The Good Friday Agreement
One of the most important events in Irish history has recently taken place.
For the first time since 1921, the British government entered into negotiations
with Sinn Fein (the Irish Republican party meaning “self reliance”), along
with Northern Ireland’s leading Unionist parties with the Republic of Ireland
and America refereeing. What finally emerged from these talks was the Good
Friday Agreement. Under this agreement, Sinn Fein and the nationalist-leaning
Social Democratic Labor Party would form a joint government with the largest
Unionist parties of Northern Ireland. The people of the occupied six counties
and the 26 county Irish Republic overwhelmingly voted for it. Many hoped
that at last 800 years of war between British imperialists and Irish nationalists
would come to an end. Most likely, Sinn Fein believed this would validate
their claim that the Irish people do not require the firm hand of Britain
to “keep the peace,” and demonstrate that the different Irish factions
could work out their problems among themselves. Unfortunately this did
not happen, and Sinn Fein’s programs have become increasingly watered down.
Only the creation of a united 32-county Irish Socialist Republic will heal
the wounds inflicted by 800 years of war and imperialism. Only the severing
of Ireland’s ties with England—and capitalism, a completely un-Gaelic concept—can
heal the deep spiritual and mental scars in the Irish soul.
Immediately intellectuals everywhere closed ranks in declaring Republicanism
“dead,” that it was in need of “maturing.” Irish Republicanism, the right
of the Irish people to self-determination, was denounced as Dogma", not
a political movement that has shown itself to be dynamic and responsive
to the needs of the Irish people. Many articles expressed the hope that
the IRA was ready to “give up the gun,” while few of these writers seemed
to realize that without 30 years of resistance, the British would never
have bothered to talk to Sinn Fein (before 1994, the British did not officially
recognize Sinn Fein).
As it turned out, the Good Friday Agreement was not as rosy as the journalists
claimed. Immediately the Unionists cried that there would be no power sharing
executive if the IRA did not promise to get rid of their arsenal of weapons,
even though this was not an original part of the agreement. Leading the
pack, David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said the IRA must
show a sincere willingness to disarm and give proof, though he never specified
what that actually meant. Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, correctly
pointed out the ridiculousness of an undefeated guerilla army voluntary
handing over its arms, which there is no historical precedence for.
This is the continual problem the British imperialists have run into. They
have created and armed a minority of the Irish people who have become so
used to their hegemony over. The Catholics of occupied Ireland, that they
cannot concede or negotiate an inch. After the power-sharing executive
was finally formed, the first motion on the Unionist side was to demand
that the British Union Jack be flown from the Stormont government building.
When Sinn Fein minister Martin McGuinness suggested a compromise of both
the Irish tricolor and the Union Jack, the Unionist ministers refused.
Desperate for a leader on the Unionist side that would help the British
implement the agreement, which in their eyes would be the destruction of
the Republican movement and victory, the British found David Trimble. Trimble
is a member of a conservative organization that, aside from toasting to
the Queen, toasts to rightwing mass murderer Pinochet. In the context of
Northern Ireland, this is a “moderate." In the context of Northern Ireland,
the extreme right is “loyalism,” which in practice means armed Protestants
killing Catholics indiscriminately. In the past 30 years, the British have
tamely ignored the well known crimes of loyalists, not considering them
the “enemy” until recently when the Loyalist extremists have become a political
embarrassment to the British.
The Unionists kept demanding new preconditions for the power-sharing executive.
In characteristic form, the British government completely ignored democracy
and caved into the Unionist veto, even though the voters of the 26 county
Republic and of the northern six courts (Northern Ireland) had overwhelmingly
voted for it. The American media followed suit by presenting only the Unionist
point of view. They could not help, it seemed, referring to Sinn Fein as
“IRA-allied,” whereas it never was said “Loyalist death-squad-allied Unionists.
One article, whenever referring to Gerry Adams, always said: “Former IRA
commander.” In 1998, America Online, at that time the world’s biggest Internet
provider, caved into pro-British pressure and closed down most of its Irish
Heritage sites, 23 total, for not completely carrying the British political
It went this way for nearly a year until the IRA agreed to allow independent
inspectors to view their weapons dumps. Northern Ireland’s largest Unionist
party, the UUP, took a vote in May 2000 and decided, very narrowly, to
accept the Good Friday Agreement, which they had originally voted for two
Unfortunately, things have been allowed to stagnate in Northern Ireland.
While Provisional Sinn Fein has made many promises to the Catholic communities,
life stays the same, with high unemployment and sectarian killings, Protestant
supremacy marches and riots. Many of the rank-and-file of the Republican
movement feel used and betrayed. The Continuity Council, which many believe
controls the “real” IRA, has been active, including a bombing in England.
It is not impossible that the real IRA could become the next dominant force
in Republican politics. The IRA currently on ceasefire, the Provisional
IRA, was also a splinter group of the “official” IRA that had lost the
support of the nationalist community. The real IRA faces a much more difficult
situation to reorganize in, with more sophisticated British counter-insurgency
techniques, honed over a quarter century of war.
Another problem with the Good Friday Agreement is that only parties that
represent the nationalist/catholic community or the Protestant/Unionist
community may be a part of the Northern Ireland power sharing executive.
This completely rules out the possibility of any cross-community third
party, such as a Green or Labor party.
Unfortunately, the issue underlying this entire conflict is once again
who has real control of Ireland and its people. In the past 50 years, multinational
investment in the southern 26 county Republic has increased jobs and opportunities.
Unfortunately, it still means that Ireland’s wealth and labor are being
exploited by foreigners. Capital that is badly needed for the continued
development of Ireland’s infrastructure is being sucked out. Throughout
its existence, the Irish Republican Army has been opposed to foreign investment
in Ireland, having learned over the last 1,000 years that foreign ownership
of Ireland will only create ruin for the native Irish. Even if some natives
understandably embrace this as a long-awaited opportunity, many do not,
especially the efforts of American arms manufacturers to build munitions
factories in Ireland, or Fruit of the Loom Company not paying a living
wage to its Irish workers.
Bernadette MacAliskey, the celebrated fighter of British imperialism referred
to the Good Friday Agreement as a trap for the nationalist communities
of Ireland. Not only does corporate America want to invest in the economically
depressed six counties, but they want to use it as a foothold to enter
the European common market. Since the IRA has always opposed foreign investment
(the impetus behind their bombing offensive), a disarmed and surrendered
IRA would make that much more possible. That might explain the Clinton
administration’s strong interest in a settlement—and an IRA surrender.
MacAliskey, along with many other Republicans, view the Agreement as a
continuation of British imperialism in Ireland. Just as in 1921 when the
British could not defeat the IRA militarily, they have resorted to trickery
and co-option of revolutionary Republican forces. Rauri O Bradaigh, president
of Republican Sinn Fein (a party that has continued the Republican resistance
to British rule after the mainstream Sinn Fein chose to officially recognize
British prescence in Ireland) said that the Republican movement must be
careful not to make the same mistake of 1921, and agree to reinforce the
partition of Ireland. Bemadette, Republican Sinn Fein, the Continuity Council,
and other dissidents don’t oppose British rule reflexively, but out of
the desire for a just and lasting peace, which this agreement cannot offer.
The Republican tradition has been re-affirmed by those who will settle
for nothing less than a united Irish Socialist Republic, what the Irish
people have repeatedly demonstrated that they want. What Padraic Pearse
said in 1915 still holds true: “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”
So for now, Irish Republicanism is far from obsolete; it is the central
issue. Hopefully within our lifetimes, we will see Republicanism obsolete,
when imperialism is gone from Ireland forever.
TJ Conner is a freelance writer, artist, Gaelic enthusiast, and community