13 March 2006

Comment: Making waves le Gearóid ó Cairealláin


Biding time before the next elections

Mr McDowell and the Taoiseach both claim that they had no idea there would be trouble in Dublin over the Orange march up O’Connell street. They say that their intelligence reports indicated that it was going to be a walk in the park, and so the Garda presence was deliberately light.
Yet they both also claim that the trouble was orchestrated and pre-meditated, with gangs arriving, prepared with trolley loads of bottles and other missiles.
The idea of an Orange march up the middle of Dublin passing off without protest or incident was always going to be highly unlikely, so I am not surprised that the word went out and gangs of youths boxed each other off about where to be, when to be there and what to bring.
I know that teenage sons of some of my friends in Dublin received such text messages, which they duly ignored. And we have seen in recent days copies of emails that were sent out, and websites that carried similar calls to riot, re-printed in some of the national newspapers.
I can understand completely why the youths wanted to go to Dublin city centre and have a go at the loyalists, or even the Gardaí – might have done so myself 30 years ago – but I cannot figure out how Michael McDowell, Bertie Ahern and the Garda intelligence service did not get word of it themselves.
If leaflets were distributed outside schools during the previous week, don’t the children of Gardaí go to school as well? If text messages and emails were exchanged, are we to believe that none of them made their way to the attention of the Gardaí, in any shape or form?
If the Gardaí – through their intelligence services (translated as whatever gossip was going in Harcourt Street of a night) or otherwise – knew that trouble was likely but nothing was done about it, then serious questions have to be asked. Like, was there a conspiracy to allow the rioters free reign of the city for a while in order to discredit republicans? Worse still, did the powers hear whispers of trouble but just decided to do nothing?
On the other hand, if the McDowell, Ahern and Garda intelligence really did believe that there was no trouble to be expected on the occasion of the first ever Orange march up O’Connell Street, then perhaps they are just incompetent. Criminally incompetent. So incompetent that it is inconceivable they would be let run a kindergarten, never mind a state. So incompetent that in any civilised society they would have resigned already.
But how they can say that no trouble was expected, yet the trouble was pre-meditated and orchestrated is beyond me. Perhaps they really don’t know about sectarianism…
Meanwhile, the two governments are ‘hopeful’ of swift progress on the Northern assembly front. I bet you a dig in the head this means going for Paisley’s preferred option of a shadow assembly with no fixed date for the return of powers to northern institutions until agreement is reached concerning the nature of their return. Despite the fact that everyone from David Trimble to Martin Ferris is against it.
Which means that there will be no return of power in the North until Paisley says so.
Sinn Féin have already rejected this proposal stating that they would prefer the assembly to be scrubbed altogether and the MLAs’ salaries stopped. But Sinn Féin know they will not be able to reject the shadow assembly if and when the Brits set it up, with the support of the Leinster House lot. They will just have to be dragged, kicking and screaming into it and hope that it can be edged forward towards the re-establishing of real power later on.
The shadow assembly will be a talking shop, serving no-one’s purpose except that of Ian Paisley and the two government leaders.
Blair does not want to push Paisley too far away these days because he does not know when he might need to make a deal with him for support in Westminster.
And Ahern is not going to push for any set up in the North that will make Sinn Féin look good. Why should he help his own political opponents with an election coming up and the campaign already underway?
Paisley won’t share power with Sinn Féin in the Northern Assembly and Executive because he knows what they are up to. Firm and efficient political institutions, North and South, could be encouraged to grow closer to each other over the years, especially as economics and social services and health and even policing evolve. Especially if Sinn Féin are in government in both jurisdictions.
And Paisley doesn’t care a damn if Sinn Féin get into government because the people voted for them, or that institutions evolve into one because that is a more effective way of working. His only interest is in keeping the Shinners out of power in the Six Counties.
Better than the assembly as far as I can see – or, as well as the assembly, the preferred option – would be for the Irish government to allow all Northern MPs the right to sit in the Dáil. We should have this right already and it is not the British government, not 800 years of oppression, nor perfidious Albion that is denying us. It is the Irish government. The Irish government for whatever reason, continues to ban Irish citizens in Ireland from returning elected representatives to the national parliament, Dáil Éireann.
This is an in between period, time to tread water, take a breath and prepare.
One way or another, there will be elections to the Stormont assembly either this year or early next year.
We know there will be elections to the Dáil next May.
And the elections for the re-organised local government is going to be crucial.
Democrats who seek justice and equality are impatient, and rightly so.
We want our better way soon. Now.
But this is the time to be patient, to tread water, to prepare. The big battles on the electoral front are on their way and the fallout may well change everything.

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