the most part, the conflict in Northern Ireland
is now confined to the political arena, which, considering
our recent history, is a significant improvement.
politics are still deadlocked here, leading many
to regard the entire peace process as being, at
best, in severe difficulties.
political development, or the absence of it, in
the North should not be the sole yardstick against
which we measure progress. Besides playing to our
Northern tendency to self-absorption, such an approach
completely ignores the other strands of a process
which, we should remember, is concerned with addressing
all of the relationships within and between these
islands. Internal political arrangements within
Northern Ireland, while very important of course,
are part of but one strand of a far broader project.
seems little chance the Assembly and all-inclusive
Executive will be reinstated anytime soon. Yet,
regrettable and frustrating as that is, we shouldn't
allow it to blind us to progress that continues
to be made on every other front, the extent of which
becomes apparent when one considers some of the
more overt examples of interaction now taken for
granted, but which would have been problematic,
if not impossible, a few years ago.
two governments are accepted and treated by all
as equal partners in the peace process; the Garda
and PSNI co-operate openly and to an unprecedented
degree; Northern politicians from all of the political
parties (including the DUP) travel regularly to
Dublin to meet Government Ministers and business
leaders; the reverse is the case as well, with visits
to the North by Southern politicians of every stripe
considered commonplace; and President Mary McAleese
comes to Northern Ireland often and hardly a local
eyebrow is raised.
just as important, if not more so, are the less
obvious changes. During 2003, extensive research
was undertaken on behalf of the British Council
in Ireland and the findings made available in a
report, Through Irish Eyes, released in February
2004. The research explored attitudes and opinions
towards Britain among ordinary people in the Republic
and found that a vast majority now see Britain in
either a benign or favourable light.
is hardly coincidental that such positive attitudes
have developed against a backdrop of close partnerships
being forged between successive Irish and British
administrations as they struggled together to develop
the peace process, often in the most trying of circumstances.
their timely exploration of contemporary Irish attitudes
towards Britain, the British Council last month
launched a book of eight essays, Britain & Ireland:
Lives Entwined, written by Irish people of various
political and religious persuasions. At the same
event they hosted a debate on the motion: "This
house believes Britain is just another foreign country."
motion was roundly defeated, but what became apparent
during the debate, and confirmed earlier findings
by the British Council, is the extent to which people
in the Republic feel little or no affinity with
Northern Ireland. Like their counterparts in Britain,
they struggle to understand what drives the Northern
conflict. Or, probably more accurately, they struggle
to understand how in this modern age and on a part
of the island they inhabit, religion and politics
can still prove so volatile a mix as to drive conflict.
why, in particular, with a comprehensive agreement
at hand, people and politicians in Northern Ireland
still choose to rehearse ancient enmities.
the peoples of Britain and the Republic have become
more at one in outlook and attitude, they have both
become increasingly disconnected from Northern Ireland.
It is ironic that neither feels they have much in
common with people who take such pride in their
Britishness or Irishness.
but not surprising, for it is the extreme nature
of the Britishness and Irishness too often on display
in Northern Ireland that renders it foreign-like
to people who are part of the religiously, politically
and culturally diverse societies that make up the
Britain and Republic of today. To both, the North
seems more like a foreign land than anything remotely
like where they live. And that is no bad thing.
it signals to those of us who live in Northern Ireland
that it is not enough merely to profess undying
allegiance to one country or another, but if that
sense of allegiance and commonality is to be reciprocated,
and if acceptability by the object of our affection
is to be gained, then there are societal standards
and codes of behaviour to be lived up to as well.
relationships founded on mutual respect and friendship
continue to flourish between the governments and
peoples of the Republic and Britain, historical
animosities are being superseded and ancient myths
destroyed. Differences that once existed and were
open to exploitation have all but disappeared.
development in the North forms part of one strand
of the peace process, but that things have stalled
there should not cause us to lose heart or judge
harshly the entire project.