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Five Years On – the GFA
THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT (and its institutions) has now
been in place – on and off – for five years.
Before the Agreement was completed, Ulster Nation stated in March 1998 that “Any ‘settlement’ will not be
regarded as final by the pan-Irish national-chauvinist consensus but merely
another milestone along the road to ‘the reintegration of the national
theme has been taken up by Jeremy Smith in his excellent book, Making the Peace in Ireland, (reviewed on Page 11).
As he put it, pro-GFA unionists emphasised the peace, whereas the Irish
national-chauvinists emphasised the ‘process – a step on the road to an
inevitable united Ireland.
ambiguity – the smell of fudge cooking – can be useful in achieving an
agreement, its very nature opens up doubts over what has actually been signed.
This ambiguity has been the main reason for the stop-go nature of the
institutions over the past five years.
for example, the issue of paramilitary arms ‘decommissioning’.
The signatories promised “to use any
influence the may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms
within two years…’ of a yes vote.
As we argued during the 1998 referendum vote, this passage, inserted as a
sop to the unionists, was meaningless.
Trimble has tried to tell the world – and he possibly believes it himself –
that this committed the IRA to total decommissioning by May 2000.
It did nothing of the kind! It
started out from the fiction that Sinn Féin and the paramilitary parties, the
PUP and the UDP, were wholly separate entities from the groups bearing arms.
From this premise, all the paramilitary-aligned participants had to do
was say that, yes they had brought up the subject with their gun-toting
colleagues but unfortunately had been unable to succeed.
Sinn Féin can even claim to have had a late measure of success with two
unspecific ‘acts of putting arms beyond use’ to date.
Most of Mr Trimble’s political woes have come from his misreading of
this passage in the GFA.
British government launched a massive propaganda onslaught to undermine critics
of the GFA and to swing a Yes vote. Over
£3million was poured into the coffers of the Yes campaign.
A leaked document from NIO Director of Communications Tom Kelly indicated
what would happen. Opinion polls
were manipulated and dozens of business, ‘community’ and church leaders were
wheeled out to agitate for a Yes vote. Gordon
Brown showered largesse on Ulster. Even
Elton John, U2 and Richard Branson played their part.
Opponents of the Agreement were smeared and demonised as warmongers,
bigots and associates of the LVF. Tony
Blair came over and promised that the Union was safe.
He gave handwritten pledges, which turned out to be worthless, in order
to swing an initially sceptical unionist electorate.
got his way. The GFA gained the
support of 71% of the Ulster electorate and 95% of the Éire electorate.
However, it wasn’t too long before many of those who voted Yes
complained that they had been deceived.
were our criticisms of the GFA and have they been all vindicated?
We raised objection to the limited constitutional choices offered either
conditional participation in the Union with Great Britain or a ‘sovereign
United Ireland’. There is no
mention of a sovereign independent Ulster. The
GFA’s commitment to self-determination is deliberately ambiguous.
Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom has been placed
formally on a conditional basis. The
Agreement provides for regular seven-yearly polls to determine whether or not
our six counties should remain in the UK or join the Republic.
No provision has been made for any other option, for example, repartition
or independence. Only a 50% + 1
simple majority in favour of such a change is needed to bring about an
all-island state. In the meantime,
‘harmonisation’ of the two states rolls onward.
Trimbleistas, the Alliance Party, the PUP and the UDP all claimed that the GFA
copper-fastened the Union; yet to Gerry Adams, “The reality is that
the Good Friday Agreement is not a peace settlement.
It is transitional. It is an
accommodation. It heralds a change in the status quo.
It is a transitional stage towards a democratic peace settlement.
And it could become a transitional stage towards reunification.” Tim
Pat Coogan described it as “another
giant step towards a united Ireland”.
As we stated at the time, it was possible that both these factions were
wrong in their analysis but both could not be right!
We argued then that a ‘settlement’ that called for seven-yearly
reviews of the status of our six counties was not a recipe for stability.
criticised the Assembly as “more like a colonial sub-assembly than a
normal elected body where the majority party or coalition of parties form a
The contempt for democracy shown by Tony Blair and Paul Murphy when they
cancelled this year’s Assembly elections confirms that we were right to say
major objection was to what we branded as ‘the formal institutionalisation of
sectarianism’ in the Assembly through the requirement for members to register
a ‘designation of identity’ as unionist, nationalist or other.
The farcical nature of this system was proven when Alliance and Women’s
Coalition ‘others’ temporarily redesignated as ‘unionists’ in order to
re-elect David Trimble as First Minister in 2001.
This could have been avoided if the Assembly had introduced weighted
voting as ‘others’ would not have been rendered irrelevant.
d’Hondt system, which gives out ministerial seats in proportion to votes
gained in an election, has one grave defect.
It does not allow for an opposition – an alternative government in
waiting. As I write this, the
Scottish Labour Party and Scottish Liberal Democrats have completed an agreement
to govern Scotland in a voluntary coalition.
If votes to the Scottish Parliament had gone another way there could have
been a Scottish Labour government or a coalition with another party or group of
parties. In Ulster under the GFA
institutions, there’s no chance to ‘throw the rascals out’.
No matter how often elections take place the same government gets in!
We take the view that a permanent four-party state in not four times as
democratic as a permanent one party state. It’s
the Assembly ever return? God knows.
We don’t! Certainly, David
Trimble’s former partners in government, Sinn Féin, seem unwilling to help
out their ‘DeKlerk figure’ and if this remains the case, the chances look
slim. They seem happy enough to let
the institutions collapse and blame the unionists and the British government,
than they are to make any gesture to restore them.
The GFA in its present form seems dead.
anti-GFA members of the UUP are delighted with the reimposition of direct rule.
This is a mistake. If
we get an extended period of direct rule, it will be in a green-tinged
form—virtual joint authority. Even
if the flawed Assembly never returns there are aspects of the GFA that are
likely to remain to haunt us. The
amendments to the Irish Constitution allow Éire to exercise
[Art. 29], presumably through cross-border bodies and the
North-South Ministerial Council which are likely to continue in existence.
Even worse is the new super-quango, the Equality Commission, which is
likely to continue to advance a liberal-leftist agenda under the guise of human
rights and equality of opportunity.
In 1998, we believed that the Good Friday Agreement was, on balance, bad for Ulster. This scepticism was justified as events have borne out. We could and must do better. Will we? Watch this space.
David Kerrhome page
A THIRD WAY FOR ULSTER
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