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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
A State of the Union Address
Eamon Sweeney • 4 January 2004

In 1974, as in other years since the beginning of the current conflict, the graffiti that accompanied new year (P) IRA statements boldly heralded that year as the year of victory.

Three decades later, and after an intervening period of no direct military action by the IRA, a cessation of almost a decade; a political agreement that was trumpeted as the pathway to peace and reconciliation and several failed attempts at the restoration of devolved rule in the six counties, the vitriolic wall daubings of the 1970’s have long gone, but according to the IRA statement at the dawn of 2004, so has the latest opportunity to resurrect the power sharing assembly.

A recent highly obnoxious development of the local politician has been to post their new year messages, or in basic terms mission statements, in the local and provincial press. If we needed reminders of the abject failures that comprise the vast majority of our political class, then this is an extremely crass method of doing it. I for one do not need to be told in this way that our politicians are only sticking their faces in the papers to remind us that next year there will be another election, possibly another dozen, who can tell; when the real reason is that if the British decide to bend the rules of democracy again we will have the chance to get them their full pay instead of a mere 75% for doing nothing.

At a time when most of us were under the influence of alcohol induced optimism for the bright opportunities that the clean slate of a fresh twelve months offers, the IRA were in the process of releasing a terse assessment of the political events of the dying days of 2003 had produced. Basically the statement boiled down to the placing of blame at the door of the British and Irish governments for the mishandling of the situation. Hardly a ground breaking approach, but perhaps true nonetheless.

So at the start of the fourth year of the new millennium, and to copy a phrase used by our trans-Atlantic politicians in assessing the yearly fiscal position of the USA; What is the “State of the Union?”

With the expected review of the Good Friday agreement to begin fairly soon, it will not be long before the various party’s start canvassing for public approval of their twist on the situation. Novembers farcical election has produced a prospective executive which has at last proved to the umpteenth degree that the 1998 accord was nothing new and enshrines the demarcation lines of sectarian polarisation. Therefore despite the changes in the party’s at the head of unionist and nationalist mandates, the position is just as staid if not more so than before the poll took place. The opprobrium attached to the ghost executive ruled in absentia by the DUP and Sinn Fein, is largely to do with the need for the press to jump on a story as the well rapidly ran dry in the wake of the election and the grinding deadlock that ensued. The fact was that this deadlock was there long before the poll took place and the only change that has actually occurred was a change in the representation of either extreme on the spectrum, but as it turned out it has made an already critical situation begun to slide rapidly to it’s terminal conclusion.

The awaited statements from the different party’s will undoubtedly produce a level of cautiousness leaning towards the gloomy as the deadline of the review approaches, this will of course be in direct and startling contrast and contradiction to the carnival atmosphere that almost all party’s indulged in back in November in an attempt to beguile us into the polling booths.

With all that said the November election proved that Ian Paisley does now speak for the majority of the Unionist people. Let us be clear about this however. Do not be fooled by the claims of the DUP that the greater and stronger policy of that party was the reason for their ascendancy. When a party has perfected the ability to answer no to every single question posed to them, is possessed of a vehemently anti-catholic ethos, and a refusal to recognise the nationalist majority on this island has a right to self-determination far outweighing an antiquated neo-colonial notion of superiority based on a need to retain economic monopoly which is justified by a claim of divine patronage and buffed to a poisonous sheen with a wafer thin culture, it does not make them ideologues but demagogues.

DUP electoral success in 2003 was purely capitalisation on the weakness of the UUP, and specifically that of David Trimble. Trimble’s UUP lifeline is now beyond precarious, with even stalwart backers like David Mc Narry unprepared to speculate about his survival beyond the UUC meeting in March. With the much mooted defection of Jeffrey Donaldson to the DUP still forthcoming it would be foolish to precipitate the denial of his return to the UUP in the coming months.

Top of the Paisley’s January sales list is the replacement of the Good Friday agreement.

So we now have Sinn Fein wishing for a review of the process taking no more than a month, the UUP for all their squirming probably agreeing to the same because of the election results and the majority party wanting it’s replacement. The SDLP are still too busy meanwhile attempting to rebuild to have any effective input at all. How foolish then was Trimble’s stalling of the structured deal between the UUP and the IRA in the run up to the election as part his jaded attempt to play the hard man broker of the unionist caucus?

This served only to further soften an already limp grip on his waning position within the UUP and bolstered the vote of the party he had tried to unceremoniously shaft by his actions.

Still, the calculation of these variant equations within unionism are mere distractions from the fact that the overall process is concerned only at the moment from removing plaster splinters from it’s Achilles tendon having eventually hit a concrete boom. The boom of course being right along the border!

The very issues that were of concern between Sinn Fein and the UUP pre-November are exactly the same ones that are now of concern between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Police reforms, the dismantling of border security installations and the question of amnesty for people still on the run from the security forces are as biting now as they were three months back, six months ago or in 1998. The level of stalemate of the situation between Sinn Fein and the DUP on these issues are no more than they were between the UUP and Sinn Fein as the whole process is totally intractable anyway.

However it is vital to make a distinction between the peace process and the political process.

The political situation is without doubt becoming increasing bleak, but recent statistics indicate that the political death toll here is far from what it once was. In the year just passed there were ten killings related to paramilitary actions. Of these ten, one was deemed to be overtly sectarian and the remaining nine came as a result of the internal dispute within the UFF.

The British and Irish governments are yet again left with a seemingly incalculable mess on their hands. Even Tony Blair’s superficially never ending stream of patience must by now inches away from a water shortage warning, the only thing keeping him going at this point is the fact that the devolution of the whole of the union is in fact part of his overall long term economic vision. Bertie Ahern’s problems are at the moment even more pressing that his British conterpart. Having just assumed the presidency of the European union at a crucial juncture and with local elections and a Euro election looming, neither of which he or Fianna Fail are assured of surviving, his already obvious reticent approach to the north may become increasingly withdrawn as time marches quickly on.

The grounds for optimism in this scenario are at best gossamer thin.

Whilst they are talking to Paisley in the forlorn hope that he may be struck by a conversion on the scale of St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus, the British still obviously see Trimble as the most affable face of unionism. They are obviously hoping that he is around long enough to resurrect another go at this problem in the near rather than the medium or long term future. Again however, rather than show any sign of trust and progress no party will show any guts or radical changes of heart as they will have their eyes firmly set on next Junes Euro poll, in the wholly mistaken belief that they must pander to the whim of their respective electorates, to whom they pay no attention to whatsoever anyway.

We could be in for another classic compromise that as usual will owe more to semantics than it does to actual and solid political progress. We may see an “improved” or “redressed” agreement, in which the DUP could semantically claimed that it scrapped the GFA as it said it would, whilst the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the UUP could claim it was merely a modified version of the original. That sounds plausible at least, however plausibility and actuality are rarely words that sit easily together in the lexicon of northern politics. Hope and History do not rhyme, despite the claims of the title of a certain politician’s recent autobiography.

So what indeed is the state of the union?

It is still as ill as it ever was but still receiving enough bitter anti-biotics in the right areas of the body politic to keep if from imminent collapse, and it definitely needs a break from the anti-inflammatory treatment. As for the year of victory, well, check back in 2016 to see if the graffiti has returned.



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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.
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Index: Current Articles

16 January 2004


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Horses or Zebras?
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The Future of Iran

Pedram Moallemian


Anthony McIntyre


A State of the Union Address

Eamon Sweeney


11 January 2004


A Subtle But Brilliant Use of the IRA
Anthony McIntyre


The Process of ‘Constitutionalisation’
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A Victory for Extremism
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Demilitarise Divis Tower
Kathleen O Halloran


History Repeating Itself

Eamon Sweeney


Say What You Like, the Brits Sure Do Know the Irish
Fr. Sean Mc Manus


Rafah Today: Demolishing Houses
Mohammed Omer




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