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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Horses for Courses

Eamon Sweeney • September 1, 2003

Dermott Nesbitt,spin doctor general of Official Unionism addressed the annual Parnell summer school in Co.Wicklow recently. In his lecture he launched a broadside at the Sinn Fein leadership squarely laying the collapse of the Stormont institutions at the feet of the Provisional IRA. In a blatant attempt to deflect the heat from the raging crisis within the Ulster Unionist party he stated:

“The unfortunate side-show that some in my party are determined to continue cannot mask some simple facts.” He continued: “…that the difficulty the agreement is in is almost entirely due to the behaviour of paramilitaries in general and republicans in particular.”

When spin point one was completed he proceeded to berate Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness for their “abysmal failure” to end the existence of the Provisionals. After this he told us that people voted for the Belfast agreement in order to do advance exclusively democratic methods and end paramilitarism forever.

Thus far and for the rest of his lecture he told us nothing we had not already known. Mr. Nesbitt’s comments were, as ever, “rational” and his adherence to the doctrine of David Trimble was plain for all to hear. That these comments were inherently flawed did not seem to trouble him at all.

The fact is that the Belfast agreement was sold to the people of Ireland as an opportunity to end violence in the North forever. It came on the back of a five year cycle of atrocities beginning with the Shankhill bomb and Greysteel, ten years ago in 1993. As a public relations exercise linked to a live political treaty,the agreement is unsurpassed in Irish political history. In terms of actual content it holds little more than a rehash of the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1985, which in turn was copied from the Sunningdale accord of 1974. Over 70% of the island voted in favour of the “Good Friday Agreement” on a crest of emotion bolstered by “luminaries” like Van Morrison and Bono, and woe betide the horned devils of any persuasion who disagreed.

Also I do not have to remind anyone who scuppered the 1974 and 1985 treaties.

That by April 1998 a genuine need to end the tit-for- tat violence in the six counties is not in doubt. The most appealing aspect of the agreement was that at last there was a real desire from mainstream politics to bring the IRA and violent Loyalism in from the cold, of course this was matched equally by the Provisionals engagement in talks that eventually lead to their first ceasefire in August 1994, it would take Loyalism several more months to follow suit.

Add to this that Loyalist forces in collusion with the British and Northern Irish security forces were making severe inroads into the IRA and randomly killing catholics, in turn undermining the on the ground auxillary support for the Provo’s in traditionally republican areas, undoubtedly had an effect in persuading mainstream republicans to engage in dialogue.

The point I am making here is that whilst Trimble’s party smoulders around him he sends supposedly moderate and affable figures like Nesbitt into areas that only a few years ago would have been considered anathema, to demonize nationalists and republicans alike. County Wicklow was home to Ireland’s most demonized nationalist of all time. Himself a Protestant, Charles Stewart Parnell was sacrificed at the alter of expediency by Pro-Unionist politicians when the idea of home rule neared actualisation.

The Belfast agreement was supposedly also all about a little phrase entitled “parity of esteem”. It was about recognition and acceptance of cultural and political identity. It was supposed to legitimise and decriminalise the nationalist and republican aspiration for a thirty county Ireland; whilst Sinn Fein committed idelogical suicide by recognising the principle of consent and did the unthinkable by administering British rule in the state that they had spent thirty years trying to violently dismantle.

The point here is that it is one thing to speak of democracy in action it is another to genuinely want to see it work. At every turn Official Unionism has whined and shifted the goal posts when it looked as if the “Good Friday Agreement” was going to be implemented to any decent extent. This is due in no small part to the internal power wrangling which has been incessant within the UUP since Trimble paraded hand in hand with Paisley along Garvaghey Road in 1995, and used this to steal the party leader’s job from their heir apparent John Taylor, aka Lord Kilclooney. Perhaps this is an apt time to remind Mr. Nesbitt that the UUP is a political party that has retained a block vote on it’s executive council for the Orange Order, an overtly sectarian organisation whose mirky influence resists all appeal for reform and still reaches into the highest eccelons of the political and security establishment in the six counties.

For all it’s flaws Nationalism, in its various modes of expression is a dynamic and progressive ideology. It follows a purpose, a definitive end. In this case it is a united Ireland. The raison d’etre of Unionism is an archaic insistence on the retention of the Union with a nation whom I suspect does not want them anyway. It’s neo-colonial attitude is at the very least one century out touch with the reality of modern Europe. The constant yearning to be returned to the days of monolithic rule from 1921 to 1972 echoes through every antiquated piece of rhetoric, just like the quotes of former minister Nesbitt.

It was in that fifty year period that the Unionists periodically cried wolf about IRA plots when nationalists dared to chip at the granite walls of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, that contained within its remit the Special Powers Act. I need not remind you why Stormont was again suspended again this time. Despite the ethics of IRA campaigns, Unionism nutured that particular viper in its own bosom.

The Provisionals military war is over, they have invested too much in the agreement to ever return to violence again. The British know this, as do the Irish government. More importantly the Unionists know it too.What happens if full decommissioning happens tomorrow?

If the PIRA disbands tomorrow, will “dissident” republicans then carry the can for Unionist paranoia?

Where can the goalposts be shifted to then, Mr.Nesbitt?

I would venture to suggest that a request to seek order in the house of Unionism before criticising anyone elses,far from perfect as they are, would fall on deaf UUP ears.

The ridiculous spectacle of Trimble scurrying around the six counties seeking support from majorly disaffected constituency troops will do little to save his hide this time from a truly severe lashing within his party.

His survival this time is extremely doubtful. If however he extends his run to a tenth life,the party will be so split as to have Carson spinning in his grave.

A highly annoying facet of this agreement is the fact that although it appears wholly unworkable, that all participants are dependent on the cohesion of their political parties. In reality no elections will be forthcoming to resurrect this corpse unless there is a cohesive UUP, this is true whether there is a change in leadership or not. This in itself is evidence that at the end of the day a British government is still a British government. It also shows that Sinn Feins acceptance of the agreement has clamped them firmly by the theoretical short and curlies. In their eagerness to play big boys politics they have found that they still are the political whipping boys, the scapegoats for Unionist intransigence and political disintegration.

A young cousin of mine recently completed his undergraduate degree in politics. In the course of his dissertation he tackled the still prickly issue of the IRA spilt in 1970. I use the word prickly because when he approached several senior Derry Provisionals for comment on the issue, he was given very short shrift.

The reason for this is because the Provisionals now find themselves in a comparable position to that of the “Officials”, except that they have after thirty years of war signed an agreement, that as John Taylor said had “copper-fastened the union”. However he did contact a former political activist within the “Official” movement and was given a gem of a treatise on this and other issues. The interviewee was Derry socialist, Eamonn Melaugh.

When asked for his analysis of Unionism both now and then he said that he had always believed Unionism to be…..

“Like a one legged giant…..very easy to topple.”

There is an definitely an end game in sight in all of this. However it will either be the end of Trimble, the UUP as a serious Unionist standard bearer, or the end of the agreement if Donaldson et al get their way.

The irony is that at Sinn Fein meetings all over Ireland they must be holding their breath in the hope that Trimble does survive. Better the devil you know and all that. At the coalface Sinn Fein will say that they are willing to deal with anyone, to talk with anyone in order to resolve this crisis that they have carried the can for. This verbal altruism is admirable Machiavellian double speak, for we don’t care as long as Unionism topples, at least that is what they will tell their rank and file!

As I have already said they have placed too much in the pot to go back down the warpath again. Proof of this was last weeks decision by Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel Mc Laughlin to decree he would not stand in the forthcoming European Election in favour of a crack at the Foyle seat in the next Westminster Election. Times have surely changed.

Subterfuge upon subterfuge has led us all to this unbearable point of stagnancy, a void which should not be filled however by placing any adherence to the pursuance of a frankly stupid reliance on further republican violence. However that does not mean that former fellow travellers have the right to speak in detrimental terms against those they refer to as “dissidents”. In 1970,who were the dissidents? Where did the “dissidents” of 1970 lead us, except back up the hill to Stormont again.

I have noted recently with some amusement that Sinn Fein have jumped on the bandwagon with regard to the issue of segregation for republican prisoners. Aware perhaps that this issue is spiralling out of control and to ignore it any longer would be political folly. They are concerned that if this issue does continue to get worse, that firstly they will loose face within their hinterlands by being seen not to act on it. It could also prove to be a bone of contention within the party rank and file and lastly also could be a vote winner, as it provides an oppurtunity to demonstrate that they are still a radical republican party. This is irrespective of the fact of their constant on the ground harassment of other republican groupings.

As the jostling for position on the peaks of moral mountain wind wearily onwards, as usual it is left to the voting public to suffer the consequences of verbal earache from the “childer in the playground” who have the answers at their fingertips if they really want this agreement to work. The greatest irony is that Sinn Fein need it to work or face complete political annihilation, because as I have already said they cannot go back to war, after compromising the Provo’s to such an extent. The UUP see that it just might work and risk the same political consequences in this perverse reversal of circumstances.



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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

1 September 2003


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