Noel Doran, Editor
The Irish News
Sean Swan recently wrote a letter to agree with Mr.
James Kelly that an independent Northern Ireland is
a crazy theory. [See article and letter,
In doing so, however, his points included a fair amount
of ad hominem: besides unpardonably sinning by-according
to Mr. Swan-taking myself too seriously, my writing
tends towards elitist, over-academic, obscurantism
which, when decoded, reveals nothing more than a bad
Swan did much better in raising a perfectly valid
substantive concern: the difficult problem of pervasive
sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
he argued that sectarianism has to be eradicated
before a government in or of Northern Ireland could
do anything but totter.
others have noted, sectarianism is largely a product
of, not the cause of, the constitutional problems
Northern Ireland has long suffered from. Time itself,
in the absence of a genuine constitutional settlement
there, does not seem to be improving that situation
at all. Many have asserted that sectarianism there
is worse today than it was twenty or thirty years
Mr. Swans requirement of eradicating sectarianism
before establishing any good government in the North
sounds a lot like a recipe for doing nothing. Indeed
he makes no positive proposal himself, instead suggesting
only that all is doom and gloom and that nothing really
can be done politically. (His comments remind me of
the old saying: It takes a carpenter to put
up a barn door, but any ass can knock it down.)
overall thought on Northern Ireland is that a stable,
very broadly acceptable constitutional settlement
would create a climate where sectarianism would begin
to abate substantially.
these lines, there are good grounds to believe that
a genuinely fair and workable constitution for an
independent six-county government could be developed.
Moreover, it is completely clear that, by supporting
an independent Northern Ireland state in roughly the
same way it will be obliged to do in any event for
the next generation or two or more, Britain could
make such an initiative financially viable.
a result-and in the wake of still another failure
to resolve this long conflict through the much more
conventional approach of the GFA-I have publicly urged
that people in Britain and Ireland examine formally
a radical approach that theyve never before
seems to me rather unremarkable that I should make
this controversial proposal knowing full well that
an effort along these lines might indeed fail to win
the sort of supermajority approval that would be mandatory
for such a radical change.
what I find utterly remarkable is that Mr. Swan, along
with others like him, seems so determined that no
one demonstrate his independence couldnt
work view to be correct that he feels himself
compelled to argue strongly against even the notion
of looking at this idea further.
is he so afraid of being proven right?
doing absolutely nothing really better, in his eyes,
than honestly examining the possibility of a radical
Swan asserted that my suggestion of taking a first-ever
formal look at negotiated independence is crazy, and
he concluded: If you cant take that, better
not write[ in public].
my mind, however, Mr. Swans do nothing
position is, under the circumstances, pusillanimous.
there is an alternative to the GFA (Link
is subscription only)
The Tuesday Column
The Irish News, 29 October 2002
By Paul Fitzsimmons
is no alternative to the Good Friday Agreement
- the power-sharing government of which has recently
been suspended for the fourth time in three years,
restarting, yet again, Londons direct
rule of Northern Irelands six counties
- is blaringly pervasive dogma, sometimes referred
to merely by its acronym, Tina.
not everyone accepts that Tina dogma.
days before this fourth and likely final suspension
of power-sharing, unionist politician Peter Robinson
resigned his cabinet post. Surveying the GFAs
rubble, he decried as absurd the fact that many in
Ireland and Britain are still parroting this
line that there is no alternative. What
a mess we would be in if there were no alternative
to the crisis-ridden system that we have had over
the last four years. Of course there are alternatives
the divides opposite side, Belfast Telegraph
columnist Eamonn McCann, likewise, recently complained
bitterly that the GFA reflects no dimension
of our politics or of our social being, other than
that defined by competing religious identities,
adding that the GFA is not a recipe for reconciliation
but for choreographed polarisation. The future it
offers is of muffled enmity. He urged: We
have to begin to think outside the ideas which box
a Catholic Irish-American long and deeply concerned
with Northern Irelands socio-political strife,
I believe that Messrs Robinson and McCann are entirely
least one superior democratic alternative does exist
to the manifoldly inadequate GFA.
that constitutional alternative is radical: fair and
workable six-county independence. The basic thought
underlying it is that - if otherwise logistically
feasible - immediate freedom from London
in exchange for permanent freedom from
Dublin might be acceptable to northern Catholics generally,
as might be the exact converse to Ulster Protestants
generally. In essence: from all, real sacrifice without
surrender but, for all, huge gain.
As but one indication to the contrary, David Trimble
- while he had the intellectual freedom of a university
academic - publicly advocated independence, even in
1988 terming independence an inevitability.
However, Mr Trimble later became a politician and
leader of the Ulster Unionist Party; he then helped
draft and implement the GFA and shared a resultant
Nobel Peace Prize. Similarly, in the mid to late 1970s,
Sean McBride had various discussions, on behalf of
the Provisional IRA, with a representative of the
UDA on this subject of independence. Thus, while possible
independence is still quite unorthodox, it is by no
any event, Northern Irelands independence could
only be the product of a formal initiative by the
British and Irish governments, ultimately approved
by a supermajority - probably between 66 and 75 per
cent - of those voting in an independence plebiscite.
(The voting ratio of Protestants to Catholics in the
six counties is now roughly 58/42.)
basic implementation steps might well be followed.
the British and Irish governments would ask Northern
Irelanders to encourage their political representatives
to take part in a transparent constitutional convention
presided over by outside constitutional experts.
after a constitutional and financial package for independence
had been approved by Britain, the Republic of Ireland
and the EU, and after public discussion, a simple
majority plebiscite would be held in Northern
Ireland on the following test-drive issue:
Should we have a shadow election to establish
who would hold office under this ready-to-wear constitutional
plan if that plan were later approved in a supermajority
if the majority declined to take that test-drive,
negotiated independence would be proven inadequate
and rightly abandoned. Were, though, the test-drive
approved, shadow officials would next be chosen through
a special election, but they would have few powers.
Assuming the proposed government were a presidential
system, the shadow president and shadow legislators
might be empowered only to select an executive cabinet
and members of the judiciary.
and finally, after an appropriate period following
that shadow election, the supermajority plebiscite
would be held. Rejection thereof would mean abandoning
independence efforts. Acceptance would trigger a transition
period, subject first to independently supervised
paramilitary disarmament, whereupon the shadow members
of the government would be certified as official.
taking such bold steps, the British and Irish governments
could prevent the already wrongful There Is
No Alternative dogma from metastasizing into
GFA über alles irrationality.
Washington DC lawyer Paul A Fitzsimmons wrote
Independence for Northern Ireland: Why and How
Kelly aught to be ashamed (Link
is subscription only)
The Irish News,
5 November 2002
PAUL A FITZSIMMONS
referring to my small article (October 29) in the
Irish News, Mr James Kelly wrote on November 2: The
crazy notion of an Ulster independent state having
nothing to do with either London or Dublin has suddenly
reappeared but there are six to eight billion reasons
why it hasnt a dogs chance of getting
off the ground - all quids, the cost in sterling of
keeping us in the style that we have come accustomed
to but could lose if we persist in rushing like lemmings
to the constitutional cliffs, not once but four times.
Kellys observation on the importance of the
British subvention obviously assumes that Britain
is content to pay, perhaps in perpetuity, such amounts
to an ever troubled province... but that refuses to
acknowledge that Britain would even consider paying
a similar amount, for some lengthy period of time,
to a neighbour establishing itself in a new settlement.
Kellys assumption may be entirely faulty.
broadly - regarding the aim merely of looking formally
into possible negotiated independence - I wrote the
following about a half a dozen years ago in reply
to a kind letter from the Rev Dr Samuel Hutchinson,
then Irelands Presbyterian Moderator:
proposal on negotiated independence would inevitably
be a package containing several elements.
Conspicuously among them would be a constitutional
element and a financial element.
at its broadest, my argument is simply to craft the
best possible constitution and to bolster it with
the best possible financial support that Northern
Irelands neighbours and friends can muster (see
my book at 171-72).
at the end of the day, it appeared that the financial
support so offered would be inadequate, then the Northern
Ireland electorate might do well to vote down that
least, though, at that point, Britain and others could
say: We tried our best, and Ulster would
be able to say: The choice in declining the
proposal was our own.
this same basic approach could underlie other key
areas regarding an independence proposal: try ones
best and see, through a vote, whether the effort was
days ago I wrote the following in response to a letter
from a QUB professor:
overall thought is that a fair and workable ready-to-wear
plan for independence needs to be worked up (because
no alternative thereto has worked over these past
needs to be served up on a silver platter to people
who wouldnt themselves take the steps to devise
such a plan, and then they would be able to pick whether
they prefer it or the status quo.
all that work, my best guess is that theyd pick
the status quo (Im a pessimist by nature).
should my (perhaps accurate) prediction in this respect
mean that no effort along these lines should be made?
I must say, I have generally admired his work, I frankly
think Mr Kelly should be ashamed of himself for, in
effect, urging the following to his readers:
havent the foggiest notion of how in fact to
resolve our great social conflict, but do not give
any serious consideration to possible negotiated independence
because - and trust me on this one - its crazy.
effect, Mr Kelly argues: Sure weve got
big problems, but it would be far better to do absolutely
nothing at all to try to address them than to give
a formal look at a middle-ground approach weve
never looked at formally.
Kelly may view possible six-county independence as
a crazy notion, but - in the light of
the ongoing decades of these Troubles,
their attendant pain and the distinct paucity of democratic
constitutional alternatives - I believe conversely
that affirmatively deciding to decline, as he has
done, even to analyse adequately an untried middle-ground
initiative at least verges on criminal neglect.
one of Northern Irelands biggest problems is
that its big thinkers dont think
intellectual honesty, intellectual vigour and intellectual
courage should be more highly prized there than facile
I know it all and, believe me, it cant
be done dogmatism.
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