Monday, April 09, 2007

Don't count on peace in the north of Ireland just yet

Andrew Greeley:

Ireland finally made it big in the American media last week. It was on the front page of The New York Times Newspaper (as Jimmy Breslin calls it) and on the evening news for three minutes. Protestants and Catholics had made peace in Northern Ireland.

The heads of both warring political factions sat at a table and made statements about political cooperation. In their weirdly different accents, both the Rev. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams invoked the name of God.

Finally a conflict that went back to Oliver Cromwell had come to an end. It was as though two of Nigeria's tribes had at last made peace in a conflict the American media could not expect their consumers to understand.

The conflict in fact dated back to the time not of Cromwell, but of Elizabeth I, who had "planted" the first lowland Scottish colony in Ulster with the goal of eliminating the "savage" local Catholics. Moreover, this was not the first such announcement of peace.

The scene, with different characters, had been performed several times since the original Good Friday agreement in 1998. It was different this time in two respects: Adams and Paisley represent the extremes of Catholic and Protestant sentiment; and the British and Irish governments were willing to pour major subsidies into Northern Ireland to help it catch up with the prosperity of the rest of the island.

Also, if the two parties are not able to form a coalition government, the newly elected Assembly would be prorogued and its members would no longer be able to collect their salaries for doing nothing. Anyone who has studied the history, even the very recent history, of Northern Ireland can only cross his fingers and hope this agreement will hold.

It would be wise for Americans to understand the history of the rump state of Northern Ireland as racial, with religion a symbol of race. Ireland is the only country in Western Europe with a foreign colony imposed on it, a colony with gerrymandered boundaries that permit a minority in the whole island to impose its will on the part of the majority group that lives within its artificial boundaries.

The descendents of the Protestant genocidal colonizers believe as self-evident that they are morally, intellectually and humanly superior to the descendents of the Catholics who were not quite eliminated. It is very difficult for them to accept any agreement that constrains them to share power with Catholics, just as whites in the American South found it so difficult to share power with the racially inferior blacks.

Paisley is very sensitive to the emotions of his hard-line constituents. He knows he must humiliate the Catholics by cooking up new requirements, added to the substance of the Good Friday agreement, to prove their good faith.

You really can't trust Catholics, you know. Nor can you permit them to take over your country without forcing them to jump repeatedly through hoops.

The Ulster Protestants share this conviction of the racial inferiority of the Catholic Irish -- slovenly, ignorant, superstitious, lazy and responsible for all their problems -- with a substantial proportion of the population of Great Britain. There are not many people left in the world the English can feel superior to, so it's a good thing the Irish are still around. That the standard of living, as measured by per capita gross national product, in Ireland is the highest in Europe (save perhaps for Norway) and higher than that of England has yet to penetrate English consciousness.

The small print in the recent agreement is that power-sharing will begin only after two months. That gives Paisley and his allies time to discover the Catholics are still violating some of the conditions for power-sharing, new conditions they will have dreamed up. The history of the past 10 years of negotiations in Northern Ireland has been a story of "just one more thing you have to do," thus establishing that the Protestants are still in charge.

The security agencies of the British government have cooperated with this stalling process. They raided the Sinn Fein party's offices in the Ulster Parliament and removed carloads of "evidence" that Sinn Fein was back working with the IRA. The evidence oddly disappeared. Then the Ulster police blamed a big bank robbery on the IRA, though they never did get around to arresting any suspects.

It would be unwise to bet against more of such delaying tactics before May 21.

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