Despite the failure of the campaign aimed at undermining Sinn Féin support at the recent Irish election, we can expect more evidence of ‘dirty tricks’ in the run up to the Stormont assembly elections next Spring, warns the Irish Democrat’s northern correspondent Bobbie Heatley
THERE IS but a slender chance that the British House of Lords will rule in favour of Ian Paisley and his Good Friday agreement rejectionist challenge the legality of David Trimble’s and Mark Durkan’s occupancy of the posts of first and deputy-first ‘ministers’.
Even if the British lords give them the result they so desire, the government has made it clear some legal sleight of hand is likely to be applied to ensure that the elections, due next Spring, are not brought forward.
Even so, the DUP, who are hoping -- buoyed by defections -- to out poll Trimble’s UUP, and other anti-agreement unionists are not depending on the legal process alone to rid themselves of the Good Friday deal.
A massive media campaign has been deployed and runs in parallel with stepped-up loyalist paramilitary activity involving the pipe-bombing of Catholic homes and heightened sectarian street confrontations in ‘interface’ areas.
Heating-up the atmosphere, a risky thing to do just prior to the on-coming Orange Order marching season, they then represent flare-ups as spontaneous expressions of Protestant discontent with the agreement’s democratising reform programme -- frequently accompanied by protestations of ‘one-way concessions’ to the IRA.
What they really cannot abide are the ‘equality of esteem’ (for which read ‘equality of treatment’) provisions for unionism and nationalism . Instead they cling to their desire to scrap the agreement entirely and to get back to the old-time ascendancy of political Protestantism in the service of Orange-unionism.
However, they do have supporters within the British and Irish political, bureaucratic, police and military establishments. Each of these faces internal differences over what are the correct objectives and the pace at which they ought to be delivered. This at least helps to explain the Labour government’s erratic handling of the process to date.
A recognition-of-realities pragmatism impels it to move the process forward while internal opposition, mediated through the northern Ireland unionist rejectionists, causes it to zigzag along sporadically.
Thus Trimble appeases both internal and external enemies in order to serve Downing Street, while Downing Street strives to protect him by allowing him to take on board many of the No-camp’s ‘grievances’.
A simultaneous process is indulged in alongside and contradictory to the peace process —- heavily backed by the usual suspects, some more consciously aware of what they are doing than others.
Foremost is the unsurprising alliance between elements of the British secret services and the right-wing British and Irish press. Over recent months these two sections of the British establishment have been seen working full-out to enhance the rejectionist cause.
Central to their strategy has been the waging of a propaganda blitz against Sinn Féin in an attempt to:
- prevent it from making significant gains in the Republic of Ireland elections;
- erect a new barrier to reforms in the north now that IRA decommissioning had lost its former efficacy;
- put further pressure on Blair by re-invigorating the push to topple Trimble;
- secure a victory for Paisley and his locally-based rejectionists in the forthcoming Stormont assembly elections, whenever they are held.,/li>
Four years of, largely-unheeded, warnings to Blair, and the Northern Ireland Office about the dangers of pandering to this claque may now result in the outcome that was feared.
Paisley and his cohorts may sweep home unless the British government takes a stronger stance against them.
However, in the mind of Downing Street and the NIO, a DUP victory within unionism would not necessarily spell calamity, provided that the growth in popularity of Sinn Féin in the north can be checked.
In a recent BBC (NI) Hearts and Minds programme a DUP spokesman asserted, with the SDLP leader Mark Durkan sitting beside him, that in the event of the DUP eclipsing the UUP at the election (or toppling Trimble) the Good Friday agreement would be renegotiated and replaced.
Obviously, that would be out of the question if Sinn Féin assembly members were to be in a majority on the opposite benches. Asked just whom Paisley would be negotiating with, the DUP spokesman took it for granted that the SDLP would be willing, despite Durkan’s denial, to occupy one of two vacant chairs. This scheme would, of course, require Sinn Féin’s exclusion from the ‘democratic process’, even if it had the largest number of elected representative among nationalism.
We can expect the recent dirty tricks campaign to continue with greater diligence than has been seen hitherto as further attempts are made to whip up a synthetic ‘crises’ based on Sinn Féin’s ‘untrustworthiness’:
- despite the failure of the House International Relations Committee of the US Congress to back up with proof, rather than ill-prepared allegations, the hyped-up, months-long media campaign of Republican wrong-doing in Columbia, this topic will continued to be flogged;
- unproven allegation that the IRA was responsible for stealing Special Branch documents from the Castlereagh fortress will continue to be bruited about;
- security-sources ‘leaks’ to the right-wing press suggesting that the IRA is re-equipping with better weaponry may be pumped further.
In view of the recent visit to the shadow vice proconsul’s visit and cosy chat with the locals of Crossmaglen, nonsense about the IRA’s targeting of top British Tories may now be dropped. However, it’s unlikely to be long before another ‘angle’ is suitably developed.
Although the strategy did not fool a growing number of voters in the Republic who see the mainstream republicans fully engaged in the political process, it will remain indispensable for whipping–up a synthetic ‘crises’ within unionism.
Already the ‘moderate-unionist’ Belfast Telegraph has displayed some desperation in its effort to add fuel to the ‘crisis’ in unionist and loyalist ‘confidence’, going back more than twenty years in an interview with a former ETA activist to establish what everyone has known for decades — that the IRA in another phase of its existence, up to eight years ago, had fraternal links with ETA.
Meanwhile the UDA’s ceasefire had been declared ‘over’ by proconsul Reid and UVF personnel have been arraigned in a Glasgow court charged with replenishing that terrorist group’s weaponry. Fellow loyalists are busy laying siege to the small Catholic enclave in east Belfast’s Short Strand aided by the supposedly reformed rubber-bullet-firing PSNI with back-up from the British army.
People are waiting to see what the SDLP’s nominees on the ‘new’ policing board will be able to do about that.
The unionist political caste, with very few exceptions, and their myriad friends in the British mass-media appear to have seen nothing to get upset or alarmed about. Now why is that not a surprise?
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2001 Connolly Publications Ltd