I finally got around to reading the autobiography of Tony Blair. Of course there is a chapter on the Northern Ireland peace process which is quite startling in some passages. Blair says that the GFA concessions were made to Nationalists in return for an end to the IRA bombing campaign. There is nothing in the book to indicate that concessions were made to Nationalists simply because it was the right thing to do. Blair also says that the SDLP felt ignored because they had no weapons of their own to use as a negotiation tool and that Unionists felt that the GFA was just a serious of concessions made to Nationalists in order to appease the IRA.
That's a rather different opinion to the one espoused by FF/FG/Lab and Independent Newspapers which is that the GFA would have happened anyway without any pressure from the IRA. Well that is not what TB is saying.
Should the IRA be given credit for the concessions made to Nationalists in the GFA? What do you think?
'The SDLP thought that they often got ignored because they were too busy dealing with Sinn Fein. If we had weapons you'd treat us more seriously was their continual refrain'.
It seemed to me that the first principle was really what was called the principle of consent. I a majority of people in Northern Ireland wanted to unite with the South then there would be unity, but until then Northern Ireland would be part of the United Kingdom. It was this principle that Republicans would not accept historically, arguing that the partition of Ireland was constitutionally invalid and that the island as a whole should be treated as the voting constituency. Obviously this meant that peace was impossible. So they had to be brought to accept the principle of consent, explicitly or implicitly.
The question then was: on what basis and on what principles would Republicans accept it? The answer, which then underpinned the formation of the Good Friday Agreement was peace in return for power-sharing and equality, i.e. the IRA war would end if there was a government in Northern Ireland which was truly representative of all parts of the community and there was genuine equality of Protestants and Catholics alike. Hence the need for reform of the police and the courts and hence the acknowledgement of the Irish language. Those wanting a united Ireland would have to accept partition, at least until they were in the majority: but in return, within a divided Ireland, they would receive fair and equal treatment and recognition of the aspiration to a United Ireland. Hence also the North-South bodies.
I remember once talking to a group of Unionists some time after the Good Friday Agreement. One of them said to me 'Tell me what we have really got out of this agreement' I said: 'The Union. That's pretty big, don't you think?'. In other words, the basis of the deal meant that the principle of consent was avowed; and so long as the majority desired it, the Union would remain. That, after all was the raison d'etre of Unionism. But he didn't really see it like that. He just saw a string of concessions to being 'the men of violence' to stop what they should never have been doing anyway.