The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Examples of Dialogue


Conn Corrigan • 9 May 2006

In 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.

Basque 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."

Just 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…You have filled the streets with sectarianism… You have given new life to a moribund Eta…You have betrayed the dead." Echoing language used by Ian Paisley to describe David Trimble, Rajoy called Zapatero a "traitor."

The 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."

Paisley, 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."

O'Brien's 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.

Having 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 horrible fraud."

Thankfully 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.














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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

11 May 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Incorruptible
Anthony McIntyre

Ruarí Ó Brádaigh: Robert White's biography of a Republican idealist
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Can of Worms
John Kennedy

The Wrong Man
Martin Ingram

Gotta Be Cruel to be Kind
Dr John Coulter

Revising the Rising?
Forum Magazine Editorial

Solving the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Geoffrey Cooling

Thank You, Bobby Sands
Fred A. Wilcox

Welcome Back, David. Now, Go Away Again!
Eamon Sweeney

Give Them That Auld Tyme Religion
Dr John Coulter

Meal Ticket
John Kennedy

Examples of Dialogue
Conn Corrigan

Two-State Solution
Mick Hall

Peter King - Still Irish America's Champion
Patrick Hurley

Statements on the Murder of Michael McIlveen
RSF; 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Profile: Chahla Chafiq
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

18 April 2006

Grave Secrets
Anthony McIntyre

Spoiled Rotten
David Adams

Let Bygones be Bygones
Mick Hall

Urgent Memo — Judas Was One of the Bad Guys!
Dr John Coulter

Cluedo in Donegal
Anthony McIntyre

Easter Message
John Kennedy

Óglaigh na hÉireann Easter Statement
The Sovereign Nation

IFC Easter Statement, 2006
Joe Dillon

Lincoln's Despair
John Kennedy

Fred A. Wilcox

Hamas Being Forced to Collapse
Sam Bahour

Profile: Philippe Val
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



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