Rethinking the Process

In today’s Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole is one of the few writers focusing on what comes next in the processing.. and he doesn’t like what he sees[subs req] –

The governments can try to restart the process as if nothing had happened, giving us two more years of posturing in which all excitement about the agreement’s radical ideals is stripped away. Or they can acknowledge the futility of trying to build shared governance on mutual hatred and begin a new political process that puts sectarianism where it should – not as a solution but as a problem.

What he sees should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the last 7 years of the processing – Read the rest [apologies for the subs req link]-

Assuming that the IRA follows through on its July statement declaring an end to its war, we are almost certainly in for another long period of manoeuvring and wrangling in which the two governments try to act as marriage brokers between two reluctant partners. On the one side, Sinn Féin has no desperate need to get the internal Northern Ireland institutions re-established. Indeed, in the run-up to the general election in the Republic, it would probably welcome two years of talks, in which a rotating squad of prospective candidates gets to flank Gerry Adams on RTÉ News while he denounces DUP intransigence. On the other, the DUP itself, while it is undergoing a profound process of change, needs time to prepare itself and its voters for what it must do.

He argues that at the core of the Belfast Agreement, which may well reach its 10th Anniversary without being implemented, were genuinely radical proposals –

It defines Northern Ireland as a political space and seeks to do so in a genuinely radical, exciting way. It is, indeed, perhaps the boldest constitutional document ever agreed between sovereign states. It creates a space that is not ultimately claimed by any state, defines national identity as potentially both mutable and multiple, and rests sovereignty, not on history or geography but on that most complex and fluent of things – the collective mind of a majority of the population.

.. but that the combination of the processing that has dragged on since 1998, and is likely to continue, and the other aspect of the Agreement combined to undermine those proposals –

The conflict-resolution side of the agreement included a gamble that was worth trying but that has been lost. It built the internal architecture of Northern Ireland’s governance on a static notion of “two traditions” which were to be appeased and given “parity of esteem”. The hope was that even though sectarianism was built in to the power-sharing system by the requirement for simultaneous majorities on the unionist and nationalist sides, the experience of working the new institutions would in fact diminish it. But there has been no momentum and the divisions have been formalised, entrenched and deepened.

To get that momentum back, Fintan O’Toole suggests, will require a major rethink by government –

The governments can try to restart the process as if nothing had happened, giving us two more years of posturing in which all excitement about the agreement’s radical ideals is stripped away. Or they can acknowledge the futility of trying to build shared governance on mutual hatred and begin a new political process that puts sectarianism where it should – not as a solution but as a problem.