Category Archives: #IRA

Let’s replace Cecil Rhodes statue with one of Engels Foxhunting!

Brother Ivo is undoubtedly a “Christmas person”, much preferring the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord to merely that of the turning of the year. Granted, New Years Eve has a jollity and optimism about it amongst the young, but for those of older years, it tends towards the rather mawkish and sentimental.

Our Scottish cousins have a different view, and may they have a thoroughly good time of it, but it is not for Brother Ivo.

Notwithstanding this, the turn of the year traditionally challenges us to focus upon some improving notion and the one that currently draws Brother Ivo’s thoughts is that of tolerance.

The context of this is the recent furore created by some rather over privileged students at Oriel College Oxford who wish to to do away with a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Brother Ivo is no expert on Rhodes, but it is undeniably the fact that he left significant funds for the benefit of future generations and they now seem now seem intent on repaying his generosity with priggish ingratitude.

Many other philanthropists had enemies. Andrew Carnegie, for example,  endowed libraries across the world but was so hated for his tough line with Trades Unions, that the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to kill him. Plainly philanthropy never did equate to perfect morality.

The problem with Rhodes is that the controversy is intergenerational. The new generation feels entitled to judge out of time, out of context ,  and all too often out of ignorance.

This is a pity because we need to be reminded of our history, and to have important figures set within it like landmarks by which we orientate our way through its twists and turns. The present controversy appears to turn upon this generations lack of tolerance towards those of another time with which it currently feels out of tune. There is much moral vanity on display and no great subtlety of understanding.

It is not a uniquely British phenomenon, indeed there appears to be a rather desperate ” me too” element involved: if New Orleans can reject Robert E Lee (forgetting his role in post American Civil War healing) , then we too must show ourselves no less diligent in repudiating historic wrongs.

Pondering the question of such memorials set Brother Ivo to reflect upon some odd quasi-juxtapositions.

Parliament Square / Whitehall sees memorials to both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Past generations appear to have lived comfortably enough with that. The fact we do so does us credit. The most difficult of disputes to resolve are those where each side “has a point”.

The Embankment has both William Tyndale and Thomas Moore memorialised. One wonders if the passing crowds ever reflect upon how remarkable that equality of honour might appear to those who fought over religion, in past eras,

In Parliament Square we have comparatively recently raised a statue to Nelson Mandela without having felt the need to evict that of Jan Smuts with whom he might have had have several differences of opinion. Happily for the General, most Oxford students won’t know who he is, so he will probably hold his place.

In the same vicinity we have Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill who were far from close friends or political soul mates, indeed a recent book about them bore the sub title “The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire”.

Indian sub-continental rivalries are further memorialised with statues of Nehru and Jinnah almost within hailing distance of each other around the Law Courts, Nehru outside Kings College, and Jinnah over the road in Lincoln Inn Fields.

As far as Brother Ivo recalls, there is no enthusiasm from the Human Rights lobby to remove the statue of Che Guevara from its place on the Embankment despite the jolly homophobe’s penchant for killing political prisoners. Similarly, there is no apparent pressure to rename the two Stalin Avenues in Chatham and Colchester.

We have not yet called to mind the bust of Karl Marx, set appropriately enough in a cemetery, but no doubt were we to do so, Diane Abbott would argue that he did more good than harm, though her accountancy methods might attract some scrutiny on that point.

Such benevolence to the heroes of the Left continues. There is a plan to erect a statue of Friedrich Engels’ beard at Salford University, ( yes,  seriously  ) presumably not to far from the BBC so it will have plenty of visitors.

Looking at the plan, Brother Ivo could not help but mischievously note that they have not felt it necessary to depict space for a brain, but actually there is more fun to be had than that .

The spokesman for the design group responsible, Engine, declared that “We aren’t interested in making a “hero on horseback” which is something Engels would have been horrified by”.

Except he probably wouldn’t.

Engles declared himself never happier than when on horseback – riding to hounds!   He once wrote to Marx “On Saturday I went out fox hunting – seven hours in the saddle….That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days: its the greatest physical pleasure I know…. I was in at the death”.

It is this kind of dichotomy that delights the English. it is probably why we are content to have a degree of incoherence in our historical statuary. We take what we like and put up with what we don’t – and there is a lesson for many in this world.

We are happy to celebrate, in death, aspects of character of those who were bitter opponents in life. We know there is nothing pure or logical in history and that Marx was wrong – there is no historical determinism. We got where we are in a muddled way but somehow we manage ok without continually tearing each other apart. It is this penchant for tolerance that so exasperates the ideologues.

Tolerant peoples are better than “black and white” in their judgements and thank God for that.

It was this acknowledgement of complexity that enabled Mandela and De Klerk to find a way forwards in South Africa – though sadly less broad minds may yet put an end to the hope.

Some of us recall the bonhomie that unexpectedly broke out between the late Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams after they had concluded the Northern Ireland Peace process.

The ability to avoid stiff necked principle is a virtue that has to be learned with age and experience. It is plainly not a common one amongst the self styled elite of younger generation which seems certain it is right about everything, not least where historic statuary is concerned.

In the interests of fostering an ability to compromise. perhaps the way forward for Oriel College, is to offer a historic compromise. They should offer to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue together with all the finance with which he endowed the University, upon condition that it is replaced by a mounted statue of Friedrich Engels riding to hounds.

such a solution would simultaneously be a triumph of the Left, an affirmation of  the importance of truthfulness in historic matters, a tribute to an indispensible feature of the English countryside and a reminder that few of us are as predictable as some would have it believed.

On that quirky note, may you have a Happy and idiosyncratic New Year

The consequences of releasing Mr Downey

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The collapse of the trial of the man accused of the Hyde Park bombing is both serious and potentially dangerous to the stability of Northern Ireland.

Historic wrongs were done on both sides and bringing the communities into greater trust and practical co-operation is an ongoing but fragile process, which unexpected debacles like this do nothing to assist.

The problem operates at multiple levels and yet again we return to a concept that appears to be becoming the theme of Brother Ivo’s blog. In a word “integrity”.

Lord Trimble is a man who was closely involved in the peace negotiations from the loyalist side. He claims that the policy behind the notorious letter allegedly sent in error to Mr John Downey,  indemnifying him against prosecution, was never a part of the political Ulster peace settlement. He is saying that even if it was validly sent by Government, those who authorised it, did so without the knowledge or approval of those representing the loyalist community.

Brother Ivo has no basis to doubt Mr Trimble’s integrity on this account.

It is currently unclear if the letter was intra vires or ultra vires the competency of the Westminster Government and that needs to be clarified early. MP’s must ask searching and careful questions.

Plainly however the letter was sent and had a direct legal effect and political consequence.

The public is entitled to know if this type letter was part of an agreement  and if so, who were the parties to that aspect of agreement. Were those parties limited to the negotiating teams, the Government of the day, the Civil Servants, the Republican negotiators? Specifically, were any stakeholders in the peace process excluded from knowledge of the agreement, and/or the detailed terms thereof?

We know that this was a complex and sensitive negotiation and we still need to to tread carefully. We also need to ensure that we do not blunder into crisis by accident.

If such letters were part of the settlement, then those who received a proper and lawful indemnity should have the promise honoured. It may be uncomfortable, but sometimes historical amnesia is necessary.

Let us remember that despite horrendous behaviour by troops under his command, the Japanese Emperor was given a State visit to these shores in 1971. That was no less offensive to the former war prisoners of the Japanese that the sight of Mr Downey casually strolling away from the Old Bailey.

Yet that that is not an end to the matters.

If a line is drawn to benefit Republicans there can be no justification for loyalist paramilitaries and British Servicemen to be treated differently. Brother Ivo reminds himself that he is talking about crime on all sides; if he is advocating pragmatism it will hurt victims but sometimes one reluctantly chooses to act against formal Justice. If so we must do it openly regretfully and accept the inevitable justified criticism. That is the essence of integrity – taking the consequences for one’s actions.

There is wisdom in the Book of Common Prayer confession of wrongdoing and sin ; ” we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.”

Let our politicians read mark and inwardly digest before they speak of these things.

Mr Trimble may be right that trying to overturn the Judge’s decision in this case is more trouble than it is worth.  We are a country that respects the rule of law and bad cases do not make good law. Mr Downey may be the unworthy lucky recipient of bad administration or shabby politics. So be it. There is however no reason why everyone in receipt of such a letter needs to profit from it.

The precise nature of that bad administration or political decision should be examined in detail.

Are we talking clerical error, computer glitch, poorly applied judgement or a secret political agreement?

There is no point in debating the problem until the parameters of the problem have been evidenced and made available. Brother Ivo and others fear that there may have been a collusive deal which kept its details from the loyalist negotiators but it would be irresponsible to build a judgement, still less a campaign, upon premature speculation.

It is right to put that concern into the public discussion however, as a marker: that issue needs to be addressed in Government explanations. If our politicians or Civil Servants acted improperly we can and should hold them to account, that is the sine qua non of a functional democracy. It is as offensive for them to go unpunished as it is for an IRA terrorist to avoid a trial of the evidence.

The public mood is mainly directed to the IRA criminals, and there is no reason why the Government cannot and should not redress the problem. It need not break the peace process.

Mr Downey relied upon a well established principle of estoppel. He had received a promise of indemnity and acted to his detriment in reliance of it. Not everyone who received that letter has changed their actions upon such reliance.

The Government can and should write to the other recipients to make clear the error and to advise them not to rely upon that promise. Should the recipient later come before the jurisdiction of our Courts, the onus of proof will lie on the accused to prove a post receipt detriment, and that may not be as easy for them as for Mr Downey.

It is hard to see that Republicans could object to that with any integrity. If it is within the agreement then prove it and it shall be honoured .If it is an error and their people have not acted to their detriment, then the withdrawal will have left them in no worse position.

There has been progress in Ulster. We must not throw the baby out with the bath water but neither do we have to completely affront our sense of Justice by simply letting everyone involved in this sorry story  escape scrutiny.

Wrongdoing should have consequences whether it be by incompetent administrator, devious politician or terrorist murderer.  Mr Downey may be lucky; it is no basis upon which to build a precedent for everyone else involved in this sorry business.