Here’s good ole St. Paddy’s Day and a time to wear the green. In America, the long emancipated Irish will parade through the streets, display symbols of their Irish heritage, and drink down with camaraderie in the pubs with their neighbors. In Ireland, things will not be quite so gay. Three brutal killings over the last month committed by a group that calls itself the Real IRA has brought the sobering reality of a country still under the explosive duress of divided politics. The response has been quick. Even factions that had been considered radical just a few years ago condemned the actions as those of a traitor to Irish interests. Ireland wants peace, and though tensions mount, they continue laboriously working out the terms of the peace process.
Northern Ireland’s problems; when looked under the microscope of prevailing issues, reflects in large part, many of the problems facing the United States, and on an even larger scale; the world. The financial collapse of the banking institutions has gravely affected Ireland. Many small businesses have closed down, construction projects have halted. The funds placed into higher education have been cut back, leaving unemployed teachers and unavailability for poorer students. Among the poorest in Dublin’s streets are the Irish Catholics.
There is a disturbing pattern to the descriptions of the Irish poor that summons the ghosts of America’s ghettos and its own harboring of ethnic minorities. Dublin’s streets are reputed to be infested with drug lords, controlling the inner communities through their laundered wealth and the helpless behavior of the addicts. A recent report in a Dublin newspaper indicated virtually all its money had been tinted with cocaine. A tracing device used to find minute particles of cocaine in the cotton fibers of their Euro-dollars, discovered in some instances large quantities which would demonstrate the bills had probably been rolled and used. In many others, they found small traces, which presupposed the bills had been placed next to one that had been used. America, struggling with its border-rich drug trade and the violence of its own war on drugs can sympathize with the problem.
The fallacy, as always, is in seeing the drugs as the problem instead of a symptom. Rampant drug use in a society ; like alcoholism; is an indication that the needs of a demographic group are not being met. The recent attacks did not furnish the law-making body with clues as to why the segregated Irish Catholics remain in poverty and drug addiction, rather they minimized the actions as the rampages of a small sectarian group. Reports David McKittrick, “over 90 per cent of the population supports the peace process, the mainstream IRA is defunct and most loyalist groups are quiet. Yet a few republican backwoodsmen remain committed to the ancient belief – long discarded by the old IRA and the modern-day Sinn Fein – that bombings and shootings will one day force a British withdrawal.”
The political commentators, in condemning the perpetrators of the crime, assured the media that the shootings would not unravel the Northern Ireland peace effort. “The political process will not and can never be shaken.” During this political process, eleven people have been arrested for the killings, and rioting broke out in Dublin’s streets on Saturday. Protestant leaders said the attack had vindicated the police’s decision to call on the army intelligence specialists. The move was condemned last week by Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander who is the province’s deputy first minister, as “stupid and dangerous” for reviving memories of the role played by army intelligence units in strikes against the IRA in the past.
The head of Special Branch in Belfast, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris concluded: “They lack public support, they lack finance, they lack personnel and they lack munitions and equipment. What they can do is sporadic murder and sporadic bombing attacks and, in their terms, be successful at that.”
The response of the original Irish Republican Army has been one of painstakingly trying to straddle the fence of negotiations without openly condemning the actions of the splinter groups. This was highlighted when one leader told the Belfast Irish News last month: “We have no political wing because we feel that strategy failed republicans in the past. Politics and military cannot operate side by side.”
While we are assured that the purpose of the peaceful negotiations is for the lasting democratic interests of Ireland and that the rebel factions are just, well; representing the Republic of Ireland, we have to wonder how the words, “Republic” and “Democracy” are not compatible. The dictionary defines democracy as “government by the people esp. as in, government by the majority”. Other definitions break down into a “common people especially when constituting the source of political authority” and “the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges”. A Republic is defined as being a government who has a chief of state who is not a monarch; usually a president” and that it is a “government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is responsible to them and governing according to law.” They seem rather amenable. In fact, for those who remember the Pledge of Allegiance, there is a line in there that says, “to the Republic for which we stand…”
It becomes, after awhile, a hair splitting of which advantage is for whom, much like our own sometimes volatile politics. While democracy stresses a majority ruling, a Republic emphasizes the rights of property. While a majority of your neighbors might decide the color of your house is not in keeping with their personal color theme, or that the two horses in your yard are offensive, if you live within a Republic, they accept the house and horses are yours and there isn’t much that can be done about it. Majority desires are kept in check by individual rights.
A body of people who feel unable to express itself as a political entity through fear of reprisal, live within a failed democracy; one that has not protected their individual rights nor exercised its legislation within “the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges”. The hereditary class that rules Northern Ireland is British law. The property of Ireland belongs to the Irish people, but the majority rule of an outside influence controls the governing body. The presence of an armed military body to enforce the law is evidence that the interests are not in allowing the Northern Ireland to choose its own democratic Republican government, but to safeguard the own their own insurgent, law-making body. Said McKittrick, “the weekend killings represent a setback for the efforts of the authorities to civilianise policing as much as possible, a painstaking process which has been going on for years.”
The weekend killings will mean a complete review of security which will inevitably include the re-introduction of more rigorous measures. Northern Ireland’s Catholic poor are the ghetto hushed into shame and silence, they are the rebels and the gangs; the troubled youth. Ireland desperately wants peace, but the winds of discontent are rumbling.
Of all the responses to the killings, Don MacNamara, commenting at the Irish Times, has an intriguing suggestion. “We could consider cancelling all national St Patrick’s Day celebrations in sympathy with the dead soldiers. This might be deemed to concede a victory to the murderers, but it would also tell them that they have no place in a society that has struggled so hard and made so many sacrifices in the name of peace.”
It’s a brave new world when a people struggle for peace despite all adversity, when they put down their weapons and acknowledge each other’s perspective., seeking a middle ground for solutions. As we watch Ireland struggle to make concessions without compromising their integrity, to honor their representatives without submissive servitude, to rebuild and meet the needs of the people with a faltering economy, we can all reflect on how we also have the same divisions of social/ economic prejudices, the same social ills, the same culmination of events that has brought us to the point of weighing a majority, populist opinion against the individual rights within a Republic. Ireland is a minuscule model of a world seeking peaceful solutions. Whether we pray or just like to send out good vibrations, let’s turn our thoughts to Ireland today, and if we care; allow ourselves a few minutes from our busy schedules to mourn for the deaths of two soldiers and for the innocent who were simply in the way.