The risks of expulsion: Ghetto logic that threatens to engulf the peace process

Share
Related Topics
A cartoon in a Belfast newspaper depicts a relieved David Trimble reaching gratefully for a lifebelt, symbolising IRA violence, which is rescuing him from the dire prospect of having to engage with Sinn Fein. It is the case that Ulster Unionists view the latest crisis in the peace process not as a moment of grave danger but as a golden opportunity to re-shape the political talks in the way they want it.

They want Sinn Fein banished. This is partly because of the IRA's apparent return to killing, but more fundamentally because few if any Unionist politicians can conceive of a new settlement which might include republicans. Born and brought up in a state that regarded republicanism as the implacable enemy within, they found it impossible to envisage any other way.

The peace process, emerging as it did from Irish nationalism and gaining the endorsement of the Labour government, is based in large part on an abandonment of the traditional politics of exclusion. The argument is that both Unionism and republicanism might, for the first time ever, be accommodated in a new system. Mainstream Unionism never subscribed to this idea, taking part in talks only under protest and under sustained pressure from Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam. If Sinn Fein are this week expelled from those talks, there will be private celebrations among Unionist politicians.

As this analysis suggests, the two killings ascribed to the IRA have come as a body blow to Sinn Fein leaders, such as Gerry Adams, who have invested substantial amounts of political capital in working for entry to talks. They will now argue that the evidence of IRA involvement is not strong enough, the RUC's word should not be taken on this point, and that Sinn Fein's 17 per cent vote in Northern Ireland has given the party its own independent mandate.

But such arguments are unlikely to prevail. Last week's IRA statement asserting that its ceasefire was intact amounted to a classic "non-denial denial" of responsibility for the two killings. In the face of this studied ambiguity, the RUC's accusation of its involvement will carry much more weight and there is thus a real possibility that the republicans will be put out of the talks.

Those talks are scheduled to come to a conclusion in the month of May, which means that even a temporary suspension would remove Sinn Fein from the conference table during a crucial period. This would put paid to the cherished republican hope of achieving one-on-one meetings between Mr Adams and Mr Trimble. The concept of an inclusive settlement would thus receive a huge setback.

In political terms the killings made no sense at all, endangering as they have Sinn Fein's place at the table and thus the entire peace process. One of those killed, Robert Dougan, was a member of the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association who, it is said, dabbled in drugs. Both republicans and security sources say the other victim, Brendan Campbell, was a leading drug dealer. Some months ago he had launched an amazing one-man attack on Sinn Fein offices in Belfast with a machine gun and a hand-grenade. Although this was clearly an extraordinary challenge to the authority of the Republican movement, both men were essentially unimportant in the greater scheme of things. Their murders seem to show that, at this moment at least, the IRA is being driven not by the logic of politics but by the logic of the street and the ghetto. Killings of drug dealers are popular among many in republican areas.

So too, at certain times, are killings of Loyalist paramilitants. Last year saw Loyalists killing more than a dozen Catholics, a steady drip of death which, in recent weeks, escalated into a spate that left eight Catholic men dead within a one-month period. The IRA's guns remained silent during all this, the requirements of the peace process apparently dictating inactivity. But then something snapped, as a grassroots clamour for vengeance reached a pitch that could not be ignored. The low politics of the tribal imperative for revenge evidently asserted themselves over higher political considerations, and two men died.

All this has brought Sinn Fein to the point of exclusion, though the party will today attempt to mount a strong rearguard action, possibly including a legal challenge against any such move. The British and Irish governments will not want them to go but may feel there is no alternative. A surprising number of talks participants have privately come to believe in the bona fides of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and do not think that they approved of these killings. But both are leaders of the republican movement and unless some startling new information comes to light today, the governments may well conclude that Sinn Fein cannot be at the table while the IRA kills people.

Expulsion carries huge risks. IRA violence could escalate, and if it does Loyalist retaliation would probably not be far behind. The recent deaths have already shown that a spate of a dozen killings can endanger the talks; another bout of serious violence might wreck the whole exercise. But if Sinn Fein are somehow permitted to stay, this could itself destabilise the talks. David Trimble has refrained from stipulating that if republicans stay he will go, but if they are not expelled he would certainly come under increased pressure to walk away.

It has to be remembered that two of the other Unionist parties, including the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, have already walked out because of the very presence of Sinn Fein. Four of Mr Trimble's 10 MPs have already said they favour withdrawal, while important members of his negotiating team have publicly voiced doubts about the exercise. It is in fact arguable that, as things stand, only around half of the Unionist community is actually represented in the talks. On top of all this is the daily danger of more violence, either from groups who are in the peace process or from those small but active organisations, such as the Loyalist Volunteer Force, who are outside and intent on wrecking it. Add all these hazards together and many observers will wonder how the whole thing can possibly survive.

Yet it has weathered similar turbulence in the past, confounding everyone by its resilience. At this moment it is hard to see exactly how the republican instinct to stay in can be reconciled with the Unionist urge to push them out. All that can be said is that in the past difficulties have been overcome by the sheer determination of important figures involved not to give up. Such determination will be needed again to navigate successfully through the coming week of crisis and controversy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

This week has shown why Yvette Cooper is the right person to lead Labour

Mary Creagh
 

Errors & Omissions: Whoever and whatever Arthur was, he wasn’t Scottish

Guy Keleny
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea