I COVER STORY
Mflattery Much hope of political movement in the
province in recent months has attached to the Official Unionist leader. Mr Molyneaux,
writes FIONNUALA O CONNOR, would be worried if it were true.
SPRING-LIKE fantasies of a negotiated devolution to replace the
Anglo-Irish Agreement have faded already. It had to happen.
Optimists traced a new co-operativeness chiefly in the pro nouncements of the Official Unionist leader, Jim Molyneaux, an anti
devolution man above all efse. They then looked for support from the faint
signals of willingness to negotiate still emanating from the DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson?although these were systematically undercut by 'no power-sharing' proclamations from his leader.
B ut Mr Robinson' s weakened position could not be ignored. Nor could
the SDLP's reserve about devolution in the end be interpreted as anything other than distaste. An SDLP veteran put it frankly, and anonymously:
. "We're never going to be pilloried as the people won't deal. There was a
while there when it looked as if we might have to get ready to handle a"
unionist proposal?but now it's obvious Robinson isn't back with real
ideas at all."
For some months the focus of hope has been the unlikely figure of Jim
Molyneaux, faint and far-off in his natural habitat of Westminster. It has
been one of the odder episodes in media understanding of Northern
Ireland: Mr Molyneaux has never been as other politicians. He wondered
aloud recently why the Alliance leader, John Alderdice, should feel
slighted because the OUP leader refused to meet him, since after all Mr
Molyneaux discusses politics with few others, even in his own party. That was not quite how he put it?but what he meant was more than usually clear. Over the past three years it has been the Official Unionist leader's
anti-Anglo-Irish Agreement strategy to say as little as possible and allow
the Agreement to be pulled apart by its own contradictions. This passive
approach has driven others to distraction?or out of politics altogether. Some of them are now wondering, a bit sadly, if Jim's playing dead
will soon be claimed as a victory. After all, stranger things have happened.
When he mentions power sharing in public, it's to call it "an unstable form of govern
ment". Devolution, he says, is "not worth the candle".
Mr Molyneaux's non-policy has recently been hailed as brave and
innovative?not words the OUP leader either expects or welcomes. He is on record many times as deploring initiatives as bad in themselves: they unsettle people.
Imagine therefore his consternation when commentators over these
past months began to find signs of forward thinking in his speeches. As
they parsed and analysed, Mr Molyneaux's bewilderment grew. When
they focused on a phrase he had borrowed from the taoiseach, Mr
Haughey, a different kind of politician would have felt impelled to clear things up.
Mr Molyneaux was moved to explain himself only when directly
questioned in unionist company. The explanation was tortuous. When the
OUP leader used the phrase "the totality of relationships" to suggest what
a replacement for the Anglo-Irish Agreement might cover, he was not
conceding that the Irish government should continue to represent the
grievances of northern Catholics?much less suggesting a form of feder
alism, as excited speculation had it.
Instead, he envisaged Mr Haughey being encouraged to express concern on behalf of Irish citizens anywhere in the United Kingdom, a
legitimate concern from a foreign country which happened to be a close
neighbour. How would such a consular role differ from existing arrange ments? Well, it wouldn't, but it might be more fully spelled out as a
desirable element in a rejigged relationship between the countries. In any case, it would give a new focus to Irish consultative rights. There would
be no Northern Ireland dimension.
And why would the taoiseach be satisfied with such a substitute for the
present arrangements? The answer fades away into a muttered insistence on "the logic of the agreement". Mr Molyneaux does not believe Mr
Haughey can tolerate the Agreement much longer, especially now that it
has been redefined in British practice as for their convenience only. The
OUP leader is still wedded to the idea that Charlie Haughey is his strongest card, with British government indifference coming a close second. As one
senior Northern Ireland Office figure unkindly commented: "There's
always the people at Westminster Jim fondly imagines are well-placed, who whisper in his ear that Maggie's lost interest, [that] all he's got to do
is hang on a little longer." Mr Molyneaux, in other words, has not deviated an inch. Over-heated
punditry notwithstanding, he has no more conciliatory ideas now on a
relationship with Dublin than he had three years ago. He remains an
undiminished, though usually guarded, advocate of greater integration. When he mentions power-sharing in public, it's to call it "an unstable
form of government". Devolution, he says, is "not worth the candle".
As for speculation on the outline proposals he and the DUP leader
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Mr Molyneaux does not share Mr Paisley's belief in megaphone diplomacy
handed to the secretary of state at the end of January, the NIO's attitude
should surely have been clue enough. Tom King's professional merchants
of hope, and of hype when it is deemed helpful, have been positively Molyneaux-like in their silence.
Those still dealing out optimism might be interested to know that the
OUP leader himself is keen to play down the significance of the document he handed over. "What King has isn't a blueprint, you know," he told an
associate recently. "I don't even agree with some of it. It's just an outline.
Anyhow, it goes no farther than we did when we suggested administrative
devolution back in 1979"?at the conference organised by the then
secretary of state, Humphrey Atkins.
The SDLP was singularly unimpressed by the Atkins conference. It is
hard to describe adequately how cool they are likely to be towards Atkins
1988-style, in the third year of a new deal that has delivered nothing of
substance but has given them, for better or worse, a changed sense of their
own importance in a new and wider context than Northern Ireland.
Illusion or not, this is a position the SDLP will not concede. After their
meeting with Mr King?billed by some as the start of dialogue by proxy? John Hume's reluctant comment said as much as the party wishes about
devolution: "It is not an immediate option." That should be the last word on the spring silly season.
6 May Fortnight
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Article Contentsp. 6
Issue Table of ContentsFortnight, No. 262 (May, 1988), pp. 1-32Front MatterP. W. Thatcher Dodges the Questions [p. 2-2]End of the Tunnel? [p. 3-3]BriefingKey Phase for Power Supply [p. 4-4]The Ultimate Dream: The Yard's Survival [p. 4-4]A Roof over Our Heads? [p. 4-4]Minister Must Try Harder [p. 5-5]All Those in Favour... [p. 5-5]Misdirected Anger? [p. 5-5]Fifteenth Anti-Abortion Bill Set to Pass [p. 5-5]
Cover StoryA Quiet Man Bemused by the Flattery [p. 6-6]Talking past Each Other [p. 7-7]
Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object [pp. 8-9]Queries Summarily Executed [p. 9-9]City Plan Based on Flawed Market-Led Approach: False Economies [pp. 11-12]Integrated Schooling Gets a Delicate Nudge [p. 14-14]Expert Claims [p. 15-15]Fair Jobs: What about Women? Hurdles Hamper Equal Treatment [pp. 16-17]Getting out of Ghetto Work [p. 17-17]Dublin Letter: Hairshirt Economics Begins to Work [p. 18-18]Diary of Events March [p. 19-19]BooksReview: Preaching Ulster's Eternal Verities [p. 21-21]Review: In the Presence of a Brooding Pessimist [p. 22-22]Review: Plot Lost on a Crowded Stage [pp. 22-23]Review: A Touch Heavy on the Ketchup Bottle [p. 23-23]Review: Boy with a War Record [p. 23-23]
Around the Learning Curve [pp. 25-26]More of the Same? [p. 26-26]Spreading the Advertising Butter [p. 26-26][Welcomes a Lively Touring Dance Group] [p. 28-28]Contrasting Reflections [p. 28-28]An Ghaeilge agus na Mein Chumarside [p. 29-29]Poems [p. 29-29]Sidelines: Not Fair Comment [p. 31-31]Back Matter