even before "fat lady" P. O'Neill has sung
an IRA swansong, already an essentially pro-agreement,
Westminster-based pundit is heard arguing, remarkably
forthrightly, that the devolved Stormont tables should
be dramatically turned for - of course - the good
of the province.
Kent, who writes from Westminster for Belfast's Fortnight
magazine and other publications, authored on 11 March
2003 a commentary entitled "No
more Irish groundhogs". Therein Mr. Kent
made a strikingly honest point which confirmed various
conclusions reached in another recent article, "The
Fundamental Problem Of Non-Constitutional Law Vis-À-Vis
The Northern Ireland Question" (P.A.F., The
Blanket, Belfast: 9 March 2003).
Kent's honesty - rarer in commentators on Northern
Ireland than one would prefer - tends to suggest that
Northern Irish Republican politicians may soon have
to become more loyal to queen and country than are
even the British Conservatives; otherwise, those Republicans
will face a distinct risk of losing whatever slice of
devolved power they may now believe they've gotten
through the international treaty known widely as the
Good Friday Agreement. (Cf. French President
Charles de Gaulle: "Treaties are like young girls
and roses: they last as long as they last.")
more Irish groundhogs" - whose now-clichéd
title derives from the preternaturally repetitious
story line in the film "Groundhog Day" -
proffers an idea very similar to a conclusion stated
in the small above-cited article "The Fundamental
Problem": i.e., the conclusion that Northern
Irish Republicans may now fear that Parliament could
soon "be tempted to jettison additional 'enshrined'
GFA principles like 'd'Hondt' in order to try to keep
the Assembly and Executive running."
Mr. Kent's proposal might more immediately suggest
to those Republicans a famous line - "Be afraid,
be very, very afraid" - from another film, the
remade horror movie "The Fly" (whose plot
also involved, like the GFA, an inherently malformed
creation). Arguing, perhaps cavalierly, that the Good
Friday Agreement "should be seen as a transition,"
Mr. Kent wrote the following on throwing overboard
the GFA's d'Hondt procedure for sharing devolved governmental
possibility[ aimed at furthering political normalization
in Northern Ireland] is scrapping the rule that
all main parties automatically have a place in government.
[Emphasis added.] Since none of the current parties
could achieve a majority, this would necessitate
would be less frozen and more fluid. Fiefdoms would
be harder to maintain. There would be a real possibility
of ministers and parties losing power if they make
mistakes or because voters disagree with them. This
would be a healthy development all round.
modest proposal by Mr. Kent strongly reinforces the
conclusion that, with a near-effortless stroke of
a Westminster pen, an idea floated within Britain's
own extremely fluid political system can swiftly be
transformed from an outlandish suggestion - at least
vis-à-vis both the words and the spirit of
the GFA - into a pedestrian "governmental operations"
change regarded by some as desirable and laudable.
Rather easily can one imagine the rationalizations
that will be asserted if and when d'Hondt is sent
all, if the majority (at Westminster) comes to desire
such a change, just why exactly might members of
the minority think that their opposition should
matter? In a democracy, the majority rules, doesn't
it? Under that exceedingly simple governmental
precept, didn't Northern Ireland used to be such
a great wee place?
Lent 1998, an extremely imaginative, hopeful, and
optimistic person may have been able to convince himself
that the Good Friday Agreement could somehow come
to be regarded as sui generis in the United
Kingdom's governmental structure: viz., regarded as
a set of legal rules so special that they would somehow
be exempted from the course of Westminster's normal
developments in the intervening five years will have
rendered any such belief utterly unfounded: particularly,
Mr. Mandelson's GFA suspension legislation at Westminster,
the temporary Assembly designation-swapping formally
allowed by special British government order, and the
imminent "sanctions" legislation which Britain
has apparently already rammed down the Republic of
Ireland's throat and which it now seeks to make both
Sinn Féin and the SDLP swallow. These events
prove that the GFA is in no respect "constitutionally"
sui generis under U.K. law. A quip sometimes made
about oral agreements is that they're not worth the
paper they're written on; a year or two from now,
after the British "constitutional" system
has worked more of its peculiar magic, a quite similar
conclusion might well be reached regarding the Good
course, none of this analysis means that the end of
the world is nigh. If Northern Irish Republicans can
demonstrate, conclusively and immediately, a complete
philosophical metamorphosis - which to some may mean
that those Republicans will have to bow or curtsy
just a bit lower than does Baroness Thatcher - they
will likely be acceptable within most any devolved
Northern Ireland powersharing government, even after
Westminster has "constitutionally" morphed
the original GFA beyond all recognition. Otherwise,
though, those Republicans may need to gird themselves
- due to drastic, unilateral changes that might soon
be made to that "Agreement" - for interminably
long stretches, maybe life sentences, on Stormont's
making his "scrap d'Hondt" proposal, Mr.
Kent emphasized the "desperate need to find ways
of beginning a new politics along more traditional
lines of class, special interest and ideology."
In that latter respect, perhaps he saved all his wisdom
for the very end of his article: "Radical thinking
about Northern Ireland's governance is overdue."
Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my Protestant and Catholic
sisters and brothers in Northern Ireland and beyond.
D.C. lawyer Paul A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence
for Northern Ireland: Why and How (1993) (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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