#GFA20: Why Stormont Reminded Me of Animal Farm

On the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, TPQ reprints a piece from the archives by Anthony McIntyre published on April 12, 1998 in the Sunday Tribune

'Good Friday - Republicanism crucified - Sunday's resurrection postponed', is the type of comment a cynical grafitti artist might be prompted to write on the walls of poorer nationalist areas in the aftermath of this week's Stormont agreement. And if, as Michael Ignatieff once claimed, a cynic is someone with a healthy awareness of the gulf between what people practice and what they preach, then such grafitti would certainly be more accurate then the leader headlines we have been exposed to in today's papers. It seems to be that the hype machine has been given full throttle and a 'regime of truth' is been feverishly constructed in which certain concepts, perspectives and even words will be prohibited regardless of - and maybe because of - their explanatory power. So much for tolerance and a plurality of ideas.

We are often told that at some point in the 1990s London and Dublin agreed that the old policy of excluding republicans was futile and that the only strategic alternative was one of inclusion. What goes unmentioned is that the strategic objective was to include republicans while excluding republicanism. And Saturday's Irish Times illustrated the success of such a strategy when it commented that the logic of the latest agreement was that 'Nationalists have had to swallow the bitter truth that there will be no united Ireland in the forseeable future and that if it comes, it will only do so with the consent of Northern Ireland's majority'.

For those republicans unconcerned with Orwellian double-think, the Stormont agreement amounts to the following: the British state has repeated its Sunningdale declaration of intent to remain in the North until a majority here asks it to do otherwise; the British state has made it clear that the unionist veto shall remain in place and has strengthened the partitionist ethos underlying that veto by having it enshrined it in the revised Southern constitution; the British state has ruled out any transition to a united Ireland by refusing to state that by a certain date - no matter how far in the distant future - it will no longer have a presence in Ireland.

In such a context, only those republicans who had forsaken the ballot box and armalite strategy in favour of a ballot box in one hand and a white stick in the other, alone might argue that the Stormont Agreement constitutes a stepping stone to a united Ireland. On the contrary it is a stumbling stone to the unification of the country.

Republicans have not yet signed up for the deal. It is difficult to see how they can in the forseeable future given the clearly partitionist shape of the outcome. One republican activist - admittedly opposed to the leadership strategy from the outset - observed yesterday that what had started out as a victory cavalcade on the Falls Road had ended up as a funeral cortege. But of more significance than the absence of any signature on the dotted line is the fact that republicans, by their involvement in the process, have helped to usher in the new partitionist outcome. Consequently, over time, - and dependent to a large extent on how unionism performs - the situational logic may be such that the pressure to 'accept by instalment' could prove irresistable.

Some are inclined to heap praise on the efforts of Ahern and Blair whose frantic efforts and negotiating skills in the final days of the talks allegedly were decisive in securing an outcome. A more measured view would be that their input was vital only to the sprint finish. The marathon itself and the predetermined course that it took was made possible only by all the participants, including republicans, consenting to an agreed Ireland. But any agreed Ireland, by implication subject to the agreement of the unionists, could never have been a united Ireland.

Ultimately, the Stormont agreement suits most partitionist nationalism and the British state. The former emerges feeling it has snatched back what was originally snatched from it in 1974. The British have secured agreement that they will leave the country only on the terms they have always insisted upon - by consent of a majority in the North. Unionism had to give, but no more than the normal asking price in return for the copperfastening of partition.

As one of 'the creatures outside', peering in at the Stormont talks, where they had all agreed secrecy and confidentiality, concealing in the process from their respective democratic bases the haggling of our collective future, I was reminded of the final words in George Orwell's Animal Farm:

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.


  1. The Falls Road cavalcade was a master stroke by the Bearded Bastard; convincing the taigs that they had won and the Jaffas that they had lost.

  2. What goes around comes around....the flaws have outed the flaws....What is interesting is the British carefree attitude to it...Brexit is a disaster in the making so how do you distract...start a war....go East young man and seek your war!

  3. martin mc guiness saying "there will be no return to the status quo" told the "jaffas" they had lost