Restrained Reflective Waiting Required

In previous articles I posed the question, has the Republican movement decided on a change of strategy because "politics didn't seem to be working" and there might be the possibility that the political leadership had lost out to the military wing, i.e. the Provisional IRA.

I wondered also whether the Sinn Féin duo of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness might be under duress and opposition was being raised to their positions in the party.

In his interviews on television Gerry Adams did not seem to be his usual controlled self, but under stress, uncertain as well as angry, as if he was under pressure from more militant Republicans.

Indeed, perhaps because of lack of progress since the impasse in December 2004, they are really facing a challenge because, despite all their efforts, the DUP has seized the initiative and by their intransigence successfully frustrated the operation of the Good Friday Agreement over the last two years.

The two recent statements by the IRA, especially the second one, wherein they underlie the seriousness of their response to the Chief Constable's allegation, supported by the two governments, political parties in both jurisdictions and the media generally, accusing them of involvement in the Northern Bank raid.

Mark Durkan, leader of the SDLP, has alleged that the British Government representatives and / or Tony Blair tried to nudge him and his party into joining a voluntary coalition with Unionists, thereby excluding Sinn Féin from posts in the Executive, if and when the Assembly is re-established.

They were not, he said, prepared to follow this line as it would not be a solution to the problem. So they have called for a recall of the Forum of Reconciliation in which parties in both jurisdictions could participate. They also restate their view that there must be an end to all paramilitary activities for devolved government to have any hope of success.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has called on the Taoiseach to withdraw his statement that Sinn Féin leaders had been aware of the plan to raid the Northern Bank and had indeed approved the action. Adams vehemently rejects the allegation and has called on Bertie Ahern to arrest him, produce the evidence and charge him before the courts.

It is difficult, however, even if the allegation were true, to see how such evidence could be produced. For this to be possiuble the informant who supplied it would have to have been present, or close to one who was, when such a decision was made. They would expose themselves therefore in giving it, with obvious danger to themselves.

Negotiations will no doubt still be ongoing behind the scenes to try to avoid incidents which could further jeopardise the present critical if not parlous state of the discussions. All the participants seem to have that in mind, not wishing to endanger further the very large degree of progress since the ten-year-old ceasefire.

Looking objectively at the situation for a reason for the impasse and the failure to cut a deal in December 2004, it is the vacuum created by the so far two year's suspension of the Assembly which has created a feeling in many people that the 1998 Belfast Agreement is dead and unworkable. No clear way forward is available at present although a return to organised violence is not anticipated, the overall climate having changed so much.

Financial penalties on Assembly Members and restrictions on Sinn Féin are currently in place and further ones may be considered. However, caution is advised and the advice often given by the former Defence minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dennis Healy, "if in a hole, stop digging!", is apposite for all concerned.

Looking back over the past seven years it is clear that a sort of Unionist veto has been in operation in that the full application of the agreement has been frustrated. First there was Ian Paisley and the DUP boycotting the 1998 negotiations and then there was the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, vacillating as he looked over his shoulder at Paisley's growing strength which forced him to try to hurry things up by trying to emulate the DUP's stance.

That doesn't mean that Republicans have no blame attached to them for the impasse but historians and informed politicians will know that there is baggage which hangs on after a conflict which is not easy to dissipate. Trying to move too quickly can prove to be counterproductive which is where we are now.

It would seem that the waiting period for further progress will last until September so it will behove all concerned to strenuously avoid all actions which might exacerbate the situation. Vindictive recriminations, however difficult to resist, must be curtailed from whichever direction they emanate.

The Westminster election and the local elections in the Republic are the keys to chances of a settlement. However, should there be a change of government in London, things would be more difficult.

Had the proposals for devolved government I made to the independent Opsahl Commission in 1992 been the basis for settlement in 1998 I am convinced we would have had seven years or more of of a successful administration behind us and less distrust in the institutions thereof.

But the water has flowed under the bridge since then (but thankfully less blood) and we can't bathe in the same river twice. So I'm afraid, as the old saying goes, we can only start from here.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 17 February 2005.

Samuel H. Boyd