Consultative Forum on International Security
One move short of a complete stitch up
The meetings of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy take place in Cork, Galway and Dublin later in June (see news section). As we have noted before, it is a ‘Consultative Forum’ (perhaps with the emphasis on the ‘Con’) rather than a citizens’ assembly (which had been mooted) because the government realised it would not get the result it wanted from the latter – i.e. it would deliver a strong pro-neutrality stance. Since citizens’ assemblies have been used by the government to look at different issues of importance this move is deeply cynical and anti-democratic.
While some of the heavy lifting of recent years against neutrality has been done by Simon Coveney of Fine Gael, it is highly ironic that the current attempt at decimation should be carried out by Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil. The latter party has traditionally been the one that was most for Irish independence and against imperialism and big power politics. But it is doubly ironic since Martin has spoken of how much he benefited from conciliation/communication work by Quaker House Belfast in getting to know and understand Northern unionists; it is clear he has not extrapolated from that to the need for such communication and understanding in the international sphere and this is truly sad, even tragic.
Incredibly, and this was a recent statement, before the deliberations of the Consultative Forum, Martin said there was an ‘emerging consensus’ for removing the ‘triple lock’ on deployment of Irish troops abroad; this let the cat out of the bag – insofar as it has been in any bag – on his intentions following the Forum Report. Yes, the United Nations needs reform, and particularly removing the veto power of permanent Security Council members, but simply removing the triple lock will allow the Irish government to send troops on NATO and EU military missions.
The government has decided the format and decided the content and speakers. While a few pro-neutrality speakers are likely to be included to avoid the impression of a complete whitewash it is clear that this is what it will be. In addition the chair, Louise Richardson, of Irish origin but now a citizen of the USA and, it would seem, supporter of that country’s policies, has been chosen as a safe pair of hands to deliver the result that the government wants. And after the report is delivered the government will move to remove the ‘triple lock’ on the deployment of Irish troops overseas. And following that, there is the question of what is left of Irish neutrality, it is already a fellow traveller with NATO (including NATO exercises and meetings happening in Ireland) and enthusiastic supporter of the EU arms industry and of an EU army.
It is unfortunate that the Irish public, still expressing support for Irish neutrality, is generally unaware of the perilous or threadbare state that has been reached. This is due not only to government machinations (taking small steps, one at a time, while denying neutrality was at risk) but also, very significantly, to the media which has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for NATO and for Irish involvement in EU militarisation; generally it has avoided carrying pro-neutrality arguments and views. There are a very few exceptions to this rule such as The Phoenix which has continually cast a critical eye on Irish foreign policy.
However one bright point seems to be that Irish people can think for themselves. PANA’s poll on a ceasefire in Ukraine (see news section) shows the people of the Republic are very strongly supportive of a ceasefire to allow negotiations to happen, and are certainly not bursting to support ongoing warfare as some political leaders might think. This may indicate that (as all recent opinion polls have shown) neutrality is alive and well in the hearts of the people of Ireland even if not in most of their political leaders and the establishment.
The extremely stupid equation seems to be accepted by most media that to be a ‘good European’ you need to be a supporter of EU policies such as militarisation. And once the EU does finally evolve to superpower status you can be sure that it will throw its weight around like all the superpowers before it; that is written in the militarist DNA. As happens with the USA, military interventions may be dressed up in flowery language about protecting peace or extending democracy, defending the rights of women, protecting borders and so on, but it will be good old great power imperialism underneath it all.
StoP/Swords to Ploughshares Ireland wrote an open letter to Louise Richardson, the chair of the Consultative Forum, challenging her to be impartial but the whole setup is so skewed that even in the event that she did the result would still be biased against the views of most citizens of the Republic. The concluding paragraph of this letter reads; “We consider that the current model of a ‘consultative forum’, dispersed and repeated over several days, with no wider public consultation, is inadequate for effective democratic consideration of such large and complex issues. We are seriously concerned that the voice of those who support Irish neutrality as a positive force for peace and who oppose our increased integration into EU and NATO military structures will be effectively excluded from the Forum. It is up to yourself and the conduct of the Consultative Forum—especially in its eventual Report—to achieve more than an outcome predetermined by the Government. We hope that you will rise to the occasion.”
If you can participate in the Forums and the protests and alternative events, please do. If you can respond to the online questionnaire, please do (one response to the question of what the greatest danger is to Irish security is to answer “NATO and EU militarisation”). If you can submit your views further, please do. Go to www.gov.ie/consultativeforum
We are one step away from a total stitch up. That final step or stitch is likely to come with Louise Richardson’s report. And, while this is a rather large and perhaps grandiose sounding statement, that might be considered the day that Ireland finally lost its soul and any hint of global solidarity.
Change but no change in the North
The reality of the situation in Northern Ireland has not changed one jot after the recent elections there. As expected following the last NI Assembly elections, Sinn Féin became the largest party in local government. However the DUP maintained its vote and share of seats, with Jim Allister’s TUV only marginally eating into its vote. The North is not any less divided than it was on constitutional issues or the Northern Ireland Protocol and ‘Windsor’ Agreement.
Of course it is expected that the DUP will seek to find a face-saving way to come back in to the Assembly and Executive, though this time with Jeffrey Donaldson holding the (equally powerful but symbolically less prestigious) post of Deputy First Minister to Michelle O’Neill’s position as First Minister. As usual in such circumstances money will be part of making it happen – and it might even materialise unlike some instances in the past; the DUP will claim success on this front. It would seem the woeful economic situation in the North with quite drastic cuts on top of an already appalling situation is being used by Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State, as a tool of leverage. But it is people in need of health and social services who suffer.
The danger is that the British government will give the DUP ‘assurances’ about the position of Northern Ireland in relation to its membership of the United Kingdom which it is not its to give. The Good Friday Agreement is quite clear about the responsibilities of both governments and when a referendum on unification should take place based on a judgement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which is a rather subjective arrangement.
Influential unionist figure Jamie Bryson has recently argued in the News Letter https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/letters/jamie-bryson-the-constitutional-future-of-northern-ireland-should-be-a-matter-for-all-of-the-uk-not-just-ni-4161966 that any decision on constitutional change should either be taken on an all-UK basis or having majorities in Northern Ireland, the Republic, and Britain. Stating that “A state has a right to protect its territorial integrity”, as he does in this piece, might sound fine but pays no attention to the realities of Irish history and the colonisation of Ireland by Britain. The problem about such possibilities is that they fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement (and other, prior, statements or arrangements such as the Downing Street Declaration). The DUP is desperate to save face with some UK government declaration about the position of Northern Ireland in the UK; the problem is that such declarations may also be contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, and make the situation worse and more intractable in the long run.
Arriving at the Good Friday Agreement was a tortuous process and “50% +1” determining a ‘United Kingdom’ or a ‘United Ireland’ is a very crude mechanism, far from ideal, but it is what is there. However what we have argued for before is that not only should there be a clear picture of what a united Ireland might entail – and that is for the government and people of the Republic to offer – but there would be a clear ‘road map’ of a process that would take place following a “50% +1” vote in favour of a united Ireland, and that this should include extensive consultation with unionists, nationalists and ‘neithers’ in the North.
That process following such a vote would be key to having a peaceful transition. It should certainly not be rushed but how long it would take, and what stages there would be, should be carefully outlined. The possibility of a continuation of Stormont as a regional assembly has had some recognition of its possibility south of the border and it might be an important part of assuring Northern unionists and loyalists that the were not going to be consumed into, devoured by, the current Irish state (the bogey man of ‘Rome rule’ has long gone). And the people of the Republic have a lot of thinking to do as to how to make a new state work and be acceptable to Northerners of all kinds, nationalist as well as unionist.
We are, however, nowhere near the situation of a border poll, or, indeed, if it was called a majority voting for Irish unity. There may now be a majority of Catholics (cultural Catholics that is) in the North but they too need to be persuaded that an all-island state is the best for everyone, including themselves. The old jest about loyalty to the half crown (when last used in 1971 this was a coin with purchasing value of more than a pound today) rather than the Crown is a pointer that economic considerations cannot be dismissed on either side.
And a relatively recent poll by the Belfast Telegraph told that a considerable majority of the current ‘neithers’ (identifying as neither unionist nor nationalists) would at the moment opt for the status quo. This could of course change, and, if the Republic outlined a process which was fair in terms of transition, and the likelihood of fast economic advancement, it could change quite rapidly.
The task for unionists, from their point of view, should not be looking for declarations from the British government and so on but be to make Northern Ireland such an attractive place for cultural Catholics that they too did not want to ‘forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of an Irish Republic’. Some wiser unionists realise this, but not necessarily how to go about it, and unionism as a whole is far from being aware of it. It remains to be seen whether unionism can actually make a real effort to make cultural Catholics and nationalists feel right at home; it requires a significant change of mindset.
Meanwhile there will be the issue of making Stormont work since its dysfunctionality is an inherent feature of how it does or does not do business and how it tries to decide on things. We have previously supported decision making methodologies promoted by the de Borda Institute www.deborda.org which are as inclusive as possible and advance the possibility of decisions actually being taken as opposed to impasses on various important issues including education. Whether and when the Assembly will make changes after it is back and running – as it may well be later in the year – remains to be seen.
The uncertainty regarding the economic future of things as they stand in the light of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the ‘facing both ways’ (UK and EU) nature of the economy, will take some time to be worked out. If Northern Ireland does prosper, and productivity per head is currently way below the Republic, it will be fascinating to see how this affects constitutional preferences. On the one hand fewer people in a prosperous North might wish to risk rocking the boat by joining with the Republic. However on the other hand if the North is no longer a major beneficiary of the British Exchequer, joining with the Republic becomes more possible economically even in the short term before any possible north-south development kicks in after a united Ireland.
In the longer term the UK is likely to seek a closer deal with the EU and that might mean, by the time any possibility of people voting for a united Ireland came around, that the North joining with the Republic would not risk the current advantage of ‘facing both ways’. However things are all to play for. The advantage of the ‘neithers’ having the casting vote is that it is up to both sides, unionist and nationalist, to be on their best behaviour and try to appeal to those outside of their ‘natural’ ethnic voting tribe. It is unlikely that all, or much, will be sweetness and light but that at least does give some hope that decision making may be made at least partly on logical and rational thought rather than simple tribal allegiance.