Peace: the neverending process?

Malachi O’Doherty was asked to describe the local version of a peace process. He has some interesting explanations as to why it has all but disappeared:

He sets out the competitive imperative set up by the process:

So what’s the point of a peace process? Well, peace of course. It is a political contest in which fewer people get killed. The parties in Northern Ireland entered the process hesitatingly and determined to undermine each other. In close talks they have played not for completion but for a breakdown without blame.

The Ulster Unionist Party played to try and force the complete disarmament of the IRA. This proved to be a bad strategy. As the Ulster Unionists got angrier about the IRA refusing to disarm, more nationalists voted for Sinn Fein as the party that most annoyed unionists.

Sinn Fein played for the fragmentation of its enemies, the unionists, the erosion of its rivals, the SDLP, and the growth of its own vote.

The peace process grew to be about power rather than the completion of its stated objective, a political settlement. A settlement would have removed the very issues which generate support for the parties engaged in the process.

Rather pessimistically, he concludes there is no incentive for processing to end, and politics begin:

…if the long game means that you never settle your differences, well that’s because you have decided that peace processing is still better than the alternatives. Recognise that peace processing is a game and play hard. Resist all appeals to forgiveness and compassion. You really hate these people at the other side of the table. That’s OK. They hate you too.

  • Alan McDonald

    As an observer from the USA, I may have too great an appreciation for Malachi’s cynicism. He does remind me of a question I have had for some time: What is the purpose of holding elections and voting for candidates when there is either no government for them to take part in, or they wouldn’t take part in it anyway?

    Saying that anyone in Northern Ireland is an “MLA” is like saying that a member of Sinn Fein is an “MP.” When you do not serve in the capacity designated, you are not an MLA or an MP, you are just a perpetual candidate!

    In a local election in my hometown here in upsate New York, a third party candidate ran for Town Justice. He promised that, if elected, he would not serve. Fortunately, for those of us in the town who would like to see justice served, he was not elected.

  • willowfield

    He does remind me of a question I have had for some time: What is the purpose of holding elections and voting for candidates when there is either no government for them to take part in, or they wouldn’t take part in it anyway?

    There are 2 upcoming elections: one to the Westminster Parliament, and one to 26 local councils. The purpose of the elections is to elect members to represent us in Parliament and in our local councils. In both cases, there are functioning governments.

    Maybe your comments relate to the Assembly? You are quite right to question the purpose of the previous elections to that body, given that the Assembly was suspended at the time and remains suspended.

  • Alan McDonald

    Willowfield:

    Thank you for the information. I was specifically talking about the non-functioning Assembly. In the case of the Westminster Parliament, when voters choose abstentionist SF PMs, who represents their interests?

  • Alan McDonald

    CORRECTION:

    I meant SF MPs, not PMs.

  • willowfield

    Alan

    Abstentionist Provo MPs do not sit in the House of Commons chamber. That means they can’t ask Oral Questions, participate in debates, or vote. Constituents of such MPs therefore go unrepresented to this extent.

    However, the abstentionist MPs do represent their constituents in other ways, e.g. by raising questions via correspondence (and possibly using Written Questions, although I’m not sure) and through meetings and discussions with ministers outside the Parliamentary chamber.

    All a bit childish.