One of the key moments in the so-called Peace Process in Northern Ireland was the declaration by the British Government that it had ‘no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland’. It is hard to see how staging the summit among what Churchill referred to as the ‘dreary steeples of Fermanagh‘ is anything other than the expression of both a selfish strategic interest and an economic interest.
No doubt the British Government would deny any icy cold egotistical calculation in using Fermanagh: there is consensus among the ruling parties in government North and South that the G8 summit is a Good Thing, an opportunity for that region to flaunt its landscape, at least before it gets fracked into oblivion, and for the people there to showcase how submissive they can be to the demands of Power now that Peace has broken over them. But for those inclined to take the Crown’s injunction of Honi soit qui mal y pense with a pinch of salt, there are clear selfish strategic interests –if only the British Government were suitably equipped to recognising them, of course- in presenting Britain to the world as a successful broker of peace at a time when its troops are subjecting Afghans to the benefits of its helicopters and drones.
There are also clear selfish strategic interests –not that they have ever occurred to the British Government- in minimising levels of public protests amid an atmosphere of deep discontent arising from the Tory Government’s ongoing destruction of the National Health Service, its brutal cuts to welfare provision, and its imposition of crippling and punitive taxes on the weakest constituencies in British society. What better place, in this context, than a remote location inaccessible by land to Britain’s population, one that sports long experience of using repressive policing apparatus with a minimum of fuss? Therein lies the economic interest too, of course, and also in the chance to use Northern Ireland once again as a petri dish for deploying new technologies of population control and containment, as with the purchase of drones purchased by the PSNI.
From the point of view of the Irish Government, the G8 summit matters only in so far as it gives the opportunity, on the one hand, for flexing the muscles of its security apparatus and cracking down on so-called ‘dissident’ behaviour real or imagined, and, on the other, for demonstrating once again how willing it is to bow to the interests of more powerful states, including Britain, in the pursuit of a ‘good business climate’.
With the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government no longer lays any claim to the territory of Northern Ireland, and hence what goes on within its borders is in the final instance none of its business. This is a situation the Government is quite happy to contend with: moves toward an all-Ireland Republic would necessarily entail a substantial shift in terms of class power – in the wrong direction, from the point of view of its political establishment. Why, for instance, would you want Northerners starting to lay claim to sovereignty over the material possessions and resources in the South?
The reverse is true for the Unionist establishment in the North. If drilling companies wants to frack Fermanagh or Lough Neagh or wherever to bits and risk destroying vital freshwater lakes, what business is that of interfering Southerners? The political settlement has been cast, and these things are decided in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and you wouldn’t want that falling to bits, and things going back to the bad old days…
The whole point of the republic is the res publica: that which is common to all. Under the old constitutional claim, that meant Lough Neagh and Lough Erne were common to everyone who lived on the island. Now there is an understanding that Britain exercises sovereignty -through its local assembly, of course- over the loughs of the North to do with them as they will. Is it all that surprising that ‘dissidents’ – people who refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Northern Ireland and British rule – should be given especial attention in the run up to the G8, or, as it appears, that anti-fracking campaigners should be presented in the pro-fracking Northern media as if they were such ‘dissidents’? The issue of fracking, whilst it might seem a minor one at present, drills right into the political and material constitution of Ireland. Whatever happens at the G8 summit, I have a feeling the question of the Republic of Ireland is likely to re-emerge….