Excellent, grounded analysis (subs needed) from Frank Millar. After suggesting there is a new ground on which people can play politics, he punches through any complacency with a round of searching questions, that provide a more uncertain view of how the game might play out in future.
Gerry Adams is right about one thing at least: history will not judge kindly anyone who plays politics with a real choice between peace and conflict on the island of Ireland. Yet the Sinn Féin president might allow that the same holds true for him. In throwing out his challenge to the unionist leadership, Adams can probably be confident that the Rev Ian Paisley’s first response to yesterday’s IRA statement will not be his last. A huge responsibility rests upon the Democratic Unionist Party.
The challenge is double-edged:
At every point in this unfolding process, therefore, Paisley and his colleagues have to question whether that purpose is advanced or achieved by the exercise of veto and the politics of exclusion.
However, Adams would be unwise to assume the outcome will be determined by the early British and Irish governments’ rush to judgment in the republicans’ favour. Ian Paisley’s leadership position is not the result of any accident of politics. It derives rather from the failure of a succession of previous republican initiatives to match words with actions.
Unionist scepticism, he argues, relates to previous failed attempts to get the Republican movement to come to this same point:
Likewise, last December, when the two prime ministers tried much the same trick on Paisley. They told a Belfast press conference that a historic DUP/ Sinn Féin deal breakthrough had failed on the sole issue of providing a photographic record of IRA weapons decommissioning. It was only subsequently, courtesy of Tánaiste Mary Harney, that we discovered the IRA had also resisted demands by the Progressive Democrats for a statement recognising “the need to uphold and not to endanger anyone’s personal rights and safety”
He notes that the British and Irish governments have questioned the extent of IRA activity, with McDowell’s accusation of the IRA as “an organised conspiracy, intent on continuing as a lightly armed gendarmerie”, and Ian Pearson’s charge “that the Provisionals ranked as possibly the most sophisticated criminal organisation in western Europe”.
After the bellicose and threatening language of IRA statements earlier this year, Blair can claim to have banished the threat of resumed violence on his watch. Yet even now, we have no settlement but the promise rather of more process. Right-thinking people will hope it eventually leads to accommodation and the new beginning promised in April 1998. But we should also allow that it might instead lead to a new point of divergence for politics in Northern Ireland.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty