By Danny Morrison
The only way of stopping the DUP from wrecking the Belfast Agreement and bringing it around to political reality is to continue to implement the Agreement’s equality and justice provisions and the work of the all-Ireland bodies, even in the absence of an assembly and executive.
Historically, all British governments have been reluctant to confront unionism. This current Labour administration is turning out not only to be no different than others but, for a variety of reasons, perpetuating the stalemate may well represent to it a more attractive alternative to putting resources into finding a settlement and dealing with the legacy of its dirty war in Ireland.
However, what is of immediate concern is the role of the Dublin government in facilitating this British government’s strategy.
It is regrettable but it is a fact that northern nationalists have found successive Dublin administrations derelict when it comes to defending them. Dublin is often more close to or under the influence of London. Dublin never acts to end partition but acts to accommodate the lowest common denominator between the parties in the North, which, because it is partitionist in complexion, actually disadvantages nationalists.
Though there is now real electoral competition between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail it would be parochial and mean for Dublin to backslide on the peace process in an attempt to inhibit the domestic growth and popularity of Sinn Féin. However, a more accurate explanation for Dublin's behaviour is that it remains junior to and in awe of Britain.
How else does one explain the proposals that Dublin officials agreed with London after the Leeds talks, tinkering with Assembly structures and North-South arrangements?
In 1998 Sinn Féin and the SDLP argued and fought their corner in the negotiations which led to the Belfast Agreement, which was a fine balance of compromises all round. The Ulster Unionist party represented and defended its constituency.
But now we have a situation where the party that stayed outside of those talks, refused to negotiate and attempted to sabotage the Agreement at every turn hopes to unpick what the majority of people and their representatives and what two governments painstakingly agreed to. The DUP, whilst absurdly refusing to recognise Sinn Féin,s mandate, argues that its mandate entitles it to renegotiate all that was previously agreed. Indeed, so cocky or self-deluded has it become that Gregory Campbell on television last Thursday night spoke confidently about the eventual comparison that would be made between the ‘2005 Agreement’, (sic) and the 1998 model!
The best thing that could happen, for nationalists and pro-Agreement unionists alike, is that the DUP is stopped in its tracks and discovers that all pro-Agreement parties and the two governments are totally committed to the Agreement as it stands. In such circumstances the DUP would be faced with a choice. It could refuse to accept the Agreement and force a return to direct rule, thus denying unionists a say in their future, and perhaps pay a political penalty of some description. (A new period of direct rule, one Ulster Unionist has warned, could backfire and lead to increased North-South cooperation, something for which nationalists would definitely be lobbying.)
Or, the DUP, perhaps given a fig leaf or two (that is, some ingenious but meaningless terminology to define the “accountability, stability and confidence” it allegedly requires), could climb down from its intransigent position, share power with Sinn Féin and accept the all-Ireland aspects of the Agreement. But to do so, the party’s desire for power would need to outweigh the party,s hatred of republicans. Furthermore, a climb down would be an acknowledgement that the Ulster Unionists had read it right in 1998 and that the past six years of protests were for nothing. That turnaround might also carry a political penalty at the next election and is another reason why stalemate might suit the DUP.
In fact, if the DUP had any sense it would have leaped at what was on offer last week at Leeds Castle in order to lord it over the Ulster Unionists. The proposed retirement of the IRA - a logical outcome of the successful working of the Agreement - was a feather that Ulster Unionists could have claimed in time had they more enthusiastically worked the Agreement, understood republicanism and appreciated the link between the consolidation of political change and the inevitable transformation of the IRA, which they had been demanding. Ulster Unionists can still claim credit for taking risks and initiating a process which held opportunities for reassuring unionist morale, which the DUP in its short-sightedness is now apparently squandering.
To have any perverse hope of succeeding in achieving its demands the DUP needs an ally, and that ally can only come from one quarter -- Tony Blair.
Without the acquiescence of Bertie Ahern, however, Blair will find it difficult, though not impossible, to adopt a position which facilitates DUP attempts to hollow out the fundamental principles behind the Belfast Agreement.
Even with Dublin government support for the nationalist/republican concerns in relation to the review of the Agreement, it will still be a task for Dublin to hold the British government to its commitments.
For example, despite having promised at the Weston Park talks, and later to Judge Cory if he were to make such recommendations in his report, that PM Tony Blair would sanction an independent, public inquiry into the assassination of Pat Finucane, last Thursday’s announcement from the British government regarding an inquiry falls considerably short of what is required and what was envisaged by human rights campaigners.
Instead, the British have announced a restricted inquiry which will be defined by new legislation guaranteeing secrecy.
“Because this case deals with issues of national security,” said Paul Murphy, the secretary of state, ,much of the proceedings will have to take place in private.0/00
So, just as the DUP throws up obstacles to re-establishing the power-sharing executive, so does the British government present difficulties, a major quandary, for Pat Finucane,s widow Geraldine. Perhaps it has done so in the hope that if the family doesn’t fully cooperate with and call upon others to endorse the inquiry they can be blamed for handicapping it and for any inconclusive findings. On the other hand, if it does cooperate and the inquiry absolves a British cabinet and senior military figures from culpability (which is clearly the objective) then the Finucanes, and others, cannot complain about the results.
In British governments -- Tory and Labour alike -- Irish representatives have always been dealing with deceitful, ruthless opponents.
But now is the time for the Dublin government to stop taking its cue from Tony Blair, a self-proclaimed “unionist”, and to defend the interests of the Irish people, the peace process and the Belfast Agreement.