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7 November 2002 Edition

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Different accent, same direct rule


Two weeks into his new job and true to his word Paul Murphy, Labour MP for Torfaen since 1987, member of the British government team during the tortuous Good Friday Agreement negotiations, and new Six-County Secretary of State, has been doing more listening than talking. That is fine, so far as it goes, but what matters is the action he now takes on the basis of what he has heard from those who have done the talking.

What, emphatically, does not matter is Murphy's Catholicism, which has been mulled over in minute detail as if it were his single defining characteristic and as if that, in itself, makes him more "acceptable" to (a) Sinn Féin (b) republicans in general, and (c) the whole nationalist community. It is stupid, insulting and rather depressing to think that British politicians, including the prime minister, honestly believe that we will thank them to have had two Catholics in a row (imagine!) to indulge David Trimble.

Sectarian considerations may come above all else for others but Sinn Féin will deal in the same way with whoever - and whatever - is put in front of them; Brooke (patrician hauteur) Mayhew (snooty Anglo ennui), Mowlam (hands-on-wigs-off-moist-eyed chumminess), Mandelson (arch, snake-eyed careerism), or Reid (come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you're-hard-enough abrasiveness).

It doesn't matter. In the end, they are all what they are, and what they have been for 30 years, regardless of individual characteristics; that is, agents of British rule in Ireland.

Having a pleasant personality, as we are told Paul Murphy has, or being of a particular religious persuasion does not alter that simple fact. Republicans could not care less that Murphy is a Catholic, or how devout, about his Papal knighthood (whatever that is), his marital status, that he is Welsh, who he takes his holidays with or where his great-granddaddy came from.

What Republicans care about above all else is his politics and Murphy is, by definition, a unionist. Not an Ulster Unionist maybe, but a unionist nonetheless. In that respect, a more interesting and more revealing nugget of information might be that, earlier in his political career, Murphy was an opponent of Welsh devolution.

The only point worth noting on his personal - and private - religious preference, is that it required Tony Blair to check with David Trimble before Murphy was appointed to ensure that the erstwhile First Minister could tolerate having yet another Catholic about the place. That little gem also passed without comment.

Murphy's personality is really not what is at issue here. Whilst dealing with an affable individual may make the day-to-day job of nationalists' elected representatives more bearable, Murphy, from what we have seen so far, has shown little inclination or ability to do more than act as a messenger relaying present British government policy, policy which is avowedly pro-Ulster Unionist. Whatever Trimble demands, Tony demands too; decommissioning, verifiable decommissioning, total decommissioning, disbandment of the IRA, surrender, whatever. Murphy has not said much, but what he has said amounts to little more than a repetition of the demand that the IRA disband.

Murphy's role, if he has one other than to simply repeat David Trimble and Tony Blair, ought to be to ensure that the institutions are fully restored - and soon - and that the Good Friday Agreement is genuinely implemented. The way to achieve that is not, as his predecessor did, by continuously undermining Sinn Féin's policy of meticulous adherence to the Agreement and thus the confidence of the party's constituency in it.

He should not be wasting time haranguing Sinn Féin with unrealisable Unionist-inspired demands. His role should be to bring whatever influence he has to bear in order to address his own government's unspoken intent to try and renegotiate the Agreement, to stand firm in the face of Trimble's hysteria, and to remember that nobody in the Six Counties voted for him or his party.

Incidentally, I note that several commentators could not resist the temptation to offer their profiles of the new Secretary of State under the very amusing heading of 'Murphy's Law'. Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought that, in England's anti-Irish parlance, Murphy's Law was the one that states that whatever can go wrong, will.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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