The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
No Surprise, No Change
Eamon Sweeney • 4. 12. 03

The Whitehouse has become adept in recent years at expressing typically American over optimism with regard to our problems in Northern Ireland. Since the ascendancy of the Bush administration it has befallen the besieged Richard Haas to drop in here from time to time to reassure us that we have the support of our transatlantic cousins. It therefore spoke volumes last weekend when the Whitehouse released a brief but terse statement simply expressing their “concern” at the results of last weeks poll.

Therefore the sincere, yet naive contentions of Fr. Sean McManus in the last edition of THE BLANKET have done little to enhance my vision of Irish America’s perception of the actual situation in the six counties.

Whilst we were all fully aware of the reasons why the British were extremely reluctant to proceed with last weeks poll, we now have a full blown illustration of their fears in doing so.

The results are indicative of many things, but foremostly reveal that due to the ascendancy of the DUP and Sinn Fein that stalemate has been cemented into this process, even before any speculative talks to re-ignite the executive have been launched. The young guard of the DUP lead by Peter Robinson for all their bullish verbal intransigence have made tentative suggestions that they are prepared to talk to Sinn Fein. Yet the stone wall attitude of Paisley senior, although regrettable and always predictable has effectively scuppered any realistic chance of a quick resolution to these ills. While the old man of Unionism still possesses breath and enough grey matter to at least feign a denial of senility or CJD, he may not change his mind. His threat to expel anyone who dares to engage with republicans from the DUP has yet to be examined for his actual right to do that. However while he is still around it is extremely unlikely that any party mandarin will be bold enough to incur the wrath of this threat anyway. Ian senior’s grabbing of UTV reporter Ivan Little’s coat collar at the count centre in Ballymoney, whilst comical is still indicative of the depth of bitterness engrained in his ageing but still strong heart.

If we couple to this the fact that both the British and Irish governments are rigidly adamant that the fundamental kernels of the agreement are not open to re-negotiation, and the DUP as the largest party, are demanding re-negotiation then the intractability of this situation at least doubles it’s significance.

The upbeat contention of Sinn Fein that the DUP are currently in the same position as the UUP were five years ago, that is they were not prepared to talk to Sinn Fein, is not really fooling anyone. The fact is that spin on this occasion is akin to tilting at windmills, the DUP are by no means cut from the same cloth as the UUP. All participants are aware of this fact.

The difficulty in this is also manifested in the fact that the political process is not the agreement, the assembly is not the agreement and the executive is not the agreement. The political apparatus that enacts or enforces the agreement has always been the problem with this since 1998. The failure of the “extremes”of Unionism and Nationalism to co-operate willingly at any genuine level has been the fundamental flaw of any attempted power sharing arrangement. This is due, as said before, due to the fact that the GFA enshrines sectarian politics as it demarcates this situation along these divisive and labelled lines. In all societies, as this, political parties that are at the edges of the political spectrum, or are at least perceived to be by their electorate, will always come to the forefront in elections on such crisis fuelled occasions.

The greatest example of this was Paisley’s election to the European parliament in 1979 amidst the backdrop of violence in one of the most torrid years of the troubles. In that election as he did in subsequent years Paisley polled the largest winning margin of victory for any candidate on the whole continent. The DUP notoriously demonize and scare monger as a tool of the political outlook. However this time around they were practically assured a victory of this nature via the gift of the fumbles and botches made by Trimble’s failure to solidify his position as party leader, never mind unite the UUP behind him. The spectre of the unholy trinity is still lurking in the shadows. In fact Jeffrey Donaldson is starting to resemble a well fed jackal, lying on his back, paws in the air and his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth, just after a particularly satisfying scavenge.

I have heard incredulous interviews on southern radio stations with members of the public, who although again sincere, cannot fathom that the combined forces of Sinn Fein, the UUP, SDLP and The Alliance party can form an interim junta to oust the DUP. D’Hondt and the assembly does not work in that manner. The majority party still hold the whip hand in all this, nothing can proceed without their say so. The ridiculous thing in all of this is that an election that did not actually count for anything has produced a result that proves just how unworkable this agreement actually is. The fact that people cannot understand this also illustrates the emotional nonsense used to sell this heap of tripe to the whole people of this island. It is simply devoid of policy content that contains a molecule of sense, whilst it still entrenches a Unionist veto and the guarantee of Unionist supremacy. Fr. Mc Manus’s contention that Sinn Fein’s electoral success will virtually assure that we cannot return to the past in respect to these Unionist guarantees’ is misguided. If he believes that a nationalist mandate will not be disregarded, and that the British declaration of relinquishing any selfish or strategic interest in Ireland actually holds any water at all then I am afraid his reliance on Sinn Fein propaganda has infected an obviously intelligent mind.

In addition claiming that Unionist politicians and “their paramilitaries” must accept the rise of Sinn Fein as the death knell of the old Northern Ireland, then Fr. Sean is simply adding insult to verbal injury. Perversely a substantial section of mainstream Loyalist paramiltarism has already accepted the fact that the (P) IRA is over. David Irvine for example has already offered a more realistic analysis of the decommissioning farce, by simply stating that the best method for destroying weaponry is rust. It surely must be obvious that the singular focus on the destruction of “Republican” arms is proof positive that the Unionist/Loyalist agenda is still in the prime postion. For all his conciliatory verbage, David Irvine’s erstwhile UVF colleagues have not destroyed one single bullet, but still he offered a more solid contribution than any so-called constitutional Unionist political party. However whilst the inextricable link of Sinn Fein to the IRA is constantly mooted, who has really questioned with any force the PUP association to the UVF?

Neither does this account for the rentention of the RUC with a change of name and the presence of British troops in the North, less visible though they are, and their weapons that are construed as legal and for the protection of us all.

The displacement of the SDLP as the main nationalist party was also quite predictable. If nothing else comes from this debacle for Sinn Fein they at least have shaken that particular monkey off their back. Evidence of this assured victory was displayed by Gerry Adams generous helpings of sympathy and support to any SDLP representative he encountered in TV appearances, in the post election analysis. The fact that Sinn Fein harnessed all the worth that came from portraying themselves as the hard done by poor relation in all of this, was a very clever ploy. Since Adam’s said that the war was over on October 25th, without actually using those words, has enabled his party to demonstrate their “sincerity” towards the process. The image of Sinn Fein as the perennially down trodden Fenians, with whom Unionist’s refuse to share anything, certainly sent SDLP voters in their droves to switch preferences on their ballot papers. It is also plain that they picked up substantial amounts of transfers from pro-agreement Unionists eager to keep the DUP at bay. Just think what they may have achieved if the election had actually counted for anything. Further still, a change of the old guard of the SDLP and their complacent party attitude in the past few years, together with their questionable selection of candidates in certain areas, all contributed to their demotion.

In the post poll atmosphere the SDLP are trying to project the message that they are confident that their lack of success is a temporary blip. They are convinced that a re-jigging of party attitude and personnel will provide the requisite reinvigoration required to take them back to pole position in the Nationalist rankings. What they have failed to account for was the fact that they can no longer lazily rely on voters to poll for them simply based on the notion that people will vote SDLP rather than vote for a violent nationalistic party.

Those days have long gone and are not going to return via the Provisional’s. The consequent failure of the SDLP to develop any coherent strategy or policy based on more than their adherence to non-violence has come back to bite them on an ever thinning party backside. You simply don’t pamphlet that you are 100% behind a united Ireland and expect people to believe it. This was especially silly considering the fact that it is a considerable period of time since a single SDLP representative actually mentioned this sentiment.

It is less than a decade since John Hume boastfully declared that we were living in a post-nationalist Europe. It may have been effective in his demonstration of how we could proceed without violence on the road back to Stormont, it isn’t anymore.

As said relying wholly on votes via continuing IRA violence and failing to develop a replacement vote catching policy has finished the SDLP as the mainstream voice of nationalism forever. Promises of party restructuring and the consolidation of the nascent generation of the SDLP vanguard will do little to assuage the fears of their now former voters.

It is worth mentioning also that Hume’s post-nationalist assertion came bang in the middle of the Balkan conflict of that period.

But then the SDLP were always selective in considering who could be in their gang. I would venture to suggest that the SDLP map of Europe ends at Strasbourg, anything else after this is painted bright red and simply called the Communist east.

The irony involved in the fact that the non-violent voice of nationalism has been replaced by those who have recently discovered constitutionalism, is almost off the scale. It will be all the more galling for the SDLP if Sinn Fein use this undoubted period of dead lock to make the jump to the acceptance of the policing proposals. They can now claim a truly commanding mandate to back this up, even if that mandate is denied any actual political expression. In addition they can always sell this thorny issue to any recalcitrant voters by telling them that they are going to have to do it as further evidence of their sincerity in the quest to make the GFA work.

Without the demise of Ian Paisley it is difficult to see even a shard of light at the end of this gloomy tunnel.

As I have already said a coup within DUP ranks is as likely as Shergar’s entry in next seasons Grand National.

Therefore despite almost immediate denials in the wake of the election results, it is likely that Paul Murphy will find himself having to call fresh elections at some stage next summer. These elections could be potentially harnessed to the local council elections due at that time anyway.

Again this indicates the farcical nature of this accord from the outset. I vividly remember the day that the referendum took place in 1998. In my mid twenties and armed with two university degrees, I was working as a part time shop assistant in a local shop on the hourly wage of £2. 80 an hour. If you are to believe that political education is mostly shaped by your familial background then I was SDLP cannon fodder if there ever was one. I was bereated quite badly by all those at home, when I declared that my intention was to vote against the agreement. I tried explaining that since I was the only member of my family to have actually examined the document, that I could see that there was nothing in that had not be tried and had failed before. I also tried explaining that there was a world of difference between the candyfloss PR presentation of the desire for peace, a la Van Morrison, and the cold political reality of trying to dismantle a British occupation held in place by the Unionist ascendancy. After various heated discussions along the lines of what would I know, we were in the streets in the 1960’s, fighting for rights, I reminded them that if they had kept them specially for my 30th birthday then I would prefer to have them now! I remember very nasty arguments when accusations of bitterness were thrown my way by my own family. I won one that by reminding them that I was not the one, who was shot during a riot, who proudly boasted of their involvement in making petrol bombs whilst a secretary in the old Nationalist party and whose parents and many other relatives were active IRA personnel stretching back to the War of Independence. These stories, similar to a lot of other people’s, by the way encompass the lineage of both my parental lines. I heard them a thousand times before in all situations, and I could not understand why after years of raising me to not follow the herd if I thought it was the wrong thing to do that they were doing exactly that on the back of a few sickly TV adverts, and not on the basis that they were highly intelligent, politically astute individuals.

I realised quickly that behind the anger was a pained desire not to have a phone call or a knock on the door in the middle of the night informing them of my untimely demise. There was no truth in their accusations anyway. Believe me when I say that my I really don’t care which side of the religious line anyone hails from. Still it illustrated that they had not forgotten the force of the state they had felt and witnessed first hand, and the discussions that were held showed not only the depth of the PR job foisted on us all in this period, but perhaps was a reminder to the previous generation that despite the fact they had fought to ensure that people like myself actually had access to things that they had not, that in effect that nothing had actually changed at all.

They did not want to witness more burials of young people at the end of the 1990’s as the had done at the outset of the 1970’s and again in the 1980’s. For a wish such as this no one can be blamed. This agreement I contended however was not the panacea that they were being made to believe it was, in fact it was tantamount to the opposite of that.

The PR men pinned a lot on this analysis;they were sure that after thirty years the majority of those over 35 would snap at any chance for peace, even if was merely an absence of violence, not real peace at all.

That we find ourselves in this situation has in no small part been the responsibilty of Sinn Fein. As Mick Hall asserted in the previous edition of THE BLANKET, I too lauded the actions of a once proudly radical, streetwise and unashamedly Republican party.

I have no issue with the abandonment of violence in achieving political ends, but I remain unconvinced by the often mooted argument that the via dual TUAS strategy Sinn Fein bombed their way to the negotiating table. I remain unconvinced because of the suggestions like those of Liam O’ Comain that it is one thing to jettison militarism yet it is entirely another to abandon the flip side of the dual approach;ie;the political ideals that accompanied the bullets. I object wholeheartedly therefore with the manner that this strategy was sold and, whilst I see no value in continuing violence I find it extremely hypocritical for Sinn Fein to publicly lambast those now called dissidents. I have little or no time for these organisations but I do realise that a proportion of their membership, albeit it very small, are sincere in their outlook, however misguided the use of violence at this point actually is.

Furthermore the demonisation of all those voices who dare to speak out against this current situation are tarred with the same brush, ie;rabid supporters of terror, is pathetic, when this is simply not the case.

As ever in all of this it is the accompanying and deafening silence from Leinster House, which should be no surprise to any of us but which serves to show the totally ineffective attempts made by Irish governments since 1998, and the eighty years prior in stamping any authoritative policy towards removing the British presence in the north. At the very least letting six county Nationalists know that they have at least have allies in “legitimate” government in the south, is something which seems to beyond them. In times of crisis condemnatory and sabre rattling rhetoric was once plentiful, but has dissipated at a pathetic rate in recent years. They may not actually feel they have to any more, since I again would echo Mick Hall’s assertion that Sinn Fein have become the SDLP mark two. Additionally I would contend that whilst this is true in the north, in the south they are very little short of becoming Fianna Fail mark two as well. If a recent story repeated to me by a journalist friend is true then it at once encapsulates the attitude of the current Irish government. It relates to a recent Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in Killarney, when asked of his thoughts on the six counties, An Taoiseach, in full ear shot of SDLP MLA Eddie Mc Grady, replied “Fuck the north, I have more to worry about. ”Unsubstantiated as it is , no one who reads this site could doubt the intentions of the comment, if this allegation is true, no one would be very surprised either.

We will doubtlessly trundle on towards another cobbled rehash of this mess. Even as I write this I am checking BBC news websites and seeing that already the Rev Dr. Paisley is appearing a touch more conciliatory from the nonsense he spouted last Thursday and Friday. An indication perhaps that a velvet revolution to oust the 78 year old leviathan may be under way after all. However I can also see the seriousness with which the Brits are treating this development, as Blair has just said that the current impasse does not precipitate a security crisis here. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

I simply know one thing. That we will have to remain steadfast and resolute in our faith in the precepts of true British Democracy!!!

That is if they don’t like the result they get, they will keep holding elections until they get the result they do like, despite the fact that 170, 000 people did not even bother to register to vote this time around.





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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

4 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Act of Conscience to Spark an Act of Congress
Matthew Kavanah


No Surprise, No Change

Eamon Sweeney


The Global Justice Movement's Take on Sustainable Development
Dr Peter Doran


Canvassing for the Socialists
Anthony McIntyre


Address to PUP Conference
Davy Carlin


The Current Situation
Gerry Ruddy


30 November 2003


Anthony McIntyre


Special Election Coverage:


Ignore the Headlines

Tom Luby


Doing Well for Themselves Alone
Mick Hall


Our Day Has Come. . .
Liam O'Comain


Paying the Price
Anthony McIntyre


Sinn Féin Advances Enhances Process
Fr. Sean Mc Manus, INC


'RSF satisfied with outcome - time to consider alternatives'

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Republican Sinn Féin


Poll Result Highlights Flawed Agreement
Andy Martin, 32 CSM


Election Comment




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