Born on Saturday 26th April 1919 I saw the light of day 3 years and 2 days after the start
of the Easter Rebellion and 1 year before the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 which
Like people of my age when events are commemorated or remembered I recall as others do and
wonder why it takes so long for reality to break through and sanity to prevail and
realisation dawn that closure has to be made and ancient enmities assuaged.
The past has shaped us all and enshrined our prejudices if we allow them to engulf us,
automatically, unquestioned, without testing them by logical analysis.
Personally I can accept that people have a right to believe what they want to believe, but I
cannot agree that that gives them the clearance to indoctrinate the young, whose minds are
vulnerable to suggestions, or that how people live their lives should be governed by the
enforcement of laws imposed by any particular belief system.
Secular society requires us, if it is truly deomcratic, to allow for dissenting minorities,
ensuring that their human rights are protected and as citizens are assured of equal status,
culturally, politically and economically, before the law.
Those rights, however, should not be denied to or obstructed by members of any minority
group, by the pressures or structures of any belief system of that minority or ethnic group,
or even by the majority.
There are cultural and ethnic variations inside the political jurisdictions of both the
United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland but the histories of both are intertwined, the
present geopolitical boundaries being the outcome of that conjunction.
It has to be recognised that while the relationship between the two countries has matured,
and regularised within the framework of the European Union, the fallout of their long
conflict is still bedevilling a settlement in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland.
Recent discussions between the two governments and pro Agreement political parties have not
produced consensus but the governmental proposals have not yet been made public. They are
said to be designed specifically, if accepted, to enable the British Government to lift the
suspension of the Assembly.
However, the Prime Minister Blair has made the issue of these proposals conditional on
clarification of the IRA's response, sufficient to satisfy the Ulster Unionists that they
can return to the inclusive governing Executive before and after the elections are held.
This is suspiciously like the Government accepting and reinforcing the old Unionist veto,
which I believe is not acceptable either to Sinn Féin or even the nationalist SDLP.
When the Good Friday Agreement 1998 was signed Tony Blair said that he felt the hand of
history was upon the signatories.
Five years later, he has showed himself remarkably insensitive (or ignorant of) to that
history when he publicly borders on calling on the IRA to effectively to surrender, without
having been militarily defeated, and that during the period of remembrance of the Easter
Rising when those earlier rebels were militarily forced into their surrender.
If he reallu understood the history of the centuries-old conflict and the concept of the
Long war he would see, as I do, from the statement of the IRA, that indeed it is ended, that
Republican paramilitaries and their political expression, Sinn Féin, are fully committed to
the political and peace process.
For the consolidation of the Agreement to be achieved and fully implemented, the IRA
statement upon which Blair seeks clarification is the minimum and maximum possible to ensure
that the minority community can be persuaded to engage fully, without much schism, in the
essential functioning of inclusive government structures.
The truth, about which I have written previously, which is a drag on the operation of the
Agreement, is the competition between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionists
which faces Tony Blair with a choice between postponing the Assembly election again or
allowing it to take place and examining the results to determine the next steps.
It seems that this weekend is 'crunch time' - Monday 28th is the date upon which the
decision must be made. If the decision is to let the date stand, then the joint proposals of
the two governments should be published. Then all the political parties can campaign on
their attitudes to them and the mandates and the electoral support they each receive can be
This would in essence be equivalent to a referendum and a test of whether there is support
for a review of the Agreement.
When David Trimble says that Republicans must bite the bullet, he should remember, when he
opens his mouth, that he should be prepared to do the same and shouldn't expect his
opponents to bite any he shoots out which jeopardise the inclusive element of the
The Agreement, it must be acknowledged, can only work by cooperation and agreement, and all
parties who wish to see that will have to stop demanding from their opponents what, at this
stage of the long trek fom the long war, cannot yet be given without endangering the whole
Megaphone and television posturing from Leaders, Prime Ministers and others must stop and
rational discussions towards consensus and accommodation prevail - else the edifice will be
destroyed and become as ruined as missile-hit buildings in Baghdad.
According to the latest statement from Sinn Féin, they are considering publishing their
response, which may edge the two governments towards publishing theirs. The Republicans may
decide to do so on the 30th April, the date on which the rebels surrendered in 1916, to
indicate that the Agreement and the opportunity it gives them to redress the balance is not
a repetition of that event.
I suapect that postponement of the election is the most likely action Blair will take if
Unionist Trimble is still recalcitrant and fearful of the loss of preeminence for his