On the twenty-fifth of June, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair signaled the imminent demise of Northern Ireland’s
well-intended but ill-conceived Good Friday Agreement
by stating that, through scheduled “intensive talks”
meetings in September, he wanted to achieve “a concluded
agreement that allows everybody to move forward together
or alternatively we are going to have to search for
a different way forward.”
Asked whether such a failure would really mark the end, Mr.
Blair answered: “I think what we’re saying is ‘Yes’
in terms of our ability to take this process forward.”
However, the September meetings will fail. Indeed, Henry
McDonald of the Observer
aptly challenged in mid‑July “not just the judgment
but also the sanity of the newspaper editors and pundits
who are peddling th[e] illusion” that the GFA’s structures
might be revived at those meetings. (Cf. some similar thoughts in a Slugger
O’Toole posting appended hereto.)
Another generation of troubled rule from London, probably
with some marginal input from Dublin, looks to be
the likely outcome, but Northern Ireland could yet
have a small chance at a genuine and democratic—albeit
a failure of these September talks, and for the first
and last time ever, Northern Ireland could receive—through
brave and generous leadership by Mr. Blair—an opportunity
to examine formally a “ready‑to-wear” independence
is easy to describe in this respect: all know that
political independence would require Great Britain’s
substantial, long‑term economic aid.
requires a bit more explanation: all also know that
the odds would be against success here. Opinion polls
consistently show that, as a first‑choice preference, only about 10 percent in Northern
Ireland favor this unorthodox approach. The most encouraging
polling data merely indicate that about half of the
Protestants and about half of the Catholics in the
North would at least “tolerate” independence as a
new way forward.
needs to be observed and appreciated, however, that
all such responses have been collected in a vacuum,
without any actual independence proposal for respondents
to read, study, digest, and render a final decision
upon. Thus, an actual plebiscite on a ready-to-wear
independence proposal might ultimately yield 20, 50,
or 80 percent in favor. Frankly, anyone who claims
he knows for sure which of those numbers it would
in fact be is either lying or fooling himself.
of those daunting facts and figures, Tony Blair—if actually determined to leave no stone unturned in trying to resolve
this persistent strife and in trying to achieve democracy
in Northern Ireland—could now see whether the
odds against this venture can be beaten. As suggested
eighteen months ago in The
If the GFA irremediably fails, Mr. Blair will himself need
to take charge regarding this radical approach—somewhat
encouragingly, he recently maintained of Britain
that “we’re at our best when at our boldest”—or
else the British government will unboldly consign
and condemn Northern Ireland to at least one more
generation of unhappy direct rule.
Mr. Blair could take steps to establish for certain
whether a fair and workable independence plan might
be fashioned so that at least 70 percent of the
voters would decide to check “Yes”—in the privacy
of their voting booths—in order to vault themselves,
and their children, into a brighter future. (He would,
however, adopt this position already understanding—care
of some discreet nods—that most or all of the main
political parties in Northern Ireland would accede,
grudgingly, to taking part in formally examining this
70‑percent plebiscite figure would not just
seek to establish large support for independence but
would also ensure that the North’s Catholics—something
above 40 percent of the population—could, themselves
alone, veto any proffered plan.
sine qua non to looking into this possibility
formally would be, however, the IRA’s announcing,
in response to such a call, that it would fully respect
and abide by voter approval at that 70-percent-or-higher
“An Open Letter To The Leadership
Of The Irish Republican Army” (The Blanket, 13 June 2004), to which, unsurprisingly, no negative
response was received from the IRA.) Given the rather
slim chances for success in any event, this effort
simply could not get well underway with a Republican
sword of inscrutability dangling overhead.
the IRA made its own brave and appropriate commitment
in this regard, Ireland might possibly find, within
about a year’s time, a genuine and democratic peace
via—for the foreseeable future—two
free, fair, and workable republics on that island.
to the contrary, however, the IRA might respond to
such a call from Mr. Blair by telling Northern Nationalist
and Republican voters—through its words, its deeds,
or its silence—“We do not trust and will not trust
you or your decisions, and we have therefore summarily
decided to keep you from having any choice regarding
the possibility of a settlement along these lines.”
more than two decades, I have bet that, whatever else
it might be, the IRA is not a group of fascists. The
world could learn whether that bet and much more have
been won or lost if
Tony Blair courageously elects to make a historic
move in this new direction.
Washington, D.C. lawyer Paul A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence for Northern Ireland: Why and
How (1993) (email@example.com).
(11 August 2004)
Alex[ Kane] et al.:
First off, apologies to those who have written, in Slugger
and via email, for my tardy responses.
No one in this thread responded directly to my comment of
26 July at 1:03PM:
It seems, then, that either (a) Republican militants will
have to stand down while in the dark on how issues
like "accountability of ministers, the way
the assembly votes," etc. will ultimately
be resolved or (b) an omnibus resolution of all
these issues will first be needed ('nothing is
agreed until everything is agreed').
The difficulty there is figuring out which of those options
is less likely: (a) Republicans saying "Alright,
the IRA's now gone for good; NIO, please let us
know as soon as possible whether the GFA will
still include things like d'Hondt, etc."
or (b) the parties actually together working out
all the changes to and deviations from the sacred
GFA scrolls, thereby making possible a complete
and final standing-down of the IRA (whose members
would, of course, then be putting their faith
into the notion that that new omnibus agreement
would actually hold when later push came to later
However, the "a"-side of that issue is addressed,
at least inferentially, within the following from
yesterday's Irish News:
IRA 'stand down' before talks would be 'tactically naive'
Republicans believe it would be tactically naive, if not
stupid, to signal before political negotiations
start in September that the IRA is ready to 'stand
down' with a final order to dump arms.
'Nonsense' and 'rubbish' are the words used in republican
circles to describe claims that the IRA is about
to be wound up. The emphasis is as usual on political
negotiation and 'context'.
If it is not already apparent, I think that, as between "a"
and "b," each is less likely than the
other (a new paradox for Northern Ireland).
Alex, you have suggested here, by contrast, that all (or,
at least, enough) will be resolved in September
because of the pressures upon and impulses within
[(A) The DUP] doesn't want the UUP to be back in the driving
seat and [(B)] it doesn't want to leave NI's fate
in the hands of two governments pissed off by
the fact that the efforts of the last ten years
have turned to dust.
Of course, I agree with this statement, as literally written:
the DUP must want neither "A" nor "B."
However, your "A" looks in any event to be a virtual
impossibility for the foreseeable future (absent
something like a Westminster "constitutional
mercies" tweak to the GFA granting UUP MLAs
two-for-one voting privileges). Thus, the observation
seems an irrelevance.
As to your "B," the mind does not flinch imagining
that September could boil down to a choice for the
DUP of (i) "leav[ing] NI's fate in the hands of two governments pissed
off by the fact that the efforts of the last ten
years have turned to dust" or (ii) its being
leveraged into a some "agreement" (cf.
the UUP, circa Good Friday 1998).
In this regard, Alex, I did read your comment: "I could
be wrong in my analysis--it is the risk that all
commentators and columnists run."
Frankly, though, if you would indeed argue publicly that
the DUP would choose "B(ii)" over "B(i),"
I would think that either (a) you're simply not
being forthcoming with your readers or (b) you might
consider another line of work.
If, however, you do accept that the DUP would not choose
"B(ii)" over "B(i)," then it
seems your commentary conveys with little more than
a rather self-evident conclusion that the DUP would
go along with a resolution which it found acceptable.
As I've asked others (like Mark Simpson, who a month
ago ended one of his think-pieces with the insight
that "[t]he conflicting signals make it impossible
to make a proper assessment of the chances of a
deal"), is voicing such thoughts really what
you get paid the big bucks for? As I've mentioned
before, you could indeed do much better.
Posted by: Paul A. Fitzsimmons at August 11, 2004 09:13 PM
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