Wake-up calls all round
by the editor
News that the Tony Blair is about to bring forward a raft of new emergency 'anti-terrorist' legislation in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York should send a deep chill down the spine of every democrat in Britain. The measures, which are to be rushed through parliament, are believed to include increased powers of arrest and interrogation and the abolition of some rights of judicial appeal for immigrants refused entry to Britain.
The new legislation will add to draconian measures already on the statute book in the form of the revised, expanded and now permanent Prevention of Terrorism Act. Given the hysteria surrounding the West's response to the horrors of the events of 11 September, it seems only a matter of time before we are faced with the mass intimidation of Britain's Muslim communities, and of all those whose views do not accord with the ideological code of the new capitalist world order.
A string of new miscarriages of justice to match those which afflicted the Irish community after the introduction of the original PTA is almost inevitable. The threat to civil liberties here and in the US as a result of such measures must not be underestimated.
The decision of the SDLP to join the new northern police board is the first serious breach in nationalist consensus since the signing of the Good Friday agreement. What with resurgent UDA and other loyalist paramilitarism on the streets, this is a bad time for democratic forces in the north to turn in on themselves.
The joint efforts of republicans and nationalists in the recent past, which clearly focused on the British government, have helped to bring about significant, although as yet insufficient, change in the north.
For its own part, the British government, if it has the will, can deliver on a number of the outstanding issues towards full implementation of the Good Friday deal.
There will never be a better time to face down the No-men of unionism once and for all. Progress on arms decommissioning, for the IRA at least, is tantalizingly close and would have been achieved long ago had not the unionists, backed by the British government, used the issue as a convenient stick with which to keep Sinn Féin in check and as a means of ensuring that unpalatable aspects of the Good Friday deal -- almost anything reflecting nationalist aspirations for equality -- were kept on the long finger.
It must now be made clear to unionists that the tactic of drawing a new line in the sand each time republicans move towards meeting concerns over decommissioning must stop. To achieve this Blair and his ministers will need to drop the pretence of being impartial arbiters and make it clear that they are prepared to use their considerable powers -- political, economic and diplomatic -- to convince their unionist surrogates that the game is up.
Their response to recent IRA moves on decommissioning make it clear that the unionists don't really want the issue resolved. To do so would rob them of their strongest excuse for not working constructively with republicans. The reality is that if The IRA army council were personally to deliver their entire armoury to Glengall Street, prostrate themselves at the feet of the UUP executive and promise to be good paddies from now on, it would still not be enough for the likes of David Trimble -- let alone the hard-line No-men of Ulster unionism.
Unionists have been allowed for too long to determine the progress of the Good Friday deal. Change, and only change, will bring about a lasting peace in the north of Ireland. They cannot be allowed to carry on as the gatekeepers of progress, keys firmly ensconced in the longest and most inaccessible of pockets.
The future of Ireland's unionists lies in reaching an accommodation with their neighbours on the island of Ireland rather than in continuing to dreaming of a return to the golden age of British imperialism and sectarian hegemony in the north of Ireland. All that we now need is for the British government to wake unionists from their reverie.
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