to Gore Vidal, there is just one guiding principle
for a politician: never give the game away. His maxim
seems apt this week as the main players in the Northern
Ireland peace process strive hard not to expose the
comical shadow democracy that represents our future.
British and Irish governments - with cheerleader David
Trimble shaking his pom-poms on the sideline - demanded
that Gerry Adams unambiguously utter the very statement
he has avoided for a decade: that the war is over
and the IRA is ripe for decommissioning and disbandment.
They seem unmoved by the basic reality: a cease-fire
that has lasted for the best part of nine years is
a war that has ended. Not that Adams is particularly
keen to acknowledge this fact either.
Here is the paragraph to which Adams was required
to give explicit consent: "We need to see an
immediate, full and permanent cessation of all paramilitary
activity, including military attacks, training, targeting,
intelligence gathering, acquisition or development
of arms or weapons, other preparations for terrorist
campaigns, punishment beatings and attacks and involvement
This statement declares physical force republicanism
permanently out of business but Adams choked not because
of fealty to republican tradition. To agree would
be to give away his game.
Since 1994, Sinn Fein's 'nod and wink' strategy has
suggested to supporters that the war could resume
if politics fails. Thus the former IRA chief-of-staff
Brian Keenan spouts militant platitudes during his
now-regular public appearances - usually at graveside
commemorations, since republican mythology assumes
the dead will give a mandate to the living. Even the
British must chuckle at Keenan's speeches since the
only wars being waged by the IRA are against dissident
republicans and car-jacking kids, constituencies without
many defenders. In any event, it would be difficult
for Adams to dangle the 'back-to-war' carrot before
a disaffected grassroots if he were to sound this
death knell for the IRA.
he came up with this cunning linguistics: "The
IRA leadership is determined that there will be no
activities which will undermine in any way the peace
process and the Good Friday Agreement." It was
a tacit nod to officialdom that the IRA is finished
but with enough wriggle room to persuade doubtful
supporters that nothing has changed, in effect to
keep the game going. For Tony Blair it was insufficient
so he postponed the Assembly election scheduled for
May 29 and in doing so revealed much about the nascent
democracy were are expected to celebrate in Northern
It is obviously bogus to argue that the election was
postponed solely because of a lack of clarity by the
IRA since a number of post-ceasefire polls have been
contested with foggier assurances from republicans.
Elections in Northern Ireland merely serve to cement
the norm, invariably for the worse, and all indicators
suggest that unionist sentiment is drifting toward
Ian Paisley's anti-accord DUP. Since the survival
of the Agreement depends upon the exclusion (or containment)
of those opposed to it, Trimble could not be fed to
a hostile electorate unless Adams had run up the white
The election was cancelled because Tony Blair would
not have cared for the results.
It seems that elections are now permitted only to
rubber-stamp a desired outcome and not to evidence
popular opinion, that the will of 'We The People'
has no standing (Oh Dubya, what hast thou wrought?).
This suspension of electoral reality is appropriate
since the Good Friday Agreement itself demands the
suspension of common sense.
It is transparent that the Agreement simply papers
over the cracks in our civic life and creates a system
of government that depends no less on sectarian head-counting
than the Northern state did under unionist control.
A system that categorizes people only as unionist
or nationalist, and demands a high-wire balancing
of the two, will inevitably be paralyzed by those
same quasi-religious distinctions .
An election that bestows power on the DUP and Sinn
Fein - as had seemed probable - would take the Agreement
to its illogical conclusion. So rather than have the
farce exposed, Blair suspended democracy to save democracy.
He, too, would not give the game away. The muted public
response to all this was an indication that people
have tired of the endless episodes of hand-wringing
and recrimination, that the tiresome soap opera is
losing its audience.
The very nature of democracy is that you may end up
with people in power whom you consider unfit for office.
This is not to say that a society in which the DUP
holds sway is ideal - far from it, in fact - but is
that prospect really any worse than a government whose
continued existence depends upon the exclusion of
the will of its citizens? This is a bastardized system
unworthy of the term 'democracy'.
This week was notable for more than Gerry Adams's
obituary for the IRA. It is evident that the only
difference between the Northern Ireland of today and
that of ten years ago is the frequency with which
the body bags are filled. This is, of course, no small
matter. But settling for a charade democracy that
does not promise a society in which the body bags
will be consigned to the past hardly seems like something
worth cheering about.
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