Sunday, February 22, 2004
Kerry advocates US interference in Northern Ireland

Now that the two sides in Northern Ireland have reached a political impasse, it is unclear how the British and Irish governments should proceed in a delicate and unstable situation, marked by staccato outbursts of paramilitary activity. No doubt, the pro-republican statement issued by the democratic frontrunner, Kerry, may prove a sop to the Celts in the Democratic Party. However, it spells awkward trouble for the Good Friday supporters who have grown accustomed to the stasis and have welcomed the benign indifference of the Bush presidency.

At first reading, Kerry takes an evenhanded approach condemning paramilitary activity. But, after the obligatory condemnation, Kerry maintains that any US administration under his command would support the Good Friday agreement, and that the suspension of the Assembly should not continue.

However, the presidential hopeful acknowledged that more work needed to be done. His campaign team's statement said: "As a supporter of the need to hold recent elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, he believes that repeatedly suspending democratic institutions is not the way forward for Northern Ireland.

"He urges all parties involved to work for the earliest resumption of the assembly, and he believes the review of the Belfast agreement must be just that - a review, not a renegotiation.

"The problem is not the structures of the agreement itself, but rather the failure of all to fully implement it.

"The DUP cannot be permitted to disenfranchise half the population of Northern Ireland by refusing to form a government with Sinn Fein."

The incoherence of this statement and its focus upon the Irish-American communities bodes ill for any understanding that a new prospective Democratic President would bring to the table. The current impasse occurred because the Unionist communities perceived that the concessions they had made were not reciprocated by their negotiating partners. Hence, they voted for anti-agreement candidates. When Kerry refers to the DUP, he focusses upon one of the two sticking points, unionist rejection. The other is, of course, the unwillingness of all paramilitary groups, to disarm completely.

Kerry's statement namechecks Ireland, the IRA, loyalists, paramilitaries and the Agreement. He does not mention Great Britain, the polity within which Northern Ireland is located, or the unionists. Kerry has made his sympathies clear for electoral purposes and has shown, yet again, that Democrats in the United States do not recognise British sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

If the policy that he intimates in his statement is pursued, then the Agreement will be shredded. The circle cannot be squared now, and if the unionists have voted for anti-agreement candidates, then it shows that the Agreement does not command sufficient respect from all parts of Northern Ireland, catholic or protestant, to create a stable government.

Kerry has fallen into the trap of viewing the Good Friday Agreement as a Republican and nationalist settlement. It was not. It was designed to provide democratic institutions that, moving forward, could accommodate both traditions. It has proved unequal to the task, and if Kerry were in the position that he advocates, we would have to pick up the pieces of his incompetent meddling.

For this partisan approach to Northern Ireland, it would be in Britain's interests if Kerry remained where he belongs, unelected.

(18.50, 22nd February 2004)


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