3 February 2005 Edition
Government by Super Quango - The IMC & the Ten Commissioners
BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN
Sinn Féin's commitment is to a peaceful future and to demonstrate that politics work. But the attitude and public pronouncements of the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister recently are making our job so much harder. I am beginning to believe that they also know how much more difficult they are making it. But any attempt to exclude or marginalise Sinn Féin will not work. Scapegoating republicans for the present state of affairs is dishonest, offensive and destined for failure.
Let's be clear about one important fact — a bank robbery in Belfast on 20 December did not bring about the present impasse. The process was in crisis ever since the DUP walked away from a power sharing deal on 8 December. Contrary to Mr Blair's claim that unionists are committed to power sharing and that the IRA is the only obstacle to a comprehensive deal, the fact is that under the leaderships of David Trimble and Ian Paisley, unionists have walked away each time it seemed that agreement was close. The facts show us that unionism has not accepted even the concept of power sharing, let alone its inevitability.
It is clear that the two governments are laying the groundwork to impose further sanctions on Sinn Féin and our electorate once the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission reports later this week. The IMC will, of course, bring in a report consistent with the opinion of Hugh Orde and Chief NIO Spymaster, Joe Pilling, who supplied the erroneous 'Intelligence opinion'.
All of the claims and allegations directed against republicans in the past six weeks should be viewed in the context of briefings undertaken in the United States in December by Pilling when he stated very clearly that the objective of the NIO was to stop Sinn Féin becoming the largest party in the North. British Secretary of State Paul Murphy also made similar remarks when he visited the US recently. Sanctions against our party, like all previous attempts, will fail to stop Sinn Féin's growth or our success in building support for an Ireland of Equals.
The British Government is already imposing sanctions against Sinn Féin through the withholding of funds that we are entitled to. These sanctions too were imposed on the recommendation of the so-called IMC, following previous unsubstantiated allegations against republicans. As with the previous Report, the 'Independent' Monitoring Commission will bring this one in a number of weeks before it is due on the request (orders) of the British Government. So much for its 'independence'.
The Irish government and the SDLP publicly claim to be opposed to the imposition of sanctions. Has anyone heard the Taoiseach or Mark Durkan demanding that this punitive and discriminatory action against the political representatives of the majority of the nationalist people in the North be ended? Not to my knowledge.
The Irish government assisted the British Government in setting up this so-called 'Independent' Monitoring Commission and agreed to the British Secretary of State being given powers outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to action any sanctions recommended by it.
It is a disgrace that a British politician with not a single vote in Ireland and therefore no mandate is given the authority, with the blessing of an Irish government, to discriminate against the majority of nationalists in the Six Counties. The SDLP knows that Irish people did not vote for British discrimination any more than they will tolerate unionist injustice, yet it also put its imprimatur on the establishment of the IMC, with Séamus Mallon going so far as to say that its sanctions were not harsh enough. I am unconvinced, therefore, about protestations by the Irish Government and SDLP of opposition to sanctions. Nationalists and republicans are understandably and increasingly sceptical of the motivations of both. Could the Sinn Féin growing electoral threat to both Fianna Fáil and the SDLP have something to do with it?
Mind you, it should not be surprising that the SDLP supported the establishment of the IMC outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After all, it is just one more quango and by supporting its appointment, it paved the way for them to propose the biggest and most powerful quango yet envisaged. Mark Durkan and his team of SDLP negotiators went to Leeds Castle with a one-item agenda and he has been promoting it like a favourite hobby horse ever since. His single proposal was the creation of a super quango appointed by the British Government to replace local ministers in the Executive. In other words Government by Super Quango. For a party that likes to portray itself as the great defender of the Agreement it doesn't seem to have any difficulty in supporting measures outside of the Agreement taken by the British Government. The IMC and Mark Durkan's 'Quango Cabinet' are horses from the same stable intended to circumvent the principles of inclusivity and equality contained in the Good Friday Agreement and ride roughshod over the democratic choice of the electorate at the ballot box.
Thoughts of returning to the failed politics of the past is dangerous folly and will only lead to further stalemate and erosion of democratic principles. The only winners in such a scenario will be rejectionist unionists, who don't want change under any circumstances, and those dissidents who never believed that Britain would allow equal pursuit of political aspirations in Ireland.
The disillusionment of another generation of nationalists and republicans with the political process can serve no positive purpose. I state this not as a threat but as an opinion developed from bitter experience. It is time that Britain states and demonstrates that not only does it not have any ' Selfish Strategic or Economic' interest in Ireland but that neither does it have any selfish 'Political' interest in Ireland. Such a demonstration by Britain of no selfish interest could form the footing on which we could move steadily forward in addressing all of the other outstanding issues on the basis of equality and respect.