Michael Stone and the St. Andrews freefall – sideshow Bob fails to steal the show
1 December 2006
In the eyes of most commentators the arrival of Loyalist Killer, Michael Stone, at the doors of the Stormont assembly on the 24th of November marked a descent into farce. Stone, armed with knife, garrotte, pistol and a number of bombs, proved the banality of evil, a wannabe seeking star status by attempting to show that he had the X factor to propel himself to the top of the sectarian mass murder tables by replaying his 1988 attack on mourners at a republican funeral.
In the event Stone could only manage a billing as sideshow Bob, upstaged by the deeper and more meaningful farce surrounding the collapse of the St. Andrews Agreement, the replacement for the failed Good Friday agreement. St Andrews, miscalled an agreement but in reality imposed by the British, edged towards the DUP demand for majority rule and an oath of loyalty to the British state from Sinn Fein, while at the same time imposing a strict timetable to deliver the bigot Paisley as First Minister of the Irish colony. The British had announced that the process would fall if Paisley failed to attend a meeting on November 10th. He refused to attend and the British cancelled the meeting, announcing sternly that the 24th was the last chance for Paisley to be nominated as First minister before they pulled the plug.
On the day Gerry Adams nominated Sinn Fein party colleague Martin McGuinness as deputy leader of the colonial assembly. Paisley spoke, refusing to nominate but saying he would think again after Sinn Fein was proved to be fully behind the state. The British sponsored speaker indicated that she would take that as a ‘yes’ and tried to close the session, only to be howled down by SDLP and unionist MLAs. It was no accident that Alliance party leader David Ford was saying that it was “time to end this pretence” as Stone entered Stormont.
But we should not leap over slideshow Bob. He has a great deal to tell us. He tells us much about the representatives of Dublin capitalism. The Irish intelligentsia celebrated Stone, morphing him from crazed killer to ethnic artist when he transmitted his sectarian gable-wall daubs to canvas. They looked slightly shell-shocked when the killer of the real world burst onto the Stormont stage.
And well they might. No less than the President of Ireland is implicated in the refashioning of the sectarian killers, presenting UDA brigadier Jackie McDonald as a reformed social worker and funnelling large amounts of money to the South Belfast UDA. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has met the UDA leadership on several occasions, not turning a hair when they threatened dire consequences if Dublin were to ‘interfere’ further in the North. The UDA’s response to the Stone attack was to claim simultaneously that they had known nothing and at the same time that they had had ‘hit squads’ out to stop Stone who was an insane loner, acting alone.
The problem here is that this is what they said last time. Stone who was an insane loner when he attacked mourners at Milltown cemetery, only to become a leading figure in the Loyalist leadership once sentenced to jail.
But nothing fazes the Dublin gombeen man for long. Immediately following the attack Charlie Bird of RTE was indicating that it was another reason why Sinn Fein should sign up quickly to support for the police.
Really? The police were nowhere to be seen. One Unionist politician did suggest that police chief Orde might resign after the most notorious loyalist killer of the troubles, instantly recognisable to every adult in the colony, appeared, heavily armed, at the entrance to the chamber of parliament. The suggestion was immediately forgotten. In fact the PSNI blindness on this occasion links perfectly to many other acts of blindness by police and courts during recent loyalist feuds and maps perfectly to the RUC’s blindness to, and collusion with, loyalist killers throughout the years of rebellion. This fits well with the blindness of the sectarian state. The Stone attack was a one-day wonder, with no curiosity about who he might have been working with or about the failures of state security. Experience tells us that a republican attack would have led to a deep and long-lasting political crisis.
Finally the Stone sideshow is the perfect counterpoint to the main show inside Stormont. As he indicates outside that the Loyalist killers remain the Loyalist killers, inside Paisley and co. are proving that the DUP remain the DUP. More importantly Peter Hain is demonstrating that the British remain the British.
The Stormont meeting has been called so that Paisley could indicate his willingness to be first minister and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein indicate his willingness to be deputy first minister. McGuinness said yes. Paisley said no, with a mumbled phrase that might have been ‘maybe someday’. That should have been the end of the matter and led to the closing of the assembly and the collapsing of the process. In fact secretary of state Peter Hain called immediately for Sinn Fein to meet the DUP demands and announced that the assembly, in theory now defunct, would meet again on Monday. The fact that the assembly has not fallen has only one interpretation. The process is in free fall. A settlement will be anything that the DUP can be brought to accept and the British will support the DUP stance. Now the DUP demand that Sinn Fein swear total and unconditional loyalty to the state and the police institutions as a precondition to further movement has become a demand of London and Dublin.
Republican justification for the Good Friday agreement was that it represented a compromise by both themselves and unionism and that both would be held to the agreement by the British, who would punish defaulters. Instead the unionists have bashed and battered the deal, with the support of the British, until it collapsed and was replaced by the even more reactionary St. Andrews process, itself collapsed after a few weeks. Now the DUP are to write the terms of a settlement.
To make things more difficult the DUP are divided. Leading figures issued a statement immediately after the Stormont fracas essentially denouncing Paisley for not ruling out absolutely any place for Sinn Fein in government and an emergency meeting to discuss divisions in the party was held on December 1st. The programme of the party is clear-cut. It wants a return to majority rule, the power to discriminate against Catholics and the power to militarily repress any dissent. Paisley now thinks the gains for unionism are so overwhelming that he should support the process for the time being, while continuing to seek ways to expel Sinn Fein, but to prevent revolt he needs to constantly humiliate the Shinners and prove that loyalism is the winner in the conflict. Many members think that any settlement involving sharing power with Catholics would fatally undermine their claim to sectarian supremacy and a sectarian state. For the time being Paisley remains in charge, but the pressure from below means that he and his British sponsors will needs to apply greater and greater pressure on Sinn Fein, not only to support the police, judiciary and state, but to support large chunks of unionist ideology and denounce their own past as a crime.
And it is Sinn Fein that are the losers in this dynamic. Gerry Adams has already announced capitulation by indicating that policing issue can be resolved. In return he is seeking assurances about local control of police – assurances that can’t possibly mean anything because, in addition to the unionist majority and ‘operational’ control which is claimed as non-political and will remain with the British, it will be MI5 that will control the surveillance of republicans. An indication of the extent to which the process of pacification is moving towards a united Ireland is given by the construction of a major new MI5 headquarters here.
As the process moves on Sinn Fein support will begin to slip. Already many members have left and their vote is beginning to decay in key areas. 8000 voters, 15% of the voting population, have failed to register to vote in the key base area of West Belfast. Given the growing evidence that the path taken by the republican leadership is unable to meet their needs, is indeed unable to provide any kind of stability and is in fact fuelling a renewed offensive by the Unionist and their British sponsors, it is inevitable that nationalist workers will begin to think again and search for a democratic solution based on defeat of imperialism, of unionist reaction and of the collaboration of Irish capital.