As we said in A Long Peace (chapter 3 – facing the dilemma), in a settled conflict situation, people should judge their opponents by their actions, not their words. It was true of the Northern Bank robbery and the ruthless killing of Robert McCartney. But the same is also true of the decommissioning of the IRA yesterday.It’s a big move and bold one. It represents a profound (even sublime) challenge to Unionists to make a positive response. Something many will not feel inclined to provide (subs needed), given the history of bad faith (to put it mildly) shown by Sinn Fein and the IRA over the last few months. It won’t come quickly.
A period of time will be required in order that the wider Unionist community can absorb the full import of this move, for them and their communities. It won’t simply be for the DUP to make its calculations about when and if it can safely re-engage with the political process. It will be for all unionists to re-examine their own bottom lines in the face of this peaceful challenge, and begin to imagine a future beyond the long war.
And, more importantly perhaps, to contemplate life beyond a centuries old siege.
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