‘The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend’ – Cicero
The suffix –gate, used to indicate a scandal, after the original Watergate scandal, is a piece of self-referential press shorthand that obscures more than it informs. Political corruption and misdeeds precede Richard Nixon by thousands of years, yet it seems that any press revelation of intrigue or deceit can be neatly encapsulated by appending –gate at the end.
What would a public inquiry for the so-called Stormontgate reveal?
That MI5 has no interest in devolved government for Northern Ireland? Of course it hasn’t. Its only brief, one imagines, is security for the British state and its interests.
If this means that a decades-long façade of democracy, or of endlessly collapsing institutions, needs to be maintained in order to avoid sustained attacks on high-profile targets in English cities, then so be it. For them, the IRA’s courtesy in ringing through notice of bombs is probably preferable to the random horror of the suicide backpacker, but one can be sure that the intelligence services do not want to have to deal with both at the same time. For them, the only consideration is security.
Would the inquiry reveal that, because of spying activities, Sinn Fein has no interest in devolved government for Northern Ireland? Hard to say. After all, whilst Denis Donaldson has been outed as a British agent, there can be no means of demonstrating that other participants in the affair, already implicated or otherwise, are not also British agents.
It is likely that the job description of high-ranking mole involves a lot of sitting on one’s hands while other things happen. Assuming that spying took place, and that Donaldson knew something about it, what hat was he wearing when the spying took place? For the purposes of a public inquiry, he is unlikely to have submitted a timesheet for his hours as a British agent, and a separate one for his hours as a SF head of administration.
Back to the –gate bit. To talk of “Stormontgate” perhaps presupposes that there is a good old fashioned story – a finite set of facts that can be apprehended by a public inquiry and sleeves-rolled-up journalism- which, when told, will cast light on subversives, rotten apples and dirty deeds. As if. Just in case anyone has forgotten, this is Northern Ireland.
To talk of “Stormontgate” also presupposes that the people to whom this ought to matter most – those who live in the North – would be able to take action in light of the findings. As if. As the acquittals last week demonstrated, a precondition for Northern Irish truth is security.
No truth here. Please shut the gate on the way out.