The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The North’s Future Depends On Tony Blair’s Bravery


Paul A. Fitzsimmons • 20 August 2004

On the twenty-fifth of June, British Prime Minister Tony Blair signaled the imminent demise of Northern Ireland�s well-intended but ill-conceived Good Friday Agreement by stating that, through scheduled �intensive talks� meetings in September, he wanted to achieve �a concluded agreement that allows everybody to move forward together or alternatively we are going to have to search for a different way forward.�

Asked whether such a failure would really mark the end, Mr. Blair answered: �I think what we�re saying is �Yes� in terms of our ability to take this process forward.�

However, the September meetings will fail. Indeed, Henry McDonald of the Observer aptly challenged in mid‑July �not just the judgment but also the sanity of the newspaper editors and pundits who are peddling th[e] illusion� that the GFA�s structures might be revived at those meetings. (Cf. some similar thoughts in a Slugger O�Toole posting appended hereto.)

Another generation of troubled rule from London, probably with some marginal input from Dublin, looks to be the likely outcome, but Northern Ireland could yet have a small chance at a genuine and democratic�albeit radical�political settlement.

After a failure of these September talks, and for the first and last time ever, Northern Ireland could receive�through brave and generous leadership by Mr. Blair�an opportunity to examine formally a �ready‑to-wear� independence proposal.

�Generous� is easy to describe in this respect: all know that political independence would require Great Britain�s substantial, long‑term economic aid.

�Brave� requires a bit more explanation: all also know that the odds would be against success here. Opinion polls consistently show that, as a first‑choice preference, only about 10 percent in Northern Ireland favor this unorthodox approach. The most encouraging polling data merely indicate that about half of the Protestants and about half of the Catholics in the North would at least �tolerate� independence as a new way forward.

It needs to be observed and appreciated, however, that all such responses have been collected in a vacuum, without any actual independence proposal for respondents to read, study, digest, and render a final decision upon. Thus, an actual plebiscite on a ready-to-wear independence proposal might ultimately yield 20, 50, or 80 percent in favor. Frankly, anyone who claims he knows for sure which of those numbers it would in fact be is either lying or fooling himself.

Aware of those daunting facts and figures, Tony Blair�if actually determined to leave no stone unturned in trying to resolve this persistent strife and in trying to achieve democracy in Northern Ireland�could now see whether the odds against this venture can be beaten. As suggested eighteen months ago in The Blanket:

If the GFA irremediably fails, Mr. Blair will himself need to take charge regarding this radical approach�somewhat encouragingly, he recently maintained of Britain that �we�re at our best when at our boldest��or else the British government will unboldly consign and condemn Northern Ireland to at least one more generation of unhappy direct rule.

Specifically, Mr. Blair could take steps to establish for certain whether a fair and workable independence plan might be fashioned so that at least 70 percent of the voters would decide to check �Yes��in the privacy of their voting booths�in order to vault themselves, and their children, into a brighter future. (He would, however, adopt this position already understanding�care of some discreet nods�that most or all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland would accede, grudgingly, to taking part in formally examining this independence possibility.)

This 70‑percent plebiscite figure would not just seek to establish large support for independence but would also ensure that the North�s Catholics�something above 40 percent of the population�could, themselves alone, veto any proffered plan.

A sine qua non to looking into this possibility formally would be, however, the IRA�s announcing, in response to such a call, that it would fully respect and abide by voter approval at that 70-percent-or-higher level. (Cf. �An Open Letter To The Leadership Of The Irish Republican Army� (The Blanket, 13 June 2004), to which, unsurprisingly, no negative response was received from the IRA.) Given the rather slim chances for success in any event, this effort simply could not get well underway with a Republican sword of inscrutability dangling overhead.

If the IRA made its own brave and appropriate commitment in this regard, Ireland might possibly find, within about a year�s time, a genuine and democratic peace via�for the foreseeable future�two free, fair, and workable republics on that island.

Quite to the contrary, however, the IRA might respond to such a call from Mr. Blair by telling Northern Nationalist and Republican voters�through its words, its deeds, or its silence��We do not trust and will not trust you or your decisions, and we have therefore summarily decided to keep you from having any choice regarding the possibility of a settlement along these lines.�

For more than two decades, I have bet that, whatever else it might be, the IRA is not a group of fascists. The world could learn whether that bet and much more have been won or lost if Tony Blair courageously elects to make a historic move in this new direction.

Washington, D.C. lawyer Paul A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence for Northern Ireland: Why and How (1993) (

***** (11 August 2004)

Alex[ Kane] et al.:

First off, apologies to those who have written, in Slugger and via email, for my tardy responses.

No one in this thread responded directly to my comment of 26 July at 1:03PM:

It seems, then, that either (a) Republican militants will have to stand down while in the dark on how issues like "accountability of ministers, the way the assembly votes," etc. will ultimately be resolved or (b) an omnibus resolution of all these issues will first be needed ('nothing is agreed until everything is agreed').

The difficulty there is figuring out which of those options is less likely: (a) Republicans saying "Alright, the IRA's now gone for good; NIO, please let us know as soon as possible whether the GFA will still include things like d'Hondt, etc." or (b) the parties actually together working out all the changes to and deviations from the sacred GFA scrolls, thereby making possible a complete and final standing-down of the IRA (whose members would, of course, then be putting their faith into the notion that that new omnibus agreement would actually hold when later push came to later shove).

However, the "a"-side of that issue is addressed, at least inferentially, within the following from yesterday's Irish News:

IRA 'stand down' before talks would be 'tactically naive' move (Irish News)

Republicans believe it would be tactically naive, if not stupid, to signal before political negotiations start in September that the IRA is ready to 'stand down' with a final order to dump arms.

'Nonsense' and 'rubbish' are the words used in republican circles to describe claims that the IRA is about to be wound up. The emphasis is as usual on political negotiation and 'context'.

If it is not already apparent, I think that, as between "a" and "b," each is less likely than the other (a new paradox for Northern Ireland).

Alex, you have suggested here, by contrast, that all (or, at least, enough) will be resolved in September because of the pressures upon and impulses within the DUP:

[(A) The DUP] doesn't want the UUP to be back in the driving seat and [(B)] it doesn't want to leave NI's fate in the hands of two governments pissed off by the fact that the efforts of the last ten years have turned to dust.

Of course, I agree with this statement, as literally written: the DUP must want neither "A" nor "B."

However, your "A" looks in any event to be a virtual impossibility for the foreseeable future (absent something like a Westminster "constitutional mercies" tweak to the GFA granting UUP MLAs two-for-one voting privileges). Thus, the observation seems an irrelevance.

As to your "B," the mind does not flinch imagining that September could boil down to a choice for the DUP of (i) "leav[ing] NI's fate in the hands of two governments pissed off by the fact that the efforts of the last ten years have turned to dust" or (ii) its being leveraged into a some "agreement" (cf. the UUP, circa Good Friday 1998).

In this regard, Alex, I did read your comment: "I could be wrong in my analysis--it is the risk that all commentators and columnists run."

Frankly, though, if you would indeed argue publicly that the DUP would choose "B(ii)" over "B(i)," I would think that either (a) you're simply not being forthcoming with your readers or (b) you might consider another line of work.

If, however, you do accept that the DUP would not choose "B(ii)" over "B(i)," then it seems your commentary conveys with little more than a rather self-evident conclusion that the DUP would go along with a resolution which it found acceptable. As I've asked others (like Mark Simpson, who a month ago ended one of his think-pieces with the insight that "[t]he conflicting signals make it impossible to make a proper assessment of the chances of a deal"), is voicing such thoughts really what you get paid the big bucks for? As I've mentioned before, you could indeed do much better.



Posted by: Paul A. Fitzsimmons at August 11, 2004 09:13 PM







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

24 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Loughall - A Truth to Remain Untold
Anthony McIntyre

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
Ned McGinley

The Harp New-strung: Music in Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

There's a Uniform that's Hanging...
Kathleen O Halloran

Understanding the raison d'être for the armed struggle
Mick Hall

More on Captain Kelly Campaign
Report sent in By Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

The North's Future Depends on Tony Blair's Bravery
Paul A. Fitzsimmons

Standing With RSF
Sean O Lubaigh

Genetic Contamination of Mexican Maize
Toni Solo

The Letters page has been updated.

19 August 2004

Rathenraw Threat
Anthony McIntyre

Troubled Waters
John Kennedy

International Conference Misled by Sinn Fein
Francie Mackey

Rearming the Provos with Picket Signs
Marty Egan

Richard Wallace

Fionnbarr Ó Dochartaigh and the Captain Kelly Campaign
Liam O Comain

Imperfect Peace: Terence O'Neill's Day Has Come
Anthony McIntyre



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