Irish Republican News · December 30, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Good riddance to 2005, it was a real stinker

By Anne Cadwallader (for Daily Ireland)

The big day is over. The head is throbbing. The kids are bored. Their presents are either already broken or run out of battery-power. Thoughts are inexorably turning to the year we are about to leave behind and the one yet to come.

What a year it was. The highs seemed, to me, not to be terribly high and the lows, depressingly, far more frequent and profound. Or am I just getting to be a grumpy old woman? Don’t answer that.

This time last year, we didn’t know what we were in for. I spent last Christmas morning trudging through the snow to interview a neighbour, who happens to be a Sinn Féin councilor about police raids on republican families after the Northern Bank robbery.

Once the festive break was over in January 2005, the unionist floodgates opened and torrents of fury threatened to drown all hopes of reviving devolution. As the year went on, that threat became a reality.

Just weeks previous to the raid, it had seemed a deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin was tantalisingly close. Those hopes melted quicker than the snow of Christmas 2004.

February and March 2005 were almost totally absorbed in wave after wave of unremitting publicity over the Robert McCartney murder.

The SDLP made political hay while the sun shined, believing they had at last found an issue with which to thrash Sinn Féin. Or is that unkind?

The IRA’s “PO’Neill” committed an unusual, for him, faux pas in offering to murder those who had murdered Robert McCartney. Talk about foot in mouth.

In February, Sir John Grieve, former supremo of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism squad (and one of the indubitably independent adjudicators who sit on the splendidly-named “Independent Monitoring Commission” - I do hope they had a very merry Christmas) told us that Sinn Féin had “a brass neck” to expect anyone to believe the IRA wasn’t involved in the Northern Bank raid.

March was the month George Bush attempted, and partially succeeded, in ritually humiliating Sinn Féin by snubbing the party over the annual St Patrick’s Day bash in the White House.

Having attending more than one of those buttock-clenchingly embarrassing events, I would have got down on my knees and given thanks - but the single-minded apparatchiks who lead that party regard it as a “networking” opportunity, God help them.

April saw Ian Paisley showing uncharacteristic moderation in his response to the death of Pope John Paul II. Rather than join the gloating neanderthal loyalist graffiti-artists, he actually sympathised with Catholics on the loss of their shepherd.

Speculation began to grow about a May election.

The outgoing SDLP MP for Newry Armagh, Seamus Mallon, warned that if the DUP and Sinn Féin emerged as the two largest parties, the ensuing political stagnation would be indefinite. So far, so bad, Seamus.

Then Gerry Adams took everyone by surprise by making an appeal to the IRA to take itself out of the equation, permanently. There were immediate, and perhaps understandable, claims he had timed his appeal to gain votes.

The SDLP breathed again after it kept its seats in Derry and South Down, winning one in South Belfast but losing Newry Armagh.

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, resigned on May 9, blaming republicans for his downfall. Plus ca change.

July was dominated by the loyalist feud, increasing intimidation of Catholics in villages like Ahoghill, Co. Antrim and the violence in Ardoyne on the 12th.

With hindsight, Sinn Féin never stood a chance of controlling nationalist fury in north Belfast. Within two minutes of a couple of missiles being thrown from Ardoyne, the PSNI opened up with water cannon.

The ensuing riot, however, lasted less than two hours. September’s rioting by Orangemen and loyalists lasted over a week and closed much of Belfast down after dark.

Later in the summer, police offered Catholics in Ahoghill fire alarms and blankets to defend themselves against attack. They did so without any trace of irony.

Then, on July 28th, came the long-awaited IRA statement, read by Seanna Walsh, a republican who had spent over 20 years in jail. Rapid movement on decommissioning would take place, he said.

Two politicians who had significantly influenced the North died in August. Gerry Fitt and Mo Mowlam were much lamented by those with whom they had agreed.

In September, demilitarisation in Belfast, Derry and south Armagh troubled the DUP. As did news that the home battalions of the RIR were to be disbanded in two years.

It did not improve the atmosphere for the rescheduled Whiterock Orange parade on the tenth. Ian Paisley made what sounded to some suspiciously like a threat. It could “light a spark”, he said, that would be difficult to put out. The commission ruling stood, however, and it was up to the police to hold the line.

Loyalists fired lived rounds and blast bombs at the police. Hundreds were injured. The chief constable, Hugh Orde, said the Orange Order must be held partly responsible.

Afterwards, when the Order finally gave a press conference, dozens of foreign journalists visibly gasped as leading members, such as its master in Belfast, Dawson Bailie, denied culpability.

On September 26th, the news came that the IRA had completed decommissioning in the presence of two clergymen, one Protestant, one Catholic. The DUP was not impressed. Yawn.

In October, the British published their proposals to allow paramilitary fugitives to return home to the North without fear of imprisonment.

When it contained an unexpected clause, to extend the proposals to police officers and British soldiers who had broken the law, Sinn Féin was furious. Unionists were up in arms and the SDLP said: “Told you so”.

The British government also unveiled its long-awaited proposals on local government which proposed slashing their number from 26 to seven. Only Sinn Féin liked it.

The PSNI began warning dozens of republicans that their details were in the hands of loyalist paramilitaries. It’s believed this dates back to the 2003 theft of a dossier from Castlereagh.

No republicans were offered special protective measures at their homes. None, so far as I know, were offered new homes. Instead, Martin McGuinness and others accused the police of keeping the 400 people affected in the dark for 16 months.

At the end of November, a Belfast legend, George Best, breathed his last. Loyalist flags were removed along the funeral route from his home to Stormont where people began queuing before dawn.

Then it was back to business with a massive row over the dropping of charges against the so-called Stormontgate three. Closely followed by revelations that one of the three, Denis Donaldson, had been a British agent for 20 years.

No explanation was given, other than a vague reference to “the public interest” for the dropping of charges. Every political party in the North disagreed, insisting it was most definitely in the public interest that more be revealed.

The Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, said Stormontgate had amounted to a coup d’etat.

In another small sign that Belfast is joining the rest of the human race, it became the first city in Britain or Ireland to permit same sex civil partnership registrations or “gay marriages”.

Just before Christmas, Sinn Féin dropped its support for the ‘on the runs’ bill with the SDLP claiming a moral victory, but in truth, 2005 was not a year for victories, for any political party, any government, or indeed the peace process.

We face into 2006 with both governments hoping to revive devolution but with many ordinary people wondering what the heck the future holds. 2005 is over. Let it go. Good riddance. It was a stinker.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News