Wednesday, 2 February 2005
Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.
Brendan Ryan (Labour)
I do not know of any monarchists or other groups here. Therefore, we are all republicans — an honourable term with an honourable history. I do not propose to hand it over any more than I was ever prepared to hand over a monopoly claim to socialism to those who destroyed human rights all over eastern Europe. In those days I believed that the republican movement, as it called itself, and those who supported it had managed to walk themselves up an enormously difficult cul-de-sac. Simply saying we would not talk to them was never going to get them out of that cul-de-sac. That is the reason I liked Tony Blair's phrase about a period when creative ambiguity was needed and the reason in my political career I did many things which were of absolutely no political benefit to me. Anything positive about Northern Ireland which had to do with human rights, prisoners' rights and so on never won anybody in the South a single vote. For everybody who took a position on any of those issues, other than one of virulent denunciation, there were no political gains. Ultimately in the transition period up to and including the ceasefire, virtually everybody in Irish politics did things which, if they went wrong, would be politically hazardous and potentially disastrous to them. If, in the period of transition into the ceasefire, anything had gone badly wrong, bipartisanship would have collapsed and we would have had an enormous political dogfight about Northern Ireland. However, bipartisanship did not collapse and sometimes fudge, compromise and ambiguity works.
If W.T. Cosgrave had chosen to use some of the rhetoric sometimes used in these debates he would have been able to think of 20 reasons to call in the Army and refuse to hand over power to de Valera in 1930-32. What had happened before that was a fairly unambiguous conversion by the part of Sinn Féin that became Fianna Fáil and a much more unambiguous conversion than has so far happened here to institutions of democracy. Once Éamon de Valera was in power, by God he showed where he stood on the issue of loyalty to the institutions of the State. Whatever one might say there was never a hint of ambiguity in this regard from the moment he took office. It was worth the risk then.
What is happening now is quite different. It goes back to a little acronym, that was widely used in republican and Nationalist circles, abbreviated as TUAS. Some thought it meant a "totally unarmed struggle" but it also meant the "tactical use of armed struggle". We never got from within that movement an unambiguous explanation of what that acronym meant. Was it totally unarmed or tactical use? I was prepared to tolerate that because I believed we were making progress in a direction. I was extremely impatient, and believe I was right, with the British fuss about the permanence of the ceasefire and the enormous fuss about decommissioning, because I believed we were in a transition where those events would happen. What has happened to many like me during the past two, three or four years has been the dawning realisation that it was not a question of totally unarmed struggle but of incremental use of the armed side of this so-called struggle, to ratchet up yet more political benefits for the political side of that struggle. That is where the issue has suddenly turned me from a position of being an advocate of many issues relating to creative ambiguity into a position where I am increasingly feeling betrayed.
I am quite prepared to live with the possibility that a political party, because of its appeal or its activity, might take over from my political party as a major party of the left. That is unpleasant but not unconscionable but the idea that it would be achieved by ambiguity, deliberate uncertainty, the continual keeping of a little bit more and the phrases such as "we will do nothing that will undermine the Good Friday Agreement" is unacceptable. Who defines what undermines the Good Friday Agreement but the man who said that, Mr. Adams. There has been a succession of these instances. One hears this ambiguity when they say they did not commit crimes. Even if one accepts their own peculiar view of who governs Ireland, they are still covered by international law and the Geneva Convention and the murder of Jean McConville was a crime by the standard of any international convention. It was not just a war issue.
I have restrained myself for 30 years on this issue. A fortnight ago in the Evening Echo I wrote an article about Martin Luther King and about what black people in America suffered prior to the civil rights movement — the murders, lynchings and beatings. What they suffered was spectacularly worse than the sum of all that Northern Ireland Catholics suffered. Martin Luther King said it was not worth hurting one human being to overturn all that. I invited Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to tell us how Martin Luther King was wrong and they were right or how they were wrong and Martin Luther King was right. Not long ago Mr. McGuinness was happy to take a page in the Evening Echo to talk about what I said about him. Their silence on that issue spoke volumes for the fact that they are now in an exposed position — they deserve to be exposed and the rest of us should not apologise any more. We did not upset the peace process, we did not let anybody down and it is time for us to calmly say: "You have your chance, take your chance, one side or the other, the ambiguity is over."