Paisley and his colleagues looked rather pleased
with themselves when speaking to the media at
the conclusion of the St Andrews talks.
the negotiations, they had managed to secure the
two governments' backing for their demand that
Sinn Féin pledge support for the PSNI before
a power-sharing Executive is restored.
decades-long opposition to "the Irish Republic
meddling in Northern Ireland's internal affairs",
the DUP's barely contained delight at getting
the imprimatur of a Dublin Government for their
position on the patently internal issues of power-sharing
and policing seemed, at best, a little incongruous.
wasn't so much a case of them having slaughtered
a sacred cow at St Andrews, as simply pretending
it had never existed. In fairness, they weren't
the only ones suffering from wilful absent-mindedness
they tried to put a brave face on it, it was clear
when Gerry Adams and the Sinn Féin contingent
took their turn with the media that they, unlike
the DUP, were none too happy.
problem, however, was not with the requirement
that they endorse the police service of a state
they had previously made every effort to destroy,
but rather with the proposed timing of that endorsement.
two governments and everyone else are demanding
that it come before they begin helping to administer
Northern Ireland; Sinn Féin would prefer
it be afterwards.
the context of the leaderships of both of these
parties having just presided over the final demise
of virtually all they had previously stood for,
(and had encouraged others to believe in), the
real oddity was that something as relatively trivial
as sequencing should provoke Sinn Féin
and the DUP into a public display of any kind.
course, neither party has yet accepted the governments'
St Andrews proposals, nor is there any guarantee
it has been clear for a while that each has already
reduced what they once held to be fundamental
points of supposedly immovable principle to mere
matters of timing.
Paisley has gone from opposing any form of devolved
governance short of majority (Protestant) rule,
to now agreeing to share the highest office in
a Northern Ireland administration with a former
IRA leader on condition that he and his Sinn Féin
colleagues pledge their support for the police.
their part, the republican movement killed and
died for decades in pursuit of the forced removal
of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and
the subsequent setting-up of 32-county unitary
are now debating whether they should give their
immediate endorsement to the police service of
a Northern Ireland that remains part of the United
Kingdom, or wait until policing and justice has
been transferred to a devolved Assembly in which
they are eager to play their full part.
are changed times, indeed. Ian Paisley, who stood
at Stormont in 1965 and threw snowballs at the
courtesy-calling then taoiseach Seán Lemass,
appears willing, 41 years later, to embrace what
amounts to a virtual joint stewardship role over
Northern Ireland for the Government of the Republic.
spending five decades opposing tooth and nail
every political initiative and effort at compromise,
he seems prepared to accept not only power-sharing
with republicans, but extensive cross-Border bodies
and substantial investment in Northern Ireland
by the Government of the Republic.
the twilight of his career, the man who couldn't
bring himself to share power with the inoffensive
Gerry Fitt is on the point of reaching agreement
with Gerry Adams.
recent years, the republican movement has sought
to peddle the myth that their 25-year campaign
of death and destruction was driven almost solely
by a thirst for equality and civil rights.
truth, unionist discrimination against the Catholic
community merely provided the IRA with a platform
from which to launch a violent campaign aimed
at overturning the democratically-expressed wishes
of a majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland.
republicans were busy spreading pain and misery
across all communities in Northern Ireland, the
determinedly non-violent SDLP, whom they opposed
at every turn, were effectively righting the wrongs
of the past through democratic politics and peaceful
it had only ever been about unionist discrimination,
the IRA campaign could well have finished in 1972
when Stormont was closed and direct rule from
the DUP and Sinn Féin now give serious
consideration to a deal that has been on offer
in one form or another for decades, the people
of Northern Ireland might well ask what the last
30-odd years of death, destruction and refusal
to compromise was all about.
each seeks to convince core constituencies that
defeat is victory, they might care to reflect
on their role during the past 40 years, and the
legacy of pain and bitterness that will last for
might even consider it appropriate, at the next
media gathering, to display a little long-overdue
with permission from the author.