The Good Friday agreement wasn’t so good after all
Yet the myth of New Labour's great Northern Ireland triumph persists
Of all the Government’s policies, perhaps none has come in for such determined criticism as its approach to Northern Ireland.
Whenever the Protocol comes up, a veritable Greek chorus of men from the Nineties — Sir John Major and Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell — lurch out of the history books to lambast Boris Johnson for taking a wrecking ball to their great legacy.
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There is no denying that securing the ceasefire in Northern Ireland was a major accomplishment. But the myth-making around the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement goes much further than that.
For many of these men, it is their last great hope of a place in the history books, one of the “pillars of Blairism” not yet crumbled like our EU membership and support for liberal wars in the Middle East.
Thus the history of the Agreement must be endlessly laundered into a narrative of successful statesmanship, broken only by Brexit.
Yet this claim does not stand up to serious scrutiny, and this fact is amply illustrated by the latest intervention by the latest of these eminences grises, Peter Hain.
The former Northern Irish Secretary thunders in the Guardian that “I negotiated a Northern Ireland deal that worked. Johnson’s Putinesque strategy will wreck it”.
Whatever you think of the Prime Minister’s current strategy with regard to Ulster (if indeed he really has one) the first part of Hain’s claim is total nonsense.
The deal he brokered was the 2007 St Andrews Agreement, and its principal effect has been to strangle Northern Ireland’s moderate parties and cement the grip of the hard-liners in the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein.
Basically, having overtaken the Ulster Unionists and SDLP, they held the devolved Executive to ransom until Westminster — that is, Hain — rigged the system for nominating the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in their favour.
This is the familiar pattern trodden by most Northern Ireland secretaries since 1998: the local parties topple Stormont, they fly out to Belfast, hand out a few bribes, bank a few headlines, and fly off again.
The Conservatives do it too: Julian Smith was lauded by the usual suspects during his brief stint in the Northern Irish brief, but the Department is still grappling with his at least partially undeliverable ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal.
Nobody holds them to account for the cumulative impact of all these short-sighted decisions on the quality of government in Ulster, which is dire. Nor do they dwell on the fact that the structures set up in 1998 have turned the Province’s politics into a sort of frozen conflict, with elections still not fought on ‘normal’ social or economic platforms a quarter-century on.
The ceasefire remains an important achievement. But the truth is, nobody looking at the Northern Ireland of 2022 — or even 2016 — would think the Belfast Agreement had fulfilled the original hopes of most of those who negotiated it.
Nothing would disappoint them more than learning that the UUP and SDLP had been supplanted by the DUP and Sinn Fein. And we have Hain, and his vaunted deal, to thank for that.
Peter Hain, such an odious man imho, I recall him on Question Time many moons ago during the Letters of Non Prosecution scandal – when it broke they’d (he’d) rolled over during GFA negotiations and gave in to the IRA’s one sided demands. Seemed genuinely proud of selling his own down the river, and petulant too when the audience picked him up on it.
What a surprise. Wasn’t familar with the man, don’t believe I’ve ever seen his face, but just from that description I can imagine him down to the last sneer.
Peter Hain, the terrorists best friend. Either in NI or SA, the bronzed lothario backed the side with the guns which led to the chaos we have today.
Why is that so many people cannot resist adopting over-the-top and extreme views on here? It sounds pretty ridiculous now to decry Hain’s role as an anti-apartheid activist – you would literally get a tiny number of (real) far-Right groups to agree with that proposition. The ANC did use terrorist tactics but usually against property and on a small scale. It was notably ineffective. And yes, South Africa is now a mess, but the politicisation, brutality and total one-sidedness of the police under apartheid was at least one cause of this. But it wasn’t a well functioning state before the end of apartheid, least of all for the coloured and black majority, the absurd ‘Bantustans’ for example, and large numbers of internal migrant (male) workers, living apart from their families, none of which exactly boded well for a peaceful future. Plus a welfare state set up for white people alone. Eventually, the triumph of the ANC was almost inevitable, as was probably a degree of corruption and more sinisterly the desire of some of the ‘comrades’ to seek vengeance against the white people who had been their oppressors.
By the way, if you look at the news, there is hardly a time when we didn’t live in ‘chaos’! Vietnam, the Cultural revolution, the Black Panthers, etc etc etc.
Northern Ireland was promised a “peace dividend” in 1998. In reality under devolution it has been the worst performing region of the UK both economically and in public service provision (including healthcare), despite, or perhaps because of, an outsized public sector. In 1992, before the “peace process”, Sinn Fein was being beaten everywhere politically, even West Belfast, and the IRA was on the back foot militarily, riddled with informers. Sinn Fein’s electoral support in the Republic of Ireland was so low it was said they were scarcely any more popular amongst Southerners than amongst Northern Protestants. A quarter century of concessions and rewriting of history has put Sinn Fein on steroids. And whenever irredentist Republicanism is on the rise, conflict and murder inevitably follows.
The only thing I’ll say regarding ROI is Sinn Fein’s popularity is mostly because of the unpopularity of everyone else. The leftists rhetoric is appealing to most people and as they’ve never been in power they have not been tarnished and represent something fresh. My feeling is most people don’t really care about their history or even 32 counties when they vote for Sinn Fein.
Perhaps, and in the same way that many SNP voters don’t actually support Scottish succession from the Union.
Like all things, the GFA is failing to keep up with the times and should be reviewed. It set out what it needed to do in 1998 to end decades of violence and discrimination but it is clear that in its current state, it is not fit for purpose.
I suspect that the great majority of people in nu britn ( excluding those in parts of Scotland, Liverpool, and Manchester) do not care about Northern Ireland, as they simply see that in the rest of the UK protestants and catholics co- exist:
Of course what they don’t know is that its not actually Protestants and Catholics, as the Protestant Church of Ireland has no borders, and it the Scots Presbyterian ” Protestants” and Catholics, who are at loggerheads, and the real issue is a united Ireland, not of course, religion at all…. And it all cost GB a fortune every year…So the great majority of Briton’s care even less.
However, I have a solution! stick Ulster and Scotland together and sell them as a 2 for 1 bargain to the world’s leading underperforming nation… Canada!!!!!
Actually it was Thatcher’s deal with the Republic that took everyone by surprise, and shifted the ground from beneath both the IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries. Unfortunately her heirs then lost the initiative back to the extremists in their political guises who did, to be fair, play a very canny game. But let’s face it, a 32 county Ireland does make sense in the long run.
So what? If Johnson stopped letting the DUP call the shots it would resolve itself peacefully. The NIP gives NI a favourable position with a foot in the UK and foot in the EU. The electorate know that and the DUP will see it in the further elections that follow their refusal to participate.
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