Bernadette versus Donal

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Tue Sep 3 15:40:16 MDT 2002

Here's Bernadette on the peace process.  From a speech in New York a
couple of years ago.  I think she underestimated the commitment of the
Brits and the Southern regime to the 'settlement' - they have Sinn Fein
and won't be closing the door on the Movement and turning back the clock
- but it's an insightful speech nevertheless:

The Peace Process is.... 

A great deal has been written about the peace process and I’ve not
written a lot, but what I’ve written I think has mattered and you can
read it if you like. For
where the peace process is, indeed what the peace process is, very much
depends on yourselves and where you are. Some people think the peace
process is the
successful culmination of the 30-year struggle for self-determination,
sovereignty, social justice, equality—never mind socialism and all the
hard bits—and that
we are looking within the peace process at the culmination of the
success, at the just achievements, won again through hard struggle and

Other people, and here I’m talking about people on our side of the line
if you want to put that at its broadest point, other people within the
broad civil rights,
civil libertarian, progressive democratic movement will say that the
peace process is the worst thing that has happened to us since we lost
the 1798 Rebellion.
Others would say, well not quite, but certainly since we lost the War of
Independence; and others would say, well maybe not quite, but certainly
since we lost the Civil War. 

So where you are in the peace process, as I say, is really a test of
where your own politics lies. And that makes it quite different and
quite difficult for people to
address the whole process, because what ought to be an ideological, a
political or even a pragmatic debate becomes very much a personalised
debate. And those
of us who have right from the outset warned against the dangers of
embarking on this particular strategy to bring the war to an end have
been on the receiving
end of considerable personal animosity—based, I think, on people not
being quite sure of themselves about the nature of the political debate.
So I’m going to
talk about things tonight and I’ll be taking some questions and answers
later. I would like to exclude as much as possible that kind of approach
from the

I don’t think anybody involved in the struggle over the past 30 years
has set about consciously to  betray the struggle. I don’t think anybody
who has been part
of the struggle for over 30 years is about to trade in a good set of
clothes and annual wage for their principles. I don’t think that’s where
it is at all. I think the
real issue is about the process itself. The real issue is to try and
analyse and understand what exactly is happening here and whose peace it
is we are currently
processing. And if you look at it from that point of view, I think some
very serious questions have to be asked. 

Decommissioning: A New Word 

At the minute, within the peace process, we’re sort of at a point where
the key issues appear to be things like ‘decommissioning’.
Decommissioning is very
interesting because prior to the existence of the peace process, the
word itself did not exist. Not even the process, not even the strategy,
but the word did not

Decommissioning, like a whole lot of words, are themselves the product
of the Irish peace process. There used to be commissioning, like you
could be a
commissioned officer in an army or you could commission services—but you
either did or you didn’t. So the opposite of commissioning was not to bother.
You didn’t actually commission and then decommission. If you
commissioned something and then decided not to commission, it wasn’t
decommissioning, it
was changing your mind and deciding not to commission after all. So when
we talk about the IRA decommissioning, we’re really talking about
whether other
people are changing their minds about whether they will commission the
IRA or not. When you see it like that, you say, ‘Look what has this got
to do with any
kind of realism?’ 

Decommissioning is not a real word; decommissioning is not a real
concept; and, decommissioning is not a real issue. 

But at the minute, people get bogged down in it because it has been a
consistent pattern from the beginning of this whole process to create a
situation for the
simple purpose of diffusing it. And many people, if they can move
outside the complexities of the Irish situation will understand this
better from the concept of
their own lives. How many people, for example, have been told in their
working lives, that things aren't going well, the workers will have to
take a wage cut. And
everybody gets ready to seek, and wish they had joined a union, and
wonder how they could get into one quick, and start to worry about their
wages getting cut.
Now at somewhere in their heads they had been just about to ask for a
wage rise; but before they got time to ask for it, the employers came
along and
announced that it was going to be necessary to have a wage cut. There is
a whole battle which ensues. The union leadership gets everybody to join
and declares
a victory—that in order to maintain the solidarity of the workforce and
the recognition of the work that everybody has done, everybody’s wages
are going to
remain static for the next three years. And, everybody thinks they have
won because they haven't had their wages cut. And, everybody forgets
that the
discussion actually started with people being entitled to more money. 

If you’re merely a consumer and you’ve gone into the shops to buy
things, the same policy works—people will tell you the cost of food is
going to rise
dramatically. You want to rent an apartment; rents are going to go up
dramatically. And, when it doesn’t happen, you think you have won something—even
though they go up a bit. The whole peace process has worked on the same

Unionists say

The unionists say hell will freeze over before we share power with the
republicans. Now I don’t recall any fundamental tenet of republicanism
ever being that
we would assist the unionists in sharing out British controlled power.
It was never a part of the discussion, but somehow because the unionists
said, they got
the first blow in, they said, oh not till hell freezes over will we
allow the republicans to assist us to administer British rule. Oh no we
wont. Oh never, said Mr
Paisley, never never never! And the republicans said, Oh yes you will.
And so we had the ‘Oh no we wont–Oh yes you will’ debate which led to a republican
‘victory’. The republicans won the right to assist the British
government in administering British rule and sharing British power with
the unionists—or as
much as the British would allow either of them to have. And so when we
lost, we thought we had won. 

And then having got the principle over, and if you go back to the
beginning you’ll remember it, it was John Major, who with a straight
face in Parliament, said
talking to Gerry Adams would make his stomach heave. His stomach had
been heaving for 6 stricken years, because that’s how long he’d been in discussions
with the republican movement! But he said publicly that his stomach
would heave if he had to talk to Gerry Adams and everybody got upset.
Decent American
people got upset too, and said how dare you be so rude and so racist and
say that you wouldn’t talk to Gerry Adams. So the republicans demanded,
and the
democrats demanded, that John Major talk to Gerry Adams. But of course
he’d been doing it for 6 years. Now if that hadn't happened, we may all
have taken a
different point of view when we discovered that Gerry Adams was talking
to John Major. But by the time we discovered it, we were on a whole different
debate—we were on the ‘right to be talked at’. 

The Right to be Talked At 

As part of our human rights now, we have a right to be talked at! We
have a right to be sitting at every meeting and allowed to put an
opinion on every issue,
none of which will be taken into account. But it is our basic human
right to be there. We all have a right—there is not a single party to be
held in Washington,
not a cupcake to be eaten, not an invitation to be sent out—that we have
a fundamental freedom, and human rights under the United Nations Charter
of Human
Rights, to an invitation. And we have secured victory, because we got
those things. And bit by bit, people have convinced themselves that we
have won major
Step back a minute and ask ourselves: what this was, what it was all
about? I mean, if all we wanted was to help the unionists share power in
the Northern
Ireland Assembly, why didn’t we democratise Ulster when Cathal Goulding
asked us to? They were all there, this is not a new idea (and Cathal
Goulding had
better politics, if you don’t mind me saying so, when he was attempting
to share power!) But if that’s what we wanted to do, why didn’t we do it
before 30
years of conflict and dying and killing and going to prison all
happened? Why didn’t we do it then? If that was all that we wanted—was
to share power with
Fianna Fáil in the South of Ireland, what was the difference between
sharing the power now, Fianna Fáil now, and sharing power with Cumann na nGaedheal
then? What did we fight the Civil War for, if we were prepared to
administer shared power in a partitioned state within the social order
imposed upon us by the
British government? So never mind what did we fight this war for, what
did we fight the Civil War for? Why didn’t we listen to poor old Michael Collins?
Because we’re not saying anything different than he said then. The
freedom to win freedom, the freedom to work for freedom. 

And I don’t have a difficulty about people saying, ‘Time goes on
Bernadette, and we get older, and we get wiser, and we realise that
maybe that’s what we
should have done’. I have absolutely no problem with that. I think
that’s inherent in everybody’s right to say if I had it to do again, I
might have done it
differently. Maybe in retrospect, looking at the way things happened and
looking at the forces of power that developed, maybe we should have gone
down the
‘deomcratisation of Ulster’ road in the early ‘70s. Maybe if we’re in a
position now, where if we really want to, at any cost, take the SDLP’s
clothing and be
the biggest social democratic and vaguely Catholic party in the North of
Ireland. Why didn’t we do that in ’72? In fact, why didn’t everybody
just join the
SDLP and elbow John Hume aside years ago? 

What is Republicanism? 

If people want to say to me, that is maybe in retrospect what we should
have done, that’s fair enough. What worries me is when people say no no,
that’s not
what we’re saying, what we are saying is that this is fundamentally
different—idealogically, socially, politically and economically
different—this is victory, this
is victory for republicanism. And I have to say, right, let’s go back to
that very bottom point because republicanism itself is not a flawless ideology.
Republicanism comes of the days of Thomas Paine and republicanism itself
is being revised as we go along. 

When we were coming in, just as an aside, when we were coming in to JFK,
probably those of you who live here don’t notice it anymore but the
beginning of
the American Constitution is written along the wall, and as you’re going
along the walkway, you can read it you know. And my husband, Michael, was
suggesting, since this was his first time in through that airport, he
was suggesting that of all the ideas that we get from America these
days, we ought to
incorporate this one so when people arrive in Northern Ireland, the
Special Powers Act should be written along the wall! So people would
know where they
were coming. And it would say, ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland. Police may
enter your house at any time, they may come and take you away. Aye, you
can be
interned, you will not get a lawyer. You can be shot in the street. We
run a shoot-to-kill policy here. Don’t send for a lawyer, we shoot them
too,’ and
incorporate that good American idea! 
But looking along, as I was looking at it, there are things we forget
about flaws in republicanism itself. The words in the American
constitution are actually very
beautiful about equal rights and the rights of people to secure their
person, and the fundamental freedoms, and the right of citizens to bear
arms, and all this was
written against a background of slavery. All of this was written against
the background where key elements of our society got left off the
equality equations.
And, republicanism as a concept has moved on in it’s best form to
recognise those weaknesses, and then as far as it can to incorporate
equality for all citizens,
for all human beings. And that kind of republicanism over the years has
become socialist republicanism. And republicanism in crisis has only one
of two ways
to go. In crisis, republicanism as a democratic ideology will move
towards socialism and equality or it will move towards nationalism. 

And, when republicanism is forced to move, either left or even right,
the reality of our history is that Sinn Féin as an organisation has
never moved any way but
right. James Connolly was not a member of Sinn Féin, ladies and
gentlemen, and Sinn Féin at a crucial point in their existence took
their politics back into the
constitutional movement. So don’t be too hard on Gerry Adams; he’s going
the way of his forefathers. Every last one of them in the leadership of the
organisation went that way. And every last one of them, within the
leadership of labour movement as well, can have that path laid out in
front of them. I can see
as clearly as they must be able to see, as anybody who wants to look at
it outside of issues like trust and loyalty and pragmatism and
personalities, that this is
not about good men or bad men or difficult women. This is about

And right through the history of our country at moments of clear crisis,
the republican ideology has been submerged. The republican ideology has been
abandoned for constitutional, nationalist all-class alliances. And every
time that it has happened, it has benefitted the greedy who aren't the
members of Sinn
Féin—they’re the members of Fianna Fáil, they’re the members of the
unionist party, they’re the members of the national bourgeoisie of
Ireland. Every single
time that this new alliance has been created, the people who have
suffered have been the poor in Ireland. The dissidents in Ireland. The
radicals in Ireland. The
women in Ireland. And at every single point, this kind of politics has
been bad for the people who have always mattered to us—bad for the
people that mattered
to the leadership of Sinn Féin, and bad for republican politics—bad for

The War is Over but the Struggle Continues 

You would imagine that people would approach this with due caution and
care and be very very careful not to fall for any of the tricks of the
trade that have
been pulled out in the past. And yet that hasn’t happened. The people
have not staggered, they have virtually stampeded towards pacification.
The war is over. 

Everybody knows the war is over. And that’s probably the only good thing
we have going for us at this point is that the war is over. Nobody likes
war and
nobody wants war. The war came and the war is now over, but the war is
not won. And time will tell, in the fullness of time whether or not the
war was actually
lost. But the war is over—win, lose or draw. 

The struggle continues and the struggle is immeasurably weakened by the
peace process. Immeasurably weakened. When the Downing Street
Declaration was
first written, I wrote a small piece in response to it, and I said the
purpose of the Downing Street Declaration and the peace process which it
created was to
demobilise, demilitarise and demoralise the republican people of
Ireland—and it has done all three. 

At this point, people will say to you, ‘Is the peace process stalling?’
No, it is not. The peace process is exactly where it is; it is exactly
where those who are
controlling it want it to be. It is not stalling. There is no panic
here. This is just part of the choreography that has taken place. It
will go on whether the IRA part
with a single bullet, part with a single Armalite, part with a single
ounce of Semtex—wont make any difference, the peace process will go on
and Sinn Féin will
continue to be drawn further and further into it. And they are now so
far into it, it is highly unlikely a) that they can be got out of it and
b) that even if they got
out of it, its unwavering movement forward to advance the shared power
interest of the British and Irish governments, and the class of people
they represent,
can’t in the short or relatively long term, be stopped, or even be
slowed down. 
How do I know the peace process will continue? It is important to the
Irish government that it continue. Not because their heart bleeds for me
or you, for the
people who went to prison—these are the same class of people who
executed Joe McKelvey. This is the same class and government of people
that took
republicans out during the war and shot them. This is the government,
the ideology and the politics that filled New York and Chicago and San
Francisco with
the political dissidents it wouldn’t allow to earn a living at home, and
with wave after wave of immigrants it wouldn’t share wealth with. And
now those who
have made their money are invited home to join the wealthy. But let me
tell you this, you see if you’re not hacking it here folks, don’t count
on Bertie pulling
you out when you get home! It will be up to Darndale, along with the
rest, is where you’ll be and learn to pull your socks up. These things
aren't different. 

So why is Bertie stuck to enacting the peace process? It gives him a
stable society. It brings all the strands of nationalism back under his
leadership. What is
the big discussion in the revolutionary leadership of the most
consistently fought struggle against British imperialism in the history
of Ireland? What is the key
internal debate in the organisation at the minute? On what terms will
they sit in government with Fianna Fáil? I have the simple answer to
that for them all:
Don’t lose any sleep over it boys, it’ll be on the terms that Bertie
lets you in! That’s the terms you’ll sit with Bertie—on the terms he
lets you in. And the
terms he lets you in are that you sit in power in the North first, that
you go through the cleansing ritual and be a safe pair of hands for
government. And that
means, whether you like it or not, there’ll be less talk about
socialism, unless its me that’s doing the talking, there is no talk
about socialism anyway. And
unless you’re buying Fourthwrite (second issue which will be out very
shortly) there’s nobody writing about socialism. 

But what does it mean for the people? What does it mean for the people
on the ground, apart from that the fact the war is over and that there
are maybe less
soldiers on the street that can be brought out. That maybe fewer people
are being killed by loyalists because its not politically suitable. But
there is nothing in
place to stop those things from all coming back again, if and when we
need to be threatened. So all that we have at the minute is the absence
of war and the
existence of large amounts of European money. 

What do the British get out of the peace process? 

So what do the British get out of the peace process? The
de-militarisation, the de-radicalisation, the de-mobilisation of the
resistance movement in the North. It
is demoralised. The most radical thing it can do now is vote to increase
the Nationalist agenda by moving 1) Sinn Féin, 2) SDLP—as if we were all
mates out
of the same stable or 1) SDLP and 2) Sinn Féin because there are no
differences, no ideological differences between these people any more,
because there’s no

So what did the British get? The British got, as I say, stabilising,
demilitarising, mobilising and caught in the expenditure of war. That
has great feedback in
inward American investment, which is what the Americans got as well.
They got rid of the annoying and irritating insistence constitutionally
by the people of
Ireland that the territory didn’t belong to them. It’s gone. Now we used
to have these debates about whether or not you would go to the United
Nations on the
basis of the Constitution. That debate is no longer valid because of
people of the South of Ireland, while Sinn Féin kept its mouth shut,
dropped a right that
they didn’t even own! And, that was a right to abandon the North—but
it’s gone. 

So if the peace process falls apart and the North’s teachta go with it,
and the ministerial North-South-East-West Council of something or other
goes with it,
and we have to go back to the drawing board, by what right is Bertie
Ahern at the table? By what right, if this agreement goes by the board,
and it’s back to the
drawing board and start again, and all the interested parties who have a
right to determine the future of the North of Ireland are called to
another conference.
What will be on the invitation to the government of the 26-county
Republic of Ireland? What will distinguish them from the French
government or the German
government or any other member state of the European Union to come in
and mind somebody else's business? They have no standing if this
agreement falls to
play ball in the next round. 

So Britain got pacification, got a stable society, got rid of the
annoying interference such as it was or potential interference from the
South. It doesn’t actually
have to put up with unionist rule because it may never happen. The
British don’t care if it doesn’t happen. The place is actually cheaper
to run the way it is
now. Pay the secretary of state, pay the civil service. It would be a
bonus if you could get somebody else to take the blame for political and
social and economic
weaknesses of the country. But it’s not necessary. The British can run
the country very easily. So it doesn’t matter if the peace process
doesn’t move another
inch, it actually doesn’t matter—the British are in a better position
than they were in before they started it. 

What do the Irish get out of the peace process? 

Now as I say, the Irish government from our point of view is in a worse
position because we don’t have the constitutional position on which to
push the
government into constitutional action, into non-violent, political
international action. We don’t have it. But they may not want it—the
Irish government to be
able to get up the next time around and say, ‘Look I’m very sorry, it’s
not our fault. The people voted.’ And so they did; it’s the people’s
fault, and ignorance
is no defence, and stupidity is less. The people voted to abandon the
North, and it remains abandoned. Now the people have to vote in a
referendum to change
it; but, the government has to hold the referendum first. Do you think
that any government in the South of Ireland is going to hold a
referendum to ask the
people to allow them to get themselves into the mess it has taken them
all this time to get out of. So they’re alright. 

But if all falls through, and Sinn Féin stop jumping through hoops, what
position will they be in? What of the gains that they have made for
themselves or for
the people will they be able to hold on to? American visas? Not a
chance. They’ll not be let into this country if they don’t behave
themselves. We’ve all been
there, we know what that’s like. They’ll be no more big dinners courtesy
of the Democratic Party because it will not be fashionable any longer to
be seen on
the arm of shinners. All that they have in this myth of American support
can go like that. And of course the good people who fought the good
fight to get them
the visibility and get the doors opened that were opened will continue
that fight. But the door will be shut. 

Peter King will always be there doing what Peter King has always done,
but Peter also remembers when the door was shut in his face. And that
door can be
shut again, and voting is a great invention. There are people in this
room and people not in this room, who want to know whoever gave the
people the vote
anyway, because they do the most ridiculous things with it. And, the
people who have gone out in their droves and voted for Sinn Féin, who
never lifted their
finger for human rights. And there are many hundreds of people,
thousands of people, who voted for Sinn Féin when the penalty for it was
getting shot. And,
there are many decent men and women standing for Sinn Féin in elections
now who stood for election when the penalty for standing for election
was getting
shot. And there were kids and older people who went out and worked and
put up posters for republicans when you got crucified for it. 

But there is a new breed of voter, who used to vote for the SDLP, now
they’re voting for Sinn Féin—not because they had a radical change of
heart, but
because Gerry Adams is younger, smarter and better looking than John
Hume. And he’s going to be around longer. Now once he cannot deliver,
once he
cannot deliver, that insulting vote will walk away again—will walk away
again to a safer pair of hands, and they’ll be back where they started. 

And so you say, how did they get in to the peace process and why don’t
they get out of it? At some point there is a dignity in when you can do
nothing else,
gathering your dignity and walking away. And even of this era, if they
could do that, instead of running off to Westminster demanding that
Stormont be put
back together again so they can sit in it and play revolutionary
politics. Why don’t they just send a message to Mr Blair saying, ‘look,
been there/done it, when
yous are serious about resolving conflict, resolving problems, you know
where we live,’ and then just walk away from it? They can’t. They can’t
because so
much energy has been vested in it. They can’t because it’s a very
seductive system and far too many of their own people now like it. 

It’s Like a Funnel 

When I came here in whatever it was, ’94, and I said at the time where
it was all going, nobody believed me. I counselled them not to be
blaming Gerry Adams
when it went to where it was inevitably going, because it was very clear
that that’s where it was going and when it would come to this point, he
would have very few
choices left because it’s like a funnel. 

There will be people in the four corners of the world in military and
political academies studying the absolute genius of this British
strategy. And when they get
up to draw the diagram, the diagram will be the funnel. How people were
got to the lip, and each option they made, and each choice they made,
actively limited
the number of choices then open to them, and increased the chances of
them having to choose the only choice the British wanted them to make
the next time
around. And each time they did it, the funnel got narrower. 

And Sinn Féin are now hanging by their finger nails. You know the wee
narrow bit that goes right inside the neck of the bottle? That’s where
they are. And the
slope down has got steeper. They’re already inside the bottle but
they’re still hanging on to the funnel. And it’s very very hard for them
to start that climb
back. If Gerry Adams, I believe, turned now, the majority of his own
party wouldn’t come with him because for some it’s too steep a climb
back and for others
there's a nice warm breeze, and nice smell, and I don’t know what it is
in that bottle, but far too many people like it and they’re happier to
move on in. 

The reality, however, is that it has nothing to do with politics as we
know it, nothing to do with the things that those of us who are
republicans believe in,
nothing to do with carrying forward the ideology and the struggle and
the capacity to create an independent, sovereign, free and socialist
Ireland. Not even an
independent, free and democratic Ireland. The game has changed. And as I
said at the beginning, every human being is entitled to change their
position in life.
Everybody is entitled to say, ‘Could you stop the bus for a moment? I
want to get off here.’ But nobody is entitled, and there’s a man at the
top of O’Connell
Street who says it all the time, ‘nobody even looks the road he’s on.’
Charles G Parnell said, ‘nobody has a right to put a halt to the march
of a nation.’ And
Sinn Féin do not have the right, and the peace process does not have the
right to say, ‘this is where the bus stops, this is the terminal, this
is where everybody
gets off,’ because this has nothing to do with the things we struggled
for. This has nothing to do with equality, nothing to do with human
rights, nothing with
the working class, nothing to do with socialism. 

This is how yet again the British buy in to constitutional politics the
leadership of the revolutionary movement. Its about nothing more and
nothing less. And it
is a measure of the length of the struggle, the loyalty of the people
and the calibre of the leadership that so many people followed them to
their own destruction.

Thank you.

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