Monday 24 June 2019

John-Paul McCarthy: South did nothing and let the IRA get away with murder

Thinking that unionists have a superiority complex is a mistake

POPPY DAY ATROCITY: The scene of the IRA bombing at Enniskillen in 1987 in which 11 people were killed; a recent book has shown that between 1971 and 1989 there were 203 murders in the Fermanagh and south Tyrone area but only 14 convictions followed
POPPY DAY ATROCITY: The scene of the IRA bombing at Enniskillen in 1987 in which 11 people were killed; a recent book has shown that between 1971 and 1989 there were 203 murders in the Fermanagh and south Tyrone area but only 14 convictions followed

John-Paul McCarthy

There has always been an odd dissonance in our thinking about our unionist neighbours.

Some observers made much of what they said was the unionist superiority complex vis-a-vis the Republic.

Joe Lee's big blue book from the Haughey-era, Ireland, 1912-85: Politics and Society, helped popularise this ancient shudder.

Lee told his readers that what they were dealing with in Ulster was a self-professed Herrenvolk, or master-race.

Maybe other people sensed the slight imprint of the Herrenvolk school of thought in the Tanaiste's important speech at the British-Irish Association in Cambridge last week?

Here he explained that "we need to acknowledge those unionists who feel that, notwithstanding the sacrifices made by members of An Garda Siochana and the Irish Army throughout the Troubles, the Irish State could have done more to prevent the IRA's murderous activities in Border areas".

Note the formulation here.

It looks as if the Tanaiste saw himself as someone who was addressing an inchoate, and quite possibly disordered feeling, precisely the kind of emotion we sometimes see in the permanently aggrieved master-race psychology?

That was an odd way to frame his otherwise admirable argument.

After all, it's only been a few short months since Prof Henry Patterson itemised the Republic's failures here in harrowing detail in his book, Ireland's Violent Frontier: The Border in Anglo-Irish Relations (Palgrave).

Whoever wrote the Tanaiste's script almost certainly had Patterson next to him or her on their desk as they typed; and yet they failed to mention it specifically or to respond to Patterson's clinical dismantling of the idea that the Republic pulled out all the stops against the IRA.

Patterson showed that between 1971 and 1989 there were 203 murders in the Fermanagh and south Tyrone area, of which about 178 were carried out by republican paramilitaries. Only 14 convictions followed.

This was the result of a confluence of two things, namely the consensus in the

Republic that British misbehaviour was more important than their Border escape-hatch in explaining the IRA's potency, and the Irish Supreme Court's dysfunctional extradition jurisprudence.

This would culminate in 1990 with Justice Brian Walsh's opinion in Finucane v McMahon, the Maze break-out case that he used as the occasion to re-bolt the door against extradition for "persons charged with politically motivated offences of violence when the objective of such offences was to secure the ultimate unity of the country".

Walsh represented the other thread in our thinking about unionism.

Like Jefferson's infamous aside on his toiling slaves at Monticello, this thread comforted itself with the belief that their griefs were transitory, their moral claims on our solidarity slight.

Unionists in this idiom were simply displaced persons who found themselves on our national territory, or as Walsh put it, on "those parts of the national territory which are not within the State".

Unfortunately, this way of analysing unionism did not die with the 1998 agreement.

It took an elegant letter to the Irish Times from Dr Paul Burgess to remind readers that those very deformities that currently plague Ulster's Protestant community and "that render them the butt of many an easy joke, can also be explained in the collapse of heavy industry, in the breakdown of working class neighbourhoods, in the reaction to a terror campaign waged against them (frequently by their own organisations)..."

The malaise over extradition and the Border still infects our political thinking. When confronted with the woes of our nearest neighbours, we see only statelets, ancient gerrymandering tricks, and the lumpen proletariat.

The Tanaiste's Cambridge lecture should have given the Patterson critique the formal recognition it deserves and meet it head on.

If we don't give it formal recognition, we risk generating the impression that we are incapable of dealing with what Alvin Jackson's recent joint history of the Irish and Scottish unions, The Two Unions, called the new "intellectually engaged unionism".

And this strain of unionism is no longer content to absorb suburban stereotypes or seethe silently while Irish ministers explain how their predecessors gave the last full measure of devotion in the fight against sectarian violence.

Foreign Affairs must raise its game.

Sunday Independent

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