Saturday, June 14, 2014

Celtic Corner - June 2014


Last month’s news letter concerning the arrest of Sinn Fein’s President Gerry Adams was a huge effort by British Unionest in the North of Ireland and the political parties in the south of Ireland to derail the National &^ European Election in Ireland, a huge failure. Sinn Fein is now the most popular party in Ireland, North and South. However, still in the North of Ireland, the peace process is plagued by the past.

When Gerry Adams sets foot in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a two-day visit, don’t be surprised if he has a spring in his step and a smile on his face. And why not? Within the last few days, Sinn Fein, the political party he leads, cemented its status as one of Northern Ireland’s largest parties with strong results in local and European Parliament elections. Moreover, Sinn Fein – which not many years ago was the political arm of the now disbanded and disarmed Irish Republican Army – surged in the polls south of the border, too, and is now a major political force in the Republic of Ireland.

Nevertheless, Adams’ trip to the U.S. is no victory lap. Instead, Adams – who earlier this month was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and questioned for four days over his alleged involvement in a 1972 IRA murder – says he will warn American officials that the 1998 U.S.-brokered Good Friday Agreement, which brought to an end 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, faces turbulent times. Adams claims “powerful elements” on both sides of the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide in the province “want to derail the (peace) process and build obstacles to it.”

"Every effort must be made to highlight the problems that currently exist and to chart a way through these dangers. His visit to Washington next week is to highlight these issues and concerns and to seek a renewed focus and support for the peace process and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Adams, 65, denies any involvement in the murder, and he was ultimately released without charge. But the incident – which indeed had the potential of torpedoing the process – put into bold relief the fact that, 16 years on from the Good Friday accord, peace in Northern Ireland remains a fragile thing. To be sure, few in either community want to return to the bad old days of the Troubles, which claimed 3,600 lives. But as Adams’ arrest underscores, Ulster has not yet found a way to put to rest the ghosts from its bloody past, and simmering resentments could still boil over and push the province back into violence. 

“The peace process is not in jeopardy right away,” explains Adrian Guelke, a professor emeritus of comparative politics at Queen’s University Belfast. “But if there were a major blow, if say, Adams were convicted (of a crime), it could be an incitement.”

An academic project at Boston College led to Adams’ arrest. Its Belfast Project is an oral history of the Troubles, and it contains dozens of firsthand accounts of violence from IRA and loyalist paramilitary members. The archive of tapes and transcripts was not supposed to be released until all those interviewed were dead. But the Northern Ireland police successfully used a clause in a British-U.S. treaty to win a legal challenge to gain access to a portion of the archive: statements made regarding the execution 42 years ago of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who was murdered by the IRA on the false assumption she was an informer. Two IRA members, both now dead, told the researchers that Adams had ordered the McConville murder.

During Adams’ confinement, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the Northern Ireland deputy first minister, claimed there was a “dark side” within the Police Service of Northern Ireland that was willing to work with anti-peace process republicans bent on upending the accord. He warned that Sinn Fein might reconsider its support for the police force. But had that happened, says Richard Wilford, a Queen’s University politics professor, Sinn Fein’s Protestant, power-sharing partner in government, the Democratic Unionist Party, would have forced a no-confidence vote against Sinn Fein, because the 2007 agreement that allowed for a cross-party-led Northern Ireland Assembly hinged on support for the Northern Ireland police. 

That would have brought the whole thing to a juddering halt,” Wilford says. “It would have been a real crisis.” 

Since his release, however, Adams has restated his party’s support for the police force.

Although it’s unlikely that Adams will be prosecuted over claims made about him unearthed from the project accounts, the trove of material collected by its academics might be used in other investigations. Both the Police Service of Northern Ireland and NBC News have filed new subpoenas asking that all of the project’s material be unsealed.

 “There are all kinds of victims’ groups demanding their day in court,” Guelke says. Given all those pressures, it’s certainly possible that some former senior IRA members, loyalist paramilitary fighters or British troops could still face prosecution for legacy crimes. But if any one of them were tried, Wilford says, “it could produce a seismic event. They’re all highly risky, politically.”

The solution, some believe – including Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland secretary, and John Larkin, the province’s attorney general – is amnesty. 

“You would get a massive outcry from victims on both sides, but it still needs to be done,” Guelke insists. Amnesty proponents argue that justice is a necessary casualty in efforts to bring peace to conflict-torn societies, because high-profile trials could rekindle old hatreds and spark violent protests. When South Africa finally ended 43 years of apartheid in 1991 no one was prosecuted for hate crimes, but it eventually established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that allowed both victims and perpetrators of violence to speak freely of their experiences. 

The commission, Guelke says, “was not an alternative to amnesty, it was a mechanism for amnesty.” 

But Wilford claims amnesty is a non-starter because it’s opposed by so many on both sides of the sectarian divide. Late last year, talks led by American diplomat Richard Haass to deal with the province’s legacy issues, including Protestant marches and flags, tried to broach an agreement on limited immunity, but the effort failed to get cross-party support. Says Wilford: “There’s no chance for amnesty whatsoever.”

Which means that past crimes could still wreak havoc on Northern Ireland’s future peace.

If you want the Peace Process to continue, keep putting pressure on our politicians to understand we the Irish care and we vote.

Thanks for reading what is going on in Ireland.

Frank Darcy