Clinton and Blair celebrate success
20th Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement
13 April 2018
In some Roman societies of late antiquity, after a death the body would remain for a time in the family home. It would be placed in a sarcophagus and treated is still present in the family. A rich individual would have a funeral mask painted on the face of the sarcophagus and triumphs and achievements carved in bas-relief around the sides. Both image and carvings would be enhanced to exaggerate the importance of the individual and his achievements.
This metaphor closely mirrors the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Politicians and press dwelt lovingly on the genius of the agreement and its achievements, managing to forget for a time that this particular parrot was actually deceased. Both the BBC and RTE staged long and self congratulatory historical re-enactments, fading to black when the need for any analysis arose.
The funeral procession was led by Bill Clinton, the US president who broke the tradition of seeking legitimacy through the UN to lead NATO in the carpet bombing of Serbia. In the US he rolled back limited welfare rights and his Crime Bill led to the mass incarnation of young black men on minor drug charges. His partner Hilary played a major role in the destruction of Libya and in the waves of war that have filled the world with desperate refugees.
Clinton was flanked by serial liar and war criminal Tony Blair, and the supporting team was led by Bertie Ahern, the Fianna Fail leader who bankrupted Ireland.
Insofar as there was a narrative it was to persuade us that the deceased GFA was merely sleeping due to a temporary failure of the parties to agree.
The cat was let out of the bag by the dour former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Peter Robinson, who reminded everyone that his party, while filled with enthusiasm for dialogue and discussion, had opposed the terms of the agreement and they still opposed it today.
A further dose of reality was provided by US chief negotiator to the talks, George Mitchell, who openly pleading with Britain to ensure that the settlement survived Brexit. The keystone of the original agreement was British assurances that they had no selfish or strategic interests. Today their position is that they will never be neutral on the question of Ireland and they are heading full tilt towards a hard Brexit and augmented partition.
Every tragedy requires a leaven of comedy, and this was provided just before the celebrations by the Loyalist paramilitaries, who have survived unscathed the decades of "peace." For the umpteenth time they solemnly assured the public that they would no longer involve themselves in criminality, murder and intimidation. The declaration released £25 million in funds and the long experiment aiming to bribe loyalism to death can resume. The paramilitaries declaration that they would operate within the law was negated by the fact that it is a criminal offence to be a member of the death squads, which will continue in place. As the paramilitaries declared for peace, David Trimble, awarded the Nobel prize for signing up to the Good Friday Agreement, was threatening paramilitary violence if Dublin pressed for a soft border following Brexit. The most recent leader of unionism, Arlene Foster, was giving evidence of her innocence in an investigation of massive corruption for which she clearly bore absolute political responsibility.
However the loyalists were outdone in hilarity by the local leadership of the Irish trade union movement. While other supporters of the moribund peace gathered in Belfast, the union bureaucracy decided to frolic miles from anywhere outside the sepulchre of the defunct Stormont assembly.
Here they took turns to boast about how fervently they had supported the peace process and how much they had done behind the scenes to support it. They did not boast of, they did not mention, their final sacrifice.
The Stormont executive's last major action was the "Fresh Start" agreement that rolled out public sector cuts, welfare reform and mass austerity. The union bureaucracy accepted the programme, arguing that the workers must sacrifice themselves to preserve Stormont.
Stormont fell but the austerity, and the acquiescence of the union bureaucracy, did not falter. Having bowed to a reactionary peace, they now bow to the corpse.
And this is why British and US imperialism and their local supporters are right to wholeheartedly celebrate. The peace process lies dead, but it has buried any serious anti-imperialist and socialist opposition.
The union bureaucracy were never a serious opposition, but in the past they were much more circumspect in their support for local capitalism and imperialism. Sinn Fein, once irreconcilable opponents of imperialism, now support a Belfast Council resolution bestowing the freedom of the city on Clinton and Mitchell. In the background the British make all decisions and write the local budget and Sinn Fein are forced to deny that the period of direct rule demanded by the Unionists is actually in place for fear that their supporters ask what they have achieved in decades of bowing and scraping.
A supporter of Socialist Democracy commented before the peace process was fully established that defeat was complete when the ideology of the oppressor was internalised by the oppressed. Today once vehement opponents of British rule now agree that the war was not fought against imperialism but was between Irish cultures and tribes and that the British play a progressive role in Ireland. When we add that the Irish peace process came from the Oslo accords, the Camp David process and the corrupt South African settlement and that the Irish process in turn became the template for many other settlements, the most recent being the demobilisation in Colombia, we see just how decisively the former rebellion was quashed and how valuable the Irish victory became across the globe..
These are indeed massive prizes for imperialism. However the funerary procession, no matter how triumphant, is still a funeral. Many of the structures of the peace process are decayed with no prospect of revival. The Southern economy, having survived one tsunami of sovereign debt, is now faced with a crisis of private indebtedness around housing and property speculation, with a massive third wave of Brexit soon to break and impacting both the political and economic credibility of the settlement.
George Mitchell was right to warn the British. Having put the Irish question to sleep, it is a big mistake to go on and kick the dog to see if it is dead.