They dominated the media, pervasively penetrating the classroom and the lecture hall. They were always lingering in the wings of social discourse, even in a small town in the far southwest of Ireland.
Occasionally, dramatic events, such as Internment, Bloody Sunday and the Hunger Strikes, would make the impact of the conflict more pronounced. At such times, the community would subliminally polarize into factions. The sages and opinion makers would emerge, delving into their reservoirs of local history, emphasizing whether this or that family had been mad IRA,” “Free State” or Blueshirt and, how past political persuasion was a true indicator of contemporary factionalism. Such analysis and opining, of course, would only exacerbate the subliminal divisions.
Life would soon return to relative normality, but the Northern situation, and its attendant passions, were never far beneath the surface. It seemed as if the conflict, the residual of the independence struggle, would be with us in perpetuity. Considering its duration, magnitude and omnipresence, the last six years of relative peace have been an incredible achievement.
All elements of the pan-nationalist front have been genuine and committed in their efforts to implement the agreement in its entirety. IRA weapons have remained silent. There has been engagement with the decommissioning body, resulting in the confirmed rendering of weapons beyond use. The Southern electorate, in its conviction, has changed the abstract, aspiring, verbiage of Articles 2 and 3 of Bunreacht na hEireann in order to quell unionist paranoia.
From unionism, we have experienced only obstacles and impediments. A significant minority of the unionist establishment, the DUP, has never engaged in the process. It has remained on the ditch as the disgruntled cynic, naysayer and soothsayer of doom. The majority of unionists, the UUP, has been a begrudging and reluctant participant. David Trimble’s contribution has been to provide the Northern statelet with unstable government, which is no government at all. He pulls the plug on the Assembly every time unionism throws a tantrum.
Recent harassment indicates that Northern nationalists are still saddled with the RUC specter, albeit with a new name and cap badge. There has been no decommissioning of loyalist armories. Indeed, their disarming is not even an issue with unionists politicians or the British government. There has been absolutely no discussion of a disposition for the thousands of firearms legally possessed by the wider unionist community. Unlike the UK mainland, where the citizen’s legal access to firearms is almost non-existent, in the Northern statelet the legal availability of firearms abounds to supplicants of unionist stock. So much for Northern Ireland being “as British as Finchley.”
Because of the collaboration of the British security apparatus with the armed agents of unionism, because of the weaponry, both legal and illegal, distributed throughout the unionist community and because of the unionist establishment’s contempt for the democratic will of the majority on the island, it would be grossly negligent of the IRA to render the Northern nationalist community defenseless, by engaging in further acts of decommissioning. History would judge the IRA severely if it was to allow a deja vu of the summer of 1969.
The successful implementation of the Good Friday agreement will cause the IRA’s idle weapons and unused explosives, to be rendered useless in the bunkers, by age, dampness and rust. In its frenzied pursuance of IRA decommissioning, unionism is not seeking to create an environment of cooperation and trust. Its objective is the base, jingoistic, triumphalism of IRA surrender. It is the negative, obstructive unionist mindset that needs to be decommissioned.
The unionist establishment appreciates with trepidation that should the GFA be implemented in its entirety, a united Ireland would inevitably follow, probably within a generation. With nationalist and unionists governing and legislating, unimpeded, in the Assembly, in the interests of the entire community of the transitional Northern statelet and with Northerners and Southerners engaged productively, on the cross-border bodies, for the benefit of all the people of the island, the dynamic would inevitably gravitate toward unity.
Thus, the unionist establishment’s fixation with IRA decommissioning, as an obstruction to progress, is a sham. If the convenient obstacle of decommissioning were to suddenly disappear, David Trimble and Peter Robinson would have to invent a new insurmountable hurdle.
The U.S., British and Irish governments need to focus on introducing the unionist establishment to modernity. The sun has set on the British Empire and on the redundant ideology of unionism. History, geography, demographics and destiny are arrayed against it. In 1918, the majority on the island voted to sever its relationship with Britain. It was denied. Eighty years later, in 1998, an overwhelming majority voted for the Good Friday agreement. Will the majority on the island be cheated, yet again, by an archaic, obdurate ideology? The contrived unionist majority was, in reality, always a shrinking minority. It has frustrated the island’s destiny for too long.
Realpolitik dictates that the satisfactory resolution of the Irish question will only occur in the context of the quality of the Irish American dimension. Recent follies of the main political actors of nationalist Ireland, in this regard, appear incomprehensible at first glance.
What a ridiculous spectacle in Hillsborough. As the Iraqi people celebrated their liberation, Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and Mark Durkan of the SDLP commenced a meeting, ostensibly on the GFA, by presenting antagonistic missives to the U.S. president denouncing the American “invasion” of Iraq. To compound the farce, Bertie Ahern arrives, as Kofi Annan’s emissary, bearing the censures, critiques and pleadings of his great autocratic, kleptocracy.
The SDLP, apprehensive about losing electoral territory to Sinn Fein, is now, obviously trying to surpass Sinn Fein in the left-wing derby. The Southern Irish establishment, oblivious to the seismic shifts in international relations since Sept. 11, harks back to the Arcadian era of Southern Ireland’s debutante years in the United Nations. The mandarins of Iveagh House are intoxicatingly fixated on an illusory neutrality and are self-delusional in regarding themselves, yet, as the great hope of a chimerical “non aligned movement.
Only one rationale can explain Sinn Fein’s lust to antagonize the United States, and to align itself with the residual of international socialism. The party under Gerry Adams, as it did under Cathal Goulding, has transcended the national question. Irish unity is no longer the priority on Sinn Fein’s agenda. The apparatchiks sense the gradual realignment of Southern Irish politics toward a pronounced left and right axis. The new priority is to ensure that Sinn Fein occupies the major niche on the left side of this new divide. Irish unity has become a secondary consideration.
The opinions expressed represent those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Irish Echo.