Fionnuala O’Connor has a very sharp reading of the situation in and around Sinn Fein as negotiations come to a head. The much talked about (but rarely publicly expressed) pain within Republican communities is real enough (subs needed). It has something of an electoral and demographic edge to it. Yet the real significance of accepting the police, she hints, lies in the trashing of what is arguably Irish Republicanism’s last sacred cow: recognition of the State’s right to exert monopoly of force, short of the political unification of the island.
The SDLP’s most loyal supporters will never forgive the republican movement for so many deaths, for prolonging the violence, alienating the South and embittering so many unionists. Among republicans, there is fear and resentment about the process that has neutered the IRA, destroyed the arms and set a course towards final recognition of the state by accepting the police. The still-uncertain prospect of sharing power with Dr Paisley has obvious limitations as a pay-off.
Traditionalists hate the Adams-McGuinness team with a vengeance, but even among the faithful they have lost a little lustre. The journey from war to peace has taken too long, and familiarity breeds irreverence. There are people old enough to have set up homes, had children and lost marriages, who don’t remember the war because they were young teenagers in 1994 when the IRA called that first cessation of hostilities.
The slow speed of this public psychodrama, is not likely to amplify those limited payoffs. Certainly today’s poll would suggest that ‘Big Mo’ (scroll down) may have left Sinn Fein’s camp for the foreseeable future, deal or no deal.
O’Connor has a sharp eye for personal detail: none better than her observation of the discomfort in and around the DUP:
Last Friday saw Dr Paisley take up three, perhaps four positions inside 24 hours, none of them gracefully. As he read his speech, crunching the paper hard as though warding off the temptation to improvise, it became clear that the text hammered out with Tony Blair’s minions had been amended. Some of his MLAs grew fidgety.
Near the end, concentration took its toll. Despite loud prompts from his son and Peter Robinson, the new-fangled, insulting replacement for the RUC eventually came out “ESPI” instead of PSNI. Invoking Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” may have been his own idea but dwindled without “I can do no other,” which in the circumstances might have brought disbelieving giggles.
As one commentator Slugger talked to this morning argued, perhaps the best these two once proud, fundamentalist, and unbending parties can give us is a stable deal. After that, the gates may just open wide enough to allow the ‘moderates’ to come back in and fill the space in which ordinary policy-driven politics actually gets done.
Its a hypothesis that would be severely tested in any March election. But our ‘war time’ politicians seem to be struggling at the prospect of transforming long time enemies (perhaps cherished for their value in garnering both fear and support) into partners in government.
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