2001: A Peace Odyssey? Essay, Research Paper
IntroductionWhen I was in Ireland in 1997, I learned one important thing within few days: Do not ask, talk or enter into discussions about the contentious issues of politics and religion, and so I did not. However, it is impossible to touch Irish ground without also touching the fringes of what is popular referred to as the ?Irish Question?. I noticed armed soldiers guarding the polling place at a by-election in county Armagh, a lorry driver vehemently expressed his disgust at the Irish tricolour and an elderly gentleman passionately told the history of Ireland. Naturally he focused on the events that have caused Irish nationalists grieving for centuries, e.g. Cromwell?s conquest of Ireland, King William of Orange?s defeat of James II, the confiscation of the land of Catholics and their degradation to tenant farmers. He did not mention the Rebellion in 1641 or the Siege of Derry.
To outsiders, the logic of this conflict is difficult to understand. Although King William?s seizure of the throne was the foundation of democracy and the end to monarchical dominion over the British Isles, the Glorious Revolution is hardly remembered in England. However, ?Orangemen see the victory [over James II] as an historic triumph for civil and religious liberty.? This is what they celebrate every year in July, and is of course what offends Catholics. Their perception of the parades is one of Protestants showing off their ultimate defeat of Catholicism. Misunderstandings, lack of communication and refusal to understand the others? standpoint seem to be the root of the conflict.
A wind of change blew over Northern Ireland in 1998. An overwhelming majority endorsed The Good Friday Agreement leaving hope for the future. But recently the peace process has slowed down. The compromises made in the Agreement were obviously easier to write down than to implement. One side has been accused of not keeping their promises, and the other has, as a result of this, been reluctant to continue the process. The former are Sinn F?in and the IRA, the latter are Protestants and unionists. Since the Troubles started in the late 1960s, Protestants have been split regarding the peace process. The majority wants peace. However, there is an extremely different perception of the price at which it should be bought. In the following sections, the differences between and the reasons for the Protestant attitudes to the peace process will be examined.
The Peace Agreements ? From Sunningdale to Good FridayThe Early AgreementsFollowing the Troubles in the late 60s and the early 70s, the Sunningdale Agreement, the first push for peace in recent history, was drawn up. The loyalists in Northern Ireland largely saw the agreement as a betrayal of the British because the agreement was made without their consent ?the Irish and the British governments simply ignored any wishes unionist may have had about the future of their province. The main purpose of the agreement was to provide Catholics in Northern Ireland with greater equality and the way to achieve this was to establish a cross-community executive and Council of Ireland. Unionists felt they had been ignored, although it had been admitted that as long as the majority wished so, Northern Ireland would remain British. Through extensive strikes and fierce unionist opposition, the power-sharing executive was brought to a short-lived end and Northern Ireland was again subject to direct rule from Westminster. Hereby, Protestants had signalled to the outside world that they would not accept any agreements without their affirmation.
However, that is what happened once again in November 1985. Ignoring the population in Northern Ireland entirely, Thatcher and the Irish Prime Minister Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In general it resembled the Sunningdale Agreement but regarding the power-sharing executive the Anglo-Irish Agreement went much further. The main principles were:
Any change within the status of Northern Ireland must be with the consent of the majority.
An establishment of an intergovernmental conference. The jurisdiction of this conference included political, security and legal matters and cross-border co-operation.
The government of the Irish Republic was permitted to put forward political proposals ?where the interests of the minority community [the Catholics] are significantly or especially affected.?
It is not difficult to understand the uproar of unionists. Everything they believed in was coming to an end. Most significantly, the unionists perceived that their government, the British, signalled readiness to accept a united Ireland when the demographic changes called for it, and it also ?gave the Irish government influence without responsibility in the running of Northern Ireland.? Oddly enough, Republicans also disapproved of the Agreement ? largely because it ?consolidated the six-county state and provided a unionist veto over change.?
Yet, the Agreement was passed through both Westminster and the Irish Parliament, and, in short, brought forth these changes: ?First, any lingering prospect of a return to a pre-1972 unionist veto over internal change in Northern Ireland was ended; secondly, Britain had declared herself broadly neutral on the future of the Union; thirdly, the Irish Government was the new custodian of the rights of nationalists in Northern Ireland.?
A week after the Agreement had been signed, a quarter-of-a-million Belfast citizens went to the streets but the demonstration was ignored. This contradiction ? Protestants in Northern Ireland, who regard themselves as the most loyal people of the United Kingdom, at times taking a stand against their own government ? is explained by Edwards:
They [Protestants] will put up with injustice, even persecution, and remain grimly loyal until some event makes them feel that betrayal is imminent and it is time to take a stand. In the twentieth century, flash-points have been created by the Home Rule Bill, by the Anglo-Irish Agreement and by bans on the Drumcree church parade.
Over the next few years, violence continued with renewed strength. William Bingham, an Orange reverend chaplain, explains his brethren?s frustration:
We?d been continually having things forced upon us as a community: the Anglo-Irish Agreement [et al.] ? ? and all, we felt, were eroding our constitutional position within Northern Ireland. And we?ve always said if our constitutional position is eroded, then our rights would begin to be tampered with as well, and here we were in that situation ? exactly as people had said. It was another step down the line to the erosion of people?s civil liberties and to the destruction of the Orange [and Protestant] culture in Northern Ireland.
No matter how much the population disliked the accord, the peace train went on. Peace talks continued and in 1994 the IRA called a long anticipated cease-fire which was followed by a loyalist cease-fire shortly after. This meant that Sinn F?in could be included in the negotiations about the future of Northern Ireland. Talks commenced and the direct outcome was the Framework documents of 1995 ? a direct follow-up of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
The Peace Process IntensifiesThe Frameworks for the Future documents were preceded by the Downing Street Declaration in 1993. It was a sketch outlining some of the progress that had to be made in order to end the conflict. It resounded the Sunningdale Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in that the British and Irish governments, respectively, stated the usual issues of ?consent of majority? and ?nationalist respect for Northern Ireland?s special relation with the UK.? Jonathan Tonge argues that it was a document of ambiguities: ?The Downing Street Declaration had to appeal to both communities in Northern Ireland. It was designed to give hope to nationalists and reassurance to unionists.?
The Frameworks for the Future documents carried on the peace process. The first document was a statement by the British Government, and the second was a joint document created by the British and Irish governments. Britain displayed readiness to devolve her jurisdiction over Northern Ireland by creating an assembly. There was also a proposal to create a new North-South body with extensive areas of influence. This was the novelty of the documents. Another article to appease the unionists was the Irish government displaying willingness to amend their constitution claiming supremacy over Northern Ireland. This reflected the ?consent of the majority? issue.
However, loyalists still showed reluctance. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) with its new leader, David Trimble, took a stand against the agreement. They felt that their wishes were being ignored once again in that they saw power being transferred from ?their? government to a foreign ?aggressor?. For the unionists it was a compromise in order to ?have some internal power returned within Northern Ireland, provided that they were also prepared to concede power to an external force.? Years passed, however, before absolute implementation occurred. And it required two new Prime Ministers and American intervention.
The Good Friday AgreementThe background to the Good Friday Agreement commenced with the aforementioned Framework documents. In the following years, the process inched forward. The interesting part of the Agreement was the involvement of a third party ? George Mitchell, a US Senator. He became the chairman of an international body examining the decommissioning of paramilitary arms. Combined with the progressive New Labour and Tony Blair, who in contrast to his predecessor agreed that Sinn F?in could join in all-party talks despite IRA?s breach of its cease-fire, and the moderate Bertie Ahern, they were the breath of fresh air that convinced the population that there was a serious hope of peace in a near future.
In short, the Agreement provided for:
An assembly for Northern Ireland and a power-sharing executive leading the 108 delegates.
A North-South Ministerial Council (Executive) granting Ireland influence in Northern Ireland affairs.
Ireland revoking its constitutional claim over Northern Ireland and recognising ?a shared territory? where the people choose its future.
Questions of security, most importantly the future of the RUC, the disarmament of paramilitary groups and the release of paramilitary prisoners. These were to be addressed at a later stage.
The Agreement received enormous endorsement at the election in ?98. It was the first all-Ireland referendum in 80 years and the first relating to the peace process, and it showed a pro-peace sentiment in the whole of Ireland: 95% in Ireland and 71% in Northern Ireland supported the Agreement. However, an opinion poll conducted recently indicated that now just 33% of the Protestants and only little more than half of the Catholics are confident of a long-term peace. Furthermore, 90% of the Protestants support the Union and only 59% of the Catholics support a united Ireland. Obviously, it is Protestants who have the hardest time coming to terms with the peace process. The problems of the Agreement seen from the unionist/Protestant point of view resemble those of all previous Agreements. The hard-line Protestants see any devolution of the Union with Britain as betrayal ? and in general, the population north of the border resents any involvement of the Irish Republic in the affairs of Northern Ireland. However, three years after the Agreement the issue of arms decommissioning and Sinn F?in?s subsequent entry into government is the greatest obstacle to peace.
Arms Decommissioning and TerroristsThe Unionist PerspectiveIn her book, Ruth Dudley Edwards describes the reaction to the Agreement in Orange circles this way:
The Good Friday Agreement hardened attitudes among ? Orangemen even further. Denis Watson [Grand Master of County Armagh Orange] ? was so appalled at what he regarded as the immorality of letting prisoners out early for pragmatic reasons, and so fearful that unionists might be expected to sit in an executive with Sinn F?in while the IRA still kept their weapons, that he had determined not only to oppose it but to stand against David Trimble in the assembly election.
Although the Orange Order intended to be neutral on the matters of the Agreement and in politics in general, there were elements within the order that attempted to link politics and ?Orangeism? intimately together. Denis Watson was one of these. He took the step and became a Unionist assembly member opposed to the Agreement. He became the epitome of the ?political? Orange Order. ?The leadership was split. While Grand Lodge deliberately did not say no to the Agreement, on the grounds that it was a matter of conscience, its statement that it could not recommend it because it was ?fatally ambiguous, morally objectionable and constitutionally flawed? gave everyone the impression that the Orange Order was saying an unequivocal ?No?.? The organisation had taken a step which branded it as sectarian and very much a political institution.
The split between moderate Orangemen and the likes of Watson resembles what happened in the UUP. Six of its nine Westminster MPs opposed the Agreement and Trimble had to realise that he and his party had ventured into grounds that did not represent his constituents? view: ?The UPP [sic] found itself on the defensive, trying to sell a deal which many of its natural constituents regarded as surrender.?
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) profited from this split and Ian Paisley had no problem attracting frightened loyalists with his anti-Irish rhetorics. By alluding to the emotions of those who felt that Trimble and the UUP had betrayed them, the DUP quickly gained supporters. O?Neill elucidates the reasons for the unionist division and the scepticism that Paisley and other hard-line Protestants used to their advantage:
The grounds for a retreat are many. They include widespread scepticism about Blair?s pledges on the decommissioning of weapons, let alone doubts over his commitment to the Union, the apparent injustice of the prisoner release scheme, Sinn F?in?s inclusion in the new executive and suspicion over the IRA?s hasty conversion to democratic politics.
Opinion polls conducted just prior to the referendum illustrate the split:
%UUPTrimbleDUPPaisleyTOTALUNIONIST SDLPHumeSINN F?INAdamsTOTALNATIONALIST YES59940969796 NO1985433-3 REST22617131Source: The Irish Times/MRBI, 21 May 1998
A majority of the UUP voters endorsed the Agreement; this poll, though, does not indicate how many voters the UUP had lost to the DUP. However, a poll conducted in The Sunday Times two days after the referendum indicated that 27% of the total unionist electorate now backed Paisley, an enormous support for an extremist party.
Ostensibly, the issues that the DUP put forward were really important for unionists and Protestants alike, and as time has shown, loyalists were right to be sceptical.
Government Before GunsSince the referendum in 1998, loyalists had considered the decommissioning of IRA?s arms as well as disarmament as the most important issues of the peace process. Despite continuing promises, however, the IRA had failed to deliver what unionists regarded the criterion for accepting Sinn F?in in the Northern Ireland Executive.
In June 1999, Tony Blair was heavily criticised by unionists for his soft line. In his weekly column, Bruce Anderson accused Tony Blair for sabotaging the Agreement. Anderson argued that the unionists somewhat misunderstood Blair when they ?believed that Mr Blair gave them a guarantee that Sinn F?in would not be allowed into government unless the IRA had started to decommission ? in semantic terms, they are wrong; Mr Blair?s actual words will not bear that construction ? [but it] was the impression [he] gave? However, they had the moral right to accuse Blair since he never reneged on the meaning that unionists had perceived. And furthermore, ?Mr Blair did make five specific pledges about Sinn F?in and government. [They] would have to declare that the war was over ? no more beatings or killings ? [and] the IRA must begin to dismantle its paramilitary structures, and by May 2000 there would have be substantial progress in decommissioning.?
None of these pledges had been honoured. Loyalists had good reason ?no longer [to] believe [Tony Blair was] a man of his word.? Either way one looks at it, Sinn F?in profited from Blair?s soft line. If unionists accepted to enter an executive including Sinn F?in parallel with a demand about decommissioning, unionists had two options: Exclusion of Sinn F?in if they did not comply, or simply suspend the executive altogether. Unionists believed in none of these as it would be difficult to muster a sufficient majority required to exclude Sinn F?in. And to let a minority party ruin a democratic executive because it does not comply with its norms seemed preposterous. Indeed, loyalists had good reason to feel run over by nationalists.
Then, in July, the peace process took a positive turn. US Senator George Mitchell was asked to review the peace process and it resulted in two statements from the UUP and Sinn F?in, respectively, showing their commitment to the implementation of the peace process. Among other things, the UUP stated that:
It is our belief that the establishment of the new political institutions and the disarmament of all paramilitary organisation will herald a new beginning for section of our people ? a new, peaceful, and democratic society, free from the use or threat of force ? the establishment of inclusive political institutions and the commencement of the process of decommissioning are the first steps in this process ? the UUP recognises and accepts that it is legitimate for nationalists to pursue their political objective of a united Ireland by consent through exclusively peaceful and democratic methods.
Sinn F?in joined in:
The IRA cessation ? has now been in place for a total of almost four years ? IRA guns are silent and the Sinn F?in leadership is confident that the IRA remains committed to the objective of a permanent peace ? There has been a particular focus on arms ? Sinn F?in accepts that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process ? Decommissioning can only come about on a voluntary basis ? In the executive the two Sinn F?in Ministers will make and honour the pledge of office which includes a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means ? We reiterate our total commitment to doing everything in our power ? to remove the gun forever from the politics of our country.
The outcome of the Mitchell review was the establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive, and subsequently it put an end to direct rule Westminster in December 1999. The policy-making body of the UUP, the Ulster Unionist Council, narrowly accepted the review ? by 480 votes to 349 ? and Sinn F?in entered the Executive committed to decommissioning. In other words, it meant that the loyalists had to realise that their sound-bite ?no guns, no government? no longer had any meaning; now it was ?government before guns?. From the vantage point of the Apprentice Boys? annual Lundy Day parade in Derry, Edwards sums up Protestant frustrations:
To outsiders, [the parade] is a strange, atavistic and tribal affair. Yet its symbolism is fascinating, for it is not sectarian, it is political. At a time when the Protestant community was riven over the Agreement ? when David Trimble had managed to persuade the Ulster Unionist Council to agree to enter government without IRA decommissioning having occurred, and when the Protestant community were still reeling after the appointment of McGuinness (whom they knew to have been the IRA Chief of Staff) as Minister for Education ? it was extraordinary to watch the burning of an enormous effigy of Lundy ? a representative of the British government who, three centuries earlier, had been accused of being on the point of selling out the people of Derry.
What Edwards believes is that once again ? as though history moves in circles ? the British government was selling out the Protestants of Northern Ireland. True, if it were meant to be in accordance with the Agreement, the impossible became reality. Edwards also argues that ?from the unionist perspective it seemed as though the British, Irish and US governments always reacted to republican intransigence by pressurising David Trimble into further compromises,? i.e. by giving concessions to nationalists.
However, on the day the UUC voted on the Mitchell review, Bruce Anderson ? as usual ready to castigate the political landscape ? criticised unionists for being stubborn and argued that they would not get a better deal. He recognised the flaws in the peace process,though, but at the same time he believed unionists should acknowledge the advantages they could get from an executive. He does not, however, present any concrete examples. Furthermore, Anderson believed that ?unionists are entitled to reassure themselves that there will be a binding timetable for decommissioning, and that Saturday?s concessions will be the last concessions. Government before guns ? but the guns must follow in short order.?
Presently, a year and a half later, there has not been any significant progress on IRA?s decommissioning.
Trimble?s Ultimatum Revisited?Guns go or I go,? David Trimble threatened recently. It resembled events in early 2000, when Peter Mandelson, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to prevent Trimble from resigning. The background at that time was the ever-recurrent issue of arms decommissioning. Despite the promises Sinn F?in had made after the Mitchell review, IRA still failed to make any progress. A few months after the suspension, ?the IRA released a statement saying that it was ready to begin a process that would ?completely and verifiably? put its arms beyond use,? and this lead to the reinstatement of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Shortly after, two independent weapon inspectors, Martti Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa, reported that they had been to IRA weapon bunks and secured that the weapons could not be used without their knowledge. Apparently, this was the greatest progress the peace process had made for years, but of course it was not enough.
The fact that IRA is determined to keep its arms in store confirms loyalist suspicion of IRA?s goal of uniting Ireland with force. Although Ireland revoked its constitutional claim over Northern Ireland in 1999, there still is a deep-rooted mistrust of what is believed to be the nationalist?s real agenda. Michael O?Neill explains:
The spectacle of paroled terrorists f?ted as heroes at Sinn F?in?s party convention almost derailed the Agreement. A seasoned commentator observed that ?many unionists got a glimpse of the future ? or what they feared might be the future ? and did not like what they saw.? Above all, there is concern ? that once inside the policy process republicanism will use that bridgehead as Trojan Horse for its ?real? agenda.
Going a little further back in time, Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn F?in, stated on a conference in 1986 that ?our main objective, our destination, is the reconquest of Ireland by the Irish people. This means the expulsion of imperialism in all its forms, political, economic, military and culture. [The final objective was] an Ireland, free, united, socialist and Gaelic.? Protestants in Northern Ireland are known to have an elephant?s memory, and it is understandable that they interpret Sinn F?in?s and IRA?s exhaustive efforts to slow down the peace process as a preservation of the old revolutionary line.
The DUP harps on this deep-seated fear and rejects any further concessions to the republicans. Loyalists, who see nothing but Sinn F?in?s ?puppet show? of the peace process, are attracted to Paisley and his argument to entirely scrap the agreement; to ?go right back to the drawing board, negotiating only with parties which are not associated with armed paramilitaries.? In a scholarly perfection of the ?sound-bite?, Paisley declared that ?our alternative is trust opposed to treachery, democracy as in the rest of the UK opposed to fascist dictatorship, truth not lies, pledges kept not broken, no veto for any party except the people of Ulster.?
The Future?As the marching season closes in with increased violence ? Portadown has already experienced a forecaste of what to come ? as well as a general election in June, 2001 could prove to be an extremely dramatic year for the peace process. As already mentioned, Trimble vowed to resign if there is no significant progress of arms decommissioning before July. It is peculiar, but strategic indeed, that the date lies so close to the twelfth parades. There will be an enormous focus ? not least from the outside world ? on the nationalist violence. It is a media stunt by Trimble, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998. If he resigns, and if it leads to the downfall of the peace process, as some political commentators believe, it ensures that nationalists will suffer a major setback in the outside world?s perception of them. Trimble is well aware that the outside world will regard them as the main obstruction on the road to peace.
However. the loyalists in Northern Ireland are divided more than ever. Representatives of the two largest unionist parties, UUP and DUP, have been going vilely at each others necks, accusing each other ferociously. The DUP has accused the UUP that Trimble?s threat to resign is a ?pathetic and cynical election stunt.? The UUP has accused the DUP of their hypocrisy of sitting in an assembly with Sinn F?in, a party it [the DUP] has vowed that it would not share power with.
Thus, the general election in June has turned into a referendum on the peace process. For Catholics, there are no complications, but for Protestants it matters greatly where they put their vote: UUP or DUP, pro-agreement or not, Paisley or Trimble? ?So far, Trimble?s tactic has been a success, in the immediate sense that [supporters of] the Ulster Unionist Party has united behind him,? but the question is how long his supporters will accept concessions after concessions. That is what they have been served the past seven years since the commencement of the present peace process ? seven years of adding fuel to Paisley?s fire. For Protestants, the peace process has never been in such a critical condition. Indeed, 2001 will see the peace train venture far beyond known territory.
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