Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Best Read On Trump-Russia Collusion

This piece, by Max Frenkel, the former executive editor of the NYTimes, strikes me as the best read yet on the issue of Trump-Russia collusion:

Collusion — or a lack of it — turns out to have been the rhetorical trap that ensnared President Trump’s pursuers. There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.

Run down the known facts about the communications between Russians and the Trump campaign and their deal reveals itself. Perhaps, somewhere along the line, Russians also reminded the Trump family of their helpful cooperation with his past financial ventures. Perhaps, also, they articulated their resentment of Mrs. Clinton for her challenge as secretary of state to the legitimacy of Mr. Putin’s own election. But no such speculation is needed to perceive the obvious bargain reached during the campaign of 2016.

Early on, emissaries of the Russian oligarchs sent word of their readiness to help embarrass and undermine the Clinton candidacy. And in June 2016, the Russians lured the Trumpites to a meeting in Trump Tower with a promise of “dirt” against Mrs. Clinton only to use the meeting to harp on their hunger for sanctions relief. As the Trump family openly acknowledged, the Russians spoke at that meeting of a desire to again allow Americans to adopt Russian children. Since the adoptions were halted to retaliate against the American sanctions, it required no dictionary to interpret the oligarchs’ meaning: “dirt” for sanctions relief.

That relief and a warm new relationship with Russia were then freely discussed in public and in private. There was even an effort to concoct a grand diplomatic bargain by which the Russians would be allowed to legalize their seizure of the Ukrainian Crimea. Michael Cohen and other Trump advisers promoted the idea of letting the Russians “lease” the seized territory for up to 100 years so as to sanitize the reciprocal lifting of the sanctions that Mr. Obama had imposed to punish the land grab.

Sanction relief seems to have been discussed in some of the other secret contacts between Trump operatives and Russians. We know that Michael Flynn lied to the F.B.I. when he denied discussing sanction relief with the Russian ambassador.

As Robert Mueller surely discovered in tracking down these dealings, the promise of policy changes was not in itself illegal. Candidates routinely promise policy changes, often with foreign governments. (Move the embassy in Israel, anyone?)

So why all the secrecy and lying? Candidate Trump made no secret of his intention to forge a warm relationship with the Kremlin. But pledges of sanctions relief and other specific moves while not yet in office were unseemly at best and clearly offensive to the American convention that we have only one president at a time. Mr. Flynn especially had to lie because though already in transition to power he was directly undermining Mr. Obama’s still active and punitive diplomacy against Mr. Putin.

Mr. Flynn, remember, was deemed so helpful to the Mueller investigation that the special counsel pleaded to have him spared any time in jail. He was “colluding” all right, but with legal policy promises, not apparently with election sabotage. And true to the campaign minuet, despite great resistance in Congress, President Trump has watered down the sanctions and otherwise appeased Russian interests, even at the expense of America’s allies. Call it the art of the deal.

Max Frankel was the executive editor of The Times from 1986 to 1994.

Bernadette McAliskey On 1968

‘Morning Star’ Review Of ‘I, Dolours’….

I didn’t realise The Morning Star still existed but apparently it does. Here is a review of ‘I, Dolours‘, it published this week.

Birmingham Bombers To Be Named – ‘With IRA Permission’

The report below, carried in The Guardian this morning – updated last night – has interesting implications, if it is true.

The reference to ‘the current head of the IRA’ will be taken to mean that the Provisional IRA still exists, while the claim that ‘Witness O’ has been given permission to name the Birmingham bombers begs the obvious question: why not name the perpetrators in other violent incidents?

(Needless to say The Irish Times has avoided asking, much less answering such awkward questions. The Major lives on!)

Whether this claim from ‘Witness O’ is true or not remains to be seen but in the meantime here is the text of the report, written by Frances Perraudin.

A convicted IRA bomber known as Witness O has named four men he says were responsible for the Birmingham pub bombings, telling the inquest he had been given permission to do so by the current head of the IRA in Dublin.

Twenty-one people were killed and more than 200 injured when bombs were detonated in two city centre pubs – the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town – on the evening of 21 November 1974.

Giving evidence in court on Friday, the anonymous former IRA volunteer said he had been told by the head of the IRA six months ago in Dublin that he could name those he knew were involved.

Speaking over a secure videolink, he named the officer commanding the Birmingham IRA at the time as Seamus McLoughlin, who he said was the person responsible for selecting the targets. He said he gave McLoughlin’s name to two police detectives days after the bombings while he was serving time in HMP Winson Green, but heard nothing more.

He said Mick Murray was one of the bombers. Murray, who died in 1999, was one of two men named by the former Labour MP Chris Mullin in an article in the London Review of Books published in February.

Asked about James Gavin, who was also named by Mullin and died in 2002, he replied: “Well, he was [involved], I met him in Dublin and he said he was.”

Witness O was asked if Michael Hayes was in the bombing team. He said he was, but added, in apparent reference to the Good Friday agreement: “But he can’t be arrested. There is nobody going to be charged with this atrocity. The British government have signed an agreement with the IRA.”

He said that two other men he knew as Dublin Dave and Socks had also been involved, but that he did not know either man’s real name.

Witness O was also asked about the role of Michael Patrick Reilly – a man who has previously been alleged to be a perpetrator – but was unable to confirm his identity.

The inquest into the deaths was opened in November 1974, but was adjourned to allow for a criminal investigation. In 1975, six men – who became known as the Birmingham Six – were convicted for the bombings but were acquitted 16 years later in 1991.

Murray was tried alongside the Birmingham Six and convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions. Gavin was also tried alongside the Birmingham Six and convicted of the possession of explosives.

Murray, Gavin, McLoughlin and Hayes were named in 1990 in the Granada Television documentary drama Who Bombed Birmingham?.

Fresh inquests into the deaths were ordered in 2016 but were delayed by disputes over whether the hearings should examine who might be responsible for the bombings.

In January 2018, the high court overturned a ruling by the coroner Sir Peter Thornton that alleged perpetrators would not fall within the framework of the inquest. Thornton appealed against that decision the following July and the court of appeal ruled in his favour in September.

Speaking outside court on Friday, Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Tavern in the Town, said: “Witness O has today named the bombers involved in the Birmingham pub bombings.

“I have a letter from David Thompson, chief constable of West Midlands police, that says this is an ongoing live investigation – as such we expect action. [We expect] information as a matter of urgency now as to what is going to happen, what, where and when.”

Speaking via videolink from Dublin on Thursday, the former IRA intelligence chief Kieran Conway said he knew the names of those who were responsible for the bombings but would not name them. He described the attacks as an IRA operation that went badly wrong and said the public outrage caused by the bombings had nearly destroyed the group.

Conway, who is a criminal defence solicitor in Ireland and was convicted of handling explosives in Derry in the 1970s, was asked if he thought the attacks constituted murder. He replied: “No, I don’t agree. I believe it was an IRA operation that went wrong.”

“Had the IRA deliberately targeted that pub with the intention of killing civilians then that would have been murder, yes. But in the circumstances, as I have been told, I don’t accept that it was murder,” he said. “I say that it was an IRA operation that went badly wrong.”

Asked how he would have described the deaths, he said: “I understand perfectly that this is unacceptable to the British people but I would categorise them as accidental.”

After the attacks, an internal IRA court of inquiry, convened in Ireland, cleared those involved in the bombings, Conway said, with IRA chiefs agreeing that the atrocity was down to the delay in calling in the coded warning because the chosen phone box was out of order.

Conway said that at the time of the bombings IRA operations in England were carried out by active service units autonomous of the organisation’s command in Ireland, who were picking bombing targets themselves. Civilian targets were “strictly and loudly forbidden”, he said.

Is There No End To Brexit-Inspired Bullshit On Ireland?

There are two only things that I can say with certainty about Brexit. One is that it has driven normally level-headed people off the rails; the other is that journalism seems to have been worst hit by this ailment.

I can’t explain the former, but the latter I suspect is due to the naivete and inexperience of the reporters covering the story, especially but not exclusively those working for London outlets.

It has been, remember, more than twenty years since the Troubles ended and many of those now reporting Brexit were in nappies, short pants or whatever young girls wear, when, in the mid-to-late 1990’s, the guns fell silent in Belfast. Their understanding of the why’s and wherefore’s of the Troubles is consequently lacking, to put it mildly.

And these are also days when an American reporter can make a whole seven trips to Belfast, write a book filled with stories that were first told nearly a decade ago, and Hollywood comes calling, movie contract in hand.

The problem is that so many in the ‘Hard Border Will  Rekindle The Troubles’ camp have accepted, without much consideration it seems, the following proposition: the Troubles were caused by the IRA trying to force the British out of Northern Ireland, abolish the Border and re-unite the country.

Since the IRA wanted to remove the Border, the Troubles were therefore caused by the Border. It follows that anything which strengthens the Border will anger the IRA, persuade them to reach for their guns again and thus endanger the peace deal enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

Ergo, Brexit is a threat to peace on the island.

Much of the media appears to have swallowed this analysis uncritically; so has the European Commission, it seems, while the Varadkar government in Dublin has skillfully (and cynically) peddled this version of Ireland’s recent history in corridors of power around the world.

The real story of how the Troubles began is very different. They didn’t start because of the Border but because of the nature of the state erected by Unionists within the boundaries of the Border, a state that one historian memorably dubbed ‘A Factory of Grievances’, in which Catholics were discriminated against at virtually all levels of society.

Had the Unionist politicians who held power in those early days adopted a more generous attitude towards their Catholic citizens, it would all have been very different. But they didn’t. And so when the civil rights movement began, Unionist leaders chose repression, as they always had, as their response. For a few critical years the British either did nothing to ameliorate the situation, or so little it did not matter. And so began the slide into the Troubles.

The Border was scarcely mentioned by the civil rights protesters in those early days; it was only when internment was introduced and Bloody Sunday happened that Catholics in significant numbers began to ask whether the state ever could be reformed, and gave support in a significant way to the IRA, whose simple goal was to destroy Northern Ireland.

The first Unionist leader to try to stem this rising tide was Terence O’Neill. A former captain in the Irish Guards, his roots were in the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and arguably that gave him a better feel for the tide of events than many in his party.

As prime minister of Northern Ireland in the mid-1960’s, he attempted to assuage the Catholics community with a simple, if condescending philosophy: give a Catholic a job and a decent house and he’ll behave like a virtuous Protestant.

He visited Catholic schools and was filmed shaking hands with nuns, a sight that thrilled many Nationalists but horrified Unionists. He invited the prime minister of the Republic to Belfast where they sipped tea and munched biscuits in Stormont Castle – a gesture of friendship that went down well on the Falls Road but had the Orangemen of the Shankill up in arms.

Patronising and minimal as this was, it very nearly worked and probably would have had not a loud preacher by the name of Ian Paisley worked his voodoo magic and with the help of bombings of water pipes and electricity stations in Protestant East Belfast disguised as the IRA’s work, he was forced out of office and politics. With O’Neill went the last chance at peaceful reform.

The real point of the Terence O’Neill chapter in the North’s history is that many if not all Catholics/Nationalists would probably have settled for what he was offering them.

In those days the IRA in the North, especially Belfast, was a small, introverted group of dreamers, organised largely along family lines; political beliefs were inherited along with genes. Forced to choose marriage partners from within the republican clan and tiny in number, the IRA in the pre-Troubles era was largely disavowed and avoided by many Catholics.

The truth about Northern Catholics then, and even now, is that their demands were pretty modest. A large section of them, possibly a majority, would have settled for a fair swig from the jug over a united Ireland.

These days things appear to be different, but are they? Sinn Fein dominates Nationalist electoral politics but only because the party has ended the IRA’s violence and occupies ideological ground which once defined the SDLP.

So what are the implications of all this for the other political fantasy spawned by Brexit, that if there was a referendum on Irish unity, a majority would vote Yes.

The latest contribution to this frenzy came in, of all places, an opinion column in the New York Times on March 16th, written by one Timothy Egan and titled: ‘A St Patrick’s Day Miracle: United Ireland‘.

His argument is that the Good Friday Agreement makes allowance for a Border poll (wrong, that possibility has been in place since 1972, long before the GFA), and, he writes:

From the depths of British bungling, hubris and incompetence is emerging a St. Patrick’s Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland……After more than 800 years, it’s not just possible but also seems inevitable that London’s ruling reach will no longer extend to part of the island west of the Irish Sea.

The solution? It’s there in the not-so-fine print of the peace agreement. Should a majority of Northern Ireland residents desire to leave Britain, it is required to call for a vote of those people.

That majority is fast approaching…….Catholics, long a persecuted minority, will soon be a majority in Northern Ireland if demographic trends continue.

Except, as Mr Egan might have discovered had he done a bit more research, the reality is a tad more complicated. He is making the same mistake that hard-line Unionists did when they ditched Terence O’Neill, assuming that all Catholics share a passion for Irish unity when the reality is that the Catholic community in Northern Ireland is a complicated beast and has a range of views on the matter and not all favour Irish reunification.

He would have done well before writing his piece to have consulted an MRBI poll on this subject published in The Irish Times on March 7th, in plenty of time for his column. Evidently he missed it.

Now, some people will remember me as the guy who routinely preached that the results of opinion polls in Northern Ireland should be regarded with great scepticism. But that was when the Troubles were still raging and I believed then that such polls routinely understated support for the extremes, as in support for Sinn Fein, because those being questioned did not want to admit their true feelings to a stranger.

But that was then, and this is now and I have come to the view that current opinion polls conducted in these more peaceful times do not suffer from that particular deficit.

The results are interesting, to say the least, although a likely disappointment for those who share Mr Egan’s exuberance.

Asked whether there should be a referendum on Irish unity, 45 per cent of all respondents said No; 38 per cent said Yes. Broken down further, 22 per cent of Protestants believed there should be a referendum while 62 per cent said there shouldn’t be. Fifty-five per cent of Catholics said there should be a poll, 30 per cent said there shouldn’t be.

Asked how they would vote if there was a referendum, 45 per cent said they would vote No; 32 per cent said Yes and 23 per cent were Don’t Knows. Broken down into religious persuasion, 75 per cent of Protestant plumped for No while just 9 per cent said Yes. Fifty-eight per cent of Catholics said Yes but 18 per cent said No while 22 per cent said they Didn’t Know. The Don’t Knows on the Protestant side came in at 16 per cent.

What these results say seems to confirm the analysis of political loyalities outlined in the early part of this article. Protestants are pretty solid in their opposition to Irish unity (75 per cent No; 25 per cent either Yes or Don’t Know) while Catholics are much more uncertain about the merits of Irish unity (58 per cent would vote Yes in a referendum, while 40 per cent would vote No or did not know how they would vote) and implicitly would be happy in a Northern Ireland that treated them well.

If this opinion poll is meaningful, and I suspect it is, then Mr Egan and his ilk have got the story badly wrong. A Border poll is likely to produce the same result it did in 1973, when the first and only referendum was held.

Can we now have a sane and fact-based discussion on the implications Brexit may have – or not have – for politics in Northern Ireland?

Bloody Sunday Decision

The headlines all read: ‘One soldier to be charged…..etc’. Shouldn’t they really read: ‘Only one soldier to be charged…..’?

‘I, Dolours’ Now On Hulu, United States

You can access it here: