The Opposition Delusion

111Stormont now has an opposition as it had as a result of the Sean Lemass/T.K. Whittaker innovation in the 1960s. That innovation led to War. But it didn’t stop the Nationalists attempting to give it another try, post August-1969. And that certainly did not halt the War. Below is an extract from ‘Resurgence’ that describes what happened in 1969-70 and why opposition within a pseudo state – or false front of the British State – is a bad idea:

The question was: what should the political representatives of the Catholic community do in the post-August situation after the Nationalist Opposition had walked out of Stormont?

Within weeks of the Nationalist walk-out from Stormont in August 1969 John Hume was marshalling the Catholic MPs into a loose coalition to act as “an official opposition”, persuading 10 of the 13 to take up “Shadow portfolios” which gave them “some of the flavour of an alternative government” (Paul Routledge, John Hume, p.89 and p.92).

The formation of an “alternative government” at Stormont was, of course, a delusionary activity.

The new ‘Constitutionalists’ were seeking to replace the Nationalist Party with a more radical version. An attempt was made to form a “shadow cabinet” in the illusion that the Stormont Parliament contained the government of a state, and a whip was appointed at John Hume’s instigation.

This represented a de facto recognition of ‘the state’ on the part of the new breed of Nationalists and it seems they only failed to become Her Majesty’s Official Opposition because the Nationalist Party had only just withdrawn from the role and the move was considered impolitic (Ian McAllister, The Northern Ireland Social and Democratic Party, p.30).

The fact that this thinking about a cabinet occurred even before the formation of an actual party to supply it showed that there was a disconnection between the individuals who wished to set up a platform for their election to Stormont and the community itself. That might have been all well and good in the period before August 1969 but with the Catholic community aroused where was the activism to go without a political party to engage energies? Trooping into polling booths, once in a while, to put meaningless crosses on ballot papers was yesterday’s politics.

The Irish News reported on 5th January 1970:

“The Opposition MPs who formed themselves into a shadow cabinet claim they are ignored by the government when appointments are made to public bodies and that there is no form of consultation between them and the cabinet when the composition of boards is being considered.”

The Nationalist MPs continued to support the Stormont set-up, despite the fact that it was producing little of benefit to them. Hume said in March 1970 that “those who wanted direct rule were opening up the prospect of evils which might be worse than at present. They would be an outpost of London” (IN 2.3.70). But surely that was what the problem with ‘Northern Ireland’ was—it was, indeed, “an outpost of London”.

Gerry Fitt, who was to become leader of this ‘shadow cabinet’, disagreed with the ‘cabinet’ policy from the outset. He was intent in continuing as the indispensable power-broker between Northern Catholics and the British Labour Party. But that left very little for anyone else to do, which seemed to be part of the reason Fitt continued to plough his lonely furrow.

In August 1969 Fitt had called for Direct Rule and was still in favour of it when the ‘shadow cabinet’ (and then the SDLP) was formed. Sean Redmond, General Secretary of the Connolly Association revealed to Michael Murphy that “Fitt’s hatred of Unionism ensured that he wanted to tear down Stormont” (Gerry Fitt—A Political Chameleon, p.144).

Just prior to the British General Election of June 1970, Fitt remarked how “we can only hope that the people across the channel will be sensible enough to return the Labour Party to power”. He said that “he knew from personal experience that the desire of the vast majority of the electorate in West Belfast was for peace and reconciliation among all working people in the last decisive struggle against Toryism” (IN 6.6.70).

This was although Fitt had no intention of campaigning for them to have the chance to do anything about it, like joining the Labour Party, even when Jim Callaghan was putting some effort into this.

‘The Voice of the North’, the newspaper funded by the Lynch Government in order to exert influence in the Six Counties, urged the Nationalists to give up the legitimising of the Stormont regime:

“The Unionist regime of the Six Counties is on its last legs and… the British Government’s attempts to impose some patch-work of just govern- ment through the machinery of Stormont on this portion of the so-called UK is doomed to failure… The Unionists’… pretence at democratic government is propped up and given credence to solely by the co-operation of Opposition MPs in lending their presence to the sham parliament at Stormont. The time has now come when the Opposition MPs should refuse to participate any longer in the mockery that is Stormont… Let our MPs set up a Provisional Parliament of the Six Counties and hold their sessions in, say, the historic town of Dungannon, or the ecclesiastical capital of Armagh… The Voice of the North believes that this abandonment of Stormont will precipitate the fall of Unionism, thus making possible the resumption of Anglo-Irish negotiations—last broken off by the infamous Agreement of 1925—about the future of this whole country” (12.4.70).

This was part of the attempt by the Lynch Government to re-orientate the Northern Nationalists from their reformist proclivities to a Fianna Fail anti-Partitionist stance. It might surprise readers to know that the Lynch Government in Dublin was more Anti-Partitionist than the Northern Catholics in 1969, and had shown in State files great concern and dismay about the reformism of the Northerners that was leading them to want to better their lot, rather than ‘play up their part in the Patriot Game’. But that is the truth of it.

In later years there was something of an ‘admittance’ that Catholic politicians had been ‘mistaken’ in their antagonism to Direct Rule in 1970. Austin Currie, for instance, said in an interview with the Irish Times on 20th June, 1988:

“The Civil Rights movement wanted British troops in, but it should have been accompanied by a British political presence. The crunch mistake in 1969 was to keep Stormont, with Oliver Wright as the British government’s watchdog in the North. That was the crucial period in which the Provisional IRA was founded and gained momentum.”

The Irish Times noted:

“Currie blames the political deterioration on the fact that Stormont carried on for a further three years, building up pressures and providing a front for what was actually being done behind the scenes from Westminster”.

But, during those years, Currie, Hume and Fitt etc. went along with the scheme designed for them by Callaghan and overseen by Oliver Wright so that the British could maintain this ‘front’ which represented a false front of the British State. (A false front is a military tactic aimed at drawing the enemy into an area in which he exhausts his energies before the real front appears).

In the same interview, Currie cited the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which took responsibility for housing away from the Local Councils, as “the only justification I would require” for having engaged in political agitation—thus implying that the NIHE was set up in response to his demands. But, in 1970, the Irish News reported that—

“Massive opposition is to be mounted at Stormont to the Housing Executive Bill to set up a Central Housing Authority. Mr. John Hume who, with Mr. Austin Currie, shares the responsibility of ‘shadowing’ Mr. Brian Faulkner, the Minister for Development, declared last night ‘We do not regard these proposals as reform and we will demand changes.’ … We will strongly oppose it in parliament’ he declared” (15.10.70).

Because the Bill was introduced by Brian Faulkner the Nationalist politicians could see no progressive potential in it. The Unionists could not possibly be capable of such a reform, so the Bill was opposed on the basis that it was a Unionist trick to maintain power over housing in the Councils. And because it was not the British who were forcing the reform on the Unionists, but the Unionists themselves who were introducing it, Currie and Hume could see no political advantage in it for Nationalism, and therefore mounted “massive opposition” to it.

This is what ‘opposition’ amounted to within the delusion of “the Northern Ireland state”.

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