By Bill Delaney
The New Year is typically the time of year when we look back at the past twelve months of the peace process. This period coincides with the release of historical papers, which provides a new insight into the actions of previous governments.
It is surely no coincidence that the post-holiday season bring the highest level of depression in the year.
For republicans, if you add in the shock waves caused by the outing of Denis Donaldson as a British spy, it becomes important to focus on the good things in life and stay away from heights, fast rivers and train tracks.
Back in 1975, when the conflict was almost at its height, it was suggested a beauty competition be held to brighten the mood. ‘Miss Good Cheer’, as the winner was to be known, was a secret weapon. This lovely lass was intended to use her charms to disarm the IRA, distract the loyalists, and generally spread joy and contentment.
Unfortunately, it never happened, but it would have been a good laugh. And now might be a good time to dust-off that old chestnut, or more likely, a red-head.
If we had really known what was going on behind the scenes of government, however, we would have begged for all the distractions the mandarins could dream up.
It is now unquestionably true that the policy of the self-styled ‘Irish government’ of the day was to prevent a British withdrawal from Ireland in order to protect and retain their 26-County statelet.
In the face of resistance from the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government in Dublin, the British government maintained their disastrous policies of partition and ‘normalisation’, which continue to this day.
Conor Cruise O’Brien, a Minister in the Dublin government, spelled it out in a 1975 government memo when he declared: “It is quite clearly in our interest to do everything possible to try to ensure that the British stay, and it is certainly not in our interest to take steps which would make it easier for them to go.”
To put this into context, we must remember that this secret policy was in direct contravention of the constitutional imperative of Irish unity, then contained in Article 2 of the constitution.
But beyond the obvious questions of the legality of this policy or the constitutional legitimacy of the then 26-County government, there are deeper issues.
For example, it is difficult to understand how the spirit of rebellion of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence could, within half a century, degenerate into a policy of which even the the Vichy administration in wartime France would have been ashamed.
The fact that the parties of Michael Collins and James Connolly went beyond submission to British rule in the North, to actively seek a continued occupation, has not been properly discussed.
Indeed, even in the initial reporting of the contents of these historical papers, mainstream media journalists and commentators have sought to give cover to what were illegal and narrowly selfish policies.
French historians and commentators have publicly explored even the most embarrassing aspects of the actions of French political leaders during the Second World War. But there has traditionally been a reluctance in Ireland to allow a corresponding discussion.
There is a shameful tradition of lip service in public to national goals and ideals, but behind the scenes, the actions of politicians and policy makers have been less than heroic.
The popular image of the Irish as rebels and patriots is not an accurate representation -- yet it is still beloved by our national leaders, who like to bask in the reflected glory of dead patriots. Clinging to commemorations of past heroism by previous generations becomes a susbstitute for current leadership.
Of course, the recent revelations over the Donaldson affair reminds us that, far from heroism, there has been a strong and continuing tradition in Ireland of treachery and of selling out. Rather than silence and stoicism in the political arena, the Donaldson revelations whould be investigated to root out the complex motivations behind this behaviour.
In particular, the rapid disintegration of the parties of Michael Collins, Eamon deValera and James Connolly into the quivering, quasi-unionist parties we endure today has lessons for republicans.
Indeed, we can add the SDLP, the party of the civil rights movement, which now seems to have degenerated into a vehicle for careerist politicians whose ultimate ambition is to receive the Order of the British Empire or a Lordship.
Meanwhile, the British government is still fighting dirty in Ireland.
The partitionist referendums on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 were sold to the Irish people as an act of national self-determination. It is now clear that even this has been denied us by a bloodless act of war.
It has to be pointed out that Tony Blair and his war cabinet would have been routinely briefed on events involving Denis Donaldson, and only he could have ordered the theatrical raids which collapsed of the Good Friday Agreement.
The peace process staggers on, but it is not clear what difference this makes.
The ultimate goal of British policy undoubtedly remains to eviscerate republicanism, and reduce Sinn Fein to a neutered and ineffective political party in the style of Fianna Fail.
Now, some are arguing that Donaldson allowed himself to be outed, at least in part, because his job was done and the long-term goals of Britain’s ‘normalisation’ policy achieved.
Following the standing down of the IRA, and the growing overlap between the policies of Sinn Fein and the Northern Ireland Office, many republicans are now frankly looking for a radical alternative.
There is an absence of leadership which will speak directly and with immediacy to the obsolete British occupation and the fading tyranny of an aging minority. Ireland does not need another Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or SDLP.
Meanwhile, if we cannot have ‘Miss Good Cheer’, perhaps a celebrity political ‘Big Brother’ is in order, with politicians from the North joining George Galloway inside the ‘Big Brother’ house.
Surely it would be more effective than another round of talks, in which the DUP refuses to talk?