Britain’s long goodbye and its speedy return
These are the introductory paragraphs of a very interesting and thought provoking piece by Paul Stewart and Tommy McKearney.
Britain’s disengagement from Northern Ireland is not quite what it seems. In conjunction with its deep state, in the age of neoliberal imperialism where control is seemingly less dependent on territorial subordination, it has developed institutions that will allow it to ‘remain’ even in the midst of departure. These institutions mobilize soft and hard power repressive practices developed over the period of the insurgency (1969-98). They comprise(d) the army, MI5, police, loyalist paramilitaries and agents influents within all political parties and the Republican movement. We term this nexus of repression the continuity state repressive apparatuses.
If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you […] through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country… (James Connolly, 1897)
Introduction: the continuity state repressive apparatuses of imperialism’s deep state
This is the story behind the story of Britain’s long good-bye from the island of Ireland. It reveals the UK’s broader political concerns, the concerns of the new imperialism. These are often deeply hidden to ensure that withdrawal will take place in such a manner as to ensure that departure will be minimised. In fact, it is a departure to end departure. The chapter considers how this story can be told by exploring the continuities in the exercise of state power during the long insurgency from 1969-98. A mixture of hard and soft power (force plus consent) has been mobilised to manage the anticipated unification of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland sometime in the coming decades.
While the theme of the use of soft power is considered, the majority of the chapter is concerned with the development of apparatuses and institutions of hard power into what we term the continuity state repressive apparatuses (CSRA). While not unusual in aspects of their development as understood by imperial powers elsewhere, the chapter describes their evolution during the period of the long insurgency in the north. The argument is that these apparatuses were constituted by, and represented, the practices of the deep state. The deep state is present in all capitalist societies and in the case described here has an essential role in shaping, or preparing, political and civil society, for outcomes which are congruent with the interests of the ‘departing’ imperial state.
The chapter delineates three periods in the development of the continuity state repressive apparatuses: 1969-1981 (from the start of the insurgency until the Hunger Strikes); 1981-1998 (from the Hunger Strikes until the Good Friday Agreement, GFA); 1998 to the present.
When Britain eventually leaves the North it will not do so in any commonly understood sense. Just as in 1922, when Britain conceded independence to Southern Ireland it did so while retaining overall influence. What can be said though about the kind of political, social and economic changes attendant on a perceived British withdrawal? Clearly, Britain will not simply let the North go if by this is meant, ‘let go’ without the protection of the political, economic, and other strategic interests central to British imperialism. In this respect, and notwithstanding its current relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), given the febrile nature of Northern Irish politics, the British government will be happier dealing primarily with the republic of Ireland. How to remain while appearing to leave – that is the question? Attending this question is the issue of the way Britain seeks to exit the North and the kinds of state apparatuses – repressive and consensus building – that it is endeavoring to fashion.
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