Your move now Doctor Paisley?

Danny Morrison in his Daily Ireland column today confesses to more than once playing Paisley the man rather than the ball. He goes on to make the point that the DUP will need to be shown patience, but that they face a challene to play a postive move in response to the disarmament of the IRA.By Danny Morrison:

I received a letter on Monday from a reader, John, in Ballina, County Mayo. He was talking about Sinn Fein’s response to the DUP last July when the IRA announced an end to its armed struggle. He said: “The DUP’s reaction to it was predictable – it will take them a long time to adjust to the new realities. But Sinn Fein should not be taunting them, by highlighting its (the DUP’s) inadequacy to deal with the new situation. If Sinn Fein is truly republican it will try and entice everyone along to share in the new and better society it hopes to create for everyone. In the first instance it will have to do this in cooperation with unionists in government in the North.”

Actually, Sinn Fein didn’t taunt the DUP – though I have, on many occasions, and on several occasions most recently, because of a visceral disrespect I have for that party’s leader, Ian Paisley, which spans forty years. The feeling is no doubt mutual. To me he is false, a bluffer, a hypocrite, a sectarian, a coward and an opportunist. However, if he ever apologises for his wrongs, demonstrates contriteness and makes good, in a verifiable fashion in front of international and independent witnesses (there’s no need for a photograph), I am sure that over a period of time I might be able to forgive him. But he really needs to begin soon. Because I might move on without him.

But seriously, I also have to remember that Ian Paisley is the chosen leader of the unionist people in the North – and although that also provokes some despair it has to invoke some respect, and I and many have to set aside our feelings if we nationalists and unionists are to realise a deal, share power and govern together. God bless Sinn Fein in their dealings with the Reverend. They will need an ocean of patience and a ton of cotton wool.

On the nationalist and republican side there is willingness to reconciliation, ultimately demonstrated by the unprecedented move of the IRA to put all its weapons beyond use, witnessed by General John de Chastelain’s commission and two independents. The extent of this move was succinctly described by former IRA prisoner Tommy McKearney in this paper yesterday as “an incredibly significant demonstration of republican hope over experience.”

That experience involved sectarian attacks on the nationalist community throughout the existence of the Northern Ireland state. The existence of an armed IRA, particularly after 1969, and because of 1969, was a comfort blanket to nationalists in interface areas and acted as a check on loyalist paramilitaries. The demobilisation of the IRA has, undoubtedly, unnerved many, many republicans. But times have changed. Despite the likeness, the PSNI is not the RUC and will not be leading any charge into the Falls, the way the RUC did in 1969. Increased scrutiny of the PSNI can only make it more accountable.

Leaders within both unionism and republicanism will be required to gamble: unionists taking the IRA at its word, republicans the public pledges of the British government, guaranteed by the Irish government, in lieu of or in combination with unionist pledges to work the institutions. Deceit on either side would blow up in all our faces and lead to distrust on an unimaginable scale.

The great irony now is that Ian Paisley, the man who destabilised any predecessor who dared to depart an inch from unionist fundamentalism, is himself now in the position of having to make a choice between pragmatism and dogmatism, which would only further impoverish his own community.

So what about the willingness of the DUP to deal? How are we to read its press conference last Monday?

There are many theories. Some are of the view that Ian Paisley would like to retire having become First Minister. However, the cost for him personally might be too great – having as his Deputy First Minister, Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness, both of whom he has described as ‘Sinn Fein/IRA’ and pledged throughout his career to smash. There could be no greater demonstration of his failure than for him to have to share power with them. Nor does the ongoing invective of the DUP suggest a party that is preparing its base for a return to power-sharing government. Indeed, Paisley came out of his meeting with John de Chastelain yesterday stating that the whole act of the IRA putting all of its weapons beyond use was a ‘cover-up’!

Another theory has it that Peter Robinson would like to do a deal, and thought that he might be First Minister, but was thwarted by Ian Og who talked his father out of a deal. That conversation wouldn’t have taken long. Last week Ian Og said that unionists preferred direct rule than to sharing power with Sinn Fein, except his language was more colourful.

It would be patronising to feel sorry for the unionists, the debacle of the recent rioting, for their PR deficiencies and for a leadership which lacks courage and substitutes ranting for rational discussion. The majority voted for Paisley but there must be scores of thousands of unionists who despair at where he is leading them.

But we have lives to live and to get on with. We need good government and we need representative government. If the DUP regrettably opts out of this process it does so as an act of free will not as an act of persecution or discrimination. And so we’ll need a different type of government or a rearrangement in the current system of government – one which takes on the views of elected representatives not opposed to reconciliation. That certainly requires greater involvement from Dublin to add its weight to ensuring that the British address the many outstanding issues, from inequality to policing, and get on with implementing change and tackling the institutionalised sectarianism within northern society.

What historic times we live in! Those who justified repression and repressive laws, and the state of the state, or who refused to negotiate on the pretext that there was an IRA armed campaign no longer have an excuse.

With all due apologies to John from Ballina, County Mayo, the party which really has to bite the IRA bullet is the DUP.

First published in on Wednesday 28th September 2005

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