1998, Gerry Adams said Eta should follow the IRA's
example and "arrive at the same configuration
of forces as we have built here during the years
of strife." That year, he could be forgiven
for thinking he was in a position to offer Eta advice.
As we approach the eighth anniversary of the Good
Friday Agreement (GFA), it's worth recalling the
risks politicians took to achieve this. These politicians
had lesser counterparts who took an easier option,
by proclaiming that the process would fail, and
by condemning all involved. In March, after Eta
announced its ceasefire, Spanish Prime Minister
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Socialist Party
(PSOE), reacted cautiously. But he should feel entitled
to some credit. He took risks - the same risks taken
by certain politicians in Britain and Ireland that
led to the GFA.
politicians usually have little difficulty in comparisons
between their region and Northern Ireland. Zapatero,
like most Spanish politicians, rejects this analogy.
However, since he entered government in March 2004,
this comparison is beginning to present him more
favourably. In May 2005, Arnaldo Otegi, the leader
of Eta's political wing, Batasuna, called on Zapatero
to "go down in history as the Spanish Tony
Blair." Although the Basque peace process is
still in its infant stage, it looks as if Zapatero
is edging closer to this place in history. Sinn
Fein's Alex Maskey, who was involved in negotiations
with Eta prior to its ceasefire, acknowledged this,
saying, "When Tony Blair was elected Prime
Minister that made one heck of a difference. You
can see now that there are some kinds of parallels."
as the parallel with Northern Ireland shows Zapatero
in a kind light, so does it show up opponents of
the Basque peace process. In May 2005, the Spanish
parliament voted in favour of holding talks with
Eta, provided it laid down its arms. Zapatero said
this would "bring about the end of Eta's terrorism
through dialogue." The opposition, the conservative
Popular Party (PP), called this a surrender. PP
leader Mariano Rajoy told Zapatero: "In one
year you have turned the whole country belly up
have filled the streets with sectarianism
You have given new life to a moribund Eta
have betrayed the dead." Echoing language used
by Ian Paisley to describe David Trimble, Rajoy
called Zapatero a "traitor."
PP solution to its country's conflict is the same
as Paisley's solution to the IRA: it wants Eta to
surrender unconditionally. Eta, said PP party spokesman
Gabriel Elorriaga, "should be asphyxiated."
who based his opposition to the North's peace process
on the impossible goal of militarily defeating the
IRA, was not alone in his consistent objection to
the North's peace process. Sections of the southern
Irish media were no better. In fact, much of the
time they were far worse. Conor Cruise O'Brien reserved
as much vitriol for John Hume for talking to Gerry
Adams in the early 1990s as he did for Adams himself.
At every stage of the peace process, O'Brien forecast
doom. He contributed nothing himself in terms of
solutions, unless you count internment as a solution.
The Downing Street Declaration, for example, was
"intellectually and morally bankrupt from the
start" and showed the British and Irish governments
"dancing to the tune of the IRA."
sycophantic devotee, the rabidly anti-nationalist
Eoghan Harris, had similar (non)-contributions to
offer. In 1996, he prophesied: "If we persist
with the peace process it will end with sectarian
slaughter in the North, with bombs in Dublin, Cork
and Galway and with the ruthless reign by powerful
provisional gangs over the ghettos of Dublin. The
only way to avoid this abyss is to cut the cord
to John Hume." Two years later, Hume, with
Trimble was awarded the Nobel peace prize.
set out his position, there is logic to Paisley's
ambition to wreck the GFA. Far better to embark
on a self-fulfilling prophecy than for the Agreement
to actually work. Likewise, little wonder O'Brien
couldn't hide his "undisguised pleasure"
at the possible disintegration of the GFA, considering
that for years this is what he had been hoping for.
"I'm glad to see this bloody thing crash,"
he told the Guardian in 2003. "It's been a
the GFA is still intact, but the doomsayers refuse
to change their tunes. It remains to be seen if
the PP in Spain will be wise enough to change its
tune when it comes to negotiations with Eta. Although
in opposition, it still has the potential to damage
the fledging Basque peace process, in an attempt
at securing short-term political gains. Already
it looks as though the Spanish people are wising
up to this: a recent opinion poll showed that over
80 per cent of Spanish were in favour of dialogue
with Eta. Let's hope that if these people look for
lessons from Northern Ireland, they look to the
examples provided by people who were prepared to
enter into dialogue, such as Gerry Adams, John Hume,
David Trimble, Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair. Let
us hope also that they see how little the stances
adopted by the likes of Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise
O'Brien and Eoghan Harris, actually achieves.