martin McGuiness suggested that “the current crisis would never have been created under the leadership of Dr. Paisley.” (IT 12.9.15) He is undoubtedly right. Paisley believed he had won and had the confidence he could do something with the victory. He would not have “lost the dressing-room” as they say in sporting parlance to those who are not so sure if they won and wish to continue the eternal struggle that is never really won.
Robinson, after a period of success, has been unsettled by the resurgence of instinct within the DUP, since 2012. On top of this there has now been a minor resurgence of the UUP under its new leader, the UTV media man, TV Mike. That has stirred up the fundamentalist instincts of the DUP to a level that has made Robinson’s earlier project, outlined in his Castlereagh speech, of stabilising ‘Northern Ireland’ in the unionist interest untenable. And Robinson suffered a heart attack earlier in the year, indicating his political days are numbered. Instincts need to be worn on the sleeve when no obvious successor is at hand.
Although it is not at all clear whether the UUP Leader knew what he was actually doing when he organised the great media event and walked-out, or what he wished to accomplish, the DUP was so spooked by Nesbitt’s grand gesture that it responded to it by pushing everything closer to the cliff.
In fact, what the conflict within Unionism seems to be all about is who can push things closest to the tipping point without actually taking everything over the cliff. And of course, Dublin, after helping to move things in that direction in order to shaft Sinn Fein in the South, has long ago lost its nerve and is now pleading for sanity!
When the First Minister failed to achieve his objective of an adjournment of the Assembly, he stepped aside and the DUP left Arlene Foster to guard the Big House from the Fenians. It seems that Robinson was going to resign all his Ministers and follow TV Mike down the steps and down the Hill. But Arlene pointed out to him that the Fenians – or “the Rogues” and “the Renegades” as she called them – would have the House to themselves, for at least a week. Robinson therefore left Arlene as gatekeeper to hold the fort and then let it be known that he had a cunning plan to keep the Fenians out in perpetuity by not totally resigning and by re-nominating different ministers every week for as long as it takes.
Unionism is full of cunning plans and “procedural manoeuvres”. Trimble had loads of them – but where did it get him. The fact is that cunning plans would suffice if there were only Unionists to govern. But unfortunately that is not the case – the Fenian “swarm,” to borrow an expression, is all around and cunning plans are never enough.
The DUP fear was that the Fenians, if left to mind the House on their own, could do untold damage to ‘Northern Ireland’. The only fitting analogy we could think of in relation to such a notion would be the way a shower ruins a shit.
The DUP objectives in the Stormont House Crash are obscure. Some have suggested they are hoping to avoid being in the House when the NAMA shit hits the fan. Robinson has put Mick Wallace on notice that he intends to sue him over something the Wexford T.D. said on Twitter about a ‘Northern Ireland’ MP having benefitted from the sale of NAMA assets. As far as we know he never mentioned Robinson in particular but now the First Minister is suing because he believes that has made people think it is him!
Some say the DUP are trying to respond to the UUP gambit by moving Stomont closer to the brink but avoiding an election which they fear will be damaging, by not fully resigning.
Robinson has declared that his objective in provoking the crisis is to ensure it is “not business as usual” in the House. But crises in ‘Northern Ireland’ are, in fact, “business as usual” and functional, stable government is very much the aberration.
Robinson has not been helped by media suggestions that TV Mike has out-manoeuvred him. That really grates on the DUP rank and file. But Nesbitt, after leading his army down the Hill to originally cultivate an “opposition”, found when he was joined by the bulk of the main party of government that opposition was impossible. He seems to now be drawing back from “opposition” by only demanding the issue of IRA existence to be first on the British talks agenda before a return to the House. In a radio interview he suggested his aim was to simply get Sinn Fein saying that “the IRA has gone away y’know – but it hasn’t!” The Sin has to be admitted by the Sinners for forgiveness to occur. How very Unionist, that is!
Teresa Villiers on BBC Ulster was non-plussed by this strange demand of Nesbitt’s. Despite her failings she is a politician in a real State and she probably hasn’t encountered student politics in a while.
The Irish Times reported that “The row over the alleged continuing existence of the IRA has poisoned relationships between the two largest parties in the power-sharing Executive.” (12.9.15) Where has the Irish Times been living since 2012, one might ask?
The Stormont House Crash has been contrived through the two recent killings in Belfast – or more accurately, through the last one. Ed Moloney got his wish when the PSNI Chief Constable began to take his advice and take on the role of political policeman.
The two killings in Belfast that sparked the Stormont House Crash were treated very differently by both media and Police. The Police seem to have had one suspect on their mind for the killing of ‘Jock’ Davison – Kevin McGuigan – who they arrested and released without thoroughly investigating his alibi. His alibi was then blown apart by the investigations of ordinary members of the community.
It seems that a decision, somewhere, was taken to allow McGuigan back on the streets where his presence would undoubtedly cause most trouble. After he was killed 17 republicans were suddenly arrested by the PSNI, including senior ones and members of Sinn Fein. All were subsequently “released unconditionally“ as the Belfast Telegraph put it, by the Police, but for entirely different reasons than McGuigan – there was no actual evidence against them.
Another strange aspect of all this was that an ordinary detective, Kevin Geddes, was permitted to make announcements claiming that the IRA were involved in the killing of McGuigan.
The arrest of Bobby Storey, Sinn Fein’s Northern Chairman, was political policing at its crudest. Bobby Storey’s detention must have been calculated to cause the maximum political damage up at Stormont House.
Arresting Bobby Storey, a strong supporter of the retreat from the battlefield, is the tried and trusted method of the Police to help along a political crisis in the Unionist interest. He has previously been detained at important moments such as at the time of the Northern Bank robbery – after a Unionist M.P. named him in the House of Commons. He was also questioned on the Castlereagh break-in and the Stormont spy-ring when the British attempted to save Trimble from the electorate.
During the current crisis, the Police, initially assailed by the media for their lack of vigour in arresting Sinn Fein members then indulged in an orgy of politicking. The Chief Constable had appeared, alongside Bobby Storey on a platform in Derry, speaking up for Republicans and their honest intentions, and making it clear that the IRA, in his opinion, had gone away. Then he backtracked, saying they had gone away in substance but existed in smaller form for different, non-political purposes. And finally, when he decided to arrest the usual suspects, including the man who sat next to him on a platform, who seem to be rounded up on cue whenever Unionism requires such a thing, he declared that the IRA hadn’t gone away, y’know, at all.
The Chief of the Garda Siochain, Noirin O’Sullivan, also came under great pressure, in the South. According to the Sunday Times in Ireland the Department of Justice in Dublin had “distanced itself” from her refusal to say what the Sunday Times evidently wanted her to say – that the Provos existed and did the murder! It is amazing how such choreography works North and South, with the British media presence in Ireland acting as conduit.
The media rolled out the McCartney sisters to provide commentary on the killing. Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One, Catherine McCartney said that with the death of Gerard Davison it was “as if a weight was lifted… justice probably would imply there was an element of right about it, but murder is murder at the end of the day and we would condemn that.” Paula McCartney “said she had no sympathy for Davison when she heard he was murdered”. (Irish Times 10.5.15)
That was the narrative that the media created around the death of “Jock” Davison. It acted as judge and juror in convicting Davison as the man responsible for the death of Robert McCartney. The McCartney’s were allowed to make unsubstantiated and unproven allegations against a dead man. The fact that Davison had been released without charge after being “quizzed” by the Police after the killing in the Markets was treated as immaterial.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan did not even condemn the killing of Jock Davison – something that is customary and was demanded of Sinn Fein – choosing to say instead that Mr. Davison’s death “displayed a callous disregard for others”!
The McCartney killing, during a pub brawl, was used to attempt the prevention of a deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP in early 2005. The delayed but subsequent deal led to 5 years of quite functional government at Stormont – something which must be now seen as something of an aberration in the history of ‘Northern Ireland’.
The Dublin Independent (9.5.15) significantly reported that “Catherine McCartney said the murder of a top IRA man has stunned the republican community and the entire city. She said that “people will feel the IRA have gone away, and that their power in the communities is not what it was.”
Well that proved to be an accurate estimation of things and at the same time, wishful thinking.
It was accurate in that the killing of Jock Davison without reply, may have made it open season on supporters of the Sinn Fein leadership. In relation to this matter, Anthony McIntyre, when asked by an interviewer if he believed the IRA still existed said:
“Yes, I do believe it exists… I think it exists in shadow form, a different form, and has pulled back very deep into itself but I don’t believe that it’s gone away and I don’t know many people that I speak to in The North and on the ground in Republican communities who think it has gone away. And I speak to a lot of Republicans who are disaffected and are often referred to as dissidents and they certainly don’t believe it’s gone away. And they at times have had meetings with them and disagreements with them and so on and so forth.
“Interviewer: And for what purpose do you believe it now exists?
“AM: Many years ago when the peace process was developing I was forecasting that the IRA at some point would leave the stage but would not disband and that it would maintain its existence primarily as a presidential guard. And I think that’s what it has done because in the minds of many people who were in the IRA they made a lot of enemies within the communities as a result of their policing and there are people who would have a lot of grievances and would be inclined, in circumstances where they think there may be no repercussions or come back, they would be inclined to take actions and settle scores with people who were at one point in the IRA.
“Interviewer: Are you pointing there, Anthony, to a difficulty among members who throughout their lives perhaps were people who handled business themselves, they didn’t look to the police, and they still find it difficult to look to the PSNI to be the rule of law in Northern Ireland?
“AM: Well, as the PSNI demonstrated in the case of Gerard Davison the PSNI did not protect Gerard Davison. It was unable to protect Gerard Davison. It didn’t have the intelligence to make an intervention to save the life of Gerard Davison. Now there are people in the Provisional IRA who assume that they know who the killer is, or was, and they took action in their mind to remove the threat to them and also it was maybe something of a pre-emptive strike and also a retaliatory blow. I mean, when Gerard Davison was killed I wrote on my blog that anybody who expects those IRA people who turned up at Gerard’s funeral to sit around waiting for someone to target them like sitting ducks was very, very foolish.”
What McIntyre is inferring here, and what has become the dominant narrative since the subsequent killing of Kevin McGuigan, is that the second man killed was responsible for the killing of the first, Jock Davison, and the comrades of the first decided that they would have to take action for their own self-preservation in the light of this.
It has been suggested that after the decommissioning deal of 2005 Republicans asked that some weapons be retained for personal protection. It is said that the Blair Government agreed but Dublin objected. The fake monitoring body set up by the British in competition with the real International one both reported the existence of these guns and the DUP were fully aware of this, but still did its deal with Republicans nonetheless.
Like the “On the Runs” issue there is a great capacity for ignorance when it suits and discovery when it suits.
In September 2008 the British and Irish government asked its Independent Monitoring Commission to devote a report to answering the question: Is the IRA committed to non-violence? Under the heading: “Has PIRA abandoned its terrorist structures, preparations and capability?” it reported back to its masters:
“We believe that it has. The so-called ‘military’ departments have ceased to function and have been disbanded… the organisation’s former terrorist capability has been lost. PIRA is not recruiting or training members and the membership continues to decline, and there is some issue as to what membership means in the absence of activity. In so far as gathering information or intelligence may continue in any limited way – not in itself improper if it does not involve illegal methods or intent – we believe that it is mainly for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of any threat from dissident republicans.”
Gerry Adams statement that the IRA has gone away y’know, is easily reconcilable with all of this. As the 2008 report states the gathering of intelligence for purposes of self-protection is entirely legitimate and has taken place outside of the old military structures, which have ceased to exist.
Belfast Catholics/Republicans, due to 50 years of Stormont housing policy aimed at hemming the Fenians in, continue to live cheek by jowl. They do not require formal military structures to look out for each other or defend themselves. ‘Intelligence’ is still offered to those considered Republicans to facilitate the peace and stability of communities. Belfast communities are traditionally tight. They live as neighbours and behave in a neighbourly fashion. You could, as a stranger, have gone on a march into Ardoyne and been invited for Sunday dinner by someone. Part of it was hospitality and part of it was finding out who you were.
In 1969 this neighbourliness produced both the IRA and the Catholic ex-servicemen. Frank Burton, an English sociologist wrote an interesting book about it called the Politics of Legitimacy. During the 28 Year War the communities became even closer and more cohesive, due to necessity, for general protection and in order to create an instrument that would transform their position.
It would be ridiculous to believe that these people and communities would become disconnected atoms when the War ended, as if they lived the lives of those in South Dublin or Surrey, or they would cease to look out for each other, after all they had been through – military structures or not.
One Belfast journalist, a long-standing critic of Sinn Fein, who has, for reasons unexplained, pursued an agenda against the retreat from the battlefield, is corresponding with a gun-runner who is attempting to implicate a senior Republican. The suggestion is that guns were run by the IRA when disarming was taking place and these guns were used for killing. The hope seems to be that by slinging more mud this will scupper the talks by enraging Unionists further. And then what?
There is an obsession with “missing guns”, as if the situation today is the same as it was during the past. Guns, these days, are much more readily available than they were during the War. They were tightly controlled then and the State was on the lookout for them constantly. They are quite commonplace in London and Dublin these days. We have the West to thank for that, for what it has done since it saw off Russia in the 1990s (or thought it had).
Adams’ statement that the killers of both men were “criminals” puts the clearest blue water between the shootings and Republicanism and puts paid to any idea that the IRA killed Kevin McGuigan. It has not been remarked on that this is just about as strong a statement that Sinn Fein could have made – worth a thousand condemnations – since 10 men had died on Hunger Strike to resist the criminal label.
Sinn Fein’s view that the Stormont House Crash is all about electioneering within the Unionist bloc must be taken seriously. The Welfare Reform issue has only accentuated the turmoil within Unionism as it seemed to be a useful weapon to be used on Sinn Fein.
The perverse political entity of ‘Northern Ireland’ and the parties of State boycott leave the Government of the UK State immune to elections contested in its ‘Northern Ireland’ annex. Therefore, the Westminster Government can institute policies that might be tremendously unpopular without fear of retribution from the electorate.
The political parties that actually contest the elections in the ‘Northern Ireland’ annex have no such luxury. Sinn Fein is the only party of State in ‘Northern Ireland’. Its constituency in both States demands that it opposes the Tory welfare cuts – which are actually opposed by many in the UK and by the new leader of the Labour Party. Merely because Sinn Fein opposes the Tory cuts Unionism has taken up the alternative position, supporting the Tory cuts, even though many of its constituency would suffer deeply from such cuts. As long as the other party in the Unionist bloc maintains a similar position there is no problem in doing do.
But this situation, which generated a stalemate, provoked the attempted out-flanking by the Unionist Party of the DUP, through an opportunistic walk-out, to put some political distance between the two parties, that had drawn together on welfare reform against the Fenians, so that the subordinate part of Unionism could perhaps recapture lost ground to the dominant part in next year’s election.
On the Nationalist side this could not be attempted by the SDLP without further electoral loss because Sinn Fein had occupied the high ground of Stormont and the Catholic community sees the British/Unionist position as an attack on itself.
The current leader of Fianna Fail Michael Martin has bizarrely called for the Assembly to be suspended, which could only occur through emergency Westminster legislation and a breaking of existing agreements on the part of the British. That really shows him up for an ignoramus when he has stronger demands than Unionism and is prepared to sacrifice everything Haughey and Reynolds put together.
Martin Mansergh has also made an intervention in the crisis through the Irish Times. Here is some of his wisdom:
“Even within the limitations of devolution, there is plentiful scope for initiatives that will better the lives of people there. A degree of confidence in stability and good governance would go a long way to making the Northern Ireland economy more dynamic, particularly if its corporation tax is aligned with the Republic’s. Coalition has to be more than a mutual blocking mechanism, with progress being made by agreeing trade-offs, which will help satisfy aspirations in both communities.
“Budgetary and macroeconomic policy is determined in Britain. No fault lies in acknowledging that reality. Anti-austerity campaigns are unlikely to be won at Stormont. Taking on the responsibilities of government, North or South, involves being ready to stand over difficult choices and decisions. In the long term, a party that seeks a united Ireland surely has an interest in reducing Northern Ireland’s dependence on a large British subvention.” (‘Courage and Compromise needed to spur Stormont’ 12.9.15)
This passage seems to be a criticism of Sinn Fein in obstructing Tory Welfare Reform in the North. It has been asked to collaborate in cutting the welfare benefits of its constituents. It has said no and it has now found an ally in the rejuvenated British Labour Party and its new Leader. How silly does Sinn Fein look now? And where is the Fianna Fail Jeremy Corbyn?
One thing is certain there won’t be one if they think in the way Mansergh does.
Mansergh does not explain how Welfare Reform, or even a cut in corporation tax might transform the North’s economy. That is something only a State and a governing party of State could do. And until Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister of the UK the only worthwhile thing a socialist party with any self-respect can do is resist. Northern Croppies have something against lying down and rolling over.
The Tory Welfare Reforms are only a part of a general assault on the North’s strong public sector. There have been massive cuts in public services like health and education and community funding has been slashed. This has impacted right across the social spectrum and there are growing voices in the Unionist community that are expressing dissatisfaction with the behaviour of the Unionist parties, indulging themselves in electoral posturing, whilst their community suffers from the cuts. It is noticeable that there are no Protestant working class voices, even loyalist, raised in support of the UUP and DUP’s walk-outs.
In Mansergh’s closing statement for the Irish Times article he says:
“Notwithstanding the mixed causes, motivations and results of the conflict… most people view the post-1969 IRA campaign… as a major mistake, from which it may take a long time to recover.”
Mansergh does not explain what the Catholic community should have done, as an alternative to what it was provoked into doing, in the aftermath of August. If he studies closely what Dublin did from August 1969 I would guess he’ll be content not to try to. It was, after all, Dublin’s abandonment of the Northern Catholics, under pressure from the British, that placed them in a position of having to form themselves into something that could transform their position, in whatever way they could manage. Without doing that there would be no Good Friday or Sinn Fein in the House.
The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell, was pretty accurate when he said:
“It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have today is due to the actions of the IRA.” (Belfast Telegraph 18.9.15)
The ‘Northern Ireland’ system established by Britain has been shown again and again to possess no internal capacity for development. When it was believed to have, in the 1960s, that led to the conflict that Mansergh talks about. The conflict pre-dates the Provisional IRA, which did not begin to have an impact until mid-way through 1970. The development that occurred from 1998 was entirely due to external involvement – most of all British – which would never have happened without the IRA’s ability to sustain a 28 year War against the British State. Of course, it is a tragedy that that had to be the case, but it does not nullify it as an irrefutable fact.