Astonishingly, Mr Adams and Mr Trimble Share a Common Aim
McKittrick, David, The Independent (London, England)
TODAY, 10 MARCH, was supposed to be the day when power was transferred from London to a brand new institution in Belfast, thus opening a new era in which ancient Irish quarrels might move from the streets to a purely political arena.
It hasn't worked out like that, for the unsurprising reason that the old issue of decommissioning remains unresolved. So there has been yet another postponement, with a new deadline set for the end of the month, when the peace process may either move on or fall apart.
Somebody once said that war was 95 per cent tedium and 5 per cent sheer terror. They might have been talking about the peace process, since its history is one of periods of longueur and stasis, interspersed with periods of white-knuckle turmoil. Most of the deals that have kept it going have been concluded in intensive, last-minute bursts of negotiation involving not just local parties but also the London and Dublin governments, and very often Washington as well. It seems destined to be like this yet again, for all the experience is that bringing unionism and nationalism together requires a chemical reaction which occurs only when considerable external heat is applied. Finding an accommodation this time will require the application of a fair amount of heat to both David Trimble and Gerry Adams, for at this moment their stances are simply incompatible. In some ways the positions of the two men can appear as a mirror image. Both are leading their respective movements, republican and unionist, into unprecedented areas. No unionist leader before Trimble even dreamt of having Sinn Fein in government; their traditional aim was to crush republicanism. No pre-Adams republican ever contemplated joining a Northern Ireland government, being instead in the business of tearing it down. Both leaders are capable of being viewed as men who are personally anxious to make progress, but whose freedom of movement is severely limited by hardliners at their backs. But although there is probably much truth in such portrayals they have, on closer examination, very different problems. Trimble has at his back a sharply divided unionism, which is both structurally fragmented into half a dozen parties, and confused in its aims. Many unionists voted against the Good Friday agreement and would celebrate its collapse, being temperamentally opposed to a deal on any such lines. For some of these the decommissioning demand, while ostensibly advanced as a moral issue and a test of democratic commitment, is in fact a socially acceptable way of expressing religious bigotry, or a refusal to contemplate any new form of partnership government. On top of that comes a layer of traditional Protestant pessimism and cynicism that regards the peace process as a danger rather than an opportunity, or alternatively as just another false dawn. Within the new assembly the pro- and anti-Trimble unionists are evenly balanced, which means that the leader of the Unionist party must forever watch his back against Paisleyite raids and the danger of defections. The Trimble response to this has been to do little that is audacious, and essentially to proceed at the speed of the slowest ships in his convoy. On the Catholic side, by contrast, enthusiasm for the peace process remains undimmed and virtually unanimous. …