Brexit Exposes The Good Friday Agreement As A Purely Internal Arrangement

Sean Bresnahan believes that the recent decision on Brexit by the UK Supreme Court leaves no room for doubt that the Good Friday Agreement amounts to nothing more than an exclusively internal solution. Sean Bresnahan is a member of the Thomas Ashe Society Omagh and a longtime contributor to The Pensive Quill. He writes here in an individual capacity.

Last month’s decision at the UK Supreme Court, that Brexit in no way defers to the devolved administration in the North, should come as no surprise. It reflects the cornerstone of the devolution set-up: sovereignty resides at Westminster. Those who insisted otherwise, that Stormont had somehow a veto, were chasing their shadow for the purposes of effect – playing to the gallery, intent on distraction. We don’t need a lawyer to know this.

For republicans, all of this reaffirms that the Good Friday 'architecture' is wholly internal, with Britain retaining power to withdraw its 'concessions' should it ever be required do so. Indeed we are seeing this play out as we speak. How can this be so in the face of the Good Friday Agreement? The Agreement notwithstanding, constitutional authority still resides within the UK Parliament: ‘Parliament giveth: Parliament taketh away.’

As many of us argued from the beginning and is now before all in plain sight, the Good Friday Agreement is essentially an internal settlement, upheld by British law alone. It in no way breaches the 'constitutional integrity' of the United Kingdom. It does not even contain 'transitional' elements that in time might effect that end – as the republican leadership were forced to concede during internal discussions in its wake.

That they were reduced to describing it as a 'transition to a transition' – with 'transitory potential' at best – made plain that its terms were in conflict with our fundamental position. That position was and remains that an internal settlement – even one with all-Ireland 'add-ons' – is a non-starter and an anathema. It is outside and steps away from republican core thinking. Essentially we are talking about an aberration.

Beneath the appeals to have trust in the project and that the leadership needed time – needed the same level of support and commitment afforded the armed campaign – the reality was obvious for those who chose to look: six inches in front of the face and five times in the first section alone. That reality is that the Good Friday Agreement in no way impacts the British sovereign claim. Indeed it codifies that claim, in a body of text which republicans agreed to be bound by in return for the 'right to aspire'.

All of this was obvious from the process itself, as many protested ahead of the talks. The Multi-Party Talks were between parties internal to the North, who 'negotiated' an agreement within strict parameters set out in advance by the Major Government (with lateral support from Dublin). Within its Framework Document, unilaterally determined by Britain, lay the eventual 'heads for agreement'. Everything subsequent is no more than semantics and entirely for the optics.

Further to that again, the outcome of a 'successful' negotiation and a political 'settlement' thereof required majority agreement within the room, majority agreement in the Occupied Six Counties and a majority in turn within the British Parliament. This removed all possibility that anything other than an internal settlement could ever result from the process.

We were already beaten before we began, the outcome predetermined. That outcome? Britain’s sovereign claim intact and her 'right to rule' conceded, all wrapped up in an internal arrangement as that we opposed from the outset – in essence the totality of all that the movement had stood against. It's a cliche of old but it still rings true: 'for what died the sons of Roisin.'

Last month’s decision on Brexit – denying a role to London’s ‘internal colonies’ on matters impacting their own well-being – is a timely reminder of the above and of where we stand now today. It invites us to reflect on what has become of our struggle. With the legitimacy of British constitutional law conceded, realising Irish self-determination requires no mean feat. That is where we are at.

Ireland's best hope might very well prove that the triggering of Article 50 comes to tear apart the Union, leaving us ‘incidental victors’, of a sort, in the long fight to free our country. For sure we'll take freedom by any means going – and rightly so. But let there be no mistake. Should this come to pass, the actions of those who stabilised the rule will have played no part in the achievement.

Indeed if they had had it their way in the first place, if Britain's Supreme Court had backed their appeals, they would have succeeded in blocking that pathway. That in itself – and not for the first time – points to their direction of travel. Regardless their scheming, we can only await what the time ahead comes to bring. Interesting times in store for sure – of that there can be no doubt.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

21 comments to ''Brexit Exposes The Good Friday Agreement As A Purely Internal Arrangement "

  1. Sean,

    thanks for throwing this the way of the Quill. It gets it in one about the internal solution. Ruairi told me that he had heard that they were sitting discussing how internal is internal before moving to con us all.

  2. Sean,
    The invoking of Article 50 null and voids the GFA.....let's see how they brush that one under the carpet!

  3. The GFA is worthless. The DUP basically ignored it and SF desperate to be seen to have attained political leverage / power played the pinball wizard 'deaf dumb and blind kid' to all the DUP financial scams and criminality. Now we know why the DUP were adamant that SF would never get the position of Finance Minister. They had plans for the public purse. Only when the scandals were piling up on top of each other and investigating themselves was wearing thin did SF collapse the criminal useless enterprise at Stormont in a belated attempt to salvage some semblance of interest in the institutions and their MLA jobs. Ironically Scotland may do more for Irish independence in the same way as it did for the plantations and British conquest in the first place. Some un-elected Tory will make the final decision on the 6 counties. Nothing has changed there and as McGuinness slips out of the lime light it is interesting that unionists angry with the DUP are most sorry to see him go. Criminality in politics generally where fleecing of the public funds is the only common policy makes it difficult to care. Hopefully the turn out for the coming elections will be extremely low. We are authorising the Mafia / hoods on the hill to rob and crucify us in elections, little else.

  4. 'In the absence of any transparency in the selection of a leader, speculation fills the vacuum. Is the chosen one anointed by the same personnel who peopled the army council of the IRA, as some suggest'?

    Same way all those IRA Conventions were held to change policy I expect. In Gerry or Martins bedroom.

  5. No problem Tony. 'How internal is internal' eh - that's a gas. It should have been obvious from the get-go that this could only ever be an internal arrangement - and in my opinion it was obvious. If I could see the situation for what it was at 17-18 then those with years on me should really have been able to do likewise.

    I've told this story on here before but we were out campaigning for something or other in the run-up to the Agreement - it must have been to get people onto the register or something. I remember walking back to the 'office' when done - at the time it was an unused shack down a back alley behind a pub (we called it 'the doughal').

    I said to our Chair that it looked as though Adams and McGuinness were preparing the ground for Stormont and I was told 'not a hope'. The exact words to follow were that if this came to pass, as I was suggesting, that I wouldn't have to worry about leaving for 'we'd all be leaving'. History tells us it did come to pass but we didn't leave, convinced to stay on by local command structures for the sake of unity - to 'give it a chance'. Talk about regrets right there a chara.

    The language of the day was that we'd given the war 25 years and now the leadership needed time to deliver. With the prisoners getting out and arguing the same - the Army likewise - it was difficult for young republicans to do anything different. As an age-group who had no physical involvement in the war we kind of had to accept their logic, no matter our reservations. When they started with the fascism against the like of yourself though I finally had enough.

    Reflecting back here as we speak, I remember being up at Stormont with Barry McElduff in the early days after the Agreement - a man I held in the highest regard (to be honest I still have time for him). Mary Nelis had an office overlooking Carson's statue and we were looking out at it as though our presence was some sort of a victory - we were changing things. In reality we were changing fuck all but sure hey, you live and learn.

    The bottom line I suppose is that those who administered this sell out and policed its implementation, regardless where they are today or what group they are currently attached to, have much to answer for - as hard as that may be for many of them to accept. They are the people who pulled this across the line. It was they who convinced the doubters around our communities, myself among them, to hold fast.

  6. There is an idea we can blame it all on Adams and McGuinness and our sins can be washed away but when we think back and remember that many warned of what was happening - of what and where it would lead - yourself among those who did so but also the likes of Francie Mackey and Bernadette Sands, Tommy McKearney and Brendan Hughes - then the truth is the responsibility for this fiasco is spread far wider. I believe that older heads should have done more to be honest but we are where we are and we move on.

    That's uncomfortable for some who have now 'seen the light' I'm sure - those you have previously described as 'truncheon suckers'. I can only imagine the scale of their regret but the main thing now is they are gone. As you've said yourself on here, there's none of us wish now we didn't leave sooner than when we did.

    Indeed I even went so far as to go back and help a friend who was running for Council further down the line. You know what they say about insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Another regret to add to the collection. When the Societies came on the scene I could finally see an alternative and the rest is history.

    Personally, although I went with their appeals at the beginning - and I truly regret that now - I'm glad I can say that I argued against them and voted down that Agreement at every turn - at every meeting where I was included (daggers from the local OC across the room in response) and in the referendum itself. To me its limitations were so obvious that I could do no different (others might just say I'm just an argumentative git). Reflecting back on that period, it was a tumultuous time and a half.

    When all's said and done of course it was an internal settlement - Ó Brádaigh and the others were right. That's a long comment and while I could continue I'll leave it for now. Worth finishing on this short quote from Ruairi though, spoken at the 1981 Ard Fheis in the wake of the Hungerstrikes: 'There is no panacea, no shortcut, no magic means. Only the hard, progressive grind forward'. If only we'd listened sooner...

  7. Sean Bres

    The hard nosed and cute bastard heads in the middle management of the Provos have to shoulder much of the blame. Decommissioning in particular getting agreed to was insanity. There is no way those who permitted that can claim to have been blind-sided or misled. They knew what they were doing collectively and were using and wasting people right up til the end n 94-96. These same people are still on the sidelines and have their wee pet monkeys in MLA and council positions.

    I wouldn't blame you for floundering about a bit seeking out a political 'home'. Everyone politically minded has been doing the same for some time now. People I met at university doing History and Politics were the same. The SF of the time 2009 were dire. Suggestions that SF are a potential vehicle post Adams and Co. is nonsense. Those that are in that outfit are best avoided like the plague. That cult will run on a while before hopefully falling apart. None of them should be let near any new party in the future either. NONE!

    It has gotten to the stage here personally that being initially confused and depressed and under a wee cloud of disbelief, I am now in 2017 looking back at it all head held high and happy in the knowledge that I had absolutely zero part in the SF Provo disgrace project after 1994-6. Far from feeling cast off or isolated or disoriented, I AM SO PROUD OF THAT.

  8. I want to say I absolutely agree there with Sean, especially on that last comment about those who warned us that the Belfast Agreement was essentially an internal settlement, how right people like Bernadette Sands and Francie Mackey were. I'm only 21 myself, but looking through that period with the benefit of hindsight, many of the very things that would have shinners in the 90's howling with laughter (implementing British justice against POWs, sitting on the policing board, facilitating British rule, etc etc) were all proven to be absolutely correct by those called "dissidents" (a dirty word now to delegitimize those with dissenting views). The difference I see then, is that SF relied on the ambiguity and uncertainty of what a post-conflict society would look like to get them through as they continued to build their electoral base, something that nearly 20 years later, is no longer washing with the electorate (as evidenced by the parties electoral decline in recent years.) Depressingly enough, the language espoused by SF when they now continually talk about "protecting the integrity of the institutions" and "wanting them to work" shows how unrecognisable they now are and how they have now ideologically accepted partition. As someone from West Belfast, I will be voting for PBP and be part of a movement that challenges the distorted narrative of SF that working class people are happy to be ruled over by wealthy and paid servants of the British state.

  9. An internal settlement voted for the majority in the wee 6 (NOT majority of prods by the way) to end 30 years of deathsquads, massacres and bombs. What alternative was there then?

    What alternative is there now? Surely the politicians are crooks but that's the same the world over, nothing new in the wee 6 either!

    I doubt if a UI came to fruition much would be different!

    When MMG met Michael Oatley in Duddy's dining room what was discussed then still holds true.

    MMG "The British will never defeat us"

    Oakley " That is true, but we can shut you down to a massive extent due to our penetration of your structures, and make it virtually impossible for you to operate".

    I understand this piece is for Republican consumption but it can't just be me who remembers how bad it was back in the late 70's/80's? The possibility of all out civil war was tangible, as unreal as it seems now.

    Stormont is f*cked but I'd rather be f*cked than dead any day! lol

  10. Steve R

    I think taking into consideration the DUP determination that they lone would hold finance posts and after the resultant criminality as a 'policy' on their part and the SF weakness in face of it, time for major change is here. No one in their right mind wants a return to conflict. But the con job of the DUP fleecing the UK tax payer in the name of loyalty needs to be consigned to history, before they hit the big time and hook up with FF. DUP rejection of the GFA and the SF acceptance of their behaviour has left people numb I think. This election would be a good one for people to reject out-right. A lesson needs teaching to the hoods-on-the-hill. One election ignored in an endless series of them would do no harm. The unionists need to move away from using the fenian threat as a meal ticket and excuse for hogging positions and robbing the exchequer. Nationalists need to stand up and get serious. They are not being lorded over by a 60% + little fascist majority in 2017. Unionists are not a majority in the wee 6. I get the feeling unionists to a large degree are angry at the DUP for the arrogance and criminality and nationalists are livid at SF toothless behaviour.

  11. Besides all the boxes to tick on the ballot paper for all the political parties taking part in this highly important 'global' election - Stormont Assembly - what if there was other options at the bottom of the ballot paper for Direct Rule and Joint that would be interesting!

  12. Sooner Stormont hoods fest is wrapped up the better. Criminals thinking insulting people will get them re elected to rob the public purse again. FOUR YEARS WORTH. Wrap it up, sooner the better.

  13. Interesting point. Niall. Reminds me of a campaign in England a few years back called 'None Of The Above' They wanted that term, 'none of the above', to appear as an additional option on the ballot.

  14. Larry,

    Spot on, but I wonder if tribal politics will still hold sway.

    Not sure many unionists see 'a fenian threat' anymore, from what I'm told they are mixing more freely now but who knows? Peter might be in a better place to judge in being there.

    But I'm with you, vote the DUP out tae feck!!! Bunch of hypocritical holier than thou twunts, singing bigots and science-deniers!

  15. Steve R

    It seems obvious on the first day of campaigning proper that everyone bar the DUP are open to accommodation and co-existing in the North. The 'bake' on Foster and the attitude could start a civil war in an empty telephone box. I have grown up kids and a grandchild there now and that spectacle today was nothing short if deliberate evil. Toxic by design. I think this will actually be a defining election for unionism. Will the much lauded law abiding decent Protestant citizenry opt for genuine power sharing withing a safe and secure 6 counties or will they send Arlene and her ugly mob back to power? One would imagine the logical thing to do would be vote heavily for OU and SDLP and give things one last chance. SF are no threat TBH they are cowed and croppy boys one and all. I feel in my water if unionism opts for the DUP again, then it is all down hill for the union afterwards and why would they be expecting anything other than a prolonged dose of their own medicine in the longer term. Interesting election for that reason only.

  16. Larry,

    I can't stand the DUP either, and don't know many who can (except my Free P mates who always were a bit barmy). I do hear they are leading the most bigoted campaign ever, according to the PUP, who i'd much rather have a larger say on behalf of working class unionist areas anyway.

    Interesting times ahead.

  17. Steve R

    I think the DUP and their farmer / UDR/RUC/Screw mates/voters want the good old days back. Much as it pains me to say it SF laughing at them was actually the PERFECT response. Naturally the PUP boys and girls would be doing the jail time if the DUP had its way. Hope there's a thaw in the siege 'mental condition' up-down-OVER there (I'm further North than just about ALL of them!)

  18. This outsider is impressed by the above comments. May you all have some input into coming political arrangements.

    May I suggest that it isn't only the bribed and subverted few who are to blame.
    Driving back to Dublin airport on May 23, 1998 the day after the GFA referendum, a Dublin radio show featured a republican vs. a unionist. Sad to say, the unionist grasped the reality of victory while the republican had been deceived as to what he had voted for. A week or so prior to the vote a copy of the GFA was mailed to every home on the island. I read my father's. It consisted entirely of mutual contradictions, aspirational posturing, and pure bafflegab; all but 1/3 page of enforceable test, the mandate to gut Articles 2 and 3 of Ireland's constitution.

    A few additional culprits are:

    1) "Ireland's" news media; they keep the people as disinformed about their own governmental policies as American media do regarding Supreme Crimes against Iraq, etc. Thus:
    2) The Royal Dail, already corrupted, do further damage by partially heeding their disinformed electorate.
    3) The Catholic Church hierarchy who, excepting a few brave souls who were suppressed while alive, have, for centuries, taken Britain's side against their own Irish communicants. Only when it became safe did the Church claim connection to "brave Fr. Murphy of Boolavogue." Soon after his murder his own bishop referred to him as "the very faesces of the Church."
    4) The Neo-Cons could not have begun their ongoing Full-Spectrum Dominance (conquest of Planet Earth and Space), without the fictional "international community." Britain's military filled that role and the genocidal wars proceeded. But British troops first had to be freed from the Six-Counties. This required the defeat of the IRA; thus Omagh by MI5 and FBI Agent Patrick "Ed" Buckley with accomplice David Rupert. The crimes they perpetrated in Omagh and in Dublin against McKevitt were of a pattern repeatedly perpetrated by them in Chicago earlier. (It had been also necessary to terrorize into silence Irish-American supporters of justice in Ireland.)

    If the "Irish" government is ever overcome by a temporary fit of honesty it will investigate what those MI5 and FBI agents were doing in Ireland from 1994 until demobilised by MI5 the evening of August 15, 1998.


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