Category: Archive

A View North: A blast from the past makes Trimble happy

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland It was like a blast from the past. First, last week, Unionist Party leader David Trimble in Washington hobnobbing with the right-wing Conservative Political Action Committee, condemning people who “romanticize” terrorists. Then, at the same event, Richard Pearle, ex-Reagan official, reported as saying that “Gerry Adams was a terrorist, is a terrorist, and always will be a terrorist.” Finally, sure to bring tears of nostalgia to the eye was the Tuesday, Feb. 20, story in the Washington Post about the machinations of Irish American gunrunners and fund-raisers who are supplying, according to the report, dissident groups like the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA with what they need to carry on their campaigns of terror in Britain and Ireland. It was just like being back in the 1970s and ’80s. Those were the days when terrorists were terrorists, Irish Americans were deluded gun-runners, and no one need get confused by the peace process or the convolutions of conflict resolution efforts. Trimble was a guest at CPAC, which was also attended by the vice president, Dick Cheney, and former Isr’li Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On his return to Belfast, a clearly delighted Trimble told the Belfast Telegraph: “And after my short stay, I have no doubt that the days of moral equivalence in Washington between terrorists and democrats are well and truly over.” Thank God things are getting simple again, so everyone will be able once more to tell a terrorist from a democrat — ie, Yasir Arafat as opposed to Netanyahu. The Unionist leader is reported to have said that he argued against “the contemporary tendency to romanticize terrorism and I found unqualified support.” Clearly, this was meant as a little dig at the former administration of Bill Clinton, who “romanticized” the IRA by helping to bring its armed campaign to an end, something which years of right-wing policies utterly failed to achieve. American conservatives never romanticize “terrorists,” of course, as can be seen from their fierce condemnation over the years of the Contras, General Pinochet and Noriega, to name but three examples. Pearle’s remarks about Adams always being a terrorist (at which Trimble reportedly beamed) take us right back to the “classic” Reagan years, when the Republican administration thought of the North mainly in terms of appeasing Maggie Thatcher by trying to extradite Joe Doherty and dissuading Irish Americans from supporting Irish Northern Aid. It’s good to be reminded of them early on in the new administration, if for no other reason than it clarifies for us just how differently the Northern situation was handled in the Clinton years compared to what went before, of which Pearle’s remarks are a fine example. The report in the Post was certainly in keeping with that 1970s mood. Its decision to run a story about a “fund-raiser” — the Michael Flannery commemorative dinner, held on Jan. 26 in New York — some three weeks after the event had taken place can hardly have been compelled by anything especially newsworthy about the occasion. The reporter, T.R. Reid, sets the tone for the whole story in his opening paragraph. He wrote: “The National Irish Freedom Committee’s fund-raiser here was advertised as a ‘testimonial dinner,’ but police in Ireland came up with a different name for the event: the Gun-runners’ Ball.” After all, the main speaker, he observes, was “an admitted gun-runner” whose “advice to the Irish people . . . is simple: ‘Keep hold of your weaponry.’ ” The gun-runner was, of course, none other than George Harrison, who must be bemused at finding himself at the age of 85 trotted out of retirement by the Washington Post and cast, once more, in the role of a major terrorist threat. The Post’s reporter is not the first to descend on the Irish Freedom Committee’s modest little gatherings in search of buckets of greenbacks supposedly destined for the gunmen and bombers in Ireland. Earlier, the (London) Sunday Times and the Boston Globe both looked at the story of multi-million-dollar Irish-American fund-raising efforts for the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA only to find, alas, that the tales were somewhat exaggerated. The Post’s report is an outdated rehash of all that has gone before without a glimmer of newsworthiness. So, one wonders, why it was undertaken? Is it another sign of a sort of back to the 1970s mentality that seems to be emerging in Washington? No wonder Trimble finds the new atmosphere in the nation’s capital more congenial than it was for him under Clinton. Right-wing Unionists, like all conservatives, want to have their enemies clearly defined. Things get too complicated when “terrorists” like Adams show that the ideological deterministic view of the world is incorrect, and that “terrorists” have politics, and legitimate political aims, just like anybody else, and are able to pursue them without resorting to violence. The Unionist leader was also celebrating the fact that the new administration has abandoned the “micro-managing” of local conflicts such as that in the North. No matter what Unionists said when they were in Washington or New York being wined and dined by their American hosts in the 1990s, they would have always preferred it if the U.S. would have left them alone. Indeed, they would have preferred it if Britain had left them alone instead of butting in from 1968 onward. “Make the world go away” has always been the dominant attitude. To what extant it has gone away, in terms of U.S. involvement, it is still too early to guess. But Trimble is probably right — the new administration will show no interest in the kind of high-pressure approach characteristic of its predecessor. However, he is probably wrong in hoping for a re-run of the 1970s and ’80s, when the North was simply a local security problem and, as far as the U.S. was concerned, it was best to leave it that way. As long as the peace process lasts, underpinned by the IRA’s decision to end the armed campaign and supported by the vast majority of people, it is wishful thinking to imagine that the North will ever again be allowed to slide into the Unionists’ equivalent of “ourselves alone.” The real struggle over the coming years will probably be to insure that the U.S. administration continues to play some role in seeing to it that such recidivism is not allowed to occur.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese