25 July 2002 Edition
Blair bows to unionist pressure
BY FERN LANE
On Wednesday, the British Prime Minister and his Secretary of State, John Reid, bowed to unionist pressure and told the House of Commons that "more rigorous standards" would be applied in future when the integrity of the IRA cessation was considered.
The British leaders made their statements just days after the UDA shot dead Gerard Lawlor. This was the culmination of weeks of UDA-organised attempted murders, of shootings, stabbings, petrol and pipe bombings, arson, stoning, attacks by 50-strong mobs on entire residential streets and the terrorising of Catholic families out of their homes. There have been rampages through schools, church burnings, violent attacks on ambulance crews attending to injured civilians and masked and armed loyalist paramilitaries issuing public death threats against Catholics.
Although he refrained from a total capitulation to David Trimble's demands for sanctions against Sinn Féin, Tony Blair nevertheless implied that such sanctions would be forthcoming if the newly recalibrated British definition of ceasefire was to held be breached by the IRA. He did not directly refer to the UDA, which is not on ceasefire, nor indeed, the UVF, which has repeatedly breached its ceasefire and whose political representatives are in Stormont.
Responding, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams accused the British government of failing to deal with the real crisis in the Six Counties, which is the sustained and orchestrated campaign of sectarian violence by loyalist groups, especially the UDA campaign.
"Their comments do not address this dangerous situation," he said. "The British government today also failed to assert the primary responsibility of the First Minister to give leadership at this difficult time against the loyalist death squads.
"We welcome the adoption of proposals to put in place a communication network in interface areas. Sinn Féin made these proposals to the two governments and the other parties a month ago at Hillsborough. Despite a lobby by us, the British government thus far have failed to make progress on this issue.
"What the vast majority of people who support the Good Friday Agreement wanted and needed to hear this afternoon was the assertion by the British government of the primacy of politics, the protection and promotion of the Good Friday Agreement and forthright opposition to sectarianism. We did not hear that today.
"There is a concern that this manufactured crisis could continue. The onus is on the British and Irish governments to ensure that this does not happen.
The priority at this time has to be a united and unambiguous opposition to sectarianism and the British and Irish government and David Trimble, as First Minister, have a particular responsibility in this regard and to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."
Clearly referring to the IRA in his Commons statement, Bthe British Prime Minister had said: "It should be clear that paramilitary organisations are not engaged in any preparations for terrorism and that they should be stood down altogether as soon as possible. We have to be clear that preparations for violence have also ceased."
In reviewing the ceasefires, he continued, the Secretary of State will "give particular weight to any substantiated information that a paramilitary organisation is engaged in training, targeting, acquisition or development or arms or weapons or any similar preparations for terrorist violence in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. If there are in future such fundamental breaches of the commitment to exclusively peaceful means, they will be taken into account in assessing the ceasefires and it is right that with the passage of time, these judgements should become increasingly rigorous." So far, of course, "substantiated information" includes unproven allegations by unionists and the Crown forces about IRA involvement in Colombia and the Castlereagh 'break-in'.
In a statement in which he also did not mention either the UDA or the UVF, but in which he referred to the IRA five times, Secretary of State Dr John Reid declared that "There can be no acceptable or tolerable level of violence."
"In recent weeks and in particular over last weekend, we have seen serious disturbances which have brought violence to the streets of Belfast and elsewhere culminating in the appalling murder of Gerard Lawlor by so-called loyalists on Monday morning. This was not an isolated incident; over the previous 72 hours there had been five attempted murders, eight shootings, and five other violent attacks." He neglected to add that the UDA was responsible for almost every one of these attacks.
And, despite all the evidence that the UDA operates with virtual impunity, and that the RUC is routinely abandoning Catholic communities to their fate at the hands of its mobs - the most recent example being Skegoniel - Dr Reid claimed that "Security forces are bearing down on the paramilitaries to deny them the freedom to operate, to prevent murders, shootings, pipe and petrol bomb attacks.
"Over 250 additional police officers and soldiers have been brought in to dominate the interfaces in North Belfast. This means more police and army resources are now deployed in north Belfast than at any point since the beginning of the ceasefires."
But despite the huge disparity between the numbers of Catholics and Protestants who have been the victims of sectarian attacks - some 95% are Catholic - Reid said that 15 loyalists and 12 republicans had been charged with public order offences arising out of the recent disturbances.
Reid also announced that he is considering providing the RUC/PSNI with additional powers. "I have asked the Attorney General to lead an examination of police powers, bail arrangements and the scope for additional criminal offences. He will also examine whether there are any changes in the criminal law which could be made to facilitate successful prosecution for acts of terrorism, violence and organised crime. All this would complement the enhanced activity of the police and the army.
"It is now four and a half years since the second IRA ceasefire" he continued. "The ceasefires have made a huge contribution to political progress in Northern Ireland in addition to reducing the appalling human cost of the conflict."
"The recent statement by IRA was a welcome step in the right direction, but it is simply not enough for paramilitary organisations on ceasefires to have brought an end to their terrorist campaigns. Whatever their real intentions, and in the case of the IRA I share the assessment that they have never been further away from a return to their campaign, nevertheless nothing can be more damaging than the sense that the options were being kept open in this way.
"The judgements I make about ceasefires have to be made in the round, taking account of all relevant factors, including those which the statute obliges me to take into account. This is what I will continue to do. But with the passage of time, it is right that these judgements should become increasingly rigorous. In reviewing the ceasefires, I will give particular weight to any substantiated information that a paramilitary organisation is engaged in training, targeting, acquisition or development of arms or weapons or any similar preparations for a terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland or elsewhere."
Speaking on at a press conference on Tuesday, Gerry Adams had criticised the fact that the British government was focusing on the IRA when loyalists were engaging in a "killing spree".
"The reality is that Catholics are being killed in Belfast," he said. "There is a planned, organised campaign by loyalists against Catholics. The unionists' response to this is to seek the exclusion of Sinn Féin from our rightful place on the executive and tomorrow the British Prime Minister is making remarks aimed at republicans at the behest of the Ulster Unionist Party and the securocrats within their own system. It is disgraceful; it is totally unacceptable.
"For the life of me I don't accept for one moment that the police service and British intelligence agencies didn't have advance notice that the Ulster Defence Association was about to go on a killing spree."
He also criticised David Trimble for failing to defend the Good Friday Agreement.
"What is required is confidence building measures by pro-Agreement parties, by the Executive, led by the First Minister, which make it clear that sectarianism is wrong and which uphold the primacy of the political institutions as the place to sort out these problems," he said.
Adams warned that republican confidence in the Agreement was waning because of the focus on the IRA and because of the loyalist campaign of violence.
Wednesday's events at Westminster, he said, whilst totally unacceptable, were "a surreal side-show because those living in the interface areas will find it crazy that the Prime Minister is zeroing in on republicans when they are victims of a loyalist campaign."
Speaking after Blair's and Reid's respective statements on Wednesday, Sinn Féin's Mitchell McLaughlin said that the British government had missed an opportunity to address the real crisis confronting the peace process; "the ongoing, and ongoing for some considerable time now, campaign against Catholics and the Catholic community".
He added that more emphasis should have been placed on the leadership role of the First Minister and on the primacy of politics. "We had hoped to see much more substance in both statements addressing that issue" he said. "This is about leadership and if there is drift within the unionist community - and that has to be contrasted with the strong support for the peace process within the broad nationalist community - then it is a question of leadership. Sinn Féin would hope that we would see a response, which we would be prepared to be a part of. We want to work with David Trimble in managing this political process and dealing with the genuine issues of concern and misunderstanding which arise in any process of conflict resolution."
British must stand up to loyalist threat - Adams
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP and party colleague North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly met the British Secretary of State John Reid on Tuesday morning. Speaking following the meeting, Adams said:
"The reality is that Catholics are being killed in Belfast. There is a planned, organised campaign by loyalists against Catholics. The unionist response to this is to seek the exclusion of Sinn Féin from our rightful place on the Executive and tomorrow the British Prime Minister is making remarks aimed at republicans at the behest of the UUP and the securocrats within their own system.
"This is disgraceful. It is totally and absolutely unacceptable. We have told Downing Street that. We told Dr Reid that this morning. We have also told the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that.
"What is required is confidence building measures by pro-Agreement parties, by the Executive and led by the First Minister, which make it clear that sectarianism is wrong and which uphold the primacy of the political institutions as the place to sort out these problems. What is required is that the British system faces up to the reality that the threat against this process at this time comes from the loyalist killing campaign.
"Rather than tolerating this campaign they must stand up against the groups who are involved in it. Day time drug pushers - night time sectarian killers."
"In order to save the process you have to look as though you're prepared to destroy it"
BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN (Sinn Féin National Chairperson)
The inter-unionist electoral battle is being fought out on political territory that has been marked out by anti-Agreement unionists. This is where Trimble has pitched his tent for the electoral battle
In many Irish republican minds, the jury is out on David Trimble's attitude to the Good Friday Agreement. At various times over the past four years, I have heard republicans state a belief that intellectually Trimble is with the Agreement but emotionally he is on Drumcree Hill in his Orange Regalia, hectoring his neighbours and fellow Orangemen in the RUC who are blocking his way from marching down Garvaghy Road. "Why is it that some people are determined to attack people who are walking down the road?" he recently growled.
People remember him going into the all-party negotiations in September 1997 saying that his objectives were variously to force Sinn Féin out, to have the party thrown out or to reach an agreement to which Sinn Féin could not sign up. Having failed in the latter his focus was then narrowed to the other two options. His behaviour in respect of the political institutions agreed on Good Friday fits in with that analysis. Likewise his Humpty-Dumpty strategy with the Executive. The compliance of the British government with his demands has been an indispensable element of that strategy. More than four years after Good Friday 1998 that is where he has returned to. Variously, he is insinuating that Sinn Féin must be thrown out of the Executive, at least for a while, and that he will resign if he doesn't get his way on this.
A recent Trimble interview in the Guardian, conducted by Jackie Ashley, demonstrates all of this in a fairly candid way while also illustrating Trimble's sometimes, perhaps oftimes, quixotic approach or view of some things. Or perhaps he simply says some things with tongue firmly in cheek.
For instance, the "prize", Trimble argued to the Guardian journalist, and with no evidence of irony, "is a real Northern Ireland democracy in which July 12 becomes just another affirmation of community", like Bastille Day in France or 4 July in the US.
Those who have lived the 'carnival of reaction', predicted by James Connolly, that flows from partition, are more likely to equate the Imperial Grand Master of the Orange Lodge with the Imperial Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan than with Robespierre or Thomas Paine. Trimble's "prize" is undoubtedly a vision seen through orange tinted glasses.
This sort of rubbish apart though, Trimble pointed to the real cause of the crisis he has painstakingly set out to create, with the help of others, since the UUP's AGM in March of this year. That is, the forthcoming Assembly elections and the electoral contest between the UUP and the DUP.
Of course, he did not describe it in those terms but rather in terms that might gain a wider sympathy. Instead, he projected a scenario in which "the dominant political parties" after the next Assembly elections "could be Sinn Féin and the DUP". This, he predicted, would result in the whole thing going pear shaped, taking another generation to fix. In other words, he wants to beat the DUP electorally and he does not want to share power with Sinn Féin, or at least not with Sinn Féin as the First or Deputy First Minister. And whatever about the actual potential for such an outcome this is the UUP leadership's politics for the forthcoming election.
The flaw in all of this, as Trimble admits, is the outworking of a strategy to give effect to these twin objectives. In words ominously close to those used 30 years previously in another conflict on another continent, he says: "In order to save the process you have to look as if you're prepared to destroy it".
That conjures up a strategy of sailing close to the wind and the need for a deftness of touch at the rudder that isn't immediately evident in someone who believes that Bastille Day can be compared with the Twelfth. In this situation, even if it is not his intention, Trimble may steer the whole Agreement onto the rocks. And the reason for that is evident both in the backdrop to this contrived crisis and in the playing out of his strategy as alluded to by Trimble in the Guardian interview.
The backdrop to all of this is an ongoing sectarian onslaught by the UDA. Guns, pipe bombs, knives and machetes have been used to injure, maim and kill by people intent on destroying the Agreement. This has recently been stepped up in Belfast. The UVF became involved in Short Strand and South Belfast. The UDA expanded their attacks in North Belfast to include Ligoniel and Skegoniel.
The latest fatality in their killing campaign was 19-year-old Gerard Lawlor, shot dead close to the Antrim Road on Sunday night. The PSNI and other securocrats have hyped the situation. Bogus allegations about republican intentions to create conflict and attempts to draw nationalist youths into street confrontations have been part and parcel of that. The fabricated myth of a tit-for-tat campaign of violence, which has largely gone unchallenged, has been part of the smokescreen.
At the political level, the inter-unionist electoral battle is being fought out on political territory that has been marked out by anti-Agreement unionists, that is, by the DUP and anti-Agreement unionists in the UUP. Anti-Agreement positions will win out regardless of the party banner under which this occurs, because the debate is being waged on their terms and on their political territory. This is where Trimble has pitched his tent for the electoral battle.
The UUP's publicly stated premise for the crisis they have contrived and their demand for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to take action is alleged activity by the IRA. Events, allegations and wholly fabricated stories have been combined to create a false picture of the IRA.
Against that, the British Secretary of State, John Reid, and the chief of his police force say the "IRA cessation is not under threat". British Prime Minister Tony Blair says "our belief is that the IRA have never been further away from the resumption of violence". And David Trimble says, in the Guardian interview, he doesn't think the IRA seriously intends "a full-scale resumption of violence". Instead, he says, for he has to justify looking as though he is "prepared to destroy" the Agreement, that the IRA have "a very definite strategy of tension and threat".
For Trimble, the logical extension of this strategy is the attempt to out-Paisley Paisley, to out-Donaldson wee Jeffrey. He will talk tough, act tough and expect the British and Irish governments to pander to his demands as in the past or at least acquiesce in them.
The Guardian's Jackie Ashley describes the logic put to her in these terms:
"Trimble says simply: 'I'm saying to the government to do something, to inject a bit more confidence into society.' But he does refer back to the time in February 1998 when Sinn Féin was suspended from the talks for a period because of IRA violence: 'And a couple of months later we got an agreement, so taking a firm line with the republican movement, far from threatening the process, actually improved the situation.'
"So what if Wednesday's strong words are not enough?... Is he prepared to resign again? 'Of course, if it is necessary to do so, I'm quite prepared to.' But he has already tried this tactic once and he readily admits there is a paradox: 'In order to save the process you have to look as though you're prepared to destroy it.'"
Trimble's strategy, reduced to its essence, looks like this:
Ignore in real political terms the responsibility of political leadership to challenge a sectarian campaign by the UDA aimed at wrecking the Agreement, homes, lives and schooldays. Instead, make periodic remarks of alleged condemnation but do nothing.
Ignore the threats this campaign poses to the peace process.
Move onto you opponent's political territory to challenge him electorally. That is, in order to save the process you have to look as though you're prepared to destroy it.
Contrive a crisis to serve these ends - one that makes you look more anti-Agreement than your electoral opponents. Seek to force the two governments down the road of breaching the Agreement or acquiescing in a breach of the Agreement to serve these ends. Seek to force the other parties to the Agreement into acquiescing in this.
Encourage the governments and the other parties to breach their obligations and commitments in the terms demanded and in the timeframe demanded by threatening to deepen the crisis. Do this by making the foundation stone of the Agreement - the political institutions - inoperable. Resign if necessary.
Hope that the protracted campaign of sectarian attacks will not terminally damage the peace process in the interim.
Hope that some formula can be found after a few months that will bring Sinn Féin back into the executive or to resurrect the institutions.
Hope that if all of this fails, even if this is not your intention, that unlike the Titanic there are enough lifeboats and life jackets available for all when you have steered this process onto the rocks.
This is what the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach need to take on board in the coming months. For Tony Blair in particular, the time of reckoning will have arrived by the time this week's edition of An Phoblacht is printed. For his decision, the words he speaks in the British House of Commons on Wednesday 24 June, will set the course of everything that has been achieved over the past decade either in the direction of the rocks or away from them.
Blair may well ponder the possibility of pandering to Trimble now with a view to changing direction in the future. He would be foolish to do so. For if he talks the talk he is only guaranteeing that he will walk the walk.