Political Violence and Democracy in Northern Ireland

Publication Date01 Sep 1988
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1988.tb01775.x
AuthorClive Walker
REPORTS
POLITICAL
VIOLENCE
AND
DEMOCRACY
IN
NORTHERN
IRELAND
INTRODUCTION
THE
achievement
of
democracy and justice within Northern Ireland
is viewed by some as a hopeless enterprise since the Province’s
very existence is said to be founded upon a sectarian gerrymander
which is designed to secure a Protestant hegemony.’ One of the
leading exponents of this view is Sinn Fein, but even it is now
prepared to participate in the political system to secure its
overthrow. This relatively new policy ended many decades
of
absentionism from Northern Ireland institutions and was precipated
by the unexpected electoral success in 1981 of Bobby Sands, the
I.R.A. prisoner who soon after died on hunger-strike. The current
tactic is to utilise political openings in the hope that “with ballot
box in this hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in
Ireland.
’”
Consequently, Sinn Fein candidates have begun to
contest elections at all levels in Northern Ireland and with a
marked degree
of
success. Thus, the party regularly attains about a
10 per cent. share of the overall vote and has secured the election
of one Member
of
Parliament (Gerry Adams in 1983 and 1987),
five members
of
the Northern Assembly (convened in 1982 but
now indefinitely dis~olved)~ and over
50
local government councillors
(elected in 1985).* The emergence of the last group has caused
most consternation, since not only do they contest elections, but
they also take their seats in the council chambers. This new
phalanx of Sinn Fein councillors has caused widespread concern
amongst their Unionist opponents, whose “intolerable” position
has been communicated to the G~vernment.~
The belated response of the Northern Ireland Office to all these
events emerged in October 1987. It then published a short
discussion paper entitled “Elected Representatives and the
Democratic Process in Northern Ireland” (hereafter referred to as
the “Discussion Paper”) which is expressly targeted at the “serious
threat to stable local democracy” said to emanate from Sinn Feh6
The Discussion Paper considers four possible options: proscription,
an oath of allegiance, extended disqualification and a declaration
S.
Cronin and R. Roche,
Freedom the Wove Tone Way
(1973) pp.15-16.
*
Danny Morrison (speaking at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis) quoted in
The Irish Times,
November 2, 1981. The policy was extended in 1986 with the decision to take up seats in
the Dail (Parliament
of
the Irish Republic). Sinn Fein has no representatives in that
forum at present but does have a number
of
local councillors in the Republic.
Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order 1986 S.I. No. 1036.
59 were elected in 1985, when Sinn Fein gained control
of
Omagh and Fermanagh
councils:
0.
McGuckin, “Sinn Fein and the councils” (1986) 240
Fortnight
8.
H.
C. Debs. Standing Comm. D, col. 362 (February 26, 1987) Mr.
E.
Powell.
Ibid.,
para.
3.
605
606
THE
MODERN
LAW
REVIEW
[Vol.
51
against violence. There is as yet no indication as to when action in
any of these directions can be expected, and delays are likely until
at least the next session of Parliament in view of the probable need
for primary legislation and for consultation with the Irish
Government via the Anglo-Irish Inter-governmental Conference’
and with Northern Ireland political parties.
It is intended to examine in detail the four options being
canvassed by the Northern Ireland Office, but first a brief
philosophical setting and history
of
Sinn Fein will be provided.
THE LIMITS
OF
POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
Liberal democracies pride themselves on their freedoms, tolerance
and plurality. Their rationale is that only through individual
experiment and a flourishing market-place of ideas will citizens
obtain self-fulfilment, a clearer perception of the truth, and a
balance between stability and change.* It follows that those who
seek to apply their freedoms towards the overthrow of such a
society cause it great discomfort. On the one hand, it is committed
to the voicing of all strands of opinion, even those which it believes
are misguided or repugnant, since suppression may lead to the
neglect of legitimate grievances. On the other hand, to allow a free
rein to any significant strand of political thought which seeks to
destroy these ideals seems to be courting disaster. Consequently,
rights to political expression and participation are rarely treated as
absolute
,9
and restrictions are permissible in certain circumstances.
Thus, many common law jurisdictions have outlawed activities or
speeches which arouse an imminent threat
of
violence.
lo
Prohibition
or restriction may also be imposed on groups whose aims are not
immediately dangerous but which are ultimately anti-democratic.”
The precise basis for the value of freedom of political participation
and for limitations thereon remains controversial and will not be
pursued here12 save for two observations directly relevant to the
treatment of Sinn Fein. The nature of Sinn Fein is considered in
Agreement between the Government
of
the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and
the Government
of
the Republic
of
Ireland,
Cmnd. 9657, (1985) Art. 2.
*
See: J.
S.
Mill,
On
Liberry
(1859); T. I. Emerson, “Towards a general theory
of
the
First Amendment” 72 Yale
L.J.
16 (1963).
A balancing test is generally favoured by the U.S. Supreme Court:
e.g. Wisconsin
v.
Yoder
406
U.S. 205 (1972) at p.214
(per
Burger C.J.). For the absolutist view, see:
H.
Black, “The Bill
of
Rights” 35 N.Y.U.L.R. 865 (1960).
See:
R.
v.
Burns
(1886) 16 Cox C.C. 335; Public Order Act 1986, s.4;
Brandenburg
v.
Ohio
395
U.S.
444
(1969). But compare:
Arrowsmith
v.
U.
K.,
Application no.7050/75,
D.R. 19 p.5.
For example, the British Communist Party is treated
as
a subversive organisation and
consequently
is
a target
of
M.I.5 (See: Report
of
the Security Commission, Cmnd. 9514
(1985) Chap.3). The
U.S.
Communist party has suffered even greater hostility (see:
8
U.S.C. s.1182,
18
U.S.C. s.2385, 50 U.S.C. ss.781-798,811-826, 841-844) though much of
this legislation has either been repealed
or
declared unconstitutional. The Communist Party
in the Federal Republic
of
Germany was proscribed in 1956 (see:
German
Communist
Party
v.
F. R. G.
Application no.250/57,1 Y.B.E.C.
22
(1955-57).
F. Schauer,
Free Speech
(1982);
E.
Barendt,
Freedom
of
Speech
(1985);
L.
C.
Bollinger,
The Tolerant Sociefy
(1986).

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