A few years ago I wrote how every thing bar global warming was blamed on the IRA. Everything from nationalist unemployment, the preponderance of low-skilled workers in the nationalist community, the location of industries in unionist areas, the general poor showing of the economy and lack of investment, the fall in tourism, RUC torture, the firing of plastic bullets, loyalist violence, were all claimed to be the fault of republicans and the IRA’s armed struggle.
I also wrote that it was a load of nonsense.
What I said was, remove the IRA from the equation and the northern state becomes stark in its primordial sectarianism.
Evidence of this became clear quite quickly when former Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux made his famous slip of the tongue in 1994 and declared that the IRA ceasefire represented ‘the greatest threat to the union’ in sixty years. That is not to say that many thinking unionists, albeit privately, had not realised the part that the state, its ethos, and the sectarian policies pursued, played to some degree in igniting an IRA campaign - which in its intensity and longevity surprised every one, even including IRA members.
When I first came around to the merits of an IRA ceasefire there was perhaps too much of a Machiavellian motivation in my thinking. In a private letter from jail in 1991 to Gerry Adams, which I published in 1999, I said: “I believe that the loyalists will remain fairly united whilst the armed struggle continues and until faced with the choice of ‘an honourable compromise’, let’s call it, which Britain supports. Then they will split (between pragmatists and extremists) and be at their weakest. We could consider actively bringing about such a situation.”
Of course, I never – and could not have – defined the terms of ‘the honourable compromise’. That was something which could only be established in the give and take of negotiations, using one’s bargaining hand. Compromise was always likely to trigger dissent, although fortunately not to the same degree, within republicanism as well as unionism..
But there was a ceasefire.
And Ulster Unionists – to their credit, which republicans should never forget – did go into a power-sharing executive before the IRA had completely retired. But, because of our history: our experiences under Stormont and unionist misrule; because of the pogroms of 1969 which led to a reorganisation and rearming of the IRA; because of our fears, insecurity and distrust: the retirement of the IRA could not have happened ahead of the maturing of the political process and a viable peaceful alternative to republicans meaningfully pursuing their aspirations. By then, Ulster Unionists had lost out to Ian Paisley, a man with no vision, no ideas, no negotiating skills, no manners, and no answers. On Saturday, outside Leeds Castle, all he could give was a sermon, before turning tail and leading his followers back to no land.
Given the demeanour of the two governments following the talks it is clear that the issue of the IRA as a pretext for blocking a power-sharing executive under the Belfast Agreement, or the implementation of outstanding matters, is no longer viable.
At last, the DUP has been smoked out, fundamentalist unionism exposed to the world.
It was never about the IRA, IRA weapons, IRA threats. It was and is about civil rights. And the man, who counter-demonstrated against civil rights campaigners in 1968, in places like Armagh and Cromac Square which resulted in riots, a man who believes that Catholicism is not a Christian religion, is incapable of breaking bread with his fellow citizens.
Ian Paisley, however, is not alone, though there is speculation, which is increasingly difficult to credit, that pragmatists are waiting the wings. Last November, during the Assembly elections, the DUP’s Gregory Campbell said that even had the IRA decommissioned its weapons ‘with transparency’ (in October) it still wasn’t the issue. The issue was the terms of the Belfast Agreement which “had given nationalists everything” – that is, some of their civil rights, their democratic entitlements.
And what is it in the Belfast Agreement to which the DUP objects?
They object to the safeguards, the checks and balances which were put in place because of unionism’s historic abuse of majoritarianism in the six counties. They object to parallel consent and weighted majorities which protect both communities. They object to the provisions of cross-community support for key decisions. They object to the independence and powers of Ministers which they want to be subject to a simple majority, that is, subject to unionists.
They object to the joint election into office by the Assembly voting on a cross-community basis of the First and Deputy First Minister.
They object to whom you elect to represent you but, in truth, they really object to you, your rights and aspirations.
Only the unionist community can sort out these, the last of the Afrikaners.
But in the meantime, the British government has no excuse for not implementing the equality agenda, has no excuse for not bringing policing into line with the Patten recommendations, nor for stalling on an independent inquiry into the assassination of Pat Finucane.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison