Northern Ireland: The Waiting Game

When the date was confirmed (7th June) some went off like shots, others slowly, conserving their energy, trying to pace themselves for a sustained special strong final push.
Votey’s day of arrival having been decided the day of decision is now in the hands of those who must face and overcome the problems, many of which they are themselves the cause. How many, I wonder, will actually engage in the democratic process with such a thought in mind?
Can they also see through the posturing, demagoguery, appeals to ingrained prejudices, mantras of religiosity and nationalistic mythology, bolstered by historically real, as well as exaggerated, indignities and discriminations? Are they too burdened with the baggage accumulated over past centuries and recent and contemporary vicissitudes so that they will fail to see the imperatives of the present?
One of the drawbacks of democracy is the slowness of achieving change, in that the point of take off, in any issue, even in the most suitable conditions for success, often is not reached because of deliberate foot dragging by those concerned with different objectives, thus frustrating meaningful consensus.
Targeting and trying, stage by stage, to take forward the Peace process in northern ireland is not helped by laying down ultimatums such as the First Minister has done, by setting down the 1st July for positive signs of decommissioning.
This date coincides with the most active part of the orange marching season as well as the World war 1 commemoration of the Battle of the Somme which involved the Ulster Division which incorporated the Ulster volunteers who were opposed to Home rule, a very sensitive situation which Trimble is aware of.
This statement, that his resignation from the post of First Minister will be automatic if there are no such developments, may of course be simply a ploy to assist his party’s chances in the Westminster general election.
However, it is dangerous to the Peace Process in that he is recklessly risking a complete collapse of the Good Friday Agreement. It is also a failure of leadership for he is putting party interest before that of both communities.
It might be argued in justification that unless he and his party are empowered as the majority among Unionists he will not be able to support the Belfast Accord (1998). But even if he does have a good result for the UUP he might still be stuck with his decision to resign and its consequences.
On the other hand, with the not unexpected revelations of Sinn Féin’s links with the IRA as that party tries to increase its representation, they will have to clarify their intentions on decommissioning. Martin McGuinness in guarded answers to the BBC’s ‘Today’ presenter, John Humphreys, Tuesday morning 29th May, cautiously hinted that post election there might be some progress on what he called general demobilisation (or words to that effect), but nothing specific. Sinn Féin will still of course abstain from attending Westminster.
Amidst all these serious questions it is reported that Paisley’s Free presbyterian Church is denouncing ‘Line Dancing’ as immoral, warning their congregations of the dangers in participating in this recreational activity. What a preposterous configuration the religious expression of the Democratic Unionist Party is displaying.
The former USA President Bill Clinton visited the Hay on Wye Festival on Saturday evening 26th May to give a lecture on ‘Conflict Resolution’ which was broadcast on BBC Radio Wales.
I listened to the broadcast, which ranged over many areas of conflict; Kosovo, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Africa, the Middle East, North and South Korea and Northern Ireland, admitting that each of them had particular types of problems, and intervention had had varying degrees of success and in some cases too late to stop massacres.
He regarded Northern ireland as one where most success had been achieved, although the thorny problem of decommissioning remained. He had visited Derry, Enniskillen, Omagh and Belfast before coming to wales and had spoken to those involved, advising them to continue to put the Good Friday Agreement fully into operation.
He commended those of all sections who had participated in arriving at the Agreement including the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
The tone of his address suggested to me that although the positions of protagonists could be set out, issuing guidelines and ultimatums was not a useful way of getting agreement.
As the former assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Rabin had said, “You don’t make peace with your friends”.
Each side had to realise that compromise and giving way, however difficult, was essential. If a win - win situation could be achieved the outcome would be more likely to be accepted. The hard questions should not be left to the last although associated less contentious ones could be dealt with concurrently.
He also paid tribute to Senator George Mitchell’s work in Northern Ireland as his special representative. He, despite the change in the American presidency, is also engaged in the Israel / Palestine attempt at ending the conflict raging there at present.
Although he was obviously more hopeful of a settlement in Northern Ireland than in the Middle East, care will have to be taken, I feel, prior to and post the Westminster election, to edge the Peace process forward, for, as President Clinton said, it is a journey rather than a destination.
Votey will determine how we can advance both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK and, as the Waiting Game enters a new phase, lets hope the waiting will have been worthwhile.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 30 May, 2001.

Samuel H. Boyd

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