Texas Update

I have now completed the chats here at Texas State University.

Probably one of the most interesting and wonderful experiences of my life. It might even be lifechanging. 

To give a flavour of the Discussion, you need to know that it was accompanied by handouts…a short list of people I knew who had died from violence and the circumstances of those deaths…..a handout on the current Assembly/Executive strength…an arc of events 1971/72 (long time readers will be familiar with that)….some anecdotes….

There was also a range of material available which included a Give My Head Peace DVD….material from Ulster Scots Agency…stuff from Healing Thru Remembering….about thirty postcards of murals etc.

The following piece on Conflict Resolution is if you like Part 2…..Part 1, which dealt with 1963-1998 as seen thru the prism of my own experiences is too personal to be published here. Apologies for lapses in standard …spelling, syntax etc….as it was composed on ipad with all the problems of “auto correct”…most of which I have dealt with. It also necessarily does not include asides, ad-libs, clarifications, questions etc.

Dia Daoibh ….failte aris,

Conflict Resolution. I think it’s a happy coincidence that on bThursday when I first saw this room, I noticed a plague at the back of the room, dedicated to a Professor Swinney….whose field of expertise was Reconstruction after the American Civil War.
And really Conflict Resolution is a form of Reconstruction.

I think when we talk about Conflict Resolution there are actually two different things. We are talking about the measures that brought about the end of the Norn Iron Conflict in 1998….that is the Good Friday Agreement and it’s immediate aftermath. A process led by POLITICIANS….and PEOPLE.
And increasingly we are talking about a series of proposals to further implement the Agreement or second guess it. This is a process led by ACADEMICS and…HISTORIANS.

For me the Good Friday Agreement is the only show in town. It deserves credit for ending thirty years of conflict. It has also been endorsed in referendums by the people of Ireland.
There is one major problem for me…CREATIVE AMBIGUITY.
wording so deliberately vague that it can mean all things to all people. But it was in essence sold to Nationalists as a series of steps towards a United Ireland and sold to Unionists as a series of obstacles to a United Ireland.
It might be one, might be the other…it might be neither. it is NOT both.

At its heart jis a statement that Norn Iron will remain a part of UK as long as the people of NI wish to be …that SEEMS clear. But there is a subtle balance. The British would facilitate change. But it enshrines the right of a part of UK to secede from the Union. Michigan and Georgia don’t have that right. Yes I know that Texas does have that right.

The Agreemment also specifies that everyone living in Norn Iron has a right to self identify as British or Irish …or both. Now in practical terms that means that a very considerable part oOf the population…and I don’t think figures are reliable….are actually citizens of ANOTHER country.

now I don’t want to go into detail about the AGreement itself…but it’s most obvious manifestation is a power sharing Executive. Now in a separate handout I have shown how the Assembly/Parliament is
Elected and the current strength.
It’s fair to say that it has not turned out as expected. The clear intention was for a multi Party government where power was in the hands of moderate unionists and moderate nationalists…and that the more hard line unionists and nationalists would be marginalised or controlled.
But the reality is that the more extreme elements are in control and the moderates marginalised. And in a peculiar way the extremists actualy work well together. after all they might be political enemies but they will never be political rivals.
ts been described by SDLPs former Leader as a one party state with a unionist wing and a nationalist wing. that’s fair comment
Now I should declare an interest.  Am a nationalist….a pan nationalist but I am currently a member of SDLP…the moderate nationalist party. and like everyone else I vote on a combination of PRINCIPLE and narrow SELF INTEREST.
So largely in the Political Sense….the structures in POLITICS works. There is one uncomfortable fact about a five party government. There is no Opposition. The Good Friday Agreementdoes not envisage it. Is it truly democratic? Do all governments need an alternative? See also the hand out in your folder on the Alliance Party.

One of the difficulties about the Agreement was Policing …the old RUC was discredited but supported by unionists …despised by nationalists. The solution was to award the RUC Britains second highest gallantry medal….and then disband them. Police veterans were encouraged to retire on very generous payouts and a recruiting scheme introduced to better reflect Demographics. now this was sold and I think…HONESTLY as a modernisation. Police had certainly built up a reputation with casual sectarianism, racism and sexism….canteen culture.
And I think the new Police Service of NI has actually done wonderful things. ts made the service more user friendly for women officers and importantly when you see a group of officers, there can be no assumption as to their religion or political affiliation. a slight caveat that the old RUC was too close to the unionist narrative and the new PSNI are just too close to the new “feel good narrative”.
As for paramilitaries. The IRA has decommissioned it’s weapons and the IRA …apart from dissident groups….ALLEGEDLY no longer exists. I say ALLEGEDLY because the reality is that the Process works because the IRA is involved. That was the whole idea in the first place.
Some loyalist groups have not disarmed but are kept happy by large amounts of government money, which they distribute to their community in their role as community workers.

All paramilitary prisoners…”terrorists” were released from prison two years after the Agreement. An amnesty. And some of them are noW actually in the Government.
But what about unsolved crimes, including those carried out by the IRA…now in government. As always it’s ambiguous. The unionists insisted that there would be no amnesty and there is a …deliberately under resourced COLD CASE team looking into cases.
but nobody seems enthusiastic. Old cases highlight collusion and lifts the lid on some pretty tacky aspects of Terrorism and Countrr Terrorism and their connexion.
Inquiries such as the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday…findings published in 2010….cost $500 million. The findings vindicating the victims. Of course this only confirmed what we all knew anyway. Do these very public and expensive enquiries….merely enrich the legal profession? Do they bring closure? Do they provoke a round of Whataboutery?

Dealing with the Past …there were grandiose ideas for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. Heady talk about abSouth African TruthnCommission. But the moment seems to have passed….and nobody seems interested in taking it up again.
Likewise a body was set up to look into a Bill of Rights….after ;fifteen years there is no progress.
Victims….we’re meant to be a key part of the post Agreement. buut again it’s a matter of setting up a Commission…and then doing nothing. Two people one Protestant one Catholic were given the task of reporting on this and they were crucified by the Media for the headline proposal….give £30,000 to the family of each of the 3,500 victims.
Now Sinn Fein would consider that all 3,500 are victims.
There is no hierarchy of “victims”
But unionists insist that there is….that innocent civilians or police army are more deserving
If you look at the list of names on your list…people I knew…look at XXXX and XXXX. Both these people are “victims”. Which family is more deserving?
Frankly the proposal and reaction fatally undermined the entire idea.
Irish Language Act….the Irish language was guaranteed equality. And this is perhaps the most curious case of Creative Ambiguity. To facilitate Irish….a language was practically min vented for Ulster Scots. I support the Good Friday Agreement and in that spirit I will not comment on the validity of the language…..except as a neutral to say …it is risible nonsense.

And essentially that’s OFFICIAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION. It brought Peace, but never really followed thru. The Ambiguity is its strength AND weakness. at best I think we should just leave it. It’s not broke …don’t fix it.

There is a second fom of Conflict Resolution …people who think that key aspects of the Agrement have not been implemented…or that it can be second guessed in some way.
Now I am only familiar with the actual term Conflict Resolution over the past five years or so.
And I worry about it.
I voted for the Good Friday Agreement. Even then it was not about me. It was about my children. Now it’s about my children and my grandchildren.
I don’t want it messed with…not by academics, not by foreign academics.

The art of the politician is Ambiguity. the Art of the Historian is Clarity.
There is nothing new about Conflict Resolution….unfortunately the clearest examples of Resolution come after a war. Reconstruction in the old Confedracy was only possible because of a courthouse in Virginia. Resolution in WW2 only possible because of a suicide in a Berlin bunker….and so on.

There are now several organisations formed which are in some way pushing a Conflict Resolution agenda…and their own agenda.
They are supportive of each other. And there is practically an industry…grant funded by Bitain, Ireland, Europe, United States….and by Trusts and Foundations.
I have brought over some information on Healing Thru Remembering, which as the name suggests is about collating stories but as you will see from the Annual Report it is top heavy with academics and REAL people are conspicuous by their absence. Conflict Resolution becomes a means of academics exchanging papers, rather than actually DO something.
Inviting each other to conferences.
I have tongue in cheek suggested that I form a body called Healing Thru Amnesia….where I will be financed by a gullible Trust Fund to forget about things…especially what I have done with their money.

The Integrated Education movement is part of the broader Conflict Resolution movement …but there is no true neutral value.
it’s the nature of nationalism to be DIFFERENT….integrated education is essentially a unionist value.
To be able to GET ALONG is of course a good thing but getting along is NOT a political philosophy. A few years ago I coined the phrase LETSGETALONGERISM …as the third tribe in Norn Iron. Shallow meaningless sloganising disguised as policy. Fluffy kittens unused to scrutiny.

I attended a Conference two years ago, hosted by the British Irish JInstitute.
An all day event with about two hundred people. the theme….does the Arts and Culture world have an obligation…especially if publicly funded….to present good news to give a positive image of Norn Iron. The resounding answer from the artists was NO they don’t …but that presents a problem.
Among the postcards you will see three generations of wall murals…primitive ones which I obtained in republican and loyalist bookshops…then better ones got sold in mainstream shops….now a third generation depicting CS Lewis, The Titanic, George Best….these later murals are now part of the narrative being sold to the world.

Irish nationalists have had long experience of presenting their case thru music, literature, movies, poetry etc. in Boston bars and Australian beaches and the Irish case is well known in Unionists have been slower to see the value of that. Who really knows the unionist case? And to some extent unionists have re-invented themselves as an ethnic minority.
They now tend to think of themselves as Ulster Scots….a term largely unknown three decades ago. In some way this ties in with a new sense of how British people WANT to be seen…a multi ethnic society. You might have noticed the Olympics in London projected this.

Hence a series of books to tell the Ulster Scots story …XXXXXXX XXXXXXX Scottish Country Dancing, Ulster Smerican Folk Park,….eleven Presidents of USA having roots in Ulster. It’s almost a reaction to traditional Irish influence in USA…President Kennedy.
I think it’s not unusual for people to re-invent themselves as minorities but it seems that Ulster Scots are unconvincing mainly because they have suppressed their own culture in the name of unionism.
Angry white men culture is common enough in Britain and USA.
We talk about the Culture Wars. Are all cultures equally valid…are they expressions of mere identity…national identity ….or an expression of politics.
In the first case that seems valid.
less valid in terms of politics.

For example Irish culture seems to be about Irish language, Irish music, Irish sports….And unionists feel threatened by it. Yet some aspects of loyalist culture….right wing politics seem threatening. Is it really right to tolerate extremism in the name of culture.
Are Orange Kick the Pope bands an expression of culture.
In some senses the Orange Order is not very different from the ku Klux Klan. Can the Klan be tolerated better now in 2013…..when it is marginalised..and shown to be a pathetic bunch of losers .than in 1963 when it was powerful.
The point is that things are easier tolerated when they have been defeated. I have seen (defeated) Mexican flags here in semi official ways here in Texas
…banks…car lots
but never seen an Irish flag in a semi official or official capacity in Norn Iron. But that’s the problem with a conflict ending without a victor.
Take the Civil War, there was reconstruction ….WW2 there was de Nzification…..in Vietnam re-education camps.
And this is what Conflict Resolution seems to be doing with me.
Sending me off to a re-education camp to lose my current identity and find another acceptable one.

The Demographics will become increasingly POLITICAL
Protestants are now just 48% Catholic 45% and 7% unspecified
this means that unionists can no longer rely on a totally Protestant vote.
To what extent can unionists reach out to Catholics…to support the Union.
Are they…or some of them just too toxic.?
Does Politics need to change as organisations like Platform for Change insist.
people are understandably conservative or socialist.
But we have the situation where the two unionist parties are conservative and the two nationalist parties are socialist.
Therefore a fiscally conservative Catholic has no natural conservative Party to vote for.
likewise a socialist Protestant has no natural socialist party to vote for.
Therefore there is a movement to have British political parties organise in Norn Iron. The British Conservatives are wary …there are no votes in it…even though they are a unionist party.
The British Labour Party while professing neutrality is traditionally supportive of Irish nationalism. besides they can’t realistically organise in Norn Iron because SDLP is a sister party in the European Socialism. They are BOTH members of the PES. They can’t compete.
But even then this…..so called normalisation of politics is not a neutral value. It is actually a unionist value.
s I said earlier nationalism NEEDS grievance and there are reforms that have been banked….Health, Welfare, Education….and now Housing and Jobs. Symbolism regarding expressions of Irishness is the single outstanding issue.

people visit Belfast to see the post conflict situation. The murals …showing support for IRA or UVF were originally not tolerated…then as you will see from postcards sold in stores that were supportive. Then post conflict they are mainstream and there are now murals depicting non conflict situations.

we have an unrelenting campaign to make us feel good about ourselves. The MTV Award Shows, the Titanic, Rory McIlroy the Golfer, the G8 Summit….the Our Time Our Place Campaign.
Do historians have a role? As you will probably see from readings, post 1922 Irish historians wrote Britishness out of Irish History, unionist historians wrote Irishness out of NoRN Irons history.
TheY wrote to a narrative.
They have since written to a revisionist narrative.
Now they are writing to a new narrative of SHARED HISTORY to compliment the SHARED FUTURE of Conflict Resolutionists. This decade is one of Centenaries…the Easter Rising, Battle of the Somme, Irish independence etc and there is a programme to make this a SHARED experience.

We are a divided society …is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Does it matter as long as we are not killing each other?
The BERLIN WaLL Is down but we have 59 walls, barricades, gates separating Catholics from Protestants…mostly  in Belfast and nine have been erected since the signing of the GFA.
It has been suggested that these walls come down by 2022.
The prime consideration has to be the security of the people ho actually live alongside the walls.
There is one largely invisible border between Norn Iron and the Republic….but effectively there are more than fifty nine borders….landscaping and villages which are three miles apart are just as effective as borders.

But it’s not actually about Security …it’s about the freedom to be Irish or British equally lgiimatly….all over NI.
Is Seperate But Equal a benign form of Apartheid?
And I say that conscious of the fact that I was occasionally a member of the Anti Apartheid Movement. in the 1970s
Essentially we are happier with the Past than we are with the Future.

As the old saying goes
To Hell With The Future.
Long Live the Past
May GOD In HIS Mercy be good to Belfast.

Go raibh maith agaibh

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10 Responses to Texas Update

  1. bangordub says:

    Good stuff, I was worried you’d lose them in detail and nuance, not on that evidence. what was the reaction? Will any of them perhaps comment here?

    • I had already written about half of this last week…and I revamped it as Official and Unofficial Conflict Resolution.
      They were grad students, very knowledgeable.
      I’ve had some feedback and I’m happy with it.
      On paper it looks a bit dry…but stopping every so often for questions…was interesting.
      Topics they brought up included Border Poll, Flags and Young People.
      Mexico-Texas resonated here…and the part about Mexico was a late addition to the script.
      Ten students…and three other “guests” and of course my professor friend.
      Two mentioned the Czar specifically.

  2. factual says:

    That is an interesting piece, full of richness and insight. I have no doubt it will be of value to the students. Congratulations. I know you have been doing a lot of prep work, I think you can be pleased with what you have achieved.

  3. Good stuff FJH, hope you’re enjoying your stay and new calling

    • FC, it’s going well here.
      I have to meet some people tomorrow …Thursday….for an informal chat.
      I go home Sunday.
      Yesterday was the Alamo. So the rest of the time here is social….and going to shopping malls etc.
      Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Out of pure spite and jealousy, I refuse to contribute to the site until FJH is back in this sodden land.

  5. jamesdavis80 says:


    I was in Dr. T’s class on Monday (the guy in the blue shirt), and wanted to say how much I enjoyed your presentation. When studying military history, it’s easy to get lost in the big picture and overlook the “street level” human elements.

    I wanted to ask you some questions in class, but we were pressed for time so I held off.

    What is the Republic of Ireland’s stance on Northern Ireland and nationalists? How did they react to the Troubles?

    What’s your opinion on amnesty for former IRA members? After you left we had a brief discussion about the dangers of a return to extremism among the portion of the populace who didn’t experience the violence of ’69-’98. I know here in Texas there is a strong romance attached to the Confederacy (who conveniently forget/deny the issue of slavery). They’ll fly the Confederate flag and talk of how the wrong side won despite it being nearly 150 years ago. I was surprised when my father told me he had to perform a funeral for a man and the family draped his coffin in the Confed flag!

    Also, I call the Healing Through Remembrance “Misery Tourism”. People who want to vicariously experience victim-hood for their own betterment.

    I hope you enjoyed your stay in Texas,


    • Thank you JD….yes I do remember you…even though I kept calling you “Joe”. Apologies for that. on Monday at your next class, please convey my gratitude to your fellow students. If the Presentation was a success, it was in part due to your fellow students and the vibe I was getting with eye contact, nods of the head, looks that said “I get this” or “can you elaborate?”.
      Very much enjoying my stay here in Texas.
      I will take your points in reverse order because I think it’s easier that way.
      Tourism….people come to see the Murals and the Peace Walls, the memorials to IRA (mostly) companies and battalions. Indeed there are daily commercial bus tours running about every 30 minutes in Belfast and these take in all of the trouble spots in Belfast.
      This is both lucrative and I think …to the Tourist Board….embarrassing.
      Sights like the Bobby Sands mural on the Falls Road in Belfast are as iconic as the Giants Causeway.
      We tend to call it Terror Tourism.
      and we are all apart from it. s you may have seen from one of the handouts, my wife’s cousin was a victim. So we tend to bring our own visitors to the spot which is marked by a small plaque.
      I think the Tourist Board wants to get away from that Terror Tourism.
      It is ALL about IMAGE. Not “damaging the image of Norn Iron” is a mantra we hear often and IMAGE is an important part of Conflict Resolution. IMAGE has replaced SUBSTANCE…in part because it is an unresolved conflict.
      passing thru Atlanta Airport two weeks ago, I was conscious of the attempts by the City there…a lot of imagery in the concourse….that the City was anxious to show how much it had changed. And rightly so…but There the Civil RigHts issue has been resolved.
      later today, I will try and answer your other points but it requires some thinking.
      and maybe some of the other contributors to this blog would like to add something to what I have said already.

  6. Hi JD,

    I hope you and your class mates enjoyed FJH’s presentation. I’ll answer the first one as quick as possible.

    It is complicated is the best answer, but in essence you have had Fianna Fail who would have been in government for long stretches in the South and are the natural party of government, they would be heavily sympathetic to Northern Nationalism, however, they are also the only Irish Republican party with any kind of foreign obligations which come with government, so they’ve walked a tight rope of being seen to be balanced with parties in the North, whilst clearly sympathetic to Northern Nats.

    Official policy is accepting of partition and the ‘principle’ of consent for the people of the North to determine there own constitutional future though this was agreed by referendum when the GFA Treaty was ratified. Prior to this the South had Articles 2 & 3 which basically said the North was part of the South.

    The reaction to the troubles, well it’s mixed. We had some pols, including a future Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) tried for supplying guns to Northern Nats in the late 60s/early 70s and unofficial support from many, while other factions openly criticised Northern Nats and the policy of SF or the SDLP at various times with their criticisms boiling down to the stupid question ‘why can’t you all just get along?’ which we know merely tries to overlook all that has gone on before and is ongoing, making out that what has happened is actually irrational when I would argue that it isn’t.

    Then we have the southern media reaction, mainly anti Nat and hack journalism at its best which is fairly one sided and trying to push a particular narrative of ‘they’re both as bad as one another’ again, IMHO, an intellectually bankrupt line to take which makes for lazy journalism and thus people do not try and analyse what has gone on. If I use one example, we currently have a clever narrative of the governments being above the fray between northern parties, both unionist and Nats, acting as honest brokers and by implication they’ve always been like this. Well, that would be nice but it’s bunkum. We recently had the Da Silva report into the murder of a solicitor called Pat Finucane where not only was collusion between state actors and loyalist paramilitaries confirmed, but the even more shocking news came that some 85% of murders committed by loyalist paramilitaries were given intelligence from British government sources. That’s no longer collusion but Infact direction, a state outsourcing the murder of its own citizens. Hence why I do not trust journalism or should it be churnalism? that much.

    That may appear a rather long answer but in all honesty, there are books on this topic and I’ve merely scratched the surface and given my own perspective. If you want to discuss it in greater length just ask FJH for my email address and I’ll be more than willing to do this away from here ad point you at some things or answer any further questions.

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