This will be Derb's last column for a while. I am taking a vacation.
Through July and early August I shall try to file a column now and
then as time and connectivity permit, but nothing is certain. I
wish you all as relaxing and refreshing a summer as I intend to
always feel a
little apologetic when I write about Ireland for an American audience.
Given that Ireland is a very small place with very few people, it's
hard to see why Americans should bother about it. A few Americans,
of course the so-called "Irish-American activists"
are very bothered about it. These people are, however, in my considerable
experience of them, either ignorant, or insane, or very frequently
both, and I don't have anything much to say to them. Ireland is
interesting to me, and I attempt to make it interesting to Americans,
as a sort of morality play an illustration of the difficulties
civilization gets into when it has not the courage to deal vigorously
with its enemies. The parallel between the events in Northern Ireland
and those in the Middle East is striking and obvious, as I have
pointed out in a
Recent developments have all been ominous. Three stories have dominated
the news from Northern Ireland recently.
· In the U.K. general election on June 7th, Northern Ireland voters
of both persuasions abandoned their more moderate parties (the nationalist*
SDLP and the unionist UUP) for more hard-line ones (Gerry Adams's
Sinn Féin and Ian
Paisley's DUP). If we tag the SDLP and UUP as "soft," Sinn Féin
and the DUP as "hard," Northern
Ireland's 18 parliamentary seats went from 13 soft, 4 hard and
one other in 1997, to 9, 9 and zero this year.
· Unionist leader David Trimble, leader of the moderate UUP and
a principal architect of the 1998 Good
Friday Agreement that has brought a measure of peace to the
province, has declared his intention to resign as First Minister
of the Northern Ireland Assembly if the IRA do not begin the decommissioning
of their weapons a thing which everyone thought they had
committed to at the time of the Agreement. Trimble's resignation
will come on July 1st, after which, everyone believes, the Assembly
Northern Ireland's latest attempt at a government in which
power is shared between unionists and nationalists will not
be able to function.
· Fierce rioting has broken out in Belfast. Loyalist mobs have been
preventing little girls from walking through their district on the
way to a Catholic primary school. The ferocity of the riots
Molotov cocktails thrown, live bullets fired (with the police, not
the little girls, being the target in both cases) has shocked
everybody, and the British government is sending 1,600 troop to
support local police. (Not "16,000," as the pro-IRA Boston Herald
The polarization of Northern Ireland voters is not difficult to
understand. Unionists who voted for the Good Friday Agreement back
in 1998 now feel that they were suckered. Everyone understood that
Sinn Féin had committed, as part of the Agreement, to decommission
its** huge stockpiles of guns and explosives. After all, since all
parties were saying that politics was henceforth to be conducted
in a civilized and democratic way, what need for arms? Sinn Féin
got dramatic concessions in return for this commitment to civilized
values, notably the release of prisoners, including men who had
committed the most outrageous and inhuman atrocities.
It is now clear to unionists that Sinn Féin was lying, and never
had any intention of giving up arms. Their supposed conversion to
civilized politics was merely tactical. Unionists are angry: not
so much with Sinn Féin, which, like the scorpion in Aesop, cannot
be other than what it is, but with the British, Irish and American
politicians who sold them the Agreement with all these empty promises
attached, and also with moderate unionist politicians like Trimble
who assisted in the sale. The swing to the DUP and the riots in
Belfast are symptoms of that anger. Another symptom was the 400-lb
bomb found in a loyalist Belfast apartment last week. (About the
same size as the IRA's Omagh bomb of August 1998, which killed 31
But why are Northern Ireland nationalists voting for Sinn Féin in
larger numbers? When polled, after all, most nationalists say they
want decommissioning of weapons to take place. So why are they voting
for the party that promised to do it, then reneged on its promise?
In part this is just a failure of long-term memory. Sinn Féin is
nothing but a thin cardboard front for the IRA terror gangs, and
all the party's current leaders started out as IRA murderers. (On
Friday, July 21st, 1972, 19 bombs exploded in the streets of Belfast,
killing nine people and injuring 130, many very horrifically. The
Provisional IRA's Belfast Brigade boasted publicly of their responsibility
for the atrocity. The brigade's commander at that time was Gerry
Adams.) This fact, well-known to everyone in Ireland, made sane
nationalists reluctant to vote for Sinn Féin while the murders were
going on; but since the ceasefire that preceded the Good Friday
Agreement, memories of the killings have dimmed.
Other factors are probably involved in the increasing acceptance
of Sinn Féin among nationalist Irish people. All nationalists cherish
the dream of Ireland united under a single government, and the tactics
Sinn Féin has been pursuing these past four years tactics
that might be described as unyielding duplicity actually
look as if they have some chance of delivering this result. Nothing
succeeds like success. Further, as
I predicted last year, Sinn Féin has been the beneficiary of
increasing disillusion with the European project. There is also,
it must be said, a great willingness on the part of nationalist
Irishmen to believe in Sinn Féin's good faith, for sentimental and
historical reasons. The party was, after all, the landslide victor
in the British general election of 1918 which led directly to Southern
Ireland's independence. It is easy to forget that, five years later,
the Cosgrave government of the Irish Free State was hunting down
Sinn Féiners and shooting them in batches, with the full approval
of the Irish electorate, who had been sickened by Sinn Féin's murderous
tactics in the Irish civil war of 1922-23.
Though perhaps it is not very polite to talk about it, there is
a fascist strain in the Irish character to which Sinn Féin appeals.
Nobody could possibly be more Irish than Donall
MacAmhlaigh***, author of the 1960s Irish-language classic Dialann
Deorai, which Valentin Iremonger translated into English under
the title An
Irish Navy. Reflecting on his experiences among the English,
of whom he was not over-fond, MacAmhlaigh none the less allowed
The average Englishman has a deep-rooted opposition to any dictatorship
whatsoever communism, fascism, or the kind of thing you get
in Spain or Portugal; and my own opinion is that, although we are
Catholics, we would accept a dictatorship quicker provided only
that it came from within our own country.
The polarization of the voters, Trimble's upcoming resignation,
and the increasing unrest among unionists, have had the effect of
uniting all parties to the conflict, including the Irish government
and the moderate SDLP, in calling on Sinn Féin to begin decommissioning
of weapons. Even the New York Times has joined the chorus.
Under all this pressure it is probable that Sinn Féin will feel
the need to make some minimal, grudging gesture in the right direction.
The party will never give up any really significant quantity of
its arms, though, for very fundamental reasons. The clues to those
reasons can be found in the fact of those 1,600 extra British troops
coming in to help the police, and in the nature of Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin is not, never has been and never will be a political party
in the sense in which that term is properly understood in a constitutional
democracy, and the great folly of the British and
Irish governments this past thirty years has been to tolerate
Sinn Féin's continued existence. Sinn Féin is a fascist organization,
the last survivor of the great fascist surge that rose up all over
the world during the first quarter of the twentieth century, characterized
by a fierce blood-and-soil nationalist ideology, utter amoral ruthlessness
of method, antisemitism where applicable (Sinn Féin was founded
by Arthur Griffith, a rabid antisemite of the old Catholic "they-killed-Our-Lord"
variety), and various kinds of esthetic and back-to-nature tide-scum
left over from the ebbing of the Romantic Movement. Sinn Féiners
still read, and quote, the clerico-fascist intellectual Patrick
Pearse, killed in the 1916 uprising; photographs of Sinn Féiners
in the 1920s show that they actually favored jackboots; and the
party worked hard for an Axis victory in WW2. From time to time
in its 96-year history, Sinn Féin has hovered on the edge of respectability;
but the love of violence, gangsterism, and conspiratorial methods
that unite its ideological core membership have always drawn it
back into the darkness, and Sinn Féiners have been able to function
in civilized political life only by leaving the party and turning
on it Eamonn de Valera being the outstanding instance.
Sinn Féin's short-term aim is the complete withdrawal of Britain
from the North. This is in pursuit of its long-term aim: domination
of all Ireland. The party knows very well that following a British
withdrawal, vicious ethnic warfare will break out. The police would
not be able to contain it they cannot even contain the present
low levels of unrest, as the need for those 1,600 troops shows.
With Britain gone, there will be no-one to hold the ring between
the two tribes. The brute unpalatable fact about Northern Ireland
is that unionists and nationalists cannot stand the sight of each
other, and each of them would eat grass rather than submit to be
ruled by the other. The British Army, together with unceasing British
(and some occasional American) diplomatic busyness, has kept the
lid on this mutual detestation. With Britain gone, it will all be
out in the open, naked and hideous, and the blood will flow. Sinn
Féin knows this, and looks forward to it, and believes it can win
the war by driving out as many unionists as will go, and slaughtering
the rest. For this task, it needs those weapons.
Such a conflict would, of course, be a tragedy for Ireland. It would
first of all be a tragedy for the several thousand Irish people
who will die while it is happening. If Sinn Féin wins, tragedy will
then consume the whole island as, dripping with blood and flushed
with triumph, the victors turn their attention to the larger goal.
If, on the other had, they lose the ethnic war, we shall see the
"Cyprus solution" that people in Ulster speak of openly now, with
the island more permanently and bitterly divided than ever. The
fault for that tragedy will lie squarely with politicians in London,
Dublin, and Washington, who for 30 years have refused to do what
the leaders of civilized nations must do when faced with
terrorism in their own jurisdictions: Hunt it down and exterminate
it, without pause or pity or quarter or apology.
In writing about Northern Ireland, American newspapers tend to characterize
the two sides as "Catholic" and "Protestant." That is, in fact,
quite a fair approximation, but it misses the real point of the
conflict. The fight is not about Papal Supremacy or the Doctrine
of Transubstantiation. Large numbers of Northern Irelanders, as
is the case in any region of any Western nation nowadays, are agnostics
or atheists. Many of the atrocities of the past 32 years have been
so psychopathically inhuman in their conception and execution that
the perpetrators cannot possibly have been any kind of Christian
at all. The common convention in Ulster is to say "unionist" for
those who favor the continued union with Britain, and "nationalist"
for those who wish to join Ulster to the Irish Republic. The words
"loyalist" and "republican" are understood to be somewhat stronger
versions of these words, i.e. a loyalist is a passionate unionist,
and a republican is a passionate nationalist. I follow this convention.
I also follow unionist practice in using "Ulster" as a shorthand
for "Northern Ireland," though the modern province encompasses only
six of historic Ulster's nine counties. Nationalists don't like
this usage; but since my sympathies are with the unionists, I don't
** Technically, the stockpiles are the IRA's. However, Sinn Féin
is nothing but the IRA in different jackets, and in most contexts,
"the IRA" and "Sinn Féin" are perfectly interchangeable terms.
*** The pronunciation of this name is given by its usual English