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Politics of Peace at an Impasse


David Adams • Irish Times, 15 April 2005

If there are any determinedly optimistic souls still dreaming of forward movement in the peace process after the May 5th Westminster and local government elections in Northern Ireland, they are in for a rude awakening.

Barring a miracle, the political middle-ground inhabited by the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists is going to be all but obliterated, leaving the future to be decided largely by Sinn Féin and the DUP. And what a future that promises to be: if nothing else, we will be able to view at first hand the political equivalent of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

There is no chance the DUP will use an increased electoral mandate to negotiate towards reinstatement of the assembly and an all-inclusive executive. Any lingering doubts about that have been blown away by "not-an-inch" pre-election pledges from both party leader Ian Paisley and his deputy Peter Robinson. Paisley has stated that his party will not engage in fresh talks with Sinn Féin "because they have lied repeatedly and cannot be trusted".

And as if to dispel any notion that future developments might cause him to change his mind, he added: "Whatever Sinn Féin and the IRA do now would make no difference. . . there will be no fresh talks with IRA/Sinn Féin."

For his part, Peter Robinson has suggested that power sharing with Sinn Féin, if it ever becomes feasible, "is a matter for the next generation to look at".

It would be foolish to imagine that Sinn Féin, with its electoral growth continuing apace on both sides of the Border, might abandon the republican tactic of promising much but delivering little, and then blaming everyone else for the ensuing political stalemate.

It is too early to predict with any certainty who will be blamed for wrecking Gerry Adams's most recent "initiative" (where he appeared to call on the IRA to disband). But there are two things of which we can be sure: the initiative will come to nothing and, whoever is blamed, they won't be remotely connected to the republican movement.

In Sinn Féin's world, everyone, republican or otherwise, has a role to play: for them, it is that of the well-intentioned victim, for the rest of us, the malevolent victimisers.

Their tactics have served them well: they have succeeded in routing their nationalist rivals, the moderate SDLP; managed to bring the Ulster Unionist Party almost to the point of self-destruction; and, as a direct result of the latter, helped elevate the DUP to pole position within unionism. And be under no illusions, despite all protestations to the contrary, the DUP attitude to power-sharing with republicans is to the liking of Sinn Féin.

That, and the DUP's lead status within unionism, suits Sinn Féin for it ensures that political stability in Northern Ireland will, for the foreseeable future, remain a pipe-dream.

Likewise, the DUP relies on Sinn Féin to frighten what has become a majority of the unionist electorate into its comforting arms.

So there is no doubting that Sinn Féin and the DUP need each other: but as mortal enemies, not partners in a devolved government.

It seems likely that Tony Blair's Labour Party will be returned to power at the elections, but that doesn't mean we should expect anything in the way of fresh initiatives from Downing Street.

In fact, we are more likely to see a gradual backing away from the process by a British government that increasingly considers political development here to have been taken, for the time being at least, as far as it can.

There have been signs of that already, with what seemed at the time to be a tactical silence following the murder of Robert McCartney now looking more and more like a withdrawing from the process. With Blair entering his final few years as prime minister, it seems highly unlikely that he will want to spend his time wrestling with the well nigh intractable problems of Northern Ireland.

And besides, from a British perspective, the peace process even as it stands must be considered a success. Granted, it hasn't been as successful as it might have been, but with thousands of troops no longer bogged down here and peace of a sort now prevailing, the situation is light years beyond what it once was.

The Irish Government, however, cannot afford to withdraw from the peace process to anything approaching the same extent as the British. An unfortunate side effect for it has been the accelerated electoral growth in the South of a semi-democratic Sinn Féin and the consequent threat this poses to the wellbeing of a sovereign, liberal democratic state.

If democratic norms are to be protected, future battles in the Republic will need to be fought on both the political and legal fronts.

In view of that, it is vital that the Irish Government continues to facilitate and encourage full co-operation between the Garda, the PSNI and other law-enforcement agencies right across the island. Politics may be in deep freeze, but, unfortunately, the organised criminality that sometimes marches alongside is far from comatose.


Reprinted with permission from the author.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

19 April 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Another Historic Statement, Again
Anthony McIntyre

Two Heads Better Than One?
Brian Mór

Hope for A Democractic Avenue, Not a Dead End Street
Mick Hall

Irish American Support
Niall Fennessy

Street Fighting Man
Fred A Wilcox

Revolutionaries Have Set Up Dictatorship
Margaret Quinn

The Murder of Robert McCartney
Conor Horan

The Missing Ingredient
Ruairi O’Driscoll

Re-orienting perspectives: Bob Quinn's The Atlantean Irish
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Politics of Peace at an Impasse
David Adams

* Election Coverage *

Independent Irish Republicans Standing in All 6 Counties
Sean Mc Aughey

John Coulter

Gary Donnelly, Cityside Ward, Derry City Council

Aine Gribbon, Antrim Town Council

Patricia (Trish) Murray, Antrim Town Council

The Letters page has been updated.

6 April 2005

Criminality and Public Relations
Eamon Sweeney

Truth Better than Spin
Mick Hall

The Central Issue is Justice
Catherine McCartney

Not Out of Nationalist Woods Yet
David Adams

South Down Election Play
John Coulter

Are We on the Verge of a New Political Ice Age?
Anthony McIntyre



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