Northern Ireland: Questions for the Year 2001

To be or not to be, that is the question, are we to sea a shuffling off from the Belfast Agreement or its bedding down in 2001 and the lifting of the ban imposed on Sinn Féin ministers from taking part in cross border institutions?
Are we to have a long drawn out legal wrangle (such as occurred in Florida) where the winner of the popular vote (the Good Friday Agreement) can be thwarted by the machinations of its opponents? Will the lower courts decide only to find the higher one and even the Law Lords dither into a decision as the General Election appears on the horizon.
Bill Clinton, the departing President, made his last official visit to Ireland in December, unless by some quirk of the American system he is persuaded to take a continuing role in the Peace Process. However, what would stand in the way of this is the effect it would have on the Democratic Party, bristling under their feeling 'we were robbed' by political jiggery-pokery. This would also suggest that, for the same reason, Senator George Mitchell, although his 'six principles' will remain, has also played his last performance on the Irish stage.
From all accounts the President elect, George W. Bush, will have some catching up to on his knowledge of Ireland and its politics, believing, no doubt, that it is peopled by little green men and orange devils, or leprechauns sitting on toadstools.
Tony Blair joined Bill Clinton in Belfast urging politicians across the spectrum to fully implement the Agreement including decommissioning but it still looks as if both hinterlands are still obdurate, unbudging and determined on 'not an inch' (or 'not a centimetre') policy : I won't if you won't join the dance.
Two Loyalist paramilitary groups now claim that they have made a truce to bring to an end the feud which resulted in seven deaths and movement from their homes of 200 families. But there are other Loyalist groups, not under the 'peace umbrella' who seem hell bent, as another death by shooting has been announced, to continue in an anti-agreement campaign.
In the dissident Republican camp they have been trying to initiate a bombing campaign only to be prevented by police and army action and, on both sides, punishment beatings still continue. It is difficult at times to be certain as to whether the incidence of drug trading or protection rackets lie at the bottom of these or whether political differences are being settled in this way.
While Sinn Féin take the view that decommissioning should also mean the dismantling of army observation towers in sensitive areas like South Armagh I wonder if the recent violent confrontation there might have been fostered by the dissident Real or Continuity IRA rather than the Provisionals, a sort of street struggle for power in the Republican community.
Unless under the surface, contact and movement is taking place, it seems to me that we are in the doldrums, that just as things were stalemated in the last stages of Major's Conservative administration until released by the 1997 election of a Labour government, the drag chains of the shadow of the looming election in 2001 are frustrating further progress.
Republicans hold the key to unlocking the gates for if they could persuade the IRA to make some significant destruction of weapons it would undercut the strategy of the Ulster Unionists (hoping for a Tory win) to delay full implementation until after the general election. But it would if carried out also strike a blow against the DUP and those who wish to scrap the Good Friday Agreement.
On the other hand, if the Unionists against the Agreement grew in strength the Sinn Féin position might be improved at the expense of the SDLP.
There are of course many reasons (3500 of them) why Northern Ireland would be better served if the appeal made by President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair and Taoiseach Ahern for full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was heeded so that we could all enter 2001 with more hope for the future and less fear of the uncertainties of a return to the long war.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Gwent, Wales, 19 December, 2000.

Samuel H. Boyd

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