Mar 16 2006

Choreography of the Pratfall

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 12RCN @ 5:00 pm

by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast)

‘Independent’ Monitoring Commission blasts Provos – Paisley lays out agenda for ‘new’ Ireland

Commentators on the various ‘historic turning points’ meant to restore life to the corpse of the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland often use the word ‘choreography’. Translated the term means that the agreement, and all its patches and fixes, are the product of secret diplomacy.

The deals are to be kept secret from the working class and the results gradually unveiled in a series of closely linked announcements and actions rather like a series of dance steps – hence the term choreography. The February report of the Independent Monitoring Commission was flagged up as a classic example of this process, meant to be the penultimate step in restoring a parliamentary body to head the Irish colony.

Instead the report led yet again to the pratfall – the chaotic collapse of a whole series of deals guaranteed to be rock solid, followed by the sheepish admission of failure and the next attempt at a solution kicked into the long grass.

This has been the case on each occasion that choreography has been attempted. There is always an unfortunate stumble at the end. The Provos always get the blame, even when the supposed cause, such as the Northern Bank raid, comes after Unionists have demolished the deal. The British explain regretfully that, because it is the Provo’s fault that the pact collapsed, they must make further concessions, move the agreement further to the right to meet the demands of Unionism and imperialism and begin the ‘choreography’ process all over again.

But all processes come to a conclusion. There comes a time when the Provos have been disarmed and only have the final counters of offering unconditional support for the police and state. Under these circumstances they have to ensure that each step of the final dance is set in concrete. There was a sharp sequencing to the endgame:

  • Provo surrender and destruction of weapons, to be followed further on by Provo support for the police.
  • Further concessions to the Provos – ‘On the run’ legislation (since collapsed) to allow fugitives to return, new ‘supercouncils’ with built-in nationalist majorities covering the Western areas giving the Provos a sort of ‘Stormont lite’ where they could hold political office, special arrangements to ensure that restorative justice organizations in nationalist areas are not too closely bolted to the RUC to avoid Provo embarrassment and the announcement that suspended parliamentary allowances are to be paid and backdated.
  • Concessions to Paisley involved conciliation of the viciously sectarian ‘Love Ulster’ campaign, throwing money at bigots and paramilitaries and moves to resolve the issue of Orange parades in the interests of the sectarians. Not only are the Orange to be conciliated, but a new ‘Cultural Commission’ is to be created to oversee nationalist events such as St. Patrick’s day despite the fact that these are not in themselves sectarian. A major concession to Paisley was the October 2005 appointment of DUP nominee Bertha McDougall as chair of a new victims agency. This was a direct appointment by the British, avoiding all the normal procedures supposed to guarantee fairness in appointment.

Political concessions to Unionism

The starting point of the political concessions to Unionism go back to the Leeds Castle agreement of September 2004. In this secret agreement it was indicated that if the DUP would go into government there would be no need to support the coalition they were joining by voting for it. This deal fell through when the DUP walked away in December, but in the way of such things much greater concessions are needed now. A new settlement would have to strip out much of the tinsel and decoration offered to nationalism and leave a much more unvarnished form of the Orange state that was the status quo ante.

The concessions were to be linked to pressure on Paisley The British have threatened to disband the RIR – the local protestant militia within the British army. They threaten to hand almost half of local government over to the Provos, to impose massive cuts, price hikes and privatisation in public service and to stop the pay of Stormont MPs. US Special Envoy Mitchell Reiss was to bring the authority of President Bush to bear.

The pressure would be linked to two Independent Monitoring Commission reports. These reports, produced by the safe hands of the chair, former Alliance leader and Stomont speaker John Alderdice, would first give the Provos a progress report, designed to force the DUP into talks, followed by a second report giving them a completely clean bill of health and the go-ahead for the establishment of a new Stormont parliament.

It didn’t work out like that. The concessions to Paisley were real enough. The pressure wasn’t. A deal on the RIR is being worked out in bilateral talks with the British, with no need to agree to talks with the Provos. The DUP don’t like republicans getting office through local government reform, but it will be in the poorer areas and bolster the sectarian divisions that they depend on. The DUP waged a long campaign to disband the previous parliament and it gave them the majority position in unionism – threats of pay cuts will have no effect. The DUP have posed far more convincingly than the Provos, the unions or the left as opponents of water charges and service cuts – a dishonest populism only possible as long as they stay out of office. The British will be doing them a favour if they do all the dirty work themselves. Finally the US envoy spent his visit pressuring the Provos to support the police.

Facing reality?

The fact is that the Paisleyites want a parliament – they just don’t want one that involves sharing power with Catholics. Just before the launch of the IMC report, their own policy, Facing Reality was released. Their proposals would see the final scrapping of the Good Friday proposals in favour of a local assembly without a government – the British would continue to rule with advice from the assembly. By launching the document they were ruling out in advance any discussion of a power-sharing body or implementation of the GFA. The Paisleyite bombshell was followed by dramatic leaks from the Belfast policing board. On 13th December security minister Shaun Woodward had claimed that the IRA were no longer involved in illegal activity. He was contradicted by the deputy chief constable of the RUC/PSNI, Sam Kinkaid and involved in a row with the DUP. The result was that any positive outcome from the first IMC report was effectively negated and the possibility of direct talks with the Provos disappeared from the agenda.

Then came the IMC report itself.

On 1ST February It reported that the IRA:

  • Were involved in intelligence gathering and continued to raise and manage money accumulated illegally
  • That they were unofficially involved in community policing

This was followed by an endorsement:

We are of the firm view that the present PIRA leadership has taken the strategic decision to end the armed campaign and pursue the political course which it has publicly articulated. We do not think that PIRA believes that terrorism has a part in this political strategy.

Blown out the water

But any possibility that this might in the longer term be Sinn Fein’s ticket to talks with the DUP were blown out of the water by one phrase:

We have since received reports that not all PIRA’s weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September.

What this does is blow out of the water any possibility that the second report, no matter how positive, can be the Provo’s ticket into government. In fact they are now in the invidious and impossible position of having to prove that they have no weapons! Not only that, but their last coin, support for the police and joining the policing boards, is being taken from them. At the DUP conference (in reality a victory rally) Paisley announced that the DUP would not accept Provo membership and would boycott the police committees if the Provos joined!

None of this is in any way related to a Provo threat or to the military capacity of the organisation. All agree that any remaining military capacity is minute, that fund-raising activities are being wound up and money moved into mainstream areas such as property. If the Provos are spying so what? The DUP publish daily statements based on information from police informants. The central allegation, around which the Provos back is being broken, is that there is a report that they retained weapons!

What is happening is essentially political. The IMC are unable to investigate anything and essentially put a political gloss on police and intelligence reports. What is being said is that unionism is refusing to accept the republican surrender.

The DUP are repudiating any suggestion that the decommissioning of the IRA will lead to a coalition government in some way loosely related to the Good Friday Agreement. They are not saying that no agreement is possible, but that it will be based around their proposals to have a local assembly without a government. They refuse to accept the Provos surrender until they accept that reality.

But it is not the Paisleyites who rule. What does Britain say? When challenged by the policing board they mutter reassuringly.

Their political representative ruling the police, Hugh Orde, supports the board. Faced with the IMC report they roll out General John de Chastelain and the international report to reassure everyone that the report of an arms hold-out – essentially statements of political opposition from with the RUC – have been investigated and ruled out. What we must remember is that both commissions are attempts to conciliate unionism about an issue that should require only a simple government statement, followed by acceptance by the ‘loyal’ unionists.

He doesnt want a parliament that involves sharing power with Catholics

He doesn't want a parliament that involves sharing power with Catholics

Benign view of Loyalist intransigence

The fact that the British spend so much time conciliating their allies and make such muted protests when their conciliation is rejected means that they have granted a veto to unionism in this area as in so many others. Their benign view of loyalist intransigence was confirmed by Secretary of State Hain’s view, immediately following the DUP conference, that he does not expect DUP leader Ian Paisley to gallop into government with Sinn Fein. He went on to say that:

What I do expect of all the parties – the DUP included – is to find a way forward where we can get the assembly up and running and thereafter power-sharing established and restored with ministerial functions being exercised by elected politicians in Northern Ireland.

Careful reading of the convoluted wording of this statement indicates that the British do not expect a fast race, nor do they expect to end at the finish line of the Good Friday agreement, but rather closer to the proposals put forward by the sectarians.

This helps to explain the outing of Denis Donaldson. At the time it was suggested that this was to protect a ‘Mr Big’. The British promptly outed six other leading republicans. Clearly the British are not outing half the republican leadership to protect the other half. The technique in use is common in interrogation.

The interrogator befriends you, only to unexpectedly deal a crippling blow. The blow is He doesn’t want a parliament that involves sharing power with Catholics intended to confuse and disorient you while at the same time telling you that you have not done enough to meet the needs of the interrogator. The republicans have not done enough. They need to do more.

What then of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein’s ally in the nationalist family. Will they not protest the tearing up of a formal international agreement? The answer came from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when the travelled to a meeting of Loyalists last year to assure them that, in the view of Fianna Fail, the Irish national question had been resolved. A series of Gardra raids in advance of the IMC report, targeted at republicans and said to be aimed at disrupting their financial operations was a strong hint about what Irish capital expects from Sinn Fein.

The IMC report and the events around it indicate that the promised land of a sectarian state with an equal share of sectarian privilege that the republicans signed up to is no longer on the table. The DUP are now writing the agenda and will not agree anything that does not guarantee the continuation of the sectarian supremacy and discrimination that are their stock in trade. The Stormont of old may not be achievable; a nasty little sectarian hell-hole with many of the characteristics of the past regime is now what is on offer.

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