The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, March 11, 2004
 

ETA and IRA: post-Madrid bombing thoughts


My understanding [1] is that the consistent default policy of successive Spanish governments has been to treat Basque terror as a security, rather than a political, problem. The 'Sinn Fein' equivalent of ETA was at one stage - still is? - banned, and some of its regional legislators locked up.

In Ireland, during the 1990s, a security-led policy was replaced by creeping appeasement, leading, under Blair, to the so-called Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which amnestied IRA [2] terrorists (and their Protestant equivalents) and let Sinn Fein into government, in exchange for deliberately vague undertakings [3] to cease terrorist activities which were facially non-binding on the IRA itself.

As a result, the terrorists on both sides still kill and maim, but only members of their own 'sections'. And not the police and Army.

Objectively, this was a shameful surrender by HMG: the IRA won (a long truce, at the very least, during which they can regroup and prepare for further terror when they think advantageous) - and all that talk, from the early 1970s onwards - from Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher [4] - about not giving in to terrorism - seemed to be quietly forgotten.

It was another Dunkirk-style 'victory' - Gerry Adams managed what Adolf Hitler could not!

But think of Northern Ireland not as part of the UK, but as a colony - as the far left used to say it was. Britain was for ever being defeated and humiliated in and around its empire - even at the height of its power in the 1870s, in the Zulu War of 1879 (immediately followed by the crushing defeat by the Boers at Majuba in 1880).

The reign of Victoria started disastrously with the absurd First Afghan War, in which a small British army was massacred by tribesmen. And ended with the shambles (in both senses) of the Boer War still in progress.

View Ireland as Bongo-Bongo Land - and how difficult is that? - and the manifold humiliations inflicted there on the British are merely par for the imperial course.

The 14 miles of separation enjoyed by the mainland [5] may be crucial in the thought process.

As is the waiting maw of the Republic, ready - very reluctantly - to swallow up the North whenever the North's population vote that way. That's a generation away, but the Irish Anschluss is a hope still nurtured in most Northern Catholics' breasts.

There is, I think, a feeling in all parts of the island of Ireland that any arrangement over the North is temporary, that the ultimate destination is fixed, even if the route is not.

Whereas the Basques have nowhere else to go, politically; and, geographically, there are no natural features which plausibly lean in favour of the Basque Country (irony!) being a separate sovereign state. (For a start, it extends across the Pyrenees - natural boundary par excellence - into France!)

Moreover, in recent years, the death toll ETA has exacted has not been high enough to put the Spanish authorities under much pressure to settle.

There is no viable ultimate destination that can act as an incentive to the Basque extremists to make an interim settlement, and stop the violence.

I think the hope among the Spanish political class probably was that the thing would peter out - as, for example, the Red Brigades-style terror of the 1970s did.

[Of course, we've nothing definitive on who did what in today's bombings in Madrid. They were merely a trigger to thought on the ETA/IRA comparison.]

  1. I'm no expert on either matter: caveat maxime lector!

  2. Provisional IRA, known as PIRA to security forces.

  3. Constructive ambiguity was the vogue phrase.

  4. Not that, at times during that period, HMG didn't have contacts with IRA representatives.

  5. Entry in a New Statesman-style misleading advice to tourists competition: when in Ireland, always refer to Britain as the mainland...


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