Bamboozled by the British
To many Irish American political activists the whole process which became known as the 'Good Friday Agreement' was considered as some thing of a success; something for us Irish-American activists to be proud of. An American President, as a result of our political agitation, in conjunction with the all encompassing political and military struggle in Northern Ireland, had gotten involved in what had been euphemistically called the 'troubles' for far too long. After years of presidential aspirants promising the entire spectrum of Irish American voters and political activists that if elected they would take an active interest in the state of affairs in Northern Ireland, a US President, Bill Clinton, to his credit finally kept the promise so many others made.
Basically the first step consisted of issuing a temporary visa -- over the strenuous objections of the British Prime Minister, and Clinton's own State Department -- to Provisional Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams. Mr. Adams brief visit was more of a symbolic than an actual victory. The visa’s duration was measured in hours and the scope of his travel was extremely limited to the Washington New York corridor.
What it basically meant was that despite the objections of British government leaders, the Irish Republican case was going to be heard by more than just the Irish American community in America. Mr. Adams was interviewed on American television, and in other media by such mainstream journalists as PBS's Charlie Rose.
It was hoped that there would be many immediate positive effects of US involvement in negotiations. That The Irish in having a friend like Bill Clinton intervene, his being someone the British were forced deal as fairly with as they would ever have to deal with anyone, might finally be able to get a fair hearing of their centuries of grievances This was not just the hope of the political neophytes or the politically naive; many long term, hard core activists also had their hopes heightened.
If successful it would hopefully mean an end to the war in Northern Ireland. Sectarianism as practiced by the British sponsored Loyalist community after many centuries would finally be coming to an end. Political prisoners would be released from prison, hunger strikes would be a thing of the past. Soldiers in armored vehicles would no longer be firing rubber or live bullets into crowds of kids.
British soldiers who in so many places and battles in the world have been allied with America's soldiers, would no longer be the cause of such dichotomous emotions and thoughts, that we as loyal Americans as well as concerned Irish-Americans were forced to feel and think when we observed the news film footage from places like Belfast, and Derry, especially during the summer month's orange marching season.
That was ten years ago. What has changed? One positive thing is killing has decreased; this was the result of the Nationalist communities willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to their historical antagonists. The negatives remain what they always were, the loyalists still seek to impose their sectarian marches on the nationalist community. Thousands of British troops are still stationed in Northern Ireland. People are still segregated in virtually the same ghettos they were segregated in before. Nationalists are still attacked for their religious and political affiliation.
When Nationalist / Catholic families attempt to find better accommodations for their families, if they stray, unwittingly or not, across the sectarian dividing line into Loyalist / Protestant areas it will not be long before harassment, intimidation, threats of violence and violence itself is visited upon them, their possessions, and any visitors they may have. Their only recourse is to flee the area and either go back to where they came from if possible, or go somewhere completely new but into the same type segregated ghetto from which they had initially tried to escape.
The Legislative Assembly that was going to bring direct, all inclusive government to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, does not have the same authority as many city or town councils, much less State legislative bodies. As a matter of fact the assembly has been prorogued for four out of the ten years of its existence, leaving the province again directly ruled by an elected British official and his agency. The very same NIO (Northern Ireland Office) that negotiated in such bad faith -- assisted by their colleagues in MI5 -- with both sets of hunger strikers in the early 1980s.
Those of us old enough to remember the events which preceded this latest round of the 800 year struggle of the Irish people for self determination find certain aspects of the most recent developments familiar and unsettling.
The first feeling of 'De Ja Vu' comes from the actuality of Stormont itself. A marble monument to ascendancy, bigotry and hatred. Stormont was intended to be a sectarian institution. Reforming a sectarian institution especially one that was intentionally designed seems in hindsight to be a futile exercise akin to reforming the Ku Klux Klan. The ten years of treading water that has been the sole accomplishment of the Legislative Assembly is about all that can be expected of that type of institution.
When the IRA fought the British Army to a standstill in the war of 1919 -1921 it was generally expected that the end result would be the 32 county republic, that had been the hope of the Irish people for centuries, what they had voted for as a national unit, what had been so eloquently called for in the words and deeds of men like General Theobald Wolfe Tone and Padraic Pearse. Instead what they received was a form of home rule that had been available since the 1880s.
Many segments of the British ruling class were looking to resolve their 'Irish Problem' in exactly that way. Had one British parliamentary party or another fallen short by a few votes, necessitating inclusion of the Irish Parliamentary party's MP's (Members of Parliament) in a coalition to form a government, a Home Rule bill was the usual inducement offered the Irish party leader of the time. The British and Irish MP's both knowing full well the measure would face a sure veto in the House of Lords. At that time this was the uncrowned Irish King himself, Charles Stuart Parnell, after his lamentable fall, John Redmond and then John Dillon held the Irish party's reins.
Once the newly formed 'Home Rule' government was finally in place the British government having co-opted former Irish Republicans by empowering them with access to the British arsenal, and funds from the exchequer, created British civil servants or British Ministers out of Irish revolutionaries. The Brits threatened their newly empowered allies with ruin if they did not silence those of their former comrades whose rage at the betrayal of the Republic could not be bought or assuaged with the keys to Dublin Castle. They complied by imprisoning and executing their former allies at the behest of the British.
The same situation applies to Stormont today. The British having at best fought to a stalemate, despite every material and military advantage with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, have co-opted certain members of the political leadership of the republican movement. Namely those in Provisional Sinn Fein.
The men who stood in opposition to the Twenty-Six County Government did so on the grounds that they fervently believed that the sacrifices made by their fellow Republican Soldiers on the field of battle, in British prisons, in front of firing squads and on the gallows did not suffer in order to become British civil servants. The Four Courts Battles and all the remaining intra-republican civil war struggles, schisms, splits, of the twentieth century were the long-term results of those eventful days.
The legislative assembly currently sitting at Stormont is the exact same one that the British government has wanted to reconvene ever since the Provisional Irish Republican Army caused its downfall in 1972. Then its name was the 'Parliament of Northern Ireland'. Stormont was brought down by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) rendering the province / statelet ungovernable by its intense military campaign.
The British continually offered various proposals through processes known as 'Hillsborough' and 'Sunningdale' etc. all of which were deemed as unacceptable to the Republican leadership, who accepted them twenty -five years later when they were called the 'Good Friday Agreements', and they were in position to personally profit from their acceptance.
It is just as if twenty-five years of the Irish struggle had never happened. The Blanket men, the Hunger Strikes, all those who were imprisoned on ships, the women in Armagh, the lads in Crumlin Road, or in the 'H' blocks of Long Kesh not withstanding, those imprisoned abroad, not to mention all those who died, combatants and innocents.
The political status that was fought for by blanket protest, no wash protest and hunger strike by Irish Political and Prisoners of War, was signed away with the with the stroke of a pen by the very comrades who came to power and prominence on the back of the rank and files sacrifices.
A political status that many across the globe recognized as legitimate, -- even the British believed so until a magical day in 1976. Brave, young, Kieran Nugent refused the British prison warders demands that he don criminal prison garb by defying them to 'nail it to his back', Others, the world over, not only those actively involved in the republican movement, believed in the justice of political status for Irish POWs, which has been given away by self professed republicans, for the honor of a seat across from Mr. Paisley.
Like their predecessors in the 1920s a great many republicans feel that they have been sold out, their sacrifices bartered for the pride of place and position of a few former comrades. The men of those days were once the stalwarts of the Republican movement too. Men like Michael Collins who were loved, who men would kill for or follow to their deaths during the war against England.
Today's angered Republicans believe that the recent developments have cemented British dominion over Northern Ireland to an extent never experienced or even considered through the long struggle. People feel they were lied to. They were told the IRA's weapons would never be destroyed. They were. It wasn't because the Nationalists were blood thirsty that the weapons were a matter of importance. It was a matter of remembering history. It was the Loyalists and British Army's response to peaceful civil rights marches that ignited the last round of hostilities.
The Official IRA was virtually moribund, unable to provide defense for the Nationalist neighborhoods that were savagely attacked by sectarian gangs. That was the impetus for the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, (PIRA) the Provo's, that so many were proud to support for thirty years (myself included) and align themselves with as they fiercely defended their people against overwhelming odds.
Today they have destroyed their means of defending those whose only real hope they were. Anyone with an even rudimentary understanding of Ireland's history can understand the reluctance, nay the dread, felt by the Nationalist community, when it considers that its safety from sectarian attack comes from the very sectarian agencies that have been proven by international bodies to have colluded to murder them with Loyalist Paramilitary organizations in the past, and are now to be the only entities keeping them safe and secure.
These same Republican leaders avowed that they would never take seats in English partition institutions. Would never become British ministers or civil servants. But they have. It is now their sworn duty to oppose the very people whose struggle created the political and military stalemate that made negotiations necessary after thirty years of war.
These men were once the stalwarts of the republican movement. Talented men and women who fought, wrote, led, aspired themselves and inspired others. People believed. Would have followed them to the grave as many did, including the ten hunger strikers.
What did they get? Seats in Stormont? The 'Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People' as one of its prime ministers once boastfully declared. It must be admitted that there are some differences between the Parliament that met at Stormont and the 'Legislative Assembly' that sits there now. The British obviously feel they have lowered their standards for admittance. Even hated Republicans can be members.
They are willing to remove any mention of 'Royalty' in the name of the policing agency; as in the Royal Ulster Constabulary becoming the 'Police Service of Northern Ireland'. At present this is the most significant alteration.
It might be remembered that it is this very organization (PSNI) though under its former (RUC) name, that rioted, drunk, during the period of the 'People's Democracy' 'marches, during Bernadette Devlin's time as MP, driving entire streets of Nationalists out of their homes, while terrorising, beating and burning many of them out. They also witnessed the beating of the peace movement marchers, while taking no action as police officers, sworn officers of the peace, except to occasionally aid some of the beaters.
The fact is Irish Republicans do not believe that it is possible to reform a sectarian institution, especially from the inside. What would a reformed sectarian institution do? Only hate Nationalists and Catholics on odd days? During non leap years? That is why the Provisional Irish Republican Army themselves first tried, then successfully overthrew the Northern Parliament while by that time even the British establishment in London agreed it should cease operating.
This time the British have even been successful in assuring that the type of political agitation that led the United States Government to become involved in the Northern Irish tragedy could not be duplicated. Using the events of 9/11/01, in conjunction with the State Department clique that since the days of John Jay have sought to impose Anglophilic policies on the American people, have made it a federal crime (18 U.S.C. § 2339A (b) for supporting the cause of Irish freedom, advocated by groups like Republican Sinn Fein, an abstentionist political party with a political program, and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which protests the injustice of sectarian Northern Irish institutions and their counterparts in the Irish 'free state' whose collusion against the Irish Republican groups which offer the only real hope for substantial change, but challenge their vested and exalted powerful status
These are the groups that the US Government have have declared to be Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The very actions that we as Irish-Americans had taken on behalf of those under attack in Northern Ireland for over one hundred and fifty years will now make us criminals; felons subject to imprisonment and harsh fines. It is likely that this was also a quid pro quo for British support in Iraq.
London has seen fit to shut the 'new' Stormont down for 4 out of the ten years of its most recent incarnation; perhaps they’re on the right track. Before this injustice is carried much further into the new millennium people need to question why groups like Republican Sinn Fein, with a political program for a united, non-sectarian Irish state is barred from presenting that program to people in the United States and elsewhere.
The British who have been masters of statecraft and manipulation throughout their long history have probably pulled off one of their greatest maneuvers, this time with the aid not only of certain Irish republicans but with their hopeful American supporters and their politicians included. Thankfully there are those committed and determined Irish Republicans who will never allow themselves to be BAMBOOZLED BY THE BRITISH, and they require our aid now.