For about an hour on Monday, it seemed quite possible that the Haass Talks would “succeed”. I dont know how Success and Failure is measured but I welcome the “Failure”. Indeed I dont even think they were intended to succeed.
Our Constitution is the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. About 95% of the population in the Republic of Ireland voted for it. As far as can be gathered the same percentage of “northern nationalists” voted for it. And around 54% of “northern unionists” supported the Agreement.
In a Referendum…on the same day…the Good Friday Agreement is the will of the People of Ireland.
Of course it was a product of Creative Ambiguity…and in 1998, the Ambiguity was hailed as a strength. It was a minimalist Agreement, holding out hopes for progress on Policing, Victims, Truth, Justice, Bill of Rights,Irish language, De-Commissioning of Paramilitary weapons, all-Ireland institutions, prisoner releases.
Some…notably Policing…have been dealt with successfully. Others…notably Truth…have been shelved.
In retrospect, it is obvious that an Agreement sold as providing stepping stones to a United Ireland AND a series of obstacles to a United Ireland could not hold. The “unionist” population always wary…and always circling the wagons like pioneers in 1870s Montana or 1970s West Bank…predictably record their “fear”.
The evidence….54%….indicates that unionists gave the Agreement a grudging benefit of the doubt…and with the Agreement in the hands of UUP and SDLP as the majority Northern voices,there was always a degree of pressure to placate unionists…and of course UUP used their own fears to get more concessions than actually in the Agreement.
Let me be clear about this. I voted for the Agreement and for some years after 1993, voted Sinn Fein for entirely private (ie non-political reasons). After the Agreement, I voted SInn Fein on the principle that the SDLP were “giving away too much” to UUP.
Of course there is more. I think the Good Friday Agreement was largely due to SDLP and John Hume particuarly. But I think the Leadership of the SDLP after 1998…Seamus Mallon, Brid Rodgers, Sean Farren and Carmel Hanna were at the end of their careers! tired and weak.
They were certainly sniped at by Sinn Fein, who played their cards better and more energetically.
The UUP was a mirror image. The DUP sniped at David Trimble.
And Sinn Fein played Trimble too…particuarly on De-Commissioning of Weapons.
The SDLP excuse their poor post-Agreement performance…with some justification on the (expected) sniping from nationalist and unionist extremes and being undermined by the Irish, British and American Governments.
But lets look at that. Primarily the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was in the hands of UUP and SDLP…and frankly “moderates” cannot deliver.
It was extremist Margaret Thatcher who did the deal with Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe.
It was the Thatcher-Major Governments who initiated and maintained secret contact with the Irish Republican Army.
There is no way Labour could have done these things.
It was Richard Nixon who went to China.
It was Gerald Ford who ended the Vietnam War.
It was Ronald Reagan who ended the Cold War.
Could any Democrat President have done any of this?
It was Prime Minister Begin (the former terrorist-freedom fighter) of Israel who met President Sadat of Egypt.
No Israeli with a record of moderation could have done that.
So we cannot be surprised that UUP and SDLP (a) could not deliver (b) the delivery undermined by local “extremes” and (c) were hung out to dry by Irish, British and American Governments who saw the way things were going.
Of course what we have now,thanks to the St Andrews Agrement and the Hillsborough Agreement are watered down amendments to the Good Friday “Constitution”.
Assembly Elections have put DUP and SF in the driving seat.
Alliance Party…the great hope of LetsGetAAlongerism …is promoted above its mandate to be the client of DUP-SF. Simply put Alliance is a sell-out masquerading as a force for moderation in an extremist Government.
DUP and Alliance have a vested interest in taking UUP out of the political game.
SF and Alliance have a vested interest in taking SDLP out of the game.
DUP and SF co-exist in government in a way that they would never let UUP-SDLP have done.
In recent years, I have voted SDLP. In 2009, it was largely due to my personal a admiration for European Election candidate, Alban Magennis. From 2010, I would say it was on principle…including the fact that SF were selling out in much the same way that they had accused SDLP of doing.
I think SDLP analyse the situation correctly (yes I am a member of the party but hopefully not uncritical).
Consider these statements.
“It is a one-party state with a Green Wing and an Orange Wing.”
“The DUP-SF can veto anything that they disagree about and bulldoze any measure that they agree on thru the Assembly”
Do any of these statements ring true?
Neither DUP or Sinn Fein have any interest in the Flegs Dispute…now a year old and the related Parades Dispute getting out of hand to the extent of bringing down the Government.
Its not a question of DOING something.
Its a question of BEING SEEN TO BE DOING Something.
Call in the Americans.
Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O’Sullivan.
Might as well call in Dr Who and a Companion.
It was a Sham before it ever started.
They were invited to chair discussions on three issues.
Flegs. Parades. The Legacy of the Past.
Is it possible to imagine any scenario in which an internationally respected diplomat and an internationally respected academic are called in to discuss three issues…at least two of which are trivia.
For a century the British Flag has flown over the City Hall in Belfast. Belfast now has more nationalist councillors than unionist councillors. The so called moderates in Alliance Party hold the balance of power. Nationalists vote to remove the Flag but support an Alliance motion to fly it on designated days such as “Royal” birthdays. Instead of grabbing at this compromise, unionists reject it and the loyalist mob take to the streets.
The Designated Days actually force unionists to think.
As they pass the City Hall and see the British Flag, they now have to ask themselves “Who’s Birthday is it to day….Charles, William, Lady Di (deceased). Arguably this should make the “loyalists” more ….”loyal”.
What could we expect from Richard Haass?
No nationalist was going to go back to the old status quo.
Nor was any nationalist going to accept the Alliance favoured solution that the British Flag flies everywhere (including places where it doesn’t fly like Derry and Newry) on designated days.
Everything was a non-starter.
We have a Parades Commission (£22,000 salary per member….more for the Chair) which rules on (mostly) Orange Parades, issues instructions as to routes, numbers, bands, behaviour….all of which is ignored by organisers of contentious parades.
We have news coverage of bad behaviour…Offensive chanting, music up to and including urinating on the walls of Catholic Churches.
It was ever thus.
All of which is used as evidence by Catholic residents that this is part of a pattern of behaviour which is representative of “Orange Culture” rather than unrepresentative as claimed by unionists.
DUP and UUP were always going to press for the abolition of the Parades Commission but were never going to tolerate the re-branding, especially if linked to a code of behaviour for their “culture”.
The Legacy of the Past.
Ah the Past…I can barely remember it myself.
And indeed with the IRA on ceasefire for nearly two decades, of we reckon a person would need to be 35 years of age to have any meaningful memory of the Troubles Years, half the population have no real memory.
Of course this is not necessarily true in Shankill Road or Falls Road. The people there live with the legacy…as do people in Crossmaglen and Rathcoole. But quite a lot of middle-aged and elderly people in large swathes of Norn Iron barely noticed that there was a Civil War going on. And too many chose to ignore it.
Now it is fashionable for “respectable people” to listen….to stories that have been screamed to their deaf ears for forty odd years.
Now they want to feel MY pain….
They can feck off.
When I was screaming it, they didn’t want to know.
No doubt, some lobbyists, some academics and PhD Research students spent Christmas optimistically telling their family and friends that they might be named on a Commission to look at the Legacy of the Past. Thankfully they are confounded again. Thatg racy train is still in the Station and all that networking at Norn Iron Office receptions and hosting seminars to prove their committment to LetsGetAlongerism has not worked.