By Brian Feeney (for the Sunday Business Post)
Nearly 50 years ago, the British government arrested Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Orthodox primate of Cyprus, and exiled him to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.
Makarios was not only the spiritual leader of Greek Cypriots, but was also their political leader. He had been campaigning for enosis, or union with Greece.
In 1957, British intelligence bugged his phone and discovered that he was in league with Colonel Grivas, leader of Eoka, the military organisation fighting to expel the British from the island.
When Makarios refused to condemn Eoka, the British exiled him. The result was an upsurge in Eoka activity across Cyprus, requiring reinforcements of British troops. By 1958, Makarios was back negotiating with the British and, two years later, he was president of Cyprus.
No doubt a man of Michael McDowell’s erudition is well aware of the role Makarios played, and the similar roles of men like Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun in Palestine.
The terrorist, pursued and imprisoned by the British, later became Israeli prime minister.
Makarios stood down Eoka after 1960. Begin stood down the Irgun after 1948. Only Makarios and Begin could have done that; the British had tried for years and failed.
So why is McDowell so anxious to out Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as IRA leaders and undermine their capacity to negotiate politically on behalf of the republican movement?
McDowell must know that previous attempts anywhere in the world to push aside political people in a politico-military movement produced two inevitable consequences. First, the destabilisation of the movement, usually with an increase in violence.
Secondly, there is the eventual return of the political leaders, with their negotiating status enhanced.
Bertie Ahern has been anxious to avoid either of these consequences, with his refusal to identify anyone as an IRA leader and repeated statements of his desire for an “inclusive, comprehensive settlement’’ in the North. As an experienced negotiator, Ahern appreciates the danger of pushing your opposite number into a corner - particularly when he can deliver something you need.
The central fact, no matter how unpalatable it may be to the minister for justice, is that there can be no inclusive, comprehensive settlement without Adams and McGuinness.
They are both MPs and they are both going to be re-elected in May with increased majorities. Punters can get odds of 100-1 in the Belfast bookies against the SDLP’s west Belfast candidate winning 10,000 votes.
So if McDowell wants to discredit and humiliate Adams and McGuinness, who does he want to deal with?
What is his strategy to achieve an inclusive, comprehensive settlement - one, incidentally, to which DUP leader Ian Paisley has said he will sign up?
Thanks to McDowell’s self-indulgent grandstanding, few people recall the protocol signed at Hillsborough on February 21 by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy and Chief Constable Hugh Orde, permitting secondment of gardai to the North and PSNI officers to the south.
Has McDowell really just found out, as a result of his intelligence briefings, that there is an overlap at the top of the republican movement between the military and political wings?
Why did he think successive Irish governments attached such importance to talking to Adams and McGuinness?
If they are not in charge, who is? And why is the government not talking to that person? Of course, it’s an unacceptably slow and frustrating process.
However, more than 800 people might be dead today if Adams and McGuinness had not delivered a ceasefire in 1994.
Republicans have accepted the amendment of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution; they have changed their own constitution to enable Sinn Féin members to take seats at Stormont; they survived a serious split in 1997; and they have agreed in principle to decommission and stand down the IRA, though not yet in the precise terms McDowell demands.
Perhaps it has never occurred to the self-styled ‘Hammer of the Provos’ that Adams and McGuinness are better judges of the speed at which the republican movement can travel than he is.
Does McDowell really want to undermine their authority within a notoriously prickly organisation?
Does he want to boost men who take the traditional republican view that governments don’t respond to the force of argument, but only to the argument of force?
McDowell’s strategy seems to be to make life as difficult as possible for Adams and McGuinness.
If so, he should be careful what he wishes for, because he might get it.