29 October 1998 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

The very normal Major Ken

Fern Lane had no joy when she confronted the UUP's security spokeman last week

UUP Security Spokesperson Ken Maginnis provided an interesting insight into current Unionist tactics and philosophy when he addressed a meeting hosted by the Islington North Constituency Labour Party at the Red Rose Club in North London on Wednesday 21 October.

In the absence of the Islington North MP, Jeremy Corbyn (who was in China), Maginnis's beaming host, Constituency Chairman Adrian Pullen, introduced his guest as having recently ``shaved his moustache off for charity''. Maginnis tried hard to look modest during the chorus of indulgent chuckles and other congratulatory noises which emanated from the Labour members in the audience. After all, being a member the B-Specials and a Major in the UDR pales into insignificance next to the towering achievement of shaving one's moustache off so Maginnis's former roles did not warrant a mention. Perhaps David Ervine should try shaving his off for worthy cause.

However, the most interesting aspect of the evening was that Maginnis had decided to talk, not about the looming crisis on decommissioning, but rather on the matter of hospitals, roads and the agricultural industry in his own constituency - although without, it has to be said, providing even the merest whiff of any coherent policy to deal with the undoubted problems in all of these sectors.

During his speech, which pointedly avoided the subject of the talks process, it became clear what this particular tactic was designed to do.

This was the psychology of Normalisation in action - or rather re-Normalisation; of attempting to recreate an impression that the `National Question' has been finally and definitively resolved, that the border is cast in stone, that Ulster is just another region of the UK, soon to be devolved like Scotland and Wales but, like them, still firmly part of the ``mainland'' and entitled ``to share in the wealth of the south east of the kingdom''.

The message was reiterated again and again; Maginnis stressed that he is a British constituency MP like any other; with the same aspirations, and facing the same kinds of social problems as other British MPs representing deprived areas elsehwere in the UK - hence the concentration on hospitals, roads, etc.

Maginnis claimed that, although there is ``over-representation'' in the new assembly, he nevertheless has great hopes that it will resolve the social and economic problems facing `Northern Ireland'. The last 30 years of direct rule had been, he said, an aberration, ``very unsatisfactory'', in that it had `made government too remote from the people'. By that, one must assume that he was using the word `people' in the Paisleyite sense of `the Unionist people', since Stormont could hardly be described as either satisfactory or accessible for nationalists. It would seem then that for Unionists the entire peace process has been a means, not of creating something new, but of getting things back to ``normal'', back to how things were in the good old days of Stormont and how they should be again. His comment to the Sunday Times on 25 October that Sinn Fein are now ``part of the British establishment'' was a further iteration of this policy of the attempted re-Normalising of the six counties.

Afterwards, however, he was pressed on the matter of decommissioning. He was asked how decommissioning could actually be quantified; how many tons of Semtex and how many guns would constitute, for him, decommissioning.

Maginnis skirted around the question, making his usual bizarre and scurrilous accusations against the Sinn Fein leadership, and then responded with a cryptic ``I'll just know when they have decommissioned''. (This was a similarly strange response to that he gave some months ago at the University of North London when he was asked why he did not want a United Ireland. ``Because I just don't,'' he said.)

It was pointed out to him (by An Phoblacht) that, for all the fine talk of what he hopes the assembly will achieve in social and economic terms, he was quite prepared to abandon all of that because of his party's unwillingness to face up to a tiny minority of its own right-wingers over decommissioning.

The fact that he could not, by his own admission, actually quantify what decommissioning meant, demonstrated that Unionists are in reality seeking to secure a purely symbolic surrender by the IRA and to avoid genuine powersharing with nationalists. For the sake of these futile ambitions, he was quite prepared to forget about his high-minded social ideals, making all the talk sound rather hollow. Maginnis indignantly denied this and reverted back to talking about his work as a constituency MP.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1