Good Friday Agreement and its many tribulations vaguely
suggest a middle ages scene set in some faraway palace.
Emerging from years of backroom tinkering with elaborate
multitudes of gears and wheels, pinions and pulleys,
cams and cogs, a sage presents a marvelous invention
to an anxious king.
wise inventor then forthrightly announces before the
applauding assembled court: As your Majesty
knows, it was extremely difficult to construct this
machine, which aims to turn lead into gold. Even more
difficult, though, will be getting it to work.
years now during this Powersharing Mark II
experiment, weve often been told that getting
the GFA to work adequately will take laborious and
patient weeks and months more
and more. Similar official pronouncements today in
Belfast thus seem unexceptional.
at some point -- maybe if this fourth GFA suspension
in five years stretches out much longer -- people
will more generally tend to wonder whether the GFA
ever had any real capacity at all for long-term success.
(Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble himself
recently asked formally in Westminsters House
of Commons whether the British government is thinking
of having a Plan B. The somewhat non-responsive
response from Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy
-- Weve got to concentrate on what were
doing at the moment, on Plan A, I suppose, before
we look at any other plans -- may deviate from
earlier dogma that there is no alternative
to the GFA.)
interrelated factors regarding the GFAs innate
capabilities might therefore appropriately be examined
the GFA of course never aimed to implement anything
more than devolved governance. Some have likened its
Assembly and Executive to a glorified county council,
and some more harshly dubbed it a Fischer-Price
government. The fact is, though, that the GFAs
institutions will always be subservient to the Westminster
Parliament, at whose behest those institutions have
been repeatedly suspended, often without the consent
of local parties and/or of the Republic of Irelands
government. Thus, through the GFA, no ultimate governmental
authority has ever resided or can ever reside in Northern
Ireland. And with a British safety net ever beneath
the GFA, slipping hasnt been the greatest concern
of the local political high-wire artists.
the GFA did not constitute a genuine settlement. Instead,
it has widely and correctly been regarded as, at best,
a part of a process. But not having, from
the start, fundamental terms and conditions of government
-- and anti-government -- activities firmly addressed
by and through that agreement meant that fundamental
tensions would both persist and persistently divide.
the GFA suffers from serious structural infirmities:
(a) the GFAs Assembly institutionalizes sectarianism
because of its mandatory designation of Unionist,
Nationalist, and Other representatives;
(b) the GFAs weighting of votes within the respective
Unionist and Nationalist camps yields grave and now-conspicuous
instability; (c) the GFAs credibility is diminished
because jury-rigged political band-aids repeatedly
need to applied to its constitutional
holes; (d) the GFAs dHondt system precludes
exclusion from the Executive of any marginally-sized
party, even where such a party is abhorred by all
other Executive parties; and (e) that dHondt
system also virtually guarantees that the electorate
will have no opportunity to change the overall composition
of that Executive.
course, transmuting lead into gold is not the standard
for measuring the GFAs success. Rather to the
contrary, when people point to the GFA and argue that
-- at least within Northern Ireland -- a bad peace
is better than any kind of war, a knowledgeable person
might well agree
if, perhaps, while holding
if the GFA continues still further to fail so badly,
another tack will need to be considered.
obvious option, now provisionally underway, is long-term,
by-definition undemocratic direct rule.
less likely -- yet democratic -- approach would be
fair and workable six-county negotiated independence.
Such an option is theoretically possible and could
even include a useful pre-plebiscite test-drive.
today like twenty years ago, a key problem regarding
possible independence is that the main Northern Ireland
political parties have no latitude to call publicly
for any first-ever formal investigation thereof. (Alliance,
a minor and soon-to-be-extinct centrist party there,
does itself have that philosophical latitude, but
Alliance also has less balls than even the provinces
small Womens Coalition.)
the GFA irremediably fails, Mr. Blair will himself
need to take charge regarding this radical approach
-- somewhat encouragingly, he recently maintained
of Britain that were 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
Republic of Irelands taking part in that daring
effort would be a sine qua non to its success.
important could be assistance offered by the United
D.C. lawyer Paul A. Fitzsimmons wrote Independence
for Northern Ireland: Why and How (1993), available
Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews +
Letters + Archives