I think the Queen visiting Ireland is an overwhelmingly good thing. It suggests that a majority of the Irish and and a large majority of its ruling class no longer hate the British. Good.
But there was one thing that disturbed me: the Queen laying a wreath at the memorial to the dead of the Irish War of Independence.
Quick analysis time.
What was on offer before the war:
Devolution excluding Ulster
What was accepted after the war:
Dominion status excluding Ulster
Was it worth it?
Even if I were properly, Gaelic Irish and a passionate believer in Irish independence I’d have to say no.
I’ve recently been very struck my EU Referendum’s criticisms of the Paras.
Undoing in a few violent minutes what took years to contrive. Armed thugs. That kind of thing.
Do you agree with him? Or is that kind of thing irrelevant also? (I don’t ask in a snearing way. I genuinely ask.)
Yes, I was very struck by what North had to say too. Especially his piece on Ballymurphy. Clearly the Paras had form.
However, I’m not sure about this idea of “undoing” valuable work. The days when soldiers were sharing cups of tea with the locals were long gone. There was a fully-fledged IRA campaign already in existence. There were several no-go areas which security forces would not normally enter and were controlled on a day-to-day basis by the IRA. Almost 200 people had been killed in the previous year. The situation had got so bad that the government had introduced internment - not a decision that they would have taken lightly even then. So, the situation was pretty bad even without the Paras.
I can’t imagine they did a lot of good but I’m far from convinced that Bloody Sunday acted as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA - it was pretty strong already.
It think the real significance of Bloody Sunday was that it knocked Britain off the moral high ground. When Britain tried to make its case the IRA could just turn round and say: “What about Bloody Sunday?” Worse still, it was very difficult for Britain to admit the mistake. Loyalty works both ways. If you want your soldiers to be loyal to you, you had better be loyal to them. We’ve seen much the same sort of thinking more recently wih the rigging of the de Menezes inquest. Other readers may remember the day SO19 (Scotland Yard’s snipers) went on strike after a couple of their colleagues were suspended. In the case of the Paras they clearly believed they (and it is they) could get away with it. Which implies that that belief was being reinforced by those in authority above them. That raises questions that governments don’t like to answer.
The IRA has a fundamental problem: it is a fascist organisation in a democratic age. If you apply democratic principles through the Wilsonian doctrine of self-determination to Ulster you would have to say that Britain has no business governing the West Bank of the Foyle, South Armagh and West Belfast. (There are other areas that I could probably mention especially in Tyrone but it starts to get very complicated so I won’t). What the IRA has been trying to do for 40 years is to use that injustice as a wedge to secure the fascist aim of getting the rest of Ulster into a united Ireland.
So, the answer is to withdraw from nationalist areas? To my mind yes but there are problems. Since 1945 states have been incredibly reluctant to alter borders. That’s one of the reasons Africa is such a mess, with borders crossing tribal lines and bringing together under one governmental roof all sorts of people eg the Shona and Matabele, who don’t get on. I think this reluctance has something to do with the experience of the 1930s but I’m really not sure. The other problem is working out what constitutes a “nationalist” area. Would they include places like the Fountain in Londonderry, Suffolk in West Belfast and Enniskillen? all of them oases of unionism in deserts of nationalism.
I see in the light of the Saville Report some people have been claiming that the Northern Ireland Troubles were caused by the denial of civil rights to Catholics in the 1960s. It is a very common claim and has become part of the “official” history. Unfortunately, it is wrong.
Let us begin with the standard story. This claims that Ulster’s Catholics suffered from discrimination in jobs, housing and elections. Occasionally, the issue of the B Specials gets added to the list. The Catholics protested, their protests were attacked, they responded by rioting and the Troubles started. Later on the IRA joined the fray.
Unfortunately, there seem to be some inconsistencies even with this story. First of all, why would anyone want to discriminate on the grounds of religion in the 1960s? The 1690s maybe. But 300 years later? Secondly, even if you did want to discriminate, how would you know what religion job applicants or housing applicants were?
The next problem is that the claim was falsified. An equal employment commission was set up. Government housing was taken out of the hands of councils and put in the hands of the British Government. The voting laws were changed to bring them into line with those on the other side of the Irish Sea. The B Specials were abolished. And yet the IRA campaign continued.
The next problem is that large parts of the original claim were untrue. Or at least, they missed bits out. Were Londonderry Corporation’s boundaries gerrymandered in August 1969 (when the Troubles started)? No. I can say that with absolute confidence because Londonderry Corporation had been abolished earlier that year. Was there discrimination in housing? Difficult to say, the only reasonably comprehensive survey I am aware of forms part of Richard Rose’s Governing Without Consensus. He found some differences but only minor ones. If you want a fuller account of this have a look at Paul Kingsley’s Londonderry Revisited if you can find it.
So, what’s the real explanation for 30 years and 3000 dead?
Nationality, ethnicity and borders. There are two nations in Ulster: the Irish and the British. They don’t get on. They don’t trust one another. Sure, on a personal level there are plenty of examples of individual Irishmen getting on with individual Britons but on a collective level? Hell no. Each nation wants to live under a state it feels it can trust. The Ulster British want that state to be Britain. The Ulster Irish want that state to be the Republic of Ireland. That’s been true for at least 150 years.
Father Dennis Faul was once asked why all the reforms since 1969 hadn’t made a great deal of difference. I can’t remember his exact words but it was something like: “The facts don’t matter, the perceptions do.” In other words the Ulster Irish will think ill of the British no matter what. Enoch Powell once said: “Nationality is what you feel.” The point of both these statements is that you can’t change someone’s nationality. It’s not amenable to reason.
So, don’t try.
But I digress. The point is that nations and states were always the issue. Civil rights were simply tactically convenient.
Well, the real lesson is that we shouldn’t have states. No states, no disagreements about which state should govern what territory, no terrorist campaigns, no army deployments. But short of that libertarian nirvana the lesson ought to be that if you think you need troops to police an area eg the Bogside, then you probably shouldn’t be there at all. Or don’t try to govern people who don’t want you to govern them.
Also, interesting article on Bloody Sunday over on EU Referendum - all about colonial chickens coming home to roost. And another one which links to good article by Kevin Myers about the Paras and their extraordinary brutality.
By all means stand Conservative and Unionist candidates, but a readiness to do a back room deal with what [ie unionists] remains a bigoted and sectarian political force is not something of which to be proud…
The Orangemen have played off the mainland parties for decades, trading their votes for favours…
First of all, it has nothing to do with religion. It is an ethnic/national dispute.
Secondly, I spent a year working for Unionists as a researcher. If they were indeed a bunch of bigots (on either religious or ethnic lines) I think I would have noticed. Mind you, bearing in mind the intimidation unionists have had to put up with over the years (and to the best of my knowledge still goes on albeit at a lower level), along with the fear of what might happen if Republicans ever got into a position of real power I think a certain amount of bigotry is excusable. Guido’s, on the other hand, is not.
Thirdly, seeing as the year I spent as a Unionist researcher was the year the Major government lost its majority, then if the unionists were indeed adept at playing the parties off against one another, again, I think I would have noticed. If memory serves the total haul from that year was an extra 200 tons of fish for Down fishermen. During the hung parliament of the 1970s (again if memory serves) all the unionists got was an increase in the number of seats to bring Ulster in line with England (not even the over-representation of Wales and Scotland).
“I think the counter-terrorist people probably deserve some credit for not topping the IRA leadership.”
“A market among thieves is better than no market at all.”
The continuing ceasefire in Northern Ireland baffles me. Ian Paisley’s decision to share power with Martin McGuinness even more so. Brian thought my befuddlement would make a good topic for a podcast so on Monday we sat down to record our musings on the matter - musings that you can listen to by following the link at the end of this post.
I should point out that I am reasonably well qualified (some will doubtless say uniquely ill-qualified) to address the subject of Northern Ireland as I spent a year as researcher to David Trimble and am the author of a couple of pamphlets on the subject. However, I confess I am rather rusty.
In the podcast we discussed the various theories put forward for this seemingly miraculous peace: the end of the Cold War, the start of the War on Terror, the birth of the Irish Tiger and ageing of the IRA’s leadership.
There were a few things we missed. We forgot to examine the possibility that in fact things are really quite violent - it’s just that many incidents aren’t being reported. And there were a few more things I wanted to say about the British-Irish Treaty.
And what is a “switherer”?
Running time: (47 mins)
Update This is the blog post Brian is referring to in the comments.
What makes you think that?
Because the core issue at the heart of the conflict has never been resolved.
And that issue is...?
Not so much where the border between Ireland and the UK should be but how it should be determined. The Irish nationalist viewpoint is that the island of Ireland should form one political unit. The unionist viewpoint is that the border should be determined on the basis of self-determination. Or to put it another way, with the nationalist approach you determine the border and then ask the people what state they want to be part of whereas with the unionist approach you ask the people what state they want to be part of and then determine the border.
But I thought it was all about religion?
Oh goodness, no (warning: short).
So, if the conflict is still on-going how come the shooting’s stopped?
That is something of a mystery to me. My guess is that it’s a combination of 9/11, the concessions that the IRA secured from the British government and the belief that an Irish nationalist majority is not far off.
So, everything is fine and dandy then?
Until there’s an Irish majority in Ulster.
And then what happens?
Well, according to the British-Irish treaty Ulster becomes part of the Republic. The fly in the ointment is that there will still be a sizeable British majority in Eastern Ulster. They would be quite entitled to demand self-determination. It could easily start to look like a re-run of the Home Rule Crisis.
If, that is, the Ulster British are prepared to fight.
Which is, of course, the big question. If demographics are against them, if they get no support from the mainland, if the Republic no longer seems that threatening and if, after defeats like Drumcree, they no longer believe they can hold out then, maybe, they won’t. And Blair will have been right all along.
Natalie and I have been arguing about internment. She doesn’t like it and was against the government’s proposals for detention without trial. One of her reasons for opposing internment is that she believes that we haven’t needed it in the past. I e-mailed her to let her know that we have used internment rather a lot over the years.
That it has been used, of course, does not prove that it has been needed. Natalie certainly makes a compelling case against its use in World War II.
She may be right, though I think had I been German at the time I would have been rather grateful to have been removed from the native population. From what I know there was a lot less of the sort of anti-German mob violence that we got in the First World War.
Anyway, this is all rather by the by. My central point was that internment is essential when dealing with terrorist groups who can find refuge in unassimilated populations such as the Ulster Irish or (as may turn out to be the case) British Muslims. In the case of Ulster the rule seems clear enough; if you use internment (resolutely) you win: if you don’t you lose.
That does not mean I like internment. But given a choice between losing a few liberties and becoming part of the Caliphate ie losing them all, I know which I would pick.
That is, of course, assuming that that is the choice. There are others. Unassimilated populations tend to be, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, geographically concentrated. One could give these areas a choice: either assimilate eg don’t harbour terrorists, don’t allow pro-terrorist sentiment, accept the status quo OR have your area removed from the UK. The area would then become a separate sovereign state and would be subject to the same arrangements that all sovereign states are subject to ie the border remains closed until we’re happy.
Incidentally, I was against the government’s proposals. Not because I am against internment (clearly) - I would have gone much further - but because I have doubts about Tony Blair’s commitment to the cause. If you are going to use something as draconian as internment you’ve really got to mean it.
Over the last few hours I have heard it said from several quarters how Britain will stand up to and defeat the perpetrators of yesterday’s atrocities in London. Which staggers me. I find myself wondering what on earth makes them think that. All, and I mean all, the evidence is that British politicians will talk tough before conceding. Here is a list (by no means complete) of British acts of weakness in the face of the IRA, every single one of them made after earnest speeches championing the virtues of democracy decrying the vileness of terrorism and claiming how we would never, never give in:
- the creation of no-go areas
- the abolition of the B Specials
- 1972 talks with the IRA
- the abolition of Stormont
- the weakening of internment
- the abolition of internment
- the introduction of religious discrimination laws
- allowing the Irish government a say in Ulster affairs
- concessions to the hunger strikers
- 1993 talks with the IRA
- negotiations without disarmament
- allowing the IRA into government without disarmament
- the release of IRA convicts
- the rerouting of Orange Order parades
- the abolition of the RUC
- the destruction of army bases
- the abolition of the right to self-determination
The last few were all made by Tony “we must never give in to terrorism” Blair.
It is, of course, possible that for once the British government will demonstrate some backbone. There are significant differences between the IRA and al-Qaeda. The IRA’s aims are limited - as yet it has no claims on the British mainland. The IRA’s propaganda is more effective. The IRA has never done something so outrageous that the government has had to act. But that can change. Al-Qaeda can learn.
The British government has a lot to prove.
Mark Steyn seems to agree with me.
Update 09/07/05. Bearing in mind the comments a couple of further points:
1. You should never make concessions to terrorists even if those concessions are perfectly sensible. It only encourages them.
2. We would all like to live in a world where we can be nice and win - just like in Hollywood. But what if that isn’t an option? What if the options are a) be nice and lose and b) be nasty and win? Me? I’ll take b) every time.
The IRA can be defeated
In comments to Brian’s piece on the IRA (which links to here - thanks Brian) I see the re-occurrence of that old canard that the IRA cannot be defeated by military means alone.
Yes it can.
It has to be. If democracy cannot defend itself against its enemies then it is doomed. Now, I might have all sorts of doubts about democracy but it’s the best thing we have right now and a damn site better than the fascist alternative of the IRA.
The strongest objection of the opponents of force is the claim that we tried it in the early 1970s and it didn’t work. Well, certainly something didn’t work. But that was not the first IRA campaign. There were others notably in the 1920s, 1940s (yes, really) and 1950s. They were all defeated. So, the question has to be: what was different about the 1970s?
First of all, there was the disbandment of the B Specials. This led to a loss of intelligence and it becoming much harder to patrol the border.
Secondly, there was the creation of no-go areas - areas which the police did not enter and where the IRA could operate with impunity. This allowed the IRA to organise effectively. It also further deprived the security services of intelligence. This meant that when internment was introduced many of those who should have been detained were not and many of those who shouldn’t have been were.
Thirdly, no pressure was applied to the Irish government. This meant that the IRA was allowed to organise in the south. It also meant that when internment was introduced it was introduced only in the North and not in the South.
Fourthly, the UK government progressively watered down internment after Bloody Sunday I. I can’t quite remember the details but I seem to remember they got the courts involved and released a whole bunch of people.
Despite this (and this is one of the great secrets of the early 1970s) and even in its watered down form, internment was working. How do we know this? Partly, because then-IRA member Sean O’Callaghan says so and partly because of the numbers of dead.
The claim is often made that internment acted as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA. If that is true why is it that on previous occasions on the introduction of internment violence had gone down and not up? If it is true how come the number of dead went down in 1973? Where were all these eager, young and freshly-trained terrorists?
Defeating terrorism is an ugly business - a lesson we are currently relearning - think Guantanamo Bay, think Abu Ghraib. But it can be done.