Republicans and Unionists - Warm handshakes?

At his party's conference at the end of March, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that he could one day see the disbanding of the IRA and a Sinn Féin representative on the Northern Ireland Police Authority.
The question, of course, is how soon and whether, while the fog of war engulfs Iraq, we are about to see a statement from the IRA as we near the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Agreement on April 10th 1998 that the long war is over, 800 years or 300 years including the last 30.
Is the 87th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion on 24th April to be a significant date for such a move by Republicans which would satisfy at least some Unionists that they could return to an inclusive Governing Executive?
Can any deal be elastic enough to satisfy David Trimble and Sinn Féin that they can go into the end of May assembly elections with a chance of not only holding their present seats but improving the numbers?
Both Ulster Unionists and Sinn Féin and indeed the SDLP have welcomed the news of the visit of President George W. Bush to Belfast on Monday 7th April (tomorrow). He is to talk to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the Iraq War and the Middle East road map (peace process) but also to participate with Blair, Taoiseach Ahern and pro Agreement parties in talks on the Northern Ireland peace process.
David Trimble, for the Ulster Unionists, is apparently hoping, perhaps expecting, that Bush will lay down an ultimatum to the IRA and Republicans generally that they should decommission and disband paramilitaries or he will impose sanctions of some kind, perhaps restrictions on fund raising in the USA and on travel facilities and cutting out all official contacts if they don't.
He can hardly threaten them with cruise missiles, stealth bombers and long distance shelling from warships and tanks on the lawns of West Belfast or South Armagh. Bush is of course notorious for a hazy knowledge of geography, especially as the first two letters of Iraq and Ireland are the same. Indeed, without a 'q' he might confuse Iraq with the IRA or vice versa.
While Clinton as US President could intervene and be of assistance through Senator George Mitchell in bringing Northern Ireland parties together in 1998, it is stretching the bounds of possibility beyond reason to think that G. W. Bush will have any serious contribution to offer in any discussion concerning the return of devolved government to Northern Ireland. It is a public relations exercise, no doubt, which is to my mind an insult to the intelligence of the public.
Of course it could be instructive for him to see that after conflict, or indeed to bring it to an end, dialogue has to take place and that military action should not be accepted as the solution to the differences between peoples and states.
It is difficult to see how his mind set, in the style of fundamentalism redolent of Paisleyism, could be changed or his view that international law is only applicable when it coincides with what Bush's administration wishes to embark upon or conceives to be in the interests of the United States.
No doubt his ego will be inflated by giving him something to say about the Northern Ireland situation and he may be credited with making suggestions that are probably already in the pipeline.
Tony Blair's visit to Belfast was already expected and we shall know after Blair and Ahern have met them whether with the public preoccupation with the war on Iraq, a consensus has been reached behind the scenes between the pro Agreement parties.
Unless the date for the Assembly election is further postponed the agenda for all the parties in respect of it will be their take on the proposals submitted to them on the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Their manifestos will be governed by these and if they are already printed they will be revised accordingly after being discussed before Easter by their members or councils.
These will make interesting reading but as yet the newspaper banner headlines won't be that Unionists will be warmly shaking the hands of Republicans, unless, of course, they are referring to the Republican President of the USA.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Gwent, 6 April, 2003.

Samuel H. Boyd

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