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In this season, when Irish Nationalists remember the events of
1916 and the famous Dublin Post Office siege, I have cause to remember
that my Irish forefathers were both Catholic and Protestant — the one
lot from County Kerry and the other from the Shankhill Road in Belfast.
My Protestant side is descended from a branch of the family that
produced Theobald Wolfe Tone, which should somehow involve me in the
present tragedy of Ulster.
Indeed, since about 1972 I have studied and
written about it on both sides of the Atlantic, though I myself am
neither an Irish, nor a British citizen. As an American I have an
interest here because the ignorant, the stupid, and the vicious among my
countrymen have provided so much financial support for the evil side of
this bagarre. Indeed they are the only significant constituency for the
terrorist cabal of Sinn Fein/IRA. As an American I myself view Ulster
(technically) with the eyes of an outsider.
Seen from that angle, the present conflict looks like a
huge killing machine, with British and Irish Government cowardice for
lubricant and a monstrous lie for fuel. The lie is obvious, fundamental,
and very specific. It consists of an assertion that the real issue is
“peace.” Working on that foundation of mendacity, Peter Mandelson and
Tony Blair are continuing the fatuous attempt to draw “all parties to
the conflict” into a so-called process — notionally a kind of
political encounter-group in which the participants are supposed to
reach out to each other, non-violently, for a sort of 60s-style
political encounter-group in which mutual understanding and/or love will
prevail and thus solve the big “problem” of peace.
Eire’s rejection of Blair’s “plan” and the IRA refusal to give up “a
single bullet” shows what that is worth. So does Sinn Fein/IRA’s threat
of a “holocaust” if
“progress” is not made — i.e. toward a United Ireland. The continuing
violence in Ulster by so-called “Republican dissidents” like the
“Continuity IRA” and others (all with easy access to the Sinn Fein/IRA
arsenal of arms and explosives) makes a greater mockery of the “Peace
The reason why all this “Peace” activity is coming to
nothing but more bloodshed and mayhem is that peace is not the actual
bone of contention in Ulster. The real problem, the basic issue is in
fact no more nor less than sovereignty — and the loyalties that go
with, or oppose it.
It would not be necessary to state this blindingly
obvious fact if Messrs. Mandelson and Blair and their cohorts (not to
mention the Irish government) were not straining so hard to avoid it.
Their preference for peace as a subject of discussion is understandable.
There is no controversy about peace because it is undefined and fuzzy.
Peace is good, peace is everyone being nice and non-violent to everyone
else, and who will oppose that? I mean, it is so easy to talk about.
Ah, but sovereignty — here is a different matter. Here
we are dealing with territory, frontiers, commitment to defense, law,
and, most of all, loyalty backed by the police and military force. Like
religion, sovereignty taken seriously is not a matter which can be
compromised. Either a government is sovereign in a given territory or
it is not. Trying to dilute or share sovereignty, especially where
strong loyalties are engaged, is like dissolving a steel bullet in two
pints of cold water and then trying to force the solution into a single
pint pot. Given the laws of physics and politics as they are now, this
is not possible. It follows that — to coin a phrase — hard choices are
It is exactly this species of choice (especially a commitment
of anti-terrorist force) which the British, Irish, and if it comes to
that, American Ulster policy seems designed to avoid; that is why the
policy is palpably bankrupt and so heavily stained with the blood of
Among the sillier aspects of this policy is the British
pose of neutrality between Loyalist and Republican terrorists,
impartially condemning both. Unfortunately, given the conflict over
British sovereignty in Ulster, this pose too is an objective lie — for
a number of simple reasons. Republican terrorists reject the sovereignty
of the Crown. Notionally they are on the side of the Irish Republic;
but if it comes to that, they also reject the authority of Dublin.
“Republican” terrorists are loyal only to themselves and their own
quasi-fascist ambition to rule the whole of John Bull’s other island,
provoking a civil war as a means to this if they have to. But what
counts in Ulster is that they are not on the British side.
The Loyalist terrorists, alas, are on the British side.
They may be embarrassing, they may be ugly and horrible and nasty and
ruthless, the British may not want them, but the LVF, the UDF and the
rest are, where sovereignty is the issue, on the British side, defending
Crown sovereignty against those who mean to usurp it. All the
disapproval of these vigilantes in Britain, Europe, America, or the
world is not going to alter that cold hard fact. And it makes no
difference at all that the British do not want their sovereignty
defended in that way. Indeed — since they will not defend it
themselves, their condemnation of Protestant vigilantes sounds
distinctly disingenuous. It appears even more so in view of the fact
that they did (unlike the IRA) give up some of their weapons as long ago as 1998 — though this fact is consistently ignored by the British
Government and media.
The ingenuous efforts of Mr. Mandelson (and his
predecessors) to sweeten Nationalist terrorists by releasing them en
masse from the Maze Prison have now left the British government with
blood on its hands. Added to the sight of Tony Blair schmoozing Gerry
Adams in Downing Street, these efforts have inflamed a deep-rooted (and
in the circumstances entirely reasonable) suspicion among Ulster
Protestants that the British government not only decries terrorist
vigilantes who defend its sovereignty in Ulster, but that Blair and
Mandelson are cringing away from any serious effort of their own to
protect and sustain it.
To an outsider, the most bemusing aspect of all this is
that the Irish-British clash over sovereignty is — indeed in this
century always has been — an almost completely ritual territorial
matter, with little genuine cultural basis beyond a kind of residual
historical inertia. Irish culture is and has long been West British,
with no real contemporary linguistic identity of its own. Even the
Provisional IRA, I suspect, do not plan their terrorist campaigns in
Irish, but in English. The Irish Gaelic culture, language, and identity
are, as a Dublin lecturer in the subject confessed to me some years ago, as dead as Latin. Even the pervasive influence of the Catholic church is gradually weakening under secular pressures. (How long will it be before
Irish Catholics, like C of E Protestants, find themselves members of
what has withered to a de facto human branch of the RSPCA?) Dublin
itself, one has to observe, is a more traditionally British city than
large areas of London, Birmingham, or — certainly — Bradford.
I mention all this to show that what is at stake in
Ulster is not really history, nor any fundamentally different cultural
national identity. The matter here is simply power, or the question of
who rules this particular patch of territory — Dublin or London. All
the rest is evasion and hot air. Actually it is not surprising that
Blair and Mandelson should be willing to mess up this issue and hide
behind empty rhetoric about peace. They are the heirs of a whole
generation of British politicians for whom British sovereignty became a
pro tem, not to say disposable quality.
But Ulster is not a vestigial distant part of the empire, as distinct
from the British and their
culture as Cyprus, or Aden, or India. It is a part of the British
Isles which is disputed by two intramural seats of authority.
British and Irish politicians are currently
sweating in a verbal sauna of “peace” rhetoric, avoiding the question
of sovereignty and the necessary military force that goes with it. By
default both governments have left this issue in the hands of
terrorists — who, with their supporters, seem the only people in Ulster
willing to take it seriously. London and Dublin are apparently ready to
tolerate anything, including bloodshed, to avoid facing it while
babbling of “peace.”
A Byzantine writer once described such foolishness
as coming from those who are amentes spe vanâ pacis — rendered mad by
the vain hope of peace. In that context, the spectacle of Mr. Blair and
his Irish counterparts begging and pleading with terrorists to stop
being violent and “decommission their weapons,” while effectively
wiping Sinn Fein/IRA’s spit off their faces, has a peculiarly repellent
and disgusting air of hypocrisy. I, thank God, do not live in Ireland
like my forbears. But if I did, I know I would find it hard to forgive
our “legitimate” politicians.