The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Tame Bulls In The China Shop


Anthony McIntyre • Parliamentary Brief, December 2003

The recent elections in Northern Ireland have produced what many have long dreaded. The emergence of a DUP/Sinn Fein axis is considered viewing for over 18s only, and never before dark; the supposed 'nightmare scenario.’ For those gripped by such a doomsday vista, the Good Friday Agreement was a finely balanced piece of architecture purpose-built to swivel on the centre ground; its construction designed largely with the needs and tastes of Mark Durkan’s SDLP and David Trimble’s UUP in mind. But with Ian Paisley's DUP and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein now the principal deeds holders, courtesy of a British Government decision to call an election, the centre ground anchor has supposedly shattered. And a tense hushed breath awaits the anticipated tailspin.

Bleak as things may seem from the Camp Gloomy perspective, the real disarticulation lies not between the centre ground considered necessary to sustain the agreement and the new dominant but combustible combination of forces said to have the potential to destroy it. It is between those who worship the agreement and their own faith in it. Arguably, the robust nature of the agreement is such that rather than becoming a stage where the ‘extremes’ can strut their garish wares to the point of destroying their own theatre, the long-running play will in fact be performed by a new set of actors. Without doubt they will procrastinate, they may not be as pretty, they may have worked in the less salubrious side of the industry previously, but they have learned their lines. And when they have routinely settled into their performance, few in the audience - 70% of whom still give a standing ovation - will care to remember that it was ever any different.

Whatever mutually exclusive tangents the 'twin peaks of extremism' veer off on, the journey will be temporary in duration. The centripetal pull will ultimately magnetise them back to base camp where waiting to greet them with a handshake - the free hand used to hold its nose - shall be the Good Friday Agreement. It might be called the Holy Thursday Arrangement or the Shrove Tuesday Accord, but that is mere packaging for the optics. Why else did the British Government allow the election to take place when it could calculate with certainty the ‘dreaded’ result? Forget the moral imperative of it - realpolitk rather than ethics dictates. The way in which the publication of the Cory report into collusion is being postponed because the British are trying to censor it tells us that imperatives other than moral ones determine London’s intervention here.

The British more than most are hardly ignorant of the following laws of political gravity: the Sinn Fein leadership's craving for institutional power is stronger than its need to keep the IRA. The DUP's 'visceral hatred' of the IRA is firmer than its love for devolved government. Only one terminus leads from that.

Those fearful for the future trajectory of the agreement can, if they are so inclined, draw solace from the briefest glance at its past. Its twin founds - cross border bodies combined with a power sharing executive - have since 1972, more than any other, been the preferred policy objectives of the British state. Not because it was the ethically decent thing to do but due to it being the most plausible alternative to Provisional republicanism - Britain's most serious problem in Ireland. Rupture the link between those substantial sections of the Northern nationalist population which supported the IRA by means other than repressive, and an outcome light years short of a united Ireland would bring stability.

Up until the 1990s the British were much too absolutist in their strategy of marginalisation, seeking to exclude both republicans and republicanism from any stabilising framework. It produced containment rather than victory. And then they hit on the notion of defeating the Provisionals through inclusion. They brought the republicans in and left their republicanism out. Hence, what made the Good Friday Agreement a runner from the outset was the willingness of the Provisionals to shed the core tenets of their belief system. John Kelly, a Sinn Fein MLA in the previous assembly, in recent days noted how the party was completing its journey from republicanism to constitutional nationalism - a journey it swore never to make, and one for which the British were prepared to cough up the price of a no return fare. That Gerry Adams should have been pushed from promising a united Ireland through Hume-Adams to seeking accommodation within Northern Ireland as part of some strange Paisley-Adams hybrid, should in itself explain just how neutralised republicanism has become.

While David Trimble, the first durable strategic unionist leader to emerge, appreciated that the longevity of the union with Britain coupled with partition had been secured, unionism in general has been very slow to acknowledge this. But the signs of change come as frequently as television commercials. There is absolutely no reason for seasoned observers to pay the scantest attention to the bluster of those already posturing in the respective camps. Although Gerry Adams has said that there will be no renegotiation of the GFA and Ian Paisley has threatened with expulsion any in 'his' party who talk to Sinn Fein, the agreement is going to reconstitute both of them in its own image; a task the government will find much easier with Sinn Fein who already support the Agreement.

Former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam appreciates instinctively what the parameters and contours are: 'Ian Paisley and his followers and Gerry Adams and the rest of Sinn Fein will have to face up to having to talk and negotiate with each other' - negotiate being the key word. And while the present incumbent, Paul Murphy, insists that the fundamental principles of the Agreement such as power-sharing and consent will not be changed, this is a vacuous truism. The DUP is not demanding that this type of change occurs. What it will demand and shall eventually receive is the dissolution of the IRA.

Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the DUP, having accused senior members of the Sinn Fein leadership as serving on the IRA’s army council, can hardly negotiate with them directly. But it is being speculated in the press that the party will put its views to Sinn Fein through a government intermediary. There are two elections in the offing – the European next year and the British general the following spring. While at present the Tories are unlikely to become the government, the DUP may take a leaf out of Sinn Fein’s book and procrastinate long enough to get past the elections and then see what a much weaker Labour majority, feeling Michael Howard breathe down its neck, might do. And as long as they define renegotiation as meaning the end of the IRA on the grounds that the latter’s existence undermines the working of any agreement, the force of their logic will, given their status as the most popular unionist party, be hard to withstand.

Whether a prolonged hiatus or one remembered for its brevity, two things are virtually certain: republicans not going back to war; the DUP is not returning to permanent 'splendid oppositionalism.' While rule from London suits unionists much more than republicans, wandering as nomads in the political desert of direct rule will amuse neither of them for long. They have drunk at the oasis of devolution and will come back for more, paying the asking fee as they step inside. And, ultimately, because they missed their chance with Trimble, Sinn Fein will pay more and receive less.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

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

8 January 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Man for All Seasons?
Eamon Sweeney


"A Means to Fight Back"
Marian Price


Tame Bulls in the China Shop
Anthony McIntyre


The Rising of the Moon: the language of power
Liam O Ruairc


Limerick Feud Denial

Óglaigh na hÉireann


Selective Memory
Michael Youlton


A Free Press in Iraq?
Mick Hall


Robert Zoellick and Wise Blood - The Hazel Motes Approach to International Trade
Toni Solo


Christmas Greetings 2003
Annie Higgins


The Close of the Year 2003 - The Belfast SWP
Davy Carlin


4 January 2004


Anthony McIntyre


New Years Statement 2004

Óglaigh na hÉireann


New Year Greetings
Jimmy Sands


In Memorium
Brian Mór


Is This The Real IRA?
Liam O Ruairc


Dec. 16th Dail Questions



Provos/SDLP/Dublin Securing Partition
Liam O Comain


The Patriot Game
Kathleen O Halloran


Wiping Out the Opposition
Aine Fox


They Will Never Get Us All
Sean Matthews


The Letters Page has been updated.




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices