At times it can be pretty humiliating being a lackey of British imperialism; just ask Peter Robinson.
The north of Ireland’s first minister flew into a rage in February and threatened to resign after a deal not to pursue a number of suspected republican freedom fighters, reached between the British government and Sinn Fein, became public. The ignominious retraction of this piece of grandstanding came after just 24 hours. The Financial Times reported:
“Mr Robinson’s threat to resign came after John Downey, a 62-year-old suspected former member of the IRA, walked free from court this week. He had been charged with being a member of the IRA unit that planted a bomb in Hyde Park in 1982 which killed four soldiers and several horses.
“The judge ruled that he should be freed after it emerged that he had later received a letter from the authorities in northern Ireland saying he would not be prosecuted for the crime. The existence of this letter – and almost two hundred more like it – had been kept secret from Mr Robinson and his administration.”
Robinson, who claimed that he had been kept in the dark by everybody around him, including his beloved British paymasters, declared that:
“I am not prepared to be the First Minister of a government that has found itself having salient facts relevant to matters that are devolved hidden from them.
“That is not acceptable to me. I want to have a full judicial inquiry into who knew what, when they knew it and exactly what they did know at the time.
“I also want to ensure that the letters that have been sent out are rescinded.”
All very forceful stuff. Unfortunately for Pete, nobody cares much for his demands. If they did, maybe he’d have been consulted in the first place.
As part of a dwindling and defeated unionist rump, Peter Robinson is negotiating from a position of extreme weakness, not strength. Such bluster cannot hide the fact that the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and the work of Sinn Fein since 1998 is reaping rich results for the people of the north of Ireland and the cause of republicanism.
It also, in a roundabout way, illustrates how Sinn Fein continues to fight hard behind the scenes for the rights of republicans and those formerly wanted by the British state, whom many loyalists and imperialists would still dearly love to see behind bars. Such an exposure, far from damaging Sinn Fein, can only convince those doubtful of the GFA and the concessions made by Sinn Fein of the correctness of the political leadership’s strategy over the last years.
Robinson’s demands for a full judicial enquiry and the rescinding of the letters that had been issued to those men and women wanted by the British state fell on deaf ears in Westminster. Speaking in parliament, David Cameron stated that, although he was ‘against’ such letters (the coalition government have issued over 40 similar letters since coming to office), he respected “the rule of law”. There would be no judicial enquiry, he said, and all hopes of the letters being withdrawn were futile.
As a gesture to the drowning man, Cameron did announce a “factual review” – ie, a review of the paperwork. Not a man to shy away from a bit of undignified back-peddling, Peter Robinson latched onto this ‘factual review’ and declared that he had got what he wanted (!), quickly issued his retraction and ended this particular humiliation and our readers’ short ‘Roman holiday’, leaving Jim Allister of the breakaway Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) to gloat that “he buckled within 24 hours of playing the hard man”!