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What’s Good For The Goose
If we propose some principle that is to be applied to antagonists, then we must agree - in fact, strenuously insist - that the principle apply to us as well
- Noam Chomsky

Anthony McIntyre • 14.09.02

With another so called crisis looming on the horizon, those terminally bored with the plutocrat's pantomime up at Stormont, can only sigh as they mutter 'here we go again'. As if there is any chance of the legions of gravy train travellers willingly forcing the gravy train off its tracks. With more staffers required to run our ‘White House’ than the US president needs to run his, such a powerful mutual interest group knows what side its bread is buttered on. And it would take some strength of a revolution to prise their grip from the goose that lays the golden egg. Indeed, the story goes that one civil servant, who once observed them as they pretentiously sniffed and then guzzled their red wine at a banquet, commented, ’the only way to ever start a rebellion in this country again is to try and shift those people out of Stormont.’

True, they could yet surprise us all, but it would be in spite of themselves and not out of any sense of doing what is right for their constituents. As Monroe Jackson wrote:

You're not convinced. You figure that politicians are decent, honourable people who care about the public good. You figure that the amount of money involved is insignificant. Yeah, and I'm the tooth fairy!

In their view, we are there to service their needs. And they respond to us if they think we might no longer sustain them. Ever ready in packed chambers to pounce on each other over flags and rarely seen at cancer services debates, how many times have they bolted out of the traps running - like Belfast City centre’s doomsday merchants, wrapped in their sandwich boards - to proclaim pending doom? And on how many occasions have the British Government responded by issuing yet another ultimate deadline by infinite postponement? If the edifice was allowed to fall and the wages of the fat cats who wallow in its slush funds were redirected into the ramshackle health service would we really be worse off?

One of the issues being supposedly fought over tooth and nail at present is the appointment of a ceasefire auditor. The suggestion for an international monitor was made by the Alliance Party to the British at Hillsborough on the 4th of July. Their reasoning appeared to be that if Mitchell, De Chastelain, Ahtisaari and Ramaphosa have all played a role at different points in the peace process, with republican approval, one more international cook was hardly going to spoil the local broth.

It is a difficult one for Sinn Fein to win. The unionists, supported by the British, and adopting the dictum of Kevin Myers that ‘it's amazing how the certainty of consequence can change behaviour’, are finding it all too easy to steal the moral high ground. It is cumbersome to argue against Trimble who manages to sound eminently reasonable - even if his motives are what republicans allege them to be - when he calls for the post of monitor to go to a person of "unimpeachable integrity" who could give "an absolutely independent assessment". Likewise, John Reid has not made it easy for his critics by stating that there was no reason for people to be frightened of any mechanism which puts more information into the public domain.

On this, they are backed by the United States special envoy to the North, Richard Haass who claimed an independent auditor could have a positive input to public debate and have the potential to do ‘more good than harm‘. Monitoring would ‘put sunlight on the full range of paramilitary activities’ and such transparency could play a part in the public debate and would ‘likely serve a useful function.’

The IRA, as expected, have dismissed the suggestion:

Firstly, there have been no breaches of our cessation. Suggestions to the contrary have come from the British military intelligence agencies. This misinformation has already been seized upon by elements within unionism, and the creation of an auditor would be the latest example of the British Government pandering to their demands.

Sinn Fein too have strongly opposed the appointment, with party Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin describing the proposal as:

a retrograde step, clearly outside of the Good Friday Agreement and designed to pander to those unionists so opposed to change … I believe that this proposal will not only undermine the peace process but will also be used by those within the British system who are totally opposed to change and who want to bring the Good Friday Agreement down.

The problem for McLaughlin lies in finding anybody who believes the IRA, or at least in producing somebody credible who would share the IRA’s interpretation of what a ceasefire breach is, apart from Mo Mowlam. Although Gerry Adams states that an auditor wouldn't tell people anything they didn't already know the problem is precisely that what people say they ‘know’ is at the centre of dispute. Some ascribe the status of ‘knowledge’ to their assertions that the IRA were involved in Colombia or Castlereagh. Others claim to have ‘knowledge’ that this was not so.

And while the IRA asks a very relevant question ‘who will monitor the forces of the crown?’- who have been involved in attacking nationalists, the fact that the IRA had to decommission and the state forces did not means that the IRA has eroded the very ground on which such a question enhances its own validity. Having legitimised state force while delegitimising its own, questions like that raised by the IRA are all too easily relegated to the status of ‘whataboutery.’

Moreover, Sinn Fein’s own arguments do not add up. Protesting that the auditor proposal is either outside the Good Friday Agreement or amounts to pandering to unionists is all too easily dismissed as a mere rhetorical strategy aimed at creating the illusion that what is going on is anything more than a sham fight. Neither consideration prevented party councillors Margaret McClenaghan and Eoin O'Broin in August demanding that:

The US Consulate must use their influence where possible to help bring this loyalist campaign to an end. We called on them to support the idea of outside monitors at the interfaces in order to provide independent verification of events on the ground. This would enable us to move away from the blame game and expose those responsible for the current violence.

Why such persuasive logic should no longer have any currency within Sinn Fein goes unexplained. With Mitchel McLaughlin already claiming that Sinn Fein will embrace the RUC ‘only when we have a Policing Board that can hold the Police Service totally to account’, republican beliefs that the IRA should be accountable only to itself are hardly going to carry far, adding only weight to the view of Alliance leader David Ford that 'there is an assumption that uncomfortable truths are being swept under the carpet for the sake of political expediency'. Coupled with Fintan O’Toole’s observation that nothing fuels paranoia more effectively than evidence that your own government is trying to hide the truth from you, the logic tending towards the appointment of an auditor takes on the appearance of being a reasonable step.

In June of last year Gerry Adams was saying of the British Government that he ‘didn't know whether to believe them or not.’ It is a fair point but one which is balanced by the presence of a lot of people who don’t believe republicans. How then, in a situation of mutual suspicion, is the judgement call to be made sans an outside arbiter? In any event what would a democratic republicanism seeking to empower rather than control people have to fear? Ultimately, as Des Wilson has argued ‘Democrats … never lose anything by telling people too much rather than too little’.






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Acceptance of dissent is the fundamental requirement of a free society.
- Richard Royster

Index: Current Articles

15 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Suppression of Dissent: What it is and what to do about it
Brian Martin


Chief Constable Orde
Terry O'Neill


Yes, Yes, RUC, It's The Force to Set Us Free

Anthony McIntyre


2 Quit Human Rights Commission
October Fifth Association


What's Good For the Goose
Anthony McIntyre


A Burning Issue
Davy Carlin


The Letters Page has been updated.


12 September 2002


Controlling the Streets

Anthony McIntyre


Prevent the Bush Turkey Shoot
Davy Carlin


The 96th Life
Halime Tokay




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