It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

…that the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

10th April 1998. It seems like yesterday but it is actually closer to one third of my life.

Good Friday just happened to be the day that it was signed. There were intense negotiations all week at Stormont. The comings and goings, rumours of breakthrough and rumours of breakdown all week.

When we drove to work on that Friday morning, it seemed that it was make or break. In my (maybe faulty) recollection, we drove into the car park at my wife’s work in West Belfast and a BBC Norn Iron reporter broke the news. There was finally an agreement. It was about 8..45am.

My wife and I embraced each other. And although it seems like a line from “Blackadder Goes Forth”, I said…”we lived thru it”.

When we got home after lunch (Good Friday not being a full working day) the Agreement had still not formally been signed. It WAS signed during the afternoon. But it was already apparent that unionists were unhappy. Some like Jeffrey Donaldson had walked out.

To some extent, the DUP protests and the UUP unhappiness confirmed that the nationalists had won and the unionists had lost. Even in Agreements, victory is important.

Some weeks later on the same day, Ireland voted on the decision. In the Republic of Ireland, 93% said “YES”. In Norn Iron…was it 74%(?) who said “YES” but within the northern stats it was apparent that 93% nationalists had said “YES” but maybe only 55% of unionists had said “YES”.

To be honest, back in 1998, I was glad…it seemed to confirm nationalist victory and unionist defeat. But on reflection, this was the beginning of the process where the Agreement would be unravelled.

It doesn’t really matter what was in the Agreement. Power Sharing. The Republic recognising the constitutional position of Norn Iron, doing “something” for victims, police reform, decommissioning of illegal weapons, prisoner release.

The important thing was Peace. No more Brits. No more Shankill Butchers and other loyalist murderers. No more IRA car bombs.

And we kinda settled in to Stormont being led by UUP on the unionist side and SDLP on the nationalist side.

But the UUP were in a weak position. David Trimble was not exactly a charming person. And his increasingly hysterical calls that the unionist community needed “reassurance and confidence building measures” really only made Sinn Féin stick the boot in. Sinn Féin had the savvy to move at the speed of the slowest horse in their troop. Thus they ensured that only a small minority of the IRA defected to the sabre-rattling dissidents.

Thus “not a bullet, not an ounce” …a reference to decommissioning weapons was a common graffiti in nationalist areas. Trimble was spinning on a roast with the handles being turned by Sinn Féin and DUP.

SDLP efforts to help Trimble encouraged Sinn Féin that SDLP would sell out. The British and Irish governments were undermining SDLP and UUP as their civil servants realised that Seamus Mallon (who succeeded John Hume) and David Trimble had nothing to deliver.

Getting the Agreement was one thing. Delivering the Agreement was another thing. In truth , close examination of the Agreement made it impossible to deliver.

It was sold to nationalists as stepping stones to a united Ireland. It was sold to unionists as obstacles to a united Ireland. It is possible that someone was telling the truth. Maybe nobody was telling the truth. Certainly both sides could not be right.

The buzz-phrase of the time was “Creative Ambiguity”. Curiously in 1998, the architects of the Good Friday Agreement celebrated that phrase. But rejoicing in ambiguity is eventually untenable.

Thus we did get Power Sharing. But UUP and SDLP were losing ground to their DUP and Sinn Féin rivals and within a few years the second unionist and nationalist parties had eclipsed their rivals. The new dominant players were Rev Ian Paisley (Peter Robinson and later Arlene Foster) and Gerry Adams (Martin McGuinness and later Michelle O’Neill).

As of April 2018, UUP and SDLP are pathetic shadows of former greatness.

Victims? Ah Victims….we were told that something would be done. But “victims” are not a single group. There are victims on both sides who have endured much and are glad that nobody else has to suffer. And there are angry embittered victims. On both sides. They feel that their suffering was in vain. I make no judgement. I lost friends as we all did. But nobody so close that I can feel that degree of personal pain.

Really the victims were played. The Brits, the RUC and its successor (the PSNI) and the IRA played for time. There was talk about a South African-style Truth Commission. Frankly the Brits and IRA don’t want it known just how dirty and squalid the civil war had become. The files in the British archives will remain firmly closed. And the mouths of gunmen and bombers will be firmly closed.

For it has been calculated …rightly if not morally…that there are 1,800,000 people live in Norn Iron and only 500,000 have any real experience of the Troubles. And each year our children and grandchildren enjoy the Peace and are more distant from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Police Reform. We got it. Albeit in a bizarre war. The disgraced Royal Ulster Constabulary were given a medal…the George Cross (just like the British colony of Malta in WW2) and then “honourably” stood down. The rank and file were given very generous pensions and resigned. And a new fairer Police Service of Norn Iron was established.

Therefore the great act of betrayal of RUC (as unionists saw it) was softened by a shiny medal and hard cash. For nationalists, the discredited force had been consigned to the dustbin of History.

I like the PSNI. I like “community police officers”. I like the better religious and (almost more importantly) better gender balance. Starting a 21st century police service is its own reward….an end to the canteen culture of casual sectarianism, casual racism, casual homophobia and casual sexism. A police service without baggage is as welcome in Coalisland, County Tyrone as it is in Selma, Alabama.

Decommissioning? We got it. But of course we paid a price. The fact that yesterday …yesterday!!!!  three illegal loyalist organisations could hold a press conference to announce that they now supported the rule of law tells its own story. They still exist. They are not prosecuted for membership. They are heavily involved in gangsterism.

Do the IRA exist? Well …we are told “no” but its apparent that organised ex-prisoners have an input into Sinn Féin decisions. And is there republican gangsterism in terms of smuggling, money laundering, illegal oil?

Prisoner Release? The unionists were told no amnesty. And yet it later emerged that many ex-prisoners are carrying letters assuring them that they are beyond prosecution.

Crucially for the discredited Conflict Resolution industry, letsgetalongerists and liberal unionists….there have been no real advances in normalising Society. Our Peace Walls divide communities, there is minimal integrated education and few nationalists are finding their inner Britishness. And ….people vote DUP and Sinn Féin.

I don’t see this as a major problem. Roll on BREXIT. Roll on Re-Allignment.

What has the Good Friday Agreement done for us? Well………..Peace obviously. But it has also allowed us to maximise our sense of Irishness (in my case) or possibly Britishness (in your case) without embracing any notion of a shared identity.

I consider that to be a triumph…an unintended one.

Thus Senator George Mitchell arrives here today. He will deliver some platitudes.

So does Bill Clinton…once a hero that my wife and children cheered when they switched on the Christmas lights in Belfast. Let’s hope that none of our feminists are waving “Me Too” placards tomorrow.

And Bertie Ahern will maybe show up. He is now damaged goods also.

And maybe Tony B Liar will show up. And if he thinks its  the “hand of history” on his shoulder, it might be the hand of the Law wanting to discuss Iraq and all those other lies. Or was it just Creative Ambiguity.

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“What We Need Is A Great Big Melting Pot”

….”big enough to hold the world and all its got. Keep it stirring for a hundred years or more. Turn out coffee coloured people by the score”

Perhaps I am not the only person here who was a 17 year old hippy in the winter of 1969/70. The world was full of LOVE and we all dreamed of a better world. Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway wrote the song “Melting Pot” which rather naively suggested that we could all have a great big recipe….”add some blue blood………..and a little bitty bit of Red Indian (sic) boy”.

Blue Mink sang the song and rather unfortunately for a song that was ahead of its time in terms of political correctness, it contains at least three words that make me cringe in 2018.

It is on You Tube.

Is it an early example of LetsGetAlongerism? I suppose it is.

After all, that’s what LetsGetAlongerism is. Lets take a Catholic boy and a little bitty bit of Presbyterian girl. Stir them together in an integrated school and watch how they all live together , teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony and buying everyone a Coca Cola. Actually….that’s a different song but you get my drift.

But have you heard Hoyt Axton sing “I’m A Good Ole Rebel” ? Its on You Tube also. It was written by James I Randolph after the American Civil War.

I am not sure if Axton’ s version is meant to be ironic but certainly other versions I have seen on You Tube are very serious. “For this Fair Land of Freedom, I do not give a damn” and “I wont be reconstructed and I do not give a damn”.

It is a LetsGetaLongerist’s worst nightmare.

See that’s how Conflict Resolution works. The North defeated the South in 1865 and set about reorganising southern society. The South was crushed…….but after a decade or so of Reconstruction, the Federal Government simply gave up and for another century, the South was allowed to continue doing its own un-American thing. It is a sordid tale of Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and Dixiecrats.

So the South was not crushed after all. The Conflict was never resolved. Instead the veterans of the Civil War, north and south moved west and crushed the Native Americans.

In John Ford westerns and maybe on 1950s 1960s TV “Bonanza” or “The Virginian” or “Rawhide”, they occasionally reference the Civil War as a tragic disagreement between two brothers who have found a common enemy……the Sioux, the Apache and the Commanches. And the Mexicans of course. A lot of ex-slaves moved west and a lot of cowboys were ex-slaves but they get airbrushed out of the story.

The Civil War….or if you prefer “The War Between The States” is commemorated not as a war on slavery (the very cornerstone of the Confederacy)  but as “States Rights” and it seems that the North is as complicit in this re-writing of History as the South. Those blue-uniformed re-enactors who face grey-uniformed re-enactors twice a month are just as guilty of propagating the myth that the Confederate battle flag is honourable and that both armies are commemorating the “Heritage not Hate” agenda.

The Confederate Battle Flag is at NASCAR races,  country music shows and is on the back of a lot of pick-up trucks. In a way, the Confederate Battle Flag is as much a symbol of the United States of America (sic) as the Stars and Stripes.

So the American Civil War……..the South was crushed…….and then un-crushed.

But take Nazi Germany. It was crushed in 1945. Nazis were “re-educated”. That’s Conflict Resolution. It was unconditional surrender, not a Peace Treaty. Peace…well everyone loves Peace of course. But any treaty signed in any year from 1940 to 1944 would not have crushed the Nazis. A victory for LetsGetAlongerism?

Likewise in Vietnam, the Saigon regime was crushed. People were taken off to be re-educated.

In 1998…we had the Good Friday Agreement. It was an exercise in Creative Ambiguity. It was sold to nationalists as a stepping stone to a United Ireland and sold to unionists as an obstacle to a United Ireland.

While it is clear that nationalists supported it in the Referendum (94% is the usual figure), unionists supported it narrowly (55% is the accepted figure), it is equally clear that the SDLP could not deliver and UUP never had the confidence of the broader unionist community. DUP have won the post-Good Friday process (Sinn Féin are as useless as SDLP) effectively putting a brake on it all.

This should not worry nationalists. The stalemate means there is no agreement on the future and consequently it is just a matter of sitting around waiting for the demographics to happen …and BREXIT.

So why does it worry the Conflict Resolutionists.  Effectively Conflict Resolutionists are academic carpet-baggers, the people who flooded into the defeated Confederate States to impose a peace.

We are much too tolerant of these academics in Belfast. We seem incapable of telling them to pack their carpetbags and go off to Syria or Afghanistan where their theses and dissertations might be even more needed than they are here.

Belfast is just more convivial than Damascus and its easier to buy a pint of Harp in Belfast than it is in Kabul.

LetsGetAlongerists? well they are a curious coalition but they seem worried.

Well, there are always good-hearted, ecumenical folks who are genuinely interested in getting along with everyone. But there is a political culture that exploits this to advance their own careers. And of course, part of the that coalition is liberal unionism which harks back to Terence O’Neill and how we should have listened to him.

Liberal unionism has always pushed for the Good Friday Agreement to be nailed down with protocols that inhibit nationalism’s growth.

We are ok as we are. The Past is the Past. There is nothing to fear in the future.

 

 

 

 

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I Might Have Become A Yoorpeen

I think I am now a Yoorpeen (European).

God Bless Yoorp.

You might think that when I voted for BREXIT that I was not really acting in a way that was pro-Yoorp.

But I think that voting BREXIT is the most pro-Yoorpeen thing I have ever done.

I thought I didn’t like my Yoorpeen neighbours but it turns out that I love them. It was the “UK” that I had a problem with. Effectively when I voted BREXIT, I was voting to kick the British out of Yoorp. And lets be honest, a lot of Germans, French, Dutch and Maltese would have done exactly the same.

It turns out that I was not really annoyed at standing at an airport  in the same passport line as Germans, Czechs, Bulgarians, Swedes and the rest. I just want to be in a different passport line from the British.

It wasn’t really about wanting to have a green Irish passport. I am actually ok with having a claret EU passport as long as the British have a blue passport.

It turns out that I am a much nicer person than I thought I was. I thought I was xenophobic about 27 nations. But to my immense joy, I only have negative feelings about one nation.

I will never stand up for “Ode to Joy” as that’s still a step too far.

 

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The Wisest Sage On Slugger O’Toole

Sometimes I dont think I fully appreciate the wisdom of Brian Walker, probably the wisest contributor on Slugger O’Toole.

The ex-BBC man is not a nationalist. But he knows more about nationalists than I do. I know this because…..

The ex-BBC man is not a Catholic. BUt he knows more about Catholics than I do. I know this because …..

I think we can all learn more.

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Not Speaking Ill Of The Dead

Two posts on Slugger O’Toole this week which seem to eulogise the life (or at least the later life) of Sean O’Callaghan. Of course it is wrong to speak ill of the Dead…but maybe there are limits to how much a man can be eulogised.

Such a man might be Sean O’Callaghan. Who was by turns a terrorist who killed two people and an informer on his former friends , who we are told by neo cons saved several lives and went on to advise to spill the beans to academics and unionist politicians.

Notwithstanding the unenvied place that the informer has in Irish history, I am not sure which of O’Callaghan’s two careers I would want to eulogise more than the other.

Certainly his portrayal on Slugger by someone called Gary Kent seems to invite a rebuke that could be dismissed as speaking ill of the dead.

I  am surprised that O’Callaghan was so readily accepted in polite society after his conversion. Certainly every interview I saw with him seemed self-serving. Tell them what they want to hear Sean?

If you have heard of Sean O’Callaghan and most of us have, I am not sure many of those singing his praises would be so familiar with the name Eva Martin, a UDR soldier killed in a mortar attack in County Tyrone in 1974. Ironically the second person killed by O’Callaghan was Peter Flanagan who was a RUC Special Branch officer.

It was a dirty, dirty war and almost daily we get new insights into just how squalid it all was.

Only last month a vicious loyalist killer received a light sentence of six years for five murders. Allegedly he also saved lives by being a paid informer.

There are other killers/informers out there. Some will never be charged with anything. They are in witness protection, not so much because of threats against them. They know too much.

Just who will be eulogised on Slugger when they meet their Maker?…just how many of the great and good will line up to praise them?

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Market Day in Ballaghaderreen (Irish Language Part Two)

While, the Irish Language should not be controversial and I fully understand that Sinn Féin would insist on an Irish Language Act, it seems counter-productive. Unionists would never agree to it and it means that its rejection by DUP closes any door on “agreement” or humiliates SF if it agrees to any deal without an Irish Language Act.

It also is a bond between the two factions that make up Sinn Féin…the Felons and the Féilens. The hard core and soft core of Sinn Féin.

The reality is that SF are pressing this as diversity…but I am not sure that all or even a majority of nationalists have any more than totemic support for the Language.

Put bluntly it is only a section of the nationalist people.

Whether you minimise (as a unionist) or maximise (as a nationalist) the basic fact is that Irish people…Irish citizens …are the largest minority in Norn Iron. We outnumber the Poles, Czechs and Chinese.

Yet oddly the most obvious symbol of our national identity…our National Flag is not treated with the same degree of courtesy as any other ethnic “minority”. While Sinn Féin might have a wish list that includes our Flag to fly equally alongside the British Flag as a parity of esteem issue, it is a red line for unionists.

But there is lower  hanging fruit.

It is for example a normal act of courtesy for a business such as a hotel or restaurant to fly flags when it is patronised by guests from that country.

Although Belfast hotels get a lot of visitors from (say) United States or Germany, I think it is often the case that the guest list at a Belfast, Armagh or Ballymena hotel would often have several residents who are Irish citizens. Not to mention wedding receptions.

So why is flying the Irish Flag as a simple courtesy so taboo.

Frankly that irritates me more that the attitude of DUP dinosaurs to the Irish language.

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Market Day in Ballaghaderreen (Irish Language Part One)

Twelve years ago, my wife and I were passing thru the small town of Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon. It is actually on the county line with County Mayo and was “moved” from County Mayo in a re-arrangement of administrative lines at the end of the 19th century. Even in 2018, there is some resentment.

Anyway, it was our intention to visit a small heritage centre at Frenchpark, a village about five miles away. The heritage centre is dedicated to Douglas Hyde, academic and folklorist, a founder of the Gaelic League and the first President of Ireland. He died in 1945.

Hyde was brought up in Frenchpark. His father was the local Church of Ireland rector and the family was part of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the west of Ireland.

But Douglas Hyde was an odd fish. The servants spoke Gaelic. And young Douglas was fascinated by the words and the stories and threw himself right into the Gaelic revival in late Victorian times.

The story is told that Douglas went to the market in Ballaghaderreen and reprimanded a boy- trader who was shouting in English.

“Cant you speak Irish” asked Dougie.

“Shure isn’t it Irish I’m speaking” replied the boy-trader.

A variation of this anecdote is told by Gaelic speakers to demonstrate the parlous state of the Irish language at the end of the 19th century.

My take is that I am on the side of the youngster in Ballaghaderreen.

Which brings me to Ballaghaderreen in 2006. Driving in from County Mayo, there is a square….or more accurately a triangle in the town. The road-sign to Frenchpark was unclear. I was 90 per cent certain of the route (I had been before) but my wife insisted that I get out of the car and actually ask someone.

I asked a young man. But he wasn’t very sure. He was from Eastern Europe and his English wasn’t very good. …although better than my Polish, Czech and Hungarian. So I went into a local shop, bought two “99s” (ice cream) and the young woman behind the counter pointed the way to Frenchpark.  She was Czech and her English was perfect.

Ballaghaderreen…huh. As we drove the five miles to Frenchpark and the grave of our first President, we laughed about how Douglas Hyde would be turning in that grave.

Was that young Czech-born woman speaking Irish in much the same way as the boy-trader, nearly a century and a half previously.

The revival of the Irish/Gaelic language has been a priority for all governments from Independence. It is regarded as the first National Language. It is our First National Hypocrisy. And our first National Failure.

A few words might explain it. It is easier explained in a bi-lingual way.

I am English. I speak English. I am Irish. I speak Irish.

So in the English language, there is no distinction between the nationality and the language. But say the same words in “Irish” and this is how it looks. Forgive any spelling errors as I don’t speak more than a few words and phrases and I am not going to do Google Translate.

Is Sasanach  mé. Tá Béarla agam. Is Éireanach mé. Tá Gaeilige agam.

So in Irish we actually make a distinction between nationality and language.

For all the emotion associated with the Irish language, I don’t understand its totemic importance to Sinn Féin. Id love to see the Irish language flourish but I am not sure that it is as central to my identity as an Irish person that many nationalists and republicans claim.

 

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