In Northern Ireland, Compromises Can Be Essential as Well as Shabby
Macintyre, Donald, The Independent (London, England)
The history of the Government's handling of the Northern Ireland peace process is steeped in shabby compromises. Nowhere is this truer than in the monitoring of paramilitary ceasefires. When, in the late summer of 1999, Mo Mowlam took one of the most difficult decisions of her time in Belfast, namely that neither the arrest of IRA men for gun running in Florida nor the republican murder of a taxi driver were in breach of the ceasefire, she was flying in the face of the objective realities. Which is why she came under ferocious attack from unionists, and why, in one of the most dramatic breaks with bipartisanship over Northern Ireland yet, the Conservative spokesman, Quentin Davies, made so much of it yesterday.
And yet if she hadn't done as she did, there would have been no political process. Nor would there have been, come to that, if the previous government, in clear breach of its stated principles, had not talked secretly with the IRA at a time when there was no ceasefire at all. A compromise can be essential as well as shabby.
But that was then. Today, two Sinn Fein members are ministers in the devolved government. The party is enjoying a surge of electoral success on both sides of the border on the back of its commitment to the peace process. As a corollary of this new-found - and hugely welcome - integration into the democratic process, mainstream republicanism can expect to be judged by rather higher standards. It shows no sign whatever of wishing to return to war. Indeed, it is hard to overestimate the steep fall in deaths: six this year compared with 100 a mere 10 years ago.
But the IRA still exists, a private army standing behind the smart, articulate republican politicians helping to run Northern Ireland rather well. Some of its representatives were caught red- handed collaborating with Farc narco-terrorists in Colombia. Some 90 or more security personnel have had to be relocated and protected after the theft of documents from the Special Branch HQ at Castlereagh, and although criminal investigations are still under way, it is no secret that the authorities assume the theft was the work of the IRA. Furthermore, some of its representatives are thought to be playing a part in the daily sectarian violence in sections of North and East Belfast. So too, probably on a bigger scale, are loyalist paramilitaries; a Catholic man was brutally murdered this week because he was wearing a Celtic shirt. But then it's Sinn Fein that is in the government.
All of this has contributed to the sense of disillusionment among many unionists about the Good Friday Agreement, and to the urgency with which David Trimble, under chronic pressure from hardliners in his own party, has urged the Government to judge the ceasefire - which is a precondition of Sinn Fein's membership of the devolved institutions - a great deal more rigorously than in the past. Hence the "yellow card" that John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary, showed the republicans yesterday.
The first question, of course, is when and how would the offending players get sent off the pitch? If a breach were judged to have taken place, the Government would recommend to the assembly that the offenders be expelled. Because assembly decisions require cross-community support, that would put the burden of the decision, in the first instance, on the nationalist SDLP. The best bet is that the SDLP, facing ever stiffer electoral competition from an increasingly potent Sinn Fein, would be deeply reluctant to …
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Publication information: Article title: In Northern Ireland, Compromises Can Be Essential as Well as Shabby. Contributors: Macintyre, Donald - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 25, 2002. Page number: 16. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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