(by Niall O'Dowd, Ireland on Sunday)
What an unholy alliance we have at present all set to undermine and destroy the Good Friday Agreement. In the last week alone, two highly respected men, Senator George Mitchell and former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, have spoken out against the unelected cabals in Northern Ireland who make it their business to try to make the peace process unmanageable.
In George Mitchell’s case it was doubly surprising. The US Senator has earned his reputation for cool diplomacy, so his outburst was all the more striking. His targets were the faceless bureaucrats who seeks to run Northern Ireland policy irrespective of who is placed in charge by the voters.
Mitchell of course was smeared by them when he first arrived in the North when several British newspapers, at the behest of these shadowy figures, tried to link his Chief of Staff Martha Pope to Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly. That backfired spectacularly and the newspapers had to pay Pope a queens’ ransom when the story was revealed as a hoax.
Mitchell clearly hasn’t forgotten however. The Irish Times reported that in his criticisms, first made on London Weekend Television, he singled out the Northern Ireland Office, where he says leaks aimed at sabotaging British government policy emanated. "What was unique about many of the leaks from the Northern Ireland Office is that they were designed to undermine the policy of the British government of which they were a part."
The concerns expressed by the former Senate Majority Leader and now peace process architect are striking. He is directly pointing the finger at the Northern Ireland Office and says it is making every effort to undermine its own government in the conduct of Northern Ireland policy.
In another country, such as the US perhaps, such accusations of near treason levelled by such a high profile and respected world figure, would cause a political earthquake or at least, talk of resignations. In Northern Ireland it barely caused a ripple, reflecting perhaps, the belief that Mitchell was saying nothing particularly new or surprising.
Meanwhile, Chris Patten attacked "smears and inaccurate advance leaks of his policing recommendations" calling them " fabrications" aimed at muddying the waters. He was particularly incensed it seems by an Irish Sunday Times report that his committee intended to " balkanise" the police by dividing them into 26 regional units.
The Sunday Times, like much of the right-wing press, also has its agenda in this peace process and their frequent attacks on nationalists or anyone who has put their head over the parapet to dispute their jingoistic views, have become a common feature.
I have been accorded the singular honour of being attacked by name in their editorial in recent times so it is gratifying to say the least, that Patten has immediately seen through their obvious agenda, even if others have not.
Being an Irish appendage, or the hind tit so to speak, the Irish edition apparently tries ever harder to suck up to their British masters at the Sunday Times. Over the next few weeks we can expect many more such well sourced "exclusives" on the peace process as the vital final stages play out.
I personally will view them with the same prejudice as Chris Patten. This was also the week when the Tory leader William Hague tried to play the Orange card when he launched a vitriolic attack on Tony Blair and his handling of the peace process. Which proves that history does repeat itself as farce.
Back in the early part of this century, the Tories played the Orange card to get them into power, which it did and in the process they helped destroy the old Liberal party . Hague’s only chance of seeing power would be to rent a Power Ranger’s video, the only thing he is destroying is any hope of his party ever being taken seriously on Northern Ireland. It seems an extraordinary tactical mistake for the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who is clearly winding up Hague for these speeches, to be attacking his own Prime Minster Tony Blair even by proxy.
Blair’s fiery response to Hague bodes ill for Trimble. He has already tweaked the British leader by refusing to take his July deadline seriously and according all of fifteen minutes debate within his party to consider the proposals laborioulsy worked out by the two governments. There has got to be a limit to the Prime Minster’s reservoir of goodwill towards Trimble. In a week when the Mitchell negotiations restart and the Patten report becomes public there are already signs that Trimble is furiously fighting a rearguard action to preserve his position. He is refusing apparently to meet with Sinn Féin face to face, the kind of retrograde step, alas, that unionism seems ever more locked in to.
The two governents must allow both Mitchell and Patten to play out their respective roles and not to be deflected by the unholy alliance out to derail the process at every stop. Then they must take a cool look at all the alternatives, most cruicially, the Mitchell recommendations. Then they must act decisively to esnure that the only democratic expression of all the people on the island of Ireland for the past eighty years is allowed to be fulfilled. The alternative is allowing the kind of people respected leaders such as Mitrchell and Patten spoke out against last week to be in control.