Sticking the Pins Together

A man arrested in Cambridgeshire and charged with criminal damage claimed that he had tripped over his shoelaces, fallen down the stairway, crashed into a very valuable collection of Chinese porcelain vases and smashed them into innumerable pieces accidentally and not deliberately as charged.

Attempts are now being made to reconstruct the vases, gluing them together piece by piece and hoping that some semblance of their former shape can be preserved to be enjoyed by future generations.

In a way, in parallel with this, such thoughts could have been in the minds of Prime Minister Blair and Taoiseach Ahern when they met in Armagh, the ancient capital of Ulster, to place before the local politicians their proposals for rejuvenating the shattered structure of devolved government that had been suspended for three and a half years.

Those who had refused to participate in shaping the structures and who have increasingly tried to frustrate their functioning were self evidently present in the audience and, like the man who smashed the Chinese porcelain, could theoretically be charged with criminal damage.

The proposals from the two governments, which had been trailed in the media and by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, who had touched upon them arising from a question raised in Jonathan Dimbleby’s ‘Any Questions’ BBC Radio 4 programme from Omagh on Friday 31 March, were simple and clear.

The Northern Ireland Assembly will be convened on May 15th and given the task of carrying out the process of electing from their own ranks the Presiding Officer, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. They will also set up the rest of the Executive to function within the procedures of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

If, within six weeks, they fail to do so then, allowing for a summer recess (in Northern Ireland this means the period of the marching season) there will be a further twelve weeks for progress to be made. If not completed by November 24th the Assembly will be ended, in Tony Blair’s words, the chapter will end and the book closed. Salaries and expenses will be terminated and both governments will assume responsibility for governance as laid down in the international treaty that was the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998.

Initial statements from Ian Paisley Senior and Little Sir Echo, Ian Junior, indicate that they are unlikely to agree to filling the posts of First Minister and Deputy first minister along with Sinn Féin, for had the DUP leadership, including their Deputy Leader Peter robinson, been prepared to do so after the last Assembly elections it would not have been suspended.

The Sinn Féin President, Gerry Adams, has called upon the Unionists to reconsider their position and avoid continuance of direct rule if agreement cannot be effected by the November deadline.

However, the launch of the initiative to activate devolved government was overshadowed by the news of the assassination of the former high-ranking Sinn Féin official, who in the course of refuting an allegation of operating a Republican intelligence gathering operation at stormont confessed that he had been an agent of the British government for twenty five years.

Denis Donaldson, who had served time in Long Kesh for his Republican activities, was a close colleague of the leaders and a friend of Bobby Sands who died on hunger strike in the same prison, had gone to live in a remote and primitive cottage in Donegal after he had publicly outed himself as a government agent or spy.

The IRA and Sinn Féin, while acknowledging his betrayal, had announced at the time that his life was in no danger from them. Yet he was savagely assassinated the evening before the two governments were due to announce their plans for a return to devolved government.

Unionist circles were quick to point the finger at the Republican movement. Statements from them that they were not responsible for Denis Donaldson’s death were received suspiciously and with some derision.

There has been much speculation about those who could have killed him, possibly an individual who had suffered at his hands or who had informed on him or on his colleagues or perhaps a Loyalist organisation determined to frustrate the peace process or even a dissident Republican with a similar project in mind.

I have been reading a book by Martin Dillon called ‘Trigger Men’, detailing how undercover agents have engaged themselves over many years and their illegal – often behind the backs of government policy – killings in which they have been involved. So it is not entirely beyond possibility that some such action has taken place. For there are many deeply rooted in these circles who are stubbornly opposed to any change in the status of Northern ireland, even through the democratic process and the reconciliation of its two traditions.

In refusing to accept Republican denials of involvement in Donaldson’s assassination, Unionists are defying the logic of the situation in respect of motivation, for their own reaction itself validates those denials. For there is no value to sinn Féin and those in support of the Good friday Agreement in an action likely to put further obstacles in the way of a return to Assembly government and an inclusive Executive.

To create further distrust and suspicion of continuing Republican paramilitary action is hardly a logical way to support their stated purpose of advancing the peace process. So it is not surprising that Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has indicated that they will be attending the meeting of the reconvened Northern ireland Assembly on May 15th.

When that takes place it is not quite clear what issues will be on the agenda in addition to the election and selection of ministers. Perhaps the proposed restructuring of local councils, or the actions of the Westminster appointees who have been conducting Six Counties affairs since suspension. Maybe the various reports and conclusions of the Independent Monitoring Commission or indeed a discussion of the De Chastelain Commission and the lack of decommissioning by Loyalist paramilitary organisations. One can visualise how these subjects would crete heated arguments.

But will their deliberations get any further than the election of a Presiding Officer and outpourings of invective and stubborn intransigence from the Paisley DUPes?

Will the commemoration in the Republic of the 90 years since the 1916 Easter Rebellion fuel the Orange Order protests and the DUP diehards so that ‘No Surrender’ and ‘No interference from a “Foreign” power’ activate the minds of the Paisleyite ultras.

Are my compatriots in Northern ireland, around one and three quarter million in total, going to continue to live in the seventeenth century or even earlier, or are those with a modicum of intelligence going to exert themselves to bring an end to the influence of the fundamentalist flat earther, Paisley, upon their thinking?

Or can those parties committed to the Good Friday Accord, Unionists, Nationalists, Republicans and others hold bilateral talks and construct an agreed policy for the economic and political development of Northern ireland on the principles rather than on the protocol of the 1998 Agreement so that if the DUP is still mired in the past they can be isolated?

There seems to me that there is no way forward as far as cooperation with the Paisley group is concerned, and I expect that unless the hand of Ian paisley Senior and Little Sir Echo Junior is removed from the controls the chapter and book, as Prime Minister Blair has said, will be closed on November 24th.

Direct Rule, in effect the condominium, which is anathema to Unionists will operate once again and the Assembly as at present constituted will disappear. The DUP would have achieved their aim, but would no doubt initiate objections and street protests along with Loyalist organisations which would expose the true connections of and their mentoring by Paisley cohorts to them – I recall that Paisley used to talk of a ‘third force’.

If there really are Unionists who want to operate the 1998 Agreement they should boldly step forward with proposals to discuss issues with Nationalists of both varieties and non partisan groups. Such proposals, whilst adhering to the principles agreed on April 10th 1998 could be less rigid in their structures.

In my humble opinion, with due modesty, I suggest that they look at my draft outline as submitted to the independent Opsahl Commission in 1992 which, along with other suggestions, is in the Linenhall library in Belfast.

I am less than two weeks away from being 87 years old (26th April), was born and raised in the majority community in East Belfast and since 1929 I have been a participant in the politics of Northern ireland, England and Wales.

I am disgusted and fed up with the continued lack of intelligence shown by many of those million or so voters in the Six Counties and with their reluctance to leave the 17th century for the 21st.
Surely the billions of pounds and billions of words used to awaken those voters will succeed and they will arise from their Rip Van Winkle unconsciousness.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 15 April 2006.

Samuel H. Boyd